Sorry seems to be the easiest word

Britain was the first country in history to abolish the slave trade. But western self-hatred runs deep and David Cameron wants to say sorry for causing all the world's ills. The British Prime Minister should apologise for having apologised.

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Cameron's mea culpa was greeted with confusion in Britain
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Robin Simcox
On 6 April 2011 22:00

I rarely have the compulsion to apologise for something I had nothing to do with. I have even less compulsion to apologise for something that happened when I wasn’t alive. The same does not seem to apply to the British political class. When it comes to spurious apologies, British prime ministers seemingly cannot get enough of it.

The two previous Labour prime ministers were very different in many ways, but both had a fetish for admonishing themselves over things that did not concern them, while refusing to acknowledge things they actually had done wrong.

Tony Blair had barely moved into Number 10 before he apologized for the UK’s role in the Irish potato famine. He then asked for forgiveness over Britain’s role in the slave trade, glossing over the fact that we were the first country in history to ban it. Not to be outdone, Gordon Brown then apologized for sending child migrants to colonies where they suffered abuse. So clearly no guilt was felt over leading Britain to the brink of economic ruin, entirely mismanaging immigration, or fighting two wars on a peace-time budget. Instead it was all reserved for child abuse in Canada in 1920.

The latest mea culpa comes from David Cameron, who recently said in Pakistan that he does not want to get involved in the Kashmir issue because he does not “want to try to insert Britain in some leading role where, as with so many of the world’s problems, we are responsible for the issue in the first place.”

Distilling the myriad problems in that region so it is just the fault of the Brits is some feat – and one not many jihadis do, let alone the prime minister of Great Britain.

Mr. Cameron clearly thinks he is currying favour in Pakistan by making such a comment. Yet it is highly doubtful that there is a Pakistani demographic out there that used to despise Britain only to change its minds because it saw Cameron accept blame for the Kashmir dispute. All Cameron’s actions do is foster the already pretty substantial grievance mindset in that part of the world.

It is, perhaps, not very fashionable to say that part of Britain’s legacy in Pakistan is actually pretty admirable – parliamentary democracy, for example (at least when they’re so inclined to take it up). So instead, let’s just look at the amount of money Britain is willing to donate at a time when the nation is flat broke.

The government doubled its aid there to 480 million pounds ($780 million) in 2008. It pledged 134 million pounds ($220 million) in response to the floods, and has just tripled its aid to Pakistani education – a figure which could reach 650 million pounds ($1 billion). Such figures barely seem to impact on the mindset of the modern politician convinced of the inherent wickedness of his nation’s past. As Pascal Bruckner says in his 'The Tyranny of Guilt':

"Nothing is more Western than hatred of the West, that passion for cursing and lacerating ourselves. The suspicion that hovers over our most brilliant successes always threatens to degenerate into facile defeatism... it devours itself in a kind of self-cannibalism and takes a morose pleasure in annihilating itself. Thus we Euro-Americans are supposed to have only one obligation: endlessly atoning for what we have inflicted on other parts of humanity... Evil can only come from us; other people are motivated by sympathy, good will, candor."

The danger is that this western self-hatred will begin to impact on policy even more than it currently does. Follow Cameron’s logic through to its natural end point and Britain would barely be able to involve itself anywhere ever again. Does our involvement in Afghanistan in the 19th century invalidate the British presence there in 2011? Does British policy in 1917 mean that we have no right to involve ourselves in resolving Israel-Palestine, an issue used to persuade young British Muslims of the worthiness of the jihad?

This would be patently absurd, as Mr. Cameron must realise. So perhaps too much is being read into one comment that he made at the end of a question and answer session. If so, he should clear up what he actually meant as soon as possible. Perhaps it is time for an apology after all?

Robin Simcox is a Research Fellow at The Henry Jackson Society, a British-based foreign policy think tank
 

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