There’s a fire, bring the fuel: owning our mistakes in the Middle East

Hizb ut-Tahrir. Haven’t heard of them? Well you might soon, they’re giving a talk tomorrow night in Sydney and it’s sure to make the news.

Meaning the Party of Liberation, they are an Islamist (politicised Islam) group who aim to bring all Muslims together to form one state, the Caliphate, the Islamic State. On Friday the 10th of October they will be hosting a public lecture in Sydney which will be arguing against Australia and the West’s ‘humanitarian mission’ to deal with IS.

A leading spokesman for HuT, Wassim Doureihi, spoke to the ABC last night on Lateline and refused to give straight answers when asked whether he and his group condoned the actions of IS, including the severing of heads of journalists and aid-workers. Rather, he kept trying to talk about past and present Western interventions in the Middle East. Maybe he’s got a point.

When Doureihi asked the ABC presenter whether she condemned the killing of ‘a million innocent lives in Iraq and Afghanistan’, she announced that they had run out of time and didn’t answer. Now while they probably had run out of time, I wonder what her answer would have been.

What would our answer have been? Sure, in principle most of us (I hope) will condemn the killing of people, but how do we choose between our foreign policy and negative effects it might have on others?

Doureihi was referring, presumably, to the UN sanctions on Iraq following the Gulf War of 1990 against Saddam Hussein—including the famous Operation Desert Storm. While the exact death toll cannot be determined it is believed that over 500,000 children alone died as a direct result of the sanctions. Most of these, as always, were the most vulnerable in society as healthcare plummeted and food became scarcer. Saddam, as we know, did not step down as a result of the sanctions.

My point in this is that the ABC presenter appeared unwilling to condemn the ‘killing’.

Why didn’t she take the opportunity to side with Doureihi and empathise with those who’d lost family members? I’m not sure, but I do think it cemented the Hizb ut-Tahrir opinion that we, the West aren’t willing to acknowledge our own actions.

This is made worse if our political leaders continue to ignore our mistakes of the past. That John Howard was ‘embarrassed’ about the 2003 invasion of Iraq is hardly a genuine admission of guilt for making a deadly mistake.

I don’t know about you, but if my house was mistakenly destroyed by a cruise missile based on erroneous information, I’d be a bit peeved. Maybe more if the person in charge only admitted to being a bit red in the face about it all.

Of course this doesn’t justify the violent actions of IS, but we can’t keep silencing anyone who has a legitimate grievance against us, like Hizb ut-Tahrir. Big mistakes were made in the past, and many of us would probably agree on it privately. But our representatives seem to be silent about it, pretending it didn’t happen and that it doesn’t have anything to do with the mess that is the Middle East today.

The Abbott government is encouraging closer ties with Australia’s Muslim community by appealing to ‘Team Australia’. A major obstacle to this teamwork will be the legacy of Western involvement in the Middle East, especially the times when we got it wrong.

I personally support the moves against IS since the Iraqi government has asked for help, however we still need to own up to past mistakes if we don’t want to isolate ourselves from the region further.

We’re not going to convince the likes of Hizb ut-Tahrir that this time we’re looking out for vulnerable individuals if we pretend that that’s what we’ve always done in the Middle East.

There’s something a bit disconcerting about an arsonist working for the fire brigade.

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