When someone says of their adversaries that they pay “lip-service” to something, they are trying to devalue some of the substance of what those people say. This may be a claim that their opponents are insincere, or simply that they lack a suitable degree of commitment. The suggestion is that someone is making a merely token acknowledgement of the importance of some matter or value but that it is merely incidental to their view of what matters, a view that is actually focused on other things. It is a charge that the authors of the “Euston Manifesto” have been happy to dish out:
We have no truck, either, with the tendency to pay lip service to these ends [Iraqi democracy], while devoting most of one’s energy to criticism of political opponents at home (supposedly responsible for every difficulty in Iraq), and observing a tactful silence or near silence about the ugly forces of the Iraqi “insurgency”.
(Get the “silence or near silence” there! So if your opponent has actually said that beheading hostages or blowing-up civilians is a monstrous crime but hasn’t said it as often or as loudly as you think fit, you can still point the finger!)
Others can judge how much of the Eustonites’ energies have been devoted to criticism of political opponents at home and how much to the material promotion of Iraqi democracy (writing about it on your blog doesn’t really count, in my book). Anyway, here’s a list of the things that the Euston Manifesto pays “lip service to”, a charge I am as entitled to make, without supporting evidence, about them as they are about others:
Pure lip service, if you ask me, since issues such are rarely mentioned on the blogs in question without some degree of contextualization, minimization, relativization, whatabouterry, and so on. (Of course torture is bad, they acknowledge, but the real outrage is committed by those torture critics who compare Guantanamo to the Gulag.) These are the same verbal manoeuvres that, when applied to acts of terror, are condemned by said blogs as amounting to de facto apology.
Incidentally, it seemed odd to me for the Manifesto to include among the events that have made the democracy-and-human-rights package the heritage of us all, blah blah blah, the “anti-colonial transformations of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries”. “Transformations” is a strangely euphemistic term to describe the various anti-colonial struggles of the last century. Still, I suppose it wouldn’t do to look too closely at the methods employed by the FLN, the Mau Mau, the NLF etc. just in case they resembled the “ugly forces” of the Iraqi insurgency rather more closely than would be comfortable. Some insurgents, it seems, have contributed to the great Enlightenment bundle, and some have not.