Tuesday, August 25, 2015 

Being right about the Iraq war has made Sarah Ditum insufferable.

I, like Sarah Ditum, was against the Iraq war.  I, like Ditum, focused on the potential for war to the detriment of everything else, with the exception of one thing.  I was a few years younger than Ditum, but otherwise the picture she paints is highly recognisable.  Perhaps I wouldn't go as far to say that it gave me an overwhelming sense of moral superiority, as it didn't, mainly because I'm rarely 100% certain about anything.  I definitely hoped that other people I admired would be anti-war too though.

Which is where we must separate.  I long ago reached the point of being bored senseless by Iraq; there are only so many times the same arguments can be regurgitated, the same realities ignored, the same mistakes repeated before you lose the will to carry on.  I might not feel morally superior for it, but I'm more convinced than ever that Iraq will come to be seen as the defining disaster of early 21st century foreign policy.  It's just that there seems little to no point whatsoever in acting high and mighty about it, or reminding everyone just how right you were, precisely because most other people who were also energised and enraged by the build up to the war are now also in a similar position.  Shutting the fuck up about Iraq is something I would have advised everyone to do, or at least would have done prior to the rise of Islamic State.

For the reason that you can't talk about Islamic State without recognising where the group came from.  Islamic State owes its existence to the Iraq war, even if its existence can hardly be wholly blamed on the West as some would like to.  Al-Qaida probably had at best a handful of members in Iraq prior to the invasion.  Afterwards, thanks to the Americans and our good selves deciding it would be a spiffing idea to carry on with an occupation that was doomed from the start, foreign Sunni extremists, domestic Islamists and nationalists/Ba'athists opposed to the foreign presence swiftly made common cause and so began the insurgency.  The forerunners to Islamic State changed name repeatedly, seemed on a couple of occasions on the brink of defeat, but thanks to mistakes by the Western-backed Iraqi government, were never degraded completely.  It's a very long way from the bombing of the UN building in August 2003 to the destruction of the Baal temple in Palmyra in Syria in August 2015, but the two outrages are connected.

No, what Ditum seems to be describing is, once again, and as Flying Rodent has also pointed out, her own private Idaho.  The left she's talking about and identifies is the same one trapped in the social media echo chamber, the one where as fellow New Statesman columnist Helen Lewis has recently identified, appearing right on is more important than actually being so when it matters.  I mean really, Media Lens?  I too quite liked them back between around 2003-2006, then lost interest once it became apparent they believed their real enemies to be the few mainstream outlets in this country that are even vaguely left-wing.  It's very easy to be snotty about Twitter, especially when you're someone who has always refused to have anything to do with it, but it undoubtedly can and has made some even more parochial in their interests and selective in precisely what information they rely on.

Ditum's real point, more really than Iraq, is about how this relatively small cross-section of people are among the most vocal in supporting Jeremy Corbyn.  They no doubt are, and considering that the SNP have long been some of the most noisy in making known their opposition to the war, despite having done very little at the time about it, it's not surprising that some of these same people were not like us marching around our miserable little town centres knowing full well it was pointless.  Mainly because plenty of them were, like Mhairi Black, not even into double figures age wise at the time.  That's how long ago it was, even if it doesn't feel like it.

Iraq does and at the same time doesn't matter.  It doesn't matter because the vast majority have long since grown bored of it, or if they aren't exasperated by its mere mention they don't base their decisions when it comes to voting on something that happened 13 years ago.  And yet, it does matter, not because there is this noisy minority that overwhelmingly supports Corbyn, some of whom regarded Iraq as the ultimate betrayal and have been holding out for a hero ever since, but because it's Corbyn's largely irrelevant attitudes towards foreign policy, at least from a Labour leadership standpoint, that have been where most of the mud thrown at him has been found.

The reason this especially seems to enrage his online opponents is that unlike them, he's been able to make common course with groups or individuals that are rightly controversial, in this instance ones that have either made anti-Semitic comments or are definitively anti-Semitic, and yet it hasn't damaged him.  It doesn't seem to occur this is because Corbyn himself is not racist in the slightest, and that the best explanation for his continuing to attend Deir Yassin Remembered meetings or speak at a conference organised by a front organisation for the LaRouche group is down to not checking out their credentials properly or naivety, alongside his general friendliness towards any organisation that seems on the surface at least to share his views.  Also, unlike them, his willingness to not instantly condemn any group in the search for peace, his experience with the IRA having informed this approach, rankles more than anything.  Ideological purity is always important regardless of whether it's the far left or the Labour right involved in the whatabouttery.

Except, of course, it's not Corbyn's anti-war position on Iraq that has led him to associate with most of these accused individuals and groups, but his stance on Palestine, as Ditum must know.  Iraq has very little to nothing to do with his rise in the contest; as Andy Burnham has recognised, the real reason for Corbyn's surge was the welfare vote.  As I related yesterday, only 2 people at the Burnham question and answer session mentioned Iraq, one of them a Tory, the other asking not about Iraq specifically but mentioning it in regard to conviction.  If anything, Corbyn telling the Graun he would issue a general apology for the Iraq war was a response to the Labour figures that have made so much of his views on foreign policy, pointing out the ridiculousness of such people lecturing others over what is and isn't acceptable.

Ditum is right that being right about Iraq is not a good enough foundation for political life, but Corbyn isn't relying on it as his foundation in any case.  The question ought to be what is preferable, knowing what we do now: is remaining an interventionist by instinct going to count in your favour when we have not just Iraq, but also Libya to judge by?  Is bombing in Syria as well as Iraq, as it is after all worth remembering that technically we are currently involved in the third Iraq war, really going to alter anything, especially when we seem to have just abandoned the Kurds in favour of the Turks?  Has in fact our belief that we have the "responsibility to protect" undermined both national and international security, making our protests against Russia's annexation of the Crimea and parts of eastern Ukraine even easier for Putin and other imperialists to ignore?  And isn't much of the insufferable banging on about Iraq in any case not about what went wrong at all levels of government, what mistakes everyone involved made, but in fact about one man, who has become just as much the scapegoat for the failings of all concerned, driving force as he was?  Indeed, shouldn't we truly learn the lessons of Iraq, as we clearly still haven't, before condemning a small group of annoyingly self-righteous people whose politics have been defined by it?

Labels: , , , , , , ,

Share |

Tuesday, August 11, 2015 

Turkey PM: Syria no-Kurd zone needed.

The Turkish prime minister has told the BBC that Turkey will continue pushing for a no-Kurd zone in northern Syria, as the Turkish government is quite frankly that evil.

"It's fairly remarkable what you can get away with so long as you claim to be against Islamic State," Ahmet Davutoglu told yet another bloke called Jeremy.  "We've bombed almost precisely two supposed Islamic State targets since Islamic State killed a bunch of socialist teenagers that frankly we're better off without.  Once that was out of the way we've targeted the Kurds exclusively.  Yes, those are the same Kurds that have been the only truly effective ground force against Islamic State other than the Syrian army.  Confused?  You shouldn't be."

"You see, we're so utterly myopic that we fear the Kurds far more than we do Islamic State.  The Kurds are represented mainly by liberals, leftists, secularists, people that we in the AKP utterly loathe and detest.  Islamic State we can do business with, at least until they decide to extend their caliphate to Istanbul and Ankara, whereas the Kurds merely want their own state, not to go on expanding and subjugating everyone in their path.  You can see our way of thinking, right?"

"Not that it's surprising so many are still so utterly ignorant about all this.  Natalie Nougayrède (crazy name, crazy gal?!) in the Guardian is still pushing the line that if only Barack Obama had let Hillary Clinton arm the moderate Syrian rebels then Assad might just have been forced into peace negotiations.  This of course ignores the fact that Western governments from the outset said Assad had to go, that Saudis, Qataris and Kuwaitis were quickly funnelling money and weapons to jihadists and that still the thinking remains that a stalemate is preferable to either Assad or Islamic State winning outright, hence why nothing has changed on that score, but it's the kind of argument you've come to expect.  No wonder hardly anyone minds when we start killing the only people involved who aren't fanatical sectarians."

In other news:

Labels: , , ,

Share |

Tuesday, July 28, 2015 

Preventing "bad boys" from becoming dead boys.

Last week's horrific suicide bombing in Suruc, near to the Turkish-Syria border, looks to have been the last straw for both the Kurds and Turkey alike.  Blamed on Islamic State, although for once the group has not claimed responsibility for the attack, the bomber, believed to have been a 20-year-old Kurd, targeted a press conference being held by the Socialist Party of the Oppressed's youth wing.  The conference had been meant to publicise a trip by some of the group's members to help in the rebuilding of Kobani, the Syrian city Islamic State failed to capture despite it at one point seeming to have been abandoned to its fate by everyone other than the Kurds themselves.

As with the civil war in Syria as a whole, conspiracy theories and grievances about the Turkish authorities' seeming connivance with jihadists fighting in Syria have long circled among the Kurds, embittered by how Ankara has continued to see them as more of a threat than Islamic State.  Whether there was any kind of collusion with the Suruc bomber, or more likely a simple failure of intelligence, the PKK, the Kurdish separatist group, responded to the bombing by killing 2 police officers.  In turn, Turkey has launched bombing raids in both Syria and Iraq, attacking both Islamic State targets and those of the Kurds who just happen to be fighting IS.  A deal between Turkey and the Americans for the use of two military bases close to the Syrian border, long previously resisted, has also been struck.  Whether this amounts to an abandonment of the Kurds in favour of more active Turkish involvement as yet remains to be seen.  It does however underline the double games being played by so many of the actors involved, almost always to the detriment of either civilians or the very few groups that have relatively clean hands.

Much comment here has predictably focused on the news that of the five men who travelled together from Portsmouth in October 2013 to fight in Syria, only Mashudur Choudhury, who returned shortly afterwards, unable to adjust to life in a war zone, remains alive.  Just how ideologically inclined the men were really were remains difficult to properly ascertain; Choudhury certainly was less a committed jihadi and more a pathetic man with delusions of religious grandeur, soon brought back down to earth by the reality.  That the rest did stay, and one at least contacted the ubiquitous researcher Shiraz Maher, telling him of the mundane duties required of a lowly fighter with the Islamic State, while still believing in the group's cause, would suggest not just a belief in defending fellow Sunni Muslims, but also in the rest of the IS system.  When you then also think of how such men would have probably delighted in the slaughter in Suruc, where a group that believes in everything Islamic State detests was cut down for wanting to help their victims, it's difficult not to reach the simple conclusion that the only good jihadi is a dead jihadi. 

Except I also can't help but see the tragedy, the utter waste of life, the contradictions contained within those five men, the "Pompey Lads", the "al-Britani Brigade Bangladeshi Bad Boys".  Identity and the search for it is rightly pinpointed as being key to understanding why some British-born Muslims have gone to fight in Syria, and yet these men didn't want to dispense with their identity, they also embraced it.  They didn't call themselves lions, or apply any other self-aggrandising Islamic labels to themselves, but identified as being from a small town, from Britain and as having Bangladeshi heritage.  The "Bad Boys" part meanwhile speaks of their immaturity, as does how apart from Choudhury, who ironically despite being the oldest was the most immature, none of the other four had any real responsibilities.  All they had was either university to come or apparent dead end jobs to exist through.  It's less surprising to learn one craved martyrdom when the only other identifier he had was as a supervisor at Primark.

What they also had was each other, and it's well known how group dynamics and peer pressure play a major role in the reinforcing of thinking that would otherwise be questioned and challenged.  What also has to be remembered is that in October 2013 the myth of a moderate opposition was still being espoused, as was support for the rebels against Assad in general.  Whether the two who were killed in the fighting for Kobani believed in that cause as fervently as the one they travelled for we don't know; what we do know is the longer someone stays, the harder it is to return, especially when they must have known that Choudhury had been prosecuted and jailed for not much more than merely going to Syria.  If the family of Muhammad Mehdi Hassan are to be believed, the youngest of the group at 19 had wanted to come home when he was killed.

Too bad, you might think, and it is hard to have any sympathy for those who fought alongside or may themselves have taken part in mass killings or the almost beyond imaginable abuse of Yazidi women.  At the same time, there has to be some way for those who have gone to Syria and either want to return or have returned to reintegrate into society.  This is in everyone's best interests: not only are returnees potentially the best weapon against the radicalisers, able to argue that the reality is far different from the propaganda, but to exclude, jail and write off only entrenches the problem.  Identifying 3-year-olds as potential terrorists, as is now happening, while either simply monitoring or prosecuting returnees is the anti-extremism of fools, guaranteed to fail.  There has to be an alternative, however much it offends in the short term.

Labels: , , , , , , , ,

Share |

Monday, July 20, 2015 

The strategy remains that there is no strategy.

In his speech on extremism today (speech in full), David Cameron said "Our freedom comes from our parliamentary democracy".  He's right.  Parliament can also dilute that freedom, and has within its power the means by which to end it all together.  Parliament can only maintain freedom as long as it is challenged through protest, and held to account by the courts and the press, to name but two institutions that play such a role.

When the will of parliament is then ignored by the government of the day, as it clearly has been in the case of British servicemen embedded with allied military forces carrying out air strikes on Islamic State targets in Syria, it does rather put into perspective the Tories' continuing obsession with promoting our supposedly indivisible British values as a counterweight against Islamic extremism.  Prime ministers have of course long wielded the royal prerogative, enabling them to make war without bothering to seek the will of parliament, but it's clearly bad form to engage in semantics when there has not been just one, but two votes directly related to Syria.  The first was defeated, while the second did not come close to providing authorisation to attack Islamic State in Syria as well as Iraq.  In truth, it's likely that British special forces have long been operating in Syria, but such are the activities of the secret state: for ordinary soldiers to be taking part in military operations in the country is something else.

One of the best, or at least most inventive defences of the government's fuck you, we bomb what we want attitude came from perennial fan of liberal interventionism James Bloodworth.  Apparently those upset at parliament being ignored are "clinging to the outdated idea that Syria still exists as a state".  Bloodworth might have more of a point if the government wasn't itself clinging to that "outdated idea"; lest we forget, according to David Cameron, Islamic State is neither "Islamic nor a state".  The reality probably is that the rise of Islamic State has torn up Sykes-Picot, and that neither Syria or Iraq can return to their borders as previously recognised.  That is however the intention of all the state actors involved, with the exception of the Kurds, if anyone's counting them.  If we're going to ignore state borders because IS ignores them, it needs to be voted on.  It's not a hard concept to get your head round, unless of course you're being wilfully obtuse, something liberal interventionists can never be accused of being.

It might also be an idea to have a strategy for dealing with Islamic State that runs alongside the one for dealing with homegrown extremism, as the two things while not inextricably linkedcould just have a connection.  Launching Hellfire missiles at Toyota Land Cruisers, whether in Iraq or Syria, is not a strategy.  One such strategy worth noting was set out on Left Foot Forward (edited by Bloodworth), Kyle Orton arguing the only way forward was to commit to regime change in Syria, which would convince all the non-ISIS rebel forces just how serial we are, and therefore result in an uprising against IS in both Syria and Iraq.  This naturally wouldn't lead to the other jihadist rebels gaining power, or Syria descending even further into the abyss, just as regime change in Iraq and Libya didn't.  There are times when describing something as insane doesn't quite cut it, although in fairness to Orton he is at least proposing something other than maintaining a murderous, bloody stalemate.  It would be a murderous, bloody victory for the very forces behind the ideology of Islamic State, and result in years more of bloody insecurity in the most dangerous region in the world, but hey, you've got to start somewhere.

To give David Cameron some credit also, his anti-extremism strategy for here in the UK is not all bad by any stretch of the imagination.  If anything, it's probably the most enlightened we've had post-7/7, although that's hardly saying much.  Cameron did nonetheless get remarkably confused, if not express outright contradictions in multiple places in the speech.  He again insisted that Islamic State is not Islamic, or rather isn't true Islam, and yet at the same time it cannot be denied that err, the extremists are Muslims, and clearly do follow Islamic practices.  You realise that Cameron is trying his best to not to fall into the trap of either making this a war on Islam, or to give succour to those who try to paint all Muslims as extremists, but this really isn't working.  Islamic State is Islamic, there's no getting away from it, just as jihadists are Muslims; they follow a twisted, perverse interpretation of the Wahhabi-Salafi tradition, which is in fact a relatively modern tradition, but it's still Islam.  Islamism, or political Islam, is not inherently violent, nor is it necessarily incompatible with democracy; the Islamism of Hamas is very different from that of al-Qaida and IS despite descending from the same source.  Recognising the Islamic State is Islamic surely isn't that difficult a step, or too hard to explain.

Within a couple of paragraphs Cameron is then at it again.  It's only the extremists who divide people into good and bad Muslims he says.  Except, err, the whole basis of his strategy is to do just that, as he then says in the next line, as this new approach is designed around isolating the extremists from everyone else.  Either these extremists are Muslims or they're not; can we possibly make up our minds, please?  He then immediately goes on to lecturing broadcasters about recognising the huge power they have in shaping the debate, apparently oblivious, or rather not, to how this speech will have more effect than anything they produce.

All this distracts from the good, which is the section on why people are being attracted to the extremist cause.  You can quibble with Cameron's declaration that extremist voices overwhelm those of other Muslims, which I don't think is true at all, but his follow-up, that it's ridiculous the debate when the young have gone to join IS has turned into whether or not the security services are to blame is sound.  If anything, Cameron doesn't ask the hardest of questions: whether or not some Muslims are in fact in denial of where their interpretation of Islam can lead.  Radicalisation, as Cameron says, has to start somewhere, and for some it can be nothing more than ordinary religious observance.  This is not to say they are to blame, that their interpretation is wrong, or that Islam always lead to extremism; it does not, and all religions and political ideologies have their extremists.  There is however no getting away from how some are more susceptible than others, and the more conservative the interpretation of Islam, the higher the chances tend to be.  It's not a coincidence that converts tend to be over-represented among the extremists, for instance.

The problem then is that Cameron's proposed solutions are so woefully lacking.   There isn't really much point in once again going through why the emphasis on British values is chuckleheaded: suffice to say that when the leader of a party that has still has major problems with sexual equality, having so recently been converted to the cause, repeatedly insists that we all believe in such things and always have, the only reasonable reaction is to reach for the sick bag.  Cameron protests that the new Prevent duty for schools is not about criminalising or spying on Muslim children, and yet what else is putting that duty on both nurseries and primary schools about if not spying on Muslim children, then spying on their parents and what they might be teaching them by proxy?  It's certainly not seriously about protecting wider society from child jihadists.  He talks about the effect "passive tolerance" could have on young British Muslim girls, when if anything we've now reached the stage where those brought up here are imposing their traditions on their own children.  The "power and liberating force" of our values, and let's not pretend we haven't been debating these questions of identity for decades, don't seem to have had much effect.

Which is rather the point.  Traditions are ingrained in all our little subcultures.  Cameron boasts about the new diverse face of his party, and then within a couple of paragraphs is on to "It cannot be right, for example, that people can grow up and go to school and hardly ever come into meaningful contact with people from other backgrounds and faiths".  Well, no, it's not Dave, but then what does the rest of your cabinet of private school attending mates have to do with this?  Perhaps we finally get to where this is all leading when Dave suggests "the government needs to start asking searching questions about social housing" and also ask "how we can move away from segregated schooling in our most divided communities".  One answer might be the new lower benefit cap, which research for the Graun suggests will lead to an exodus from the south and cities in general.  Ah yes, it's all fitting into place.

The biggest hole by far in the strategy is on identity.  The Tories don't truly believe in the nonsense they're spouting about British values, but it's the only thing they can think of in a world where identity is becoming ever more fragmented.  This hardly affects just Muslims; in the face of seeming constant change it's natural to cling on to an ever more exaggerated sense of self, as we're seeing in the debate in the US over the Confederate flag.  Young people brought up in an austere religious environment see the world as it is and react in different ways: some might abandon their faith and rebel against their parents that way; others might go in entirely the opposite direction.  Identity has never been so fluid, exaggerated by mass immigration and access to wider culture unimaginable even 20 years ago.  Little wonder that some people, and I can include myself in this, don't feel like they belong anywhere.  Tackling alienation when individualism, or rather the marketed sense of individualism, is so prevalent is all but impossible.  Harping on about British values while not actually following those values, especially at the same time as preaching myths such as how this is a country "where in one or two generations people can come with nothing and rise as high as their talent allows" and that our "success is achieved not in spite of our diversity, but because of our diversity" is about as idiotic as you can get.  The strategy remains that there is no strategy.  That there probably isn't one anyway doesn't diminish that.

Labels: , , , , , , , , ,

Share |

Tuesday, July 07, 2015 

The banality of grief.

At times, it's interesting to note just what gets reported widely and what doesn't.  At the weekend, the BBC went fairly big on the release of a video from Islamic State apparently showing the execution of a group of Syrian soldiers in the ancient amphitheatre of Palmyra. The response from Syria's head on antiquities to a previous execution in the amphitheatre had been to stress how using "the Roman theatre to execute people proves that these people are against humanity".  I'll let you, dear reader, work through the various shades of irony contained in that short of a statement.

Reported to a far lesser extent was a video released by Islamic State at the end of last month.   This consisted of not one, not two, but three separate executions of men from the city of Mosul in Iraq, accused in the video of being spies for the government.  Attired in those orange jumpsuits that were originally meant to point to the injustice of the extrajudicial detention by the United States of alleged terrorists at Guantanamo Bay, individuals from these groups of men confessed to their "crime" on camera.  The first group were led to a car in a desert wasteland and chained together inside, unable to escape.  A masked man then fired a rocket propelled grenade at his unmissable target.  The second group were chained together inside a cage, similar to the one the Jordanian pilot was burned to death in.  This time, the cage was slowly lowered by crane into a swimming pool, as cameras underneath the water filmed the men struggling desperately for life.  The third group were led into an area of similar desert to where the first execution was carried out, and told to kneel.  Explosives were then daisy-chained around their necks.  The charges detonated, all but one of the men were decapitated, their heads flying in the direction of the camera.

Recording the committing of atrocities for both propaganda and terroristic purposes is not of course new.  Islamic extremists have been doing so since the early 90s, and Mexican drug cartels took up the practice more recently; Hitler had the prolonged, agonising execution by hanging with piano wire of some of those involved in the von Stauffenberg plot filmed.  Islamic State has however taken it to a whole new level; beheadings and shots to the back of the head have been relegated in favour of asking followers on social media for ideas on how to kill those whom have fallen into their clutches.  Whether the practice is in fact counter-productive is difficult to weigh: certainly anyone who isn't a conservative Sunni knows full well what possibly awaits them should IS continue their march in both Syria and Iraq.  It might further encourage those determined to resist to do so until the very end; alternatively, as we saw in Mosul itself, many will choose instead to flee at the first sign of an attack.

Why the Mosul video wasn't as widely reported as others we can but guess at.  There are only so many depictions of man's inhumanity to man that audiences can stomach in a short period, without either switching off in disgust or becoming desensitised to it.  Reporting of conflicts other than Israel/Palestine which we ourselves have little or no apparent stake in is often fragmentary at best, especially when budgets continue to decline and insurance premiums correspondingly increase; the war in Yemen, despite being an extension of the proxy war being fought in Syria between Saudia Arabia, Qatar and others against Iran has been practically ignored.  Massacres via Saudi airstrike like yesterday's are barely remarked upon.  Alternatively, it's also the case we long stopped caring about the people of Iraq, who have suffered through 25 years of various Western interventions, to which can be added another 10 if you include the initial support given to Saddam's war against Iran.

Today we remembered the horror of 7/7.  For me, at least, what followed cannot properly be separated from that day, and some of the statements from politicians and also members of the public smack frankly of either faulty memories or outright revisionism.  Perhaps the closest to the reality came from the then 14-year-old Emma Craig, who survived the Aldgate bomb: "Quite often people say 'It didn't break us, terrorism won't break us'. The fact is, it may not have broken London, but it did break some of us."  It's certainly nearer the truth than the fantasy vision some have conjured up or want there to be of this rainbow city, together grieving in solidarity, coming out stronger, "an international crossroads of diversity and ingenuity, tolerance and respect, challenge and opportunity."

Like it or not, fear pervaded London for quite some time, as did suspicion if not outright questioning, even loathing of ordinary Muslims going about their business.  Most of that fear was real and palpable; some of it was encouraged by a media that decided an attack had been inevitable, and by politicians who were ready to respond to it in the most inflammatory way they could.  An entirely innocent man lost his life as a result not just of the fear and paranoia the attack and then subsequent failed attack engendered, but also due to the incompetence and unaccountability of the Met, defended by all sides regardless of their failings.  Tony Blair declared the rules of the game had changed, and launched straight into trying to detain "terrorist suspects" for up to three months, amongst other reforms that diluted hard-won freedoms and liberties.  Blair's worst instincts about the threat were expanded upon by the previous government, which now requires nurseries to ensure children of pre-school age are not being radicalised.  The security services that fail, as they always have and always will to prevent attacks despite having previous knowledge of the perpetrators, continue to demand ever increasing powers while insisting that the threat is as high, if not higher than ever.

The awful truth is that ever since 9/11 the wrong targets have been chosen for the response.  Rather than confront the sources of extremist Salafi Islam in Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, something that would have required a complete change of mindset and allies, groups rather than the ideology was gone after.  You cannot destroy an ideology, but you can cut off its funding and affect how it is spread.  Little to no attempt was made to do so.  Al-Qaida has without doubt a been decimated, and poses little threat, but in doing so something worse has been established, thanks entirely to western intervention.  Islamic State owes its existence to the Iraq war, to the refusal to get tough with the Saudis over their double standards.  Hundreds of thousands of Iraqis, if not more, have died violently since 2003.  Iraq would be little more than a country of memorials if every death as a result of terrorist attack, death squads or at the hands of the occupation forces was marked in the same way as the victims of the 7/7 attacks were commemorated.  I am not, I stress, saying there is an equivalence here.  There is not.  I do not believe, as some, that 7/7 would not have happened had it not been for the Iraq war.  Foreign policy is an excuse, not a reason.  It was however an influence, and remains one.  To not recognise our foreign policy since 9/11 has been a disaster and continues to help, rather than hinder the extremists, is at this point to be wilfully blind.

It's come to something when of all people, Bob Quick, with his suggestion of letting those who want to join Islamic State do so but effectively revoke their citizenship at the same time is the person closest to talking something approaching sense.  For all the scaremongering of recent months, of an attack being a matter of time, all highly reminiscent of what came after 7/7 and the other foiled plots, few have questioned that Islamic State's real fight at the moment is not to attack the west, although it will go after soft targets such as in Tunisia, but to build on its lightning success of last year and attract supporters.  The big fear, of those who have fought in Syria returning and carrying out attacks, is exaggerated massively.  We know this because those who return, or have returned, are thought of negatively.  The caliphate is here, it's real, and the battle is to maintain it.  Returning the world of the unbelievers is a personal failure.  By contrast, not letting those who want to go do so, even as we are baffled about why anyone would want to, runs the risk of the lone attacks now so dreaded.

Perhaps my opinion has always been shaded by how 10 years ago I didn't have any friends or past acquaintances living in London.  10 years on, I most assuredly do.  Helping to prevent terrorism is everyone's responsibility.  A decade on, it's hard to see precisely what's been achieved, whether we truly are stronger as a nation, more equipped to deal with the fallout if there was another mass casualty attack.  It certainly doesn't feel like it.  Our foreign policy makes just as little, if not less sense, than it did then.  We are it seems yet again reduced to gestures, to platitudes, to asking why when the answers are within our grasp should we choose to reach for them.  But by all means, #walktogether if it means something to you.

Labels: , , , , , , ,

Share |

Thursday, July 02, 2015 

Let's call the whole thing off.

Have you heard about the debate that's been electrifying Westminster the past few days?  No, it's not the Labour leadership contest, or the government's plan to abolish child poverty by deciding it henceforth doesn't exist.  And no, it's not the one about the Kim Kardashian flag at Glastonbury either.

Yep, the big fight in parliament this week has been over what the BBC calls Islamic StateThe fiends in charge of news at Auntie have been calling Islamic State Islamic State, with the reasoning that's what Islamic State is called.  Apparently though this name is deeply discomforting, not to Muslims who know full well they're not being tarred with the same brush by a broadcaster referring to a terrorist group by its actual name, but to politicians who instead insist on calling Islamic State Isil.  Which is an acronym of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.  Or there's others who insist on referring to Islamic State by the acronym Daesh, which is arrived at via Islamic State's literal Arabic name, al-Dawla al-Islamiya fil Iraq wa’al Sham.  Only this was mainly adopted in the first place because it sounds like the Arabic term Dahes, which means to sow discord, and so is meant pejoratively.

The debate is, all but needless to say, unbelievably fucking stupid.  All of the names have problems: calling the group by what it calls itself should be the obvious thing to do, but then the media have almost never done so previously.  IS originates from the group started by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, which fairly swiftly pledged allegiance to al-Qaida, and so became known as al-Qaida in Iraq, the name it was almost always referred to as by the media up until last year.  It in fact went through two more name changes, becoming the Mujahideen Shura Council for a time, before changing to the simple Islamic State of Iraq at the height of its (then) control of Iraqi territory.  The Guardian, for instance, tends to split the difference and call it Isis, which makes something approaching sense as referring to Syria as either the Levant or Sham, both archaic terms, is exceptionally daft.

According to David Cameron, calling Islamic State Islamic State is misleading and potentially damaging as it is neither Islamic nor a state.  To which one response should be: how about you go and tell Mr al-Baghdadi to his face that his group isn't Islamic and the territory it holds doesn't amount to a state, Dave?  I envision a scene akin to the one from Mars Attacks, where President Jack Nicholson delivers a why can't we all be friends speech with such passion it brings tears to the Martian leader's eyes.  They shake hands, then a contraption pierces Nicholson straight through the heart and a little Martian flag pops out the end.  Even if you agree with Cameron, that doesn't alter the fact that if you use Isil or Daesh you're still calling it Islamic State, you're just not spelling the damn thing out.  If we're going to be precious about it, we might as well just call them Those Murderous Jihadist Cunts and be done with it.

Part of the reason our leaders have been squabbling about what the BBC is doing is, predictably, because they haven't gone the first clue about what to do to respond to the attack in Tunisia.  If you start claiming there's going to be a full spectrum response against a group that poses an "existential threat" while not actually doing anything new you are rather asking for it.  Hence the feelers put out today about extending airstrikes into Syria itself, which to give the government its due, isn't as cretinous an idea as it once was.  It's fairly pointless being opposed to ourselves chucking bombs at IS in Syria when the Americans have been doing it for nigh on 10 months now, especially when it's long been obvious they have been informing the Syrians of where they're going to be targeting.

It's also fairly pointless to be opposed because just chucking bombs at IS has been shown to be fairly pointless.  IS controls more territory in the two countries now than they did when the airstrikes began: the only times they've had an effect has been in Kobane, where the Kurds were effectively allied with the US and calling in strikes themselves, in breaking the siege on Mount Sinjar, and in softening up the IS forces on the ground ahead of advances by the Iraqi "army", i.e. the Shia militias that are now the de facto army.  As the new chair of the foreign affairs committee Crispin Blunt said this morning, joining in the strikes now adds up to nothing more than sharing the burden of attacks with the Americans, while putting the country into a legally grey area.  IS cannot be defeated from the air: the gains against it have only been won in partnership with ground forces.  Without a stronger ally in both Iraq and Syria, and neither the Kurdish militias or the Shia equivalent can be that ally, IS isn't going anywhere.

The Americans have been complaining for a while there is no strategy for defeating IS, and that's because the current stalemate seems preferable, terrible as it is to the alternatives.  If we swallow our pride and ally with Assad now despite everything, we risk driving the jihadis fighting IS back into their arms.  Even if IS was pushed back into Iraq solely, that won't change the fact the country's Sunnis in the main welcomed the jihadis because of the discrimination and contempt they faced under Maliki, which hasn't gone away.  Nor do they rate their chances of survival when faced with the militias that previously acted as death squads at the time of the all out civil conflict.  The only realistic solutions are federalism or complete partition, with three separate states, something that would be opposed by all sides (excepting the Kurds), all of whom still believe everything can return to how things stood this time last year without explaining how.  Faced with these options, it's not surprising politicians would rather chide the BBC than explain how desperate the situation is for the people in the region, if not in truth for us.  That Iraq war, eh?

P.S. 


Staying with that thought, here's some number crunching:

187 - number of Syrian refugees so far granted asylum in the UK under the Vulnerable Person Relocation scheme


664 - number of children Nicholas Winton, who died yesterday, helped to escape the Nazis in 1939

Labels: , , , , , ,

Share |

Monday, June 29, 2015 

Terrorism and victimhood.

The family of Dr Sarandev Bhambra had a point last week.  If the murder of Lee Rigby was a terrorist attack, despite it failing to terrorise anyone other than those who wanted to be, then surely the attempted murder of Bhambra by Zackery Davies, which he claimed to be an attempt to avenge Rigby's death, was also.  Davies was almost your stereotype white supremacist: a loner who had the obligatory copy of the Turner Diaries alongside all the usual Nazi paraphernalia, that masturbatory genocidal fantasy which concludes with a suicide attack on the Pentagon, he also as now tends to be the custom admired the barbarism of Islamic State, despite the obvious contradictions.  He may though also be mentally ill, and the judge has requested psychiatric reports before he sentences him.  One of the killers of Lee Rigby, Michael Adebowale, has also since been transferred to Broadmoor for treatment, and is appealing against the length of his 45-year sentence on those grounds.

Branding the murderous actions of individuals without any links to specific terrorist groups, and in some instances even those who do have such links is to give in to precisely the self-aggrandisement and narcissism that motivated them in the first place.  Davies posing in front of swastikas and the flag of the Afrikaner Resistance Movement is of a piece with the suspected Charleston church murderer Dylann Roof burning the Star and Stripes, waving the Confederate flag and as with so many previous mass killers leaving behind a "manifesto" attempting to justify the unjustifiable.  One line, and one line only is worth dignifying: "We have no skinheads, no real KKK, no one doing anything but talking on the internet," he wrote. "Well someone has to have the bravery to take it to the real world, and I guess that has to be me."  The exact same line of thinking is now espoused by the successors to the mantle of al-Qaida, the same one grasped by Adebowale and Michael Adebolajo.

Murder/suicide rarely excites any more.  How could it when the TV news in recent years has often seemed to be one long parade of atrocities?  If you're going to go down in a blaze of ignominy, the thinking seems to be, you might as well make it look good for the 24 hour news networks.  A case in point was the first of Friday's reported terrorist attacks, the apparent attempt by Yassin Salhi to cause a major incident at the Air Products chemical factory in Saint-Quentin-Fallavier.  The French president Francois Hollande instantly branded it a terrorist incident only for the situation to become more confused once it emerged that despite beheading his boss and the use of a flag with the Islamic profession of faith on it, Salhi told the police his motivations were personal more than political.  He might have been or still be a fundamentalist, having previously been on the police's radar, but the use of jihadi iconography and methods seems the excuse rather than the reason.  Nor have foreign connections been discovered as yet, pouring scorn on the media's grasping for a link between France, Tunisia and Kuwait.

Last week at times this country seemed to have descended into a self-pitying wreck, feeling sorry for itself as all around it burned.  The strike at Calais which gave hundreds of desperate migrants a better chance than usual of stowing away for the journey across the channel once again electrified the media at large, with the same old why-oh-whying about why do they come here rather than stay on the continent rearing its head for the umpteenth time.  I waited and waited in vain for someone to point out that the numbers in Calais wanting to come to Britain are tiny compared to the over 100,000 that have made it to Europe so far this year, most of whom have either stayed in Italy or Greece or tried to get to Germany or Sweden, the two main destinations for Syrian refugees in particular.  There was however no shortage of people convinced it was all down to how generous our benefit system is, the myth that refuses to die and never will so long as broadcasters and the press either push it themselves or don't bother to challenge it.

And there right in the centre was David Cameron.  While the big boys round the EU summit table tried and failed to agree on both sharing out said number of migrants more fairly and keeping Greece in the Euro, there he was pushing his pathetic little renegotiation agenda, to much sighing and eye-rolling from everyone else.  Britain has often stood out on its own, sometimes by choice, sometimes not, but rarely has it looked so self-absorbed and obtuse as of late.

This complete lack of apparent wider awareness has manifested itself just as it has in the past in the reaction to the massacre in Sousse.  Cameron promises a "full spectrum" response to the "existentialist" threat posed by Islamic State.  No one has the slightest idea what a full spectrum response entails, and Cameron apparently doesn't know what existentialist means or otherwise he wouldn't make such an utterly ridiculous statement, but that's the least of our worries.  How much of a role Islamic State truly played in the attack doesn't really matter; that they claimed it whereas they didn't the incident in France is evidence enough they pulled the strings.  Nor does it matter that there's very little you can do to prevent one fanatic from gunning down Western tourists on the beach when north Africa has been thrown into flux by the absence of effective government in Libya.  If anything, that's it taken this long for jihadists to realise that far too much can go wrong with bombings when a trained lone attacker armed with an automatic weapon and grenades can kill just as many if not more people is proof in itself of just how non-existentialist the threat is.

The point is our foreign policy, such as it is, seems deliberately designed to increase rather than decrease the threat.  Cameron isn't wrong when he says there would be a threat regardless of whether or not we were personally involved in bombing Islamic State in Iraq.  Theresa May was almost certainly right in saying Brits weren't deliberately targeted in Sousse; westerners as a whole were.  Nor does Islamic State care one jot about the effect the massacre will have on tourism in Tunisia.  All its cadres are interested in is the number of decadent westerners slaughtered for daring to feel safe in an Arab country.  Indeed, little is more likely to excite the always priapic IS devotees than white women in bikinis lying dead in pools of blood, as potent a mixture of the paradoxical motivations of your average teenage jihadi as it's possible to imagine.

I apologise for making this argument for what seems the thousandth time, as even I'm tired of it.  IS nevertheless only exists in its current form because of Syria, and owes some of its success to our refusal to, as the Times put it when demanding that we pal up with Sisi in Egypt "work with the political order as it exists in the Arab world and not as [we] wish it to be".  Regardless of how and why, the west as a whole came to the conclusion that Assad was doomed, that it was only a matter of time before he fell or fled.  It hasn't happened.  Rather than reassess the situation four years down the line, accept that regardless of his being a chemical weapon using killer of his own people that he's not going anywhere and that his army is the only reliable force on the ground other than the Kurdish militias, we'd still rather pretend to be achieving something by attacking IS from the air even as more westerners travel to join them and others launch attacks in their name.  IS exploited the vacuum in Syria, as well as the support from both the west and the other Arab countries that flowed to the "opposition" to undermine Iraq and make its comeback there.

Here in short is just how fucked western policy in the Middle East currently is.  In Yemen we're supporting Saudi Arabia's brutal and ineffective air war against the Houthis, backed indirectly by the Iranians.  In Iraq we're in effective league with Shia militias backed by Iran against IS, which is backed by the Sunnis who prefer the brutal regime of the caliphate to the discrimination they faced under the Shia-dominated Baghdad government.  In Syria we are variously backing the remnants of the Free Syrian Army, assorted other "moderates" and the Kurdish militias against both the Assad regime and Islamic State.  In reality this means we are in alliance with the Sunni states of Saudia Arabia and Qatar, who have gone back and forth between funding and supporting outright jihadi and very slightly more moderate Islamic opposition groups, against Assad, supported by Iran and helped by Hezbollah, also backed by Iran.  Despite claims of both IS and Assad being pushed back and so on, in truth we're in pretty much the same position as this time last year.  Libya meanwhile remains in turmoil and has turned into the conduit through which the refugees from these conflicts, along also with others from Eritrea and Somalia and your common garden economic migrants are making the trip across the Mediterranean.  We don't need to reiterate what went on in Libya, do we?  Good.

Cameron is thus reduced to the platitude of a "full-spectrum response" and the ludicrous claim that a rag-tag army of nihilist throwbacks threaten our very existence because he either can't do anything or won't do anything.  Further western intervention is precisely what IS wants and the Americans failed in any case to destroy al-Qaida in Iraq when boots were on the ground.  We refuse to accept that IS is more of a threat to regional stability than Assad, and so won't ally with the only army in either Iraq or Syria that somewhat functions.  We continue to ignore how Saudi Arabia funds the mosques and preachers that spread the Wahhabi precursor to Islamic State's takfiri jihadism.  Cameron talks of the struggle of our generation when western policy up to now has either targeted individuals rather than the ideology itself and where it springs from, or has made things worse through either incompetence, as in Iraq, or by choice, as in Libya.  We are apparently to be intolerant of intolerance, only without a countervailing narrative to rival that which appeals to a distinct minority, some of whom might as Roof put it "take it to the real world".  The vast majority won't.  That won't however stop ministers from reaching to the law, further restricting free speech in the name of protecting British values.  Anything other than admit our mistakes and change course, and think of ourselves as anything other than victims.

Labels: , , , , , , , ,

Share |

Wednesday, June 17, 2015 

Syrian trilogy in Yorkshire pottery.

All American trilogy, the future's dead fundamentally / It's so fucking funny, it's absurd

Did you see the statement put out by the family of Tahla Asmal, the 17-year-old who now carries the distinction of being the youngest Britisher to become a suicide bomber?  “Talha was a loving, kind, caring and affable teenager,” it begins, before going on to firmly place the blame for his decision elsewhere.  "Talha’s tender years and naivety were, it seems however, exploited by persons unknown, who, hiding behind the anonymity of the worldwide web, targeted and befriended Talha and engaged in a process of deliberate and calculated grooming of him."

Perhaps Talha was all of these things.  Perhaps his tender years and naivety were indeed exploited.  Plenty of 17-year-olds think about killing themselves, if not necessarily other people at the same time; I certainly did.  Perhaps he was targeted and befriended, even groomed, although frankly this transferral of the terminology of sexual exploitation and abuse to that of comprehensively changing someone's outlook on life as a whole in a very short space of time doesn't really cut it.


The insistence that Asmal's decision to not only go and join Islamic State, but also take part in a "martyrdom operation", as they're called by jihadists, was all down to faceless individuals on the internet does though take a knock when you learn his best friend, next-door neighbour and and fellow emigree to IS was Hassan Munshi, brother of Hammad Munshi, convicted back in 2008 at the age of 18 for possessing documents useful to terrorists.  Munshi's defence at the time was, uncannily, that he was groomed by the two older men involved in the plot.

Again, perhaps he was.  You might though have thought it would have alerted his parents, and especially his grandfather, Yakub Munshi, president of the Islamic Research Institute of Great Britain at the Markazi Mosque in Dewsbury to the potential for Hammad's younger brother to become subject to the same pressures.  Perhaps they were and it made no difference.  Surely though Asmal's family, devastated and heartbroken, must have been aware of all this.  Could it really be that not one, but two Munshis, as well as Amsal were targeted by these calculated and cunning groomers, without anyone becoming aware as to what was going on?

One thing is for sure: we seem to be stuck in the same old groove when it comes to radicalisation.  It's still about foreign policy, Islamophobia, alienation, cries one section; it's about an austere and intolerant interpretation of Islam that either doesn't condemn the likes of IS enough or is outright sympathetic to their purity says another; no, it's actually to do with identity and belonging, insists someone else.  To which the obvious response is: doesn't all of the above play a role?

To start with, you have to see what Islamic State for what it is, which is the answer to all things.  It's a fundamentally teenage organisation in every sense; just look at the old jihadi grey beards Abu Qatada and Abu ­Muhammad al-Maqdisi bemoaning how what they helped bring into being has grown into.  Who knew that if you gave religious backing to one group allowing them to kill whoever they feel like that eventually another group would used it to kill whoever they feel like?  Islamic State's response to al-Maqdisi's attempts to free the captured Jordanian pilot was the equivalent of a step-child telling their mother's new partner you're not my real dad, only with the added son of a whore insult just to rub it in.

IS then not only appeals to those who no longer accept that establishing the caliphate now is illegitimate, as al-Qaida does, to those who see it as their religious duty to fight against the kuffar, whether they be Alawites, the Shia or anyone else they don't agree with, but also to to the most base desires.  IS not only promises fighting, but fucking as well, to male and female alike, so long as the woman is perfectly happy with playing the role of the dutiful wife to someone with a potentially short life expectancy.  While you'd think this would appeal more to the recruits from other Arab countries, never underestimate the pressures on young Muslim men as well as women in the west to follow the strictures set down by their parents.

This doesn't of course begin to explain the appeal of IS to the women from Bradford, assumed to have made the journey to Syria.  It's not many happily married women with young families who would decide to up sticks to a war zone leaving their husbands behind.  Something on that level doesn't ring true.  That said, why Syria rather than attempt to stay in Saudi Arabia, unless their very brand of Islam is compatible with that of IS?  Their brother having gone to fight doesn't on its own lead to them fleeing to join him, not least taking their children with them to a place of such danger.

The entire case of the Dawoods raises those questions of belonging, identity and integration.  It also though makes clear that even among those who adhere to a highly conservative brand of Sunni Islam, the numbers who are so taken with the IS vision of life and the world that they'll join it are tiny.  When you then have the government's utterly cack-handed overreaction, first to the Trojan Horse plot, which was nothing of the sort, and where there was no evidence that unpleasant, oppressive and wrong as it was, the conservative Islamic ethos adopted by those Birmingham schools was breeding extremists, combined with the continuing stupidity of the Prevent programme, which has never prevented anything, there is the potential to push those on the edge over into doing something they otherwise wouldn't have.  Shiraz Maher is right on almost everything in his piece except for his bizarre invocation of how the colonies fought for Britain in WW1 and WW2 means instilling "British values" is the answer today.  The Conservatives don't have the slightest idea what British values are, but they do know how to make more work for schools, or indeed nurseries, lest there be any 5-year-old terrorists already being groomed for action.

The rise of IS and eclipse of al-Qaida also highlights the way the nature of the threat from terrorism is changing, and just how little recognition there has been from all concerned to that effect.  The big, major plots of the past have not entirely gone away, but have been superseded by the danger of the lone or working in pairs attacks we've seen.  More difficult as these are to prevent, they are just as likely to result in failure, or rather than indiscriminately targeting the public, they focus on the police or specific groups.  Spectacular attacks on multiple targets have fallen from favour.  With the focus on the jihad in Syria and Iraq, it also means those who do choose to fight are as likely to be disillusioned by the experience and the reality of the situation as they are enthused by it.  For all the fear about jihadis coming back from Syria to launch attacks, there has as yet not been a single returnee charged who has been found to have such designs.

Here also is the stupidity of the double game being played in Syria: rather than approach those coming back with the intention of trying to persuade others not to make the journey, the prosecutions continue regardless of the groups being fought with.  This is despite Patrick Cockburn reporting how one of the major reasons the non-IS rebels have made such advances since the turn of the year has been a influx of support for the al-Nusra Front, aka al-Qaida's official affiliate in Syria and a direct split from IS, and which Qatar is all but openly supporting.  One day, the way policy on Syria has ebbed and flowed will be rued in the same as the war on Iraq now is.  Till then, we'll hear more families make their children out to be victims without examining themselves, while the efforts to tackle what extremism there is will continue to fail.

Labels: , , , , , , , , ,

Share |

Thursday, June 04, 2015 

Helping jihadists in Syria while still prosecuting those who come back? No, we wouldn't do that.

Speaking as we were of the deficiencies of the Crown Prosecution Service, it would be remiss not to mention the collapse on Monday of the about to start terrorism trial of Swedish national Bherlin Gildo.  Precisely what circumstances were behind the arrest of Gildo, who was only in the country to get a connecting flight to Manila, are opaque to begin with.  Stopped at Heathrow under schedule 7 of the Terrorism Act, he was charged with attending a terrorist training camp in Syria, as well as having in his possession information likely to be useful for terrorism.  And indeed, Gildo made no attempt to deny he had been in Syria, fighting alongside the al-Nusra Front, al-Qaida's affiliate in the country.  He hardly could when like so many other jihadis he was keen on posing for the camera, including with dead bodies.

Surely then another open and shut case.  Except Gildo's defence had the bright idea of bothering to put some work in for their client, and presented evidence mainly in the form of news reports on how the intelligence agencies had been secretly training and supplying weapons to armed groups in Syria.  The government has also recogised the Syrian opposition "as the sole legitimate representative" of the Syrian people, despite how the Syrian opposition mainly consists of a tiny and ever dwindling number of so-called moderates and a complete mess of Islamists of various hues, from the more radical than Hamas variety to our pals in Islamic State.

You might then have expected the prosecution to dismiss the notion the UK government had been in any way helping out a group affiliated to al-Qaida, or even the non-moderate opposition as a whole.  If they refused to, or didn't disclose the information requested by the defence, that would be a tacit admission that we haven't the foggiest idea where the "non-lethal" materiel we do know has been provided has gone, let alone the alleged shipments of weapons, wouldn't it?  It would seem so, and yet rather than dispel such an absurd notion, the prosecution instead dropped the case.

Fairly apparent is that the arrest of Gildo was a result of dealings between the authorities and the Swedish intelligence agencies.  Gildo returned home with the apparent help of the Swedes, where there have been no prosecutions of those who have gone to fight in the country.  Whether he broke an agreement he had with them, or terminated the mutual relationship they believed to have developed, it's difficult to see precisely why he would have been stop and arrested here, various jihadist propaganda found on his laptop or not, unless it was as a favour on the part of MI5.  They clearly didn't expect Gildo to end up being represented by the ever tenacious Gareth Peirce, nor that something done for reasons we'll never know could have potentially exposed the activities of MI6 in providing support to the Syrian rebels.<

The surprise is that in none of the previous prosecutions of those who've travelled to Syria to fight was a similar defence attempted.  The vast majority have involved Islamic State, which the West has never directly backed, although our allies in the Middle East may well have done, but this wasn't the case at the trial of the Nawaz brothers.  Not only did neither of the brothers actually take part in fighting, staying only at a training camp for a month, they joined a group that became part of the Islamic Front, a jihadist but opposed to Islamic State coalition of various factions.  


Despite the Crown Prosecution Service saying the dropping of the Gildo case will have no bearing on other prosecutions relating to Syria, it surely provides the Nawaz brothers with a line of appeal: if the government cannot guarantee it is not providing support to groups like the Islamic Front, then surely their conviction is unsafe.  Considering it refused to do so in a case involving al-Nusra, which is a specifically proscribed organisation, it hardly seems likely to be able to do with Junud al-Sham.  As with policy on Syria as a whole, what an utter mess, and one entirely of our own making.

Labels: , , , , , , ,

Share |

Monday, April 20, 2015 

Foreign policy: not on the campaign agenda.


You hardly need me to tell you the election campaign has not exactly caught fire thus far.  It has briefly threatened to, with Labour's unexpected pledge to abolish non-dom status and the Tory response of Ed Miliband being so ruthless he'd stab his mother in the back to get her independent seafood deterrent or something along those lines, but otherwise it's been three weeks of increasingly hysterical warnings about what the other side will do.

Indeed, it's all wearingly familiar to 5 years ago, with personal attacks on an unpopular leader and scaremongering about the economy the defining characteristics.  The major difference is the Tory emphasis on the "chaos" that would result from any sort of SNP involvement in government, despite the indications up to now this is having precisely zero impact on the polls, unless part of the aim is to do the equivalent of jumping up and down on Scottish Labour's corpse.  The polls as a whole suggest an effective dead heat between Labour and the Conservatives, with slight leads for both from different companies cancelling out each other.  As we head ever closer towards Thursday the 7th, the chance of the fabled "crossover" for the Tories surely becomes less and less likely, with all that implies for how the final week will pan out in terms of last minute attacks and stunts, not least from the never knowingly underbiased media we all know and loathe.

Nearly entirely absent has been any discussion of foreign policy.  Whereas in 2010 debate didn't go much beyond how Labour had clearly breached the military covenant by failing to give the Ministry of Defence exactly what it wanted in Afghanistan, with Gordon Brown criticised for bothering to write a personal letter of condolence, this time it's been limited even further to the 0.7% overseas aid target and the potential in or out EU referendum.

Considering just how disastrous the coalition's foreign policy has been with the exception of the aid target, it's more than slightly incongruous.  It's only when you realise that with the single exception of Miliband stopping the attack on Assad by mistake, which might be a slightly unkind verdict on what happened back in 2013, there has not been a single substantial difference between the main three parties on bombing the fuck out of Islamic State, bombing the fuck out of Libya and supporting the good rebels in Syria while opposing the bad ones that the reason becomes clearer.  When it's left to Private Eye to sum up the ever more bizarre contortions of whom we're supporting and where in the Middle East (see above, obv.), from the satire pages no less, something has gone spectacularly wrong.

The situation in the Mediterranean is not wholly the result of European foreign policy but on it most certainly rests a very heavy burden of responsibility.  Both David Cameron and Nicolas Sarkozy saw the crackdown by Gaddafi in Libya not just as demanding the invocation of the responsibility to protect in order to save the citizens of Benghazi, but as an unbridled opportunity for European companies to take full advantage of the possibilities created by the dictator's removal.  The UN resolution meant to protect civilians was used to justify changing the regime.  It wasn't inevitable that the end result would be another civil war, but the complete lack of interest from Europe once Gaddafi was dead and his government gone was palpable.  Only now when the country has become the key transit point for migrants looking to escape from the wars and oppressive governments across the region has anyone began to take notice.

Our foreign policy is not so much coherent as asinine.  In Libya we overthrew a secular dictator, just as we did in Iraq; the result has been the same, if so far less bloody.  In Egypt we initially welcomed the overthrow of a secular dictator, only to get cold feet over the Islamism of Mohammed Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood, democratically elected or not, and so we now support the restoration of the secular dictatorship in the shape of President Sisi.  In Syria we support the downfall of the Assad regime, but obviously we don't want the Islamic State to take power instead.  What we do want isn't on offer, as the non-Islamic State supporting rebels nonetheless aren't interested in democracy and instead would like an Islamic state.  We're supposedly training "moderate" rebel forces, but whether they actually exist is still up for debate.  In truth what we seem to have settled for is a bloody stalemate, with neither Assad or the rebels able to win an outright victory, and as a result what's been described as the biggest refuge crisis since WW2 carries on regardless.

In Iraq we naturally support the central government in its fight against Islamic State, but the central government has almost no control whatsoever over the army the Americans supposedly trained at vast expense.  Instead most of the fighting is being done by the same Iranian-backed Shia militias that previously were behind much of the insurgency in the south of Iraq.  The perceived sectarianism of the central government was what drove many Sunnis into once again supporting the Islamic State; now the militias, accused of looting and summary executions are completing the job.   


In Yemen things are even crazier: Houthi rebels, linked with but not under the control of Iran have succeeded in exiling the useless president installed after the protests in the country following the Arab spring.  In a further example of the proxy war being fought between the Saudis and Iran, the Saudi response has been to bomb the fuck out of one of the poorest countries in the world, and we, naturally, are fully behind it, in part because of their negligible help against Islamic State in Syria.  So far the bombing it better approach has amazingly failed to work, with the Houthis continuing their advance.  That no one is the slightest bit interested in yet another bloodbath in the Middle East when there are so many others to pay attention to isn't surprising; when it leads to a further exodus to European shores, as it will, it might just increase in importance.

For while there are some among those making the crossing from Libya to Italy, Greece or Malta, with thousands drowning in the process that are simply looking for a better life or fleeing oppressive governments we have little traction or trade with, like Eritrea, many are there because of conflicts we have either been responsible for or made far worse.  Only Germany and Sweden have made an effort to take in Syrian refugees, with the rest of Europe declaring itself to be full or saying one thing and doing another, as we have.  The decision was effectively made to let migrants drown this spring on the basis that to rescue those put to sea in dangerously overcrowded or inadequate vessels was a "pull" factor.  The numbers have increased regardless of any such thing.  The belated response now has obviously not been to admit that the foreign policy of most EU member states has directly led to the thousands attempting such a perilous voyage, but to target the smugglers themselves, as though they're comparable to the Somalian pirates.

This narrowness between the main parties is an invitation to the bigots and the opportunists to say what they like or claim they somehow offer an alternative.  The Libyan war was a choice; allying with the "moderate" rebels in Syria was a choice; allying with the Saudis in Yemen was a choice; the Iraq war, more than 12 years after it began, remains a choice of almost unparalleled stupidity.  The drowning of thousands of those desperate to escape from the nightmare of their lives is being described as a failure of compassion.  While true, it's more damningly a failure of policy.  That despite 5 years of utter lunacy on the foreign policy front none of the parties want to suggest a better way forward, and in fact two of them want to stir the pot even further goes to show just how limited our politics has become and is likely to remain.

Labels: , , , , , , , ,

Share |

Monday, March 16, 2015 

On not understanding the call of duty.

Call me an old softy, but I find it difficult not to recoil from war and conflict regardless of the circumstances.  It's not that I'm a pacifist, as I fervently take the position that armed struggle is permissible when every other method of getting rid of a tyrannical government has failed.  Likewise, sometimes a country operating an openly imperialist foreign policy has to be stopped from going any further.  I'm even prepared to accept there will be occasions when countries should intervene to prevent an imminent or already under way genocide from taking place or going any further.  There haven't been any past cases where it's been shown an intervention would have succeeded, but there's always the possibility.

Flying Rodent called it his "Mark-Off-Peep-Show Shame", and yep, I've read those same books, despite thinking it's reaching the time when rather than putting up new memorials to those involved in War I and War II (as Philomena Cunk would have it) we should instead begin dialling it down.  As the inestimable rodent said, "a world in which fewer people are willing to get bayonetted to death for God and country is likely to be a nicer place to live in than one with more", and it's a sentiment I can't demur from.

It does then fairly bewilder me when those who ought to know better start rhapsodising about how everyone should get behind this particular group fighting in this particular war, nearly always because they share their political outlook, or rather, think they do.  Without doubt, as I've written before, the Kurds fighting against Islamic State in Syria are taking part in a noble cause, and when compared with almost everyone else battling in that benighted country, they are probably closest in values to "us".  They are not quite though the revolutionaries Owen Jones wants to paint them as, claiming the still-banned as a terrorist group PKK (aka the Kurdistan Workers' Party) has moved from Stalinism to "the libertarian socialism of the US theoretician Murray Bookchin".  And the three bears etc.  All the same, he's probably right that if the Kurds were fighting against our good selves rather than Islamic State, they'd be hailed universally by the left rather than just the fringes.

Looking for a new angle now the "shock" of Westerners going to battle alongside Islamic State has began to fade, attention has instead moved to those fighting against IS, with the death of Konstandinos Erik Scurfield prompting tributes from his family and others.  Last week the news broke of the death of Ivana Hoffman, leading to the eulogy from Jones, ignoring the obvious similarities between someone who posed in front of a communist flag fighting for what she believed in with those who can't pose often enough with the IS flag, also fighting for what they believe in, their war or otherwise.  Before we get into the sterility of a debate centering on moral relativism, it's apparent that despite fighting for such very different things, and that the Kurds' battle is foremost a defensive rather than an offensive one, the idealism and naivety of both sides is not unrelated if still very different.

No surprise then at the anger over the charging of Shilan Ozcelik, accused of wanting to fight against IS with the PKK rather than it being the other way round.  As the PKK is still a listed terrorist group, in law the charge might well be justified.  Whether it should be enforced, however, is a different question entirely.  As we saw last week, the Met confirming the three schoolgirls from Bethnal Green would not be charged with terrorism offences if they managed to return from Syria, and with three other teenagers released today on bail after being returned from Turkey, there still doesn't appear to be anything remotely like a coherent approach to just who is and isn't likely to be charged if they decide to come back.  This is the umpteenth time I've mentioned Mashudur Choudary, and I'm going to keep on doing so until it's explained why someone who couldn't hack it in Syria was prosecuted on his return.  The same goes for the Nawaz brothers, who trained not with Islamic State but an unrelated jihadist group, the kind some felt, like the PKK, were fighting the good fight up until recently.  We're told hundreds of Brits have gone to Syria, and yet the number of cases brought numbers in the tens, if that.  As we're also told repeatedly of what a massive security risk these people are, either there's a lot of resources being used to monitor them, or else the gap year jihadis are only going to be boring everyone to death with their stories.

The other reason for my reticence is what we know about professional soldiers, some of whom fail to adjust to civilian life, some of whom just find out they enjoy killing.  Yes, they might genuinely share the Kurds' wider aims and loathe IS, but that doesn't alter their wider motivations.  There are perfectly good reasons to be suspicious of those who decide to fight in wars that don't, or shouldn't on the surface concern them.  A better approach, from the authorities at least, would be to either prosecute everyone who goes to fight in Syria, regardless of whom they join up with; or no one, excepting those where there's evidence they took part in attacks against civilians.  A better approach from ourselves might to be admit that however much we hate what those going to fight for IS believe in, in death those left behind always make the same claims for what it was they believed they were doing.

Labels: , , , , , , , , ,

Share |

About

  • This is septicisle
profile

Archives

Powered by Blogger
and Blogger Templates