A happy new year to all.
The Daily Telegraph yesterday published a review of my book Anti-Totalitarianism, and of Douglas Murray's Neoconservatism from the same publisher. The reviewer is Neil Clark; as the review does not seem to be in the newspaper's online edition, I can only direct you, with reluctance, to Mr Clark's web log for the text.
You will understand my reluctance when I say that Mr Clark is also the author of a piece in The New Statesman from 2002 entitled 'Milosevic, Prisoner of Conscience'. You can read his tribute to the deposed aggressor here, on the web site of the International Committee to Defend Slobodan Milosevic. I should not normally hold an author accountable for the uses to which his words are put, but this article has been reprinted 'by permission of the author'. Its opening two paragraphs are beyond summary, and defy irony, so here they are:
I always remember my first visit to Belgrade, in the summer of 1998. As an unreconstructed socialist, completely out of step with the spirit of the age, I had spent most of the Nineties trying to escape, as best I could, to a place where it was still 1948. So imagine my delight when I arrived in Belgrade and found a city that seemed miraculously to have escaped all the horrors of global grunge.
Bookshops, self-service restaurants and state-owned department stores abounded: a walk down the city boulevards reminded one of a British high street in the late Sixties. My delight turned to ecstasy when, on entering a state-owned bookshop, I saw on prominent display in the window a copy of that classic tome Arguments for Socialism by Tony Benn. What a truly wonderful place was Belgrade! Yet here I was, in the capital city of a nation commonly regarded as the 'pariah' state of Europe and whose leader - a certain Slobodan Milosevic - was routinely dismissed in the western media as Europe's Saddam Hussein. Four years on, the same Slobodan Milosevic languishes in a cell awaiting trial on charges of war crimes and genocide.
You will see that Mr Clark has, as President Carter said of the first President Bush, a silliness problem. I was marginally aware of his condition, in that he has lately taken to sending me (along with, I believe, David Aaronovitch, Nick Cohen and one or two others) peevish emails saying - I paraphrase, but the sentiment is exact - 'I demand you pay me some attention.'
In the circumstances, I am less than downcast that Neil Clark has not a kind word to say of my book. In that respect I emerge better than Douglas Murray - who, unlike me, is a neoconservative, and whom Mr Clark at least praises on matters of social policy. (My book is about only foreign policy; had it covered domestic policy too, I should have written very different conclusions from Douglas's view that 'public services should be cut, and again not just cut, but slashed'.)
In a sense, there's nothing that can be said about Mr Clark's review other than the reason that nothing can be said. If you read it, you find that the one direct quotation Mr Clark gives from my book is, by extraordinary coincidence, the only one that appears in the summary on the back of the dust jacket. Clark also says:
Kamm has fun baiting the woolly minded peace activists of the 1930s, and the supporters of unilateral nuclear disarmament in the 1980s, but is on much shakier ground when trying to portray those who opposed the invasion of secular, Ba’athist Iraq as apologists for Islamo-fascism.
The fact that my book discusses debates over disarmament and collective security in the 1930s and the 1980s is also stated on the dust jacket. My depiction of opponents of the invasion of Iraq as 'apologists for Islamofascism' does not appear on the jacket, however, because - not being my view - it does not appear in the book. Of the roughly 40,000 words I wrote, none is 'Islamofascism' or 'Islamofascist'. Where I refer to the ideology of al-Qaeda, I almost always say 'Islamism' (not strictly accurate, but better than 'Islamofascist', as it stresses the theocratic character of the movement).
As Mr Clark is not the first reviewer to invent comments that aren't in the book, I'll state the point again in the hope that doing so will deter others from this practice. (The other reviewer to do this at least has the excuse that British politics is a complete mystery to him.) I distinguish between the mainstream critics of the war in Iraq and the SWP/Respect/Stop the War campaigners (one organisation, not three). The latter are not 'apologists for Islamofascism', but advocates of fascism, comparable to the British People's Party or the Parti Populaire Francais in the 1930s, which supported Nazi Germany and were unabashedly antisemitic. The mainstream campaigners are not 'apologists for Islamofascism' either, and are far from the totalitarianism of the SWP/Respect/Stop the War. In my judgement they are analogous to the peace campaigners of the 1930s who saw collective security as an alternative to war, rather than perceiving that collective security required war.
My only explanation for Mr Clark's introducing the term 'Islamofascism' into his review is that, instead of commenting on my book, he can then cut-and-paste material he has published elsewhere in numerous corners of the Internet. Here, for example, in a reader comment at Harry's Place, he makes the identical claims culled from pro-Serb propaganda that he retails in his review (even though his gullibility is speedily exposed by another reader in the same thread). The reason he needs to introduce this extraneous material is one I would not normally be ungallant enough to state, but find difficult to avoid in this case owing to its blatancy. As Mr Clark refers to me in the review as a young writer, it would appear that he has gone one better than not reading the book and has not opened it either. (I am 42 - older than Mr Clark - and my year of birth is included in the author biography on the inside flap of the dust jacket.) Mr Clark has included in his review what information he could glean from the cover, and has otherwise taken an ill-directed guess from the title on what my book contains.
I blame no one for being disinclined to read my book. If, however, the editor of the Books section of the Telegraph happens to read this site, he will be able to take an informed view on the value for money that a fee paid to Mr Clark represents. The same, of course, goes for the editors or Comment editors of other journals - The Times for example - that Mr Clark lists as having carried his work. And if Mr Clark reads this, he will be relieved to discover that the extent to which he has earned his professional fees, in the Telegraph's case at least, is no longer a secret he need bear alone.
UPDATE: Neil Clark has written to me to insist that, contrary to my inference from circumstantial evidence, he did indeed read my book before reviewing it for The Telegraph. As he says so, I believe him. Why he submitted a review that, in my opinion and unlike any other I have read of any book in any British newspaper, could have been written without knowledge of the text other than the summary on the dust jacket and my op-ed in The Times on 7 November is a matter Mr Clark will perhaps enlighten us on in due course, along with the reasons for his rendition of a discredited staple of Serb-nationalist propaganda.