Wednesday 26 October 2016

Carol Hunt: Middle East mission shows our genius at doublethink

We seem happy enough to believe the nonsense being spouted by the Government as long as it benefits us financially, says Carol Hunt

Published 12/01/2014 | 02:30

An Taoiseach visits Kanoo in Riyadh, distribution partner of Co Monaghan company Combilift throughout the Gulf region.
An Taoiseach visits Kanoo in Riyadh, distribution partner of Co Monaghan company Combilift throughout the Gulf region.

'OH that's part of the custom of Iran," said Pat Breen, chairman of the joint Oireachtas committee on foreign affairs, blithely. "But that's not the focus of our visit," he added as Claire Byrne (on Morning Ireland last Thursday) wondered how he would deal with the fact that the two women delegates on the Enterprise Ireland trade trip to the Middle East -- Maureen Sullivan TD and Senator Deirdre Cloone -- were so low down on the Iranian human pecking scale that they weren't even allowed to shake hands with any Iranian politicians. In my mind, the next obvious question would be: "And if their 'custom' was to treat black men, for instance, in a similar manner and you had two such men in your delegation, would you be just as blase about it?" But of course that question never gets asked.

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Meanwhile, when questioned about the appalling human rights record of Iran, Breen insisted, bless his trusting little heart, that President Rouhani had "promised to improve human rights".

"Do you believe that?" asked Claire drily. "Oh yes indeed," said Breen brightly. "And it's only by dialogue and by visits like our visit, visits to Iran . . . that we can raise these issues."

So that's the plan then. According to Pat Breen, the Irish delegation was all set to raise human rights issues on the visits to the Middle East last week and sure if a couple of women were insulted along the way, or if it looked as if the Irish were pandering to some of the biggest human rights violators in the world just so they could get a few trade deals out of them, wouldn't it be worth it in the end and all that?

Except . . . well, the gang out in the Middle East obviously didn't get the memo because when asked if the Taoiseach had indeed brought up any of these issues with his hosts, Eamon Gilmore, in the RDS last week, answered primly that "the Taoiseach was on a trade mission" [end of story] and Richard Bruton sniffed that the trip was "neither the time nor the place" to bring up such issues.

Instead of censure, there were congratulations -- for the wonderful work that Saudi Arabia is doing for progress and peace, for instance. As Kenny proudly informed us: "I congratulated the Saudis on their leadership in terms of moderation here in the Gulf region and their desire for a peaceful situation on a lot of very complex and technical issues."

But . . . didn't Joe Stork (deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch) say last October at a UN Human Rights council in Geneva: "Many countries have problematic records, but Saudi Arabia stands out for its extraordinary high levels of repression and its failure to carry out its promises to the Human Rights council."

And isn't Saudi Arabia the biggest funder of Salafi Jihadist militant terrorist groups in the world? Didn't Iranian lawmaker Naqavi Hosseini say just last week, "Saudi Arabia's support of Takfiris in Syria, terrorist activities in Iraq and Lebanon, Pakistan, Russia and even some European countries such as Serbia and Bosnia shows that a great threat [is jeopardising] the region's security"?

Well obviously, unless black is white, there must be two Saudi Arabias. There's the one described by the 2013 Human Rights Report Watch which says: "Saudi Arabia in 2012 stepped up arrests and trials of peaceful dissidents and responded with force to demonstrations by citizens. Authorities continue to suppress or fail to protect the rights of nine million Saudi women and girls and nine million foreign workers."

And there's the one which the Irish trade delegation has been visiting with its "moderate leadership" and desire for peace in the Middle East.

Keep up, people.

Similarly there are two Qatars. There is the one that Enda and Richard Bruton visited where the World Cup stadia for 2022 are being built. In an interview with Newstalk, Enterprise Minister Richard Bruton was all enthusiastic about the "exciting times" and "examples of progress and growth" in Qatar, as was Enda who says he thinks the stadia will be "world-class" and those working on them well cared for. "My assumption is that those who work internationally on such projects would have proper working conditions and proper facilities and I expect that to be the way," Bruton said when asked about migrant working conditions on the sites.

Over in the other Qatar, strangely enough, they're also getting ready for the 2022 World Cup, but things are rather different there. Last Sunday, an Amnesty International report condemned the "ruthless exploitation" of migrant workers in Qatar, saying that Qatar's construction industry is rife with abuse of migrant workers (90 per cent of Qatar's 1.9 million population) who are "treated like cattle" and live in "squalid accommodation". There have already been dozens of deaths, evidence of trafficking and slavery -- with the Human Rights Watch organisation describing Qatar as "a crucible of exploitation and misery". Phew, thank god Enda et al didn't go there! Wouldn't that have been embarrassing?

But, hang on. My 13-year-old has just consulted her atlas and confirmed to me that there are not, actually, two Saudi Arabias or two Qatars. There is just one of each. Ditto with Iran and the UAE.

What seems to have happened is that Enda, Richard, Eamon and all the other apparatchiks desperate to get investment from these despotic oil-rich nations, have mastered the art of "doublethink" (they started it earlier this year in China).

Doublethink (as described in Orwell's 1984) is a form of mental discipline necessary to all good Party members, whose goal is to believe two contradictory truths at the same time. Consequently War is Peace -- as in Saudi Arabia, Freedom is Slavery, as in Qatar, and Ignorance is Strength -- which perfectly describes all of us back here at home happy enough to believe the nonsense being spouted by our political representatives, as long as it proves financially beneficial to us.

So, in a week when Colm O'Gorman of Amnesty International Ireland wrote to the Taoiseach to "urgently seek clarification as to whether it is now this State's foreign policy that Ireland's trade interests will be allowed to trump its human rights commitments", we can also tell ourselves proudly -- as Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore did -- that "Ireland always raises human rights issues . . .", while quite blatantly doing nothing of the sort.

But then we are well practised in the art of doublethink; you could say it's part of our culture.

Irish Independent

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