Ian McEwan, along with the likes of Christopher Hitchens, Martin Amis and Salman Rushdie, formed part of a group of talented, eloquent, progressive, left-leaning anti-Thatcherite British writers in the 1980s.
But like Hitchens, he refuses to don the Dunce’s cap when it comes to Iraq and the ‘War on Terror’.
This interview is from Der Speigel, and came soon after the London bombings, while McEwan was promoting his book based on terrorism, "Saturday”:
SPIEGEL: A lot of the themes of your book are being played out on the streets today, particularly the idea that there is no refuge from terror. Even the family refuge is not safe.
McEwan: Exactly. There is no refuge and if you want to be in a city like London, with its relatively successful racial mix, it's impossible to defend. That's the other thing I wrote at the end of my book, that these possibilities were lying just open, so easy to do.
SPIEGEL: How can cities protect themselves?
McEwan: Inevitably, we're going to start seeing around the preposterous political correctness that allows us to have radical clerics preaching in mosques and recruiting young people. We have been caught too much by a sense that we can just regard these clerics as being like English eccentrics at Hyde Park Corner. But the problem is that their audience has already been to training camps.
SPIEGEL: But isn't the West providing the best advertisement for terrorist recruiters by being in Iraq and killing Islamic civilians, torturing Muslim prisoners a la Abu Ghraib and spreading pictures of the deeds around the world?
MCEWAN: I don't think terror needs a breeding ground. I don't buy the arguments in the Iraq war. What keeps getting forgotten here is that the people committing massacres in Iraq right now belong to al-Qaida. We're witnessing a civil war that's taking place in Islam. The most breathtaking statement was the one of al-Qaida claiming responsibility for the London bombings saying it was in return for the massacre in Iraq. But the massacres in Iraq now are being conducted by al-Qaida against Muslims. I also think it's extraordinary the way in which we get morally selective in our outrages. When there was a rumor that someone at Guantanamo Bay had flushed a Koran down the lavatory, the pages in The Guardian almost caught fire with outrage, but only months before the Taliban had set fire to a mosque and destroyed 300 ancient Korans.
SPIEGEL: In your book, the Iraq war still hasn't happened yet. And the day in which the book takes place, Feb. 15, 2003, is the day in which massive peace demonstrations took place in London. Henry's daughter Daisy is among the protesters and he is full of ire and sarcasm about them. He doubts they can rightfully claim morality for themselves. Do these passages echo your own ambivalent views on the matter?
McEwan: Yes, it does. I never thought that in the run up to the war we were discussing simply the difference between war and peace. We were discussing the difference between war and continued torture and genocide and abuse of human rights by a fascist state. I missed any sense of that complexity in the peace camp. I certainly had the feeling that whatever the strong moral arguments were for deposing Saddam, the Americans would not be good nation-builders. But I had a moral problem with this view among the 2 million protesters that you should leave Saddam in power in a fascist state with 27 million Iraqis under him. The problem is that they felt good about it. I thought they should have opposed the war but also felt bad about it.
SPIEGEL: Do you think invading Iraq was a mistake?
McEwan: I think if Bush and Blair could press a button and we could all fast forward backwards, rewind the tape, they'd probably do this differently. But I don't think they fully grasped, and even the anti-war (movement) could have never fully grasped the fantastic viciousness of the insurgency against its own people.
In the full interview McEwan also talks about Blair and the legacy of Thatcher.