Opinion: The Wisdom of Clare Short

Clare Short, in her book, An Honourable Deception?, talks about religious fanaticism. She makes the point that the Iraqi body count website calculates that between the 9/11 bombings and February 2004, there were roughly 3,500 deaths resulting from Islamic extremist attacks on Western targets. In comparison she points out that over 13,000 non-combatant civilians died as a result of the Iraq war, as well as another 3,000 in Afghanistan, and 3,000 Palestinian civilians.

Looking at these figures – and acknowledging that many more Muslims have died in violence in the Balkans, Pakistan, Chechnya – it is easy to see why young Muslims living in these countries have a view of the world that includes a sense that the world values their lives much less than those of, say, me, a typical western male…

Obviously any member of a western government would shout me down were I to make such a claim to their face. Any Western liberal democracy places the utmost value on human life, regardless of race, religion or gender. At least, so any Bill of Rights you care to read would tell you.

But that’s just the point. It’s easy to legislate for a concept, but to live up to that all the time is not easy.

We shouldn’t shy away from the fact that any democratically elected government that values its prospects for re-election jealously protects the lives and interests of its citizens. Couple this very understandable bias with the fact that none of the most powerful and influential governments in the world are Islamic nations and you get the situation that, in any multinational forum – be it the G8 or the UN – it is the interests of the richer, western liberal democracies that are put to the fore not those of the Islamic world.

Look at the Darfur genocide. Were that happening in the UK there would be an overwhelming response, not only to protect those being oppressed, but to bring the oppressors to justice. It is not outside our power to take such actions when these events occur -even in the Sudan, but our governments choose to take less action because there is no reason to take any action other than a moral obligation.

It is this narrow self-interest that is the major driving force behind every country’s foreign policy. However, it is arguably at the root of most of the problems in the world. The fact is that the ‘war on terror’ has killed far more Muslims than it has anyone else. I say that we should forgive the Muslims of the world for thinking that the world doesn’t care about them. Fair point, really. This view is borne out of a dispassionate examination of the facts over the last couple of hundred years.

It is this feeling of impotence in the face of an unjust world that is at least partly driving young Muslims into the arms of extremist recruiters. If we are to overcome these problems, we could do worse than learn lessons from the UK’s attempts over the years to resolve the sectarian problems in Northern Ireland.

For centuries (right back to Cromwell), Britain has tried to subjugate all or parts of Ireland. It is only really since the 1970s has there been a concerted effort to move away from a self-perpetuating circle of violence, and move towards trying to engage with all sides to find a solution. While the focus is on the differences between people, then the problems worsen. It is only when we acknowledge our shared humanity do we have any chance of raising ourselves above the violence and finding a way out of the mess that the violence creates.

Clearly the Middle East is the major area of tension between the West and the Islamic world. This has always been the case, and is at least partly attributable to the world view of academics in the 19th century. The very term ‘Orient’ evokes mental images of luxury and indolence and exoticism that are far removed from life in Northern Europe. So, from the off, our view of the Middle East was tainted by the fact that it is so different, on a superficial level from the UK, France and Germany (where most Orientalism scholars came from).

If we could somehow shake off this ‘us and them’ view of the world that is so out of place in an increasingly globalised economy, and replace it with just an ‘us’ view, I think that there would be far fewer problems in the world.

While this might seem like naive idealism, there is an argument, very well argued by Clare Short (even if her book does come across as saying ‘I could have saved the world if Tony Blair had only let me’) for re-focusing our foreign policy towards world development. While it may not be the multilateral approach that might be required for such a change to really have an effect, I would say that there is a moral imperative for us to use what wealth we can to help those less fortunate than ourselves to improve their lot.

Who knows? It might even come full circle and benefit us in the long term.

* Rob Hart is a Lib Dem member and activist in Farnborough, Hampshire.

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  • While I agree in principle, the “us and them” effect is not exactly one-sided.

    You only need to look at Iran to see that no matter what we (Britain in this case) does or doesn’t do, we are the enemy, after all according to many official voices in Iran it was entirely the fault of the British government that the riots happened; because we “provoked” and “incited” them.

    There’s also the rather big issue of basic moral values. We generally strive for (even if we don’t always live up to it) everyone to be treated equally, regardless of race, gender, sexual orientation or beliefs. And while many middle-eastern countries are happy to take our money, they aren’t happy with our values. In many mid-east countries being openly apostate, or gay, or a woman demanding equality is tantamount to being a pariah at best or a death sentence at worst. Most of those countries show no inclination to change.

    If world development means educating countries to become more open and human rights focused then that is a good thing. If development means giving those oppressive people money then I’m less supportive, after all, in most cases it’s the oppressors that control where the money goes.

    While it’s important also to distinguish between the attitudes/laws/morals of “the people” and “the authorities”, we don’t negotiate agreements with “the people”.

    Would “development” mean empowering the people to change (i.e. overthrow) their current authorities? How exactly would those authorities react to that?

  • Matthew Huntbach 2nd Jul '09 - 3:50pm

    For centuries (right back to Cromwell), Britain has tried to subjugate all or parts of Ireland. It is only really since the 1970s has there been a concerted effort to move away from a self-perpetuating circle of violence, and move towards trying to engage with all sides to find a solution.

    This is quite obviously complete nonsense, is the author of this piece entirely unaware of William Gladstone and his work on Home Rule, for example?

    The rest of this piece, though after that nonsense I can’t be bothered to read it in too much detail, is the usual trendy lefty “Britain is evil for intervening in Iraq and is evil for not intervening in Darfur”. The only way one can abstract a meaning from this is to note that since Britain is described as evil both for doing and not doing X (where X in this case is intervening in a situation where there is a thoroughly nasty governemnt ill treating its citizens, though for the purpose of the logical argument it doesn’t matter what X is), the author believes Britain is intrinsically evil, it does not matter what we do, we are evil.

    This is no doubt good for winding up Muslims, and it seems to have replaced fighting on behalf of the poor and powerless as what left-wing politics is all about these days (no wonder the poor and powerless turn to the BNP since the left has abandoned them to concentrate on this “Britain is evil” foreign policy posing).

  • …and of course her wisdom also extended to holding a tea party for fascists in the House of Commons.

  • Efrafan Days 3rd Jul '09 - 7:37pm

    Paul, surely the video-link with Khaled Meshaal failed? Or are you referring to another bunch of genocidal antisemites?

  • Hizb ut-Tahrir, one of Britain’s top race hate groups, and top mates of Clare. She’s a disgraceful MP and a disgraceful human being.

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