How will history remember this week? Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city, was seized by ISIS, an army of fanatics who like crucifying people, among other activities, and who reportedly have British Muslims among their ranks. This was more evidence that Iraq — far from flowering into a beautiful democracy after the allied invasion of 2003 — has descended into bedlam. Again. Well done us.
And what was the British Foreign Secretary doing as the black flags went up across Mosul? He was in London, at the Excel centre, hosting a three-day conference with Angelina Jolie and a gang of other luvvies about sexual violence. Hague and Jolie agreed that rape must not be used as a ‘weapon of war’ – and vowed to do everything possible to stop sex abuse in conflict.
Down with rape. Not exactly a bold position, is it? You don’t hear many people saying, ‘Do you know, I don’t think rape in war is all bad.’ And I don’t imagine the violators of women in the Lord’s Resistance Army will change their ways because of Angelina Jolie.
Rape is vile, obviously, and rape as a weapon of war worse still. Hague has vowed to give £6 million towards helping survivors of sexual violence and the British government will help Nigeria combat Boko Haram. So phew, it wasn’t all hot air. Nevertheless, the whole Angelina and William sex and violence tour — they have appeared together all over the world, promoting the same message — does look more like an exercise in celebrity self-gratification than anything else; tragedy transmuted into narcissism. There was a hashtag — #timetoact — so that lots of people could raise awareness and feel good about themselves at the same time. There were lots of press opportunities — rape is a good headline word — and artwork: an upside-down passenger airplane, for instance, represented the suffering and bewilderment that victims of sex violence feel. Meanwhile, in Iraq, ISIS were performing their own conceptual art: carrying out beheadings and posting videos of it on the web.
You can’t blame Hague for Mosul — though as opposition leader he did support the disastrous invasion — and it’s deluded to think of British Foreign Secretaries as super-heroes, flying around the world being a force for good. Hague has ruled out British re-intervention in Iraq this week, and that seems reasonable, given what interference has already wrought. But if one were looking for a symbol of western vanity and stupidity, it would be hard to beat the sight of William Hague and a beautiful actress, posing for cameras, repeating and repeating that sexual violence in conflict is terrible and must be stopped, while far away, in a country we invaded and now want to forget, people were being crucified and beheaded — and probably raped, too.