Uzbek soldiers shot dead up to 500 civilians in the town of Andjian, according to a host of eyewitness reports, but instead of condemning such excesses, a White House spokesman dismisses the dead as "Islamic terrorists" and suggests Uzbeks should seek democracy "through peaceful means..."
Britain's Foreign Minister Jack Straw, on the other hand, has actually had the gumption to call the military crack down a human rights abuse. "The situation is very serious," he said. "There has been a clear abuse of human rights, a lack of democracy and a lack of openness." But when he was asked whether Britain would support opposition groups, Straw said: "It's for the people to decide on a change of regime not outsiders."
The double standards inherent in both the US and British positions over Uzbekistan are glaring in the extreme.
When the Taleban were ruling the roost in Afghanistan, the US both armed and funded a conglomeration of tribes calling themselves "the Northern Alliance". And when it fell out with Saddam Hussein in 1991, it armed and encouraged both the Shiites and the Kurds to rise up and attempt an overthrow before marching off into the sunset and leaving both groups to their fate.
Furthermore, the US has actively encouraged pro-Western opposition groups in former Soviet bloc countries to revolt and during Condoleezza Rice's visit to Russia last month she gave verbal support to groups waiting in the wings to launch a coup against the rulers of Belarus.
Indeed, she referred to the Belarus government "as the last dictatorship in Europe" and warned the country's leaders that they "should know their behavior is being watched", adding, "This is not a dark corner in which things can go unobserved, uncommented on."
But when it comes to oil and gas-rich Uzbekistan, which has opened its doors to US bases and signed up to Bush's "War on Terror" it's an entirely different story. There, the Bush administration sees, hears and speaks no evil.
Britain's stance is little better. When former British ambassador to Uzbekistan reported on civil liberties and human rights abuses in that country, he became a Foreign Office liability but once he saw fit to denounce Uzbekistan's torture practices and tried to prevent M16 from acting on information gleaned from its victims, he was sacked under patently false pretexts.
Jack Straw may have had a change of heart since he was recently re-elected and for that he, surely, deserves our praise. On the other hand, he may be playing good cop to America's bad. However, if he wants to retain even a shred of credibility, he should surely reflect before he opens his mouth. "It's for the people to decide on a change of regime, not outsiders". Eh?
What on earth does he imagine happened in Iraq? Perhaps Mr. Straw should re-read an April 4, 2003 statement on his own Labour Party's website titled: "The future of Iraq".
"This is not a war on Iraq," it reads, "It is a war on Saddam and his regime..."
So let's get this straight. From the American point of view the people's overthrow of oppressive governments is commendable except when those governments are US allies working hard to do its bidding as is the case with Uzbekistan.
Reflecting a similar dichotomy is the British stance, which appears to be thus: "In the event a dictator is not an ally then we can contemplate invading on behalf of his downtrodden people. But if a dictator happens to be a friend, then his overthrow or otherwise is none of our business and the people should be left to get on with it".
The fact is Western politicians who go around claiming the moral high ground wouldn't recognize morality even if it jumped up and punched them in the eye. Their lips move entirely according to self-interest, pragmatism or a wish to pander to allies. Their beliefs are fluid and swing this way and that according to circumstances and so as to achieve goals they know will be unpopular with their respective publics, they won't hesitate to exaggerate, cover up or lie through their teeth. That's the sad reality my friends.
Take the US relationship with China, for example. There was a tremendous brouhaha over the Tiananmen Square incident when hundreds of anti-government demonstrators were killed and imprisoned, and rightly so, but when former President Bill Clinton began to woo the Chinese, the US government slapped a gag over its mouth. For years China's human rights records were virtually binned but now that the EU wants to dismantle an arms embargo against China, its alleged human rights abuses are being once again spotlighted.
A sane person might wonder where countries responsible for the deaths of tens of thousands of civilians in Afghanistan and Iraq, thousands of Muslims incarcerated without charge or judicial process, ghost prisoners flown off to ghost facilities on ghost jets, not to mention Abu Ghraib and the virtual flattening of Fallujah get the chutzpah to bang on about the Chinese.
It's a similar story when it comes to Russia and Chechnya. Russia supported the "war on terror" and Chechnya became a disposable commodity as far as the West was concerned.
What can an ordinary person do in the face of such despicable duplicity and prevarication? First, it's important to remain personally aware. My advice is not to fear being called a cynic. Don't believe everything you read or hear. Even a picture is no longer worth a thousand words.
Most importantly, search out news and snippets of information from various sources including the Internet before joining the dots to create a picture in your own mind.
Just last week Newsweek, a respected publication, wrote about the desecration of the Holy Qur'an at Guantanamo. The entire Muslim world is outraged, Muslim leaders lodge protests with the White House, demonstrators flood the streets from Cairo to Kabul, people die, when lo and behold, Newsweek's editor blithely says: Sorry folks, we may have got that one wrong. Oh please! What about Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, the Associated Press and a host of other bodies, which have earlier asserted those same allegations. Have they all made mistakes too?
There may hopefully come a day when politicians won't find it so easy to pull the wool over people's eyes and insult their intelligence using a sycophantic media as its No. 1 tool. It's up to every one of us to ensure that day comes soon. For only then will every country in the world be held up to a similar standard, with justice available to all, rather than the province of the privileged few, as currently is the case.
Linda Heard is a British editor, journalist and columnist currently based in Cairo where she is a correspondent for the English-language daily The Arab News. She can be reached at [email protected]
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