Friday, 18 March 2011

Cameron's War

So we are going to get involved in, or above, Libya. I have to confess that I agreed with Simon Jenkins' scepticism about military intervention. He argued that once you get involved you are inevitably sucked in further and further, because failure is not an option. "That Britain has been fighting and not winning two wars already in Muslim countries seems to teach nothing in Libya.... If the rebels win it should be their victory, emerging from a new balance of power inside Libya. If they fail, they must fight another day. There is no good reason for us to intervene. However embattled they feel, Obama and Cameron should find other paths to glory" (Guardian 9th March). That was until Thursday when I heard the Syrian writer and broadcaster, Rana Kabbani.

Rana Kabbani
She was contributor to that day's Letters to the Arab World on Radio 4. It was a series in which five writers from North Africa and the Middle East considered the momentous events that are reshaping the Arab world. As the political and cultural landscape shifts around them, these authors and thinkers use open letters to reflect on the consequences for the region and for its people. She addressed hers to the 81-year old Riad al-Turk, a Syrian dissident artist and activist who after 20 years of imprisonment by the Assad régime is now in hiding. For me it was an eye-opener. She talked about the reality and brutality of the oppression by the dynastic régimes of the Arab world, describing the inhumane conditions Riad had to endure. Contrary to popular western belief, Arab people are not apathetic under tyranny. The north African uprisings this year have not come out of the blue; they are the culmination of a harshly suppressed longing and working for freedom. She used, I think, the phrase, "the prison cells which are our Arab nations". Now they are at last breaking out. It's a moving and revealing pieceRana Kabbani's letter  

I'm not sure quite how it changed my attitude, but I think it was to see that this whole thing is important, and that actually it's to do with freeing prisoners unjustly held in captivity, as well as preventing the slaughter of innocent lives. Maybe it will go down in the UK as "Cameron's War" (and in France as "la guerre de Sarkozy"), and at the moment it seems to have got off to a good start with the announcement in Libya of a ceasefire - not that I'd trust the wily old fox Gaddafi. However to give M Sarkozy his due he did stick his head above the parapet in denouncing Gaddafi, recognising the rebels in Benghazi and rattling his sabre, and David Cameron came on board fairly soon on the diplomatic front - as Sir Humphrey might have said, a courageous decision. 

Typhoon: lined up against Col Gaddafi's forces

Of course this isn't the end of the story. In all the twists and turns that Muammar Gaddafi will undoubtedly perform in order to retain power, I am sure there will be more blood to be shed. And then, if he ultimately is toppled from power, there will still be questions hanging over us, notably where will we stop? Bahrain has imported (our ally's) troops to suppress their "prison-cell" breakers. Yemen has fired on theirs. We've seen unrest in many of "the prison cells which are... Arab nations": Algeria, Morocco, Jordan, Iran, Saudi Arabia (who, incidentally, are lined up for our most advanced combat aircraft, the Typhoon). Will we be as assiduous in support of their uprisings as we have been in Libya? Simon Jenkins has a point. We need to pray for our politicians.
To end, a quote I recently came across: “Although the world is full of suffering, it is also full of the overcoming of it” (Helen Keller).

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