Foreign revolutions: funny

Foreigners, eh? They’re hilarious. It’s not just their funny accents and pronunciation (I’ve just been to Spain and the number of times I had to say: “actually it’s hallo” to every “Ola” I heard was ridiculous). Their politics, too, are funny. Take for example last week’s news that Hungarian Prime Minister, Ferenc Gyurcsany, announced that his government had been lying “morning, noon and night” about the state of the economy. Those crazy Hungarians took that news so badly they rioted. That’s the thing about foreigners: fiery tempers. And it’s not confined just to Hungary, either.

Thailand last week suffered from a similar case of the crazies. Now correct me if I’m wrong, but I was under the impression that after just one night in Bangkok the world actually becomes your oyster. That should make you pretty relaxed. And yet last week the head of the Thai military, General Sondhi, staged a bloodless coup, deposing Prime Minister Thaskin Shinawarta (who was away being foreign at the time). Does that sound relaxed to you? No. And why was General Sondhi so agitated? Just because the PM’s human rights record boasts an impressive 3,000 extra-judicial killings and he sold one of his nation’s greatest assets overseas, making himself a £1billion tax-free profit in the process. And just because widely accepted allegations of government corruption were leading to more and more spontaneous protests. Now is that any reason to change governments? More than an overreaction, it seems impatient, even – dare I say it—impolite.

Obviously, we in Britain would never bow to the will of the people in the way it has happened in Thailand, because we believe in Democracy. And we would never go bananas like they did in Hungary, because we understand moderation. The difference between us and them is obvious from our own news last week. When an asylum seeker in Britain killed himself last week just to spare his son from the awful conditions of Yarl’s Wood detention centre or being sent home to possible death in Angola, we didn’t riot. When a British serviceman pleaded guilty to charges of torturing Iraqi captives in 2003 through starvation, kicking, beatings with iron rods and forcing prisoners to drink their own urine, (which led to a death in custody) last week, did we riot? Of course not. These were the actions of a few bad apples and nothing to get upset about. That’s why, when campaigners highlighted the case last week of a Canadian who was kidnapped, tortured for a year and released without charge by a few bad apples, we behaved with dignity and decorum. We’re like that. Even at a time when our ally, President Bush, is trying to relax torture laws in his country (presumably with the aim of reducing the number of bad apples by changing the definition of the term).

So, even if for Hungarians just the revelation of a government lie results in riots, and unethical business dealings can spark a military coup in Thailand, in the West, politicians have learned that you’re going to have to torture, kill and drive a lot more people to suicide before you get our attention. Then, and only then, will we admit that there is anything wrong with the way we do things. Even we Christians, who in the past so rigorously challenged our own society on issues such as slavery seem to be content to limit the scope of our protests to mass-produced post-cards and the occasional march; and the scope of our interest to safe topics like poverty. And a good thing, too. Anything else would be foreign.

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