Saturday, September 09, 2006

John le Carré’s Dark Suspicions

The Constant Gardener, the film adaptation of British author John le Carré’s novel of the same name, was one of the standout films of 2005.

Recently, le Carré gave an interview to Danish journalist Jesper Stein Larsen in which he discussed not only his forthcoming novel, The Mission Song – which focuses on the exploitation of Congo by transnationals – but his views of the U.S. role in world affairs.

Following is an excerpt from this interview.

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“We Have to Understand”
An Interview with John le Carré

Jesper Stein Larsen: Congo is [ . . . ] a part of the story. You're fascinated with that country.

John le Carré: Yes. I chose Congo because I am fascinated by losers. I like stories about underdogs. And Congo is the biggest loser of them all. ... East Congo, where part of the story takes place, has been particularly poorly treated for centuries. It's a rent-a-battlefield for everyone else, and they've just been screwed every time. There are only 30 miles of paved roads in Congo, but the country's minerals, diamonds and gold are worth billions. It's unlike any other trouble spot I've been to.

Jesper Stein Larsen: I get the impression that in your later books the style has become more associative and lyrical, yet your message has become stronger, angrier and more direct. Why's that?

John le Carré: I hope that both are true. Of course a lot of people will call it age rage and radicalism, but we are living in a time where political varieties and nuances are being reduced to terrifying simplifications. I read today that Bush said in a speech that if we let the war in Iraq go against us and bring our people home, they will come here to find us in America. I mean, this completely overlooks the fact that Iraq has nothing to do with terror. And yet by endless repetition and by the supine, disgraceful attitude of the American corporate media, these lies are entering into the perception of ordinary people. What we are seeing is an informational takeover by the U.S. on a terrible scale.

I'm one of those types who believe that we should continue to look at the objective facts. We need to find out where all these people are coming from and what they want. We shouldn't say, “all terrorists are the same,” or “all terrorists are mad,” because all forms of terrorism have – not an excuse, but a reason, and if we are going to do anything other than make war, we have to understand those reasons. The war against terror is a very difficult war against an ideology, but the U.S. has turned it into a territorial war.

Jesper Stein Larsen: What do you mean by that?

John le Carré: The most recent and awful example we've seen is Lebanon. If you kill one terrorist and 100 civilians, are you further away from terror or nearer? Not only have you created a future base for more terrorists, you've also created a hinterland – huge masses give themselves over as a logistical system of support for terror. If you go on inflaming Muslim sensitivities, you will actually convert people against you. And you will create the enemy you deserve [ . . . ] You don't accomplish anything if you abandon your democratic principles. You've got to be able to take losses. The logic the Americans are pursuing at the moment would have required us to bomb Dublin when the IRA attacked us. It's completely nuts.

Jesper Stein Larsen: How do you explain this?

John le Carré: My own dark suspicion is that the neoconservatives in the U.S. – the powerful and secretive few that they are – actually believe that they can use these kind of provocations to homogenize the Islamic threat, bring everybody forward, radicalize them, and then bomb the hell out of them.

Jesper Stein Larsen: In the old days, it was the conflict between the Cold War superpowers that threatened the life of the individual. Today, it's the transnational corporation that plays a big role in your books. Why's that?

John le Carré: Corporate power has been part of several of my later books, because it creates an aura of something so large, unaccountable and incomprehensible that you don't think you can do something as an individual. The enemy is indefinable. They are giant organizations with one foot in Liechtenstein and the other in the Netherlands Antilles, who hold their board meetings in England. And when you know that Tony Blair is more concerned about the opinion of Rupert Murdoch than about what his electorate thinks, you do worry.

I see an erosion of nationhood and democracy exactly as Mussolini described it. He said: “Democracy ends and fascism begins where political power and corporate power are inseparable.” You could have added religious and press power to that list. All four are at the fingertips of the right wing in the U.S.


Jesper Stein Larsen is a reporter for the Culture section of the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten.


Photo from Faces of Resistance by Michael Bayly.

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