Commentary Magazine


British Backbone

The feckless response of the British government to the barbaric treatment of one of its citizens, Gillian Gibbons—imprisoned by the Sudanese government for allowing her classroom of seven-year-olds to name a stuffed animal “Muhammed”—is not the type of “diplomacy” that ought become a matter of course when dealing with religious fascists and tyrants. To its credit, the British government is acting quite differently—under great pressure from its craven, European allies—in response to the scheduled appearance of Robert Mugabe at an upcoming European/African Union summit in Lisbon which starts this Saturday.

Mrs. Gibbons has become a literal hostage of the Sudanese regime; her very life is in the hands of Islamist tyrants. Likewise the European Union has become, (wittingly, to its shame) the hostage of the African Union, many of whose member states—namely those belonging to the Southern African Development Community regional group—are making their presence at this weekend’s conference conditional upon Mugabe’s presence. Not only are SADC’s members threatening to boycott the conference if Mugabe is not invited, they are simultaneously demanding that the Zimbabwe crisis itself not be on the conference agenda. The Executive Secretary of SADC stated that “SADC will not go to Lisbon to discuss Zimbabwe because the summit is not about Zimbabwe, but about relations between the EU and Africa,” he said. Mugabe has duly thanked the members of SADC, telling a crowd in Harare last week, “I want to express our gratitude to our fellow members of SADC for their support of Zimbabwe in its assertion to defend its sovereignty against the onslaught that has come from Britain and its allies.”

“Relations between the EU and Africa,” however, have everything to do with Zimbabwe. Considering the billions of dollars in aid money that Western governments give annually to African ones, the governance of African states is certainly pertinent to the nations forking over so much dough, indeed, “governance and human rights” are one of 5 topics that are on the conference agenda. So if the SADC states see fit to prop up, exalt, and equip a murderous dictator whose economic policies have gravely affected European businesses and who has violated the human rights of thousands of British subjects–to say nothing of those policies which have led to the deaths of untold thousands of Mugabe’s own people and created one of the largest refugee crises in the world–it’s difficult to see how this situation does not fit under the purview of the European Union’s relations with its African allies.

Earlier this year, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown showed some spine and stated that he would not attend the summit if Mugabe were to be there. Mugabe has confirmed his attendance for the weekend, and the European Union—by indulging the petty whims of African states—has demonstrated its favoritism for a tyrant over the leader of one of the world’s great democracies. Thus far, the Prime Minister of the Czech Republic, Mirek Topolanek, is the only other European leader to follow Brown’s example. This is an encouraging sign, however minor, that at least some Europeans understand the importance of not caving into the demands of tyrants, or their enablers.

Update: Gibbons has been pardoned. Three cheers for that.