Sunday 7 January 2024

Yousaf is hopelessly biased on Gaza


Imagine if there were a new war between India or Pakistan. Let’s say the long-term territorial dispute over Kashmir flared up again and the Indian and Pakistani armies started fighting again. Or alternatively imagine that Pakistan tried to retake its former territory of East Pakistan, modern day Bangladesh. What line should we expect from Rishi Sunak? We should expect him to take the line of the Foreign Office and to follow the long-standing policy of the British Government. After all he is the British Prime Minister.

I am quite certain that Rishi Sunak would not be influenced by the fact that his family is of Indian origin, nor by the fact that his wife is an Indian citizen, nor by the fact that they both follow the Hindu faith. He would distinguish between his private views whatever they might be and his public role. He might privately hope that India triumphed over Pakistan, that would be natural, but he would realise that he was Prime Minister of the whole of the UK and that the UK is made up of people from many faiths and backgrounds. This is the difference between Rishi Sunak and Humza Yousaf.

I spent quite a long time in the Russian city of Kaliningrad formerly the German city of Königsberg. Sometimes there would be German visitors who would make clear that they thought it was unjust that a city where their grandparents lived was now in Russia. Some of them would even express their desire to get this territory back.

What happened to the German population all along the Baltic coast from Stettin to Memel was indeed unjust. These people and their ancestors had lived there for hundreds of years. Yet during and after the Second World War they were driven out either by justified fear of the invading Red Army or at the point of a bayonet.

Up to 14 million Germans were displaced and up two 2.5 million were killed.

Now it might have been the case that the First Minister of Scotland had married a German citizen living today in Germany, but whose ancestors came from Königsberg or from Breslau, Wrocław in modern Poland. It might be that the wife of the First Minister might privately wish it that her family could reclaim the land they land lost in modern day Poland and Russia. It might even be that the First Minister might privately agree with her. But that is where the matter should end.

The First Minister of Scotland has nothing to do with UK foreign policy and Scotland ought not to have a foreign policy because Scotland is not a sovereign nation state and therefore should have no international relations at all. But even if Scotland were independent the fact that the First Minister’s wife had family that lost their homes in the 1940s in modern day Poland and Russia ought not to influence the public opinions of the First Minister.

I fully understand why people who lost their homes in the 1940s regret it and wish that they could reclaim them again, but in most historical circumstances we have to accept that this is not possible and anyway it is not going to happen even if it were possible.

Greeks who had lived in Smyrna in modern day Turkey for centuries were kicked out or murdered in the 1920s.  Serbs who had lived in modern day Croatia were kicked out during the war in Yugoslavia. Bosnians were murdered in turn by Serbs who murdered and tried to kick out the people living in Kosovo. Today Ukrainians have been forced to leave their homes by Russians. Some of them may return, but many will not.

But you cannot anyway recreate what has been destroyed. Those Eastern European cities with large Jewish populations are never going to have those communities again. They are gone. So too those Arab countries which had large Jewish populations prior to the Second World War will never have them again.

The people of the Indian subcontinent were largely Hindu until the Muslim invasions between the 13th and 18th centuries. It’s all very well complaining about Edward I invading Scotland, but he didn’t change the religion of Edinburgh. But there is not a lot of point Hindus in India longing for Lahore to be Hindu again and to send the Muslims homeward to think again.

Each side in history is responsible for justice and injustice. If Muslims had the right to invade modern day Pakistan and Bangladesh, they cannot reasonably complain if what was previously their territory now belongs to someone else any more than Germans can complain about the loss of their territory.

Israel exists because Jews who had been driven out of their homes by mass murder and prejudice decided to settle in their historical homeland in a process that was partly motivated by Zionism. The Palestinians decided that they did not wish to coexist with Israel, but instead attempted to destroy it with their allies from the whole Arab world. They attempted to destroy Israel again in 1967 and 1973 but kept losing. That is why they are in the situation that they are in. They lost a war just like the Germans did. Having lost militarily the Palestinians turned to terrorism and are still doing so.

The history of the Arab Israeli conflict is complex. Just as we can sympathise with those Germans who lost their homes because of war we can sympathise with those Palestinians who lost their homes because of war. But those people who lost their homes are now nearly all dead. Their descendants who were not born in Israel did not lose their homes. They have no more right to live in Israel because of who their grandfathers were than I do. Germans whose grandparents lived in Königsberg don’t have the right to live in Russia nor do Jews whose grandparents lived in North Africa.

The descendants of the Native Americans who lived in Manhattan don’t own Manhattan.

The root of the continuing conflict is the failure of the displaced Palestinians to accept the historical situation and to move on. The Greeks who were kicked out of Smyrna are not fighting to get their homes back. The Germans who were kicked out of Königsberg have accepted they will never get it back. The Hindus who lost Lahore accept it with regret, but they accept it. Humza Yousaf does not accept it.

The problem is not merely that the First Minister is poorly educated, it’s that his education on the history of the Middle East is biased and one sided. He is unable to see that the issue is complex, and he is unaware of the historical context and its comparison with other conflicts and displaced peoples. Worse he blunders into issues that do not concern him because of matters that ought to be personal, his faith and his family spending public money that is not his, but ours. This personal bias makes him unfit to comment on the issue let alone be First Minister of Scotland.

If Nicola Sturgeon had remained First Minister, she would have commented a few times on Gaza, but she would have cared more about what was going on in Scotland and her focus would have been on achieving independence for Scotland rather than statehood for Palestine. But then religion was not an issue for Sturgeon.

There is nothing wrong with leaders having faith. They can privately believe what they want, but I don’t want any religion influencing politics because then we move towards theocracy.

The First Minister has no more interest than any other Scot in the wide range of present-day conflicts many of which involve Muslims. He says nothing about the persecution of the Uyghurs in China, nor indeed about the war in Yemen.

This is the problem. It is Yousaf’s personal views that are determining his response to conflict overseas and this is not safe when foreign policy should be a matter carefully developed by experts in a dispassionate way.

Neither Yousaf’s intervention nor indeed the demonstrations bring us any closer to peace. Instead, they help prolong the conflict and the suffering. Peace will happen only when like the Germans the Palestinians accept that they will never get back the territory they lost and give up both war and terrorism. Calling for the destruction of Israel and glorifying terrorists simply makes them think one more atrocity and we’ll be free from the river to the sea. Sorry you won’t.

Israel is responding no differently to how Pakistan would respond if displaced Hindus used terrorism to take back the homes that they had lost. But the world and no doubt Humza Yousaf would ignore that. Pakistan can defend itself, but Israel can’t.

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