Wednesday 4 July 2007

Free at last

This is fantastic news and for now the only possible response is (to appropriate Mrs T's infamous words on a very different occasion): rejoice, rejoice! Alan Johnston was characteristically gracious and generous in his first post-release interview, with Jim Naughtie on Radio 4 this morning, asking us not to forget other kidnap victims and journalists killed or held captive in the pursuit of truth.

Jeremy Bowen, the BBC's Middle East editor, speaking on the same programme, suggested that Hamas would be hoping to get a PR 'bounce' out of the affair, as they seem to have been responsible for engineering Johnston's release. I hope that doesn't happen. I can imagine that some would see these events as reinforcing their view that Hamas is a relatively 'moderate' Islamist movement that the West could (and should) do business with. But while we should certainly welcome any sign of new-found moderation on Hamas' part, another way of intepreting what's happened is as the result of one Islamist group strong-arming a rival gang (the Army of Islam) into doing its bidding. For now, though, let's celebrate the happy outcome for Alan and his family.

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