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Dec 2002 Journal

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The psychopathology of politics (editorial)

CND posters on myriads of hoardings demand ‘Don’t attack Iraq’ and couple this with ‘Freedom for Palestine’. Such slogans hardly square with the organisation’s professed aim, which is nuclear disarmament. How can an attempt to prevent a state like Iraq with a record of serial aggression against neighbouring countries – Iran, Kuwait, Israel – from going nuclear earn the censure of opponents of nuclear proliferation? Nor does another favourite CND mantra, ‘Jaw-Jaw not War-War’, chime with an intifada-bred battle cry like ‘Freedom for Palestine’. Jaw-Jaw showed signs of prevailing over War-War in Israeli-Palestinian relations for most of the 1990s until Arafat’s obduracy hoisted Sharon into power.

It is an undeniable fact that the most intractable proponents of the intifada – Hamas, the Al-Aksa Brigade, Islamic Jihad – think that they will only have achieved ‘Freedom for Palestine’ when Israel has been wiped off the map. It is the same hardliners, utterly deaf to any appeal to reason or humanity, who glory in resorting to the revolting butchery wrought by suicide bombers. And let us not forget that it was so-called Palestinian men and women in the street who cheered when Saddam’s scud missiles hit residential districts of Tel Aviv, and ululated with joy at news of the attack on the twin towers in Manhattan.

Why do proponents of the Palestinian cause, who deck themselves out in the accoutrements of moral superiority, parrot bellicose battle cries instead of strengthening the human bond between both sides – as exemplified by the Hadassah Hospital’s implantation of a Jewish bomb victim’s kidney into a desperately sick Arab girl?

The psychological mainsprings behind such self-contradictory, not to say perverse, attitudes were laid bare by the seventeenth-century commentator who wrote: ‘The Puritans ban bear-baiting not because it inflicts pain on the animals but because it gives pleasure to the spectators.’ Applying this insight to the present situation, one can say that those who put up the ‘Don’t attack Iraq - Freedom for Palestine’ posters were not so much motivated by concern for ordinary Iraqis, who, anyway, would love to be rid of Saddam, or for Palestinians, as by sheer hatred of America or Israel. The explanation for the depth of anti-US feeling throughout Western Europe can also be found in psychopathology. It is simply that people – and peoples – bear a grudge against those to whom they are obligated.

Britain, which stood alone in 1940 while America was still mired in the slough of isolationism, has least reason to feel so obligated. Even so, it ought to be grateful for the fact that after the attack on Pearl Harbour, President Roosevelt gave priority to the war against Germany over fighting the actual Japanese attackers. France occupies a totally different sphere in the indebtedness stakes. All its sophistication and assumption of cultural superiority over the cowboys on the other side of the Atlantic cannot still a sense of unease engendered by the nation’s past. Today’s French wince at the recollection of their wartime conduct and hate to be reminded that they largely owe their liberation from the Nazi yoke to the Americans.

However great France’s indebtedness to America, it is dwarfed by that of Germany. The United States restored their democracy and – via the Marshall Plan – their economy. Moreover, in 1948 the US organised the Berlin airlift, which kept Germany’s historic capital from being starved into submission and total incorporation into Stalin’s empire. For the next 40 years the Americans pursued a policy of strenuous military, economic and cultural competition with the Soviet Bloc, which eventually caused it to disintegrate. The most visible element of this disintegration was the collapse of the Berlin Wall – and alongside it the reunification of Germany.

Given all these facts, the mind boggles at a German minister’s assertion that Bush, like Hitler, indulges in foreign adventures to divert attention from internal problems. Now President Bush, admittedly, has worries over corporate failures and rising oil prices, but they are as nothing compared to those of Chancellor Schröder. The (jack)boot is very much on the other foot. Contrary to Frau Däubler’s canard, it was Schröder who, to divert attention from pressing internal problems – stubbornly high unemployment levels – latched on to foreign affairs in the shape of Iraq. But Frau Däubler has now gone – so let’s not be beastly to the Germans. Let us hope that the Free Democrats will likewise consign their deputy leader, Jürgen Möllermann, whose Jew-baiting antics divided the party and cost them votes, to the political wilderness.

Lastly, what of our own counterpart to the FDP? It was strange to hear Charles Kennedy tell Lib-Dem Conference delegates that he doubted the legitimacy of US-desired regime change in Iraq. If the civilised world has learned anything from the Second World War it is surely that regimes which threaten peace must be removed. And it can be done – as the recent examples of Serbia and Afghanistan prove. What’s more, would even George Galloway or Harold Pinter claim that Presidents Kostunica and Karzai are US stooges?

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