David Calling

The David Pryce-Jones blog.

Debating Clash


Michael Wharton, a satirist of genius who wrote under the pseudonym of Peter Simple, liked to describe some of the people about whom he fantasised as “genial, unpopular.” Such a fellow is Ken Livingstone, the mayor of London. He specializes in being genial and unpopular, probably attracting more general hatred than any other politician in Britain. Not at all the tribune of the people he pretends to be, he is an old-style Communist or more exactly Trotskyist, who never passes up the chance to wage class war, to slam the United States, to swipe at Israel and Jews, and to promote today’s hard Left. He is planning a festival in honour of his hero Fidel Castro, and lately visited Hugo Chavez in Venezuela in search of cheap oil. He also supports anything and everything on the Muslim agenda, for instance inviting the egregious and retrograde Sheikh Qaradawi, spokesman of the Muslim Brotherhood. Islamists and the hard Left in fact have nothing in common except hatred of the West, and their alliance is unnatural on both sides.

It must have seemed a good idea to this sinister clown to hold a conference sponsored by London, and to participate himself in a debate on whether or not there is a clash of civilizations. He no doubt saw his chance to make more anti-American mischief, and perhaps pin the blame for everything on the “neo-cons,” a portmanteau phrase for everything the hard Left hates. Inviting Daniel Pipes to come from Philadelphia and fit the role of scapegoat, he in fact got more than he bargained for.

This morning, the large hall and two overflow halls were filled. Many in the audience were Muslims. As expected, Livingstone praised multi-culturalism as the source of peace, love and (Muslim) brotherhood. Here was really an updating of the old Comintern doctrine of internationalism whereby the Soviet Union waged war on everyone and called it peace. The Cold War was all the fault of the West, and he charged that we were making the same mistake with the Muslims. A young lady in a hijab seconded him, shrilly repeating that the real terrorists were America and Britain.

Scholar that he is, Daniel Pipes explained that the war is actually between civilization and barbarism. Carefully he distinguished the religion of Islam from Islamism, a totalitarian ideology with which there could be no compromise. He was looking for victory over it. He and his seconder, Douglas Murray, a brilliant young British intellectual, made the point that moderate Muslims had to be supported against extremist Islamists. And suddenly their arguments began to shift the audience away from Livingstone, and to attract a lot of applause. The war on terror has a long way still to go, but victorious battles like this one in a debating hall may mean fewer, or even no, future battles in the field or on the streets.


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