Friday, November 21, 2003


For the most part the protests in London yesterday went off in good humour. Other areas of the capital were like a ghost town, and the appalling news of the bombing of the British Consulate in Turkey cast another shadow over the ill-fated US Presidential visit to Britain. The targeting by extremists of a secular state with a moderate Muslim majority, increasing ties to the West and a history of relative harmony between different religious communities (notably Jews and Muslims) is a calculated act. The vile assaults on synagogues are another part of this scenario.

The temptation for the world's hyperpower and its satellites will be to retaliate further. But counter-terror does not deter those who are locked into the logic of confrontation, it mostly reinforces the cycle upon which they, too, are dependent. The politics of refusing aggression, strengthening international security through the UN, creating the conditions for democracy from the grassroots (rather than enforcing it by coercion) and giving priority to the 'war' on injustice, poverty and exclusion: such strategies will not reverse the spiral of hatred and revenge quickly or easily. But they are the only sustainable path away from the vortex of retribution which threatens to engulf our world.

To repay evil for evil is the road to destruction. Force can subjugate (for a time), but it has no power to transform. This is not 'a Beatitudinous platitude' (as I have heard it dismissed recently), it is the hardest form of realism. And it is a realism which also requires rigorous self-examination -- from those with an overabundance of power, for sure, but also for those seeking to restrain them.

For example: it felt right to join the demonstrations yesterday. But it wasn't comfortable. The atmosphere was one of mirrored anger and self-righteousness at times. And the plight of Iraqis can be as much a toy of anti-war activists as of those who use war as policy, if we are not too careful. We may be clear about what not to do. But no-one should pretend that there are simple alternative policy options readily to hand. And returning the simplistic 'evil empire' rhetoric of Bush on his own house does nothing to open up fresh perspectives on a messy reality.

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