Monday 7 June 2010

The Promised Land

I watched a documentary about Dunkirk at the weekend. The programme was built around interviews with soldiers who were there at the time, interspersed with film footage from the time. Having thankfully never experienced it, I can’t hope to imagine what the horrors of war are really like, but the way these chaps were describing their experiences left me in no doubt just how grotesque war is. Several old soldiers said things that I’m sure will stick in my mind, but one thing in particular seemed very relevant to events now. He was describing how, nearing Dunkirk, he was injured by enemy fire. He went on to say that despite his injuries he behaved like a cornered animal; he wasn’t sure how but he scrambled and fought his way to the coast driven by the desire to survive. Desperate people will do desperate things to survive.

“One man’s freedom fighter is another man’s terrorist” is a familiar saying. As a pacifist I could never condone or excuse acts of war or terror, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t want to try and understand why these things happen. Why individuals or states turn to fighting rather than politics to solve their differences. One thing is for sure; the more oppressed either financially, physically or politically a group of people are, the more likely they are to react against that oppression. No matter how subservient those oppressed appear on the surface there will be elements that will see their only means of freeing themselves from the clutches of their despotic masters to be violent means. When you have nothing to lose life ceases to be sacred. Rarely do you get revolution or terrorism when the populace are relatively affluent. Shit on people and eventually they will throw some of that shit back. The higher up the Maslow scale that people are the less prone to violence they will be. How can Israel expect the people of Gaza and their legitimately elected Hamas government to reject violence when they are denied the basics?

I continue to hope that pretty soon the ‘western world’ will come to recognise and desire to do something about the plight of the Palestinians. The incidents over the last week or so have indeed been condemned in some western quarters but it is still not enough. Whilst Israel continues to have the unquestionable support of the USA it will continue with its oppression of the Palestinian people.

A perpetual frustration for me are those societies who think of themselves as civilised yet continue to support pariah states, like Israel. If the majority of these countries upped their moral game the world would become a fairer and slightly more just place. The trouble is that all countries put trade above everything else save the occasional bit of national political self-interest. Just imagine the international condemnation, general hoo-ha and sabre rattling that would have taken place had it been Iran rather than Israel acting in such an illegal manner over the Gaza blockade.

What is needed is for a power block, the EU is the obvious example, to start taking a unilaterally more ethical stance on its trade and relations with other countries. It wouldn’t even have to be an instant change. The EU could declare what it considered to be a set of minimum standards that it expected from its trading partners. If those standards were not met then sanctions could be applied to countries and their supporters who continue to operate in an unethical way. These sanctions could range from mere classification as a country with unacceptable behaviour, to higher import duties, to the banning of trade on certain commodities right through to complete embargoes. There would of course be retaliation which would really test the mettle of many governments but if the EU could show that there is an alternative way of doing things others would follow suit. None of this would be done without diplomatic initiatives running in parallel, and the EU would have to ensure that it practised what it preached, but this course of action if performed right could change the world quite significantly. Once started any action like this would then snowball. There will be critics that will prophesy world recession at such action because of tit-for-tat economic reprisals. They will have a point which is why any action would need to be explained and phase in. This is no reason not to do it. The EU could lead the way in ethical trading and in establishing a new world order. An order built on peaceful, sustainable and equitable behaviour. Fanciful?

Today’s ‘pie in the sky’ is tomorrow’s ‘normality’.

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