I want to do something. You want to do something. How could you not? Our government sanctions invasions; it sanctions torture; it lies to us, misrepresenting dodgy intelligence to compel us to agree. It makes us live in fear; it takes away our liberties; and all the time it says it is protecting us.
How could we not want to do something?
But, like most people, I can’t really start taking planes apart. Like most people, I’m wedded to a lot of elements of society that, although they might not prohibit me taking apart a plane, at least render it a rather incongruous action. The idea that I need to take apart a plane to be keeping it real in the fight against “Tony Bliar” (did you see what I did there?) depresses me utterly. I can’t take apart a plane every night. I might manage one in my lifetime before my heart gives up in sheer terror.
Some people can’t even tell one end of a plane from the other. They might take apart the wrong bit, a bit that the plane doesn’t need. They might take apart something else entirely, like one of those motorized staircases that transport people up to the cockpit. If you imagine how demoralizing it is to tell people they have to take extreme actions in order to change the world, or at any rate that bit of the world that’s theoretically morally corrupt maybe possibly in their name somewhere… then it’s doubly demoralizing to find you’ve just rendered inoperative a kind of glorified Stannah stairlift.
These shouty people, those who propose dramatic action, or dramatic theories that they can rail against, are taking the easy way out. Their own characters are so histrionic and anarchic that only the extreme can satisfy them, provoke them. And so they talk about possible, yet incredibly unlikely, destruction of the World Trade Center by neoconservatives, because a lone Uzbek being boiled alive by his gaolers isn’t enough of a narrative.
Meanwhile us poor buggers are demoralized and ground down. We can’t go on march after march, to find nothing’s changed that matches our effort, to find the supine police force lying about the numbers that attended. We can’t spend our evenings breaking into RAF bases. I go to RAF bases to have dinner with a desk jockey engineer and his wife. I can’t steal back later on with murderous intent towards his planes. And I’ve seen the automatic rifles the men on the gates carry: I’ve seen them really close up.
The irony is that, out of all that’s being done to wage war against the extremists we’ve ended up electing in the UK and the US, I think it’s the small actions that are winning this war. It’s the steady drip-drip of opprobrium and the accumulation of disdain that’s having the greatest effect. The marches help, no doubt: but when the headlines have faded, and John Reid is shouting at someone else, and another mosque is being targeted, and another young man being enraged by the headlines that we barely see, then where is the march? A march is like the firing of a flare in this battle: it illuminates a patch of issues briefly, confusingly, and then it’s gone. The little good deeds are like hurricane lamps: they’re lit; they last; they show us where to put more lamps.
We can’t take apart planes every day, but we can blog. We can chat. We can refute received opinion and wrongheadedness. You know when your friend or neighbour said something racist or a bit Daily Mail, and you bit your tongue for an easy life? Next time: firmly, but politely, don’t. However difficult you’ll make things, it’ll pale into insignificance by other people’s difficulties (especially if they’ve got the plane blueprints upside-down, but I was actually thinking of the Lebanese and Palestinians).
We can talk to the people that strata of society have turned into pariahs—in Witney, the Big Issue seller, but I’m sure there are others. We can note down statistics, listen to From Our Own Correspondent, turn to the foreign pages first. We can write letters to our MPs. We can donate to charities. We can learn, and be open, and be ready to defend our fellow man.
Last night I did a small thing. I spent some time on the web researching Druze, a religion I’d never heard of before the Lebanese crisis. That was all I could manage, because I have a job and don’t get much sleep at this time of year. I know it’s not much, but I’m ready to do something similar tonight. Today I finally ordered Murder in Samarkand, which was similarly easy. I don’t feel like I’ve shot my bolt with a 300-mile round trip and a tramp round conference buildings. On Saturday, if I can make it and if my antisocial tendencies permit, I’ll talk to the poor buggers on the “don’t hate Islam, please” stall on Cornmarket. That will be my everyday contribution for then, and after that I’ll think of another. Other people dismantle the military-industrial complex; I’m starting on my bad habits instead. If I can tackle the worst one—starting things I never finish—I’ll have got somewhere.