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Does David Cameron really believe in universal human rights?

January 28, 2014 at 3:13 am

In his speech in Germany a couple of weeks ago, Britain’s Prime Minister said that his government will not give funds to Muslim organisation unless they believe in “universal human rights”. David Cameron said that multiculturalism has basically failed to integrate some sections of society in Britain and he focused on Muslims to illustrate his point. I think he made a lot of sense in a lot of the speech, although the timing was unfortunate, coming as it did on the same day that the odious “English Defence League” was on the march in Luton. Naturally, the EDL and other far-right groups made hay out of this, but I don’t suggest for one minute that it was the Prime Minister’s intention to provide such an easy link.

Looking at the root causes of terrorism, Mr. Cameron acknowledged that Muslims (and others) have “issues about poverty and grievance about foreign policy” but dismissed the notion that these alone are responsible for terrorism. That, he says, is down to the “extremist ideology” of Islamism.
He has a point, but as the Islamist bogey otherwise known as the Muslim Brotherhood prepare to contest what everyone hopes will be free and fair elections in Egypt, I think it is reasonable to ask where this image of “Islamists” came from and whether it is reasonable to brand everyone with what has become a pejorative term because some criminal elements in society claim to want an Islamic society and use violent means to achieve it. Even the Obama administration gave its tacit blessing to the erstwhile Mubarak regime speaking to Egyptian Brotherhood leaders; commentators in the Middle East now expect moves to be made to open up channels for US dialogue with the Hamas government in Gaza (if, indeed, they do not exist already).

I’d like to suggest that the really “extremist ideology” behind foreign policy grievances is not Islamism but a distorted application of the democratic values that David Cameron wants to see everyone in Britain adopting, including Muslims. In practice, this distortion can be summed up in one word: hypocrisy. It’s one thing to make fine speeches in front of fellow politicians and hand-picked audiences; it’ something else to walk the talk and put democratic values and principles into practice in every aspect of government and public life. On that point, I am afraid that our Prime Minister and his cabinet colleagues and, indeed, many members of parliament on all sides of the House, fail miserably.

The same paragraph of Mr. Cameron’s speech is worth quoting extensively: “I’m not saying that these issues of poverty and grievance about foreign policy are not important. Yes, of course we must tackle them. Of course we must tackle poverty. Yes, we must resolve the sources of tension, not least in Palestine, and yes, we should be on the side of openness and political reform in the Middle East.”

Can you hope to “resolve the sources of tension… in Palestine” by abandoning international law? David Cameron’s speech to the Conservative Friends of Israel and his Chancellor George Osborne’s to the Board of Deputies of British Jews in the past few months, place both politicians very firmly in the pro-Israel camp. How credible is it for David Cameron to play to the Palestinian gallery with statements about Gaza being a “prison camp” while pledging loyalty and undying support to the state which maintains its military occupation and illegal colonisation of Palestinian land? Backing “peace negotiations” which abandon the law in the so-far fruitless search for peace between Israelis and Palestinians and remove justice for the latter from any discussions adds, not reduces, “the sources of tension”.

Mr. Cameron continued: “On Egypt, our position should be clear. We want to see the transition to a more broadly-based government, with the proper building blocks of a free and democratic society. I simply don’t accept that there is somehow a dead end choice between a security state on the one hand, and an Islamist one on the other.” Notice how he equates a “security state” with an “Islamist” version? If one is undesirable, so must the other. He appears not to have done any research whatsoever into the statements and policies of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood, although he knows precisely why its Palestinian offshoot, Hamas, has been unable to govern in anywhere near normal circumstances in neighbouring Gaza. Legitimate governments need legitimate support to function in today’s global village; Palestine’s legitimately and democratically-elected government has been given no support whatsoever from the paragons of democratic virtue known collectively as “the west”, including successive British governments. On the contrary, western democracies have done everything within their power to make sure that no support can be given be branding Hamas as a “terrorist” organisation and imposing a financial and economic blockade at Israel’s behest with, it should be said, the help of ex-President (doesn’t that look good?) Hosni Mubarak of Egypt.

“But let us not fool ourselves,” said Mr. Cameron. “These are just contributory factors. Even if we sorted out all of the problems that I have mentioned, there would still be this terrorism…” Like Tony Blair and Gordon Brown before him, David Cameron is not even willing to make changes to Britain’s increasingly unethical foreign policy to test and, as far as he is concerned, prove his point. We had to take Blair’s and Brown’s word for it, and now we have to take his, allowing foreign policy to continue as before, full of duplicity and, yes, hypocrisy.

Do the Muslim organisations arguably eligible for government funding “believe in universal human rights – including for women and people of other faiths?” the Prime Minister asked in Munich. “Do they believe in equality of all before the law? Do they believe in democracy and the right of people to elect their own government? Do they encourage integration or separation? These are the sorts of questions we need to ask. Fail these tests and the presumption should be not to engage with organisations – so, no public money, no sharing of platforms with ministers at home.”

I am sure that there are many people within the Muslim community who will not be too upset about that last point; take a look at the Cabinet and thank the Lord that you won’t have to share a platform with some of its members. But while you’re at it, take a look at that last paragraph and then judge for yourself whether David Cameron can be taken seriously when he says that he believes in “universal human rights”. What about “equality of all before the law”? Or even – and Palestinians must be choking over this one – “the right of people to elect their own government”? Mr. Cameron forgot to add, “…unless they choose someone Israel doesn’t like, in which case we will slap a blockade on the government and support a prime minister who hasn’t been elected to office but is prepared to collaborate with a brutal military occupation while we boost the economy of his tiny rump statelet to benefit him and his corrupt cronies”.

The British government, through the Department for International Development and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, gives a great deal of our money to Salam Fayyad’s Ramallah-based Palestinian Authority to boost the PA’s security forces as part of Palestinian “state building”. There is strong evidence that these forces torture political opponents with the knowledge, and therefore the complicity, of the British government (and others). Is that what Mr. Cameron calls “the proper building blocks of a free and democratic society”?

He is not alone in this strangely unequal application of equal rights; it is rampant across Europe, never mind the United States. The European Union, for example, is ignoring its own commitment to “universal human rights” by allowing Israel to have access to lucrative trade, military and research links with the EU and its member states despite the Zionist state’s appalling human rights record in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip. Judged against any credible check-list, Israel should be treated by the EU as a pariah state; instead, it has been described as a member of the EU in all but name. That’s how close Israel is to Europe, and we’re not just talking about something as trite as taking part in the Eurovision Song Contest or kicking a ball around in the UEFA Champions’ League.

The full scandal of how Europe disregards the standards it expects of everyone else when it comes to its dealings with Israel is documented in detail by journalist David Cronin in his book “Europe’s alliance with Israel: aiding the occupation” (Pluto Press, 2011). This alliance ranges from political support for Israel’s military excesses to arms sales, preferential import tariffs and blind following of American policy mantra that Israel’s security is paramount. Democracy and human rights are way behind profits in the pecking order. This book should be compulsory reading for all MEPs and EU officials.

In the light of his Munich speech, I think it is fair to ask why, if David Cameron really, and I mean really, believes in universal human rights, he pays little more than lip-service to the rights abuses perpetrated by his Israeli friends against the people of Palestine on a daily basis. He knows what that involves, and if he doesn’t, his civil servants and advisers do. Making sympathetic statements about Gaza to please one’s Turkish hosts is not enough, Mr. Cameron; it’s time to lead by example and apply those universal human rights, about which you are so enthusiastic, universally, including the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip. Do that and you won’t need to berate Britain’s Muslims; they’ll be queuing up to back you.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.