Consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, so perhaps it is petty to complain that the presence of the Palestinian terrorist Leila Khaled in Britain, to address a meeting of students at London University’s prestigious School of Oriental and African Studies, undermines Britain’s claim of iron commitment to the anti-terrorist cause.

For a time, Khaled was the most famous airplane hijacker in the world. In 1969, she took part in the hijacking of a TWA flight that was diverted to Damascus. She escaped by sneaking on to the same bus that carried away the hijacked passengers. She did not give up after her escape. In 1970, she attempted to hijack an El Al flight, which made an emergency landing at London’s Heathrow Airport. Authorities arrested her, and she spent four weeks in prison but was then freed in exchange for a hostage held by the Palestinians.

Now Khaled is back in England’s green and pleasant land. To do her justice, she is not a turncoat to her cause. She told the meeting at SOAS (packed, of course, as you’d expect) that there were no suicide bombers, only freedom fighters. The fact that freedom is not a conspicuous aspect of the political culture of the part of the world from which she comes seems to have escaped her.

It is possible that the immigration department simply made a mistake in allowing Khaled back into Britain: after all, it makes very little except mistakes. But the eagerness with which SOAS invited Khaled is both alarming and depressingly unsurprising. After all, the trahison des clercs has to attach itself to something: without betrayal of some ideal or other, many intellectuals would feel bereft of a purpose in life. With the departure of communism from the world stage, middle-eastern terrorism is an obvious home for those who gain their self-importance by supporting the insupportable.

Khaled’s presence in Britain illustrates by analogy the truth of Lenin’s famous dictum: “The Capitalists will sell us the rope with which we will hang them.”


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