Monday, September 22, 2014 

All transitory.

Despite everything, I still felt a pang of disappointment on waking up on Friday morning.  I'd stayed up for the first results, Clackmannanshire, Shetland, Orkney, the first setting the pattern mostly to be repeated throughout the night: Yes had come close, but still not close enough.  For all my contempt for both campaigns, for the naivety, the scaremongering, the chauvinism, shallow nationalism and baleful bigotry, had I a vote I could only have crossed the yes box.  Given the choice between a state retaining a belief in solidarity, even if not with the neighbours south of the border, something akin to a social democracy, and the atomisation offered by all three Westminster parties? There is no choice.

True, the SNP weren't in reality offering anything like that.  Independence was always just a means to an end, with everything to be determined afterwards.  The idea Alex Salmond isn't an establishment politician is as much of a hoot as Nigel Farage presenting himself as the insurgent; it's how debased and safe our politics has become that both just about get away with it.  When it came down to it, the Yes campaign's failure to answer convincingly the most basic economic questions about an independent Scotland cost it.  The undecideds stripped from the polls simply made it look closer than it was.

We can't of course without further polls know exactly what it was that made the undecideds say no.  Were they always going to, was it last minute doubts, the Daily Record "vow", Gordon Brown's interventions (or the just as electrifying condemnation of the SNP from Vicki Greig for that matter), the warnings from businesses, the horror of making Salmond even more smug and self-assured?  All we do know is the commentariat made its mind up straight away.  Scotland might have said no, but no actually meant yes.  Moreover, despite the rest of us not having a vote, Scotland's no also meant yes to more devolution for rUK.

First though, let's not get too carried away with the 85% turnout.  Present a country with a yes or no choice on whether it remains part of a 300-year old union where every vote counts, and if turnout isn't approaching that level you've got severe problems.  More concerning ought to be how 25% of the electorate of Scotland's biggest city still couldn't be persuaded to make a decision either way.  Alternatively, it could be those 25% are the smartest people around, indifferent to the political weather and perfectly happy with their lot in life.  Perhaps they should be envied, rather than getting us dead inside political junkies why-oh-whying about how they can't be reached.

By the same token, only so much can be made about those who've spent the last year or so hoping against hope Yes would pull it off at the last.  Political movements are prone to collapsing the minute after the moment has passed; remember Occupy, or indeed any real organised opposition to austerity for that matter? Thought not.  When Martin Sorrell remarks on just how quiescent the young are, dulled he no doubt believes by the very promise his advertising offers, we ought to be taking notice.  The radical independence people are most likely to be this decade's Iraq war marchers: there for the extraordinary moment, and left bitter, angry and depressed at the failure to achieve their goal.  Nor is there much comfort to be taken from the level of debate: yes, more people than ever informed themselves via the internet and made their minds up that way; no, it didn't make up for the underlying tenor, the shouting down of the opposition, the all too frequent recourse to the language of betrayal and surrender, the never-ending torrent of shit thrown in all directions by more than just the usual suspects.

Equally, you can appreciate the irony of the London media, so often to be found either bemoaning Scotland or England both suddenly desperate for these septic isles to remain united, seemingly for subconscious atavistic reasons rather than out of any real affection, but it doesn't last long.  Not least when nationalism of one variety leads all but inevitably to the rise of its equivalents, understandable grievance followed by pitiful whinging.  Of all political bores, and let's face it, we're never the most engaging of folk, the most crushingly dull are the constitutionally fixated ones. England needs its own parliament like it needs two John Redwoods, West Lothian question aside.  The word devolution means whatever those clamouring for it say it does, and it's more power for them rather than true localism.  Time and again the public has made clear it has no interest in yet more politicians, whether it be through often rejecting mayors, the north-west assembly or most recently in the derisory turnouts for the police and crime commissioner elections, a creation no one asked for and no one wanted, and yet still a section of the media and the Westminster bubble thinks otherwise.

The dream might live on.  It's just the dream, as always, is transitory.

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Thursday, September 11, 2014 

The new strategy is there is no strategy.

One thing is abundantly clear after President Obama set out his new strategy on "degrading and destroying" Islamic State: our politicians have been getting themselves in a tizzy for nothing.  Just as policy on Syria has long been to contain, if not actively prolong the civil war in the country, with the result being the rise not of moderates but the likes of the al-Nusra Front and IS, so now this will be extended into Iraq despite the containment strategy having singularly failed.  Got that?

There certainly isn't any other conclusion you can possibly reach after Obama's televised address.  The strategy he sets out is the same one his administration has long favoured, using drones and special forces while trying to empower the jihadists' foes on the ground.  This has "worked" in Somalia and Yemen, in the sense neither al-Shabaab or al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula have launched attacks on the west, despite the latter having made a number of attempts.  As for whether our allies in either country have been empowered, it's very much a secondary concern.  So long as the high-ups in the groups are thinned out every so often, as has just happened with al-Shabaab, it goes down as a success.

Why then all the rhetoric about destroying IS, it being a cancer needing to be cut out etc, when it's obviously a long-term aim?  Well, it's what he needed to do after he said previously there was no strategy, when he meant there was no new strategy.  There still isn't, it's just you can make it look as though he's proposing something different by ratcheting up the language, sending John Kerry round all the "friendly" American-allied despots and getting them to say they're going to do something when there's little evidence they will based on how some of them are just as much responsible for the rise of IS as the Ba'ath in Syria and the Americans themselves have been.

If this was the intention all along, it's not clear if the message got through to dear old Dave.  There he was declaring IS poses the greatest threat to the country since William the Bastard, with JTAC declaring it to once again be severe, and now it's not even apparent if the US wants us to help out by firing the odd Hellfire missile at a rag-tag bunch of wannabe headloppers.  Despite the media leaping at Obama saying he "will not hesitate to take action against ISIL in Syria", that doesn't mean he's going to be authorising air strikes there any time soon.  Apart from the Russians making clear their displeasure, any sustained campaign against IS will only benefit Assad in the short-term.  If there really are "moderate" Syrian rebels currently being trained by the US, with Patrick Cockburn suggesting they amount to the last remnants of what was the Free Syrian Army, which was never an army in the first place, only now fully under the auspices of the CIA, the idea they can fight both IS and Assad at the same time is as ridiculous as it is amusing.  The US can't possibly imagine they'll make the difference either; the hope presumably is the Saudis, Qataris, Kuwatis etc will come round to the US approach and start funding their controlled rebels instead of the likes of the Islamic Front or IS itself.  This in turn will risk the non-IS jihadists going over to IS, but that apparently doesn't worry anyone.

The Syrian rebels are themselves still fixated on overthrowing Assad, not surprisingly considering that's err, why they rose up in the first place.  Sadly for them the mission's changed: once it was about getting rid of the Ba'ath, only the west soon realised the rebels weren't going to be any better than Assad, in fact probably worse.  Rather than admit we got all our predictions about the Syrian regime being doomed wrong, Assad "re-elected" and going nowhere, we settled on support for the rebels knowing full well neither they nor the government could strike a killer blow.  Only we didn't count on the apparently defeated and broken Islamic State of Iraq morphing into not just IS but also al-Nusra, or the Sunni Arab states using them in their proxy battle against Iran.  Or at least on IS becoming so powerful so quickly.

As for Iraq, the US is perfectly happy to send a few more units to the country, for allies to arm the Kurds and Iraqi government, and for neither to move all that quickly against the towns and cities IS controls.  Unlike the panic-mongers over here, Obama spelled out how IS currently doesn't have the intention of attacking the west, being far too busy in both countries.  No reason then to risk further unbalancing the fragility in Iraq; with the Yazidis mostly safe and other minorities having fled, the US is counting on IS once again outstaying its welcome amongst the Sunni tribes, just as it did back in 2007.

Moreover, Obama's reheated strategy is almost certainly the right one, despite its failure in Syria.  If the intention was to really deal with IS and right now it would mean temporarily allying with Assad, something we simply aren't prepared to do, both out of the sheer embarrassment it would involve and of course down to how he's a chemical weapon using tyrant.  Having morals is nice, but not losing face is far more important.

It would be great though if for once, just once, our leaders could admit how badly they've got things wrong.  We hold our hands up: we're just as responsible for the rise of IS as either Assad or the sectarian Iraqi government.  Now it's turned out this way, we're going to make it right by not making the same mistakes as we did before.  The Americans, against the odds and to their credit, have reacted in a far calmer manner than our politicians have, regardless of Cameron's rhetoric not matching the legislation proposed so far.  With the parties currently far more exercised by the little matter of Scotland potentially leaving the union, by the time parliament returns (assuming there is a no vote) the initial something-must-be-done stage might have passed.  Just don't count on it.

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Tuesday, September 09, 2014 

Cometh the hour, cometh Brownman.

Every so often a political crisis comes along that just can't be solved by the usual, ordinary methods.  In such times, there is but one man you can turn to.  He can't be reached by phone, his real identity is known only to a select few, and there's no guarantee then he will help out, liable as he is to years of sulking and plotting.  Your best bet of attracting his attention is to ask Commissioner Gordon Hogan-Howe to illuminate the brown signal.  For he is, and will always be, The Brownman.

Yes, now recuperated from the exertion of saving the world from financial meltdown in 2008, Brownman is back to smash the Salmon(d)'s nefarious plot to break Scotland away from the United Kingdom!  Could Brownman this time have left it too late however?  Should he rather than the Boy Darling have led the battle against the Salmon(d)?  And what of the swirling rumours Brownman is only intervening due to the machinations of Two-Face Cameron and Poison Crosby?

Describing the actions of Better Together over the past couple of days as panic doesn't just do a disservice to those who suffer from anxiety attacks, oh no.  We're talking full on, head-just-been-cut-off, running around the farmyard with blood spraying everywhere type attacks of fear-induced mania.  It speaks volumes of the confidence of the no campaign that a single, solitary, within the margin of error, with don't knows stripped out poll giving Yes its first ever lead causes a quite staggering outbreak of oh my god what are we going to do we must do something anything and right now-itis.  These, remember, are politicians meant to be calm, collected and resolute in the face of any threat.  Menaced by the divisions of YouGov they've turned tail and ran straight for the high road.

Leaving it till now, both to use a figure who might make a better emotional case than Alistair Darling and to set out exactly what a no will mean in the form of further devolved powers is baffling, except when you know what a basket case the no campaign has long been.  They believed they could just go on saying no to everything Yes said they could do, and that would be enough.  No currency union, no EU membership, no deals, no friendship, no help, no chance of Scotland becoming Norway.  In fairness, the polls suggested this approach worked, except until the vote got so close you could start to feel it, more people began paying attention and Salmond played the if-you-hate-the-Tories-even-if-you-don't-know-why-vote-Yes card (PDF).

I've tried not to pay too much attention to the Scottish independence campaign for the reason that both sides equally depress, or rather infuriate me.  Generally in politics and as I've often tried to argue here, all involved are ghastly but there's usually one slightly better than the rest, even if the differences between them are almost imperceptible.  Yes peddles a fantasy vision of a Scotland freed from the perfidious English establishment, a country where the sun will always shine, the oil will perpetually flow and the welfare system will forever be more generous and fairer than its south-of-Berwick equivalent.  Sure, every so often either Salmond or Nicola Sturgeon will say they're not claiming independence will be a panacea or transform the nation overnight, but it usually comes after a very particular flight of fancy.  No by contrast paints a picture of a nation too wee, too poor, too stupid to go it alone, one where London knows best and to prove exactly that point will block any proposal, however modest, to give the Scottish people more say.  This is without getting into the petty grievances of both sides, the dead horses beaten daily, the phony differences played up by those who really, really ought to know better, the we're more Scottish than you attitudes on display by all concerned.

Just as sad is how otherwise intelligent people have been sucked in by this cavalcade of bullshit.  Some of those on the left backing independence really seem to believe this is the first step on the road to socialism in one country.  Never mind that the SNP is about as radical as those people wooing and cheering as Apple launches yet another slightly better iPhone than the last one, a party that as Shuggy says has not during its 7 years in power instituted a single redistributive policy, that Salmond is more than happy to pal up with those pinkos Donald Trump and Rupert Murdoch, as once the independence deal is done and dusted they can elect someone better.  Like whom?  The Greens?  A reinvigorated Scottish Labour party, suddenly receptive and open to policies they weren't when tied to the English party?  Or do they seriously think the tax cutting yet still somehow able to spend more SNP will turn from yellow to red?  The notion Scotland is more left-wing than the rest of the country doesn't stand up to any kind of real scrutiny; hating Thatcher and not voting for the Tories in the same proportion as us southerners have certainly doesn't equal the same thing.

Yet it's also impossible not to see the attraction.  Forget the chest-beating nationalisms for a second, and why wouldn't you want to take a chance on independence when the alternative is more years of austerity, whether delivered either by a Tory-led or a Labour-led coalition?  No one seems to have connected the spectre of another war on the horizon with the leap in support for Yes, despite independence suggesting a break from the overseas adventurism of the recent past.  Listening to David Cameron speaking last weekend from the NATO conference was to hear a man suffering from the most extreme delusions of grandeur, imagining the nation he leads is still a world power, able to project itself around the world as it builds a second aircraft carrier and ensures defence spending remains at high percentage of GDP.  Who wouldn't want the insufferable, jumped-up arse to be forced to go to the Queen and tell her in the space of four years he's managed to oversee the dismantling of the union?  The idea he could stay as prime minister in such circumstances is laughable, as is the one the general election would go ahead next year as planned.  Besides, do you really want to align yourself with the gimps in power at Westminster, complacent with the apathy they usually encounter, until at last they realise the situation is far more serious than first thought?

The problem with this is both that it's a strange independence movement that wants to break up the United Kingdom yet keep the pound, if necessary without a currency union, all while staying in the European Union, and that even if we accept at face value most of the claims about the true potential of the Scottish economy, it still leaves the country facing an incredibly tough initial decade, such are the levels of debt the newly independent state would take on.  This is if everything goes smoothly in the negotiations between Scotland and rUK, of which there is absolutely no guarantee, with Mark Carney explicit today about the incompatibility of sovereignty and a currency union the SNP insists will happen.  It could just be my natural pessimism talking, but I'd like to think it's in fact realism.

All three main party leaders are then off north tomorrow in their bid to lovebomb Scotland into submission.  It's a pretty pass we've come to when unleashing Brownman is the more rational, more likely to have an impact stunt of the week.

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Thursday, September 04, 2014 

Desperate business.

It's a strange old world.  You might have thought for instance that regardless of how the SITE Intelligence Group, formerly the SITE Institute, is a self-started organisation that presents itself as an adjunct of the security services but in fact operates as the middle man between jihadis and the media and therefore needs to get more exposure, it wouldn't have plastered its logo all over the Islamic State's "Second Message to America" video.  It might not, as was the case in the previous video, actually show the beheading of Stephen Sotloff, but it most certainly does have the terrified, close to tears Sotloff reading out the statement demanded of him, before then cutting to an image of Sotloff's prostrate body, his severed, bloodied head placed on his back.  On the opposite side of the image to SITE's logo is the Islamic State's billowing black flag.  Still, it's good for business, right?

Equally odd is the idea a media blackout helps when it comes to those abducted in Syria or elsewhere.  Until Tuesday night when our new friend Jihadi John, as we apparently have to refer to him, was seen holding the scruff of David Haines's neck, we didn't have any idea there were Brits held by IS or any of the other groups.  The government and media did; they just felt it was better for all concerned if we were left in the dark.  Even yesterday, despite the rest of the world's media being understandably exercised by another westerner threatened with an especially grisly, brutal end, our own finest were pussyfooting around naming him.

As unlike our European counterparts we refuse to pay ransoms, failing a successful rescue operation David Haines faces the same fate as both James Foley and Sotloff.  It's true this might not have been the case until recently, as we don't know whether Foley, Sotloff or Haines were abducted by groups or rebel battalions other than IS and then sold onto them, and there might have been negotiations going on with them about possible deals not involving money, but if not IS has likely held these men with the intention of using them as pawns in a potential battle of wills with the west.  Media publicity before now might have made some sort of a difference, as it clearly did when Alan Johnston was abducted in Gaza, for instance.  It's certainly difficult to think of further harm it could have caused, unless the coalition is haunted by the memory of Ken Bigley and the pressure put on Tony Blair at the time over it.

Ah.

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Tuesday, September 02, 2014 

A greater and deeper threat. Just not to us.

In a world so overflowing with bullshit, one where it's difficult to keep your head above the surface in the septic tank of life, it takes a statement the equivalent of an Olympic-sized swimming pool of cow dung to give anyone the strength to make the effort to say simply, and boldly, you're talking crap.  According to our prime minister last Friday, the threat from the Islamic State, or ISIL, as he insisted on referring to the group for some bizarre reason, despite how we haven't described the greater area of Syria as "the Levant" for a very long time (those in the region refer to IS as Daash, the acronym for Dulat al-Islam fi al-Iraq wal-Sham, i.e. ISIS) is "greater and deeper than ... we have known before."

It's never been clear when politicians talk about threats and security just how far is it we're meant to go back in looking for a comparable situation to the one we're facing now.  Are we talking black death style threat, Spanish Armada type threat, the civil war, Waterloo, Crimea, the Boers, the Kaiser, the Nazis, the Soviet Union, the IRA, Saddam Hussein, al-Qaida?  Obviously enough, the new threat is always greater and deeper than we've known before, and we're all meant to have absolutely no knowledge of history at all, or indeed a memory span beyond that of last month.  Tony Blair claimed on a number of occasions the threat from al-Qaida was beyond comparison, just as every dictator we've faced off against since Hitler is, err, worse than Hitler.  Mao might carry the distinction of (arguably) killing more of his own people than any other 20th century leader, but it's always to good ol' Adolf the glib and shameless turn.

David Cameron's press conference came after JTAC concluded the overall threat is now once again severe, despite the lack of any specific information suggesting an attack is being planned or is any more likely than it was the previous day.  This is especially curious as only a few months back new checks were put in place at airports after specific intelligence suggested bombs could be concealed in iPhones or Samsung Galaxy devices.  That didn't necessitate any wider action, and yet here we are with a hypothetical threat from Islamic State requiring a "rules of the game are changing" style intervention, urgent legislation and the general public told to be more vigilant, reporting any concerns they have to the local cop shop.


Except Cameron's rhetoric hasn't matched the measures announced.  With the removing of citizenship from those born here not possible without breaching international treaties, the government instead proposed temporarily excluding those who've gone to fight in Syria or Iraq from the UK, without explaining where they would be expected to stay or just how long such an order would remain in place.  The police might be given the power to confiscate passports from those looking to travel, while TPIMs, the coalition's replacement for control orders, could be tightened by reintroducing the relocation element.  No one relocated under a control order absconded, so correlation must equal causation, right?  Even during the debate Cameron was emphasising how it "sticks in the craw that someone can go from this country to Syria, declare jihad ... and then contemplate returning to Britain having declared their allegiance to another state".  Apart from buying into Islamic State's own sense of self-importance, he knows full well those who do return can be prosecuted under the alarmingly widely drawn powers in the Terrorism Act, as Mashudur Choudary was, despite not having fought in Syria at all.  It raises the question of why if around half of the 500 estimated to have travelled to Syria to fight have come back more haven't been prosecuted, unless that is the threat posed by these Brit mujahideen has been over-egged.

Why then such a disjunct between the message and the action?  It's not down to the concerns of the Liberal Democrats, as Labour have made it perfectly clear they're prepared to bring control orders back, and so are hardly likely to defeat the coalition, at least on this issue, for the sake of it.  Nor does breaking international treaties bother a party set to propose leaving the European Convention on Human Rights in its election manifesto.  Instead the reasoning behind it seems a strange mix of playing up the threat for all it's worth, just in case the Americans decide they would like our help in Iraq and/or taking the fight against IS into Syria, preventing a repeat of last year's fiasco, while at the same time knowing full well that for the moment at least the threat posed by IS to the country directly is fairly negligible.  Getting further involved would make the threat worse, just as our involvement in Afghanistan and Iraq did, but that irony seems lost on most involved.

With IS having followed through on its threat to kill Steven Sotolof, with the promise a hostage described as British, David Cawthorne Haines, will be murdered next, there's little reason to imagine the thinking behind all this to fail in its aim.  Despite there being no indication either ourselves or the Americans have the first idea of what to do about IS in Syria, as any suggestion of temporarily allying with Assad has been rejected, with the idea of training and arming "moderate" rebels to go after IS still being mooted, it looks as though we're heading towards another intervention without having either a plan or an idea of what the end game will be.  Destroying IS in principle is a laudatory aim; when however they have already turned to ethnic cleansing, what's the most likely outcome should they find themselves having to flee their current safe havens?  There is a great, deep threat to those trapped between IS, Assad and the other Islamist rebel forces, and we might just be about to make it even worse.

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Thursday, August 28, 2014 

It's about Farage, not Carswell.

Quirky is one way of describing Douglas Carswell.  Giving a bad name to all the perfectly respectable swivel-eyed loons out there is another, rather more accurate one.  He was certainly far closer to Dan Hannan than Boris Johnson on the libertarian scale of just how out there you can be and still stay in the Tories, and duly, despite a "few sleepless nights", he's off to join the good ship UKIP.

The first obvious criticism to make when that rare thing, an MP resigning only to stand again in the subsequent by-election on a different platform or principle happens, is self-indulgence.  This was thrown at David Davis when he stood down over 42 days detention, and clearly annoyed the Tory leadership despite Cameron just about managing to swallow his pride and campaign for the man he challenged for the leadership.  To give Carswell some credit, he has long campaigned for political reform and the public recall of MPs, a perfectly reasonable measure but one I've always felt could be triggered too easily by single issue campaigners under the system proposed by those pushing for it.

All the same, to stand down and trigger a by-election now, when we are only about 8 months away from the general election doesn't exactly speak of concern for the public purse.  Had he wanted to, Carswell could still have defected and hung on in his seat until the general election, then stand for UKIP.  Indeed, it would probably give him the best possible chance of remaining the MP, seeing as he will now face two votes within the space of 8 months.  He could easily win the by-election, only to lose his Clacton seat next year once the Tories have had time to build their candidate up in the constituency.

This isn't about Carswell though, it's about UKIP, Farage and keeping the party in the headlines right up until the election.  Give the party's adviser Patrick O'Flynn his due, the former Express hack knows both how to time their announcements and how to keep the illusion of pressure up on the Tories.  If making it the same day as the latest immigration figures were published wasn't coincidence, the rise of net migration to 243,000, just the 143,000 above the Tories' target, it couldn't have put their raison d'etre back on the agenda better.  With the media still more than happy to fluff Farage, despite his anointment as candidate for South Thanet guaranteed weeks ago, you can't help but wonder whether the Liberal Democrats are going to be left struggling with the Greens for attention, at least until everyone remembers at best UKIP might, emphasis on the might, pick up 1 or 2 seats next May.

Nor should Carswell get re-elected will he be the first UKIP MP, considering Bob Spink's defection to the party in 2008.  More important is proving Farage right in his prediction the party will pick up seats, or can win at least once, not having managed to do so in all the previous by-elections.  The party must be fairly confident he can take his support with him, as losing would be a humiliation; recoverable from certainly, but the kind of setback Farage has previously said could "puncture their bubble".

The other motive presumably is to put the same idea in the heads of other Eurosceptic Tory MPs, suggesting they too could defect and still keep their seats, being as right-wing as in their dreams, supporting their former party on a case-by-case basis.  It's why the Tories will throw as much at the campaign as they can, hoping they can make the best of a bad situation.  As for Labour, it's a dream: the Tories tearing themselves apart over an issue the public are only exercised about by proxy.  It will also split the vote in Clacton: unlikely as it is they could pick the seat up as a result, it will put under scrutiny the claim from both academics and UKIP alike that they pose as much of a threat to Labour.  Interesting times, at least for us politics nerds, are ahead.

(P.S. There's a simple reason I'm not on Twitter, or Facebook for that matter.  They're not for me.  I really appreciate the kind words about yesterday's post nonetheless.)

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Wednesday, August 27, 2014 

Victims today, undesirables tomorrow.

For the past few weeks I've been working my way steadily through a box set of The Wire, it having sat on my floor for at least four years, ever since I bought it shortly after the BBC had shown all 5 series back to back (I expect to get round to seeing what all the fuss is about Breaking Bad and Game of Thrones some time around 2018).  I'm up to the final season, where McNulty, back on the booze and women and pissed off at the decision to shut down the operation against Marlo, "creates" a serial killer with the intention of getting the money taps turned back on by City Hall.  Only until advised by Lester he can't even do that right, with neither the chiefs nor the media interested in his fictional slayer of homeless men.

Something highly similar went on with the reporting of the Asian sex gangs prosecuted over the last few years.  Let's cut all the nonsense now and say the real reason why it was so many young, not even always teenage girls, predominately in care or vulnerable, were able to be exploited and abused for so long with so little done about it.  It happened because almost no one, with the exception of a few of those in the system and the abusers themselves gave a damn about them.  Whether they really were regarded as "white trash" by those abusers, when the closest the independent report by Alexis Jay (PDF) comes to describing any such direct insult from the men is one calling a 13-year-old a "white bitch" (pg. 140), is irrelevant when regardless of skin colour, these girls were treated as trash by everyone.  They weren't important, and only are now as a grindstone for whichever political axe it is you want to sharpen.

Andrew Norfolk only got his story onto the front page of the Times in the first place by playing up (or rather,  by his editors focussing on) the whole "political correctness" angle.  Asian girls, black girls, white girls being abused by white men, black men, Asian men, who cares unless there's a celebrity or political figure among the latter or a good middle class kid gone off the rails among the former.  Start saying nothing is being done though because everyone's too scared to admit it's predominantly Asian men abusing white girls, a problem within the Asian, if you want to be even more discriminatory the Muslim, community, and you've suddenly got a story the right-wing press is going to love.

And boy, do they.  It doesn't matter either the report is for the most part just restating what we already knew.  Both the Sun and the Mail scream this morning of the betrayals by the PC cowards/brigade.  All but needless to say, the report itself doesn't so much as mention political correctness.  What Alexis Jay does conclude comes in the six-page "Issues of Ethnicity" section of the report (pg. 91).  She finds, predictably, that actual decision making was not affected by any fears of racism, with the "inquiry team confident ethnic issues did not influence professional decision-making in individual cases".  There were however concerns expressed by some frontline staff as to whether their work could be interpreted as racist, and also awareness of, or a feeling of pressure from on high to play down the fact it was predominantly Asian men abusing white girls.

As Anna Raccoon writes, Rotherham isn't worse than any other instance of organised child sexual exploitation because the colour of the penises in this instance were brown rather than white.  Jay goes on to comment on the research done by the UK Muslim Women's Network, which examined 35 cases and details almost exactly the same pattern of grooming and abuse as carried out in Rotherham, only in all these instances the victims were also Asian.  The Home Affairs Select Committee heard evidence suggesting Asian victims were even less likely to come forward as they risked being ostracised by their own families and the whole community.  As well as going against cultural norms, those in the community also feared the same retribution as visited or threatened against the victims if they went public with their concerns.  With hindsight, Jay concludes, "it is clear that women and girls in the Pakistani community in Rotherham should have been encouraged and empowered by the authorities to speak out about perpetrators and their own experiences as victims of sexual exploitation, so often hidden from sight."  Child abusers don't tend to select on the basis of skin colour; they do on the basis of how likely it is they are to get caught.

The problem wasn't with the council and culture at the most senior level being politically correct, rather that it was "bullying and macho" (pg. 101).  As far back as 1998 the chief executive of the council said women officers weren't "readily accepted" by officers or members.  One former senior officer described it as a "very grubby environment in which to work", while another said she was asked if she "wore a mask while having sex" (pg. 114).  As late as October 2009 a senior officer not working in safeguarding is quoted as saying the town had "too many looked after children" and this accounted for a "significant part of the overspend".  When the issue was raised by councillors, it was through mosques, while one senior office suggested some influential Pakistanti-heritage councillors had acted "as barriers" (pg. 93).  "Traditional" channels of communication were used, and some councillors even demanded that social workers reveal where Pakistani-heritage women fleeing domestic violence were staying.  The police meanwhile, whom the report describes as now having a "clear focus on prevention, protection, investigating and prosecuting the perpetrators" are described as in the early 2000s regarding the victims rather than the abusers as "undesirables" (pg. 69).

If there is a section of the report on shakier foundations, it's in the estimate of a potential 1,400 victims, the figure staring out from today's front pages.  This isn't an estimate, rather an outright guess.  Figures on caseloads were not collected, so the inquiry instead looked at case files, and lists of those known to children's social care (pg. 29).  The inquiry read only 66 case files in total; it's unclear why it didn't read all those available to it, instead going for a random sample and drawing conclusions from that.  As the section on victims also makes clear, not all of these are necessarily victims of grooming gangs; at least three of the cases are suggestive of abuse by individuals or within the family rather than groups of men working in concert (pgs. 41 and 42).

Undesirables.  There in a single word is the case summed up and why for all the talk of "never again" it will happen again, as no doubt it's happening tonight.  Demanding the sacking of the now police and crime commissioner for South Yorkshire isn't going to achieve anything, except leaving the taxpayer with the bill for a by-election where only around 10% will turn out.  The right will play the political correctness angle for all it's worth, point fingers at Labour and its rotten boroughs in the north, make subtler noises about the failings of multiculturalism, while the left and those like me will say it's about social breakdown and an underclass ignored by everyone until something terrible on a grand scale happens or there's another outbreak of rioting.  They're fit only for gawping at on Jeremy Kyle and Benefits Street, for being a reason to pare back the welfare state, and the occasional short-lived passing frenzy.  Social workers will go on struggling with a risk assessment culture that can't be applied to such hard cases, underfunded and overworked.  Undesirables will become victims, then undesirables once more.

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Tuesday, August 26, 2014 

A damp rag.

There are some days when you look down the headlines, by-lines and photographs on any news site and you can't help thinking, I detest every single one of these fucking people and their fucking miserable, petty, ridiculous and contemptible obsessions and actions.  Well, OK, you probably don't.  I'm just projecting myself into you.  Which is pretty much as far as my anything goes into anyone.  Today there isn't even a comment piece by either Holly Baxter or Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett.  Clearly nothing on their vagenda.

We do however have Jessica Valenti.  Every day, a new horror, or alternatively, a new breakthrough.  Although I don't mean to pick on Valenti, more writers whom are hired or worse, expound constantly for nothing on a single, deadening topic.  Last week women were no longer expected to be virginal, which is a wonderful triumph, something I imagined was fairly self-evident considering it's long been far more shameful to be a virgin rather than not, and the culture of the moment seems to dictate the more bare flesh you display the more successful you are, but there you go.  The next day, "sexual assault [is] infecting our every institution and town", which is a scourge.  I also don't mean to pick on feminism, more those where the record is always the same, the topic never changed, a problem never solved or even close to getting somewhere positive, but always requiring more action.  I don't doubt Valenti has a lovely, well-rounded personality; surely though this monetary monomania requires that you can't switch off, or at least not fully or for more than a few hours.

Yes, I realise I bang on about much the same topics here, and have been for way too long.  You could say they're all interconnected and interdependent, so they're pretty much the same one too.  You might even have a point.  I've never claimed to be anything other than a colossal hypocrite.  You can't have clean hands when you're all in the same plague pit, whether you try to be holier than thou and claim to be above all the other keyboard batterers out there or not.  My point, if I still have one, is that as much as you might think about something, and I think about everything and certain things in particular way too much, to actually write it all down is something different.  Some people it might help, I don't know.

As well as being a direct reference to a Chuck Palahniuk short story, I originally named this blog Obsolete both in reference to how my politics seemed to be and still are, but also down to how I've felt like my whole approach to life and who I am is redundant in this age.  I despise the falsity of everything, something epitomised by the apparent harmlessness of the ice bucket challenge.  It's not just that once you've seen one person drench themselves in cold water you've seen them all, requiring even less creativity than the fucking Harlem Shake craze did, it's that charity can no longer be a quiet thing you do for all the right reasons, rather one that requires the attention of the entire world and has to be passed on.  If it was more unpleasant than just cooled liquid it would help too, but celebrities only ever eat rats' cocks if they're the ones being paid or they really will do anything for the attention.  It's also just self-promotion in disguise, being a good sport, rather than a damp rag.  I've always rather liked damp rags.

I don't then give a shit about social media in any shape or form, just as Twitter doesn't about you, or your asymmetrical haircut. I don't care about Lena Dunham or any of these other anointed chroniclers of now, a now I don't recognise, a now which of course puts poor little rich people centre stage.  I can only laugh when the police urge the public to call them if they're worried about an "aspiring" terrorist, both words utterly perverted and corrupted by politics, conjuring up an image of jihadis who want more from life, like buying their own home to cook hydrogen peroxide up in.  I just sigh as we hear the same tunes from all concerned on this "new" threat, a media which has to reduce everything to a cartoon, moving on from the "white widow" to "jihadi John", alongside the demands for the entire justice system to be inverted.  I wonder about the point of it all when Israel and the Palestinians reach much the same agreement as they did three years previous, nothing changed except for the extinguishing of thousands of lives.  Anyone would think both sides need each other more than they do their supporters.  I'd like to snicker at Hopi Sen reaching for the "Stop the World coalition" moniker in his latest hand-wringing demand for bombing somewhere, setting out oh so rationally why doing nothing isn't the answer, even when doing nothing is the opposite of what we've done, but this particular joke isn't funny any more, especially when John Gray is also resorting to it.

There are a mess of contradictions at work here.  I prize anonymity while pining for the same attention I denounce others for wanting.  This very piece couldn't exist if it wasn't for all the above.  I need it as much as I loathe it, guilty of the same thing I criticise Jessica Valenti and the single issue campaigners for.  The other day I was attacking Russell Brand and others for writing about themselves by proxy.  Something I would never do.  Obviously.

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Thursday, August 21, 2014 

The security-industrial complex triumphs yet again.

Is there a better job going currently than being an "expert", either in security or radicalisation?  Your words are treated as gospel, regardless for instance of how many times we've been warned the sky is about to fall by these people, whether it be due to the ever more ingenious bombs created by the fanatics or by the sheer number of said fanatics just waiting to get their hands on those ingenious bombs.

Take Shiraz Maher for example, the now go to guy at the International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation and Political Violence, which smartly drops the PV bit on the end and just goes by ICSR for short.  You might remember him (although probably not) for the work he did on Islamic extremism for Policy Exchange, the think-tank behind the report exposed by Newsnight as being based on forged evidence.  Maher's studying and researching pretty much amounts to following those jihadists with either no shame or no brains on Twitter, Skyping with those he's managed to persuade to talk to him about their own personal holy war, and then talking to journalists about the threat posed and horrors committed by these otherwise fine and upstanding gentlemen.  He probably has links to the more discrete jihadis who still use forums too, although the switch to Twitter and Facebook by so many has made the whole monitoring process easier for all concerned.

In short, Maher and his ilk are essentially spooks, only not as useful.  His numerous interviews with those out in Syria and now Iraq don't tell us anything we didn't already know, or rather tell those who have gone through Maher to get their own interviews exactly what they want to hear.  According to Maher the first wave of fighters going to Syria went with the best humanitarian intentions, only becoming further radicalised once they got there.  This ties in precisely with the bogus idea of the armed uprising at the beginning being dominated by moderates pushed by the violence of the Assad regime into embracing jihadism (for an especially putrid example of how this argument is still being made, you can hardly do better than this Left Foot Forward piece, a blog transformed by James Bloodworth into one pretty much advocating war all the time, all of the time).  This isn't to say some British fighters weren't at the start somewhat naive about what they were getting themselves into, considering the reporting which often reflected that narrative, only for it to later flip 180 degrees into the equally absurd, all these people are going to come back and continue the war here territory.

Maher nonetheless pours scorn on the idea any of the British fighters could be compared to those who joined the International Brigades in the 1930s.  The "modern state simply cannot allow itself to become a launch pad for every foreign conflict" he writes, except presumably when those conflicts are ones we approve of, or indeed take part in ourselves.  It's also deeply odd how so many of the 500 or more fighters have managed to leave the country, with only the waifs and strays and clingers-on prosecuted.  What purpose for instance was served by jailing Mashudur Choudary, who came back here precisely because he realised he wasn't cut out for the jihad game?  If letting them go is the plan, and it's not necessarily a bad one, shouldn't that be made clear, or are we playing a game of double bluff?  Maher even repeats the ridiculous claim that the Islamic State is too extreme for al-Qaida, when the split between IS and AQ was about personalities and just which was the "real" al-Qaida affiliate in Syria rather than tactics, despite AQ central's concern in the past over al-Zarqawi's igniting of a sectarian war.  Syria is nothing if not a sectarian war after all.

The belligerence of foreign fighters as described by Maher is predictable.  It also hides a weakness, just as the murder of James Foley was the action of a weak actor against a stronger one.  As yet IS hasn't faced an enemy worthy of the name in Iraq, although it will once the peshmerga proper gets involved.  Its ambition could also be its undoing: fighting on two fronts is liable to spread its best fighters too thinly.  Foreign fighters can threaten attacks against the west, but it doesn't make the prospect any more realistic, although the likes of Maher and the hacks following his every pronouncement will make the most they can out of them. Having successfully got the attention of America and the world, there's only way this is going to end for IS and its pitiful "caliphate".

2 months back the spooks and securocrats were convinced the threat was not from IS but al-Nusra, with all electronic devices in air travellers' baggage needing to be charged to show they weren't the latest AQAP-designed fiendish device.  How quickly things change.  What doesn't is the spiel, the certainty this latest danger is real, will endure, and requires immediate action.  And so the security-industrial complex will continue to triumph.

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Wednesday, August 20, 2014 

Wasted your life in black and white.

Hi Time magazine hi Pulitzer prize / Tribal scars in Technicolor / Bang bang club AK47 hour

The reaction to the murder of James Foley by the Islamic State, documented in their now favoured fashion of showing the beginning of the execution before fading the image out, with the victim's head then pictured atop their prone, lifeless body, has been both all too predictable and all too revealing.  Strangely, while even IS deems the release of an unedited decapitation with a small knife in high definition too stomach turning, too brutal, too liable to make even the most bloodthirsty armchair jihadis blanch and wonder about the merits of such base, pure propaganda, few bat an eyelid as our politicians, commentators and media respond as though such a heinous act has never been committed before.  David Cameron stayed on holiday as Gaza burned, the Yazidis took to Mount Sinjar to escape IS and dozens of celebrities took the ice bucket challenge, but the filmed killing of a white, western journalist?  He had to return when such "an act of violence shocks the conscience of the entire world."

Foley's murder is of course straight out of the old al-Zarqawi bequeathed playbook.  The words, both from Foley and the butcher tasked with the killing would with minor adjustment be the exact same as those we heard 10 years ago, when if we're to believe the Americans it was Zarqawi himself wielding the blade.  Things have undoubtedly changed since then: Zarqawi made demands that were never going to be accepted, but it gave the illusion of possible escape both to the prisoner and their relatives; up till yesterday some were still insisting Foley was being held by Assad's forces, not a group like IS.  Killing Foley without any such public warning or ultimatum as "revenge" for the US strikes is of a piece with their other filmed atrocities.  Straight brutality designed to invoke fear and rage in equal measure is the default position.

It's deeper than just a terrorist group being a terrorist group though.  The propaganda of the Red Army Faction for instance, at least during the initial Baader-Meinhof period was exactly what you'd expect from the pen of a political journalist turned wannabe guerilla.  IS by contrast, while working by the model put down by jihadi groups past doesn't have the same ideological or intellectual back-up, with the vast majority of scholars whom backed al-Qaida denouncing IS and its declaring of a new caliphate.  IS can point to even less theological justification for its actions than al-Qaida, which really is saying something.  All the same, for all its amateurism, its massacre first and ask questions later mentality, it knows both how to play the media and politicians at the same time.

For PJ Crowley to say the video isn't then aimed at the United States is completely specious.  It couldn't be more aimed at the US.  As Jason Burke writes, IS might not believe in "propaganda by deed" to the same extent as bin Laden did, understandably considering how the Ummah failed to rise against their infidel rulers despite such prompting, but it is about trying to once again get the US to involve itself fully in Iraq/Syria.  The invasion and occupation of Iraq resulted in the creation of IS in the first place, for goodness sake.  Those with an old school jihadi outlook will continue to look down on the chaos and mayhem IS has caused, until that is the US widens its current strategy and starts bombing more widely than just "threatening" vehicles.  Then any such concerns will quickly be forgotten, and another wave of fighters will start flocking towards IS's black flag.  It works both ways: threaten attacks anywhere, regardless of how unlikely an IS attack outside the Middle East is, and threaten the lives of the few Americans IS can get to.  Both demand a response from the war addicts at the Pentagon and in Congress.

Then we come to how it was apparently a "multicultural London English" man who speaks and then kills Foley.  The Islamic State is smart enough to realise both how the foreign fighter angle has been overplayed, the importance of communication, and the intended horror at how a westerner could be killing another westerner in a country far away from home.  No one knows just how many young British men (and women, for that matter) have gone to join the jihadists in Syria/Iraq, but plenty are willing to guess and draw the most alarmist, scaremongering conclusions, especially if it means more government money for the anti-radicalisation industry (1 in 800 young Sunni Muslim men, shrieks James Brandon, formerly of Quilliam).  We saw with the entire Trojan Horse affair just how deeply the government has bought into the at risk of extremism narrative, regardless of the lack of evidence of any actual radicalisation, simple intolerance and vile sectarianism not being enough.  Nicky Morgan has since given a speech making clear how nurseries and pre-schools will also be monitored lest they start churning out 5-year-old jihadis, in what has to be one of the most absurd government policies since oh, David Cameron promised to make all of them family friendly.

As the War Nerd wrote a few months back, the bigger question is why relatively so few go and join the jihadis.  Perhaps one of the reasons those few have is connected to our continued, blatant double standards.  You might remember the UN used very similar language to Obama in condemning the shelling of their schools in Gaza, language of the sort our politicians would never use to condemn a fellow democracy, regardless of its actions.  The same media commentators who wonder just why it is people in Ferguson are prepared to riot over the shooting dead of a black teenager regard the murder of Foley as terrorist attack that demands a response.  The slaughter of dozens if not hundreds of Shia men at the hands of IS gets perfunctory coverage, if that, with the images and video shared on social media freely.  A white westerner killed in the most brutal fashion necessitates a crackdown, the closing of Twitter accounts, another of those Twitter "campaigns" masquerading as being about not helping IS propaganda spread when really it's about people not wanting to see something happening to "us", rather than it happening to "them".  So much as watching the video could be enough to get a knock on the door from the police, presumably once they're done with harassing the wives and friends of fighters.

The only realistic endgame to all of this involves, as the Graun is brave enough to point out, a settlement in Syria as well as reconciliation in Iraq.  The difficulty is in trying to push for that reconciliation at the same time as Iraq looks destined to break apart.  If we take the side of the Kurds over the weak Iraq military, unable to take back Tikrit, the risk is it only holds things together in the short rather than the long term.  It also likely means coming to some sort of accommodation or at the very least a short term pact with the Assad government, regardless of how anathema such a deal will be.  It additionally requires the making clear to Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Qatar that even if they haven't directly funded IS or the other jihadist groups in Syria, their encouragement and indirect funding of an almost region wide proxy war must end now.  The same message must also go to Iran and Hezbollah, but their involvement was more in response to the actions of the above than out of any real love for Assad.  This is not the time for a recital of all the old noises about a war on terror, a generational battle or why-oh-whying about British Muslims and the other failings of the past.  It's time we learned from them.

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Monday, August 18, 2014 

Our clear as mud Iraq strategy.

Living life like a comatose / Ego loaded and swallow, swallow, swallow

At times, everything seems to descend into parody.  This, for instance, has to be a piss-take, an anonymous record producer making fun of a relatively new genre, a track made with a smile, the creator certain everyone will get the joke.  It gets best new music on Pitchfork, Boomkat describes it as "exquisite ear candy ... visionary pop architecture" and even Resident Advisor approves.  If this turn of events discombobulated the producer (whom last year put out this pleasing slice of house) then he seems to have just gone with it.  After all, why not?

By the same token, David Cameron surely didn't think he'd get away with his article for the Sunday Telegraph.  He (or whichever adviser/hanger-on wrote it) writes we can't let ourselves be imprisoned by the events of 10 years ago, and he has a point.  Just because we've had a major hand in Iraq being in the mess it now is doesn't mean we shouldn't return and help Johnny Kurd push back the ethnic cleansers of the Islamic State.  Besides, we're not going to put "boots on the ground", just as we didn't in Libya.  If we so choose to bomb a few Islamic State positions, or more accurately described, vehicles, as they seem to be the main targets the Americans have chosen to obliterate thus far, we should know that doing so is all the more likely to prevent the Islamic State from becoming a threat here.  Just think what might happen if we sat this one out.  A positively medieval caliphate stretching across the Middle East, on the shores of the Mediterranean, bordering a NATO country!  A NATO country!  What could be more terrifying, more ignominious, more unacceptable?

Like the estimable Flying Rodent, I'm more than a little tired of the this-time-it-really-is-as-bad-as-we're-saying-it-is intervention argument.  Ten years ago every politician told us we were facing a generational battle against Islamic extremism, a long war, a war we might even not realise was still going on or in fact had ended.  Yesterday David Cameron said we will be fighting this "poisonous and extremist ideology" for the rest of his "political lifetime".  His political lifetime could extend all the way up till next May, but put that happy thought to one side for a moment.  Outside of the anti-jihadist monomaniacs, around the time of the Arab spring with bin Laden dead and al-Qaida central having been reduced to Ayman al-Zahawiri occasionally holding forth in his eternally pompous fashion, all those predictions seemed to have come to naught.  Why then are all the old favourites being reheated like the fried chicken in the local kebab shop?

Cameron, naturally, has the answer.  According to him what we're seeing isn't Sunni against Shia, but rather "a battle between Islam on the one hand and extremists who want to abuse Islam on the other".  This is, as Kim Howells had it on the Turner prize entrants however many years ago, cold mechanical bullshit.  The Islamic State of Iraq 5 years ago had been routed, thanks to the Awakening groups, i.e. Sunnis who had turned against ISI's brutality.  Only our friend Nouri al-Maliki didn't keep his promises to the Awakening groups, with many complaining the payments they were due were either paid late or didn't arrive at all.  Then came the uprising in Syria, which quickly descended into a sectarian proxy war.  Some of the remnants of ISI formed the al-Nusra Front, and seeing this brought funding from the rich Wahhabi takfirists in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and so on, possibly including direct from the Saudi authorities, ISI proper joined the fray.  Along with the proceeds from the oil fields they captured, ISI was suddenly swimming in wealth and gathering in a lot more fighters too.  With the Sunni Arabs in the north of Iraq once again prepared to join up with or acquiesce to the jihadis, first Fallujah fell, then Mosul did.

When Cameron then says we must work with the likes of Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey you can't help but wonder if he isn't doing this deliberately.  Those three nations have done more to help the Islamic State and its jihadi brethren than the rest of the world combined.  Saudi policy towards Syria only altered at the beginning of this year, while it's difficult to know whether Qatar's has at all.  Turkey's main role has been to keep the border open, helping refugees escape yes, but also to allow money and fighters to flow through unimpeded.  Cameron even mentions the spectre of the Islamic State taking Aleppo, which prompts the obvious question of whether we might just have backed the wrong dog in this fight.  Assad's a murderous, barbarous chemical weapon using dictator yes, but compared to the Islamic State he's a sweetheart.

What then is the plan now that the Yazidis have been helped off the mountain and the imminent threat of genocide seems to be receding?  We're going to arm the Kurds, although it's not clear which Kurds, or whether by "arm" we mean provide them with equipment rather than ammunition for their ageing Soviet-era weapons, but are we expecting the peshmerga to liberate all of the territory taken by the Islamic State, albeit with ourselves or just the Americans providing air support, or just Mosul?  If it's the former, are the Kurds then just going to hand all this Sunni dominated territory over to the Shia dominated Iraqi army once Baghdad has sorted itself out, or are they going to keep some of it in hope of a greater Kurdistan becoming inexorable at some point?  This major favour to the west isn't going to come free, that's for sure, and if anyone with the exception of the Palestinians deserves a state, it's the Kurds.  It certainly won't please either Turkey or the Iranians, though.

See, what starts out as a thoroughly decent operation to prevent abused and persecuted minorities from being slaughtered has the potential to quickly become the kind of conflict we did our best previously to prevent igniting.  Trying to justify it all by resorting to the ever more exhausted national security reasoning is contemptible.  When the best they can point to is hot-heads in east London flying an IS flag or ex-drug dealers joining a different type of war without the slightest evidence they have any intention of bringing the fight here they really have to change the record.  Indeed, getting further involved would almost certainly increase rather than decrease the threat, exactly as MI5 warned prior to 2003.  Yet here we are once again, with Michael Fallon warning our role is likely to take months rather than weeks.  Irony, as ever, is smothering everything.

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Tuesday, August 12, 2014 

The personal is more political than ever.

Don't tell me, a liberal American Jew in London, what to think about Israel, pleads Hadley FreemanWe are all Palestinians, writes Karma Nabulsi.  We broke Iraq, therefore we have a responsibility to do whatever it takes to save its people from themselves, insists Tom WatsonFeel my pain, demands Tory MP earning an amount the vast majority of us can only dream of receiving at the end of the month.  No, feel our anguish, says group of utterly deranged Israel supporters, at how those we will defend to the death are forced, literally forced by Hamas, to kill Palestinian children.

The personal is political, as feminists prior to the current generation of Twitter using crybabies had it.  Back then it meant something, and perhaps it still does.  Politics is always personal, of course.  For some, it's a crusade or it is nothing.  It's hard not to think though we've reached a peak for this, despite what it seems I'm writing about, I am in fact writing about myself style of political commentary.

Hadley Freeman doesn't really care about Israel or Gaza then, nor does she care about the Tricycle theatre asking the Jewish Film Festival to reconsider accepting money from the Israeli embassy, rather she's affronted that anyone would dare think she, a good liberal American cosmopolitan Jew might care to express her opinion about something serious for a change.  In her entire piece we don't learn what she does think, although to judge by her quoting of Roger Cohen's claim that to not hold a negative view of Israel in Britain is to be considered without a conscience, and her end summation that media coverage in America and Europe is equally skewed, just in opposite directions, we can guess.  Nor does she present any evidence anyone has told her or any other Jews what to think about Israel, but that's to be expected.

Europe's roots are showing, nonetheless.  Reports of antisemitic attacks and vandalism have spiked, as they usually do when Israel brings out the Hellfire missiles.  Racism is always racism, and it is without question protests against Israel attract their fair share of Islamists, kooks, conspiracy theorists and outright loons.  Nor is enough done by others on the marches to denounce them, or make clear they are most definitely not welcome.  Smearing "FREE GAZA" on the walls of a synagogue is as just as much an act of stupid hate as painting "EDL" or something similar on a mosque would be.  It is strange though that, unlike when hate crimes against Muslims peaked after the murder of Lee Rigby, we haven't had left-wingers claiming such reports of antisemitism have been exaggerated, as we did with the attacks on Tell Mama by the Telegraph and Mail on Sunday.  Also peculiar is the number of articles which popped up one after the other about Europe's continuing problem with antisemitism, or as it could be more accurately termed, Europe's continuing problem with racism.

Other than crying antisemitism, the other perennial is victimhood, again because of its roots in reality.  Once, the Golda Meir quote about forgiving Arabs for killing their children but not forgiving them for making Israel kill their children was poignant and reflected how Israel was surrounded by enemies. Now it can be wrongly interpreted all too easily, precisely because Palestinian life is regarded as cheap and the standard defence of every Israeli attack is they have no choice.  The advert paid for by This World, co-written by Elie Wiesel, takes the "human shield" argument, whatever its extremely limited merits and debases it completely.  We are the ones who are really suffering by having to kill children is its message. The Palestinians are responsible if they don't change their leaders; they must find "true Muslims", to represent them, Muslims acceptable to Likudniks.  Even the main suspect in the murder of the Palestinian teenager Abu Khdeir, an act committed in revenge for the kidnap and slaughter of three Israeli teens, claims to have immediately felt remorse for his crime.  Feel our pain, not theirs.

Not that we are all Palestinians has any true resonance beyond the demonstrations either.  We are not Gazans, nor would we want to be.  It's not enough to want justice for the Palestinians, the lifting of the Gaza blockade, the establishment of a viable Palestinian state with east Jerusalem as its capital, we have to be them, not just express our most earnest solidarity.  So too we must save Iraqis, at least once it's decided whom it is we should be demonstrating in favour of today.  We either have to do so because this could have been prevented had we armed the rebels in Syria, although it's not made clear which rebels we were meant to have given heavy weaponry to, or because of our involvement in the Iraq war, or because of Sykes-Picot, or because of whatever other justification can be dredged up.  Then again, according to the Sun, we can't do anything, although it isn't exactly clear what we're supposed to do about Australian jihadists taking their kids to Syria.  Perhaps we were meant to provide him with a toy AK-47 which in turn would have prevented the Islamic State from taking over the north of Iraq?

For a nation supposedly turned isolationist by the vote on Syria, our other representatives in the media are as quick as ever to want the bombers sent in, without explaining what it would achieve, whether there is any sort of plan, or if attacking IS from the air will push them back.  One has to wonder if this isn't about us rather than them.  It shouldn't therefore surprise when an MP tries the same tactic, attempting to garner sympathy as he can't afford to house his family in Westminster under the new expenses regime.  He wasn't prepared to have them live anywhere else in London, the public transport system in the capital being notoriously unreliable, and so would rather step down instead.  As one of the few people who wouldn't begrudge MPs a second home in London with the tab picked up by the taxpayer, at least within reason, Mark Simmonds hasn't really helped out his colleagues.  His wish to spend more time with his family could also have something to do with his missing the Syria vote last year, not hearing the division bell as he was discussing Rwanda with Justine Greening.

It could be in this age of Buzzfeed writers believe the only way to get readers interested is by making it personal.  It could be the cult of the self continues to grow.  It could be the only way to get anything worth doing done is to spell out why it matters to us, charity beginning at home, altruism no longer enough.  It could be we can only talk about things when they happen to celebrities, even if then most reach immediately for contemptibly puerile clich├ęs.  At least it's talking, right?  It's that it's also limiting, closes down debate, encourages personal abuse, which in turn leads to further articles about how terrible it is to be called names in the comment section and on social networks.  What was it the original piece was about again?

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Monday, August 11, 2014 

Stop me...

Stop me if you think you've heard this one before.  An armed force is approaching a major cityAlready hundreds of thousands of people have fled in their wake.  There is a very real threat of genocide being committed.  Those on the ground are pleading for help from the outside world.  Doing nothing isn't an option.  Parliament has to be recalled.

It's all too wearily familiar, isn't it?  In fact, if you were the cynical sort, you could say that seems to be the point.  The difference is that unlike in Libya a few years back, there really is a genuine possibility of an entire community being slaughtered, the Yazidis of Iraq threatened in a way they never were during the reign of the Ba'ath party by the self-proclaimed "Islamic State".  It's difficult therefore to object at all to the steps taken by the Americans since the flight by up to 40,000 Yazidis to Mount Sinjar, of whom up to 20,000 are now thought to have managed to escape into Iraqi Kurdistan.  How much help the airstrikes and drops of aid have been is open to question - there are suggestions the food and water parachuted down hasn't survived the impact with the ground, while in the past the aid itself has proven deadly - but if it has allowed the peshmerga the breathing room to evacuate some of the refugees, all pessimism should be tempered.  The danger is not just directly from the jihadists, but also the fearsome Iraqi summer: without shelter or water, heat exhaustion can affect the young and the elderly very quickly.

This said, these strikes are not anything close to altruism.  Over the weekend US media reported on the "thousands" (later "hundreds") of Americans in Erbil, the Kurdish city that has become a mini-Dubai, except far more liberal and tolerant than the emirate beloved by the corpulent Western elite.  As Steve Coll reports in the New Yorker, the vast majority of however many Americans there really are in Erbil are there because of the oil, with a far smaller number of military operatives also in residence.  Erbil probably wasn't at imminent risk of being overrun by IS, as the peshmerga would most likely have regrouped and been quickly reinforced, as indeed they now have.  Still, it never hurts to be absolutely certain, and the plight of the Yazidis and other minorities provided an opportunity to bomb a few Islamic State vehicles in the bargain.

Quite what the US plan now is doesn't immediately present itself.  If the idea is a rerun of Libya, with the US carrying out attacks on IS targets which get too close to areas they've decided to protect while the Kurds and hopefully also the central government properly get their shit together, this could take a while.  It's clearly not a coincidence that in Baghdad today there's been a coup against Nouri al-Maliki, after the reports Maliki himself was preparing a coup.  The appointment of Haider al-Abadi as the new prime minister, instantly welcomed by the US, hardly suggests the turmoil and torpor in the Iraqi capital is going to be over any time soon.  Nor is replacing one Shia Islamist from the Dawa party with another Shia Islamist from err, the Dawa party likely to win over the disenchanted Sunnis whom have either worked with the Islamic State or done little to oppose their takeover of much of the north of Iraq.

Exactly why it is then some MPs are now chomping at the bit to get ourselves involved is a bit of a mystery.  Or rather, isn't.  Ever since the Syria vote there's been continued murmurings from those convinced the only way we can stand tall on the world stage is to support America in absolutely everything she does.  When parliament voted against intervening in Syria at that time, something David Cameron took as ruling it out for all time, it was only a matter of days before government ministers were complaining this meant the royal prerogative had gone out the window, and we would no longer be regarded as a reliable ally, much less a "full spectrum" one.  It doesn't seem to matter the US hasn't made any suggestion as yet it could do with more help, and besides, we've already taken it upon ourselves to carry out further humanitarian drops of aid.  They've even gone so far as to suggest parliament could discuss Gaza at the same time, just to make sure it appeals to those on the opposite side, devious buggers that they are.

The real difficulty is knowing how much blame to put on each state actor for the current desperate situation.  Amazing as it is, at the weekend both Hillary Clinton and John McCain were insisting if only we'd armed the Syrian rebels earlier we wouldn't now be in this mess.  The fiction that there is or was a Syrian moderate faction ready to be trained and empowered before the Islamic State and al-Nusra established themselves as the big two continues to go unchallenged.  A more than healthy dollop of blame must obviously be put on Bashar al-Assad for his murderous reaction to the original, peaceful protests which demanded reform, not revolution.  After the switch to armed struggle, the funding of the most extreme factions by Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Kuwait, some of it through private donors, some of it direct, is how IS managed to reach the point where it was able to hold not only a large area of Syria, but also launch an operation to control much of northern Iraq, having previously been reduced to a mockery of its former self.  The west either turned a blind eye to this, or in some cases, facilitated it and encouraged it with little concern for the potential consequences.  Only last year did the west suddenly realise the monster it had helped create, and even then useful idiots and apologists for the other rebels kept pushing the nonsense there was some sort of deal between Assad and IS where they didn't attack each other.  Finally, al-Maliki and his Iranian/American backers bear a grave responsibility also for his antagonising and marginalising of the Sunni population to the point where so many were prepared to align themselves with the Islamic State.

Whether if given the same shock and awe treatment as Iraq was back in 2003 IS would quickly disintegrate doesn't enter into the equation.  Even with quite possibly the most violent and potentially dangerous jihadist force the world has yet seen dismantling the Sykes-Picot agreement, the Americans aren't interested in getting involved to such a point again, entirely reasonably.  At the same time, by carrying out attacks on IS from the air they seem ready to step into the role of ostensible Iraqi air force, with all that entails for possible civilian casualties and potential further disenchantment of the Sunni population should IS eventually be pushed back.

Call me crazy, but I think it might just be best if we sat this one out.  Don't count on it though.

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