Mission & Name
US Foreign Policy (Dr. El-Najjar's Articles)
A Kuffiya for Tony Benn:
Warrior Who 'Matured with Age'
By Ramzy Baroud
Al-Jazeerah, CCUN, March 24, 2014
Long before the Boycott, Sanctions and Divestment campaign inched
slowly from the fringes of global solidarity with Palestinians to take
center stage, Tony Benn had been advocating a boycott of Israel with
unrestricted conviction, for years.
“Britain should offer its
support for this strategy by stopping all arms sales to Israel,
introducing trade sanctions and a ban on all investment there together
with a boycott of Israeli goods here and make it a condition for the
lifting of these measures that Israel complies with these demands at
once,” Benn wrote in his blog on April 19, 2002, under the title "A STATE
OF PALESTINE NOW". The ‘strategy’ of which Ben spoke was for Arafat to
declare a state, and for ‘friendly nations’ to recognize it.
the title was all in caps. It was as if Benn, a principled British left
wing politician, had wanted to loudly accentuate his insistence that the
Palestinian people deserved their rights, freedom and sovereignty. He was
as bold and courageous as any man or woman of true values and principles
should always be. He remained uncompromising in matters of human rights
and justice. This international warrior left a challenging space to fill
when he passed away at the age of 88, on Thursday, March 13.
Following the news of his death, British media was awash of reports about
Benn and his long legacy of being a stubborn politician and uncompromising
advocate for human rights. Frankly, there was less emphasis on the latter
and much more on the former, despite the fact that Benn understood
politics was a platform to quarrel with moral dilemmas. The parliament was
a platform to serve the people, not to conspire with other politicians for
the sake of one’s party. For some politicians, it is all about winning
elections, not using office to carry out a morally-grounded mandate to
serve the people. Benn was different, thus there was the love-hate
relationship Britain had with him.
True to form, British media
immediately conjured up a few buzzwords by which it attempted to define
Benn’s legacy. He had ‘immatured with age,” was one of them. It was a
remark made by Benn’s fiercest rival in the Labor Party, Harold Wilson in
reference to Benn’s becoming more of a radical left-winger as he grew
older. Some in the media simply love axioms and catch phrases, for it
spares journalists the pain of exhaustive research. Wilson and his camp
invested heavily in assigning Benn the responsibility of the successive
defeats experienced by the Labor Party at the hands of the Conservatives.
Indeed, Margaret Thatcher and then John Major had won four elections in a
row, and between them changed the face of British economy and quashed
major labor unions. But blaming Benn for splitting the party is unfair to
say the least.
Compare Tony Benn’s legacy with that of Tony Blair.
The first was principled to the core, boldly challenged US hegemony in the
world, and fought hard for Britain’s poor, working class and against
unhindered globalization that made states vulnerable to the inherent
disparity of the global economic system.
Blair stood for the exact
opposite: a self-serving politician, devoid of any morality, and was
rightly dubbed Bush’s poodle for heeding to the US military adventurism,
mainly in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Benn, even from the point of view
of those who disagreed with him, was always seen, and shall always be
remembered as a man of high values. Blair had been districted by his own
peers even before he was forced to concede office. One can imagine that
Israeli media is the one likely to remember Blair with much fondness.
Although Benn seemed guided by the same high moral values that accompanied
him throughout the over 50 years in which he served as an MP in the
British parliament, when he retired in 2001, he seemed ready to take on
even bigger challenges. His task morphed from that of a fierce politician
at home, fighting for the very definition of the Labor Party, to an
internationalist, taking on the most difficult of subjects, and never
Following the US-British so-called ‘war on terror’ –
designed around economic and strategic interests – Benn rose to greater
prominence, not as another TV celebrity ‘expert’, but as a fierce
opponent to the US and his own government’s wholesale slaughter of
hundreds of thousands of innocent people. Since then, the man never stayed
away from the streets. He spoke with passion and mesmerized audiences in
his beautiful, immaculate English. Most important about the timing of
Benn’s courageous stances was the fact that back then, all public
discourses related to the wars were saturated with fear. But, whenever
Benn spoke, he pushed the narrative up to higher degrees of audacity.
I listened to him once speak at Trafalgar Square in London. He wore a
Kuffiya, the traditional Palestinian headscarf. He spoke of Iraq, Lebanon
and Palestine, as if their peoples were his own. Thousands of us applauded
with so much enthusiasm. It was as if his words alone were the salvation
that would free Arab nations from the bondage of military occupation and
war. But at times, words live in a sphere of their own where they
multiply, and when repeated often enough, can change the world.
“The main responsibility for the appalling crimes being perpetrated
against the Palestinians must be equally shared between Jerusalem and
Washington for successive American governments have funded Israel, armed
Israel and used their veto at the Security Council to protect Israel from
being forced to comply with what world opinion wanted,” he said in 2003,
in an interview with Egypt-based Al Ahram.
True, Benn was not the
only British politician who spoke with such candor about the shared
responsibility of crimes committed against Palestinians, but few went as
far as he did.
The next time there is a rally for Palestine, there
ought to be an empty chair with a Palestinian Kuffiya, and the name of
Tony Benn. It is a Palestinian tradition to honor its heroes, even those
with a splendidly beautiful British accent.
- Ramzy Baroud is an
internationally-syndicated columnist, a media consultant, an author and
the editor of PalestineChronicle.com. He is a PhD candidate at the
University of Exeter, UK. His latest book is “My Father Was a Freedom
Fighter: Gaza’s Untold Story” (Pluto Press, London).