I turned up last night to the Arnolfini venue in Bristol to host an evening with David Aaronovitch who has just written a great book entitled, “Voodoo Histories: The Role of Conspiracy Theory in Shaping Modern History.”
Imagine my surprise when I encountered a group of 911 conspiracy theorists outside protesting. They represent a hardcore known as “The Truth Movement,” who believe that the attack on the twin towers was perpetrated by the Bush administration (or someone very close to them) to justify the invasion of Iraq. Aaronovitch was an outspoken supporter of the war and so I guess his previous views on the Iraq War combined with a book ridiculing conspiracy theorists was justification to protest.
I am about as politically naïve as they come and so I was totally unprepared for any confrontation. Although the crowd was fairly small at about 20, I did not know what to expect. This was heightened by the Arnolfini manager approaching me and talking me though the various contingency plans they had for dealing with an angry mob including escaping back to the green room and calling the police should anyone attempt to invade the stage. “Has that ever happened?” I asked. “Oh yes, someone took exception not so long ago did a crap on the stage,” he replied nonchalantly as if this was a reasonable way to lodge a complaint.
After closing my now gapping mouth, I decided that it is best to always encounter your fear so I decided to go and speak to the protestors outside. Also, I thought they looked quite harmless and this would be a good opportunity for a photograph and item for a blog post. After all it was not me that they were objecting too.
As you can see they were a very convivial bunch and seemed genuinely pleased that I would allow them to pose questions to David during the session. Actually, one of the protestors handed a leaflet to David when he arrived failing to recognize the target of the protest. David was remarkably unfazed by all the fuss as he is fairly well-seasoned to personal attacks. I was just enjoying the spectacle of everything.
As it turned out, the evening went very well as David is an amazing speaker and raconteur. I did not have to work hard at all to fill the hour. Yes we did allow the protestors in the audience to speak but they were very civil and I have to say David was very respectful back to them without having to weaken his position. In fact the only retraction from David came from my own question to him about whether he still advocated the position he held concerning weapons of mass destruction when he said,
“If nothing is ever found, I – as a supporter of the war – will never believe another thing that I am told by our government, or that of the US ever again. And, more to the point, neither will anyone else. Those weapons had better be there somewhere. They probably are.”
David’s response was the epitome of humility. “That was probably the most stupid thing I have ever said.”
In contrast, a conspiracy theorist would have found some way of justifying that remark. So my hat goes off to David Aaronovitch for holding unpopular views, sticking to his principles, admitting when he is wrong and not being worried by someone shitting on his stage.
I look forward to our next encounter.