Monday, 17 August 2009

Miliband's terror comments were irresponsible

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.


Loki said...

His comments were indeed irresponsible, but should be no surprise coming from a Labour Minister. Don't forget that Labour has always been deeply ambivalent regarding IRA terrorism and indeed the Party used to publicily epsouse the stated aim of the IRA to reunify Ireland by force and to drive the British off the island. Remember Kevin McNamara? Or the "Troops Out" campaign which Peter Hain supported? or indeed Ken Livingstone and his antics?
Labour has always seen terrorism as essentially freedom fighting a la the Spanish Civil War, rather than the nasty, brutal repression of one's own community. I don't in any way condone Ian Smith's regime in what was Rhodesia, but have you heard Labour really speak out against Mugabe's much more brutal and vicious pogorms against his own people? The left tends to view terrorosim as a glorious cleansing of the capatilist state, Milliband is simply the latest in a long line to espuse this simplistic and stupid idea.

Darren said...

Miliband has never taken a gun hand in his life; he has ‘security’ and will never know what it’s like to carry the body of a fallen friend, a friend fought alongside.

He is just another suited and booted mouth machine that, given all the open mouth rehearsal at spin and ‘what we want to hear’ he has, still cannot get it right in the brain-lie-mouth department when asked about something he has little understanding of.

I think all these Gov boys should get 3 months in the war zone, even if it is a “Ross Kemp” style ride along for a while; they would come away with a better understanding of life in general.

Loki said...

D'you know something Darren? I don't think there's a single one of them even has the necessary to do 3 months in a war zone, even in a Ross Kemp style ride along.I do agree with you though, but I think they'd all wet themselves the first time they heard gunfire!

Belfast Gonzo said...

I think the above arguments are being a bit simplistic. Leaving aside the wisdom of a minister pontificating on (para)military tactics, would it be so easy to condemn the French Resistance? Or, for the benefits of this blog, the UVF of the early 20th century?

Chekov said...

Well with all due respect, even if the above comments are simplistic, you've missed the point of them. Miliband make his remarks in response to a question about 'terrorism', a term which he didn't bother to qualify or define. There might be specific instances of violence (or the threat of violence) by a non state actor where one can offer some justification, but the irresponsibility derives from the duties of foreign secretary and the context in which Miliband does that job, not to mention the imprecision with which he tackled the question.

Loki said...

The comments may be simplistic. I intended mine to be simple, rather than simplistic. Ah well, one man's simplicity is another man's sophistry ;-)
I didn't honestly think about the French resistance - multi-tasking as usual. I think anyway that it's a different scenario. The other examples I mentioned tended to be from a civil conflict perspective, whereas the French resistance and partisan groups of WW2 were actually fighting an armed invader from a different country. Yes, I can hear the cries from republicanism now, but the course of Irish history would have been very different had the British not been stupid enough to martyr the leaders of the 1916 Rising. As for the UVF, I don't think they had the right in 1912 to bring in guns, nor do I think they had that same right in the last 40 odd years. That's terrorism. Freedom fighting? I'm not sure that's so easily defined, all too often these things become very personal and Milliband should have been more sensitive to that particular point. He is meant to be a bright fella after all.

Mick Fealty said...

I understand the moral arguments, but the problem does not lie in the broad sweep of Milliband's statement. We know to an extent it has had useful pragmatic results in Ulster, but none of the 'cost' is flagged up in advance.

As Pete notes of Michael Goldfarb ( “The price of conjuring peace out of conflict is that justice is not done; most crimes go unpunished.”

I would not tend to look exclusively at Labour for such 'constructive' hypocrisy either. That secular Tory saint, John Major, told the world that talking to the Provos would turn his stomach at a time when that's exactly what his officials were doing.

Loki said...

Mick, the officials weren't Major- no direct contact, bit like the DUP still pretending they don't talk to their buddies in government.
If we accept that justice won't be done, then do we try to have a truth recovery process or do we sweep the past under the carpet and let future generations deal with it? Certainly in Guatemala they had a lot of UN teams digging up bodies, but once the families got them back to bury, nothing much else was done IIRC. Indeed, many of the perpetrators of those atrocities became part of government (sound familiar?)
In Spain, it's only now a generation later that the past is being looked at in any detail and even with that distace, it's still incredibly painful, but possibly less divisive.
One of our problems here is our egomania- we tend to think no-one else has gone through the same trauma and we get very introspected and do a lot of navel-gazing. We really need to look up and out a bit more.