Monday, July 17, 2006

'British foreign policy'

Last week, on Tuesday (4 Jul), I happened to hear half an hour of Tony Blair being questioned by a parliamentary committee (BBC Radio 4 Long Wave). My impression was that they hardly laid a glove on him. The BBC's website had a summary. They also gave a link, which wasn't very useful. I could not find any record of the session in the Commons liaison committee pages. I eventually found a link to the  transcript on the main page. I heard approximately from Q392 ('Mrs Dunwoody: Life is difficult ...') to Q457 ('Mike Gapes: Prime Minister, the situation in Gaza is extremely serious...').

Media coverage that night focused on this passage:
The idea that we are not trying to engage with the Muslim community - we are trying to engage with them but in the end Government itself cannot go and root out the extremism in these communities. I am probably not the person to go into the Muslim community and persuade them that this extreme view of Islam is completely mistaken and completely contrary to the proper tenets of the religion of Islam. It is better that you mobilise the Islamic community itself to do this. (Q355)
Channel 4 News that night had a discussion, in which 2 of the 4 people taking part said that Mr Blair was thereby trying to shift all the blame off the government and onto the Muslim community (for details of the participants and so on, see drinksoakedtrotsforwar ).  In many ways, we are not much further forward than we were a year ago.  People are still unwilling,  or unable,  to dispute the blanket assertion that 'British foreign policy must change'.  Even Irshad Manji ('The Trouble with Islam'),  on the BBC World Service,  when she was up against someone from the MAB,  did not do this.  People talk instead about issues like 'why don't your imams learn English?'

'British foreign policy' is normally used as a proxy for attacking US foreign policy. Dr Azzam Tamimi is soon foaming at the mouth about neo-cons in Washington. So let's look at a few concrete issues.

The policy of the US is often described as being 'against Muslims'.  Let's look at Bosnia, then, where NATO intervened  when  Serb nationalist were massacring Muslims. Too little too late, they say. Of course, European indecisiveness allowed these atrocities to continue far too long, but it was the US that insisted that a solution be found and backed by NATO force as required. Kosovo? That fits seamlessly into the anti-war rhetoric, but again NATO intervened  to prevent the massacres of Muslims (which Chomsky and so on deny happened).

The US is accused of having a record of supporting dictators in the Middle East. But when they act to remove one (while continuing to support or tolerate others - Egypt, Saudi Arabia), that is the biggest anti-US issue of all. Accusations of inconsistency cut both ways: if US foreign policy is so inconsistent, how can they so consistently oppose it?

As Eric (at drinksoakedtrotsforwar) says 'if you are going to say that UK policy is not a legitimate grievance, then say why it isn't. [..] Challenge them.' Few are prepared to challenge them as effectively as Tony Blair himself:  
Do you accept that tens of thousands of Iraqis are now dead as a result of this invasion?

Mr Blair: Well, hang on a minute, they are not dead as a result of the invasion or the removal of Saddam. They are dead as the result of the activities of a criminal minority who want to stop the majority getting the democracy they want. As for these politicians that you talk about in this way as though they do not represent anybody, they stood for election. [..] There is no reason whatever why they should not have it except for the activities of this criminal minority. Our job should be when these people are killing the innocent and butchering them with this appalling terrorism and atrocities, to stand with the democrats against the terrorists. (Q427)
OK, I cheated. I missed out the bit that went, 'If the Iraqi people wanted to get Saddam back they could have voted for the Saddam Party. They did not and they did not for a very simple reason; that like the rest of us they prefer freedom.' But the Ba'ath Party is banned, isn't it. To continue:
I think it is part of the total global picture that when these people want to disrupt the desire of the majority to get a democracy ‑ and they do desire it because that is what they voted for, they participated in this election despite being harried and hounded and subjected to acts of terrorism - when they elect their government, why on earth should we not be standing alongside them trying to help them get the democracy they want, instead of saying to them, "I am sorry, you have got a choice. You can either have a brutal dictator who used to murder you if you disagreed with him or, alternatively, you can have sectarians who will murder you if you disagree with them." Why should they not have the same rights as everybody else? Why should not our job as the international community ‑ and after all we are there with a UN mandate now and have been for three years ‑ to be behind them? (Q428)
(Sorry this is so late. I was so angry about the NatWest Three business that I didn't really feel like saying anything good about Mr Blair. So apologies again, if this is even more incoherent than usual, but otherwise it would never have got written.)

There was also a very interesting discussion on The Moral Maze (first broadcast Wednesday, 5 Jul). I hope to find time to post more about this. See also the debate at pickledpolitics. And there was an intriguing piece on the BBC WS, Thursday (6 Jul), about Mohammed Sidiqh Khan and the other 7 July bombers.  


Anonymous be said...

thanks for the links.

10:39 pm, July 17, 2006  

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