As George Bush and Tony Blair look determined to take their ‘War On Terror’ to Iraq, Jacob Mukherjee reflects on the mixed messages on war and asylum coming from the British government.
Given the previous PR boost which war has provided, Dubya and Tony must be puzzled to find such large levels of public opposition to their proposals to invade Iraq and depose President Saddam Hussain. One plausible answer to this quandary is that people perceive a lack of moral consistency in the policies that the two leaders seem determined to pursue.
While the US proudly claims the moral high ground in the face-off with Saddam, hundreds of Middle Eastern and South Asian men rot without charge in US jails; thousands lie dead in Afghanistan as a result of the courage – at 20,000 feet – of the trigger happy US armed forces; and Iraqi civilians are offered a ‘regime change’ at considerable expense to themselves. Meanwhile the people of Israel and the Occupied Territories are allowed to live under the shadow of the UN-Resolution-Breaker-In-Chief, Ariel Sharon.
Here in Britain, however, there is another issue of moral hypocrisy tarnishing Labour’s foreign policy image. It is connected less with the perceived complexities of geopolitics and more with a classic black-and-white political football which has been pushed to the top of the agenda recently: asylum.
If the ‘War On Terror’ pretends to be of liberal origin, asylum policy in Britain rarely even makes such claims. This is why two British organisations have received such contrasting reactions from the Government.
The claims of Migration Watch UK – that Britain can expect around 10 million new immigrants in the next five years – were worriedly dismissed by the Home Office (it turns out there aren’t nearly as many foreigners coming as we had feared). An alternative approach would have been to question the central supposition of Migration Watch UK’s research: that ‘immigration on such a scale is contrary to the interests of all sections of our community.’ Accepting racist assumptions on asylum is standard New Labour practice.
Contrast this nervous response to the one which met the decision of the National Lottery’s funding body to award £336,000 to the National Coalition of Anti-Deportation Campaigns. ‘Organisations that engage in political activities are not eligible for lottery funding. This principle must be upheld,’ said a joint statement by the Home Secretary David Blunkett and the Culture Minister Tessa Jowell. On this occasion, of course, the ‘political activities’ concern opposition to the Government’s policies on deportations, including the notable case of the Ahmadi family – ruled to have been illegally deported by the British Government.
The Ahmadis are from Afghanistan, that safe haven where a heavy presence of US (and until recently British) troops is considered necessary and where the President, Hamad Karzai, has had four attempts on his life since coming to power.
Another group who have been victimised by the government’s pursuit of a ‘tough-on-asylum’ stance are the Iraqi Kurds – the very group whose persecution at the hands of Saddam is supposed to drive us to support the War. The crackdown started in February 2001, less than a year before the ‘War On Terror’ broke out. 78% of asylum claims were refused in this month, up from 14% six months earlier. Do not the citizens of ‘the world’s worst regime’ (according to Tony) have a valid claim for asylum status? Clearly Saddam – compared to Hitler by Donald Rumsfeld – is only a brutally oppressive leader when it suits Britain.
Labour’s insistence on the kind of politics with which Migration Watch UK associate themselves undermines any claim concerning the supposed morality of their war aims, particularly when the victims of this approach are the very people whom aggression in the Middle East is supposed to help: the Iraqi Kurds and Afghans.