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Tuesday, March 23, 2004
The shame of statesmanship

You have to feel for the Israelis. They can do no right in some eyes - usually those belonging to people who insist on moral confusion in every other area - but you'd expect at least some recognition from the global chatterati that killing the founder of Hamas isn't exactly nun-rape. Sheikh Yasin has helped ensure the deaths of hundreds of Israeli women and children. If you go in for all that cycle of violence stuff, he also helped provoke much bloodshed for his own people. He was the lowest of the low, the wickedest of the wicked; he deserved to die. In making that happen, any normal country would be congratulated. But not Israel.

The condemnations and complaints have come not just from the far-left, the French and the Islamofascist fifth column, but from the White House, Downing Street, the Foreign Office and the Conservative Party. While normal people of all political views are grinning modestly or rejoicing openly - self-described socialist Gene Zitver and even many of the Democratic Underground crew among them - the professional political class in all its ideological diversity delivers a petulant slap on the wrists of those bolshy Jews.

World opinion isn't particularly hospitable to the US or the UK. Indeed, the esteem in which a nation is held abroad seems to be inversely proportionate to the good it has done the planet. But even these countries could expect an overwhelmingly positive reaction to any equivalent achievement. If the Americans managed to liquidate Bin Laden in this way, world leaders would be scrambling for the microphones to congratulate her, to express their relief that such a terrorist mastermind has met his deserved fate. But when Israel cleans up her own back yard and sends out an anti-terrorist message sorely needed in these days of voting out PMs who upset AQs, the world statesmen of the early twenty-first century all come out sounding like George Best's wife when asked to comment on her husband's latest return to the bottle.

There is a case for a charitable attitude towards those who reach such heights of government. If they were openly to endorse such acts, it could lead immediately to questions about when they would and would not do the same themselves. If they're honest, most democratic states occasionally order assassinations. Recent British governments of both stripes have certainly concluded now and then that pacifying Ulster may mean bringing forward the dates of a few IRA or LVF funerals, and of course they are right to do so. But it's not the sort of thing you talk about openly.

Perhaps that needs to change. Conservatives are usually somewhat defensive of hypocrisy, noting that in a world of fallible people the only alternative is the deliberate endorsement of wrong acts. But this sort of hypocrisy - a coy modesty about righteous and utterly defensible executions - only serves to foster an immoral climate in which even the worst of mass murdering terrorists are seen as sympathetic, as possessing a right to life. They don't. Terrorists no more have an abstract right to live than bureaucrats have an abstract right to be employed in the civil service. From the moment anyone becomes involved with a terror group and devoted to the murder of a country's citizens to the moment they sever all such links, they have a right to life only in so far as their opponents see advantage in granting it. The killing of terrorists, like the hiring and firing of bureaucrats, is a proper function of the state. We all need to start saying so.

UPDATE: James Taranto supplies the grim death toll:

Yassin was quite a prolific murderer. "Over the past 3 1/2 years, . . . Hamas has, in 425 attacks, killed 377 Israelis and wounded 2076," notes the Jerusalem Post. "Hamas perpetrated 52 suicide attacks, in which 288 people were killed and 1646 were wounded."
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