Monday, 30 May 2011

Kings and Things

One of the big events of 2011 so far has been the wedding of Prince William, second in line to the British monarchy. It inspired a huge upwelling of popular affection for our Royal Family, that I must respect as a democrat, even if I am deeply disappointed in my compatriots as a republican. So, the opinion of the British people, and most certainly of Her Majesty's Government, is that a hereditary Head of State, to whom all mere elected officials are constitutionally answerable, is a Very Good Thing indeed.

What can have been so special about these peoples ancestors, that simply being their distant descendants is proof of fitness to rule? Just this; that the ultimate founder of every Royal House, seems to have been a charismatic soldier, able to both inspire their troops and terrify their subjects. Thus, the British monarchy bases its claim on putative descent from Alfred the Great and William the Conqueror, both of whom strongarmed their way to the English throne at the heads of bloodthirsty armies. (A team fronted by Tony Robinson spotted a glitch in the line of descent, for a TV show a few years ago, but the rightful heir they identified had renounced his peerage and settled in Australia as a common working man of republican views, and was not impressed by the news.) It therefore seems a reasonable deduction, that the establishment of monarchic dynasties by charismatic but terrifying soldiers should also be a Very Good Thing in the eyes of both the British people and their Government.

Another of 2011's big events is that when Libya's state stability suffered one of its occasional wobbles, several major Western Powers who should have known better pitched in to stave off defeat for the losing side.
The Arab region has just a clear idea of what a king should be as the West, and without the liberal traditions of post-Christian secularism to soften their thinking, generally expect and accept levels of good and bad behaviour from those who fill the role of king, that have long been relegated to children's fiction North of the Mediterranean Sea.

Muammar Ghaddafi is enough of a Twentieth Century Boy not to consider crowning himself, but he has shown all the hallmarks of a Great King in the way he has risen from his military background to put himself at the front of Libya's popular revolution and rule with a capricious mixture of genuine concern for the well-being of his subjects, savage disregard for the well-being of his enemies and sometimes wise, sometimes strange ideas for the bossing around of everybody. And he has been grooming his sons to carry on the family business.

Now, I can see how America or France could find a fig-leaf of moral principle, to dress a cynical attempt to put in a Libyan government that owes them a big favour, when it is time to sort out oil deals. But how, oh how can Her Majesty's government send Her Majesty's Forces to depose Colonel Ghaddafi for ruling in the very style Her Majesty's own authority derives from?

I must admit that I would not care to live in Ghaddafi's Libya, myself, but then I have not been raised with a head full of traditional Arab values, and I would be a sad misfit residing in any Arab country under any regime. My points are that Ghaddafi is not so bad by the values of his own civilisation, which is a neighbour of our own, not an extension of it, and that he embodies the very qualities our own nation sees as lying at its heart. Our pursuit of an unnecessary war against him is wasting resources and sacrificing lives in a grand act of arrogance and hypocrisy. His hands may be even less clean than the average long-serving statesman, but we really cannot indict him and justly leave our own aggressors, like Blair and now Cameron to go free.


Tom Gruchy said...

Not quite sure where you are going with this but we don't have to swallow the royalist rubbish.
Henry VIII had 70,000 British people executed - boiling in oil was a favourite method - besides his marital murders. Why is he still regarded as part of a desirable dynasty whereas he should be condemned along with Hitler as one of the tyrants of history?
Other Royals behaved with similar disregard for human values. The British people had the sense to execute Charles 1st and deposed his sons. James II was sent into exile and more recently - in 1936/7 - Edward VIII was forced to abdicate. Our Duke was therefore long since removed - dead and buried in fact and without so much as a by your local leave.

Of course, by current NATO style intervention policies it would have been appropriate for the Libyans to invade Britain in the
16th or 17th centuries to save us from our oppressors.

It is ironic that "we" can now lay claim to the Human Rights based high ground to intervene or condemn others whilst our own record throughout history is appalling. Our domestic record even now leaves a great deal to be desired and in little old fashioned Jersey, the disregard for international conventions and standards is just simply a disgrace.

Perhaps the indigenous peoples of Australia, Africa, America or Arabia will get their own back for our imperialist impositions one day. We certainly have a lot to answer for on the basis of our world-wide military madness and there is the rest of the alphabet still to consider...

It's hardly a glorious past - but what should we more properly celebrate - any suggestions?

Anonymous said...

From what I've seen of politicians, I'd rather be "ruled" by someone who DOESN'T want the job than someone who does :)

Nick Le Cornu said...

The events in the Arab lands are of world historical importance and compare with the Hispanic American Wars of Liberation (1810-1825), the European Revolutions of 1848-49 and the fall of the regimes in the Soviet bloc 1989-91; detonations in one location leading to others elsewhere across a region of the world.

Two features of the Middle East and North Africa make it distinctive. Firstly, is the longevity and intensity of the grip of Western colonial powers on the region. Secondly, the longevity and intensity of the assorted tyrannies since formal decolonisation.

Formal colonisation arrived late in the Arab world. Latin America, South East Asia and sub-Saharan Africa were all acquired earlier. Colonial control was exercised by France, Italy and Britain before the First World War. The Gulf became as series of British protectorates and Aden an outpost of Empire. The dismemberment of the Ottoman Empire after the First World War, gave European Empires their last territorial loot. Britain and France added Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Palestine and Transjordan. Unlike the other regions of the world mentioned, the post colonial period has seen an uninterrupted sequence of wars and interventions by Western powers.

The building of Israel as a Zionist state was made possible by the crushing of the Palestinian Revolt by the British in 1938-39. Britain and France have been replaced by the United States as overlord of the Middle East. Each decade since the Second World War has seen its military aggression in partnership or by proxy: 50s Anglo-French and Israeli attack on Suez; American landings in Lebanon; 60s Israel’s six day war against Egypt; 70’s Yom Kippur War; 80s Israeli invasion of Lebanon, crushing of the Palestinian Intefada; 90s Gulf War; Invasion of Iraq in the first decade of the new Century and in 2011 NATO bombardment of Libya. There were plenty of conflicts of local origin, including civil wars and wars like that of Iraq against Iran and later Kuwait. Even so, Western involvement or connivance was rarely absent.

Nick Le Cornu said...

The reasons for sustained Western vigilance in the region is self evident. Firstly oil reserves and secondly the protection of Israel. America has a Zionist lobby rooted in the country’s most powerful immigrant community, which no President or party dare offend.

Whereas, Latin America, South East Asian and sub-Saharan Africa have seen the transition to democratic government in the last 30 years, the Middle East and North Africa has experience no similar development and remains under various forms of tyranny. Despots abound, with the Saudi Royalty central to American power and numerous petty sheiks around the Gulf. The dynasties of Jordan and Morocco are the creation of British and French colonialism. None are troubled by the need for a parliamentary façade. Torture and murder are routine.

The titular Republics are no less brutal and equally dynastic as the monarchies. Gadaffi has been in power for 41 years, Mubarak 29.

Western powers might prefer to deal with Arab democrats, but where democracy has been perceived as a threat it has been removed, as was the case for Mossadegh or modern day Arisitide in Haiti. Conversely, where autocracy is vital it is supported. The dictatorships, be they republican or royal, have an indigenous base in their local societies. They are aided and supported by America without having been its creation.

The demands of the protestors are common – political freedom and social justice. Democracy is what they say they want, without defining precise intuitional forms. Certainly this will involve the abolition of all emergency laws; dissolution of the ruling party or dethronement of the ruling family; cleansing of the state apparatus and bringing the leaders of the old regime to justice.