‘The New Furies’ – Tom Nairn reviews Rough Music

Rough Music reviewed by Tom Nairn for New Left Review, Jan-Feb 2006

Rough Music is a series of reflections on ‘a watershed in British political culture’, provoked by the war in Iraq and then, even more acutely, by the bomb attacks on London of July 7th 2005. Though written quickly under the impetus of events, I think few readers will be deterred; and they shouldn’t be, for this ‘instant book’ makes many points going beyond British culture, and invites wider speculation on the world of contemporary nationalism and ideologically motivated violence. It documents recent events too thoroughly to be journalistic, as well as voicing shifts in the author’s own political attitude. The title comes from Edward Thompson’s Customs in Common (1993) and is not chosen only for effect. ‘Rough music’ was a cacophony directed from those outside and below, to annoy insiders on high, ‘against individuals who offended against certain community norms’. It was also meant to suggest how democratic retribution might come. Interestingly, Tariq Ali’s conclusions move him into partial alignment with the much older positions of Thompson—one of the founders of New Left Review over forty years ago, and (indirectly) of Verso Books, publishers of Rough Music.

The five items in Ali’s subtitle—Blair, bombs, Baghdad, London, terror—are naturally centred on the Iraq War, and reactions to it. read more