by Jonathan Todd
A monopoly on violence is a pithy definition of statehood derived from Max Weber. On these terms, thugs in the Middle East have recently achieved this standard. There was a gang in the East End of London, the Krays, who did the same in the 1960s. The People’s Republic wasn’t then declared. This waited for Lutfur Rahman.
The key word that I’ve missed from Weber’s definition is legitimate. The violence visited on James Foley is no more legitimate than that of the Krays. That’s why James Kirkup insists that Foley’s killing was a murder, a criminal act, not an execution, something states do to breakers of their most important rules.
Ken Livingstone, who has topped Labour’s NEC “constituency reps” ballot, helped Rahman to his current status. Livingstone’s victory indicates the strength of Labour’s left, which tends to be more suspicious than the Labour right of military intervention and the motives of the US, as well as quicker to explain Islamic extremism in terms of the perceived failings of the west.
If ISIS doesn’t prompt the Labour left to consider military intervention, will anything? If US bombing of ISIS, in an attempt to avert genocide, doesn’t justify support from the Labour left for US action, will they ever support such action? If the brutal murder of an American, a civilian only seeking to do his job as a journalist, can be explained in terms of supposed US failings, can’t everything?
The Labour left might now be questioning their presumptions. Or maybe not, maybe the Iraq war’s shadow remains too long. As David Miliband, often dismissed as a Blairite by the left, has recently conceded, the outcome of that war “induces a high degree of humility”. Therefore, if the Labour left are now reassessing, they are doing what the Labour right has done for the past decade.
I wrote recently that Labour needs new thinking on the Middle East. Atul Hatwal has provided some – arguing the case for a pragmatic approach to President Assad in Syria. And Lord Glasman has too – advocating that we be pro-Kurdish, pro-Iranian and pro-Christian.