Sunday, 24 July 2011

The Norway tragedy and solidarity

Yesterday, the New Statesman blogger Dan Hodges wrote an article which criticised people on the left, particularly the author Owen Jones, for expressing 'solidarity' with the people murdered in the shocking attacks in Norway last Friday.

The root of Hodges' argument seems to be this. That it is has been wrong for people on the left to use their political beliefs as a way of connecting with the dead in Norway and, as a result, seemingly 'exceptionalising' the tragedy as one in which socialists and social democrats hold a particular empathy; distinct from what a conservative or liberal might be feeling, and distinct to what might have been felt had it been a different group of young political activists killed. Hodges believes expressions of solidarity to be a cynical attempt by left-wingers to 'appropriate' tragedy for themselves.

In fact, it seems more likely that the person guilty of cynicism is Hodges himself. The tragedy in Norway is a tragedy at numerous levels. For anyone with a basic sense of humanity, it is a crime of the most profound sadness. For the families involved, there is a grief that the vast majority of us will never understand. And for people on the left - for this was a deliberate attack on social democrats - there is the reality that people with whom we share a community with have been targeted so callously.

Hodges ignores (and sees as dangerous) how death imbues different emotions. Sympathy for the loss of a fellow human; grief for the loss of a loved one; and solidarity with those who we share a community with. He calls for his readers to put aside politics in the face of a tragedy, yet it is inescapable that Hodges seems to be making a deeply political point himself; about his distaste for what he perceives as the left-wing notion of 'solidarity'.

This is a deep error; solidarity is not a notion which belongs exclusively to the left. Solidarity belongs to all of us who exist as members of different groups and communities. To try to remove solidarity from the experience of tragedy is to remove something which is deeply ingrained within human social life. On September 11, Americans stood together in solidarity as members of a national community. After the Hillsborough disaster, the people of Liverpool were united as one city. And it is undoubted that Jewish people, wherever in the world, feel a solidarity with fellow Jews in the wake of a horror such as the Holocaust.

I doubt that Hodges would criticise the above examples of solidarity so readily as he does the left's reaction to the Norway tragedy. And I doubt he would so forthrightly disregard the solidarity which Norwegians are using to comfort one another at this very moment. Solidarity exists within a range of communities: the national, the local, the religious and (yes) the political. Dan Hodges' discomfort with the solidarity shown by the left perhaps says more about his own unease within this particular community than any noble wish to sympathise with those affected on Friday.

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