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What these dictators had in common was that the West disliked them ...

A recent article in the British media asserted ‘their crimes against humanity live forever – but death always catches up with dictators, one way or another’. That startlingly meaningless statement was given teeth with the claim that ‘the way dictators meet their end often lingers as the defining image of their cruel lives’, a notion illustrated with pictures of the gruesome deaths of Gaddafi, Saddam Hussein, Mussolini and Nicolae Ceauşescu. There was also a picture of the Japanese war leader Tojo after he tried to commit suicide, along with pictures of the dead Stalin and Pol Pot and Mao Ze Dong.

Western hypocrisy however is something we have to live with ...

What these dictators had in common was that the West disliked them, at any rate at the time they died. Missing are characters such as Mobutu and Bokassa and Idi Amin, and Pinochet and Stroessner and Duvalier, and Marcos and
Suharto and Chiang Kai Shek, who came to power through violence, or stayed on and on with no concern for democracy.

Western hypocrisy however is something we have to live with, and we need to realize that hypocrisy is not particularly a Western trait. It is only that, when hypocrisy is combined with great power, it seems particularly nasty to those who cannot express their own self-interest quite so forcefully. The West should realize this, before it provokes a backlash.

It should also realize that there are limits to its power, though this may not seem obvious in the present context. The mess they caused when they invaded Iraq is a case in point. After the enormous support they had for the invasion of Afghanistan, support fuelled not only by the attacks of September 11th 2001 but also the excesses of the Taleban regime, they threw away that goodwill by attacking Saddam Hussein on trumped up causes.

Saddam Hussein was not someone who deserves our sympathy, but that had been the case even when he was the darling of the West, supported because of the animosity of the West, or rather the United States, to Iran. The volte face that took place subsequently was much more surprising than in the case of the Taleban, which had also been adored when they opposed the Soviet Union, but in this case the attack on the Twin Towers provided good reason. With regard to Saddam, the fact that the excuses were trumped up was obvious, and contributed much to the feeling in the Islamic world that the West, or rather the Anglo-Saxons, were opposed to Muslims in general.

Efforts to overcome this have been successful recently, with the Arab states throwing their weight too against Gaddafi this year. It was obvious too that ruthless self-interest was not the only reason, for the West had been prepared to support also the protests against the long-standing leaders of Tunisia and Egypt who had by and large served Western interests well. Extending the impact of the Arab Spring to Libya too then, even though it was more obviously a wonderful prize for the West, in economic as well as political terms, was not obviously based on pure self-interest, but suggested concern too about what the people of the area concerned wanted. Read the rest of this entry »

Rajiva Wijesinha

October 2011
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