I returned to Britain to a storm of controversy over an editorial in The Spectator (16 October) in which the people of Liverpool were accused of "mawkish" grief at the death of native son Kenneth Bigley, beheaded by his kidnappers in Iraq the week before. The lead editorial, sans byline, was attributed to Boris Johnson, Spectator Editor and Conservative MP. Outside the UK his name would mean nothing, but he is a youthful, charismatic, plum-in-the mouth blonde Englishman and very much a household name here. In the essay he complains that a minute of silence for Bigley at a British soccer match was out of proportion to the event, and asks why such moments are not observed for servicemen killed in Iraq. Even worse, the piece suggests that Liverpudlians have been wallowing in grief over the Hillsborough stadium disaster, in which fifty-five soccer fans died.
This one article has caused such a storm that it was even the subject of a long and heated discussion on the prime-time "Question Time" program on BBC TV last week. The leader of the Tory Party, Michael Howard, ordered Johnson to go to Liverpool to apologize, but the local police did not allow him to go to most of the venues on his itinerary for his own safety. It has been mooted that Johnson’s two careers are over. And poor old Liverpool: It is suffering the double indignity of being blamed for the allegedly contaminated flu vaccines that were to have been shipped to the USA.
I mention the Johnson sensation because I came back to a storm I had myself unwittingly created: The Guardian, in its wisdom, had reprinted my "An American in London" Front Page piece as "An American Scapegoat in London" on 16 October, the same day Johnson’s piece appeared. (It would have been my twenty-fourth wedding anniversary and the seventeenth anniversary of the Great Hurricane of 1987, for what that is worth …)
It was a salutary experience to endure the reactions of British friends and colleagues who read my piece in The Guardian. I had barely dumped my suitcases in the living room than the telephone was ringing off the hook. Astonished friends were incredulous that I had had such experiences in twenty-nine years in London: "That didn’t REALLY happen to you, did it?" The Guardian was inundated with letters from American expatriates and Jewish Londoners in denial, who insist there is no anti-Americanism or anti-Semitism in Blighty, period. I attended the Benjamin Franklin Symposium in London last week and, much as I had dreaded, was accosted by a furious lady with a thick English accent claiming she had been an American expat since 1964 and had "NEVER EVER" had one anti-American word said to her. Lucky lady! Mazel tov!
Well, I ask all the doubters: Would I have sat down and spent several hours putting my litany of nightmare experiences on paper simply to have an exercise in fantasy? In fact, the incidents enumerated in Front Page of 12 October were the tip of the iceberg.
And that brings me to "The Power of Nightmares," a BBC series that could easily be branded scurrilous were it not based on such an absurd premise. This is the BBC outdoing itself, claiming in the first teaser-minute of episode one that the war on terror is a product of the collective paranoia of George Bush, Tony Blair and a bunch of Jewish neoconservatives who have been obsessing about the "mythical" (the BBC’s word) threats out there since 1949.
This extraordinarily bizarre program explained that the nineteen hijackers of 9/11 can trace their origins to an Egyptian student who spent time in America in the 1950s and decided that the way Americans fixed up their lawns -- yes, lawns -- was just one of many signs of the immorality and selfishness of Western infidel culture that must be destroyed at all costs. Yes, he was angry about their lawns.
To be fair, the BBC explained that the Egyptian had attended school dances and had been mortally offended by witnessing the "lustful" dancing of youngsters in their suits and crinoline dresses. So, that was offensive, too, but not as bad as the lawns.
His life unfolded as a radical Islamic thinker back in Egypt and he ended up being executed by Nasser, only to inspire one wealthy Dr. Ayman al Zawahiri to start a youth movement in his memory, culminating in the assassination of Anwar Sadat and the Iranian Revolution. Unless you live on Mars you will know that more recently Dr. al Z. has been bin Laden’s deputy and all-round maven.
Now, if you are still awake, pay attention: The BBC then equates Bill Kristol’s genial-looking old dad, Irving, Richard Pipes and Leo Strauss with the radical ideologues who assassinated Sadat and who create mayhem all around the world with kidnappings, hijackings and beheadings. Along with Paul Wolfowitz, Richard Perle and Kristol the younger (the BBC included token gentile Donald Rumsfeld to be fair and balanced) the producers then use trick footage and weirdly juxtaposed sound bites to convince the viewer that the cumulative fifty-year effect of the ideas of the neoconservatives pose as much a threat to the world as do those of the followers of al Zawahiri.
I rang the BBC before the show had even ended asking them if this ‘documentary’ was an April Fool. I reminded them that their credibility was seriously in question because they had used Dr Izzan Tamimi as a talking head. I had heard Tamimi speak at the University of London earlier this year, and his near-hysterical rhetoric about the need for the elimination of Israel ("please understand I do not want to harm any Jews") led the crowd of begowned Arab students to chant "Jihad! Jihad!" as my goosepimples turned to chills.
Thankfully, several other journalists, including the eminent Charles Moore of The Telegraph and Melanie Phillips have registered alarm about this shameful piece of left-wing television agit-prop. One of the assertions made by the program-makers is that the mesmeric Jewish neocons plus Rummy led various Republican presidents to Christian religious fervor in the name of anti-Communism. I seem to recall Adlai Stevenson, darling of my left-wing ancestors, being as tough as nails to the Soviets with his "Hell freezes over" speech, and Jack and Bobby Kennedy being almost fixated on anti-Communism.
Heaven knows what episodes two and three of the BBC series will bring; what is so terrifying is that every one of my friends in the UK has asked me if I had seen the "brilliant," "sensational," "chilling" program about the way "American reactionaries have led us to the abyss where we are today."
All right: Those who feel the Iraq situation is a disaster and that the Middle East is sinking fast into Armageddon will say the neocons have a lot to answer for. But for the BBC to equate the evolution of the Leo Strauss movement with that of the murderous, sadistic, racist, misogynist jihadists is nothing short of heinous.
As I asked in my previous piece of 12 October, "Where will it all end?" Last week The Guardian came under fire for trying to influence voters in Ohio with a letter-writing campaign. On BBC's "Question Time," panelist Clement Freud and an audience member got huge ovations for asserting that American troops are inferior to the Brits and that "‘putting British forces under American command is a recipe for total disaster." (Hey, anyone heard of Eisenhower, Bradley, Patton, MacArthur and Schwartzkopf?) The people who say I imagine anti-Americanism live in denial. But I am more worried about the great British public being brainwashed by irresponsible and fanciful documentarians who would attempt to equate the Straussians with those who threw Leon Klinghoffer into the sea. Melanie Phillips goes so far as to use the ‘Goebbels’ word to describe this BBC offering, and I thank her for having the courage to be one of a handful of voices who see the United Kingdom sinking into a kind of madness.