Tuesday, February 27, 2007

British Conservatives are more extreme than their American counterparts

Yesterday I had the displeasure to listen to attend a meeting at the Heritage Foundation, America's leading conservative think tank. I fully expected to disagree with some of the views aired, but after years of following the far right, I thought I would be ok. I have to admit to always having had a kind of morose fascination with the views of the far right. Like a small child picking a scab, knowing that it will hurt but curious to see what lies beneath that vile layer of puss. Despite this, the proceedings of the meeting still managed to shock me. On a variety of issues, the speaker was far far more extreme than anything I have heard in the last six months in America. However this speaker was not American, but none other than distinguished historian and political commentator Andrew Roberts from the UK.

Amongst the many distasteful things said in his speech such as defending Guantanamo bay as only a few prisoners of war, and his stiring of islamophobia, there was one thing in particular that deeply disturbed me. Andrew Roberts, strongly advocated introducing internment in order to stop the violence in Iraq, saying that whilst locking up people without charge may be an odious practice in peacetime, this, was a time of war.

Now although the Americans themselves may have propagated this war in at times an disastrous fashion, I have yet to hear anyone in the US advocate the introduction of concentration camps to Iraq. And whilst there have been internment facilities used by Americans since their arrival, most notably at Abu Grabe, Roberts was advocating something quite different. That was the forced imprisonment of tens of thousands, possibly hundreds of thousands of ordinary citizens.

Although sad, it is no accident that this statement should have come from a Brit and not an American. For Americans who believed in the Bush doctrine, and I have met many of them, the Iraq war was primarily about bringing their model of freedom and democracy to the region. Within the far right of America there is a libertarian core which is deeply opposed to almost any form of government. Government suppresses freedom and totalitarianism is the only an extreme form of government. If nothing else the complete lack of planning for the post war Iraq not only exposed the incompetence of the Bush administration but belied their belief that an Iraq without Saddam would become an oasis of democracy in the region, with little need for outside support. Even now many still hold onto this belief. Blair's insistence that it is Iran that is behind all of the intercene ethnic conflict is an example of how he for one continues to believe that Iraq, left on its own, would become a peaceful and democratic country in no time.

This however is not the position of the far right of Britain. The views propagated by Andrew Roberts, were far from libertarian in their foundations. For him Iraqis are simply not capable of democratic government, they need a strong authoritarian hand to keep them peaceful. Interning large sections of a population without any charge is not immoral when dealing with people who "wouldn't know habeas corpus if you hit them over the head with it". Not everyone deserves human rights it would seem. Within this view, is the kind differentiation of the rights of man that is at the heart of racism.

In Britain we often believe that we were blindly lead along and seduced by the Americans. But this attitude leads us to ignore the many unpleasant elements of our society that supported the Iraq war for their own unpleasant reasons. Reasons that are often more extreme than the American administration that took us there in the first place.