Wednesday 4 July 2018

Where are those 'values' again?

Despite the restrictions placed on Parliament’s Intelligence and Security Committee by an overly secretive government about who they could question and what they could question them about, the committee managed to produce a damning report last week about the extent of British complicity in the rendition and torture of suspects by US agencies.  It’s easy, of course, for the MPs (and for me, sitting comfortable well away from the events) to be horrified at what was done and at the apparent complacency of those acting in our name.  And there are the inevitable calls for action to be taken.
But for me, the real underlying lesson of all of this wasn’t that there are rogue individuals, condoning and participating in activities which they knew to be wrong.  It is, rather, about the thinness of the veneer of civilisation, and how easy it is for people to simply ‘fall in’ with whatever is being done.  Unacceptable actions become – or perhaps it might be more appropriate to say ‘appear to become’ - acceptable when those involved are under pressure to produce results or to work with 'allies' who have a different attitude or approach. 
It isn’t the first time in human history that we’ve seen people simply slip into a way of operating or take a lead from their superiors.  And it won’t be the last either.  But amongst the recriminations and justifiable criticisms of a failure of leadership, we should also reflect on what it tells us about how deeply those infamous ‘British values’ which the politicians keep banging on about are – or rather, are not – ingrained.  It turns out that, when push comes to shove, they’re actually pretty superficial - more talked about than adhered to.

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