The Man Who Will Say Anything

Ken Livingstone is British politics’ bad penny. One can only marvel that in 2015, after 4 decades in the public eye, he is still considered by many to be a welcome addition to the debate and to public life.

It would be the standard form here to throw out a quick list of his offences before I push onto the meat of this but with Ken the list is just too long. Though last week’s BBC Question Time will surely form a worthwhile addition to his canon.

While there he took the opportunity to undo the reputational credit which stemmed from what is generally considered to be his finest hour. Livingstone was Mayor in 2005 when suicide murderers took the lives of 52 of his fellow Londoners and his subsequent speech and conduct have been well regarded by many. He said:

That isn’t an ideology, it isn’t even a perverted faith – it is just an indiscriminate attempt at mass murder and we know what the objective is. They seek to divide Londoners. They seek to turn Londoners against each other.

….I know that you personally do not fear giving up your own life in order to take others – that is why you are so dangerous. But I know you fear that you may fail in your long-term objective to destroy our free society and I can show you why you will fail.

…They flee you because you tell them how they should live. They don’t want that and nothing you do, however many of us you kill, will stop that flight to our city where freedom is strong and where people can live in harmony with one another. Whatever you do, however many you kill, you will fail.

Commentators from across the spectrum lauded his remarks. However, 10 years on, Livingstone’s political station has changed and seemingly so has his analysis of that day. On Thursday he said:

…I remember when Tony Blair was told by the security services if you go into Iraq we will be a target for terrorism. He ignored that advice and it killed 52 Londoners.

…Well, you can go and look at what they put on their website. They did those killings because of our invasion of Iraq.

…No, they gave their lives. They said what they believed. They took Londoners’ lives in protest against our invasion of Iraq and we were lied to by Tony Blair about Iraq. There were no weapons of mass destruction.

…If we hadn’t invaded Iraq those 4 men would not have gone out and killed 52 Londoners

Back then their plan was to ‘divide us’, now it was to protest and convince us. If division is what they want then surely Livingstone, by directly and unequivocally blaming our then prime minister for 52 deaths, is disproving his assertion that they will fail in getting it. If they indeed wanted to destroy our free society then persuading the audience to accept the assassin’s veto on the policies of our elected government would be a good start.

The loudest noises following Livingstone’s comments surrounded his phrase “they gave their lives”. It no doubt grated because that formulation is one we tend to use about people we laud, soldiers for example. To that extent it was careless of him, impolitic, but to be fair to Livingstone, not only is this a statement of fact it is also nearly identical to what he said at the time: “you personally do not fear giving up your own life”.

However, being fair to the rest of what Livingstone said does not turn out well for him.

“He ignored that advice ”

The claim that Blair ignored the advice is without foundation. If the actions of the Coalition of the Willing in Iraq had been successful by the terms of their original intentions, there are compelling reasons to suggest that terrorism would be reduced in the long term. Furthermore, part of the reason for the intervention was to prevent terrorist organisations being able to strike with weapons of mass destruction. It is far more likely that Blair heard and understood the potential effects on terrorist motivations in the shorter term and factored that into the analysis preceding his decision.

“He ignored that advice and it killed 52 Londoners.”

This is about as clear a statement of causality as one could imagine. It’s also ludicrous. Ignoring the advice didn’t kill those Londoners, suicide murderers did. Charlie Hebdo’s staff were warned not to print cartoons of Mohammed, are they really to blame for their deaths or for the policeman’s outside their building?

A lad of Pakistani origin, from Leeds, travelling to London to blow himself up in a crowd of his fellow countrymen is not adequately explained by a sense of injustice about an invasion of Iraq by forces who killed far fewer people than the terrorist gangs there, which he was supporting. This is Islamic nationalism. It is religious extremism and the key factor in such a chain of events is not the 2003 invasion. [See my previous post, section titled: “Ummah-getting-outtahere”]

If a straight chain of causality is provided with no agency by the bomber assumed, why attribute agency and responsibility merely to the decisions made by Blair? If Blair is to blame for what the four bombers did then why is Saddam not to blame for what Blair did? Or indeed, why not blame Saddam’s parents?

In bringing up the ‘Blair lied’ angle Livingstone is presumably implying that malfeasance makes Blair’s link in the causal chain the significant and blameworthy factor. Norman Geras, in a tour de force of a piece, lays to waste the stupidity behind such apologia. On this he said:

…even when what someone else has contributed causally to the occurrence of the criminal or atrocious act is wrong, this won’t necessarily show they bear any of the blame for it. If Mabel borrows Zack’s bicycle without permission and Zack, being embittered about this, burns down Mabel’s house, Mabel doesn’t share the blame for her house being burned down. Though she may have behaved wrongly and her doing so is part of the causal chain leading to the conflagration, neither her act nor the wrongness of it justifies Zack in burning down her house.

“you can go and look at what they put on their website”

You can’t actually but two of the bombers left videos and I think we can presume that these are what Livingstone was referring to.

Mohammad Sidique Khan, the apparent leader of the cell, said:

Our driving motivation doesn’t come from tangible commodities that this world has to offer.

This is a claim that he is doing it for commodities in another world. Seeing as Blair only had power to affect things in this one I suggest that this is hard to appease.

Your democratically-elected governments continuously perpetuate atrocities against my people all over the world.

It seems here that the tangible stuff, you know, in this world, extends to more than just Iraq.

until you stop the bombing, gassing, imprisonment and torture of my people we will not stop this fight.

The only person gassing people in Iraq was Saddam. When people provide nonsense and untruths in their statement do we also have to react to it? This is an unreasonable expectation.

I myself, I make dua (pray) to Allah… to raise me amongst those whom I love like the prophets, the messengers, the martyrs and today’s heroes like our beloved Sheikh Osama Bin Laden, Dr Ayman al-Zawahri and Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and all the other brothers and sisters that are fighting…

Are we to earnestly expect Blair to behave in ways that don’t upset the likes of Bin Laden, Zawahri and Zarqawi?

Shehzad Tanweer’s  efforts were similar:

To the non-Muslims of Britain, you might wonder what you have done to deserve this. You are those who have voted in your government who in turn have… continued to oppress our mothers, children, brothers and sisters from the East to the West. In Palestine, Afghanistan, Iraq and Chechnya.

…until you stop all financial and military support to the U.S. and Israel, and until you release all Muslim prisoners from Belmarsh and your other concentration camps.

So Blair wouldn’t just have to had not been involved in Iraq but also have had to cut off Israel, stopped trade with America, and left Al-Qaeda and the Taliban free to operate in Afghanistan. This is not to mention somehow doing something about Chechnya. Even if you think that is a reasonable request, it somewhat contradicts Livingstone’s assertion.

You have openly declared war on Islam.

We hadn’t. This is nonsense.

Your government has openly supported the genocide of over 150,000 innocent Muslims in Fallujah

Again, this is total fantasy. How are we supposed to adapt our behaviour to appease the anger of somebody willing to claim said anger over something that not only didn’t happen but which would require startling levels of stupidity, gullibility or insanity to believe it had?

Yet somehow this is good enough for Livingstone to recommend as evidence. One can only assume that either he hasn’t seen the videos, or more likely, he didn’t expect his audience on Thursday night to bother to do so themselves.

As much as a cursory glance at these videos shows that Livingstone will say anything to sell his point, the real kicker is this: Both of these terrorists were receiving training as jihadists before September 11th 2001. For what Livingstone said to be credible we must believe that they trained as terrorists 2 years before the invasion of Iraq but would have remained passive had that event not taken place.

Assigning clear, singular and fixable motivations to the endeavours of jihadists is either a fool’s errand or a charlatan’s tactic. As George W Bush so perfectly put it “if it’s not the crusades then it’s the cartoons”.

When the media reports a suicide, they are expected not to attribute it to a single cause. It is tempting though. When we hear of a case in the news and the deceased was a victim of something we disapprove of, be it austerity or bullying or whatever it is that we dislike, the temptation to use it as ammunition and declare its simplicity is very strong indeed. It is however both dangerous and often shamelessly opportunistic. I suggest this what has happened here and is a good principle to adopt with an event like the 7/7 bombings.

However, Livingstone hasn’t just been imprudent or opportunistic, he has directly lied. The very videos he cites as evidence for his case clearly disprove its validity. There isn’t even room for an understandable misinterpretation.

In a matter of war and peace, and in using an example of the multiple deaths of his then constituents, he has decided that dishonesty is a valid method to make his point. He will say anything.

When fellow panelist, the comedian Matt Forde, explained to Livingstone that he couldn’t absolve the terrorists merely by blaming Tony Blair, his first words in reply were “Well, you can because…”. Consider that for a moment. 52 of his constituents were murdered by people who had the vote and Livingstone is willing to not just blame Blair for the deaths but to exclusively blame him to the point of absolving the people who planned it and carried it out. This is the racism of low expectations taken to the stars. The fact that it is in direct contradiction of his speech of 2005 suggests either an incredible volte-face with no explanation or the most craven willingness to debase himself to win a debate.

If Labour were not in such raptures of insanity, the likes of this and John McDonnell’s advocating of terrorism, also against his own constituents, would be cause for resignations and soul-searching. That this is apparently the new normal is all you need to know about Labour’s current moral malaise.

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