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 Martin 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 |

Wednesday, July 01, 2015 

Oh for an incompetent government.

Government, we tend to think, is at its worst when it's either incompetent, or obtuse.  Well, excepting those who really do believe, as the Gipper put it, the nine most terrifying words in the English language are "I'm from the government and I'm here to help"Philip Hammond wringing his hands about how the Tunisian gunman Seifeddine Rezgui was likely trained in the "ungoverned spaces" of Libya and then in his next breath defending the intervention that led to that very space being ungoverned is pretty much par for the course.  We expect government to defend itself despite knowing full well it had more than a hand in how the current situation came about.  It's just how it works.

The same goes for the foisting of the legal requirement on schools, hospitals and prisons to prevent extremism, and the ridiculous official definition of what constitutes "extremism" ("the vocal or active opposition to fundamental British values, including democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty and the mutual respect and tolerance of different faiths and beliefs").  The path to radicalisation is different in almost every case, and the idea that a teacher reporting up the chain that one child has an exceptionally negative view of homosexuality could ever prevent something further down the line is completely absurd; the government knows this.  Nonetheless, Nicky Morgan, forever looking as though she's just put a hot chip in her mouth seconds before being dazzled by studio lights, must go on television to insist that black is in fact white, as government has to be seen to be doing something.  It isn't simple coincidence this has the effect of putting more responsibility on the shoulders of teachers, transforming them yet further into social workers, as it couldn't be clearer the Tories hate the entire profession with a passion, but it's a happy side effect.  The government approach to radicalisation seems to be that so much as discussing what might lead to it in schools is tantamount to a betrayal of British values, and if you don't talk about it, clearly it doesn't exist.  Job sorted, now we can get back to putting the blame wholly on Muslims as though they're a homogeneous entity?

No, government is most definitely at its worst when completely and utterly open about what it's doing, and yet still lies about it.  George Osborne's second budget of the year, now only a week away, should finally start to set out precisely where the £12bn in welfare cuts are going to be found.  As has been apparent for quite some time, if you're going to protect pensioners, the disabled and not cut child benefit, the only possible way to get close to that figure is to do something very drastic indeed to both tax credits and housing benefit, both of which are mainly claimed by those in-work.  David Cameron started the softening up process last week with his deeply disingenuous speech about putting an end to the "merry-go-round" of those on low incomes being taxed only to then be handed the money straight back.  It didn't seem to matter that's how the tax system in general works: you are taxed, and services are there as and when you need them.

The obvious problem with cutting child tax credits back to the level they were introduced at back in 2003, one of the most efficient ways of clawing back £5bn, as identified by the IFS, is that you're not hitting the nasty undeserving poor, the scummy mummies and the perpetually drunk, but the strivers at the heart of the "one nation" the Tories have suddenly discovered they stand for.  Even worse, there is or rather was the small problem of the 2020 child poverty target that Gordon Brown managed to get enshrined in law in the dying days of the last Labour government.  One of the targets, long criticised by Iain Duncan Smith, was the aim to reduce relative child poverty, defined as family income 60% below the median, to less than 10%.

What to do?  Even at this point rethink the cuts?  Perhaps not sell off RBS until the share price means the taxpayer won't lose the equivalent of £13bn, as Osborne wants to?  Don't be silly.  No, you just scrap the target entirely, as IDS has today done.  You see, the aim of reducing relative child poverty has led to "unintended consequences for good reasons", namely the increase in tax credits.  And this hasn't really had the effect of dealing with poverty; after all, if you're only £1 better off than the 60% below benchmark, you're still damn poor, aren't you?  Besides, there are the perverse side effects of the target, such as how when everyone is worse off, such as after a recession, it means there are supposedly fewer paupers than there were before.  Or if the government puts pensions up, the opposite becomes true.

Instead the government will focus entirely on getting social mobility going.  Measured will be worklessness and family breakdown, as well as debt and drug dependency.  IDS has long been obsessed with worklessness, and for good reason: as Rick pointed out, and recent studies by the Resolution Foundation have found, worklessness, let alone the long-term worklessness the Tories have so often identified as being the root of all evil in the benefits system, barely exists any more.  There are more people in work in poverty than not, for the reason that work has become that much more insecure and low paid.  Tax credits have duly gone up to compensate.  As commentators pointed out after David Cameron's speech last week, it was Ed Miliband who tried to flesh out an alternative with his clumsy predistribution.  Now the Tories have their majority they don't need to bother to find that alternative: they can just cut tax credits as a whole, say you voted for this, and argue their great economic plan will see everyone's wages go up.  Eventually.  IDS getting rid of the child poverty target was simply the final hurdle.  He's been completely open about why he's done it, while still putting in place a diversion.

Next week the government will announce that the poorest are about to get poorer.  It won't of course be presented like that, and no doubt another rise in the income tax threshold will come alongside it, which will mainly benefit those on middle incomes but will look as though it's helping those on low wages.  The blame will be put not on those who caused the crash, who might in fact be rewarded with another cut in the top rate of income tax, but the Labour party.  Labour in turn might find the remaining fire in its belly, but the leadership contest so far has revolved around accepting the narrative set by the Tories and the right-wing press, so it's unlikely to last long.  Besides, summer's here, parliament's about to go into recess, and by the time it returns it's practically time for the conferences.  Osborne and Cameron some say aren't ideological, that the cock-up version of history is always more convincing the conspiratorial one.  Even if true, it doesn't alter the fact the Tories are doing this because they want to, not because it's the best, let alone fairest way to reduce the deficit.  Give me incompetent government over this any day.

Labels: , , , , , , , ,

Share |

Tuesday, June 30, 2015 

Membership of Conservative party 'may be sign of extremism'

Education secretary Nicky Morgan has defended the government ahead of tomorrow's introduction of a legal requirement on schools to prevent extremism.

Morgan, who still looks visibly surprised to be in a position of any authority whatsoever, was combative.  "What our critics have to understand is this puts us under the same level of scrutiny as everyone else.  And let's be honest here, the Conservative party could until recently have fallen foul of our definition of what extremism is.  The mutual respect and tolerance of different faiths and beliefs? I should coco."

"Individual liberty is all well and good, but if it leads to someone saying things we now declare to be extremism of the non-violent variety then obviously we have to step in," Morgan continued.  "As for the rule of law, the law is whatever we declare it to be, and if we don't like the interpretation of one judge, well, we can always get that of another.  Nor are we safe when it comes to democracy, as we have no problem whatsoever with palling up with some of the most unpleasant governments on the face of the planet, like our good friends the Saudis, who respond to demands for freedom of thought with the sword and the whip.  Did you see there was another attack today in Yemen claimed by Isil on the Houthis?  We're hoping no one notices that we are on the same side as IS there, not to forget allied with al-Qaida's affiliate the Nusra front in Syria."

Asked whether it was the height of hypocrisy for Morgan to claim that homophobia might be a sign of extremism when she and many other Conservatives opposed gay marriage, Morgan gave a remarkably straight answer.  "Well, obviously.  But we either can't or won't do anything real that might help tackle extremism, so we decided making life even more miserable for some of the people least likely to vote for us was as good a way of any of showing we're doing something."


In other news:
Fifteen-year-old threatened with TPIM for describing teacher as "well gay"
Parents of latest IS runaway blame teachers, police, government, social media, Basil Brush, Charlotte Church, and Buzz Aldrin for her disappearance
Counter-terrorism exercise held in London, officers trained to shoot for head of nearest Brazilian
Labour party abandons policy of social democracy, as "issue is gone"

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 |

Tuesday, June 16, 2015 

This post summarised: I don't understand social media.

If there's something that never fails to raise a chuckle, it's just how many right-on folk suddenly discover they don't mind in the slightest receiving a honour created by royalty and given out by royalty making them a member of something that no longer exists.  That most would also normally blanch at the merest idea of being connected with the empire, for good reason, it's remarkable just how soon they decide otherwise once offered the chance to put some more letters after their name.

Yes, the Queen's birthday honours list was as delightful as ever, if not more so than usual.  Most of the fun comes when Private Eye bothers to look at the list in detail and finds just how many of the recipients owe their awards to their political affiliations, donations or other brown-nosing, or alternatively, to how despite or indeed down to their being bent as a nine bob note they managed to make the grade.  Some names do though jump straight out at you, like Paul Kenny, leader of the GMB union, essentially receiving a knighthood for being extraordinarily useless at representing his members.  Simon Hughes is also rewarded for his services to the coalition by getting a K, a reminder of how brilliant the next round of nominations to the Lords will also be.

Then there are the straight up juxtapositions of worthiness.  Will Pooley, one of those who volunteered to help fight Ebola in east Africa and nearly died after contracting it himself, is justly recognised with an MBE; awarded an OBE is Caroline Criado-Perez, for getting trolled on Twitter.  Alongside her is Laura Bates, behind the phenomenally successful Everyday Sexism project, who receives the resurrected by Cameron British Empire Medal.  Considering the major triumph of Everyday Sexism has been to make self-hating, insecure men even less likely to give the merest of compliments to the opposite sex for fear of it being seen as harassment while the actual sexists carry on as they always have, who could possibly object to the award?

Getting the nod for an honour is in essence the establishment recognising the recipient as not representing a threat.  At opposite ends of the pool are Benedict Bandersnatch, who complained previously about posh-bashing, getting the CBE, while Lenny Henry's push for proper representation in the media was no obstacle to his knighthood.  The awards for Criado-Perez and Bates meanwhile are just the latest evidence that the fourth-wave of feminism, if it can really be recognised as such, has been co-opted entirely by those it supposedly targets.  When Waterstone's has a specific table set aside for the works by the aforementioned and others like Caitlin Moran, as my local has, while also at the same time encompassing Bryony Gordon's fucking everyone in a pair of trousers memoir The Wrong Knickers, appropriation has mostly certain taken place.

This not being a threat doesn't mean the public at large are any more receptive or impressed by identity politics, mind.  I'm with Paul when he responds to Sunny Hundal's piece for LabourList that recognises the left-wing social media echo chamber most likely contributed to Labour's loss, in that he says speak for yourself pal.  We don't all obsess over mugs with controls on immigration plastered on them, or imagine that activism online can replace activism offline.  I've been critical of politicians beating themselves up over not talking like the public, when in fact what the complaint is about and Sunny gets is it's not how they sound and the phrases they use, it's the content.  He's wrong about Blair getting non-Labour voters in as much as Blair's great success was to come at the precise moment the Tories utterly self-destructed, but he is right about the cultural deficit.

Not that hardly anyone outside said echo chambers pays much in the way of attention to Twitter subcultures, let alone your average voter.  When issues of identity do reach the mainstream however, as they have recently with Caitlyn Jenner, Rachel Dolezal and Tim Hunt, it's far from clear it's to the benefit of those who are always the first to comment.  Jenner's transition invites cynicism because of who she is, regardless of the exact circumstances, as should the way it was presented to the world in a way those welcoming it would normally flinch from.  Rachel Dolezal is an almost perfect example of the double standards associated with racial as opposed to sexual identity, while you don't have to take the Daily Mail line to think Hunt harshly treated if still stupid, as plenty of commentators have.  Despise the way a phony image of the "metropolitan elite" has been created and instilled, as we should, it all feeds into it.  This is hardly helped when so often the sites and media associated with the left do their best to be a parody of themselves.  Some have for too long celebrated difference for its own sake rather than thought about what makes us belong, unites us.  Most pertinently, class has often been overlooked in favour of every other distinction.

It's not just the left who have given in to the lures of the echo chamber, of course, and this doesn't mean those ideals are the wrong ones.  For every person who banged on about immigration mugs, there are also those who don't think what ostensibly remains a centre-left party should have someone of the left so much as stand for leader, as that by itself shows the party is still not "serious".  They would seemingly have preferred the contest to be between three candidates with all but identical policies, none of whom seem to understand that Labour faces threats from both the left and right, with the potential for things to get worse before they get better.  Equally misguided are those who see fit to comment on the alleged hypocrisy of supposed radicals for cuddling up to the establishment, and then see fit to advise a party of the establishment and its supporters on where it's going wrong.  Oh.

Labels: , , , , , ,

Share |

Monday, June 15, 2015 

Magna Carta and all that.

I'd like to think we can all agree it takes a special kind of cretin to use the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta, the document that established all are equal under the law, to argue in fact only they can "restore the reputation of human rights".  Considering the chief argument being made for a British Bill of Rights is it would prevent criminals, terrorists and other unworthy sorts from invoking Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights, that of the right to a private and family life in order to avoid deportation, although how this would be accomplished without also leaving said convention at the same time as ripping up the Human Rights Act has never been answered, it does put in a whole new perspective David Cameron's decision to say it was "ironic" that "the good name of human rights has sometimes become distorted and devalued".  Call me a stuffy pedant, but I'd say it was beyond ironic, in fact an example of a politician without the slightest sense of shame to use Magna Carta as a backdrop to say some will be more equal than others under the law if and when he gets his way.

Then again, Magna Carta has always been a symbol rather than anything real in any case.  Everything you think you know about it is almost certainly wrong, and as Jack of Kent so admirably argues, there is no contradiction in politicians and other worthies celebrating a document that cannot be relied on in court while wanting to repeal one on which you can.  Rights in the view of so many are things you can expect to be given to you as hard and fast as you can take them, and if you can't, well hard cheese.  It's also noticeable historians chuckle and roll their eyes at all this nonsense, knowing full well that Magna Carta sure didn't stop King after King from doing whatever the hell they liked, while politicians, often in the main law or PPE graduates, go into raptures over it.  Not all of them, obviously, but a fair number.

Cameron's dedication to destroying an act that does work, frankly all too well for the government and establishment's liking, is of a piece with the fondness of the spooks for the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000.  Described by the independent reviewer of terrorism legislation last week as "undemocratic" and "intolerable", with the situation in which we are currently in deemed "unnecessary", I wondered if the intelligence agencies wouldn't finally see sense and embrace David Anderson's recommendations, couched as they were in language and arguments that mollified libertarians like me while still providing the agencies with the powers they say they need.

Yesterday's front page piece in the Sunday Times rather answered such thinking.  According to a number of anonymous sources, the cache of files taken by Edward Snowden has been successfully cracked by both the Chinese and Russians, leading to MI6 needing to extract a number of agents for fear they could have been killed as a result.  The entire report, without needing to read the responses from those in the know, such as Glenn Greenwald, Ryan Gallagher and the Graun, is bollocks of the hairiest, most obvious kind.  Snowden apparently has blood on his hands, and yet there is no evidence of anyone being harmed.  Que?

You don't have to question how the Russians and Chinese could have gained access to the files when the only people in possession of them are journalists, Snowden himself having destroyed his copies after he handed them over, something not previously questioned by anyone.  Nor does another howler, like the precise figure of 1.7m documents accessed by our enemies when the NSA previously admitted it simply didn't and couldn't know how many files Snowden had taken give the game away.  It's how crude and transparent the sourcing is: when Seymour Hersh questions the official version of events in the killing of bin Laden, his reliance on unnamed intelligence sources is ridiculed.  Hersh's recent exposes may be nonsense, but they are no less believable than a supposed newspaper of record (stop sniggering) noting down everything briefed to it by a government and then reprinting it verbatim.

The "exclusive" given to the Sunday Times is revenge, plain and simple.  David Anderson confirmed in his report that without Snowden, absolutely nothing would have changed.  The Intelligence and Security Committee had never asked precisely how GCHQ monitored the internet, so it hadn't thought it necessary to keep them up to date with things like Tempora or their relationship with the NSA.  Anderson's recommendation that judges review and authorise warrants rather than politicians raises the possibility they might be slightly more critical in their appraisal than ministers have previously, and that would never do.

There's also the simple spite factor, that and letting everyone know how they might react in the future.  The smashing up of the Guardian's copy in this country of the Snowden files was utterly pointless when it came to "ending the debate", but it carried with it the message of acting because they could.  Smearing Snowden further and claiming those dastardly Rushkies and Chinese have got their hands on the locations of our brave spies is meant to reinforce how so much as talking about things we're not supposed to know is to damage our security.  You might think you've won this round, it says, with the Anderson report, but just you wait.  When all else fails, appeal to the court of public opinion, with its memories of Bletchley Park and hagiographies of Alan Turing.

It's utterly pitiful behaviour, and yet it shows how worried the government and the securocrats are.  They've done everything they can to deny there is any need for a debate or to worry about what those in the shadows are up to, when even the American authorities have in the main accepted the powers they had went too far in some areas.  Instead of going down the same path, the Anderson report having given them the chance to back down without losing much in the way of face, the age old tactic of anonymous briefing to a trusted hack and newspaper is the response.  When you can't make the perfectly reasonable argument that we can't foresee the future, can't know what the next threat might be, and so have to be ready for every eventuality without resorting to outright lies, there is clearly a problem with accountability.  They saw back in 1215 that absolute power corrupts absolutely.  800 years on some still need to learn that lesson.

Labels: , , , , , , , , , , ,

Share |

Thursday, June 11, 2015 

When maintaining the status quo feels like something to celebrate.

David Anderson QC's review of the various laws authorising and regulating the interception of data by the state is as good as we possibly could have hoped for.  Compared to the work of parliament's Intelligence and Security Committee, well, there's no comparison.  Not a single redaction for a start, very little in the way of obfuscation or outright distraction, regardless of how transparent those attempts to muddy the debate have been, and outright recognition that if it had not been for the whistleblowing of Edward Snowden, we would still know almost nothing about the way GCHQ hoovers up our data with the very minimum of oversight.  Anderson still, contradictorily, criticises Snowden, but that is to be expected.  The independent reviewer of terrorism clearly does not swallow the bluster from the security services that major damage has been done to them, despite accepting "national security" has been affected.  When national security is defined so widely, and presumably in this instance includes damage to the reputation of said security services, it could hardly be otherwise.

He does nonetheless accept the pleas of GCHQ for the bulk interception of data to be allowed to continue.  He did at least manage to persuade the powers that be to disclose the general outline of the examples previously provided to the ISC for why bulk interception, which if nothing else gives us something of an idea as to what we're giving up in terms of privacy in order to prevent.

This is not to say the examples given are beyond question (they're contained in Annex 9 of the report): most eye-catching is the claim that without bulk data, an airline worker with links to al-Qaida would not have been convicted.  As Joshua Rozenberg writes, this almost certainly refers to the case of Rajib Karim, who was in email contact with the then leader of al-Qaida in Yemen, Anwar al-Awlaki, since killed in a US drone strike.  You would of course expect someone like al-Awlaki to be under surveillance, although how precisely GCHQ identified Karim we can't know.  Nor can we know how exactly "bulk data" is being defined in this instance: yes, Karim might not have been identified if al-Awlaki also hadn't been targeted, presumably under the rules governing bulk interception rather than as a specific target, but that's rather different to how our "external communications", i.e. the use of any website not hosted in the UK are considered by the intelligence agencies to fall under bulk interception as a whole.  Two of the case studies provided do not so much as relate to subsequent law enforcement action in this country at all.  While this is evidence of the efficacy of bulk interception in cases where intelligence or what we would normally consider to be standard surveillance techniques have started off the investigation, it hardly convinces that the ordinary sifting through of the vast amounts of data being collected will ever on its own save lives, or outweigh the potential abuse of such access to personal data.


That aside, the report on the whole is so well argued that if the intelligence agencies had any sense, they would take a good hard look at Anderson's recommendations and five principles, of minimising no-go areas, limited powers, rights compliance, clarity and transparency and a unified approach and adopt them as their own.  Anderson writes of just how co-operative everyone was with him, as you would expect, and yet these are the same agencies that once free of the presence of those reviewing them go back to demanding redactions in reports, that over-the-top levels of secrecy be maintained and the delivering of self-defeating lectures that we're all so familiar with.  There is in essence absolutely nothing in the report they should disagree with, at least if they realise things can no longer go on as they were, but whether organisations which by their very nature have to be paranoid and constantly on the lookout for new ways to break things can handle such concepts remains unclear.

The problem you suspect will in fact be more with the politicians than the agencies themselves.  Ministers will be loth to give away to judges the authorising of interception warrants, not least because it's another power they'll lose.  So too will it affect their direct line into the agencies, and considering the past at times fractious relationship between the spies and politicians, that's not something necessarily to be welcomed.  Anderson also reiterates the past criticisms of the proposed Data Communications Bill, aka the snoopers' charter, essentially saying the case for it has still to be made, despite "compulsory retention of records of user interaction with the internet" being "useful", as he terms it.  Well yes, useful it would certainly be; as for being justifiable, in the same way as bulk interception is justifiable, not without safeguards far beyond what has been outlined so far.  


All things considered though, especially when we think of how with a Tory majority, a Labour party that looks certain to head back to the right and when the only party remotely interested in civil liberties as a whole has been reduced to a rump, this report in different hands could have been the sum of all fears.  Instead it looks set to merely maintain the status quo.  These days, that feels like a victory.

Labels: , , , , , , , , ,

Share |

Wednesday, June 10, 2015 

The intoxication of power, via the Simpsons.

You know what we haven't done for a while?  Quoted from the Simpsons, so let's remedy that.  In the New Kid on the Block episode, Bart foolishly asks Homer for advice on the opposite sex.  "A woman is a lot like a beer.  They smell good, they look good, you'd step over your own mother just to get one.  But you can't stop at one, you want to drink another woman!"

Homer could just have easily been talking about the intoxicating effects of power.  Only it wouldn't have been funny or made anything approaching sense, so would have came from a more recent season of the show.  Yes, I just made a the Simpsons ain't what it used to be joke.  Another philosopher, arguably one not quite on the level of Homer but thereabouts, wrote the slave begins by demanding justice and ends by wanting to wear a crown.

Very few once they have tasted power find it within themselves to either give it away or relinquish it, at least not without a fight (The War Nerd in his latest post wonders if the Soviet Union is the only empire to have collapsed without a shot being fired, although that's a questionable version of 1989-91).  Politicians for decades have promised to devolve power to cities and local communities, only to decide not to once they themselves have power, or find those they want to empower in fact don't really like the idea of mayors or regional assemblies much.  London and Scotland are the exceptions that prove the rule, and as we have seen, once given demands for further powers only increase. 

A case in point is the attempt to force a by-election in Orkney and Shetland, under the specious reasoning that Alistair Carmichael lying about not leaking the comments supposedly made by Nicola Sturgeon to the French ambassador means the contest should be rerun.  It's a campaign ran by SNP supporters, but obviously the SNP themselves have nothing to do with it.  56 seats out of 59 just isn't enough when they could they have 57 instead.  Not that it's fair to pick just on the SNP, or the Tories with their legislation on trade unions designed to damage Labour, or the likely at some point boundary review.  All parties are determined to make life as difficult as possible for their opponents, only realising too late that domination builds resentment and the seeds of eventual downfall. 

What is a new tactic is the use of legislation to bind a future government to the same path of righteousness as the current one.  It's an innovation of especial vanity, an attempt to retain control when the people who put them there in the first place might well have slung them out.  It's also, as with so much of our politics now, little more than a gesture when the law can so only easily be repealed by that new government, but it remains a gesture designed to trip up the opposing side in the most petty of fashions.

No surprise then that a man as clearly petty as George Osborne is so keen on the mechanism, having pinched it from that other petty man, Gordon Brown.  First he attempted to trap Labour by legislating for the next government to be required to cap spending on social security.  Then during the election campaign the brilliant idea of making it illegal to raise income tax, VAT or national insurance before 2020 was come up with.  Now Osborne has decided it's a wicked wheeze to go one step further with his deficit reduction fetishism and require all future governments to follow his plan to run a budget surplus, or at least so long as the economy's growing, as he's not a complete bastard.

Cynics might think it takes some chutzpah for the chancellor who failed to eliminate the deficit in a single parliamentary term as promised to propose to tie the hands of his successors.  Considering we're still to be informed also of precisely how the sunlit uplands of the surplus is to be arrived at, demanding all do as Osborne says could be thought of as breathtakingly arrogant.  Nothing though is off the table when it comes to continuing to pin the economically incontinent tail on the soiled old Labour donkey, which is of course the real point of Osborne's jape.  With some of the Labour leadership candidates now accepting the utterly risible idea that they overspent when in government, the obvious riposte to which is to ask exactly what they would have spent less on, and if they answer welfare you reply with a baseball bat with a nail through the top, all the better to demand they sign up to Osborne's completely sensible surplus plan.  And if they won't, as the less self-hating ones won't, you carry on lambasting them for not accepting all this austerity is their fault.

Everyone's a winner, except for oh, the people who will suffer as a result of the shrinking of the state necessary to reach such a perpetual surplus.  The otherwise excellent Flip Chart Rick argues that despite the caricature from some on the left, Osborne and Cameron are not ideological state-shrinkers.  When it comes to Cameron he could be right, mainly because there's never been the sense Cameron believes in anything.  With Osborne, it's becoming ever more difficult to think otherwise.  As Rick has pointed out, both the IMF and the OECD have changed their tune of late, advising governments that are not Greece they can dial down the deficit reduction, especially if the proposed cuts have the potential to affect growth.  Coupled with how everyone assumed that the £12bn in cuts to welfare were to be negotiated away in the coalition talks, Osborne if he wanted has had more than enough opportunities to step back from his surplus now and surplus forever mantra.  Instead, he's gone one step beyond that into the realm of the completely gibberingly stupid.  


That £12bn in cuts to welfare looks unachievable is besides the point: Osborne looks set to try and reach for the top regardless.  The difference between playing political games and acting out of ideological purity is a fine one at the best of times.  The chancellor has surely now shown his true, somehow even ghastlier face to the world.

Labels: , , , , ,

Share |

Tuesday, June 09, 2015 

Trying to out bonehead each other.

Why in the name of all that is fucking holy is the Labour party holding leadership hustings, not only when parliament is sitting, but when a bill as important as the EU referendum act is being debated and voted on?  Why are so many hustings taking place at all when the vote does not take place for another 9 weeks?  Why can the party seemingly not make up its mind as to whether it should have a short or a long contest, and instead apparently wants to have both?  Is it down to how it's far too obvious and therefore far too silly a concept for the opposition party to um, act as an opposition when the government shows just how laughably split it is over Europe?

All these questions and frankly dozens more pass through my head as the two main political parties in this country try to out bonehead each other.  The most sensible time for Labour to conduct its leadership election would be during the parliamentary recess.  Let everyone go on holiday for two weeks and then spend the next month debating, husting, rutting and all the rest of it to their little hearts' content.  The leader will be ready for when parliament returns, giving them time to work on their first conference speech, a conference vital for the party in all sorts of ways.  It needs to be about what the new leader, whoever he or she turns out to be stands for, and what the Labour party under their leadership will represent.  It needs to be about how the party rebuilds itself and how it can win back the support of those it has lost in every corner of the country.  It needs to be about how the party can once again learn to listen rather than just waiting for its chance to speak.

Why the hustings can't then wait till the recess don't ask me.  Apparently it was necessary for the 5 contenders, who might shortly become 3 should neither Mary Creagh or Jeremy Corbyn manage to win the ludicrous 35 nominations needed from MPs to be able to stand to journey to Dublin for the GMB conference on a Tuesday in June, just to deliver mostly the same answers as they've given since the mauling the party received at the ballot box just over a month ago.  The differences between Burnham, Cooper, Kendall and Creagh are almost entirely cosmetic when it comes down to it, it's just Kendall has been branded the "moderniser", and you don't want to be against modernity do you, while Burnham and Cooper are more the "continuity" candidates.

At least today all 5 agreed the manifesto wasn't too left-wing.  Only Burnham and Corbyn had anything positive to say about it, mind.  Not that any of the 3 who can win have as yet given the slightest indication they understand just how massive the challenges facing the party are, even if they have moved away from the more out there reasons they at first gave for why the party lost.  If I have any sort of preference, it's for Kendall, and for entirely personal and spiteful reasons.  Should Kendall win, I'll no longer have to feel as though I should practice what I preach, as the party will have abandoned me just as other luvvies have said when decamping.  It'll also be quite something to see how those on the right of the party explain it when Labour loses just as miserably, if not more so in 5 years.

Labour's various problems with reality are nonetheless as nothing when it comes to the Tories and their inexorable delusions over Europe.  Here we are, barely a month after Cameron's "sweetest victory", and he already can't so much as rely on the support of his own cabinet ministers when it comes to his ability to negotiate a "better" deal for us in the EU.  There he was, imagining he could bounce those who owe him for still having their jobs into supporting a yes to stay in vote come what may, only for a mutiny to break out within minutes.  No, no, no said Dave, you idiots in the press got the wrong end of the stick; I only meant ministers would be expected to support me during the negotiation process.  Which is why a minister was put up on the Today programme to defend the principle of his colleagues needing to supporting the government line come the referendum, obviously.

Arguing for the exit is then to be the equivalent of an issue of conscience, a dispensation only usually extended to ministers when it comes to votes where the influence of religious faith rears its head.  To your "Conservatives for Britain" and those within the cabinet who will ally with the no lobby when the time comes, to get out of the EU is a question of morals, to which to transgress against is to deny theological teaching.  Brussels may as well be the antichrist, the whore of Babylon, Jezebel herself.  To the more deranged, like Bill Cash, nothing less than a rewriting of history is necessary, nor will do.  We fought and died in two world wars for our parliament, our democracy, not their parliament, not their democracy.  We saved Europe from itself.  Churchill was one of the first to come up with this mad little idea called a United States of Europe, but he never imagined Britain as being a part of it, let alone drawn into "ever closer union".

Just as with Tory objections to the European Convention on Human Rights/the Human Rights Act, so much of the argument is not with the institutions themselves as the way the statutes are interpreted.  We are clearly not going to be any part of an ever closer union when we are outside of the Eurozone and have no intention of joining it, and yet we must have "explicit recognition" of our opposition and "explicit protection" of our interests.  The rest of Europe meanwhile sighs and snorts at the haughtiness and self-importance on display, but will most likely agree to something that will allow Cameron to claim his renegotiation has been successful.  He clearly won't get any change on free movement, but probably will get something on the payment of in-work benefits to migrants, and something he can say does mean we're exempt from the "ever closer union".  Germany could of course drive a hard bargain if it wanted, asking for something in return like the removal of the veto.  The veto is worthless in any case, as Cameron's previous wielding of it showed, but then so many of the complaints about the EU are imaginary that it doesn't really matter.

Essentially, what the out right this instant people care about the most, beyond the tiny few who really are convinced we've sold away our sovereignty, are things like the working time directive, which helps ensure student doctors who would otherwise work 72 hour shifts don't kill more patients than they save.  I exaggerate, but only slightly.  They seem to imagine we'd have all the benefits of the single market with none of the drawbacks, only we'd need to negotiate a better deal than either Norway or Switzerland, as both are subject to the same free movement of people rules as members; indeed, both are also signed up to the Schengen agreement we opted out of.  That we'd be Norway without the oil and Switzerland without the banking secrecy and skiing seems of little concern, unless the point is to turn London fully into an offshore city state where the rich and famous can hide their loot and come and go as they please.

Cameron it has to be remembered gave in to these monomaniacs in the hope of fending off UKIP and buying himself some time.  As it was he was saved by the collapse of the Lib Dems, not UKIP defectors returning home.  All it's done is encouraged the headbangers, as it was always going to; already we've seen in the debate today the excuses being made should the vote not go their way, with the complaints about the usual period of purdah prior to elections not applying.  This is despite EU residents being denied a vote, as apparently what they think of all this is irrelevant.  Now sacrificed has been unity within the cabinet itself, a sign as sure as any of a government destined to be torn apart by the obsessions of the few rather than the many.

According to Philip Hammond in the Commons, "an entire generation" has been denied the chance to express their view on our relationship with Europe.  Merely voting for parties that are pro-EU doesn't count.  Should said entire generation come the plebiscite decide by a 55 to 45% margin we're better off in, there's no reason to think we won't be voting again come 2022, 2027, just as the Scottish referendum has made a repeat more rather than less likely.  Another referendum on electoral reform though, to deal with how the votes of nearly 7.5 million people, the combined total of UKIP, Green and Lib Dem support, added up to 10 MPs, while the 1.5 million votes for the SNP added up to 56?  That truly could be a generation away.

Labels: , , , , ,

Share |

Monday, June 08, 2015 

Iraq and othering.

In his otherwise fine tribute to Charles Kennedy (only Steve Bell's beautifully elegiac and moving watercolour was finer), Alastair Campbell couldn't help but get a dig in at those whom, when it comes to him and Our Tone, can't see beyond Iraq:
Charles knew that it was possible to disagree with people without constantly feeling the need to condemn them as lacking in integrity or values; though he was not averse to making a few cracks about historic events down the road in Glencoe.

And it's true, it's perfectly possible to disagree with someone's politics without disliking them as a person; there are plenty of marriages and partnerships that are testament to that.  Equally though, it's fair to say most of us are happiest and most comfortable among those who think the same way, or we at least believe do so.  Where the line becomes more blurred is when we get into the territory of othering; when we ascribe motives to our opponents that we might believe they have when they do not.  It's far more difficult to remain on friendly terms with someone who thinks the worst and isn't backward in coming forward with such accusations.  Both left and right do this, regardless of how the right often complains the left is more susceptible to othering; while not the best example, Lionel Shriver wrote in the Graun after the election that the reason there are "shy Tories" is because of how successful the left apparently is at portraying those on the centre-right as being heartless monsters.

You do though have to wonder if Campbell is yet again protesting too much.  Very few now will claim, can claim, that Blair's motives in going to war in Iraq were cynical.  He fervently believed, and indeed still does believe that getting rid of Saddam was the right thing to do.  The way the case for war was presented was cynical, no doubt about it, although this again is not to say that Blair did not truly believe that Iraq had a WMD programme, was in breach of UN resolutions and so war could be justified on those grounds.  How he came to believe that is again open to question, but that he genuinely believed it was the case is not in doubt.  Blair's crisis of confidence in mid-2004, when he came extremely close to resigning such was the pressure over the failure to find the missing WMD coupled with the death of Dr David Kelly is testament to that.

Belief is key to understanding Blair.  The former prime minister's every move is a mess of contradictions, just as his ideology, or rather lack of it always was: Blair believes, therefore he is.  He has no objection to supporting dictators or autocrats (and taking their money) every bit as oppressive as Saddam was, at least in his later years when under sanctions, so long as they are supportive of the West.  He is deeply opposed to Islamism, and would rather states like Egypt remain under the yoke of one man than become exceptionally messy democracies which elect the likes of the Muslim Brotherhood.  Yet he's never voiced any concerns about the AKP in Turkey, perhaps because, err, until the weekend it looked as though Erdogan was becoming the very kind of ruler he's fond of.  Blair isn't oblivious to his idiosyncrasies, or to just how much of a disaster his support for the Iraq war has been; he can and has seen it.  It just hasn't altered his belief that he was, is right regardless.

With Campbell there is no such belief.  You can't be an alcoholic, a depressive, as Campbell is, and believe so wholly in yourself, in everything you do, and project it so consistently.  Campbell famously said "we don't do God", whereas with Blair it's difficult to know which God he believes in the most, himself or Jehovah.  Unlike Blair, Campbell has also never given so much as the slightest inkling that he believed the war in Iraq was the right thing to do.  Where belief is key to understanding Blair, key to understanding Campbell is loyalty.  On the day Robert Maxwell fell off his boat, taking the Mirror pension fund with him, Campbell was the one punching Michael White for making a Cap'n Bob-bob-bob joke.  Likewise, Campbell was so loyal to Blair that he became a liability.  Who knows what the Chilcot inquiry will eventually conclude about dodgy dossiers and all the rest of it, but Campbell served his master regardless of whether he thought he was right or not.  Whether Campbell secretly advised Blair that the war thing was all a bit loopy-loo we don't know.  Perhaps he did.  Perhaps he didn't.  Regardless, he did what he was employed to.

The vast majority of us do the same, albeit usually on far less serious matters.  We might think our bosses are idiots, but it's rare we say that to their faces, at least if we want to remain employed.  We might advise them their strategy or way of thinking is wrong, but we carry on regardless if they disagree.  Neither Blair or Campbell could have foreseen what a disaster Iraq would turn out to be; they were certainly warned civil war was a possibility, as they were that it would foment terrorism and potentially bring it to these shores.  No one came close to predicting it would lead to the rise of a terrorist group that would look to usurp al-Qaida, that would straddle both Iraq and Syria and be so adept at propagandising that British schoolgirls would be attracted to its cause.  They could though have foreseen the instability that would erupt from the abandonment of any plan for the aftermath, that a country which had already been bombed by the US and the UK for 12 years prior to the invasion wouldn't with open arms welcome their liberators, that there is no telling what forces you will stir up by removing completely the existing governing structure and starting again, a pattern we've seen repeated in Libya.

When Jon Snow then says the Tariq Aziz he knew was a "nice guy", he's no doubt telling the truth.  Plenty of dictatorships have a softer face, that suggests reform could be possible, and like Aziz did, provide some representation for a minority group.  Aziz might not have been responsible principally for any of the oppression that either the Kurds or the Shia in Iraq suffered either; Jalal Talabani, the Kurdish Iraqi president, refused to sign the warrant for his execution.  As the obituaries have made clear however, he was involved in the decisions to go to war with Iran and then invade Kuwait.  He most certainly had blood on his hands.  So too, without question, does Tony Blair.  Does the fact Blair was elected whereas Aziz never was make a difference?  Do Aziz's initial politics, his support for Arab nationalism, help us understand how he came to be where he was and how he justified it to himself?  Does the fact he was the softer face of one of the most destructive dictatorships in the region in fact make him a worse person?

Just as it is possible to disagree with someone without questioning or condemning their integrity or values, it is possible to think worse of someone precisely because their integrity or values are or seem to be pure.  Blair continues to be a malign influence on the world stage because his black and white view of the world is so dangerous, because he has learned nothing from the war he still believes was the right thing to do.  Campbell is a fascinating figure and invites such hostility precisely because of his success and his contrasting ability to claim white is in fact black, so long as it's in the interests of who he's working for.  Worse, I might posit, are those commentators who take advantage of the slightest opportunity to push their lost cause, who in the face of all the evidence even now argue for more of the same.  Campbell, like Aziz, might be a nice guy when you get to know him, as Charles Kennedy, a more than decent judge of character felt.  The rest of us can only judge based on the face those like Campbell present to the world.

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 |

About

  • This is septicisle
profile
Powered by Blogger
and Blogger Templates