Reviewed from different perspectives by Robert Halfon and Brian Jenner
Robert Halfon is Political Director of Conservative Friends of Israel and has been fastracked to re-stand in Harlow at the next election.
Prepare to be depressed. This is not a book for a balmy summer’s day.
It is a more a manual about the threat of global jihad, the new
totalitarianism of our age.
In stark terms, Celsius 7/7 suggests that just as Fascism subsumed tolerant nationalism and communism engulfed moderate socialism, Islamism has subjugated Islam (Mr Gove does not like the term Islamic fundamentalist).
In the bleak world that is painted by Celsius 7/7, it is the free West - just as in the 1930s - that has allowed this rise in Islamism to continue unabated. Through a mixture of short term self interest and so called ‘realpolitik’, it is the West that is the primary author of its own misfortune.
From the misguided policy towards Iraq and Iran during the 1980s and 90s, to the encouragement of ‘soft’ authoritarian regimes such as Saudi Arabia, far from discouraging Islamism, the West has merely fuelled the appetite for Islamist totalitarianism. Despite numerous Islamic terrorist atrocities, it took 9/11 and 7/7 for the free world to finally get to grips with the Islamist threat. Yet even after these events, the tough response to the war on terror has come under continuous assault from politicians who prefer populism to security and from a media and active left wing who have adopted doctrines of moral relativism and moral equivalence.
When faced with an Islamic theocracy in Iran, the West prevaricates. When the Iranian President promises to wipe Israel off the map and builds up his nuclear arsenal, the West communicates a message that at best is confused and at worst shows weakness of the highest order. When President Ahmanidejad supports the Shia insurgency in Iraq, finances and provides sophisticated weaponry to Hezbollah in Lebanon, the response of the UN and the EU is more ‘jaw, jaw’ than ‘war war’. President Chirac, with his eye on French contracts in the Middle East cautions against sanctions - no doubt hoping to visit Tehran, promising to return to Europe with a piece of paper proclaiming 'peace in his time’.
The West’s lack of will to deal with Islamism, is buttressed by huge sections of the media and elements of the left who view the conflict between the free world and Islamism as one of moral relativism and moral equivalence.
In this warped world view, there is no difference between Saddam Hussein and George Bush. One gassed and buried alive hundreds of thousands of Kurds, the other was responsible for Abu Graib. But, as Mr Gove points out, there is a difference. The former was state policy, the latter a tragic (and disgusting) abuse by errant soldiers. Similarly, in the pantheon of moral equivalence there is no difference between Israel - a democratic state subject to the rule of law - struggling for its daily existence and Hezbollah and Hamas, Islamist terrorist organisations who have appropriated the Palestinian cause.
A recent BBC documentary ‘elusive peace’ provided a classic example of this. The Israelis and Palestinians were painted as players on a chess board, no different from the other. The whole process was about ‘tit for tat’. Assassinations of Islamist terrorist leaders in revenge for suicide bombers and such like rather than a battle between a democratic state and a Palestinian Government that refused to dismantle its terrorist infrastructure.
Moral relativism and moral equivalence have provided a cloak in which the left can embrace Islamism as a means by which to express their hostility to capitalism, the West and particularly the United States. Israel becomes the prism which the left and media establishment can unite against. So Ken Livingstone can nakedly court the Islamic vote in London, by making seemingly anti-Semitic remarks and virulent attacks on the State of Israel. We have a grotesque spectacle of the re-emergence of the red-brown coalition in which left wingers - previously campaigners for sexual equality and freedom of speech - form common cause with Islamists whose raison d’etre is repression of minorities and dictatorship.
There are of course some honourable exceptions. Peter Tatchell being a prime example and the group of left intellectuals behind the Euston Manifesto. Nevertheless the red-brown alliance gives great encouragement to Islamist totalitarians across the world. From Communism to Al Qaeda, sections of the left have transmogrified into Bin Laden’s ‘useful idiots’. It is no accident that the last chapter in Celsius 7/7 is entitled ‘What is to be done?’.
Indeed this concluding chapter offers some hope amidst all the gloom. Celsius 7/7 gives a clarion cry for moral relativism to be replaced by moral clarity about our values and what we stand for. The book urges the West to follow through the war in Iraq until the Islamists are defeated and the war on terror won.
Mr Gove passionately argues for an ethical foreign policy whose main purpose is to promote genuine democracy and the rule of law across the world. This must mean more than just democratic elections. True freedom embodies democratic values not just the machinery of democracy. So a genuinely free Government upholds the rule of law, protects minorities and guarantees freedom of expression. It does not mean winning elections and holding power with the barrel of the gun as in the case of the Nazis in the 1930s and Hamas in the Palestinian Authority in 2006.
At home, Mr Gove pleads for Mr Blair not to fight the war on terror on the one hand but appease radical Islamists at home by putting them on Government committees or giving radicals 'knighthoods' that have done nothing in the cause of moderation to deserve it. The author urges a commitment to build a truly inclusive model of British citizenship in which divisive separatist identities are challenged and rejected.
In the 1930s in Berlin, William L Shirer painstakingly documented the rise of Hitler, his seizure of power the violence of the brownshirts and the Nazi quest for world domination. Michael Gove, also a young journalist (and MP) is the William L Shirer of our time. If anyone cares deeply about our freedoms, they should read this book. If anyone wants to understand when Danish newspapers publish cartoons that are sensitive to Islamists, why buildings are ransacked and destroyed they should study the chapters in Celsius 7/7. If anyone cannot comprehend why an academic speech made by the Pope causes nuns to be murdered, Churches in the West Bank to be destroyed and effigies burnt, they must read Michael Gove's book. As Celsius 7/7 states: the Islamists smell our fear.
Brian Jenner runs a blog on the subject of speechwriting.
Michael Gove has written a book articulating the terrible threat that Islamic fundamentalism poses to our way of life. With anyone who raises apocalyptic fears, you can’t dismiss them out of hand, you can only analyse the style and substance of the arguments and work out whether you buy them or not.
Gove’s message is the Islamists are out to get us and we have to fight them like we fought Communism. In the best tradition of conspiracy theorists, he tells us we are bumbling, useless and half-asleep, while they are well-organized, watchful and determined.
Gove’s case is spelt out in irritating overstatements. Take the opening to the chapter which describes the ‘weightless’ (whatever that means) decade: "W H Auden described the 1930s as a ‘low dishonest decade’. Would that he had lived to see the 1990s. This was the decade in which the West forgot itself."
There follows several pages of tendentious theorising. He says Margaret Thatcher achieved ascendancy over the terrorists. Whereas John Major showed weakness. Well, I don’t remember it quite like that. When the IRA started bombing the City of London, the threat to the economy was so great that they had to negotiate. The fact that Major was prepared to deal with them is described as ‘Britain’s terminal weakness’, and Gove implies that when Major did not insist on the decommissioning of weapons, the Islamists took note. You find yourself saying, ‘Whoa!’ on every page, because of the broad sweep of the generalizations.
Gove’s prose gets manic at times, calling for Western society to wake up and acquire moral clarity. He suggests that in Iraq they should have applied more force. The operation at Fallujah was a success. He urges the use of ‘exemplary military force’ to combat terrorism. Why couldn’t he have chosen the word ‘brutal’? That’s what he means.
There is a potted history of the rise of Islamic fundamentalism and some tough and convincing things said about the threat to Israel. But lazy sentences like, ‘Clearly, the Palestinian people deserve a brighter future.’ had me thinking, ‘Well that’s very generous of you Michael.’
He has a chapter on the ‘Fellow Travellers’. Gove doesn’t like George Galloway, he doesn’t like the Guardian, he doesn’t like the BBC. He claims that the fact that a number of people who went on anti-war marches were pro-Palestinian somehow devalues them. At one point Michael Gove, yes Michael Gove, the ubiquitous Times’ journalist, broadcaster, MP and panelist attacks the ‘media establishment’.
Gove says he believes in democracy, but he doesn’t seem to keen to see it in messy action. He attacks Galloway because during his election campaign: "Ms King’s Jewish birth, her gender and her support for the liberation of Iraq were all highlighted". Well, that may not be cricket, but I don’t think it merits outrage.
He ends with an impassioned argument:
"If we believe in the superiority of our way of life, if we believe, as the anti-apartheid movement and the civil rights movement believed, that freedom knows no boundaries and every human being is precious, then we should believe in, and want urgently to work for, the spread of democracy across the globe."
Well that’s right. The moral clarity of the West is that we believe that every human life is precious – that’s why it is so difficult to support the War on Terror. I’m not sure we do believe in the superiority of our way of life. As Chris Patten put it in Not Quite the Diplomat:
"it is important to avoid sounding like Silvio Berlusconi and other politicians and church leaders who suggest that we dwell on a higher moral plane in Europe, custodians of a superior set of moral values and attitudes – conveniently managing to file and forget gas chambers, gulags, and our Christian heritage of flagrant or more discreet anti-Semitism and Islamophobia."
Democracy is desirable, but Western leaders seem to be happy to compromise when it comes to characters like General Musharraf. Is it wise to wage the War on Terror if it makes the situation far worse and you can’t win it? Gove might read up on the life of Robert McNamara, and his 11 Thoughts on the Vietnam War.
This book revels in the idiom of anti-Communist propaganda – Gove seems to be inspired by the style of a 1930s pamphlet. (Maybe he’s going to follow through and sign up to fight himself). Why is he doing this when he is always reminding us that Conservatives have to talk to the voters in a different way? How can any moderniser say: "The sapping of confidence in Western values encouraged by the Radical left since 1968"? Nobody will buy that.
As a grass roots Conservative, I can’t ever see the British public voting in a Government espousing this ‘neo con’ view of world affairs.