And to make an end is to make a beginning
By one of those coincidences that don’t mean anything, 70 years ago today – and I mean to the very day – the poet T.S. Eliot paid a visit to a small hamlet in Cambridgeshire. He took the name of this place as the title for the fourth of his Four Quartets – ‘Little Gidding’. What has that got to do with the Euston Manifesto? Nothing, really.
But in the way of these things, I went back to the poem just to have a look, in case (you never know) I might find some other connection than merely the date. What I came back to there were these lines:
And to make an end is to make a beginning.
The end is where we start from…
The end is where we start from…
There you go – that gives me somewhere to start from this evening. Because I want to talk about ends and beginnings in both a public and a personal sense.
The first of these: 9/11 – September 11, 2001. It is a day imprinted on the public memory – indelibly – because the crime committed in New York and Washington DC announced a terrible willingness, of which few previously had been aware: a willingness to use terror without limit for political ends; a terrorism, that is to say, unconstrained by any concern about the numbers of the innocent dead. That day was both an end and a beginning because it showed, and to many of us in an instant, that the world was now different, dangerously so, and in a way not amenable to simple-minded responses.
This brings me to a second end and beginning, and if I may get your indulgence for this, I will frame it in more personal terms. It happened in the days immediately following 9/11. Not just simple-minded, but cold, shameful, appalling responses to the crime that had been perpetrated, parading across the pages of the liberal and left press. You know the terms of it: blowback; comeuppance; yes, a crime of course but… But what? But a crime to be contextualized immediately, just in case you might be unaware that it wasn’t the first or the worst crime in human history.
This kind of stuff, I regret to say, was coming principally from a part of the left. And in those few days, 12, 13, 14 September 2001, it became clear to me that this part of the left wasn’t a part one should have anything – or anything more, depending on where you were at the time – to do with if the left was to have a worthwhile future and merit anybody’s support.
Anyone who’s ever belonged to anything, as we all have – a family, a group, a club, a movement – will know that this involves having some quarrels. If you’re part of the left then you have your quarrels; and having been a part of the left all my adult life, I’ve had my share. But some things you quarrel about. About other things you draw a line.
Over 9/11 I decided the time had come to draw a line. A left truly committed to democratic values doesn’t make excuses for terrorism, not at all, not ever. Terrorism is murder. There is no context that makes it OK. This is a simple principle – that you do not want only kill the innocent – embodied in the most basic moral codes of civilized existence, embodied in the rules of warfare and in international humanitarian law.
One has to draw a line. This is not the authentic voice of the left, and it is not a voice which any self-respecting liberal should be willing to own. It is a disgrace to the best aspirations of the progressive and democratic tradition.
We need to insist that there is a different tradition which socialists and democrats and liberals can speak out for. There’s been quite a chorus of voices these past few weeks saying that the Euston Manifesto is of no account – though a lot of those saying so seem rather animated about it. Well, we make no extravagant claims. It’s a beginning, that’s all.