If only we bothered to gaze up from Westminster, we’d discover a more nuanced debate about terrorism, peace and the messy diplomacy of talking to people we don’t likeby Steve Bloomfield / February 27, 2019 / Leave a comment
Within hours of Sajid Javid’s announcement earlier this week that the political wing of the Lebanese Islamist movement, Hezbollah, would be designated as a terrorist group, the debate swiftly moved away from the Middle East. There was no discussion about what this would mean for Lebanon’s political stability; not a word about whether it would help or hinder efforts to bring peace to neighbouring Syria; barely a whisper about its impact on Israel.
Instead, it was framed as a domestic political story. Would Jeremy Corbyn, who had previously referred to Hezbollah as “friends” and is under fire for failing to deal with anti-Semitism within the Labour party, back the Home Secretary’s decision or would he prove himself to be “a threat to national security”—as Independent Group MP Mike Gapes put it?
In the end, the Labour party last night voted in favour of the ban under a one line whip, while noting that the government had provide no new evidence to back their sudden decision.
But they weren’t the only ones who were sceptical. If only we bothered to gaze up from Westminster, we’d discover a more nuanced debate about terrorism, peace and the messy diplomacy of talking to people we don’t like.
French president, Emmanuel Macron—not someone who can be dismissed as somehow “weak” on terrorism, nor a man with question marks hanging over his attitude towards anti-Semitism—said that France would not be following suit.
“No other power has the right to decide what Lebanese political parties are good and which are not,” he said. “This is up to the Lebanese people.” Germany indicated it would not be changing its policy, either.
The move also puzzled experts in Beirut. “It’s not like much has changed recently that would give the government proper cause to change its position now,” Heiko Wimmen, an analyst for International Crisis Group told me. “If anything, the opposite,” he added, pointing out that three Hezbollah members have just been named as government ministers.
According to Wimmen, the decision could weaken Britain’s ability to influence politics in the Middle East. “The disadvantage is clear. You have a group which is a major political player here in Lebanon and in Syria. A potential escalation between Hezbollah and Israel is always a possibility. Do you really want to make it impossible…