Jack Straw: humanity, practicality and reality

This entry was posted on
Monday, May 16th, 2005
11:56 am and is filed
under The War on Stupid, Uzbekistan.

We could not ask for a better Foreign Secretary in this time of crisis in Uzbekistan.

Jack Straw has experience in domestic and foreign affairs:

1995 – 1997: Shadow Home Secretary
1997 – 2001: Home Secretary
2001-present: Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs

Jack Straw knows there are large grey areas in this large and complex war on terror.

And, most important of all:

Jack Straw is a man who knows that you have to draw the line when police start shooting protestors in the street.

Let’s begin with a close look at Jack Straw’s experience of dealing with protest and the voice of dissent:

In the UK, there are people who feel so strongly that they suffer from a lack of democracy, justice and freedom under the current regime that they are prepared to do something about it. The day of action that best symbolises this movement is May Day.

And since Blair came to power, a programme to eradicate May Day, initially headed by Jack Straw, has been largely successful.

In Uzbekistan, we are told by authorities that the people marching in the streets are not protestors, but dangerous extremists. We are assured that any members of the general populace present are only there to surround the core extremists as a form of human shield. So it’s OK to shoot a few of them, while trying to keep the whole affair as low-key as possible by keeping the actual number of people who got shot under wraps.

In the UK, a lot of the same methods were used to combat May Day. Organisers were regularly depicted as extremists and efforts were made to discourage ‘ordinary’ members of the public from continuing with the full march (i.e. not turning up at the end where all the TV cameras are) by suggesting that they would – in effect – be used as a human shield (I actually watched this happen in Shaftesbury Avenue in 2003) and/or by threatening to group them with the ‘extremists’. The carefully edited crowd of determined protestors were then deliberately herded together and detained ‘for their own safety’ and/or goaded into a fight.

But nobody got shot in the street. Well done, Jack.

Of course, operating as Foreign secretary, Jack Straw so wanted democracy, justice and freedom for Iraqis that he was prepared to bomb or shoot a few of them, while trying to keep the whole affair as low-key as possible by keeping the actual number of people who got bombed or shot under wraps… but that involves them, not us. And it was part of a fight for the spread of democracy. There is no double standard so long as you accept these important defining aspects.

Back to the bit where nobody got shot in the street. Why? Because this is where the line is for Jack Straw. This, for instance, is what it takes for him to speak up about Uzbekistan, when he has previously been largely silent or busy keeping other people quiet about it…

Telegraph – Straw at odds with US over brutality of terror war ally: He said the situation was “very serious” and there had been a “clear abuse” of human rights. Mr Straw’s remarks were in contrast to the near silence in Washington where the brutal crackdown in Uzbekistan has posed an acute dilemma.

Compare with:
Indymedia – UK torture: Interview with Craig Murray: Ex-British Ambassador to Uzbekistan
BBC – Report praises suspended diplomat
Common Dreams – Fighting Terror with Terror?
Chicken Yoghurt – Poisoned Chalice

So, that’s…

1) Shooting people in the street; not on.
2) Boiling people alive on the QT: go to it.

But there is no double standard here, either.

The people who were boiled alive were part of a bold initiative by the US and UK government to gain intelligence for the war on Iraq and the war on terror (which, many people believe, are one and the same thing). And even though we hold many dangerous extremists who deserve no better, we distance ourselves from the distasteful practice of torture by outsourcing the (ahem) awkward work.

This takes us back to them, not us.

It’s them torturing people, not us.

Further, as we’re talking about Islamic extremists here, it’s them, Vs. us.

So they do the dirty work against them.

Us? We come up smelling like roses. And there’s the genius of it.

If we tortured and murdered people ourselves and word got out, there would be hell to pay. Thankfully, word has mostly failed to get out.

Also – and I do hate to harp on about this, but it’s a very positive aspect, so I hope you’ll excuse me – in Blair’s Britain, nobody gets shot in the street. Sure, a few innocent people get shot in the street in Iraq, but mostly by US troops, which makes it a double them. We’ve shot a few protestors in Iraq ourselves, but – as these comments make clear – they were really dangerous extremists.

That’s not shooting innocent people in your own streets. That’s shooting extremists on somebody else’s street. That happened over there to control them. This is an entirely different barrel of fish, which often requires heavy ordinance (more on the Fallujah massacre here).

But in Blair’s Britain, nobody gets shot – or blown up – in the street. That’s a step too far.

It’s important to note here that the ruling government in Uzbekistan has strong laws, excellent border and internal policing, and total control over domestic media. They may actually get away with keeping a lid on this.

However, here in the UK many of the stronger laws have yet to be passed, people are more or less free to come and go as they please, and the government only has partial control over some media.

Basically, it’s harder to keep things quiet when you go around shooting people in the street.

So we don’t do that kind of thing, because it threatens what is essentially a pretty sweet deal.

And that’s why Jack Straw is just the man to speak out about the shootings in Uzbekistan. He has the experience and wisdom required to know that dissent must be silenced through subtle, silent or legal forms of persuasion (that last bit is easier if you yourself pass the necessary laws). He knows that you can’t simply go around shooting people in the street… because it threatens what is essentially a pretty sweet deal.

All Karimov has to do now is stop shooting people in the street, keep a lid on the numbers, then continue to insist that it was a valid fight for freedom against Islamic extremists/militants/insurgents, and everything will be Jake.

So Jake, in fact, that Jack can go back to overlooking a few things like the rounding up of dissidents in the dead of night for essential processing – which is, of course, part of the ongoing battle for democracy, justice and freedom. For us, not them, obviously…


Guardian – Uzbek regime clamps down as unrest flares

Observer – Anger as US backs brutal regime: Outrage among human rights groups followed claims by the White House on Friday that appeared designed to justify the violence of the regime of President Islam Karimov, claiming – as Karimov has – that ‘terrorist groups’ may have been involved in the uprising. Critics said the US was prepared to support pro-democracy unrest in some states, but condemn it in others where such policies were inconvenient.

Independent – Hundreds of civilians killed after protests turn to massacre: As Uzbekistan awoke to the scale of the massacre of Andijan yesterday, the city in the Ferghana valley was enclosed in a ring of steel, with roadblocks ensuring no one got in or out of the scene of the country’s bloodiest day in the post-Soviet era… Inside the city, out of the reach of international observers, survivors were burying the victims of what the regime of Islam Karimov was calling a victory against Islamic insurgents. Witnesses described it as a slaughter of civilians… The Independent made two attempts to bypass the checkpoints around the city but our reporter was briefly threatened with detention and then escorted to the nearby city of Namangan, under the guard of a man who identified himself as a police colonel.

Observer Blog – Uzbekistan, some quotes

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