23 July 2005

Why the Saudi ruling class and Pakistani President Musharif are worried by our freedom of speech.

Today Musharif and a member of the Royal Saudi ruling class were waxing lyrical on the BBC News about their concern over 'Londonistan'. They are frightened, but it is not bombs that scare them, but their precarious power base in their own countries.

The last thing they want is people in their own country hearing the truth from British groups calling for democracy in Pakistan and Saudi Arabia.

Of course they have also both been recruited by Bush and Blair to help the US/UK crusade against our civil liberties. Both here and in the US, more authoritarian control is being used to bolster government power.

Whether we like it or not, we cannot solely blame a perverted religious faith for our terrorist problems. There is a genuine political agenda behind it, just like there was in Northern Ireland. Musharif, the house of Saud and Palestinian oppression are largely the problem. As John Pilger says, our commentators talk of suicide bombers new to British shores, but suicide bombers were non-existent in Iraq before the Allied invasion and non-existent in Israel before Sharon.

Polly Toynbee has argued that it is time we blamed religion alone for our problems. Much as I agree with her that the world would be better off altogether without irrational beliefs like religion. It is unrealistic to expect this to happen in our lifetime, people need their religious crutch. What we have to do, is work with religion's moderates, indeed we could even argue that religion has moved into more fundamentalist territory as a survival mechanism against the kind of scientific and cultural rationalism promoted by Toynbee and Dawkins. Right as they are, it may have been counter productive.

So, if it is unrealistic to get rid of religion altogether (at least in the short term), to solve our problem that leaves us with trying to moderate religion and finding a political solution. And that is precisely what we should do. We got rid of the brutal regime of Saddam, now is the time to get rid of the brutal regimes of Musharif and the house of Saud and pressurise Israel into giving concessions. This would be far easier than removing Saddam because this time the Arab people would be supportive. Apart from being the solution to our terrorist problem it is also morally just and something we should have done a long time ago.

To those who argue that appeasement is the wrong strategy because these extremists will not be satisfied until we all bow before Sharia Islamic law, I say this. This may be the views of a small minority led by Osama bin Laden, but the millions who have sympathy for suicide bombers at the moment, would be pacified by Middle Eastern justice. Without this vast support, the terrorists will wither.

Just like the IRA who want a unified Ireland, settled for negotiation and power sharing, Muslims will settle for justice in the Middle East. Not only is this in their interests, it is in ours as well because it will lead us away from reliance on oil. The sooner we do it the better. In fact it is inevitable that one way or another it will happen. Lets hope it is not twenty years of terrorism into the future.

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