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A blog on terrorism, democracy and international politics
Sunday, May 08, 2005
The cruelest [irony] is that in championing the Islamist insurgencies in Iraq and Afghanistan, today's Western Islamo-Marxists are supporting the very forces that are terrorizing and murdering politically active women, trade unionists, foreign aid workers, and left-wing activists in those countriesMarxists have frequently co-opted essentially unrelated causes (nationalism, environmentalism, pacificism), but the growing links between Marxism and fundamentalism are something new and incomprehensible. Mr King's article sheds light on this new phenomenon.
However, history is not simply about reciting events and the dates they occurred - it is about understanding and learning from their meaning in context. These events have by and large been viewed without a sense of historical context or moral clarity. Recalling World War II should be a sobering reminder for us of the threat of totalitarianism to human values. Australia and other members of the British-led Commonwealth stood almost alone against the unmitigated evil that Nazi Germany represented, until 1941, when the USA and USSR entered the war.
America had followed an isolationist policy, attempting to stay out of the "European" war while providing resources to Britain and her allies, until the attack on Pearl Harbour brought the consequences of isolation home. America learnt then that failing to confront tyranny simply delayed and worsened the predicament. (A similar lesson for Britain has often been drawn from Neville Chamberlain's policy of appeasement).
The Soviet Union, which under Stalin's dictatorial rule was closely aligned with Hitler's Germany, was brought into the war only after Operation Barbarossa, in which the Nazis betrayed and invaded their fellow dictatorship. There is no honour among either thieves or tyrants.
China and Japan
China's criticisms of Japan, and its orchestration of attacks on the Japanese Embassy, are grotesquely cynical when viewed through the lens of history.
Although Japan's current leadership should be more honest and objective in its treatment of its history, the Japan and China of 1945 were completely different countries to those that exist today. Japan was an expansionist, imperial power organised on fascist principles. It was preoccupied with wars of conquest and systematically violated human rights. Since 1945, Japan has become a deeply pacifist, vigorously democratic state. Its tyrannical tendencies were overturned by an American-led military campaign and a free society was built behind the shield of American military power.
During World War II, China was also an imperial state, though without a systematic, ideological basis. The China of today is a totalitarian dictatorship, unlike the China of the war years. While today's Japan is democratic and therefore pluralistic, China systematically represses any voices that deviate from the party line. Thus the murder of hundreds of democracy campaigners at Tiananmen Square in 1989. China's claim that the protesters who attacked the Japanese Embassy were independent of the State are simply not credible given China's systematic destruction of independent voices. It has been reported that the Chinese government bussed in the protesters, who promptly dissipated at the instruction of the security forces. Internally, then, China is behaving in a way that would not be unfamiliar to the Japanese before 1945.
If we compare the external policy of Japan and China, we again find that Japan has repudiated wars of conquest, but that military threats to neighbours now form a central part of China's foreign policy. China was able to point the finger at Japan's invasion of Manchuria while passing the "Anti-secession law" which perpetuates the fiction that Taiwan is an integral part of China. China reinforces this claim through threats of military take-over and by pointing 600 missiles at its tiny neighbour. Taiwan is another country that, over the past 60 years, has followed a trajectory from totalitarian dictatorship to free democracy under the protection of US military guarantees.
China's recent behaviour over Taiwan was a mistake because it showed Europe the folly of its proposal of lifting the arms embargo against the People's Republic. In my opinion, Australia should have conditioned its free trade negotiations on the repeal of the anti-secession law, and should have considered reinstating the arms embargo which was lifted in 1983. As Pearl Harbour demonstrated, we ignore the belligerence of totalitarian states at our peril.
The media's treatment of the anniversary of the end of the Vietnam War were inadequate because many journalists came of age during the Vietnam era and retain a distorted understanding of that event. As Vietnamese human rights campaigner Quynh Dao, who delivered a PWHCE talk in 2004, wrote in a recent article in The Australian:
One enduring myth is that the West became involved in the Vietnam War to prevent communism spreading, but that it turned out to be a civil war involving nationalists who wanted unification. In fact, the Vietnam War was fomented by the communist North. The communist North was instructed and abetted by communist China and supported by the rest of the communist bloc
This distorted historical 'lens' allowed some in the media to claim that the Vietnamese people today are indifferent or satisfied with communist rule and are simply happy for an end to the war. On America's National Public Radio, Loren Jenkins reported from the site of the US Embassy building, where on 29 April 1975, Vietnamese people had desperately tried to board helicopters that were evacuating American personnel from South Vietnam. The building has since been razed by the Communists. Jenkins drew an equation between the lack of political freedom in the north and the south, and spoke with an optimism that could have been taken from a Vietnamese government press release:
Detractors are quick to point out that there's no political freedom in Vietnam under its one party communist rule. But as I remember it, there wasn't any political freedom either, under the old South Vietnamese government that Washington supported. The country is at last at peace. It isn't crippled by its past, but looking solidly into the future to more progress unimpeded by war.Viewed through the lens of history however, this equivalence is nonsensical. The purpose of the American and Australian support of the South was not to first set up a perfect, stable functioning democracy in the face of relentless, heavily armed insurgency. The purpose was to first secure the south against the north, so that an independent, stable and free democracy could then grow over time, as occurred in Japan, Taiwan and South Korea. The action also served to buy time for other countries in the region that China and the Soviet Union were attempting to subvert.
Conversely, the Viet Cong and its backers sought to expand and consolidate a military dictatorship that would systematically persecute its own population. This is, in fact what happened.
Jenkins failed to see the symbolism of Vietnam's razing of the building from which Vietnamese attempted to escape the approaching communist troops. The failure of democratic forces in Vietnam resulted in a flood of refugees during the 1970s, and indeed there is still a serious refugee problem associated with Vietnam's campaign of ethnic cleansing against the Hmong people.
Learning from History
It is increasingly important today that we understand that world events are dynamic. It is up to us whether the future will be free and peaceful, like Japan and Taiwan, or unfree, repressive and belligerent, like China and Vietnam. In 1945, few had the foresight to believe that Germany might one day be a free, independent and democratic state. The idea of promoting democracy in Asia was derided in the 1970s (and sometimes still today), on the basis that Asian culture supposedly prevents the development of democracy.
The Middle East can change. China can change. Vietnam can change. Let's learn from our past and make sure these changes are for the better.
Saturday, May 07, 2005
George Galloway poses with a picture of his 'friend' Saddam Hussein. [AP]
Baghdad blogger Salam Pax
In April, George Galloway told Iraqi blogger Salam Pax that regardless of the fact that around 80% of Iraqis want coalition troops to remain in Iraq for the time being;
I just want to be honest with you. You can not demand that our armed forces occupy your country - that's a matter for us. It's not a matter for you - it's a matter for us
Left by itself, this statement represents an ugly, but potentially consistent policy - the policy of narrow, national self interest being more important than defending human rights. It could be assumed, then, that Galloway's opposition to the Iraq war was based on the popular view that Blair's government was dishonest about its reasons for going to war, or that other issues were higher on the policy agenda than Iraq.
However, having won the seat of Bethnal Green and Bow at Thursday's election, Galloway's victory speech contradicted his comments to Salam Pax. He said:
Tony Blair, this and other defeats that New Labour have suffered are for Iraq. All the people you've killed, all the lies that you told, have come back to haunt you.
And in an interview with Jeremy Paxman, he said that the MP he defeated (Oona King), and all Labor MPs who voted for the war in Iraq had the blood of 100,000 mostly Iraqi dead on their hands. (This figure, often touted by the Left, is contested).
Galloway can't have it both ways. Either he considers the plight of Iraqis irrelevant to British foreign policy (as he told Salam Pax) or he ran his election on behalf of the people of Iraq. One or the other.
Is Galloway simply being logically incoherent here, or is this propaganda hiding a more sinister motivation?
When Galloway and his business representative in Iraq and political confidante Fawaz Zureikat were named in a list of beneficiaries of the UN oil for food scandal, in which Saddam Hussein's Iraq gave millions of dollars in secret kickbacks, Galloway said the following about Zureikat's donations to his (Galloway's) previous election campaign:
I don't know the exact figure, but he's one of the three biggest benefactors who are the Governments of the UAE, united Arab emirates and Saudi Arabia and Zureikat would be either second or third on that list. So he was a very generous donor to the campaign
In other words, Galloway's political career has been bankrolled by a number of Arab dictatorships.
Galloway's approach to the Iraq issue is callous, dishonest and opportunistic, and it should be recalled that Galloway, unlike the great majority of Iraqis, has been an avowed supporter of Saddam Hussein for many years.
As such, he may fairly be said to have on his hands the blood of the 400,000 Iraqis so far found in mass graves, those Israelis killed by suicide bombers sponsored by Hussein's regime, and many others who have died premature deaths because of Hussein's brutality.