The 300th anniversary of the union of England and Scotland fell on Tuesday, May 1—in a sense, the birthday of the United Kingdom of Great Britain. The Act of Union of 1707 provided for the amalgamation of the two parliaments at Westminster, the Hanoverian—hence Protestant—succession, and the creation of a single flag, the Union Jack.
It may seem strange to American eyes that the English show no desire to commemorate what is in effect their country’s tricentennial. But there remains deep resentment in some quarters at the overrepresentation of Scots at Westminster and the constitutional anomaly (known as the “West Lothian Question”) that allows Scottish members of Parliament to vote on English legislation but not vice versa. Meanwhile, north of the border, the bitterest opponents of the union—the Scottish Nationalists—are predicted to become the largest party in the newly resurrected Scottish parliament when Scots go to the polls this Thursday.
These matters may seem highly parochial today. And even if Scotland were to vote for independence in a referendum, it would be greeted south of the border with a shrug: English taxpayers are quite aware how generously they subsidize their Scottish counterparts. But there was a time in the 17th century when relations between England and Scotland had implications far beyond either realm.
Now that Afghanistan is no longer a sanctuary for al Qaeda and other terrorist groups, many Islamist attacks or attempted attacks have been mounted by individuals who have spent time in Pakistan. Here in the U.S. we have had a spate of recent cases.
On April 12, an Ohio man, Christopher Paul, was indicted on federal charges that he conspired to bomb European tourist resorts and U.S. military bases overseas. According to prosecutors, he had been schooled in paramilitary techniques at an al-Qaeda camp in Afghanistan in the 1990’s and later signed up with the terrorist group in Pakistan.
On April 2, a Maryland taxicab driver, Mahmud Faruq Brent al Mutazzim, pleaded guilty to conspiring to aid a terrorist organization after admitting he attended training camps operated by Lashkar-e-Taiba in Pakistan in 2002 and was involved with that terrorist group from 2001 through 2005.
On January 8, Shahawar Matin Sira, a Pakistani immigrant living in New York, was sentenced to 30 years in prison for his part in an unsuccessful plot to blow up a Manhattan subway station as revenge for alleged wartime abuses of Iraqis.
If we connect these three dots—and there are many more such dots overseas—we can see why Michael Chertoff, secretary of homeland security, has been dickering with his British counterparts about curbing the travel of British citizens of Pakistani origin to the United States.
Since the unexpectedly strong showing by the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt’s parliamentary elections in late 2005—and other rough seas that President Bush’s policies encountered in Iraq and Palestine—the administration has pulled in its horns on the promotion of democracy in the Middle East. Tactical retreats are not tantamount to an abandonment of policy, but apparently no one has told this to the U.S. ambassador to Egypt, Frances Ricciardone. In recent public comments Ricciardone has gone out of his way to excuse and cover up some of the most serious violations of democracy and human rights in Egypt.
In a television interview (the transcript of which is posted on the embassy’s website), the ambassador was asked about the circumstances of the Coptic Christians who constitute an estimated 10 percent of Egypt’s population. Here is the relevant exchange: