Peter Hitchens: Appeasement on the home front
Tomorrow on the interviews blog we will publish all of Peter Hitchens' answers to ten recent questions posed by ConservativeHome visitors. Most of Peter's answers are substantial but one answer, in particular, to a question posed by 'MagicAldo', ran to 2,000 words. MagicAldo's question and Peter Hitchens' answer are therefore published below (with Peter's permission) as a Platform piece.
Peter Hitchens is a columnist on the Mail on Sunday and recently started his own blog.
MagicAldo: "Peter, your "realistic" foreign policy stance has maintained an admirably consistent focus on the national interest sadly lacking in many of the arguments of the new internationalists. But I've never heard you actually confront the issue of Islamic terrorism head on. Is it a threat to the British national interest? How should the UK respond, if not by way of destabilising regimes that support it? Is there not a pattern of events and ideology across the world that represents a lethal threat to the West? Are there no lessons to learn from 9/11 and the appeasement of the Clinton era?"
"Several issues are involved here, hence the very long answer. The first is over Israel, the real cause of the dispute between the Western (ie Christian) world and the Muslim world. I have written and spoken often and at length about this, and my position is that the policy of 'land for peace' is directly comparable to 1930s appeasement in that it is both weak, unwise and ultimately certain to fail. This is the central question. One could argue for centuries over whether the Balfour Declaration was a good thing. But it would not change the fact that a Jewish state now exists in the Middle East or that its extinction would be a grave blow to civilisation and probably fatal to the standing and power of the European and North American nations. The 'land for peace' policy has handed over a great deal of strategic territory in return for unreliable promises, and has convinced the Arab world of our ultimate weakness under pressure.
Then there is the issue of terrorism. From Edward Heath's 1970 release of Leila Khaled (under US pressure) to the British, Continental European and then American recognition of Yasser Arafat as a legitimate politician, the Western powers have signalled that they will ultimately give in to terrorist threats, thus making terror the favoured weapon of anyone who seriously seeks to alter the policy of a major Western power.
It would be a mistake not to recognise that this slow motion surrender still continues even now. It is an even greater mistake to imagine that September 11 2001 was a moment of western strength, rather than an opportunity for further weakness. The outrage followed immediately after the terrifying UN conference on 'anti-racism' in Durban, at which the USA and Israel were treated as pariahs and virtually driven from the hall.
It is important also to recall that the Manhattan murders were celebrated actively in the disputed territories, with dancing in the streets in Nablus (film of this was suppressed by the PA, who threatened the agency involved (AP) until the film was withdrawn) and a near-uprising in Gaza. The Arabs of the region knew very well what September 11 meant and what lay behind it. And so, apparently, did George W. Bush, the supposed warrior against terror, who suddenly announced that he supported a Palestinian State (after years of official US opposition to this idea) and then despatched first Anthony Zinni and then poor Colin Powell to Ramallah to see if they could find someone to appease.
Happily for the West's self-respect, these ignominious missions crumbled because the Arabs tactlessly continued to set off suicide bombs while Zinni and Powell were there, so making it impossible for them to be seen talking to Arafat. They also failed because the cunning Ariel Sharon managed to couple Israel's conflict with America's in the public mind, so making a betrayal much harder. Those who doubt the cowardly nature of the US in this moment should note that it also chose - just then - to pay the many years of back dues that it had rightly refused to give to the awful anti-Western UN, and to withdraw its remaining troops from Saudi Arabia. It is interesting that the neo-conservative supporters of the Iraq war are so anxious to deny any connection between September 11 and the Israel question. I suspect this is partly because they are obsessed with a generalised Islamic 'threat' to the West( see below) and with the largely fictitious monster of 'Al Quaida' which they claim to be fighting. As Jason Burke points out 'Al Qaida' is an ideology far more than it is an organisation. There are Islamist terrorists, but the idea that they are centrally directed by some James Bond villain in an Afghan cave is fanciful, as is the idea that they are motivated by some vague 'hatred of our free way of life'. They may well dislike our way of life, but the quarrel is far more specific.
THE CENTRALITY OF THE ISRAELI QUESTION
Admitting the centrality of the Israeli question would also make nonsense of their belief that the question will be solved by creating Arab democracies sympathetic to the West, and undermine their claims to be resolute and tough. Any true Arab democracy would be dedicated to the destruction of Israel, and it was hardly resolute or tough to respond to September 11 by accepting demands for a Palestinian State, funding the anti-Western UN or launching the Zinni and Powell missions.
I must add to this the importance - in the eyes of anyone searching for signs of weakness in our polity - of the British surrender to the IRA and its equivalent Protestant murder gangs at Easter 1998. This collapse - supported by the leaders of all major parties and even personally endorsed by HM the Queen - clearly demonstrated to any interested party that the British state was vulnerable to terrorism and would alter its policy if pressed hard enough. Careful observers would also have noted the major role the USA played in this cave-in - first under Bill Clinton, who cynically laundered Sinn Fein and granted them high status in Washington, and then under George W.Bush, who - despite silly media suggestions of a change in view since September 11 or the McCartney murder - continues to entertain Sinn Fein at the White House every St Patrick's Day, on one recent occasion actually changing his schedule because Adams was too busy to see him at the originally agreed time.
There is no total security against any kind of warfare, and terrorism - since it takes the form of surprise attacks against non-military targets - is perhaps the hardest sort of warfare to prepare for or defend against. It is unrealistic of politicians to pretend that they can offer complete protection from it. It is downright wicked of them to use terrorism as the excuse for an assault on the liberty of the subject, as they are now doing. It is equally misleading of them to use it as the pretext for such adventures as the invasions of Afghanistan and of Iraq, since neither country really had much to do with the issues involved and, as we now know, invasion is only the beginning of a much longer and more complex process, very likely to end in withdrawal and a situation worse than the one we faced before we invaded. Coupled as it is with a continued pursuit of a foredoomed and appeasement-based 'peace process' in Israel itself, it is worse than futile.
Honest leaders would admit that a certain amount of danger is
inevitable if your country is a modern world power, especially one that
defends its friends. It would be a strange war in which your own side
sustained no casualties at all. Modern military and intelligence
experts well understand the nature of disproportionate warfare, in
which our advanced civilizations present horrifically easy targets to
ruthless enemies. A literate explanation of the issues involved, and of the costs of maintaining national honour in a hard world, would surely be better than the
official panic now being encouraged. But the best defence against
terrorism is the knowledge - in the head of the potential terrorist -
that his actions will fail to change the policy of the government
against whom he fights, and that it will all be for nothing. Terrorism
is the force that it is because, in contrast to their rhetoric about
"evil killers", the leaders of the law-governed nations have been all
too ready to treat with terrorists and their sponsors, and to encourage
them to believe that outrages lead eventually to concessions. In which
case, of course, the concessions will lead to outrages, as they do.
The IRA's motto was always 'Our day will come'. And it did, at Easter
1998 to the shame and disgrace of all who supported the Belfast
agreement. I have no doubt that the Jihadists say something similar. So
far, the Western powers have been anxious to prove them right and we
live with the consequences. The answers to this are obvious, resolve,
always resolve and yet more resolve, but like so many of my answers,
not specially pleasant or easy in practice. I recognise this. But
those who do not like these answers must understand that the other
choice is defeat, or as a notable Frenchmen once said, it is often
either Verdun or Vichy. I hope the choice isn't that hard in fact. But
it will always be hard.
'THE PROBLEM OF ISLAM'
Finally, I'd like to mention the problem of Islam. Islam is an impressive religion, which engenders a powerful and often very moving faith in its adherents. Because we have become a secular society, too many of us do not understand its force. Our properly spiritual allegiances are squandered on such things as football teams or rock bands. But we are a civilization based upon Christianity, a wholly distinct religion from Islam. People don't realise how much of our thought, our law, our education, our family relations, are founded on Christian rules and practice (they would realize it pretty quickly if they were replaced by rules based upon Sharia). Yet we abandon these, while expecting the civilisation based upon them to continue unscathed. It doesn't. Many Muslims, with good reason, look on our societies as debauched, immoral and soulless, marvelling at and in some cases pitying us for our empty churches and feeble clergy, our broken families, neglected old people and general social chaos. What is our answer to be? To continue to place our faith in weapons of war, which may fail, in 'security' which will certainly fail, and in consumer wealth, which may shrivel away? Or might we be better able to withstand the shocks of conflict, and more able to define our purpose in doing so, if we accept that the Muslims have a point, and that the spiritual is important?
And then, are we to accept what I regard as Islam's far less free, far less open prescriptions for society because we have a religious vacuum in our own lands? Given that we are about due for a sharp swing of the moral pendulum, perhaps comparable to that in the early Victorian era - and given Islam's already powerful presence in Britain and Europe - I sometimes wonder if Islam may not be rather well-placed to gain many adherents, both among intellectuals and the poor in this country.
I am an Anglican Christian, who disagrees in detail and profoundly with many of the precepts of Islam. But I have never yet met a Muslim I did not like, could not get on with and debate with, at least partly because of a shared understanding of the importance of faith. If the Christian west wishes to win, or even survive, a battle of ideology with the Islamic world, or (preferably) to reach a civilised accommodation with it and to influence it towards reformation and tolerance, it will only do so if it rediscovers its own moral foundations and begins to respect them again. Islam rightly despises weakness. It is even more contemptuous of the sort of ignorant indifference to faith which is common in Britain. My fear is that secularism and consumerist optimism, combined with temporary military superiority, will be our only answer to Islamic passion. And they, like elaborate 'security' measures, will fail against an opponent of this sort. Kipling's 'Recessional' remains a powerful warning of the fate of empires and powers which have no guiding belief.
No proper conservatism can be divorced from religion and the morality and self-discipline which are founded on it. It is all very well posing as the fierce enemy of foes abroad - we had enough of that during the Cold War, when we supposedly stood firm against the Red threat while the radicals gnawed and burrowed through our society at home. Ultimately, the enemy is at home, among us, in the shape of secularism and cultural Marxism, which weaken all the good things about Britain. None of the threats to our civilisation can be fought without an understanding of the importance of morality as the upholder of the ordered freedom we seek."