Ken Clarke and the suicide bomber
Should critics of Blair's foreign policy take their lead from an old Tory and an Islamist fantasist?
What do Mohammed Siddique Khan, the suicide bomber who killed himself and six others at Edgware Road on 7/7, and Ken Clarke, John Major’s roly-poly chancellor of the exchequer who has put in a bid to become Tory leader, have in common? Well, they both issued public statements yesterday criticising Tony Blair’s foreign policy – Clarke in a statement to members of the Foreign Press Association at Westminster, Khan in a grainy video recorded some time before he blew himself to smithereens two months ago (which, like Clarke’s statement, was also aimed at the media).
Khan’s video has been held up as evidence that the Iraq war inflamed terrorism, was thus wrong, and should now be called off. The Islamic Human Rights Commission says the video highlights the ‘dangerous effects of [Britain’s] illegal and immoral policies’. One emailer to the BBC said the video shows up the folly of ‘the war in Iraq, and the lies and arrogance of the governments that took us there’ (1). But why should the rantings of a former supply teacher turned Islamist fantasist be accepted as a convincing argument for withdrawing from Iraq? On that basis, it would have been reasonable to respond to the nailbombings carried out by racist homophobe David Copeland in 1999 by shutting down gay pubs and kicking out blacks. After all, that’s what that crank wanted.
This video – which only shows a Yorkshireman in a headscarf saying that British foreign policy made him feel upset – is no more an argument against the Iraq war than the murder of Sharon Tate in 1969 was an argument for letting Charles Manson join the Beach Boys (one of Manson’s grievances, apparently, was that he never made it into the group). Yet anti-war commentators have effectively made Khan their unofficial spokesman, citing his wacky views as an argument for getting out of Iraq. They have even put words into his mouth. In his video Khan says that ‘your democratically elected governments’ (presumably meaning the British and American governments) must ‘stop the bombing, gassing, imprisonment and torture of my people’. This, according to a news report in the Guardian, is ‘a reference to Iraq and Palestine’ (2). How do they know that? Khan didn’t mention the words ‘Iraq’ or ‘Palestine’. And even if he had, so what? Should governments (especially democratically elected ones, in Khan’s sneering reference) base their foreign policies on what some loon from Leeds thinks?
Khan also said that his ‘driving motivation’ was Islam, ‘obedience to the one true God, Allah, and [to] follow in the footsteps of the final prophet and messenger Mohammad. This is how our ethical stances are dictated.’ But commentators conveniently brushed over such religious nuttiness and upfronted his concern for ‘my people’ (whomever they might be). In so doing, they are using moral blackmail and feeding off defeatism to try to win the argument about the war in Iraq. What they’re effectively saying is: ‘Look, if we stay in Iraq then more people like Khan will become angry, strap bombs to themselves, and blow us up! Let’s get out now – better safe than sorry.’ They are using the politics of fear to make their case, just as cynically and opportunistically as Bush and Blair did when they launched this war to save us from Saddam’s ‘weapons of mass murder’ in the first place.
Ken Clarke plays precisely the same game. Indeed, he may be a posh, cigar-chomping, one-time Thatcherite turned wannabe leader of the clapped-out Conservative Party, but in many ways Clarke is the ideal figurehead for today’s anti-war movement. This movement is less about taking a clear and radical stand against the right of the West to intervene in other state’s affairs, than it is concerned with preaching the virtues of safety, caution, self-preservation and salvaging British values of ‘fair play’ in love and war from the jaws of the beastly Bush administration. And who better to speak on behalf of such a small-minded and perversely patriotic movement than an old Tory?
Clarke’s statement yesterday was a mixture of cynical fear-mongering and Little Englandism. He said that the ‘disastrous decision to invade Iraq has made Britain a more dangerous place’, making us ‘one of the foremost targets for Islamic extremists’ (3). This has become a common cry among those opposed to the war in Iraq, from the Stop the War Coalition (‘we [are] inviting catastrophic terrorist actions on ourselves’) to French President Jacques Chirac (the Iraq war has ‘made the world more dangerous’). Rather than challenge the politics of fear that gave rise to the war in the first place, anti-war activists try to turn fear to their advantage, attempting to scare us into being anti-war. This is about NIMBYism: opposing war, not because it is disastrous for those on the receiving end, but as a means of keeping us safe in our beds at night from the Khans of this world. And who does NIMBYism better than the Tories?
Clarke aimed much of his ire at the Bush administration rather than at Blair. He claimed that ‘Bush’s real purpose – of installing quite quickly a pro-Western democracy in Baghdad with the support of a grateful liberated population – has proved to be a sad illusion’ (who is Clarke’s speechwriter these days – George Galloway?). He contrasted Bush’s self-interested invasion of Iraq with the ‘honourable and necessary causes’ that Britain has pursued through war, making it clear that he would never oppose a war ‘for a just cause and a British national interest’ (4).
Such patriotism is rife in anti-war circles. Many, including the Lib Dem leader Charles Kennedy and various Labour MPs, have argued against the war in Iraq on the grounds that it makes Britain look bad and that it was executed in too much of an American fashion. According to the Lib Dem Lord Tim Garden, that is why we got ‘things like Fallujah’ instead of ‘peace, reconciliation and a stable country’ (5). This is less an argument against war than a demand for more Brit-influenced wars, done more decently and efficiently than the Americans do things, in that jolly hockey sticks way we waged war in the past. This is narcissism, not anti-imperialism.
Given that many of the arguments of today’s anti-war movement are conservative in sentiment, it is arguably fitting that a Conservative should now speak on its behalf. This is not a movement concerned with offering solidarity with Iraqis against Western interventionism, but about putting safety first, protecting Britain’s international image, avoiding doing anything that might have unforeseen consequences, and generally making the case that there’s nothing really worth fighting for (especially if it might involve risk, injury or danger). If you’re against Western intervention today, then the last thing you should do is line up with cranks like Khan or opportunists like Clarke.
spiked-issue: War on Iraq
(1) Tube bomber video: Your reaction, BBC News, 2 September 2005
(2) Video of 7/7 ringleader blames foreign policy, Guardian, 2 September 2005
(3) Clarke squares up for Iraq showdown, London Evening Standard, 1 September 2005
(4) Clarke squares up for Iraq showdown, London Evening Standard, 1 September 2005
(5) See Iraq still isn’t an election issue, by Brendan O’Neill
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