April 07, 2007

The recompense for an injury is an injury equal thereto (in degree): but if a person forgives and makes reconciliation, his reward is due from Allah: for (Allah) loveth not those who do wrong.
The guerdon of an ill-deed is an ill the like thereof. But whosoever pardoneth and amendeth, his wage is the affair of Allah. Lo! He loveth not wrong-doers.
And the recompense of evil is punishment like it, but whoever forgives and amends, he shall have his reward from Allah; surely He does not love the unjust.

Ash-Shura 042.040

As with the capture of two Israeli soldiers which last year became the flashpoint of the Israeli-Hezbollah conflict on Lebanese soil, the capture of fifteen British sailors last month was a tactical negotiating ploy -- but toward a very different end. This time, the purpose was to draw a line in the water: not the still-disputed question of whether or not a British ship had strayed into Iran-sovereignty waters, but to demonstrate that Iran did not intend to be a passive observer of matters unfolding within its near neighbour.

What followed was a darkly amusing storm of third- and fourth-party diplomacy: in which, at least initially, neither country's representatives was speaking officially to the other after the initial mutual lecture exchange, but each was certainly monitoring what was said by the other to third-party "neutrals" such as Russia.

The British sailors probably did not have a good time of it. Most war captives don't. Still, unlike (probably, based on history) the captured Israeli soldiers, all the British sailors survived, and in very good condition for former captives of a borderline-active war. There will no doubt be much polarised political debate on whether the release demonstrated weakness by either side or appropriately applied diplomacy. There is as yet no surety that the incident will not yet escalate into a true war flashpoint. Certainly the sabre-rattling continues unabated.

But the release just in time for Easter, the gift of freedom offered during the very holiday of renewal that lies at the core of the religious divide between Christianity and Islam: ah, that was poetry indeed, and a coup of diplomatic brilliance -- and sanctioned by the Qur'an, no less.

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