LONDON — Some U.S. and British politicians argue that to tackle terrorism effectively human rights must be subject to increasing limitations. In wartime Britain (1939-45), human rights were curtailed and some innocent people were locked up. The British accepted this at the time as necessary to combat threats of invasion. Today’s struggle calls for different measures. It is essentially a struggle against evil ideology and is very much a matter of “hearts and minds.”
If we do not uphold our democratic system and the principles of tolerance and human rights, we concede success to the terrorists. Steps to deal with terrorists should be taken with great care and be subject to constant parliamentary and judicial review.
For example, the limbo status of inmates at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, the mistreatment of prisoners at Abu Ghraib in Iraq, and measures such as “extraordinary rendition” have hurt the American image not only in the Middle East but elsewhere in the world.
The presentation of false intelligence on Iraq’s alleged weapons of mass destruction and the attempts made to cover up intelligence failures have inevitably made more people unwilling to trust U.S. President George W. Bush, British Prime Minister Tony Blair and their close advisers. Their fatally flawed policies have increased rather than decreased the terrorist threat.
Instead of Iraq becoming a beacon for democracy in the Middle East, the country is sliding toward civil war. Neither Bush nor Blair seem ready to accept responsibility for their mistakes.
As the situation in the Middle East deteriorates, expect insecurity in Europe and elsewhere to increase. A renewed effort must be given to solving the Israeli-Arab conflict. Unfortunately, the present U.S. administration seems reluctant to become involved in relaunching the “road map.” This is understandable as the situation has significantly worsened since the election of Hamas in Palestine and the war in Lebanon.
The Israeli government is no longer able or willing to contemplate further unilateral withdrawals, and the Arabs, having insinuated victory for Hezbollah and their Syrian and Iranian backers, are even less willing to come to terms with Israel. The forces for peace have been set back by the mistaken policies pursued in the Middle East.
In Iraq the insensitivity of American forces makes matters worse. The position of British forces in the south has deteriorated. Iraqi civilians suffers from insecurity leading to their harm and death, while many of life’s basic necessities are lacking.
Our governments will eventually have to recognize that foreign forces are no longer, if they ever were, in a position to establish security in Iraq and that their presence hinders rather than helps peace. The elected government of Iraq cannot yet assert effective control, and the only way to force it to take full responsibility may be to stick to a firm timetable for the withdrawal of foreign forces.
The fear of Iran’s acquiring nuclear weapons under an extremist president is justified, but it is unlikely that Iran will be deterred by sanctions approved by the U.N. Security Council. Economic sanctions, even if applied rigorously, have never been effective; not to mention that there is no likelihood that member states will endorse substantial sanctions.
The “neocon” proposal to destroy Iranian facilities with airstrikes would light the fuse to a Mideast explosion. Apart from the inevitable human casualties and collateral damage, oil prices would skyrocket, the world economy would be seriously damaged, and the cause of peace would be further undermined. The alternative of continuing negotiations with an intransigent Iran is unpalatable, but necessary. Unfortunately, in the light of policy failures in Iraq and long-standing American intransigence toward Iran, negotiations will be more difficult than in the past.
What should we be doing to root out terrorists in our midst? The first step in Britain must be to recognize that multiculturalism and special treatment of religious minorities is not an answer. Equality before the law should mean that positive discrimination for ethnic and religious minorities, “politically correct” though it may be, can have unjust outcomes and engender resentment and tension.
The British government seems to be gradually moving toward changing its policies in favor of greater efforts to integrate immigrants into British society. But fear of offending religious groups, especially Muslims and Roman Catholics, has left it unwilling so far to tackle the fundamental problem caused by the existence of religious schools.
If the next generation is to be integrated more effectively, there can be no place for religious schools that restrict entry to pupils of a single faith. At the very least, state funding for them should end. America has shown that insisting on secular education need not undermine religious faith. France has rightly insisted that religious emblems including Muslim garb not be worn in public schools.
We must do much more to uphold the ethical basis of our democratic traditions. This includes asserting the rights of women and demanding that immigrant communities adhere to our notions of tolerance. There is no place for any form of Shariah law or Islamic fundamentalism in Britain.
If Muslims want to live here, they should abide by our norms. We must be tolerant of different faiths, but we have the right to expect tolerance from them with regard to other faiths and the customs of the land in which they have established their homes.
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