Fred Halliday Rocks

This is a stirring piece.

Fred Halliday: My view is that the kind of position which the New Left Review and Tariq have adopted in terms of the conflict in the Middle East is an extremely reactionary, right-wing one. It starts with Afghanistan. To my mind, Afghanistan is central to the history of the Left, and to the history of the world, since the 1980s. It is to the early 21st century, to the years we’re now living through, what the Spanish Civil War was to Europe in the mid and late 20th century…The issue of rights is absolutely central. We have to hold the line at the defense, however one conceptualizes things, however de-hegemonized, of universal principles of rights. This is how I locate my own political and historical vision—it is my starting point.

And it is emphatically not the starting point of all too many people on the left now, and that’s the problem. But…that ice-jam seems to be breaking up a little now. Check out the comments on this absurd piece at Comment is Free for example. A cheering sign, I think.

I feel much happier with a copy of the U.N.D.P. Human Development Report than with the New Left Review. Or with the very courageous three annual editions of the Arab Human Development Report, which itemize in a statistical, perhaps over-quantified way, things like women’s access to education, women’s access to politics, treatment of minorities, freedom of speech, fair elections, and the like.

Danny Postel: “Bourgeois” liberties.

Fred Halliday: No, I don’t accept that category.

Danny Postel: I mean that in scare quotes: the crude, ultra-left way of dismissing such rights.

Fred Halliday: Exactly. And Marx himself had too much disparaging language of this kind as well…But I will barricade myself in my bunker with copies of the U.N.D.P. Report and with Amartya Sen’s and Martha Nussbaum’s attempts to define new forms of universal human needs, with feminists who are concretely engaged in social policy…


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