Remembering Thatcher

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The reactions and tributes to Margaret Thatcher’s death have, perhaps above all else, illustrated the way in which modern conservatives have emptied the words ‘freedom’ and ‘liberty’ of all meaning and importance.  “The world has lost a true champion of freedom and democracy,” claimed Nancy Reagan.  “She believed in the power of liberty, individual freedom and the rule of law,” Virginia Bottomley said.  “The freedom of the individual stood at the core of her beliefs,” claimed Germany’s own Iron Lady, Angela Merkel.

It wasn’t just modern conservatives that celebrated Thatcher’s achievements.  President Obama, for example, lauded Thatcher as “one of the great champions of freedom and liberty.”  However, I believe that citizens of countries like Pakistan, Chile, Saudi Arabia, Indonesia, Iraq and South Africa may disagree with the President’s statement.  The inconvenient truth for Thatcher apologetics is that the freedom-enforcer, democracy-defender Iron Lady was a close friend and admirer of the thugs, thieves, despots and racists who ruled over those nations in the 1980s.

“In Pakistan, Margaret Thatcher was best known for support General Zia ul Haq’s military dictatorship” tweeted Time Magazine’s Pakistan correspondent Omar Waraich yesterday referring to Thatcher’s anticommunist alliance with Pakistan’s vicious, Islamist dictator.  In a speech at a banquet by Zia in 1981, Thatcher praised the general’s “courage and skill” and toasted “the health and happiness of His Excellency.”  She made no reference to the need for democracy in the nation.

Consider also that fact that we now know that the Thatcher administration began selling arms or “non-lethal equipment” (as they called it) that just so happened to include spare parts for tanks and fighter jets to Iraq in 1981.  Several years later, after the Baathist dictator deployed chemical weapons in his now-notorious attack on the Kurdish town of Halabja, Thatcher did not simply turn a blind eye to the atrocity; she and her ministers actively played down reports about the incident.

This, I suppose, is how liberty is championed and liberty is secured.  Even then, there’s the apartheid that occurred in South Africa, where millions of black people were denied the most basic of liberties, and yet this British champion of liberty had little to offer by way of support.  “Thatcher resisted global efforts to isolate apartheid-era South Africa, including by vetoing sanctions” wrote the Washington Post’s foreign affairs blogger max Fisher the other day.  “Though she opposed apartheid as a policy, she still supported the government that implemented it.”

And who can forget her description of Nelson Mandela’s ANC as a “typical terrorist organization”?  Is it any wonder then that Dali Tambo, son of the former ANC president Oliver Tambo, told the Guardian “It’s quite likely that when Margaret Thatcher reaches the pearly gates, the ANC will boycott the occasion.”  It’s a shame, he noted, “that we could never call her one of the champions of the liberation struggle.”

Apologetics for the Iron Lady tend to excuse such shameful and anti-democratic behavior by their heroine by citing the fall of the Cold War and the struggle against Soviet communism.  Such arguments are both disingenuous and unconvincing.  They don’t, for a start, explain Thatcher’s detrimental foreign policy in other countries.  Neither do they excuse her harmful domestic policy.

The sad truth regarding Margaret Thatcher is that her death, while tragic, does not rewrite history.  Her administration still stopped councils from using cash from the sale of properties to build new homes, effectively jump-starting the housing crisis in the UK.  Selfish, reckless greed was still unleashed in the City of London while the rest of the country endured mass unemployment.

To some, Margaret Thatcher will be remembered as a hero, as a champion of freedom that fought for what is right.  However, to the citizens that were actually affected by her monstrous policies, she was a greedy, tyrannical leader.  Her death is unfortunate, but it is imperative that we remember her as what she actually was, instead of distorting the past.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official position of the Parkway School District.

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