Fishy Tales

27 January 2006

Voting for Terrorism?

The resounding victory of Hamas in the recent Palestinian elections puts the West in a bit of a pickle. It's very much a self-created pickle, and to be honest I was expecting this kind of situation to arise in Iraq (Home of Western Democracy in the East TM). Which isn't to say it won't happen there at some point..

Anyway, it's a straightforward quandary: what happens if, once you give/allow people the freedom to decide their own destiny, they choose a path directly contrary to everything you stand for?

This is a bit like a classic parent/teenager thing - once teenagers are allowed to make their own choices the first choices of many are highly likely to test that new-found freedom. If the parents step in and say "you can't do that", then of course they prove themselves unchanged - still the same oppressors, who never genuinely care about what their children want, and who will do their damnedest to maintain their grip. So this is a test, and to a degree it's a test of faith. Faith that the children will ultimately make good choices, even if they're not your choices.

Let me emphasise that I don't mean to belittle the Palestinians here, or imply that they're "just children" (big word, "just" isn't it?). No-one has suggested that the election was in any way invalid, the Hamas victory was decisive at almost 60% of the vote, and you can't argue with a 77% turnout. Hamas has a much greater mandate than the current UK Government (35.3% of vote, 61.3% turnout).

And there's the whole problem - because to refuse all dialogue would be to seriously "dis" the Palestinian people; and even democracy itself. This has been a fair victory by the West's own rules, and we should be very wary of changing those rules after the fact to suit our own purposes. That would close out the only chance for peaceful resolution of the core Middle Eastern conflict. If the (international) system is fiddled so that the Palestinian people's opinion can never really be expressed, how should they interpret that, except as oppression? And more chillingly, how can they overcome that perceived oppression if the cards for a legal and peaceful solution are always stacked against them? What would we do in such an apparently hopeless situation? It's easy enough to see that many would find a slave's life unbearable, or at least fairly valueless. And if those people genuinely believed their sacrifice (according to a greater plan) could help their loved ones -or even country - escape slavery, then there are obvious conclusions. Oh, belief in an afterlife helps, too.

So I hope that our glorious leaders tread very carefully and sensitively on this one, because it could be a make-or-break moment in Middle Eastern history. It will dictate relationships with the West for years to come.

Incidentally, it's interesting that a "terrorist government" (which is the new Palestinian government according to Israel) is no longer one that terrorises its own subjects, but rather one that condones terrorism against other countries. Formerly known as a Rogue State in the Axis of Evil, in fact..

Addendum

25 April 2006: I'm glad to see that, following yet another horrific terrorist attack on an Egyptian tourist resort, Hamas - aka the Palestinian Government - has nailed its colours to the mast in no uncertain terms:
Our government strongly condemns this criminal act which flouts our religion, shakes Palestinian national security and works against Arab interests.
The significance is that a lot of the Bad Guys (like al-Qaeda) would doubtless like to gain the kind of popular support among Arabs that the Palestinian cause enjoys. By explicitly standing against them, and pointing out - as have other Arab commentators - that this kind of action actually flouts Islam, Hamas is doing some notable good here. Of course there is a healthy bit of self-interest involved as well, but isn't there always?

Either way I expect many Arabs are increasingly frustrated with how such terrorists acts work against them and effectively destroy their livelihoods. I'll bet the terrorists themselves are seen as impatient - possibly even self-indulgent - mavericks. And, Arab or not, we'll all be glad to see them rot.

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