March 12, 2006

Brave potshots at the powerless

I just found this Gary Younge article in a rather convoluted way. I was looking at the Aaronovitch Watch blog which led me to a David Aaronovitch article attacking Gary Younge for criticising the fact that Aaronovitch received an award for bravery for supporting the war on Iraq.

So, here's a bit of the Younge article:
But the days when courage referred to those who take on the mighty against all odds and face the consequences are, apparently, over. For, when it comes to attacking the weak and backing the strong, "bravery" has somehow become the mot du jour. A couple of years ago a British journalist won a major award for columns supporting the Iraq war on the grounds that to do so was "brave". Whether the award was deserved is irrelevant; the judges' adjective is the issue.

What, after all, is "brave" about supporting the policies of both your government and the sole global superpower against a country that posed no threat? Likewise, when David Goodhart, the editor of Prospect magazine, published his blueprint for racial exclusion two years ago ("To put it bluntly," he wrote, "most of us prefer our own kind"), he was praised for being "bold". As though maligning diversity constituted an act of courage in a country where black people are overwhelmingly more likely to be stopped, searched, jailed, murdered in jail, unemployed and marginalised. It is not the validity of these arguments that is at issue here but the characterisation of those who make them as audacious that is problematic.
The next paragraph is what gives Aaronovitch his window to launch a mindless ad hominem attack on Younge:
Note, however, his operating assumption:

"To align yourself with the powerful and then take aim at the powerless takes not one ounce of valour. To prop up prevailing hierarchies and orthodoxies rather than challenge them demands not a scintilla of bravery. True, like Summers (of Harvard), you may run into trouble. But just look who's covering your back. With the prevailing winds of war, prejudice or the state on your side, the odds are with you."

In other words, he is the brave one. It is in challenging "prevailing hierarchies and orthodoxies" that true bravery lies. Propping them up takes no courage. This line is full of unwitting irony, as any person who has attended a Guardian editorial mass meeting would know. But look, a writer needs his image. Later on I'll try and show what I think courage looks like.
There is nothing in that paragraph to suggest that Younge is describing himself as brave. He is merely pointing out that if you align yourself with the powers that be you will attract all manner of inappropriate compliments.

Like me, Aaronovitch moderates his comments. Here's an extract from a comment that was allowed through:
Younge you are the worst kind of coward.

Worse you have attacked a colleague, not because of an issue relating to a misguided awarding of a gong for bravery, but rather as a result of the fact that his work is so far superior to yours.

David's work is not only a cut above yours with regard to his ability to put things down in words but also his focus on issues that require debate.

In future Mr Younge take your spiteful jealousy and put it where it belongs - children's comics.
Now Aaronovitch himself claims to have discouraged the use of the term brave to describe his work when he collected his award. So what's so terrible about others criticising it? And Younge didn't even name Aaronovitch.

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