The Blanket

The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent

The Blanket, the Cartoons and the End of Left and Right

 

Gabriel Glickman • 9 May 2006

The online journal, The Blanket, was an unlikely candidate to become one of the few outlets in either Britain or Ireland to publish the 12 notorious Danish cartoons. Opposed to the Iraq war, an ardent advocate of the Palestinian cause, the publication wears many of the proudest garments of dissident socialism. Despite this, Ulster’s self-avowed upholder of ‘protest and dissent’ has taken the difficult decision to re-produce the cartoons; a decision born of a belief that issues of political integrity were at stake.

The Blanket broke with 'the Left’s' ‘anti-cartoon’ consensus in March 2006, with an editorial that denounced Islamic extremism, declared support for the threatened Danish artists and resolved to carry each one of the offending images. In so doing, the journal announced its support for a new manifesto, Together facing the new totalitarianism, whose signatories included Salman Rushdie, the philosopher Bernard Henri-Levy and Dutch MP Ayaan Hirsi Ali - currently living in hiding after her support for murdered film-maker Theodore Van Gogh.

The consequence of this decision was obloquy among many old cohorts, with some supporters terminating their involvement with The Blanket and condemnation expressed from former allies in the Socialist Worker’s Party and the Palestinian Solidarity Committee. Yet the response of Anthony McIntyre, co-editor and driving force behind The Blanket, was defiant:

If we believe… in the light of reason over the darkness of religion, vibrant equality over rigid hierarchy, libertarianism over authoritarianism, fear alone should not dissuade us from standing beside the people behind the manifesto.

He denounced ‘the capitulation of many who make a verbal commitment to free speech but roll over at the first sign of having to pay a price to protect the very freedom of that speech’. Casting a critical lens over European hostility to the cartoons, he also felt compelled to ask: ‘Have alleged liberals and left-wingers become far more oppressive than the religious institutions they so distrust?’

The editor’s defence of his policy towards the cartoons displays a nuance so lacking in much of British debate on the matter. McIntyre makes the distinction between the artistic content of the pictures and the procedure that put them into the public domain. No liberal was obliged to display the cartoons when they emerged – free expression does not entail going for ‘shock value’. But the importance of the images rose above their artistic merit when exposed to the violence of the totalitarian tendency.

In this context, McIntyre’s real struggle is not so much against Islamist theocracy as the trajectory of old allies on the Left: those who would see violent protests against the cartoons as an understandable reaction to the apparent depredations of the West, and recoil at the ‘imperialist’ notion of projecting democracy and human rights across the planet. The Blanket thus, makes a formidable addition to a dynamic dissident movement being mobilised within leftist ranks; a ‘hidden continent’ of opinion as Paul Berman puts it, perturbed that the rush to condemn excesses of Western power is forcing the surrender of Western virtues - or, at least failing to apply liberal standards outside the Anglo-American sphere of controversy. In Britain, its literary expression can be found in Saturday, Ian McEwan’s meditation on conflict, intervention and indifference; the idea has since been galvanised by the Euston Manifesto. Common to all is the appeal to the conscience of liberal politics to restore Enlightenment values against terror and intimidation; an appeal that has been central to the work of The Henry Jackson Society since its foundation in March 2005.

The fact that such appeals have to be made casts an extraordinary insight into the ‘Pandora’s Box’ opened up by the globalised, post-9/11 landscape, shaking old political certainties. Past ambivalence among sections of the Left towards Fascism and Communism accepted, it is still a striking phenomenon to be confronted by anti-war protestors parroting the Baathist/Islamist diagnosis of Middle Eastern ills and to witness those liberals who speak of democratic transformation derided as stooges of imperial designs.

To all of these tendencies, the stand of Anthony McIntyre and The Blanket provides a compelling reaction. As McIntyre stated in the interview he has given to The Henry Jackson Society (see here), he sets himself firmly against the ‘irrelevant Left’, which sees ‘some people in the world… not worthy of the same rights as other human beings’. Instead, he hopes The Blanket can be part of an effort to arouse ‘a more creative, inventive and imaginative’ alternative, which reaffirms ‘the values and freedoms that liberal democracy provides’ and throws its weight behind the democrats, dissenters and reformers under tyranny and theocracy. Liberty, in other words, must reclaim its place as the partner of equality and fraternity.

As our interview with McIntyre shows, one of the most striking features of his broader outlook is a belief that liberal renewal must rest on an abandonment of ‘the monolithic view of the world - that there’s only one cleavage between ‘Left’ and ‘Right’. With ‘a huge cleavage developing here about human rights and freedom of speech, which doesn’t break down along the traditional left-right divide’, old alliances cannot be taken for granted. To adopt therefore the strategy of ‘my enemy’s enemy is my friend’; to judge every issue by who appears to be on which side, is to move with one eye blinded through the dangers of modern global politics - and to risk ending up with some very questionable allies indeed.

The challenge of reasserting liberal principle against oppression transcends both the reductive constraints of Left versus Right and the strategic context of the Iraq war, which have hitherto dictated the terms of debate. The Blanket’s achievement is to lay bare the truth that, long after the Bush/Blair era fades, the bigger issues underlying the ‘War on Terror’ will remain to be confronted, and the vitality of Western discourse will face a sterner test. As McIntyre has argued elsewhere, ‘There is no reason to adopt the St Peter stance and deny them for the sake of an easy life.’ When the thing at stake is liberty: ‘There will be no easy life.’

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


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The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent



 

 

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Index: Current Articles



22 June 2006

Other Articles From This Issue:

The Framing of Michael McKevitt
Marcella Sands

Foreward to 'The Framing of Michael McKevitt'
Fr Des Wilson

Demagogues and Demigod
Tommy Gorman

Getting It Tight
John Kennedy

The Restoration of Restorative Justice
Marcel M. Baumann

DUP Analysis
Dr John Coulter

Father Faul
Fr. Sean McManus

Aiden Hulme Repatriation Picket
Paul Doyle

Prison Protest Begins
Republican Prisoners Action Group (RPAG), Republican Sinn Fein, Newry

New Hero, and a Legacy
Dr John Coulter

Charlie's Angel
John Kennedy

The Letters page has been updated.

Profile: Mehdi Mozaffari
Anthony McIntyre

The Blanket, the Cartoons and the End of Left and Right
Gabriel Glickman

The Blanket and the Cartoon Controversy: Anthony McIntyre Interviewed
Martyn Frampton

A Welcome End
Mick Hall

Kartoonacht
Anthony McIntyre

Freedom of Speech index


14 June 2006

The Mark of Cain
Anthony McIntyre

Debris of the Dirty War
Mick Hall

More Claims
Martin Ingram

Case Unproven
Anthony McIntyre

Chain Gang
John Kennedy

Better to Put the Past Behind US
David Adams

The Gamblers
Dr John Coulter

Diarmaid Ferriter's The Transformation of Ireland
Seaghán Ó Murchú

Profile: Caroline Fourest
Anthony McIntyre

Le «manifeste des douze» fait réagir
Caroline Fourest

Reaction to the Manifesto (English Translation)
Liam O Ruairc

Freedom of Speech index

 

 

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