The naked President/General

emperor's new clothes

President Pervez Musharraf should remove his uniform. What a profoundly troubling thought. And yet it was one much discussed in last week’s news. The idea was not part of a raft of new ‘American-style democracy’ reforms in Pakistan involving swimsuit contests in elections, but more of a metaphor for relinquishing his military status in favour of purely civilian power. Such an act would, it seems, be one of several ways President Musharraf could regain the love and respect of the Commonwealth, who last week suspended Pakistan, primarily because of the President’s failure to lift emergency laws.

I wonder if our own Des Browne is feeling any sympathy for old Pervez, considering that very similar criticisms were last week levelled at him. You see, Des also has a (slightly more) metaphorical uniform of sorts, in his role as Secretary of State for Defence. Critics last week were saying that the fact he is also Secretary of State for Scotland has led to an unacceptable waste of time he should be devoting to the urgent issues facing countless British subjects living in unimaginably harsh places and facing untold dangers. And if it’s bad in Glasgow, it’s even worse in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Is it hypocrisy for us to demand that President Musharraf strip down to his civilian tighty-whities? I don’t think so. Civilian, elected leaders tend to treat their people better than military juntas. But to make a fuss over emergency legislation now, after the Commonwealth already reinstated Pakistan once after the Musharraf takeover (while the same military government was in power) might be. And not just because Pervez and co seem quite adequate allies when we’re looking for a state that would rather torture and disappear terror suspects for us than be invaded (oddly, there are several). It’s hypocrisy because in this country, before we had seen an Islamic extremist bomb set off on our soil, our government launched a programme of special terror laws to combat the potential incidents and we have yet to return to the pre-2001 state. In November 2001 The Guardian called them a proposed state of emergency not unlike the one in Pakistan now, where several massive bombs have gone off and there is massive and violent instability. How do we think our own government, whatever party might be in power, would react if similar levels of violence happened here? Amnesty International’s 2007 report on the UK is hardly glowing in its commendation of our retention of liberties and human rights record after just one successful attack.

Now, am I saying Musharraf’s rights record is justifiable? No. Is he a thug? Quite probably (if only because we and the Americans seem to like working with him). But many people would say it is pointless to point to our own failings when talking about the crimes of others.

But do we really think that when Jesus was talking about the plank in our own eye and the speck in another’s he was encouraging us to compare and see whose fault was bigger? Is that lesson really all about legalistic degrees of badness, justifying judgement? Or is there a general principle, echoed somewhere else and involving throwing stones, that we should not be too hasty to judge others before we judge ourselves?

Does that mean we never speak out until we are perfect? No. But a glance at last week’s news, for instance, full of accusations that the Russians are “obsessed” with spying on us and utterly forgetful of the MI6 electronic ‘rock’ used to bug the Kremlin not too long ago, suggests we still have a problem pointing the finger at ourselves. And that would be a Christian principle worth promoting in politics.


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