...a blog by Richard Flowers

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Day 2044: Balloon caught in Crossfire


Why am I like Mr Balloon?

No, it is not a riddle.

There have been two VERY SERIOUS news stories recently – LEBANON and TERRORISM – and neither I nor Mr Balloon have had very much to say about them.

Or rather, while we may have had plenty to say, we have not SAID it.

Mr Balloon's silence has led to him being caught in a crossfire of criticism.

From the right, Mr Simon Heffalump (no relation!) and from the left, the Grauniad leader.

As a soft toy, people expect less of me than the leader of the Conservatory Party so there have been no editorials in national newspapers calling me RUBBISH. Although I HAVE as good as appeared on the Newsnight Show!

Today, Mr Balloon has been forced gracious enough to make a news conference on the subject!

Today is a GOOD day to do this, because the fighting has stopped and you do not have to risk OFFENDING anyone on either side by saying that they should stop fighting, or what they would call defending themselves. It is harder to tell people to stop what they call defence even, or sometimes especially, when it could also be called an attack.

The best defence MAY be a good offence – but that still makes it offensive.

Mr Balloon has taken the opportunity to defend himself by attacking both Lord Blairimort:

"Look, just because I've got nothing new to say," says Dave, "don't think that I won't use the tired old cliché that the government should be doing MORE to stop the bogeyman."

AND attacking leading British Muslims:

"British foreign policy cannot be held to ransom by people who throw bombs around," says Mr Balloon, giving his unquestioning backing to Lord Blairimort's belief that British foreign policy should be dictated by America.

The best defence MAY be a good offence – but that still makes it offensive.

Like Mr Balloon, I have been trying to avoid talking about the DIFFICULT and COMPLICATED issues in the Middle East because they are TOO difficult and complicated for my woolly head to come up with an answer.

People get VERY, VERY cross about this business – I know that my Daddy Richard does: he has never been more PURPLE! But crossness does not help.

What has helped, for which I am grateful and relieved and quite a bit surprised, is the UNITED NATIONS. They have managed to come to an agreement about a ceasefire that meant that both sides actually ceased firing. (Mostly.) TALKING has actually got something done. I can only hope that the peace lasts.

Perhaps they can now try and talk to each other without worrying about high explosives falling on their heads.

There are some things that they will never be able to agree on – that is pretty obvious since there are people on both sides who want the other side to cease to exist. So you cannot deal with those things for the moment. Try to deal with the things that CAN be dealt with and maybe, maybe in the end you will find that you do not NEED each other to cease to exist for you to get along.

It is all too easy to fall into a TRAP of characterising the opposing viewpoint as EXTREME, UNREASONABLE or ILLIBERAL. That is the point at which we stop listening to what they are trying to SAY.

One thing that seems to be overlooked is this: although we think of the terrorist groups as JUST terrorist groups, in the Middle East they are also groups who provide schools and medical relief. This makes them a part of the communities – you might say that they have a SINISTER motive for this (and maybe they do) but it also helps people who need help.

So why don't we do the same?

Big trade summits and meetings of world leaders do not help people. It is little things close to home that help people. We should stop trying to strut some world stage and concentrate on the basic things that people need and see if we can provide them: food and water, light and shelter, and not being exploded.

We've already promised to increase the amount of overseas aid. Use some of that existing aid budget and us it to set up some schools with "EU Schools" in large friendly letters on the side; pay for the teachers and the books and the school dinners and the pipes for water. Pay for doctors and medicines and a building with "EU Free Health" painted over the door.

This would be a GOOD way to give something back to the people of the Middle East who have not got very much to begin with.

It would help to give help directly to the people who need it – by-passing any worries about who governs these places. And it would help us to know them as people, not victims of an unending conflict; and help them to know us as people.

It would need to be done with complete RESPECT: we would have to be giving them the help that they WANT. And it would have to be done by very, very BRAVE people because there are lots of ways that it could become very, very dangerous (and we should PAY them very, very well for their work).

"Think global; act local" does not have to be JUST about the environment.

Mr Balloon may huff and puff about spending more money from the magic money monkey on counter-terrorism and anti-terrorism and crypto-terrorism [R: erm…] but his spokesperson probably put it best when she announced:

"Mr Cameron would not be making any specific policy announcements"

Perhaps I am not so similar to Mr Balloon after all.

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