August 15, 2006
Good Golly Polly!
Yes, yes, I know, I normally disagree with everything she writes, including the words and, or and the. There are parts I disagree with in this too, however, praise where it is due:
Every minister hotly denying this obvious truth sounds absurd - but makes the wrong point altogether. The point is that a democratically elected government's foreign policy can't be moulded by threats from murdering religious maniacs. There are 1,001 good reasons why we should never have supported, let alone joined, the war in Iraq. But the one truly bad reason would have been fear of terrorism.
Those signing the letter steer perilously close to suggesting the government had it coming. The Muslim leaders wrote: "The debacle of Iraq and now the failure to do more to secure an immediate end to the attacks on civilians in the Middle East not only increases the risk to ordinary people in that region, it is also ammunition to extremists who threaten us all." They urge the prime minister to "change our foreign policy to show the world that we value the lives of civilians wherever they live and whatever their religion. Such a move would make us safer." Maybe it would, but there can't be many, pro- or anti-war, who think sparing us from threats by God-blinded killers should be the number-one priority in foreign policy.
It goes with the selective amnesia that forgets about the Kosovo Muslims Blair and Clinton saved from genocide. It goes with a distorted memory of the Taliban as anything other than ruthless despots to their people (especially their women) and unprovoked originators of terror against the rest of the world. As for Iraq, invasion was dangerously misguided, but selective Islamic memory forgets that Saddam murdered Muslims.
Spot on. As she says, we can agree or disagree with any of the specific actions but to have not done any or all of them because medieval theocrats would threaten us is absurd.
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Tracked on Aug 15, 2006 12:16:28 PM
With so many media reports focused on war in the Middle East and the arrests in Britain relating to the alleged plot to bomb trans-Atlanic flights tomorrow, we have tended to overlook reports in June of the outcome of a long trial of jihadists in France:
"A PARIS court sentenced 25 Muslim militants yesterday for planning attacks against the Eiffel Tower and other targets with explosives in support of rebels fighting Russian forces in Chechnya. The five main defendants, of Moroccan and Algerian origin, received prison terms of eight to ten years for planning terrorist acts. The others received lesser terms for criminal association. Two were acquitted in a trial which prosecutors said demonstrated the 'globalisation of the jihad movement'. . . "
"A French court has jailed 25 alleged Islamist militants for planning attacks in France in support of Chechen rebels. The main defendants received jail terms of eight to 10 years, while others were jailed for six months or more. Two defendants were acquitted. Prosecutors said the group's intended targets may have included the Eiffel Tower, the Halles shopping centre, police stations and Israeli interests. The group was accused of 'jihad' links with Chechen militants fighting Russia. The ringleaders of the group, most of whom came from Algeria, allegedly received training in Afghanistan or in the war-torn southern Russian republic of Chechnya. . . "
Posted by: Bob B | Aug 15, 2006 9:57:34 AM
not sure I agree with this; there is surely more reason to avoid a stupid idea which is also dangerous than a merely stupid idea. After all, if there were a bunch of Islamofascists saying "Allah hates really shitty light rail systems and we will bring fire and death to the infidels who install them", I would have been a much more active opponent of the Manchester Metrolink.
Posted by: dsquared | Aug 15, 2006 10:41:46 AM
"Spot on. As she says, we can agree or disagree with any of the specific actions but to have not done any or all of them because medieval theocrats would threaten us is absurd."
And this is why I have a problem with labels like left/right, libertarian/conservative and so on. I agree with Tim on this and yet our politics would be labelled differently by observers.
Posted by: james higham | Aug 15, 2006 10:55:03 AM
not sure I agree with this; there is surely more reason to avoid a stupid idea which is also dangerous than a merely stupid idea.
You have completely missed the point, which is that even if an idea is stupid, the idea should be adopted or rejected based on its merits, not on the basis that violent extremists make it dangerous.
The actions of the violent extremists should be addressed independently, and outside the assessment of the idea.
Posted by: Tim Newman | Aug 15, 2006 10:57:15 AM
Don't know if you take much of an interest in goat husbandry - but according to Andrew Sullivan the Iraqi Islamists 'are threatening shepherds with violence if they don't clothe their goats with diapers to avoid tempting lonely shepherds.'
In 2003 the Egyptian journalist Wael A-Abrashi reported that Wahhabism Islam directed that the toothbrush is an instrument of Satan, and directed good Muslims to use tooth picks instead.
Other Wahhabist teachings have incuded the fatwa issued by the late Sheikh bin Baz in 1982 directing that the Earth is flat.
Not so funny, now, I imagine.
Posted by: Martin | Aug 15, 2006 11:03:33 AM
"Not so funny . . "
Nor is this:
"Galileo Galilei 1564-1642: Italian astronomer and physicist. The first to use a telescope to study the stars. Discoverer of the first moons of an extraterrestrial body. Galileo was an outspoken supporter of Copernicus's heliocentric theory. In reaction to Galileo, the Church declared it heresy to teach that the Earth moved and silenced him. The Church clung to this position for 350 years; Galileo was not formally exonerated until 1992."
Until 1992, the sun moved round the earth and then they swapped, right?
But as for campaigns against animal nudity, try this:
Posted by: Bob B | Aug 15, 2006 11:24:20 AM
Martin: what's your point? All three of those things are hilarious.
I understand perfectly the idea that we should "quarantine" some of the predictable consequences of a course of action and pretend that they don't exist. It's got some basis in game theory as a way of discouraging future attempts to intimidate us. However I don't think that the game theoretic argument can be made to work and all the real-world examples I can think of (the doctrine of "credibility" in Vietnam, the various follies in the defence of Singapore which were justified on the basis of "morale" and indeed the tedious evenings spent in crap pubs in my youth because somebody felt it important to show "those bastards" that they couldn't push us out of "our" pub) have been disasters.
Posted by: dsquared | Aug 15, 2006 11:43:51 AM
Note also that there is a bit of a double standard here; in general, it is a fairly central plank of our foreign policy that we expect other people to choose their options on the basis that we are threatening them, and when they refuse to take our threats into account we call them "madmen" and blow them up.
Posted by: dsquared | Aug 15, 2006 11:45:50 AM
Are we so sure that the IRA's bombing campaign didn't change British policy, both Conservative and Labour?
Posted by: Matthew | Aug 15, 2006 11:53:33 AM
dsquared, I think your last point would only be relevant if we were using our foreign policy to somehow coerce our domestic muslim population. Does anyone seriously claim we conduct our foreign relations in order to influence non-state actors?
Posted by: Q | Aug 15, 2006 12:03:23 PM
At some time, someone in the British government must have made decisions not to obliterate Armagh and Donegal by bombing or explosives (the Lidice solution) or to bomb Dublin in retaliation for IRA bombing despite compelling evidence that IRA bombers were crossing into NI from the Republic or taking the ferry to come into Britain. Evidently, Olmert's government in Israel operates with a different set of values about killing innocent civilians, including children, by the hundreds.
Posted by: Bob B | Aug 15, 2006 12:07:13 PM
Evidently, Olmert's government in Israel operates with a different set of values about killing innocent civilians, including children, by the hundreds.
I think if the IRA's declared intention was to remove every last Brit from the British Isles, and the Irish Army had four times previously attempted to fulfil this goal, then the values of the British government with regards to the IRA would have been remarkably similar to Olmert's.
Posted by: Tim Newman | Aug 15, 2006 12:44:30 PM
"even if an idea is stupid, the idea should be adopted or rejected based on its merits, not on the basis that violent extremists make it dangerous. "
Don't those merits include whether or not they will make people more or less likely to support medieval theocrats? After all, we're not going to change the minds of the theocrats, but it seems to me that the more we drop bombs on ordinary people the more they support those who violently oppose us, which makes it harder for us to achieve our foreign policy objectives. Now, to me that's a valid reason for reconsidering our foreign policies, but the government and Polly Toynbee seem to want me to think that it's completely irrelevant.
Posted by: Jim | Aug 15, 2006 12:59:57 PM
Don't those merits include whether or not they will make people more or less likely to support medieval theocrats?
Some think the opinions of medieval theocrats and their supporters should not be taken into consideraton when deciding on foreign policy. That you do is entirely up to you, but Polly is saying that she doesn't.
Note that this is not the same as saying foreign policy has no bearing on medieval theocrats or their supporters.
Posted by: Tim Newman | Aug 15, 2006 1:08:38 PM
It's a plank of an imperial foreign policy to behave in the manner described; but to attempt imperialism's insanity in an age of mass transit and open borders.
The IRA's bombing campaign didn't stop because of British policy - it stopped in 1994 because they knew they couldn't keep it up for another 25 years. What's happened since, of course, has been an appalling fudge, a disgrace.
And the presence of 500,000 Irish in the UK might have acted as something of a brake on 'Lidice solutions' happening in Lisburn.
Posted by: Martin | Aug 15, 2006 1:10:18 PM
Evidently, Olmert's government in Israel operates with a different set of values about killing innocent civilians, including children, by the hundreds.
Oh, and has there ever been an instance when "children" have not been included in the category of "civilians"? Or did you just make specific reference to them for emotive purposes?
Posted by: Tim Newman | Aug 15, 2006 1:12:44 PM
"Some think the opinions of medieval theocrats and their supporters should not be taken into consideraton when deciding on foreign policy."
But they don't have a fixed number of supporters, and they're not all armed fanatics. Lots more ordinary people in the Middle East seem to have become more supportive of those who violently oppose us partly as a result of the Iraq war. And if one of our objectives is to reduce the number of their supporters (which Blair and others say it is), and one of the effects of our policies is exactly the opposite, then it is completely bloody stupid to ignore that effect.
Posted by: Jim | Aug 15, 2006 1:40:22 PM
Apparently, according to the reasoning of Bob B and others of his credulous ilk, the Israelis deliberately targeted children rather than blitzing sites which Hizballah had carefully placed away from civilian areas to minimise civilian casualties. The Israelis killed children to achieve a public relations coup and receive applause from the BBC. This policy obviously back-fired. Next time the Israelis should try to destroy Hizballah assets rather than make war on children. Cue photo(shopped) images of Qana fronted by a sobbing Fergal Keane.
Posted by: Umbongo | Aug 15, 2006 1:58:02 PM
And if one of our objectives is to reduce the number of their supporters...
Yes, this is right. But this aim is secondary to reducing the effectiveness of Islamic terrorists (i.e. their ability to murder lots of people), and the latter unfortunately comes at a cost to the former.
If reducing the number of supporters of al-Qaeda was the primary aim, the correct response to 9/11 would have been to do nothing. In invading Afhganistan, the US/UK reduced the effectiveness of al-Qaeda by removing their state sponsor and their training area, but this came at the cost of enraging Muslims worldwide (who seem to enrage very easily, it must be said).
The Israelis worked this out years ago. It knows it will be universally hated by its enemies, so it doesn't care whether they number in ten million or twenty million. What they do care about is how much damage its enemies can inflict, and they work pretty hard at reducing that threat. When viewed this way, an awful lot of US/UK, or even Israeli policy makes more sense.
Posted by: Tim Newman | Aug 15, 2006 2:46:59 PM
"In invading Afhganistan, the US/UK reduced the effectiveness of al-Qaeda by removing their state sponsor and their training area"
Posted by: Martin | Aug 15, 2006 3:04:50 PM
What about 7/7? Nobody said that invading Afghanistan would remove the threat of home-grown terrorists.
However, it is difficult to deny that al-Qaeda as an organisation had its effectiveness reduced after they were kicked out of Afghanistan. With their leaders on the run and state backers gone from power, they are not the same adversary they were on September 11th 2001. They are not finished by a long way, but they got hurt badly when the Taliban were removed.
Posted by: Tim Newman | Aug 15, 2006 3:19:15 PM
Since the number of Kosovo people killed has dropped from the 500,000 (US State Dept claim at the biginning) to about 2,000 (including Serbs killed by the KLA & Nato, Albanians killed by the KLA & NATO, 330 of them in one convoy, & heavily armed KLA thugs, who were a fairly legitimate target but no proven Albanian civilians murdered by anybody on the other side) her remark seems, at best, gratutious.
In fact we handed the Kosovo Albanians over to a bunch of murdering drug dealing, schoolgirl kidnapping monsters merely for "reasons of state" & because we armed them in the first place. This oppresion doesn't really count because on that occasion we were helping the terrorists.
Posted by: Neil Craig | Aug 15, 2006 3:22:20 PM
In fact we handed the Kosovo Albanians over to a bunch of murdering drug dealing, schoolgirl kidnapping monsters merely for "reasons of state" & because we armed them in the first place.
Who, exactly, did we arm?
Posted by: Tim Newman | Aug 15, 2006 3:39:03 PM
" But this aim is secondary to reducing the effectiveness of Islamic terrorists (i.e. their ability to murder lots of people), and the latter unfortunately comes at a cost to the former."
Fine, but supporters can turn into terrorists or militants, or simply aid and abet them, so the former can also come at the cost of the latter (if you see what I mean). I accept they're both valid objectives and have to be weighed - which may mean that the best policy would have been yes to invading Afghanistan and no to invading Iraq. Obviously these aren't easy decisions but to pretend that one of the objectives - hearts and minds - just isn't valid, which I think is what Blair and Toynbee but not you are basically implying, is foolish.
Posted by: Jim | Aug 15, 2006 4:51:06 PM
The defining rationale for any government policy should be "the best interests of the country". At the moment, TB's foreign policy probably falls into that category. However, if violent muslim raction to the policy escalates to the point where it is uncontrollable, then "the best intersts" will be clearly influenced by the violence, and policy should change accordingly. That policy change MIGHT legitimately include changes to foreign policy.
However, the muslim extremists would be setting a dangerous precedent for themselves and the rest of us. How would they feel if there was a rise in violent attacks by gays in protest about the presence of homophobic religions in the country. Would draconian government suppression of homophobic religions then be more easy to accept?
Be careful what you wish for, it might come true. There are a lot of minorities out there.
Posted by: towcestarian | Aug 15, 2006 5:36:42 PM