MICHAEL MORRIS | Right of reply: four years on, Imraan Buccus is still misreading IRR’s impulses - TimesLIVE

Though Imraan Buccus (“SA’s English-speaking white right promotes disinformation of the West”,  February 18 2024) mistakes name-calling for argument, the name-calling he indulges in is instructive.

Michael Morris
Though Imraan Buccus (“SA’s English-speaking white right promotes disinformation of the West”,  February 18 2024) mistakes name-calling for argument, the name-calling he indulges in is instructive.

It tells you something that I actually wrote this line some four years ago, when Buccus last had a go at the Institute for Race Relations (“Rejecting the normalisation of right-wing ideas”, The Mercury, December 4 2019).

His latest combines a surely uncontroversial assertion that allegations are worthless in the absence of substantiating facts with a vivid fabrication of his own that illustrates precisely the weakness he claims to have detected elsewhere.

After a brisk introduction to the more familiar residues of 20th century resentments — “In South Africa when we think of the white right we tend to think of Afrikaner nationalism, of men in khaki, whether simply fascist like the AWB or just deeply conservative like AfriForum” — he presses his main charge: “But there is also a largely English-speaking white right in South Africa that, while not right-wing on social issues, holds very right-wing positions on economics and international relations, where it is strongly pro-West, going so far as to support the devastation of Iraq and Gaza by the West (which includes Israel, though it is in the Middle East).”

This “white right” has “built a strong base in organisations such as the Institute for Race Relations [IRR] ... as well as small media projects such as ... Daily Friend ... and others. It is effective at winning plum spots in the more mainstream media too, where it has a loud voice that far outstrips its size in society.”

Needless to say, the IRR makes no apology for its success in advancing the ideas that affirm its confidence in South Africans realising their freedom and prosperity. As for the rest, if you wanted a good reason to dismiss it, Buccus provides it by succumbing to the dubious anachronism of imagining that, in 2024, any intellectual purchase whatsoever can credibly be gained by trying to construct a slur on the grounds of language and skin colour.

The worst of it, in fact, is that all this conspiracy nonsense gets in the way of what remains a vital question for South Africans (no less than for Gazans, Israelis or anyone else): what needs doing to secure human flourishing?

To be “pro-West” is far more interesting and complex than Buccus’s bristling formulation gives room for, and certainly doesn’t mean supporting “the devastation of Iraq and Gaza”.

I, for one, believe Israel’s military action was mistaken, on the grounds that it was obvious from the start that the objective was not a military one, and that pursuing it militarily – inevitably causing needless collateral destruction and misery – would only guarantee an enlargement of the now unaddressed difficulty and an avoidable delay in getting round to dealing with it.

I also believe that terror and extremism cannot simply be wished away, and have to be confronted. Across the conflict zone, then, I see millions of ordinary people on both sides being very poorly served by thoughtless, narrow-minded ideologues.

Demonstrably, then, the IRR is not a bloc, and neither are liberals loyal and disciplined deployees of one or another ossified belief system so brittle it cannot risk let alone encourage argumentation. And this, broadly, is true of the West — unlike those grimly chastened societies made to stoop against their will by the unwanted yoke of authoritarianism and extremism.

There is another term for the unceasing contests of thought and the contrarian impulses that sustain them which do actually define the dynamism of “the West”, and that term is liberty. Yet here’s the thing: while liberty does appear to be the chief source of human flourishing, the demanding thing about it is that it is eternally incomplete, requiring perpetual attention and vigilance. “The West”, in other words, is not a fixed or given condition.

Only a week or so ago, I wrote that “this choosing, this liberty” that we not unreasonably think of as a signature Western feature “is not quite as simple, or even as innocent, as it may often seem” and “cannot be guaranteed in the absence of a willingness to unsettle complacent unanimity precisely by raising whatever questions may be necessary to test — for argument’s sake — uncomplicated assumptions of paramountcy that might well pervade the headspace or the group chats of Western capitals”.

Nothing “very right wing” or intransigent here, I think — which does seem to bring us back to Earth with a thump, for this is where we have to level with a more familiar history that demands a fiercer honesty.

I cannot do better than to repeat the closing lines of my 2019 response to Buccus, given his evidently unaltered misreading of the IRR’s preoccupations.

For the majority of South Africans, I wrote, “policy that deters investment and job growth, empowerment that focuses on race instead of persisting disadvantage, dysfunctional services such as education and healthcare, and the chronic and widespread squandering of resources have the effect of denying yearned-for freedoms that only opportunities, skills and material wellbeing can secure. Most of those denied these things are black people, but the burden is South Africa’s as a whole.”

I concluded: “Not by a long shot, as intelligent readers will immediately grasp, could this be taken as the motivating analysis for change of a ‘right-wing’ organisation. On the contrary, the data illustrates the cruel and unwanted chokehold of leftist ideology on liberty.”

Michael Morris is head of media at the Institute of Race Relations