Notes From the Margins…

Open Letter to Tristram Hunt

  • December 06, 2015
  • by

Dear Tristram Hunt MP,

You have probably never heard of me, and there is no reason why you should.  But I felt moved to write to you because a  rather freakish and unusual series of events has brought our names into the same orbit.   Today, while driving home, I heard on the radio that you have asked Jeremy Corbyn to distance himself from the Stop the War organization by not attending their annual fundraising dinner, because according to you STW is a ‘disreputable’ organization.

Had I heard this on any other weekend, I would have thought that this was just another attempt by a rightwing Labour MP to undermine Jeremy Corbyn and the Stop the War movement.

I wouldn’t have been happy to hear this, of course.  Because unlike you, what I find really disreputable is when governments deceive their populations in order to wage reckless wars of aggression that result in hundreds of thousands of deaths and destabilize entire societies and regions.

I find it disreputable that politicians entirely ignore the death and destruction that these wars cause.   Of course we are not going to agree there, because you are one of those politicians, who has  supported all of the wars that the Stop the War movement has campaigned against , and you continue to advocate new ‘interventions’, as you did last week.

So it is only natural that you would seek to attack the most prominent anti-war movement in the country.   But this time I had a personal interest in this matter, because your dark references to STW’s ‘comments about Islamic State’ referred to a blog post that I wrote last week which has attracted considerable and – for my part – unusual attention.

If you read Buzzfeed, for example, you will be aware that our names are linked together in a bulletin which cites a quote from that blog and says that your intervention followed criticism of Stop the War because  “journalist Matt Carr appeared to praise the “international solidarity” of the Islamic State.”

You may also be aware that your fellow MP and Shadow Environment Secretary  Lisa Nandy described that blog post as “extraordinary” on John Piennar’s Radio 5 politics show.   Now I know that politicians are busy, and I very much doubt whether you or Ms Nandy read the blog post in question, or the piece that I posted two days later to clarify the unexpected controversy that it generated.

Nevertheless, as a historian, I’m sure that you know that a reliance on partial and incomplete sources is not always useful when making judgments and assessments about the past.   On this occasion however, your training seems to have deserted you.  If you had read my post, you would have seen that I criticized Hilary Benn’s cynical attempt to appropriate the International Brigades in order to justify a Tory bombing campaign.

I also attempted to point out one of the key themes in the history of the jihadist movement; the notion of transnational solidarity with oppressed Muslims as a recruiting and motivational tool.  Now in retrospect, I think I could have developed this idea more fully, and that if I had, it might have made my meaning clearer, but even so a cursory reading of my blog would have made it absolutely clear that I was not ‘praising’ Daesh, or putting it on the same moral level as the International Brigades.  

Neither you or Ms Nandy appear to have given it such a reading, in your haste to use my words to condemn Stop the War as pro-Islamist and pro-terrorist.  It’s unlikely therefore, that you read some of my other blog posts, such as the following:

You can loathe the Islamic State (IS) all you like, and an organization that beheads prisoners and posts videos boasting about it, rapes women, crucifies Christians and uses its primitive interpretation of Islam as a justification to murder anyone with impunity, is fully deserving of all the loathing and disgust that it receives

Or this:

We can say that the “soldier of the caliphate” who thought slaughtering at least 38 unarmed tourists was funny is no more worthy of respect than a Nazi concentration camp guard.     We can say that such men are not heroes and they are not brave, anymore than Anders Breivik and Dylan Rooff were brave.

And you can also find this:

In short, this is a gang of fanatics driven by bigotry and sectarian hatred, that rules through the gun, the knife and the whip, whose language is blood and death, and which has trampled even the most basic and elementary laws of mercy and decency in war and peace that humanity has evolved over thousands of years through various religious and secular traditions.

And more recently:

Let”s get one thing straight: the responsibility for last night”s disgusting massacre in Paris belongs to the shrunken specimens of humanity that carried them out and the organization that sent them to do it.  The attacks are yet more evidence if any were needed that Daesh/ISIS is one of the most vicious and repugnant gangs of mass murderers in history, and differs from its more prolific predecessors only in terms of what they are able to achieve, rather than from any moral or ethical scruples regarding who they have the right to kill.

All these posts are available on the Stop the War website.  If you’d read them then you would have understood perfectly well that I do not ‘praise’ Daesh, and that Stop the War doesn’t either.

But your latest intervention suggests that you have already got what you wanted from my piece, and that rather than engage with any of the arguments expressed there, you would prefer to use Stop the War  as an instrument to undermine the leader of the Labour Party,  whose authority and mandate you have never recognized.

And no matter how much you try to hold the moral high ground, I can’t help feeling that using the movement for such blatant political ends  is far more disreputable than anything I have said.

But then we are not going to agree there, either, are we?

Yours sincerely,

Matt Carr



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  1. Anon

    7th Dec 2015 - 11:22 am

    OK, but why the constant rage and negative emotions in your writing? Loathing, degenerate, disgust, disgusting, shrunken specimens… Never, for example, mental illness, personality disorder, PTSD, misplaced and immorally expressed bitterness, educational, social and psychological deprivation… These, apart from distancing oneself from tabloid psychology, offer glimpses of the solution to these deep problems. I recommend reading writings belonging to the peace studies tradition of research.

    • Matt

      7th Dec 2015 - 11:40 am

      Well, you are reading concentrated extracts culled from various pieces to answer a particular point. That’s one thing. There’s also the fact that the acts these pieces were immediate response written in response to what were outrageous and despicable acts that deserve all the negative adjectives I can throw at them, and because I feel angry – and also despairing – at such rabid cruelty, disrespect for human life, and also for the terrible political and social damage that also results from these actions. So I wasn’t in the mood for empathy with their perpetrators. Some of the things you mention may certainly have a bearing on some of these individuals, and if you read my book on terrorism The Infernal Machine, you will see that I do take them into account. But some of the things you mention ‘mental illness, personality, PTSD’ etc, are purely speculative explanations for individual motivations, and they can’t be considered as blanket explanations for the calculated political/religious violence which Daesh has engaged in with such relentless ferocity.

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About Me

I’m a writer, campaigner and journalist.  My latest book is The Savage Frontier: The Pyrenees in History and the Imagination (New Press/Hurst, 2018).  The Infernal Machine is where I write on politics, history, cinema and other things that interest me.

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