« Religious hatred | Main | The Bells, the bells! »

October 05, 2005

Defending one's country

Recent images of British troops and their Scorpion armoured vehicle engulfed in flames from a "Molotov Cocktail" at first provoked anger in my response. After all, we - that is; our troops on our behalf - are supposedly there to help ensure that the country moves forward into an era of free speech, tolerance and democratic freedom. Or so we are told. At least, that is what most of us choose to believe, and, even severely cynical types like myself, would like to believe that we can, if we can but win over the bulk of the population to more moderate and intelligent views, make a huge difference to the region as a whole.

Of course, there will always be those who do not want this, they will always portray anyone who disagrees with them as the "enemy", and particularly those who are "foreign". How does one counter the insidious propaganda of the street? The TV and other media channels are not trusted by the bulk of the population because they are inured to the fact that, under the previous regime, the state control of the media only told them part of the facts. Now that the media is, so they are told, controlled by the US, they trust it even less. That leaves the "Chinese Whispers" and rumour mills free to operate unchallenged and far more believed in than the regular channels.

What drives a young person in places like the West Bank or in Gaza - or for that matter in Baghdad or Basra - to rush out into the streets in the face of armed soldiery and armoured vehicles to throw stones and petrol bombs? This is a question I have often asked myself, particularly as I have also been on the receiving end of them even though I was there to save property and lives and not as a member of the armed forces. Could it be that these young men and women feel that they are defending themselves and their ideals from a foreign invader who wishes to stamp out the way of life that they are familiar with?

That question was brought into focus again for me recently when I was reminded that someone I know and hold in a great deal of respect, was among a small group of boys (he was "old", at 17, among his peers) who, in 1945, fought against the Russian Army invading Eastern Germany. He and his group fought with what little they could find around them, not with regular weapons, but with stones, petrol bombs and whatever else they could find, driven by the belief that they had no choice but to defend their homes, sisters and mothers from the invaders. They even succeeded in destroying at least one tank - something the Russians have not forgotten and have spent a long time trying to avenge. As we now know, they were right to fear the Russians, just as the Russians could probably argue that the German forces sowed the seeds that led to the "retribution".

I ask myself what my reaction would be to the "invasion" of my country by foreign forces who then set about changing and imposing "foreign" institutions on me. Would I reach for the Molotov Cocktail? Would I engage in a guerilla campaign? The answer is probably "yes".

The problem is that we need to acknowledge that there is a limit to what can be achieved by force of arms. Once that limit is reached, we have to win hearts and minds. This applies not only to national problems but to individuals as well - every one of us fears change, particularly if it threatens our ability to sustain our belief systems, our personal security or our standard of living. This is patently what we have failed utterly to do in the Middle East, we have failed to provide the support and the reassurances that individuals need to begin to understand that the changes will actually benefit them. This is why the "Insurgents" are having things all their own way, why they are able to spread their poison so easily. They play on the fears of the individual - and yes, they play the religious card ruthlessly.

The West needs to get to grips with the fact that Islam and Nation are indivisible in the minds of it's religious leaders and of the bulk of the population of places like Iraq. Once we acknowledge that, and can demonstrate that we do not threaten their beliefs, only the institutions which are corrupt in governing them, we may begin to erode the support for the insurgents. Then peace may have a chance.

Once the successes can be broadcast, once the Abu Ghraib scandal and the Guantanamo Bay situations can be put aside, and the hospitals, schools and other services can be seen by all to be functioning and operating correctly, then we may find a road to putting aside the need for petrol bombs and stones against tanks. Until then, we have a long and arduous road to walk in order to win over the young men and women who feel compelled to defend their way of life and their country.

I suspect it will be a very difficult road, bedevilled by the need to suppress the forces of terror who are hard at work trying to seize power for themselves. Hopefully, however, we will not again see the train of events that led to the Basra incident. Perhaps lessons can be learned and perhaps a little more effort at communication will help.

We can but hope.

Posted by The Gray Monk at October 5, 2005 09:31 AM

Trackback Pings

TrackBack URL for this entry: