I am not, as regular readers will have ascertained, an enthusiast for the political skills of the Foreign Secretary. But even by David Miliband’s standards, his latest controversial remarks are incredibly ill advised and spectacularly badly timed. As Britain’s troops return in body bags, with stomach churning regularity, from Helmand province, victims of a vicious Islamist insurgency, the minister in charge of foreign policy has chosen to express the opinion that “there are circumstances in which (terrorism) is justifiable, and yes, there are circumstances in which it is effective”.
No doubt Miliband believes that he engaged in a subtle exposition of moral philosophy, when Matthew Parris questioned him about his attitudes to terrorism perpetrated by the group ‘Sizwe’, which claimed the lives of civilians in South Africa. His contention that the racist regime was ‘blown away’ will no doubt enrage those who believe that it was politics which eventually dismantled apartheid and acts of barbarity simply undermined the ANC’s, otherwise justifiable, campaign. But the foreign secretary cannot so glibly divorce his comments from the responsibility carried by his job or the context in which he carries it out.
Terror remains an ever present threat, on the streets of Britain, as well as the parts of the world in which our forces operate. Miliband’s moral relativism provides cover for all manner of inhuman campaigns of violence. After all, who is to determine which groups are in the right? To many, a global Caliphate, or an independent ethno-nationalist state are aims as noble as the destruction of South Africa’s racist architecture.
Miliband is in charge of a Foreign and Commonwealth Office that works in a myriad of nations, many engaged in their own attempts to combat terrorism. What message should they extrapolate from the minister’s philosophising? Should they conclude that the UK reserves the right to assess the legitimacy of terror groups’ arguments and support their violence against sovereign states, should it find in their favour? Would he like to discuss his opinions with relatives in Ingushetia, who today mourn at least twelve victims of violence, perpetrated to sustain a movement fuelled by a poisonous mix of Islamist ideology, tribal gangsterism and separatist sentiment?
It would be regrettable if the media were to foster an atmosphere in which government ministers were reluctant to express any type of personal opinion. However, there is a clear link in Mr Miliband’s case, between the job in which he is engaged, and the remarks that he made. They are, at best, stupid. The notion that terrorism is sometimes a legitimate means to address grievance is extremely dangerous. It is an idea which no responsible government minister would encourage.