The centre must hold, 11 December 2001

from It is now three months since the events that ‘changed the world’. In the semi-conclusion of the war in Afghanistan, the Bush administration has overthrown the Taliban, the protectors of those responsible for 9/11, although it has not ended al-Qaeda. The price has been considerable loss of life among civilians (Jonathan Steele, The Guardian 11 Dec., guesstimates 1500 dead, compared to the 3000+ in New York) as well as widespread hardship – and many more deaths among Taliban soldiers. A covert political struggle is apparently going on between Blair’s UK, favouring consolidation in Afghanistan, and the US desire to export its war to new zones. Clearly it is important that the war is contained and that lawlessness, deepened by the war, is replaced by real improvements in the living conditions and political system of the Afghan people.

However the job of academics and others in civil society is to do more than urge on the relatively progressive elements in the international coalition. It is true, as John Lloyd argues (New Statesman 8 Dec.) that New Labour represents a partial political alternative to Bush’s reaction. But this is muted by the UK’s overriding and subordinate alliance to the US. And some elements of the British response – notably the blanket widening of already repressive powers – blur further any distinction.

Academics, journalists and NGOs must propose alternatives to new social democracy’s trimming. On this site, David Held outlines a consistent case for global justice, the only basis for a larger political alternative to war. This project, on which we invite comments, vindicates the academic calling when some – both on the right and left (see the arguments of Buzan and Chitty on this page) are surrendering any serious ethical basis for their analysis. The centre – not compromised New Labour but the project and practice of a morally consistent politics – must hold.

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