Op-ed on War on Terror Debate Between Mayor of London Ken Livingstone and Neoconservative Daniel Pipes

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A major philosophical line was drawn in London last week regarding the “War on Terror,” and very few in the American press took notice.

It occurred at a debate I attended between the mayor of London, Ken Livingstone, and Daniel Pipes, one of America’s leading neoconservative thinkers and a visiting professor at Pepperdine University. This was a huge event for the United Kingdom. Though the debate was held early on a Saturday morning, all 2000 seats at the central conference center for the city were quickly taken, and 3000 people filled overflow rooms. London cab drivers knew about the debate and were quick to offer their opinions; while the American press was virtually nonexistent, the room was dotted with reporters from the English and Arab press.


Livingstone’s office, which organized the proceedings, seemingly attempted to paint the clash as one between good and evil. The title of the debate was “A World Civilization or a Clash of Civilizations?” The program for the event featured a picture with yellow child-like figures holding hands against a purple background; as one’s eyes moved down the page these children morphed into purple bombs set against a yellow background. The audience, judging by the questions of the panelists, leaned heavily to the Left.

Livingstone, known as “Red Ken” in the early 80’s because of his strong left-wing views, is one of Britain’s most popular and powerful politicians. Many credit him with being the force behind bringing the Olympics to London in 2012. Some Londoners that I spoke with at the debate compared him to Chicago Mayor Richard Daley, insofar as they both have built up such powerful political machines that they virtually could serve as “mayors for life.”

He opened by stating that he called the debate because he was worried that the United States would make the same mistake that it made right after World War II, where for fifty years it sought to impose American domination of Soviet Russia, “leading to the deaths of 22 million,” as opposed to reaching out and working with the Soviets to advance humanity. He went on to state that the American-British world which was organized to their “own convenience” was passing, and that these powers had to inevitably realize this and embrace the concept of a world civilization. Thus, reaching out to Islamists as he had done in London was the best way to get them into the political process and work with them to build a just society.

Pipes presented the opposite view. He stated that a totalitarian threat similar in danger to fascism and communism was emerging right under the West’s nose in places like London, and that political leaders like Livingstone were aiding and abetting it. He singled out Great Britain in general and the mayor in particular as allowing radical Muslims to flourish under democratic protections, thereby putting his citizenry and the West at risk. He pointed to the UK-based attacks on fifteen countries from Afghanistan to Saudi Arabia to the United States. He quoted the Koran in rejecting the notion that he was advocating a “clash of civilizations” or a “war on Islam,” choosing instead to describe it as a “battle between civilization and barbarism.”

Having watched firebrand British politicians like Livingstone and George Galloway on C-Span, I was convinced that the British Left had allied itself with the Islamist community based on their shared antipathy toward United States’, British and Israeli policy. Judging by the audience reaction at the debate, I was wrong.

When the debating partner of Mayor Livingston, a young Muslim woman politician named Salma Yaqoob, labeled the July 7 suicide bombings as “reprisal events,” the audience gasped in horror. Sir Martin Gilbert, the famous biographer of Winston Churchill, followed up by saying that his son had been targeted in those attacks, and asking who Yaqoob and Livingstone thought were behind these “reprisals.” To the chagrin of the audience, neither the mayor nor his second answered. When Livingstone was asked how he could reconcile his embrace of Islamists with their views on gay rights and women, and he responded that these views were similar to those held by the Church of England fifty years ago and that Islam will evolve as the church had through the democratic process, most in the hall seemed overtly unconvinced.

In short, while the majority of the British Left still is unhappy with the policies of their country, America and Israel toward the Middle East, it seemingly has drawn the line at allying with Islamists that are committed to murdering Jews and homosexuals, abusing women and imposing Sharia law on British. That to me is newsworthy.

”’Adam Pechter is the deputy publisher of the Middle East Quarterly.”’