Sunny Hundal’s exercise in tarring and brushes
Is it something about writing for the Guardian that gives individual writers a need to indulge in pointless hyperbole? One might think so, reading Sunny Hundal’s recent contribution to Comment is Free, on the tired subject of what John Pilger and Ralph Nader each said about the potential of an Obama Presidency to fail its supporters:
“What do Ralph Nader, John Pilger and Ayman al-Zawahiri have in common?
Before Barack Obama has even taken office or signed a single bill, all three have dismissed him as a sellout by using racial slurs.”
Sunny and I have already thrashed this issue about at several points; all of the relevant links between Sunny’s articles on his Pickled Politics website and our arguments can be found here, here and here.
However comparing Pilger, Nader and al-Zawahiri, an Al-Qaeda leader, is way beyond the pale of reasonable debate. In fact, bearing in mind that issue came up and was debated so rigorously, one wonders why bring it up again at all?
What makes Sunny’s new article so unreasonable is that he has taken only a snippet of al-Zawahiri’s comments in order to paint Pilger and Nader and their respective remarks about Barack Obama in exactly the same colour, no pun intended. The other remarks rendered by al-Zawahiri should tell us that he’s batshit crazy – compared to the other remarks of people like Ralph Nader and John Pilger, left-wingers of note (whether we agree or disagree with them).
“First, a message of congratulations to the Muslim Ummah on the American people’s admission of defeat in Iraq. Although the evidence of America’s defeat in Iraq appeared years ago, Bush and his administration continued to be stubborn and deny the brilliant midday sun. If Bush has achieved anything, it is in his transfer of America’s disaster and predicament to his successor. But the American people, by electing Obama, declared its anxiety and apprehension about the future towards which the policy of the likes of Bush is leading it, and so it decided to support someone calling for withdrawal from Iraq.”
So nothing to do with the economy then? Or the thought of letting Palin loose in the White House? Or Obama’s victory in the Presidential debates? Seriously, al-Zawahiri is not exactly one to take seriously in terms of political analysis. Pilger and Nader, on the other hand, have demonstrated their capacity to campaign for better rights for average people.
Whatever they said about Obama perhaps being an “Uncle Tom” or serving a “white” agenda, it’s intellectually dishonest to compare them to al-Zawahiri, it scores very cheap political points and someone with Sunny Hundal’s nous should know better.
Also, although Sunny quotes al-Zawahiri accurately in that the al-Qaeda leader says “abayd al bayt” (which translates “house slave”), Sunny still says this is a racial slur. Perhaps. However, the term “house negro” is only used in al-Zawahiri’s video by Malcolm X, making a speech that is inserted between al-Zawahiri’s own comments.
Agree or disagree with al-Qaeda’s appropriation of Malcolm X, and presumably Sunny wouldn’t equate the two, it is Malcolm X to whom Sunny should be comparing Pilger and Nader. Yet Malcolm X’s legacy and thoughts are infinitely more complex than al-Zawahiri, and hardly current news. Thus this linkage with al-Zawahiri seems to be more about seeming relevant and less about being accurate.
I wouldn’t dispute Sunny’s journalistic integrity, but Malcolm X’s points have relevance beyond a merely black versus white view of class struggle, which is the straight jacket into which Sunny sought to fit Nader and Pilger. Except in the most superficial way, al-Zawahiri doesn’t enter into any of this with his comments echoing Malcolm X and his opposition to “Western power structure”.
Finally, there is the issue of perspective. When people like Melanie Phillips are getting frothy about “sharia law” being “imposed upon the US banking sector” what the hell are individual Left-Liberals doing publishing multiple articles that attack Pilger or Nader? Both Pilger and Nader may be simplistic, operating with a context (ill)defined by Malcolm X forty years ago – but we have bigger enemies.
I absolutely think that the Left should have time for introspection, but in this instance, we’ve well and truly shot our bolt and it is time to move on.