Friday, January 27, 2006

Bark: The Age of Terrorism

As I enter my fourth decade with grace and dignity (yeah, right), I look at the news, to try and gain an insight as to what my 30's are going to have in store for me. So, what's the biggest story, this fine, sunny day? (other than this evening's merciful conclusion of "Celebrity" Big Brother... move on, move on - nothing to see here...)

Cheerily, it's the horrified media reaction to Hamas being elected into the government of Palestine. A delicious irony that, Hamas, a group dedicated to the destruction of Israel, should be getting down to the finer details of forming a new Palestinian government today, since the 27th of January also happens to be Holocaust Memorial Day here in the UK.

If you go to the UN's website and have a look at the history of so-called "Palestinian problem", you will actually see that this whole thing is Britain's fault. By denying Palestine sovereignty after the breakup of the Ottoman Empire after the end of World War One, and (in a very British manner) trying to force Jews to live together harmoniously with the Palestinians, because they felt a bit sorry for them (the Jews) not having a country to call "home", rather naively thinking that the Palestinians would just budge up and make room for them, because it was terrible what happened with that business with the Nazi camps, wasn't it, chaps? So when the Palestinians started kicking up a fuss about people settling in Palestine (land, you remember, which is of significant religious and spiritual significance to the Arabs as well), we Brits did the decent thing. By which I mean we took the long view, took the hard choices... shrugged our collective shoulders, washed our hands of it, and gave the problem to the UN to sort out. How noble. Doesn't that make you proud to be British?

And it's been pretty much downhill ever since. Especially since the US ensured that after the partitioning of Palestine in 1947 by the UN, Israel would be the dominant power in the region by pouring money and arms into it, allowing Israel to occupy the rest of Palestine, and ensure that Israel would never be censured by the UN Security Council, given that the US systematically vetoed every resolution that would have done so. (Barring, rather oddly, 1967's Resolution 242, the one that demands that Israel gives back the lands it has occupied - i.e. the one Israel has been studiously in defiance of for the last 40 years, with tacit American approval)

If you search through the UN site, (and I'd give yourself at least a couple of days, by the way) you will find that the UN still considers the Israeli occupation of Palestine illegal. Yet it's absolutely powerless to do anything about it, because the US makes sure that any resolution that would give the balance of power (and land) back to the Palestinians doesn't get anywhere.

Given this historical context, which is all too often forgotten in today's fast-paced tag-'em-and-bag-'em news media, perhaps it shouldn't be quite so surprising that the Palestinians have voted a group like Hamas into power. When you have two-faced American presidents extolling the values of democracy, liberty and freedom on one hand, while denouncing as terrorists people denied those very values by a government propped up by American money and arms in an illegal occupation of lands condemned by international law for nearly FORTY YEARS on the other... it can hardly be a surprise that the Palestinians will use what little power they have, the power of their vote, to make such a profound statement.

The reaction so far from the US and Israeli governments has been classic: "We will not deal with terrorists." Talk about making a rod for your own back. You gave them the power to vote, guys. Deal with the consequences. As the Secretary General of the Arab League said yesterday; "The US can't promote democracy but then reject the results of this democracy."

Democracy can't be a flag of convenience: if people have truly voted for a party that's you don't like, but it's what they *want*, tough shit. You don't have the right to dictate whether any particular government is distasteful to your sensibilities or not. You simply have to deal with (or live with) whoever the people elect - i.e. just like most of the civilised world has to put up with a moron in the White House until 2008. Whinging about it doesn't solve anything. Now you can see how the bats released by the "War on Terror" are coming home to roost. "Terrorism" has always been a matter of definition, and like any semantic argument, it's impossible for everyone to agree to the same terms. Members of Hamas don't consider themselves to be terrorists. They consider themselves to be resistance fighters. They use suicide bombs because, unlike Israel, Palestine doesn't have a standing army bought and trained by the United States. The Israeli's don't consider using military bulldozers to demolish Palestinian homes to be terrorism. But if you were one of those people evicted from their homes moments before it was crushed to rubble, don't you think you'd have a different point of view?

The Palestinians have, by electing Hamas, given the world a fascinating problem. They've legitimized "terrorism" (though I've said for a long time now that people wouldn't be terrorists if terrorism didn't work as a practical means for gaining political power) - or at least they've made an association between terrorism and democracy that the powers on high would have preferred to leave distinct and separate. The leaders of Hamas are not just terrorists now, they're politicians. Israel has the charming policy of assassinating members of terrorist organisations in general, and members of the Hamas leadership in particular. Now Israel's in a bit of a pickle. It can't be seen to negotiate with "terrorists", but now that Hamas are forming the legitimate Palestinian government, they can hardly knock over the cars of Hamas's leadership with missiles from assault helicopters anymore, either. I predict that we're either going to see an immediate and long-term frosting of relations, or that the US and Israel will try to undermine the results of the Palestinian elections. Either that, or there'll be all out war on the streets of Jerusalem.

In declaring his "War on Terror", George W. Bush committed a fatal conceit. He effectively said; "A terrorist is who we choose to call a terrorist, as since we're the only remaining world superpower, it's up to us to define the new morality for the world." Because Might makes Right, doesn't it George? You can't make war for peace and democracy. It's utterly nonsensical; an oxymoron on a par with "Military Intelligence". A democracy imposed on people has no value, because it wasn't fought for by the people it will represent. It's said that "Democracy is a terrible form of government. But it's the best we have.", and that may be true, but that's not always relevant. The question is; "Is democracy what people *want*?" Looking at the mess we've left Afghanistan and Iraq in, can we be truly certain that the answer is "Yes"?

Terrorism, like it or not, is here to stay. You can no more win a "War on Terror" than you can win a war on the Sun setting (or not setting, if you live in Antarctica). Terrorism is born out of inequality, a failure to listen, and a failure to tolerate our differences; Things that cannot be addressed by installing puppet democracies in the hope that the shining beacon of liberty and freedom will magically turn everyone into happy little consumers spending dollars in American franchise stores. Go down to your friendly W'al'mart today, for all your camel fodder needs!

As the world continues to lurch further towards extremes, don't be surprised if you find that Hamas's victory sets a precedent for other elections around the world, and that the line between "terrorist" and "politician" becomes increasingly blurred. Many people already say that most dangerous terrorist in the world today isn't Usama Bin Laden, but George W. Bush. And they have a point, you know... how can anyone so utterly absolutist in such a grey-scaled world as ours *not* be dangerous? I suppose it just boils down to a matter of perspective; your point of view.

I think we need a new political mantra for the 21st Century. Negotiate, negotiate, negotiate. Politicians need to swallow their "we will not negotiate with terrorists" pride and drag themselves (kicking and screaming, if necessary) to the table, because making war with terrorists doesn't seem to be making our world any safer. I know it's a radical concept, and please try to stay with me here, but perhaps making peace, promoting empathy and a little understanding might work better instead. No, that's madness. Just blow their brains out and bomb their villages to smithereens. That'll solve *everything*. (And who said getting old made you cynical?)
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