Islamic Civilisation — 21 August 2006

An open letter signed by three Muslim MP’s, three peers and 38 community groups, condemning British foreign policy and stating that this had in effect given “ammunition to extremists”, has managed to provoke a somewhat surprising reaction from both the government and politicians.

The Foreign Office minister Kim Howells criticised the letter describing the comments therein as “facile”. He went on to say that there was no rational connection between British foreign policy and attempted terrorist attacks in the UK. Interestingly, noises have also been made to imply that the letter may have conferred a sense of legitimacy to those bent on violence. In addition to this, commentators have stressed that no government worth its salt can allow its policy decisions to be held hostage by terrorists. After all, if the government’s stance on the Common Agricultural Policy upset farmers in this country, leading to violent protests and the taking of civilian life, should the government be willing to change its policy? Probably not. Therefore, so the argument goes, the same principled stand must apply to all other policies, even those as deeply unpopular as the involvement in Iraq.

Well, not quite. The manner in which Kim Howells et al have attempted to portray this issue and force it into a false context is actually very disingenuous. We need to take a step back and analyse events in the correct framework.

The issue of the letter is in reality about the need to acknowledge the consequences of policy decisions. Acknowledging that certain actions are the results of a particular policy is not the same as accepting these actions as being legitimate. In fact policies should only be altered based on factors, such as the inherent reasoning, objectives and aims – Western governments invariably seek to achieve material and strategic interests and so this is usually the main arbiter in determining policy. Thus, if the authorities believe their decision to be right, regardless of the consequences, then as a matter of principle they should not change. Change would only be required and expected, were the process of reasoning, the logic and the causes of formulating the policy found to be wanting.

So why all the fuss and furore over one letter? It merely expresses a known fact. It certainly is not rocket science to make such an obvious statement as to connect the government’s foreign policy with a sense of frustration and resentment that may potentially fuel and lead to terrorist attacks. Which begs the questions as to why there is an effort on the part of some quarters to turn this into a different and false debate?

Perhaps because, presumably, they realise that the foreign policy is in fact seriously flawed – the basis of the policy, the logic and reasoning – all was, and is, full of shortcomings.

Another reason why the government’s assertions about the letter are wrong is that in this case, one of the stated aims is to prevent precisely the outcome that it is generating (i.e. a decreasing level of security and a greater threat of terrorism). If the government were to enact a policy to prevent violent crime – and one of the outcomes was an increase in violent crime – to decide not to acknowledge that fact and continue on with the same policy on the premise that their actions cannot be held hostage by criminal elements, would be nothing short of sheer folly on the part of the government.

Underlying this whole scenario is the fact that Western policy makers construct their policies using Machiavellian principles of self interest and benefit. History has shown Western powers causing strife the world over due to their pursuance of a colonialist foreign policy. It is these values that underpin such destructive behaviour – which we are still witnessing today vis-à-vis Iraq. Far from implying that the government should allow its foreign escapades to be dictated by terrorists, or lending a sense of legitimacy to those perpetrating violent acts, the letter in fact does a service to us all by at least calling to account those government actions that are proving to be detrimental in so many respects.

Kim Howells’ insistence that those who disagree with their policies should wait every five years and then change the government by using their vote is a sad indictment of a government struggling to defend what little credibility it may have with the British public. Today, bringing democracy and Western values to the Middle East seems to be the hue and cry of Western powers, but they would do well to paper over the cracks appearing at home. Examples, such as reactions to this letter, highlight yet again another reason why it is Western values that must surely be put under the microscope.

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