Thursday, September 16, 2004

Negotiating the unnegotiable 

The recent bombing of Australian embassy in Jakarta has provided the loopy left with another opportunity to breast-beat and call on the government to "negotiate" with the terrorists. Brian Deegan, still understandably grief-stricken after the death of his son in the Bali bombing in 2002 and now standing as an independent candidate in the coming Australian election, argued for example, that "history is full of deals with what were once considered terrorist organisations. He cite[d] the British and the IRA , the Israelis and British in the 1940s, and the African National Congress working with the South African Government. He [said] it is not a novel approach but it could save years and lives." I noted in response that, apart from any other considerations, "the goals and ambitions of al Qaeda/JI are somewhat more expansive than those of the IRA, the Jews or the ANC, which would make for more difficult negotiations." It was meant to be a gentle understatement.

In today's "Australian",
Greg Sheridan joins in the debate. His thoughts bear quoting at some length:

"When I was a child a revered Irish uncle gave me a biography of the Irish nationalist leader, Michael Collins, entitled The Big Fella. From the moment I read that book I was enchanted with the heroism and gallantry and poetry of Collins's life. But Collins, back in 1919-20, was an IRA leader and for a time the most wanted man in the British Empire.

"Yet later he negotiated a peace treaty with the British government, a treaty for which he was murdered. Surely that shows... that today's terrorist is tomorrow's national leader.

"Wrong. Dead wrong.

"It shows instead the confusion that arises from conflating leaders such as Collins with today's radical Islamist terrorist leaders of the al-Qa'ida and Jemaah Islamiah variety.

"Collins had the completely rational, indeed perfectly reasonable, aim of securing Irish independence. He negotiated a compromise that involved partitioning the country and accepting dominion status for Ireland within the British Empire (it ultimately became a republic some years later).

"Even terrorist groups that have core demands which cannot be met, such as the PLO in the 1970s (the destruction of Israel), or the Basque ETA today (a separate Basque nation), or the Moro Islamic Liberation Front in the Philippines (an independent Muslim republic in the south), often have demands that are at least possible, that are rational and meaningful in the existing order.

"The demands of JI and al-Qa'ida are literally absolutist and totalitarian. To say you can't negotiate with them is not only to make a moral judgment but simply to describe reality. The spiritual head of JI, Abu Bakar Bashir,
told The Bulletin magazine this week: 'The world and Indonesia belong to Allah. Therefore it should be ruled under Allah's law without bargaining. I believe the clash of civilisations will continue, but in the end Islam will definitely win ... Peace can only be achieved after Islam triumphs.'

"In Jakarta I once interviewed a leader of an Indonesian terrorist group, the Islamic Defenders' Front. One of his demands was that all foreigners should leave Indonesia. How do you compromise with that? Should we ask if half the foreigners leaving would be sufficient?

"Among the objectives of al-Qa'ida and JI are that all Westerners should leave the Middle East and all Muslim lands, and that all lands that have ever been controlled by Muslims should return to Muslim control (including, naturally, Spain and East Timor), that all moderate Muslim governments be replaced by fundamentalist governments that observe strict shariah law as part of a caliphate that unites the Muslim world.

"When you get down to brass tacks they also demand that the West should convert not only to Islam, but to their brand of Islam. So which bits can we negotiate here -- can we offer to keep our womenfolk indoors but in exchange not require them to wear the burqa at all times?"
It bears constant repeating: Islamism is a political ideology as totalitarian in its outlook, objectives and methods as communism or Nazism. Yes, addressing the "root causes" of Islamist terrorism (the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the sense of humiliation and helplessness in the Middle East, etc etc etc) might decrease some of the public support that bin Laden & Co enjoy but it won't eliminate the problem, any more than addressing the "root causes" of German resentment and aggression through a series of appeasing measures in the 1930s had prevented the Nazis from trying to fulfill their dream of dominating over the whole of Europe and exterminating the Jews.

But simple logic won't stop the same sorts of people making the same sorts of mistaken assumptions generation after generation. Marx once wrote that history repeats itself, first time as tragedy and the second time as farce. We've already had the tragedy of trying to appease Nazism, followed by the farce of trying to appease communism (although the farce wasn't very funny to millions of communism's victims), and now I'm afraid we've run out of nouns to describe the current willingness to appease and negotiate with Islamo-fascists. Because how do you better a farce?


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