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The one-year-old activist: a lack of serious moral reflection (STR/AP)
The one-year-old activist: a lack of serious moral reflection (STR/AP)

Theodore Dalrymple

This was not a humanitarian voyage Add to ...

By chance arriving in Turkey the day after the Israelis intercepted the flotilla bound for Gaza, I was able to read the Turkish English-language press reaction. A rather obvious consideration escaped all the writers: That is, that it does not take more than 600 people to deliver humanitarian aid to isolated enclaves.

I was once on a humanitarian voyage to deliver all the sustenance for the city of Monrovia, Liberia, cut off from the rest of the world as it was by Charles Taylor's insurrection. I was not on a boat from the Ivory Coast to express my solidarity with the people of Monrovia; I was going there to write a book. The ship's captain was not a humanitarian, either; he was paid a huge fee by the international "community" for delivering goods in very dangerous circumstances.

Apart from the small crew, the only other people on board were a French adventurer, who hoped to get a contract to train a Liberian militia, and an ex-U.S. marine called Rambo, who spent his days on the lookout for an eagerly anticipated attack by pirates so he could make use of his training. It never happened.

We arrived at Monrovia and the boat was unloaded. No peace activists were necessary to do so. Indeed, 600 of them would have imposed a considerable burden on the fragile resources of the city. The 600 or so aboard the flotilla, then, were not humanitarians, any more than was I: They were propagandist adventurers.

On June 2, Today's Zaman, the English-language version of a Turkish newspaper, carried a photograph of a woman, Nilufer Cetin, who had travelled with the flotilla, and who had been returned to Turkey via Israel. In her arms was a one-year-old child, Kaan Turker Cetin, with a soother in his mouth, who had also been on board.

There was no commentary on the exposure of a child so young to a hazard such as his mother had deliberately exposed him to. On the contrary, the photograph was intended to illustrate the peaceful nature of the "peace activists." The propagandists hoped that, in the event of a disturbance, the public would fall for the following false syllogism:

Children aged 1 are innocent.

Children aged 1 were on the flotilla.

Therefore the flotilla was innocent.

The ploy probably worked. But this psychological transfer of the innocence of children to the innocence of the activities on which they are deployed by their parents is horrible, partaking equally as it does of the mirror-image qualities of sentimentality and brutality.

The "peace activists" are not, of course, the only ones to enlist children in their cause. It is common practice to do so. In democratic countries, for example, politicians often parade their children on platforms, as if the freshness and innocence of the children were somehow evidence of their own freshness and innocence.

How many vile dictators have had themselves portrayed as the friends of children? We all know the pictures of Hitler receiving flowers from pretty little girls, who cannot possibly know the nature of the man they are giving them to. Indeed, the juxtaposition of child and politician is much more likely to be a sign of utter lack of scruple and of ruthlessness than it is of the reverse.

Whenever, then, I see a demonstration, even in a cause to which I might otherwise be sympathetic, in which demonstrators have children on their shoulders, I am appalled. My objection is not just at the emotional kitschiness of it, but at the lack of serious moral reflection by those who do it.

Such blindness is often found in unexpected places. In Homage to Catalonia, for example, George Orwell's book about the Spanish Civil War, there are several references to the use of children on the Republican side. Orwell's only comment on this is that it is counterproductive, since children make ineffective soldiers; the moral dimension escapes him altogether. (His failure to comment on it is real blindness, not a manifestation of literary asceticism to avoid moralizing. Orwell had few inhibitions about moralizing.)

Be this as it may, by no means every Turk fell for the transferred innocence from child to cause. Many understood that the whole episode was a put-up job for internal political purposes, among other things to bind the ardently secularist Turkish military to the non-secularist government. Little Kaan Turker Cetin was but a pawn in this game.

Theodore Dalrymple is a British writer and retired politician.

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