THE BLOG

It Is Time For Some Moral Outrage

23/09/2016 16:25
Neil Hall/PA Wire

Sometimes even a greybeard old hack like me is sickened by the obscenity of the world in which we live.

Sickened by the obscenity of Western governments selling arms to warring parties and then building walls to keep out the desperate families fleeing from their bombs.

Sickened by the weasel words of governments that pledge to help those same desperate families when they have no intention of fulfilling their pledges.

And sickened by the obscenity of political leaders playing petty power games instead of trying to end the wars that condemn hundreds of thousands of our fellow human beings to an early death.

Yes, I know moral outrage is easy. But we still need more of it, if for no other reason than to demonstrate that we have not entirely lost our capacity for outrage.

Have you heard Theresa May say one word about the indescribable catastrophe that has engulfed Yemen?

Have you heard Jeremy Corbyn utter a single word of condemnation of the unconscionable air strikes, allegedly by Russian warplanes, that destroyed an aid convoy - an aid convoy! -- headed for the besieged Syrian city of Aleppo? Perhaps he is still stuck in a 1970s time warp in which all that is bad in the world is the fault of the US. Would that it were that simple (not that it ever was, of course).

Perhaps Mrs May has been struck dumb by the knowledge that the bombs being dropped on Yemen by Saudi warplanes, destroying hospitals, schools and refugee camps, and killing hundreds of civilians, may well have been made in the UK, sold by the UK, and for all we know, given that British military advisers are working closely with the Saudi armed forces, targeted with the help of British officers.

To his credit, Mr Corbyn said as much in the Commons a couple of weeks ago, when he challenged Mrs May: 'The British Government continue to sell arms to Saudi Arabia that are being used to commit crimes against humanity in Yemen.' Her response was breath-taking: 'Actually, what matters is the strength of our relationship with Saudi Arabia. When it comes to counter-terrorism and dealing with terrorism, it is that relationship that has helped to keep people on the streets of Britain safe.'

And on Channel 4 News on Thursday night, a woefully unconvincing Boris Johnson could manage nothing better than platitudes: he was 'concerned' about what had happened in Yemen but 'as things stand at the moment, we don't think there are breaches of international humanitarian law.'

The Saudis have been bombing Yemen for more than a year, ever since they intervened in that country's civil war to prop up the government against Shia rebels who they insist are being backed by Riyadh's regional rivals, Iran. The UK government has continued to supply arms and to licence the sale of more arms to the Saudis throughout this period. According to the international relief organization Oxfam, by doing so it has been guilty of breaking international law.

Still not outraged? Then, if you have not already done so, I urge you to watch this heart-rending report from Nawal al-Maghafi of the BBC. But I should warn you: it is deeply distressing.

Yemen and Syria are very different countries. But what they have in common is this: they have both become battlegrounds on which Saudi Arabia and Iran have chosen to fight for regional supremacy. Arab versus Persian, Sunni versus Shia, US-supported desert kingdom versus Russian-supported (at least in Syria) Islamic republic. Both countries have become seething cauldrons of bloodshed and misery.

Our response? Mrs May says the priority is to ensure that none of the victims make it to our shores. Mr Corbyn presides over a party so dysfunctional that its own staff have been sent guidance on how to deal with 'aggressive or potentially violent behaviour' at its own conference, by its own members.

(The Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron, to his credit, was appropriately outraged by the government's policy on refugees at his party's annual conference this week, but with only eight MPs to their name, the Lib Dems' influence is bound to be somewhat limited.)

At the UN this week, Mrs May's priorities were to encourage other nations to do more to keep out refugees, and to reassure them that - Brexit notwithstanding - UK plc is still 'open for business'.

And by the way, if you think moral outrage has no place in politics, take a look at the US Democratic party senator Elizabeth Warren on the attack against an American bank chief executive, John Stumpf of Wells Fargo. Here's just a taste for you (the bank has been accused of creating millions of bogus accounts to drive up its share price):

'Here's what really gets me about this, Mr. Stumpf. If one of your tellers took a handful of $20 bills out of the cash drawer, they'd probably be looking at criminal charges for theft. They could end up in prison. But you squeezed your employees to the breaking point so they would cheat customers and you could drive up the value of your stock and put hundreds of millions of dollars in your own pocket. And when it all blew up, you kept your job, you kept your multi-multimillion-dollar bonuses, and you went on television to blame thousands of $12-an-hour employees who were just trying to meet cross-sell quotas that made you rich. This is about accountability. You should resign. You should give back the money that you took while this scam was going on, and you should be criminally investigated ... This just isn't right.'

That's what I call moral outrage. We need more of it. We are entitled to expect much better from our own political leaders. More importantly, so are the people of Syria and Yemen.

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