Leading the "Free World"
The Bush-man's Burden
In an increasingly complex world, improvements in global telecommunications are bringing us ever closer (willingly or otherwise), by breaking down spatial and cultural barriers. While some cling to the issues that divide us, these trends are irreversible. Under the circumstances, it is more important than ever that we focus on our common interests, rather than on our differences. Understandably, this is an area where many of us look to our political leaders for guidance.
Yet, in a world where shades of grey predominate, it is frustrating to see how often global leaders frame important issues in black-and-white terms. While these may be comforting for those on the receiving end (because of the simplistic - if illusory! - certainties they offer), they are neither accurate, nor useful, in addressing current global realities. Indeed, all too often they serve to divide us even further.
Using terms like "evildoers", "axis of evil" and "terrorists" - without bothering to consider historical context or acknowledge important distinctions - may produce interesting sound-bites, but they do little to advance our understanding of the complexities of global foreign policy. Apart from anything else, it is critical to differentiate between those engaged in wanton destruction of human life and property, and those seeking to highlight genuine grievances through guerrilla warfare - rather than lumping them all under the blanket term of "terrorists".
I believe that violence against civilians is not justifiable, but this is just as true for Chechen civilians, as it is for Russian civilians (both of whom have suffered the fallout of Russian policies in Chechnya). We cannot accept one set of deaths, and condemn the other. Yet this is precisely what happens, on a regular basis, as reflected in media coverage. The observation that one person's terrorist is another person's freedom fighter has never been more poignant or valid. Apart from anything else, a single (invariably militaristic) approach to dealing with "terrorism" is unlikely to be successful, let alone justified - as the British government found out in their dealings with the IRA.
Furthermore, some of the rhetoric emanating from the self-declared "civilised world" has an uncomfortable echo of the colonial "white man's burden" of bringing "civilisation" to the rest of us, who are obviously still savages! Perhaps we are backward because we fail to understand certain blatant inconsistencies. For example, how nations once considered (presumably) "civilised" allies, supported with arms and funds, are transformed with bewildering suddenness into "rogue states" with Weapons of Mass Destruction, posing an immediate threat to world security e.g. Iraq? Or equally confusingly, how some "rogue states" are swiftly rehabilitated as part of the "civilised world" e.g. Libya. And all this without even a change of leadership in either!
But then, consider how frequently US rhetoric is actually consistent with the reality of its foreign policy. Sometimes it seems, like Bangla grammar, that there are more exceptions than rules!
It's hard for some of us to ignore the blatant contradictions in US policy towards Israel, for example. By humouring Israeli demands, and defending it from its critics - despite the innumerable violations by Israel of UN resolutions - the hypocrisy of this policy becomes blindingly evident. After all, one of the stated reasons for attacking Iraq was supposed to be its violation of UN resolutions! So, what then is the point at which UN resolutions shift from being something worth going to war over, to something so unimportant that no one even bothers raising multiple violations?
And in another parallel with Saddam's Iraq, the US cannot (or perhaps does not always want to) control the monsters it creates. Even as Israel disengages from Gaza, Ariel Sharon, the Israeli PM, has vowed to continue expanding Jewish settlements in the West Bank - this, despite admitting differences with President George Bush on the issue.
While he acknowledged that the US and Israel did not "necessarily see eye to eye" on settlement expansion, Sharon underlined his determination to proceed with the policy in defiance of US exhortations, by pointing out that settlement growth had always continued in the past despite formal expressions of US opposition! In a classic case of crying wolf, when lip-service protests to settlement expansion have been going on for so long, it's hardly surprising that the Israelis will not now respond to US protestations on settlement expansion, even if they really DO mean it (though this remains questionable).
Nor does the US speak out robustly when there are clear violations of Palestinian human rights e.g. the recent Israeli settler campaign, which has resulted in Palestinian livestock being systematically poisoned. Amnesty International has called on Israeli authorities to investigate more fully these poisoning incidents, which have constituted economic disaster for Palestinian farmers, who have been forced to quarantine their flocks, and are therefore unable to sell or consume the milk, meat and cheese produced.
The poisoning came to light after a series of violent attacks by masked settlers, on international volunteers accompanying shepherds and protecting Palestinian children on their way to school. The last attack left an Italian human rights activist with a fractured jaw, a damaged eye and amnesia. These tactics are seen as part of an effort by settlers to prevent the Palestinians from entering their own land, in order to facilitate a land-grab by the settlers.
The Israeli government is of course having its own struggle with the settlers now, as the hardliners refuse to leave even the Gaza strip, let alone the rest of the occupied territories. It is no more than they deserve, having created this particular monster in the first place! Successive Israeli governments have been afraid to challenge, or have actively supported, the politically powerful, often religiously fundamentalist settler movement. As a result, the settlers have become used to considering themselves practically invulnerable. It's hardly surprising that they are not willing to go without a fight.
But then, as one left-wing Jewish commentator has pointed out, if the government really wanted the settlers to leave without a fuss, all they had to do was to withdraw the army from those areas. Without state protection, the settlers would have no chance of surviving in Palestinian-majority areas, and would have been forced to move out themselves.
But that would have meant the loss of a great PR opportunity! Instead, once again, the Israeli government benefits from massive international publicity, and the sympathy generated by their "brave steps towards peace". The fact that the settlers are being well-compensated and gently-handled, highlights just how effectively the Israeli security forces can operate without using the brutal methods that they are notorious for, when they want to. Too bad that they choose not to display the same sensitivity when dealing with Palestinians!
What's most interesting is that the US apparently finds no contradiction to its "truth and justice" rhetoric in supporting a state which regularly uses harsh tactics against civilians. They might do well to consider that those who live in glass houses should not throw orgies! And framing issues in black-and-white does not mean that you can invert the two shades at will…
Until such blatant hypocrisy is addressed, one is reminded of Mahatma Gandhi's view (when asked about western civilisation), that it would be a good idea!
(R) thedailystar.net 2005