Terror, hypocrisy and Western self-interest

It is the political temporising with terror that is now being blown apart by the IRA
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The Independent Online

It's not just democracy that President Bush is now laying claim to as a guiding light of foreign policy, it's the whole idea of removing the men of violence from any kind of political deal as witnessed by what is happening with the IRA at the moment.

It's not just democracy that President Bush is now laying claim to as a guiding light of foreign policy, it's the whole idea of removing the men of violence from any kind of political deal as witnessed by what is happening with the IRA at the moment.

Bush's decision to invite the McCartney sisters to the White House on St Patrick's Day is, no doubt, a classic piece of political opportunism. Although the US has lent its best efforts to help peace and reconciliation in Ireland, it has largely been on the basis of accepting Sinn Fein and the decommissioning process on face value along with the British Government.

It is this political temporising with terror that is now being blown apart in Ireland. Like it or not - and those of us who have always argued that the terrorist of yesterday can become the cabinet minister of tomorrow have to come to terms with this - the people of Catholic Belfast have shown how shoddy the compromises have been.

President Bush is no more responsible for, or even influential in, the actions of the McCartney family than he has been for the crowds demonstrating for Syrian withdrawal in Beirut. They come from the specific, not the general. But Bush's tone on terror as with his tone on democracy may be better in tune with the aspirations and feelings of ordinary people than the more subtle arguments of political pragmatism.

People do want a better life for themselves and their families. They do want the means for self-determination. And they don't accept as inevitable either political oppression or violence as a way of political life, however idealistic the cause.

The argument cuts both ways. Those demonstrating against Syria's continued presence in Lebanon were also amongst those most vociferously critical of America's invasion of Iraq, and for the same reason. The resort to force, particularly by the powerful, is inimical to many people, whatever the cause, unless it is clearly in self defence. The IRA's brutality was condoned so long as the Catholic community seemed at the mercy of Ulsterman's violence and the British resorted to internment, torture and - never forget - actual assassination in certain cases. As that threat has receded, so the IRA brutality has turned inwards and become more unacceptable.

Can the same logic be applied to Chechnya or, for that matter, Tibet, Kashmir or the many parts of Africa where armed groups are fighting for separatist causes? President Putin and the Chinese government would argue so. Putin has staked his own reputation on suppressing the revolt in Chechnya at whatever cost, and the US has given him its backing, just as Washington has preferred not to discuss Tibet.

Which is the real problem of all this abstract talk of democracy and never giving in to violence. It depends whom you're talking about. The Kurds were good when they were fighting Saddam Hussein, but presumably will not be regarded as so good if they now seek independence from the new Baghdad. The rebels of southern Sudan and Darfur are blessed as noble victims, but the Buddhists of Tibet are ignored because their pacifism, and China's overwhelming strength, make it easy to forget them. The MEK in Iran was castigated as a vicious terror group when the US was toning down its quarrel with Iran and is being rehabilitated now that Washington is interested in regime change again.

It's not just the hypocrisy of it all - the way that the Middle East is singled out for "democratic" concern and freedom fighters are treated differently depending on where they come from - which arouses the anger of the developing world against the lecturing from the West. It is that this hypocrisy reflects so obviously a mask for Western self-interest. America wants to change the world order, but only where it suits them.

Now it may be that, for security reasons, the US is concentrating on the Middle East first and, in due course, will turn its attention to Burma and Tibet. It may also be that, in enunciating the doctrine of self determination through democracy, it has been unaware of the contradictions between self assertion against a repressive regime and self assertion in the interests of separatism. Washington wants the stability of democratic states, but not the instability of nations breaking up into their separate parts - a prospect particularly relevant to Iraq and the Middle East.

But then again, it is also perfectly possible (and widely believed in the area) that, in deliberately changing the rules in the Middle East, the US knows perfectly well what it is doing. What it wants is not democracy per se, but a region fit for Israel to thrive in. And for that to happen, it has determined on a course that will emasculate Israel's traditional enemies, Syria and Iran; isolate and assault Hizbollah and Hamas and neuter the Palestinians with a pliable ("moderate") leadership.

At this stage, we don't quite know what is emerging in the region. What we do know is that war - as it always does - shifts the plates, for good and ill, and that, with the region's oil assets and instability, the West is simply incapable of not interfering, or claiming proprietorship of anything that it thinks is running in its direction.

a.hamilton@independent.co.uk

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