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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…

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.

  1. 27 maggio, 2006 alle 16:45

    that’s quite honest: the Euston Manifesto is in fact nothing more than that, drawing that line, and all those who accuse it to be simple or empty, haven’t understood the emotional, but political, power of it. we are people that see themselves as part of the left, but the time has come when we draw that line. the euston manifesto is just the pencil, it ain’t supposed to be the writer.


  2. 28 maggio, 2006 alle 12:15

    I couldn’t agree more. Ciao

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