The Easter Parliamentary recess saw some dramatic events unfold. The first of course was the Royal Wedding. And what a celebration it was! Not only were we able to snoop on a young couple’s wedding but a real sense of Britishness was revived throughout the Realm.
The death of Diana, Princess of Wales, in 1997, was a low point for the British monarchy. The Royal family, understandably, retreated behind a fortress of protocol as the public mood around them grew hostile. Those that gathered outside Kensington Palace to pay their last respects seemed to be yearning for a less formal monarchy, a more emotionally responsive one that Diana had come to represent. Tony Blair, the new Prime Minister, understood this, and quickly tapped into this new public mood. The Palace, however, was slower to respond.
All that has now changed. And never was it more evident than the hangover from the party the night before. The tone set today is a completely different one. The monarchy has adapted to the times as it always does, you might even say for its own survival. Just look at the balloons being pulled behind the Aston Martin. Look at the close family William has married into. The Britain of today may be no less equal than it was in Diana’s day, and yes we still have problems with social justice in this country, but it is, instinctively, a far more egalitarian place to live than it was. The Royal Wedding showed the world that Britain was a confident nation once again, one that was essentially classless in aspiration. And our new relationship with monarchy has shown us that modernity and tradition can comfortably co-exist.
The other dramatic news was the execution of Osama Bin Laden which ended a ten year man hunt. Bin Laden had ignited the war between the West and the Muslim World with the deadliest terrorist attack in history. As one commentator put it, ‘when evil goes unpunished, justice, peace and reconciliation remain blighted in its shadow’. Bin Laden was a fanatical megalomaniac who set himself up as an arbiter of Islam and an instrument of death. He was the world’s most wanted man because of his perverted vision of global faith in which he found an excuse for the random killing of innocent people. Like all monsters in history, he articulated his barbarism with a charisma that appealed to thousands of deluded followers.
But his execution also brings with it the risk of revenge attacks. I think we can expect an upsurge of violence inspired by the “martyrdom” of Bin Laden. We must be ready for this. In the long term we must hope the dismantling of this network, made possible by the death of its founder, will ensure the slow decline of Al Qaeda as a terrorist organisation.
We also saw the dramatic spiral of violence in Syria and the determination of its ruler Basher Assad to crush peaceful opposition. It is a bleak reminder of how far the Arab Spring has yet to go. I have visited Syria twice and met President Assad on both occasions. I came away thinking that the ruling circle around him and the security apparatus inherited from his father were in fact the real powers that controlled Syria. It was Assad’s father, Hafez Assad, remember, who ruthlessly killed 20,000 people in a revolt in 1982. So the precedent has been dangerously set.
Syria is a regional nuisance politically. It can put spokes in just about every wheel in the Middle East, from Iran to Iraq, to Lebanon, to Israel. That is why it needs watching. But should we intervene as we did in Libya? In my opinion definitely not. Most Libyans live on a thin coastal strip connected by one big road that can be policed from the air; Syria’s geography, which is what makes it powerful, is far more complex. Also, Colonel Qaddafi is far more isolated and loathed by fellow Arabs than Mr Assad is. The Arab League, the UN Security Council and numerous Libyans have all endorsed the Western assault on Libya. They would not come together over a move to militarily intervene into Syria. We may find that Turkey, a rising power in the region, has the most clout; it is one of Syria’s main trading partners. They, with our backing, should press Assad to call off the tanks and give his people a democratic future.