Held to Ransom

August 22, 2014 — Leave a comment

Regular readers will know I am a firm believer in compromise, the “choose your battle” scenario practiced daily by parents worldwide. It is sometimes regarded as giving in, as allowing the other party to win. I have never thought it such.

It is though an art, and one I believe learnt particularly well when on the global trail. Expatriates deal with cultural anomalies the entire time spent away from their passport country. I use the word ‘anomaly’ carefully, as anything that is out of the norm for anyone, whether host or visitor, is an anomaly. The host country is under no obligation to change their customs to suit their visitors. If we wish to be a guest in another’s country it behoves us to respect the general mores of that country; while at the same time attempting to effect change from within on cultural practices that are, in the global sense, deemed to be cruel and degrading, and dangerous, to elements of society – female genital mutilation, kidnapping and training children to be soldiers, refusing to educate girls, beheading and so on all come to mind.

It is the last example, beheading, that has got me thinking today about compromise and I find myself yet again, to use that wonderful Scottish word, swithering. Flipping back and forth between thoughts and beliefs – elements contradicting each other.

If there is a way to negotiate, which in essence is to compromise with each player coming away reasonably content with the decision, surely every avenue should be explored. Why then do I feel so strongly that countries should not, under any circumstances, compromise and pay ransoms or give in to demands from militants of any persuasion?

I can only imagine the grief and anguish the family and friends of James Foley have been through since his second kidnapping, and subsequent beheading – murder by any other name. It was apparently accepted by those-in-the-know that the demand, received by email in November 2013, for 100 million euros and the release of Muslim prisoners was wholly untenable, even as an opening gambit. (The AP reports ransoms believed recently to have been paid by various countries have been in the region of 2 to 4 million euros).  According to Philip Balboni, the CEO of Global Post, the organisation for which Mr Foley freelanced, after a brief exchange of emails the line went cold until recently.

No ransom or prisoner release was agreed in Mr Foley’s case. Why then was an army sergeant, Bowe Bergdahl, a prisoner in Afghanistan for five years, exchanged for five Taliban leaders imprisoned at Guantanamo? The exchange, according to the US Government Accountability Offices, deemed illegal.

Apart from begging the question of why one life is more worthy of saving than another, surely such an exercise opens the door for other extremists. The paying of ransoms or giving in to any demands, no matter whether done privately or with tacit governmental approval, is feeding Hydra. Giving in to extremists, whether pirates along the Horn of Africa, religious fanatics or political foes, is enabling them to continue their reign of terror.

In 1988 Margaret Thatcher, (Hansard HC [143/173-86]) responded to a question regarding the possibility of the British government obtaining ‘k and r’ insurance by saying, “we must have agreement across countries that that (kidnapping and ransom) is not acceptable.” In 2013, the G8 (with Russia’s recent exclusion now the G7) pledged to never pay ransom demands. In January of this year, Britain and the US secured a similar resolution from the UN Security Council. And yet it is apparently widely believed by security, and other, experts that ransom demands have been met in a number of instances.

I am fortunate to never having been faced with such a terrible dilemma, but in the case of ransom demands I can’t believe compromise is for the universal good.

And so it appears one of the tenets of my global life is called into question, my stance on compromise is very obviously compromised.

 

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