Today, in an age that often seems of pragmatism and managerial-ism in politics, if there is a way not just to honor the late Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher’s memory but to continue her legacy it should be to encourage and praise those rare individuals who are willing to buck such trends. In Canada recently, I have had an opportunity to reflect on the perhaps surprising fact (also surprising to many Canadians) that in recent years Canada has shown itself to be a home to convictions which ennoble the present and can stand proud before history. The Harper government’s moral clarity on a number of issues -in particular religious freedom and Israel – demonstrate a stand that can be rightly admired and celebrated by free peoples around the world.
Over the last decade the issue of religious freedom has come out of the rear-view mirror to a position of utmost importance, especially among minority communities. But nowhere does it matter more than in the Middle East. As Canada’s Foreign Minister, John Bair, must have been reminded on his recent trip to the region, whether you compare what is happening across that region to events in Europe in 1848 or 1991, such historical comparisons are of limited use. What is happening there now, the upsurge of Islam, is a once-in-a-lifetime event. And although none of our countries may any longer have the capability or will to have a permanent military presence in the region, the significance of what soft diplomacy we can muster, and what moral stands we insist on, may yet prove far more important.
If the democracies can do one thing to help guide the Middle East in a more liberal direction, it is by simply showing our friends and potential friends in those countries why the freedoms we enjoy could profitably be enjoyed there as well. If we are seen to be saying, to quote Groucho Marx, “These are our principles and if you don’t like them we have other principles,” we risk enshrining the worst message of the Islamists: that we democrats are bad friends with insubstantial values. This period in history is too important to be left solely to those allegedly sophisticated’ British foreign-office types who revel in making no moral judgements at all.
The other area in which Canada has also shown the significance of values is in the matter of Israel. The Harper government has shown that it is possible to remain unbending when it comes to civilizational values.
In particular, it has shown that it can resist the honey-trap of equivalence. While accepting that there are issues to deal with on all sides, it is not just incorrect, but flat-out wrong, to treat the Israeli and the Palestinian governments as negotiating equals. People love to lay the blame for the stalemate at 50/50. But the facts do not support this. Israeli schoolbooks do not teach children to hate and destroy Palestinians, as the Palestinian schoolbooks do of Israelis. Even the most extreme Israeli politician does not threaten to wipe out the Palestinian people, as even mainstream Palestinian politicians do of Israelis [see www.Palwatch.org ]. At no end of the spectrum of Israeli parliamentary politics (which includes Israeli Arabs as full members of parliament) is there anyone like, for example, Mariam Farhat.
Known as “Mother of the Nation,” Farhat rose to popularity among Palestinians because she had supported three of her sons in going to their deaths in so-called “martyrdom operations” to kill Israelis. In 2002 she recorded a video with one of her sons before he headed out on his murder mission, and said “I wish I had 100 boys like Mohammad. I’d sacrifice them for the sake of Allah. When I see all the Jews in Palestine killed, that will be enough for me.” At the funeral of her third son she said, “I have four sons left. I hope that they all become martyrs.” Her popularity propelled her to election as a Hamas representative. After her death, the “moderate” Fatah Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas opened a mourning tent at his headquarters in Ramallah and posthumously awarded her the “medal of sacrifice.”
As long as even Abbas takes such an attitude towards the murder of Israeli civilians, it is not just disingenuous but wrong to claim moral equivalence between the sides. It is precisely this realization that sits at the core of the Harper government’s convictions. Convictions are not just opinions or oft-repeated talking points. They are principles which the holder is willing not only to be praised for, but to be criticised for and even suffer for. There is no reason why the Canadian government should suffer for supporting freedom and liberty at home and abroad. Just as there was no reason why Thatcher should be so criticized by some for defeating socialism at home and abroad. But even when politicians of conviction do suffer the odd buffeting by the winds of popular opinion, they should brave them as Thatcher did. For as she realized, as her death has shown and as Churchill — her only peer among recent statesman — said, it is the only way to ensure that “however the fates may play,” they will “march always in the ranks of honor.”