POST UPDATE 7th March 2011
More news over the weekend that the US are ferrying arms into Libya via Saudi Arabia, who incidentally are apparently oppressing their own people at the moment as opposition is gathering speed and demonstrations against the ruling Saudi family progress.
This will put further pressure on the US administration to do nothing about crack downs on peaceful protesters in Saudi Arabia.
The open question which will not be asked is what should the UK’s role be in this, and has the west learnt anything from past experience. I suspect not on this form.
As we hear further reports of bloodshed in the middle east, from Bahrain to Libya, and no doubt this will spread even further, the west looks on in bewilderment, adapting it’s rhetoric with the twists and turns of the pages of history.
Predictably, in the last 7 days we have heard the low key language from the US administration regarding Bahrain, urging restraint. When it came to unrest in Iran it was much more aggressive, urging reform.
We saw the struggles within the US over Egypt played out over many days, whether to ditch the long standing ally, or to stick with him regardless of the corruption, death squads and torture cells.
The tack has changed now that fighter pilots are bombing residential areas of Tripoli and elsewhere in Libya. A line has been crossed for William Hague and the coalition in the UK, or could it be that it is time to change the rhetoric now that Gaddafi’s role is less than certain. Is it principle or opportunity that changes the rhetoric?
I wrote in a previous post “The Dilemma of Democracy” https://extranea.wordpress.com/2011/02/10/the-dilemma-of-democracy/ in which I discussed the way the west has marauded around the world spouting it’s language of high principles, civilised society and democracy, while actually deciding on whatever they thought would provide influence, economic advantage and stability.
In other words the dilemma of national interest over democratic principles. We have usually chosen the former rather than the latter.
It is interesting to note the US administration’s outrage at bombing civilian areas, when the US under President Reagan did something very similar with the help of the UK in 1986.
Now the west is beginning to see the results of it’s patronising view of the middle east and north Africa. The bullets raining down on populations throughout the middle east are largely coming from stocks of western weaponry. Sold to “friendly” governments.
Whether we like it or not, much of the bloodshed on the west bank, gaza, Bahrain, Egypt, Tunisia and Libya have come from the west. We have gratefully accepted contracts to sell arms to some of the most reprehensible regimes in the world for financial gain and to aid our economic interests. Stemming from an attitude prevalent in colonial days, we in the west continue this patronising attitude.
Two days ago David Cameron visited Egypt and gave a speech. With much rhetoric about high values, but also admitting past failures and decisions taken in the national interest. It was an interesting speech in some ways, but how should we and more importantly the Egyptians take it.
After reading an admittedly unscientific selection of blogs and twitter feeds many were cynical. I don’t blame them. How can anybody in the middle east having been subjected to the horrific regimes largely backed and armed by the west take a visit from the Prime Minister of the UK seriously without thinking, “He’s doing this for himself”. I did find a few voices wishing a broader more defined foreign policy from the more right wing press. This is also predictable.
The events of the past few weeks also further brings into doubt the efficacy of the Iraq war. The “moral justification”, of the self righteous Blair and Bush camp that it was the “right” thing to do. They don’t regret it and even knowing what they know now they would still have gone to war.
What the people with these opinions appear to not understand is the historical significance of democracy. Democratic and constitutional change is not given to people. I can only think of one country in history where democracy has been foisted upon a nation by it’s leader that did not actually appear to want it, and that is Bhutan. Every other nation has gone through considerable soul searching, struggle and usually bloodshed to achieve the changes.
A nations people have to want that change and struggle for it. It cannot be an idea supplanted from the outside, by an alien culture and a foreign government. Neither should we have facilitated the leader of such a regime in the first place in the way we did with Saddam Hussain and so many other dictators.
It was never our right to invade a sovereign country to topple a regime and impose a democratic solution. It was always up to the people of Iraq. The struggles have to be fought by the people for the people.
Neither will each democratic uprising look like a liberal capitalist democracy seen in the minds eye of the USA. Many different types of democracies will exist, from the social democracies of Europe to no doubt a very different idea of democracy in the middle east, made in the image of their unique culture.
Incidentally, David Cameron also has the same opinion as both Tony Blair and George W Bush on Iraq, and would vote in the same way in the House of Commons as he did back in 2003. This is hardly ever reported, and puts a different complexion on his speech in Egypt.
As a British citizen I am proud of my British heritage and of being British. But I am also acutely aware of the many things that have been done in the name of my country, and so any patriotic feelings should be tempered with this in mind.
When I was traveling in South America a few years ago I discovered the full wrath of someone’s hatred for me, not for what I had done personally but because of what I represented, a British person.
Although, this bigotry is not excusable, the reasons behind his hatred had a lot to do with the actions of previous governments in my name, and the Blair government of the time, in Iraq.
Whether we like it or not, at least some of the blood being shed in the middle east is on our governments hands, and if we are honest, on our hands.
We have allowed a corrupt, unresponsive democratic system to be stuck in the colonial mind of the 19th century. We have sat back in complacency and allowed our executive to have too much power and to do acts in our name which are reprehensible.
The west needs to think again and have humility in it’s actions. We as people of this country need to take power away from the executive, and hold those who gain power in this country to account.
It’s time for us all to look uncomfortably in the mirror.