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  Opinion   Columnists  25 Sep 2020  Farrukh Dhondy | Now an amnesty for war crimes, and a law that allows police crime

Farrukh Dhondy | Now an amnesty for war crimes, and a law that allows police crime

In his words: "I am just a professional writer, which means I don't do blogs and try and get money for whatever I write."
Published : Sep 25, 2020, 7:49 pm IST
Updated : Sep 25, 2020, 7:49 pm IST

Britain arms itself with laws that enable practices that were once the preserve of openly savage savage regimes

Britain's prime minister Boris Johnson speaking in the House of Commons in London on September 23, 2020. (AFP)
 Britain's prime minister Boris Johnson speaking in the House of Commons in London on September 23, 2020. (AFP)

“The paradox makes plain in a glance
That you can’t separate the dancer from the dance
Rewarding the chancer who takes the chance
Confounding all retreats with advance.”
— From Pure Ghee is Best,  the opera by Bachchoo

It was Shakespeare’s Bassanio who said: “to do a great right, do a little wrong”, encouraging all manner of villains to veil their villainy with the cover of a beneficent motive. This quote may have been in the mind of British generals who protested when soldiers in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars were accused by victims supported by some comrades-in-arms of murder, torture, rape, attacks on the innocent and acts which count as war crimes.

 

Several British soldiers from the Special Air Service (SAS) regiments were accused of executing 38 civilians in a series of raids in Helmand during the Afghanistan war.

Investigations into the alleged incidents were launched by the military police, but none has to date resulted in prosecution for what could, under international law, be classified as war crimes. The relatives and associates of the victims, as well as human rights groups, have pursued the cases in civil actions in the courts, and faced with a lack of evidence, have accused the ministry of defence of a cover-up.

There is no doubt that there is in this country, amongst the governing establishment and amongst the general population that, belief in the old saying “all’s fair in love and war”. Leaving love aside for the moment, gentle reader, it’s certain that some believe that the actions of soldiers in a conflict zone cannot be judged in the way one would in times and places of peace. If war and the intervention in the affairs of another country is deemed to be a greater good, then the operations within it can be excused as a little wrong in the interests of it.

 

This Tory government of Britain has realised and continues to act upon what seems to be a universal rule of the human psyche — that patriotism in its broadest sense and nationalism in every narrow interpretation of the word, will always trump (sic!) and triumph over economic self-interest and moral arguments. When Boris Johnson called the December election, his party’s slogans were “take back control” and “get Brexit done”!

There were other promises in the Tory manifesto, but in my humble judgement, the economic promises of money to this and that region didn’t win him the election. The two principal slogans, which to a substantial number of English constituencies meant keeping foreigners out — “taking control of our borders” in the euphemistic language of the hypocrites, behind which the xenophobia lurks — won the election.

 

A rational survey can prove that this patriotism turned its back on the facts: admitting foreigners to this country actually aids the economy, keeps vital services running and is a tax bonus rather than a drain. But that’s in the realm of the rational, where patriotism doesn’t thrive or even survive.

So it was, with a hundred arguments about the decline in employment, the risks to every industry, the rise in prices and inflation, the starvation of labour to vital services, the substitution of immigrants from parts of the world other than the European Union, the probable privatisation of parts of the National Health Service under any deal with the USA, the possible break-up of the United Kingdom if Scotland and even Northern Ireland assert a secessionist patriotism of their own… overruled by the “patriotic” reflex. The majority of the electorate were presented with all these and more arguments and considerations. But visceral nationalism trumped them all.

 

And now BoJo’s government is pushing two bills through Parliament, each of which relies on this patriotism to ignore all the basic rules of civilisational law.

The first bill, voted on in a virtually present Parliament last week, put a five-year limit on prosecuting military personnel for offences such as the execution of innocent civilians. It prevents the prosecution of military or secret service personnel who may have committed such crimes in the Iraq or Afghanistan wars. It amounts to an effective amnesty. Labour MPs, apart from 19 who defied the whip to support international law and the Geneva Convention, were whipped to abstain from voting against the bill. The new Labour (not New Labour) leadership under Keir Stamer clearly weren’t ready to vote in what may be conceived, by the largely nationalistic nation, as unpatriotic support for foreigners.

 

On Thursday Parliament was presented with the Covert Human Intelligence Sources (CHIS) Bill, which gives powers to the police and the secret and covert operations arms of the state to “engage in offences when they are necessary and proportionate and in the public interest”. It’s a Spooks charter, exonerating, according to the bill’s critics, undercover agents acting for MI5 and the police to commit crimes. The bill does not exclude crimes such as murder, torture and even sexual violence if these are seen as necessary to tackle serious crime or threats to the state. This too, however barbaric, passes into law.

Britain then, far from being an example and a star in the firmament of values, has taken a legal, parliamentarily sanctioned step towards embracing the practices that it has condemned when committed by other openly savage regimes. And its Tory MPs have done so emboldened by the principle, proven by the triumph of Brexit — albeit by a mere 51.9 per cent to 48.1 — that humbug patriotism, even in democracies, beats economic arguments and humanitarian moral considerations.

 

This patriotism is mobilised through ambivalent if not meaningless slogans such as “Make America Great Again” and by war-mongering policies which drum up support through open antagonism to neighbouring countries.

The more disgraceful campaign to gain the following of a “democratic” majority through this “patriotism” is overtly or covertly attacking, in word and deed, the minorities in one’s own country who may be as patriotic as those who alienate or victimise them.

Tags: britain afghan, britain iraq, afghan war