If you agree with Robert Fisk's political line, you are not in the real world, writes Eoghan Harris
MARY Harney says hard things. This might seem risky in a society where politicians say soft things. In fact, it is the secret of her success. Irish people put a premium on moral courage simply because it is such a scarce commodity in this country.
Last Wednesday, at a Thanksgiving lunch, the Tánaiste took on the majority position in the Irish mass media. She condemned those commentators who made a "moral equivalence" between America and bin Laden. And she lashed what she called the "latent anti-Americanism which seems to regard what the American Government does as evil".
Harney nearly hit the nail on the head. Alas, there is nothing latent about the anti-Americanism which is the default ideology of most of the Irish media. Thanks to RTÉ, the Irish Times and the Last Word, we took the wrong side on this war. We did not stand shoulder to shoulder with the good guys. At best, we guiltily gave money to the voracious Irish aid agencies. At worst, we were anti-American. But mostly we just sat on the fence while the media fisked us.
Fisking takes two forms, political and psychological. Political fisking means following the political line of Robert Fisk no matter what the facts. Fisk has now been wrong about three wars in a row. In the Gulf War he told us the Republican Guard would give the Americans a hard time: in fact, they folded. In the Kosovo War he said American bombing would not work: today Slobodan Milosevic is on trial for war crimes. And Fisk has been wrong about the Afghan War from first to last.
To be fair to Fisk, RTÉ and the Irish Times would have got it wrong anyway. But just look at the things they told you that turned out not to be true. They told you George Bush would go mad instead he showed cool and cleverness in putting together a complex coalition of fighting forces. They told you that bombing would not work, but it broke the Taliban, just as it broke Slobodan Milosevic. They told you the Taliban would fight to the finish, but beating women turned out to be poor training for bearing up under B52 bombers.
Being wrong appears to add to Fisk's attractions. If Fisk was a horse who had lost his first two races, would Dunphy have backed him on form to win the Afghan War? And why is RTÉ so addicted to failure that it returns again and again to Fisk for more wrongpredictions?
The answer is simple. Fisking is a form of forelock-touching for lefties. RTÉ can be sure that when Fisk gets it wrong, his excuses will be elegantly expressed. In short, RTÉ is snobbish as well as stupid.
Psychological fisking is far more complex. It takes the form of sullen denial when the facts fail to support an anti-American analysis. Let me cite two blatant examples of this bias by omission. Shocked by the success of the Northern Alliance, RTÉ sulkily relegated the fall of Kabul to second place on its bulletin, behind a bit from one of the tribunals. It followed this up with a sullen failure to show John Simpson's superb on-the-spot report from the recently liberated city. Possibly Simpson's cool assertion that, in the circumstances, the Northern Alliance was "behaving extremely well" posed a problem for those RTÉ pundits who, for days past, had been predicting an orgy of raping and looting.
On the same day, the best Fisk could manage was a sour article attacking the Northern Alliance which asked: "What on earth is going on?" That is what we should ask too. What is going on when highly educated people in the Irish media can hide behind the humanitarian cloak of Concern and Goal and Trocaire to conceal an anti-American agenda and can make a moral equivalence between George Bush and bin Laden?
Let me attempt an answer. Anti-Americanism and Republican Socialism are merely two aspects of the same coin. That bad penny is called the perfectibility of man, the neurotic notion that by changing society we can change the nature of man. It begins with Plato's Republic, runs through Robespierre's French Revolution and reaches its apotheosis in 'perfecting' psychopaths like Stalin, Pol Pot, and Mao. It has always attracted rich kids like bin Laden.
We, in Ireland, are not immune from this infection. The IRA campaign was aimed at 'perfecting' Protestants. But even when we examine milder forms such as the anti-American and anti-Israeli prejudices prevalent in RTÉ, we find the same deceitful delusion at their core. I mean the big lie that life is a choice between good and evil, when it is almost always a choice between the lesser of two evils.
Fundamentally, fisking means fooling yourself about what's possible. Fiskers say things like, "Bin Laden should be brought to trial." So he should. But no nice police force offered to do it. And the Taliban was sheltering him. So in the real world the choice was between letting bin Laden get away with it, or doing a deal with the not-so-nice Northern Alliance.
We heard the same fisking about the fall of Kabul. Anyone would think that the Allies had a choice between the nasty Northern Alliance and a Northern Afghanistan Police Service (NAPS) wearing natty blue turbans and wielding light batons. No, same old offer. Let the Taliban go on sheltering bin Laden and beating women, or let the Northern Alliance take the city.
The Allies face the same stark choice about the Arab fanatics in Kunduz. The Northern Alliance can let them go in which case bin Laden's best will carry on the war against America. Or the Northern Alliance can give them a glorious martyr's death. What is not on offer is a nice jail with John Lonergan in charge. Welcome to the world.