Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Roy the Brave, Polly the Sloppy.

Roy Hattersley in Monday’s Guardian argued that to demand a shift in British foreign policy “because it will reduce the risk of suicide bombing is to diminish the case for altering course from a matter of principle to a question of self interest”. If Israeli was waging a “just war” in the Lebanon and if all was going well in Iraq then “the dangers would have to be accepted with good grace”. Well, yes: the argument for e.g. a change of course in Middle East policy rests primarily on the case for justice for Palestinians. But I am not sure I am quite as phlegmatic as Hattersley about the risks involved. Britain is a target, and Sweden is not, because Blair has slavishly followed Bush; and next time I board a bus or train I don’t particularly want to be blown to pieces. I’m afraid I can’t regard this as an irrelevant consideration. Hattersley, no doubt, is a braver man than I am. In any case, in this particular case, the lofty “argument from principle” and such mundane pragmatic considerations happily coincide; if they did not do so, of course, as Hatterley suggests, the choice would be more difficult. All I am saying is that pragmatic considerations are not completely irrelevant: I suppose the risks we take to uphold our principles depends on the importance of the principles at stake. In today’s Guardian Sadiq Khan says, in a letter replying to Hattersley, that he agrees that “foreign policy should be constructed according to ethical principles and executed in a manner that is even-handed” but “…I don’t believe we should ignore the domestic impact foreign policy is having”. That seems fairly sensible to me. Polly Toynbee returned to the argument in Tuesday’s Guardian, if in a rather less temperate way: “…a democratically elected government’s foreign policy can’t be moulded by threats from murdering religious fanatics”. True enough. But, to repeat, a country’s foreign policy should surely take into account pragmatic considerations bearing on the safety of its citizens. The Muslim Leaders claim that British foreign policy “gives ammunition to extremists who threaten us all” is plainly true. I cannot see how their stating this involves any support for the extremists in question. But sticking with a set of policies widely perceived as grotesquely unjust by Muslims in general is hardly likely to make it easier to isolate and defeat extremists within the Muslim community. Finally, consider this paragraph from Toynbee: “Yesterday Ruth Kelly set out to talk to the Muslim community – again. It’s hard to know what that means. There are “no” talks available with religious fanatics seeking paradise in an impossible cause”. Note the elision from “Muslim community” in the first sentence to “religious fanatics” in the second sentence. They are not the same thing. Sloppy Polly, sloppy,


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