The Foreign Secretary, William Hague, is very fond of taking a high tone with the Syrian government, as is the BBC. For them it’s a ‘regime’, though they have only quite recently discovered its regimeness, if that is what this quality is called. For decades, when Western liberal opinion had no interest in the Middle East, except in attacking Israel for its many wickednesses, Syria was ignored.
Even after the appalling Nezar Hindawi episode, in which a grisly attempt was made to use a pregnant woman to (unwittingly) take a bomb aboard an Israeli passenger jet, which would probably have blown up over London if the ploy had been successful, Syria was never really regarded as specially wicked. We broke off relations for a bit, but eventually restored them. Syria was even welcome to US-sponsored attempts to broker a peace deal with Israel over the Golan heights, a more or less hopeless diplomatic waste of time.
Syria stayed out of the West’s bad books even after it was pretty clear that Syrian-sponsored terrorists had been involved in the Lockerbie mass murder. That line of inquiry was dropped because Syria was ‘helpful’ to the West during the first war against Saddam Hussein. It is this but of politics that is the origin of the bizarre and evidence-free subsequent claim that Gadaffi’s Libya was behind that bomb.
Amazing what people will believe and continue to believe, when it suits them.
Now, as far as I can make out, Britain and the USA, driven on by Hillary Clinton in a strange emotional spasm which is very hard to square with her militant feminism and youthful leftism, have decided to take the side of Saudi Arabia in the developing division of the Muslim world. That seems to explain why we regard Syria’s repression of anti-government rebels with rage and scorn, and why we regard Bahrain’s repression of its anti-government rebels with complacency and sympathy – Mr Slippery had the King of Bahrain in Downing Street for talks on Thursday, though there was very little fuss or publicity, six days after Bahrain police beat an unarmed teenager to death . The Bahrain interior Ministry said the dead youth was a ‘terrorist’.
Bahrain is much smaller than Syria, but at least 50 people are believed to have been killed there in street clashes in the last 18 months or so. Some of you may remember, in the early days of the supposed ‘Arab Spring; quite a lot of coverage being given to the demonstrations at the Pearl Roundabout in Manama. Since then there have been credible allegations of torture by the government, hundreds of arrests and what looked to some people rather like an invasion by neighbouring Saudi Arabia, whose forces arrived in British-built vehicles. A particularly unpleasant aspect of the repression has been the punishment of doctors for simply treating those wounded in street clashes.
I make no particular judgement on this myself. I don’t hold out much hope for any of these societies becoming law governed or free any time soon.
What strikes me is the inconsistency of our own government, and the American government. Note also that the new Muslim Brotherhood-controlled Egyptian government recently embarked on some pretty bloody repressions in the Sinai, yet were not accused of ‘killing their own people’ . This odd charge (would it be worse or better if they killed other people’s people?) is usually made against governments which have been selected by the ‘west’ for destabilisation.
The USA’s relationship with Saudi Arabia is very old and very interesting, dating back to a bizarre summit between Franklin Roosevelt and the Saudi King, Ibn Saud,. aboard an American warship, USS Quincy, in the Great Bitter lake, while Roosevelt was on his way home from the Yalta conference in February 1945. Arab carpets were laid on the Quincy’s steel decks, to make the King feel more at home.
But quite why it should now apparently lead to Britain and the USA supporting the overthrow of governments unsympathetic to Saudi Arabia (while ignoring the defects of Arab governments which are more to Saudi taste) I am not sure. It may have something to do with our obsessive concern with Iran’s non-existent nuclear weapons, many, many years from operational capability. Or it may run deeper. Either way, we need to drain the propaganda and the emotion from this debate, and to have parliamentarians and journalists asking ministers exactly what it is we think we are doing, and why it benefits our national interests.
Meanwhile, several reports from newspapers hitherto sympathetic to the Syrian ‘activists’ have this week recounted how many ordinary and uncommitted Syrians loathe and fear these ‘activists’, who by provoking government retaliation on peaceful neighbourhoods, ruin contented and reasonably happy lives. What for?
Why do we think this tragic price is worth paying?
Peter Jonathan Hitchens (born 28 October 1951) is an award-winning British columnist and author, noted for his traditionalist conservative stance.
He has published five books, including The Abolition of Britain, A Brief History of Crime, The Broken Compass and most recently The Rage Against God. Hitchens writes for Britain’s The Mail on Sunday newspaper.
A former resident correspondent in Moscow and Washington, Hitchens continues to work as an occasional foreign reporter, and appears frequently in the British broadcast media. He is the younger brother of the late US-based writer Christopher Hitchens.
In 2010 Hitchens was described by Edward Lucas in The Economist as “a forceful, tenacious, eloquent and brave journalist. Readers with long memories may remember his extraordinary coverage of the revolution in Romania in 1989, or more recently his intrepid travels to places such as North Korea.
He lambasts woolly thinking and crooked behaviour at home and abroad.” – Source, Wikipedia
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