UK Media Morality

The editorial page of last Saturday’s Times led with the following headline: “Arm the Rebels”.

Editorials seldom have the name of the writer attached to them, which is possibly very useful in the case of this particular article. The piece refers to the suggestion that the British government is poised to begin (officially) supplying military hardware to the militants who are at war with the Syrian government. The article insists that the government get on with doing so… and that, my friends, is incitement to break international law. Chapter one of the UN Charter (an international law), article two, paragraph 4 reads:

“All Members shall refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state, or in any other manner inconsistent with the Purposes of the United Nations.”

No resolution demanding the overthrow of President Assad has been passed by the general assembly of the United Nations – nor even its cynical “security” council. The UK is a founder member of the United Nations and it really ought not to be breaking its own laws: what sort of example is that to be setting to the plebs? Of course lawyers would argue that the law does not specifically forbid the provision of military hardware to militant anti-government extremists. However, such an action could be said to be an “other manner inconsistent with the Purposes of the United Nations” – one of which is clearly stated in article one paragraph one as “to maintain peace and security”.

The Times editorial opens its argument with a subheading that reads:

“It is no longer strategically or morally tenable to stand by while Iran and Russia ship weapons to the Assad regime for use against Syrian rebels and civilians.”

As with so many articles in the Times, the content fails to deliver what is promised in the heading. We see not one word of evidence to justify the use of the word “strategically”. Why is the situation in Syria of any “strategic” importance to the interests of sixty million people in a country 3,000 miles away, with no significant economic or diplomatic links? The Times gives no answer.

As for morality, well… what can you say? Here we are being lectured on morality by someone who is openly calling for our government to break international law; and a quick glance at Britain’s “allies” in its disgraceful adventure in Syria is instructive. The anti-Assad militants are said to be resourced extensively from icons of freedom and democracy such as Bahrain and Saudi Arabia which, by the way, just happened to be carrying out some routine executions of some men convicted of theft (some of whom were just juveniles when the crimes were committed) during a chummy visit by Prince Charles. But the morality of making allies of dictatorial tyrants who routinely murder their own country’s children doesn’t seem overly to trouble the Times. Who said satire was dead?

As for the argument about standing by “while Iran and Russia ship weapons to the Assad regime” … there’s one small flaw in that point. The Assad “regime” happens to be the legitimate government of Syria [How legitimate is a government imposed on the people? -- DV Ed]. It’s perfectly within its rights to buy whatever it likes from whomever it likes – cynical trade sanctions notwithstanding, obviously.

You have to wonder what the Times leader-writer would say if there were armed extremists from foreign lands running wild around Britain, murdering, raping and looting; and some foreign country with a sizeable interest in selling military hardware and a known fondness for looting distant lands demanded the right to supply those extremists with their wares on the grounds that the British government, whilst trying to do its job to protect its people, was using some military equipment known to be supplied from the United States. Would The Times also support the right of that country to supply those extremists, I wonder, for the sake of morality.

The Times is no stranger to the courtroom. Its legal experts will know, just as our trusted political leaders who’re supporting the outrageous events in Syria know, that having a law is one thing, enforcing it is something quite different. You can quite literally get away with murder if no one is able to stop you or call you to account; and you can break international laws with just as much impunity, if the world’s only superpower says it’s O.K. But that doesn’t make the thing right, does it. Still, what could I possibly know about morality; I’m sure The Times knows much more about the subject than I do.

John Andrews is a writer whose latest book is The People's Constitution. He can be contacted through his website. Read other articles by John.