The empire strikes mac

Some Americans have a shaky grasp of Scottishness. I saw this first-hand at a music festival in Scotland once. An American Rap group strutted onto the stage, gazed out over the crowd with its myriad of Saltires and lions rampant and shouted: “Hello, England!”

It did not go down well.

And the Wu Tang Clan (who are, themselves, nothing to funk with) have nothing on the American Senate, which last week ‘summoned’ Alex Salmond and Scottish Justice Minister Kenny MacAskill to answer questions about the Lockerbie bomber and BP.

Some commentators thought it was fair enough, that the pair should indeed answer questions about whether Abdelbaset Ali al-Megrahi was freed in order to facilitate a Libyan oil deal for BP. Others felt that all necessary explanation had been given and that, since Megrahi’s release had been obtained on compassionate grounds, Scotland’s hands were clean and the head of government could stay put.

Personally, I just pictured any numer of my Scottish friends squaring up to an American senator, saying: “And who the hell are you, Jimmy?” I mean, not to be petty, but what gives them the right to summon anyone who is not one of their citizens? It’s bad enough when they lord it over the (primarily English) British government. But Scotland? Did they really think that the Scottish would have no inherent resistance to being pushed around by a foreign (mostly Anglo Saxon) nation that doesn’t think of Scotland as a real country? Haven’t they seen Braveheart? Didn’t they make Braveheart?

Let’s not be distracted, however. The fact that American politicians are actually going after a multinational corporation for its transgressions is a minor miracle. I’m even willing to overlook the fact that they are probably motivated by upcoming mid-term election jitters rather than a desire for justice. I’m even a little willing to ignore the fact that the American who shot down an Iranian airliner full of civilians (Iran Air Flight 655) in 1988 was never jailed, making their obsession with Megrahi a little hypocritical. But I would like to ask them to extend their sudden righteous anger to other multinationals. In fact, I’d like them to extend it to the way they deal with big corporations generally. Banning BP from offshore drilling for a few years because of its failures? Excellent. But what if they do it again? Does the American (or this) government have the guts (or haggis) to put repeat-offenders out of our collective misery? That would be nice, wouldn’t it?

an american empire? why, yes, actually.What would also be nice is a little less of that imperial hypocrisy. Because, unfortunately, the USA, for all its many good points (and one only has to look at Noam Chomsky, Magnum P.I. and Bob Dylan to be prompted to think of more) has imperial hypocrisy in spadefuls. And that should worry all Christians (particularly those obsessed with interpretations of Scripture that see Beasts and Dragons in globally dominant political powers), because our witness to the world seems so tied in with America, that most public ‘Christian nation’, which regularly engages in conflict and destructive economics to further its control of the world. And it’s not only our witness. Christians in this country should be particularly worried by last week’s news that Britain seems at some point to have gone from being an accessory to the USA’s programme of torture (under the auspices of ‘war on terror’) to active participant. It’s not that we should worry that God will judge the entire nation, in an Old Testament fashion, for the sin of torture. That is by no means certain. But we should worry that he will be displeased with us, because we have not used our position as voters in a democracy to ensure that justice is done and the innocent are not oppressed in the cause of catching the guilty. He has a thing about justice.

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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.