Monday, May 10, 2004

Melanie Phillips and torture

When you write a letter complaining about a reference to you in a newspaper you never admit to having bought a copy. You always it has been "drawn to my attention".

Similarly, no Liberal Democrat ever admits to having bought the Daily Mail. You always say you picked up a discarded copy on the train.

So it was that I read Melanie Phillips' column in the Mail this morning. (The newspaper does not have much of a site itself, but she has a comprehensive one of her own.)

Melanie Phillips is a hate figure for many on the left, but I rather admire her. I like her rather Victorian sensibility (and that is a compliment in my book) and her willingness to talk about heavy moral concepts.

As David Goodhart is quoted as saying in this Guardian profile:

"'I do admire her.' In her work, he sees 'debates we should be having' about the social and cultural loosenings since the 60s, about 'the bad side-effects of the freedom we want'."

But her effort this morning was dreadful.

Torture is not a good subject for a columnist. You can do more than say it is wrong. Or, in Phillips' words: "Torture is always wrong, and corrupts those who employ it."

Trouble is, editors expect you to write to length, so you have to say more than that. Which is why Phillips found herself writing: "Torture is always wrong, and corrupts those who employ it. But..."

The "But" turned out to be: "But the moral squeamishness of the west is also the hole in its defences. The digital camera on the belt of the western soldier is a devastating weapon against his own side."

So opposition to torture is moral squeamishness and a hole in our defences? I prefer to think of it as what distinguishes a civilised country from someone like Saddam Hussein.

On Phillips' analysis the problem at Abu Ghraib is not the dogs or the nakedness or the beatings. It is the digital cameras.

No comments: