In today’s Guardian newspaper, David Miliband suggested that the ‘war on terror’ was wrong. Better late than never.
Acknowledging that it had ‘defined the terrain’ since the attacks of 9/11, Miliband argued that it was wrong on several counts. That it:
…gave the impression of a unified, transnational enemy, embodied in the figure of Osama bin Laden and al-Qaida…
…[and] implied that the correct response was primarily military.
He went on to conclude:
The call for a “war on terror” was a call to arms, an attempt to build solidarity for a fight against a single shared enemy. But the foundation for solidarity between peoples and nations should be based not on who we are against, but on the idea of who we are and the values we share. Terrorists succeed when they render countries fearful and vindictive; when they sow division and animosity; when they force countries to respond with violence and repression. The best response is to refuse to be cowed.
Given his last comment – ‘The best response is to refuse to be cowed’ – is interesting in that it comes mere days before the Bush presidency comes to its end. It is interesting how no senior British minister felt they were cowing to US pressure as they silently watched Bush and Blair rush headlong into what can only be described as an utter and tragic farce.
Interestingly, Mark Tran on Comment is Free notes how it was in fact Blair who coined the phrase:
Five days later [following newspaper headlines declaring ‘war’ on the 12 September 2001] Tony Blair, the then prime minister, who wanted to stand shoulder to shoulder with Bush, adopted the same stark rhetoric as he spoke outside Downing Street.
“Whatever the technical or legal issues about a declaration of war, the fact is we are at war with terrorism. It is a war between the civilised world and fanaticism. We have made it clear that we stand side by side with the United States.”
Bush didn’t use the phrase until the 20 September so well done Tony, you clearly deserved your Presidential Medal of Freedom.
If Miliband is so sure that the ‘War on Terror’ is wrong and that:
We must respond to terrorism by championing the rule of law, not subordinating it, for it is the cornerstone of the democratic society. We must uphold our commitments to human rights and civil liberties at home and abroad.
Why is the British government not speaking much more loudly against the activities of the Israelis in the Gaza Strip?
With the death toll surpassing 1,000 – far too many of whom are civilians – and far too many humanitarian groups talking about war crimes, breaches of human rights and a deepening crisis, you would have thought that this would have been a great opportunity for the Government to put their rhetoric into practice.
The problem is however is that the ‘War on Terror’ legitimises the hideous abuses that the Israeli Defence Force (IDF) continue to perpetrate against the Palestinians. As Tran puts it, the:
…war on terror covered a multitude of sins and enemies, real or imagined. An elastic term, it was vague and indiscriminate enough to cover anyone the White House considered “against us”. But if the term was an effective tool for mobilising Americans, it also created problems. War, or even the rhetoric of war, polarises, hardens sentiments, demonises the enemy and leads to excesses.
And isn’t this exactly what the Israelis are doing?
Writing in The Times on the 5 January, Colonel Lior Lotan – formerly of the IDF and now executive director of the Institute for Counter-Terrorism – argues this very point. Under the headline ‘Military incursion Should be Seen as Part of the War on Terror’ he wrote:
The battle in Gaza has a much wider meaning than simply confronting the immediate threat. We should see it and analyse it as part of the global struggle of the state of the free world against radical Islamic terrorist groups…
He went on:
…the battle in Gaza should be perceived as one component within the global confrontation against world radical terror and not just a regional, local battle. This is why we can identify identical factors in the interests of the US, Israel, moderate Arab states and even the European Union
In other words, he is saying that it is legitimate for ‘us’ to do this because ‘you’ do it. Not only that, but ‘you’ did it before we ever did.
Miliband is absolutely right when he says that the ‘War on Terror’ gives the impression of a unified, transnational enemy and that it implies that the only proper response is a military one. If he believes it though – and his rhetoric is more than mere cowing to the ‘softer’ line that many are expecting from the new President next week – then the Government should be making their voices heard. They need to tell the Israeli government with absolute clarity that what they are doing – and how they are seeking to justify it – is absolutely and categorically wrong.
And this, Mr Miliband , needs to be done now. It needs to be done today.
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