The wave of urgent desire for freedom that has swept the Arab world has its pale reflection in the belated realisation that we have as a nation been complacent in maintaining and indeed supporting hideous dictatorships.
Somehow it all became real to the sheepish British public. We had been complicit for years in flying extraordinary rendition victims in to suffer hideous torture by Mubarak’s security forces. But suddenly a few pictures of torture victims appear on facebook, and television stations for once start giving some young Egyptian torture victims a sympathetic chance to tell their stiry. Suddenly, instead of becoming rag-headed al-Qaida members who deserve all they get, the public sees these are attractive educated dissidents who just want the kind of life we take for granted.
Governments have moved behind public opinion to catch up with the sudden public revulsion at the heartless realpolitik that has been going on for decades, to the benefit of rapacious Arab oligarchs, Western oil tycoons and arms manufacturers, and Israel and its relentless western lobbies.
The last 48 hours of broadcast news have been giving graphic detail of torture in Libya. Do people not realise that Gadaffi’s torture rooms were always extremely busy, at the same time that he and Blair were hugging each other so warmly and BP were getting those oil contracts?
Government now picks and chooses its advocacy of democracy by the criterion of media, and thus public, attention. Democracy in Libya has become an urgent necessity worth our servicemen’s lives. Recent government killings of pro-democracy demonstrators in Bahrain and Yemen go unmentioned by the UK government, as does the ban on all public assembly in Saudi Arabia. While the Uzbek dictatorship, so essential to our Afghan war, is still strongly supported. The British government will continue to support those allied tyrannies it can get away with.
One interesting sign of that public revulsion has been a sudden wave of remorse by those who had private dealings with the Gadaffis. Howard Davies has resigned from the LSE, which is an accidental boon for higher education from events in Libya. Nelly Furtado has given back her fee for a private Gadaffi family concert. This wave of public revulsion laps gently on this website, as we have this week hundreds of new visitors to an old page about Sting’s private performances for the Karimov family in Uzbekistan.
Oh Sting where is thy death?
But the strange thing is that Prince Andrew has become the lightning rod for our revulsion at the deep collaboration with horrible dictators by the British government, longstanding but brought to its highest pitch by Tony Blair in his “War on Terror”. British and US ministers and heads of government embraced such monsters as Karimov, Aliev and Mubarak, and there are whole banks of the civil service engaged in arms sales to them.
Prince Andrew’s role is plainly a sympton of our national and governmental complicity with dictators, not the cause of it. He is a victim of an accident of birth – he might have lived perfectly happily and usefully as a heating engineer or something if he had been born in less degrading circumstances.
Prince Andrew makes a useful lightning rod for outlets like the Guardian, staunch supporters of the New Labour war criminals who warmly endorsed the relationship with (in this case) Aliev which they complain about. It is the personalised trivialisation of a national disgrace.