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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In Support of a Flat-Earther

I also don’t have to prove to you the world is round

Magistrate Bjoern Joensson

The nuisance with writing pieces about free speech and enjoying the esteem, if not self-importance, of adherence to such lofty ideals, comes when faced with cases of vile speech you wish people wouldn’t utter.

Earlier this month a magistrate in Hamburg sentenced 87 year old Ursula Haverbeck to 10 months in jail for the crime of Holocaust denial.

She had made her offending comments in an interview outside the trial of ex-SS Sgt. Oskar Groening who, at 94, was sentenced to 4 years in jail after being found guilty of facilitating mass murder.

I mention the circumstances because upon hearing the news of Haverbeck’s verdict I was tempted to focus on the fact that an old woman was being sentenced to prison and thus avoid the difficultly of speaking up for her right to free expression. However, as I didn’t object to his going to prison due to age, and I did think about it at the time, I am not sure how strongly I can object to hers.

This is to say that the sentence concerns me less than the charge. Merely being unhappy with an old woman being in jail isn’t enough.

The crime of Holocaust denial came back into focus after the Charlie Hebdo massacre in January when several apologists for the killers chose to bring it up as an example of double standards. The cry of “look how you protect the Jew’s feelings but seek to trample on those of the poor Muslims” (I paraphrase), was heard many times. This complaint misses an obvious point, that the laws against denial of the Holocaust are not to spare Jewish feelings but to assist in the prevention of the growth in Fascist groups and to function as image-restoration and atonement from those countries, which understandably after WW2, could do with upping their virtue quotient. Regardless, it does serve as a good test of what advocates of free speech mean when they say ‘free’. I am yet to be convinced by anybody suggesting we should be free to express all opinions with the exception of that one.

The ‘world is round’ quote from the magistrate was given after he was challenged by the defendant to prove that what she denied had in fact occurred. His response, with its deliberate invocation of apparently the most obvious of all facts – that the Earth is round,  is perfect for highlighting exactly what is wrong with Holocaust denial laws. Are you comfortable with a person declaring that something is so obvious he has no need to prove it before he then incarcerates a person for expressing the opposite opinion? In fact, a historic event is lower down the list of certainties than something which is currently observable which makes it even more obnoxious.

My objections to Holocaust denial laws are much the same as most people’s, they are:

1: Rather than hinder the rise of Fascist groups, the prohibition of opinion makes that opinion more tantalising to those who might be tempted to become a member of one. Statistical evidence of the ineffectiveness of these laws are discussed here.

2: Nazi power is long dead and the virtues signaled by these laws are less powerful than the virtues signaled from the consistent protection of the right to free speech.

3: I wish to deny murder-apologists their cheap equivalence and grievance which they profess at the expense of Jews who are cast as expecters special privileges.

4: Most of all, I won’t have anybody in a position of power, especially in a court where they command the coercive power of the state, claiming they don’t need to prove an assertion which is contingent to their justification for the use of that power.

Ursula Haverbeck is a victim of a bad law. She is somebody who requires the support of those advocating the right to have the free expression of opinion remain unmolested.

I’m not the hashtagging type, they’ll be no #JeSuisUsula or #IStandWithHaverbeck from me and I don’t expect to see it trending much from others. But I would expect to see this case brought up by somebody advocating a de facto blasphemy law at some point soon. If for no other reason, it is worth getting your support for Haverbeck out there before this occurs.

The Diplomat of Islington North

By David Paxton

Diplomacy (noun): the work of maintaining good relations between the governments of different countries

Diplomat (noun): a person who represents his or her country’s government in a foreign country : someone whose work is diplomacy

A week ago Labour leadership hopeful Jeremy Corbyn gave a long interview to Channel 4’s Krishnan Guru-Murthy. This section, on his calling Hamas ‘friends’, immediately started doing the rounds due to Corbyn’s apparent loss of temper.

By just using that single word ‘friends’ against him Guru-Murthy left available to Corbyn the defence he decided to make. He said:

I spoke at a meeting about the Middle East crises, in Parliament, and there were people there from Hezbollah and I said “I welcomed our friends from Hezbollah” to have a discussion and a debate.

Later he said:

I’m saying people I talk to, I use it in a collective way saying ‘our friends were prepared to talk’. Does it mean I agree with Hamas and what it does? No. Does it mean I agree with Hezbollah and what they do? No. What it means is, to bring about a peace process you have to talk to people with whom you may profoundly disagree.

On the surface this is almost plausible. This was indeed what a diplomat might say, it is the language of diplomacy. Political activist, satirist and comedian, Heydon Prowse seemed to agree and said:

What an idiotic line of questioning. Doesn’t c4 understand the concept of diplomacy

We had a brief discussion about his view. It didn’t go well.

In reply to Alan Johnson’s open letter to Corbyn addressing his previous praise for members of Hezbollah and Hamas, the website Left Futures carried a piece called Reactionary and Dishonest. In it is a more fleshed out version of Corbyn’s defence:

…the all too common view that anybody who supports dialogue and diplomacy with Hamas and Hezbollah must necessarily wholly endorse their politics as well.

Jeremy Corbyn was ahead of his time in recognising the need to talk to Sinn Fein and the IRA in 1984 when he invited Gerry Adams to London, and the same is true in relation to Hamas and Hezbollah. This farsighted act was subject to a furious barrage of criticism at the time, and yet now over 30 years later the importance of such acts of dialogue and goodwill in bringing an end to the Troubles could hardly be more uncontroversial.

…Corbyn also understands that peace can only be achieved through mutual respect and diplomacy.

I think it worth examining this notion that Jeremy Corbyn is a lone, extra-governmental diplomat bravely ahead of his time in seeking peace and that we cannot draw any other conclusion from his conduct.

BFFs

As mentioned, only the word ‘friends’ was brought up in the interview and without full context, Corbyn’s explanation has legs. Try this:

“We are gathered here for an important meeting of opposing views. On my right are some friends from the Black Panther Party and on my left are friends from the Ku Klux Klan. Hopefully by coming together as friends we can… etc”

That could get in under the excuse of being ‘diplomatic’.

Now try this:

“It is my pleasure and my honour to host an event where my friends from Stormfront will be speaking. I also invited friends from the Ku Klux Klan to speak but unfortunately the FBI won’t allow them to travel so it will only be friends from Stormfront. The Ku Klux Klan is an organisation dedicated towards the good of American people and bringing about long-term peace and social justice, and political justice.”

How does that sound to you? I don’t believe the latter example would be consistent with Corbyn’s claim “I use it in a collective way saying ‘our friends were prepared to talk'”. It goes well beyond standard diplomatic niceties.

Here is a video of the offending speech, see for yourself. He said exactly that about Hamas and Hezbollah and he was being very friendly indeed.

If he profoundly disagrees with them why claim the bit about social and political justice? Hamas’ form of ‘political justice’ is to execute their political opponents. Hamas’s ‘social justice’ is to murder people for being gay. Hamas’ ‘long-term peace’ includes a Charter clause calling for the destruction of Israel and the divinely ordained killing of Jews. And feeling ‘honoured’ to host holocaust deniers means either A: Corbyn thinks ‘honour’ means something it doesn’t or B: He has some fundamental problems with his morality.

To go as far in his praise as Corbyn does is grotesque and hints far more at outright support than the forced diplomatic nicety, while holding his nose, which one might tolerate or expect. Who would possibly say such a thing if they were not ‘friends’ or did in fact ‘profoundly disagree’? I think he is being deceptive in the Channel 4 interview and this should be taken into consideration by those so willing to repeat the claim that Corbyn is the straight-shooting candidate of unflinching honesty and integrity.

Who invited you anyway?

Yes, peace talks without a unconditional surrender require compromise, they require some holding of noses. After a successful peace has been forged such actions can indeed appear noble and worthy. However, this realisation can also be used to cover a multitude of sins and just talking, per se, is not necessarily a worthy and noble act.

John Major, who happened to be the actual prime minister and leader of the government, did a difficult and presumably correct thing in starting talks with the IRA. It was a careful and deliberate process that was straining against the idea that rewarding violence with power and representation might lead to more of the same. Do I have to laud Corbyn with the same praise when he invites IRA representatives to the Commons a fortnight after the Brighton bombing? This isn’t the brave and principled putting aside of grievance, this is rewarding and forgiving brutal terrorist violence directly following its most clearly anti-democratic expression by saying that the more they bomb the more they should be given a seat at the table. Imagine your young child is throwing a nasty tantrum in the supermarket because you refuse to give him sweets. Corbyn’s unilateral intervention is the equivalent of the unwelcome shop assistant butting in and saying ‘don’t be a meany, look at his little face, give him a Mars Bar.’ It’s undermining, it’s unwelcome, it’s not really his business. But these aren’t sweets in a supermarket, this is a murderous terror campaign.

This is not to say that a backbench MP cannot engage in dialogue that has little to do with his own constituents. However, in this case it is undermining the position of his own, and successive, governments at a time when its citizens were being murdered.

Corbyn’s stands on Israel and Northern Ireland require no holding of the nose and no compromise. He supports their positions. Ultimately the Northern Ireland peace process was about changing the means and agreeing to disagree on the ends. In Israel any future dealings with any groups will require the same. The difference between those outcomes and approaches and that of our renegade diplomat is that he wants an end to Israel and have it replaced with a Palestinian majority state. He also wants the reunification of Ireland. He supports the aims of these groups and doesn’t seem to think the means should exclude them from anything.

The Diplomacy of Adrian Mole Aged 66 & 1/4

Owen Jones said:

I’ve known Jeremy for years, and have shared numerous platforms with him on issues ranging from peace to social justice. He is the very antithesis of the negative caricature of an MP: he’s defined by his principles and beliefs

Great. Corbyn has taken several positions on foreign affairs and so one would expect some common themes running through these positions that can tell us what he is about. Let’s try and define him.

He met with the IRA, but fine, some will consider this just Jezza the Diplomat diplomating, as he is wont to do. But at a Troops Out meeting in 1987, Jeremy stood for a minute’s silence to “honour” eight IRA terrorists killed at Loughall. That event brought about the end of activities of an Active Service Unit from the East Tyrone Brigade that had been blowing up police stations and executing those present. What principle and belief can we deduce from that?

From Andrew Gilligan’s Telegraph piece (worth reading in full):

Jeremy Corbyn was helping Sayyed Hassan al-Sadr celebrate “the all-encompassing revolution,” the 35th anniversary of the ayatollahs’ takeover in Iran. In his talk, entitled “The Case for Iran,” he called for the immediate scrapping of sanctions on the country, which had not then promised to restrict its nuclear programme, attacked its colonial exploitation by British business and called for an end to its “demonisation” by the West.

Corbyn has repeatedly praised members of Hamas. They kill gays, deny the holocaust and speak of starting a fresh one. He calls them a force for social justice.

He praised the leadership in Venezuela while the oil-rich country was being run into bankruptcy and the freedom of the press was being eroded.

Corbyn asserts that despite the wishes of the Falklands islanders, expressed through the ballot box, and despite a fascist junta invading them causing British servicemen to fight and die, the islands should be owned by Argentina.

Corbyn wants an end to Israel, the most democratic and law-bound state in the region. The call for a single state solution with a Palestinian majority is, under present circumstances, a call not just for the end of a Jewish state but for the end to those living within it. It is conceivable that some might believe protecting the racial or religious identity of a state is in principle wrong. However, choosing to ignore the unique circumstances and history of the Jews and decide this principle cannot be bent in their case, that they cannot expect a nation where they are a majority, while wanting them to be at the mercy of those who openly call for a new genocide is, at the very best, immoral.

Corbyn believes that the 1973 Chilean coup was ‘run’ by the CIA.

In that same Jones piece he said:

he was protesting against Saddam Hussein when the west was arming him

A more cynical person than I might well consider changing the word ‘when’ to ‘because’ to add greater truth to that statement.

Taken on their own each of these could be a difference of opinion or a forgivable misjudgment. But combined as a life’s work?

So is there a theme in Corbyn’s choice to consistently side with theocrats, homophobic thugs, genocidal fascists, murderers, terrorists, demagogues, deniers of freedom and exponents of oppression? Is there a belief in evidence when he praises the people who believe his own constituents are legitimate targets for car bombs and suicide vests? I think there is: Whatever his own government (Labour or Tory) wants, he is against. Wherever The Man is represented Corbyn is sticking it to him. And this stands in contrast to the slogans and lofty ideals spouted at the rallies he is so often seen at.

This therefore isn’t the CV of a great diplomat or a campaigner for peace and human rights. Nor do his pretensions for a role in international relations add up to a statesman of value and importance. He’s not even a gifted amateur. This is merely adolescence dragged out into late middle-age. He is less Otto Von Bismark than Otto from The Simpsons. Laughable in a pub bore but fairly tragic at the forefront of a political party with a noble history. Corbyn should be seen as what he is, a 66 year old teenager using the stature of his MP status to make a bigger noise than a man of his ability otherwise could or should. If you are looking for the next Clement Attlee, keep looking.

To observe the likes of Corbyn is to see the worst of the modern Left, where being seen to fight is more important than achieving the goals congruent with their slogans. Seemingly unaware of the victories the Left have won already, the need to keep sidestepping left has meant they’ve come out the other side and are now friends, allies and enablers of facists, racists, murderers and thugs. And worst of all, they expect a halo for being so.

Charlie Hebdo and the Turds That Won’t Flush

By David Paxton

‘Ding’ ‘Ding’ Round 57…

‘He’s obsessed’ you remark. Well yes actually, I am a bit. But even when I think enough should have been said on this matter yet more turds float to the surface and I think it important to try and flush them. By now however, it’s beginning to feel like nothing so much as playing whac-a-mole. But with turds.

Much has already been written about the PEN debacle. This by Tom Owolade is typically good. I have also attacked Glenn Greenwald’s laughable contribution here. But the same tropes keep coming up again and again. 10 days after the massacre I posted this long and, I had forlornly hoped, exhaustive piece breaking down the various forms of apologia. I think it holds up. However, the superbug like inability for some of this bullshit to die is quite something to behold and is itself worthy of examination.

As I said at the time, the filthy fifth-columnist detritus require little examination. They are Islamists and wish to exculpate Islamists. The Useless Idiots like Nabilla Ramadi suffer from a form of Muslim nationalism that makes her bend any truth or logic to ensure that all Muslims are not tarred with the same brush. Even though no serious person seeks to do so.

But there are the others. The sort of smart, talented and lauded person who when not writing novels sends letters to PEN explaining why the unbelievably brave shouldn’t be granted a bravery award. These are the ones deserving a second glance. Yes, because they really should be allies but also because their problems are seemingly a touch more complicated.

As Owolade wrote:

Charlie Hebdo is a satirical magazine whose staff were murdered for the crime of blasphemy. This fact alone should entail support and sympathy from everyone who believes the right to mock ideas and cause offence trumps acquiescence to blasphemy law.

This is obvious. He goes further:

But Charlie Hebdo are not racist and their staff were not murdered for racism and hate speech. They were murdered for depicting a religious figure.

And yet those writing to PEN, months after the event, keep insisting black is white.

Good people, not horrible Tories like me, but proper lefty types, people who know, people who work for Charlie Hebdo, people who are French, folks that have actually sodding read it, tell them in many different ways, repeatedly, what Charlie Hebdo were/are about. It is crystal clear what they are about and there is no possible excuse for ignorance. Yet ignorance is what flows from the fingers and mouths of these weapons. This is no longer a lack of information, or even a difference of opinion. This is a mental condition. It is the practice of denying clear reality no matter how much evidence is smashed across their heads.

As tempted as I am to call this mendacious, I truly believe most of it is not. They just don’t have the faculties to face up to objective reality and accept what that would mean for their comfort blanket of a world view.

I previously described such people’s world view as following the 3 Stages of Stupidity. In it short it goes thus:

1: Always holding unequivocal support of the underdog

2: Divide the world into oppressor/oppressed

3: Assume the superior virtue of the oppressed.

When David Frum obliterated Gary Trudeau he expressed a similar variation, which he knocks down into two stages:

1. Identify the bearer of privilege.

2. Hold the privilege-bearer responsible.

I won’t quibble.

There is really something in this. Please read my full and fleshed out explanation as I still think it is the clearest answer to the mystery of their pathology. Add to this explanation the tendency in many educated ‘liberals’ to be singularly unable to empathise with a thought process involving any aspects that mean nothing to them. A fervent devotion to religion and the feeling that blasphemy is enough gets no dice. It must be identity politics or economics. Those are the only tools in their box.

But I really didn’t expect things to have sunk quite this low:

Francine Prose on Comment is Free:

The narrative of the Charlie Hebdo murders – white Europeans killed in their offices by Muslim extremists

The fucking narrative? It was a massacre. It was events. Strange it should take a novelist to attempt remove all flesh and life from such a discussion. Though I suppose when it serves her purpose so clearly…

As for her summation of the narrative, white folks killed by ‘dem brown folk, if this were true it would be a fact and not a narrative. But it isn’t even true. Check the list of the dead. And who is spreading this ‘narrative’? Something this wrong needs a reason. She is actually willing to change the facts in order to not have to adjust her own pitiful ‘narrative’.

Comment is free but she comes close to making one wish it wasn’t.

She goes on:

The bitterness and rage of the criticism that we have received point out how difficult people find it to think with any clarity on these issues and how easy it has been for the media – and our culture – to fan the flames of prejudice against Islam. As a result, many innocent Muslims have been tarred with the brush of Islamic extremism.

The bitterness and rage is because people such as herself are denying reality and propagating 24 carat bullshit to obscure the obvious clarity about the murder of innocents.

If it is easy to fan the flames, perhaps it has less to do with our difficulties and more to do with the postjudice that follows yet more users of the right to free speech being slaughtered by religious maniacs. The very rights she nominally campaigns in support of. Her final sentence takes the biscuit though. If she wishes for the Muslims that have nothing to do with these crimes to be free from association with them, is it not best that her and others stop representing these crimes as springing from the collective anger of the same mass of people? By pretending it isn’t blasphemy but some reaction to socio-economic factors the suspicion is cast on those they have lumped together by a demographic distinction. If one seeks to deny the real motivation and replace it with their ‘narrative’ about reactions stemming from Muslim anger are they not doing the heavy lifting in this job of tarring?

She has plenty more:

But I also don’t feel that it is the mission of PEN to fight the war on terrorism; that is the role of our government.

When one realises the opponents in this war are the greatest threat to free speech going, it most certainly should be. It is all of ours. But nobody is asking her to pick up a rifle and stag on. There is some part of this fight that calls for removing the taboo of religious offence, which aids in demystifying the beliefs of these loons. That as it happens is dangerous work. Charlie Hebdo was doing that work. It is what they were to be recognised for. At worst she is seeking to undo that work and at best pretending it wasn’t being done.

I have nothing but sympathy for the victims and survivors.

This is untrue. She also has contempt for their output. She makes this clear.

As a friend wrote me: the First Amendment guarantees the right of the neo-Nazis to march in Skokie, Illinois, but we don’t give them an award.

If only we could all have friends so insightful and quotable. This thought from her chum works to show it is possible to stick up for the worst speech imaginable without approving of it. Fine. The problem is though, Charlie Hebdo weren’t Nazis, or even close. In fact, they were anti-Nazis and everyone is sick to death with having to point this out. There is no way she doesn’t know this. Yet still she pretends and willingly smears the dead as purveyors of detestable speech. It really is becoming ever more clear that reality is not unknown but merely unwanted.

And the idea that one is either “for us or against us” in such matters not only precludes rational and careful thinking

No. A thousand times no. Some people are for us. Some people are against us. That is rational and it is careful. If you have a masturbatory sense of your own intelligence that requires a masochistic search for nuance where there is none to be found, you have a problem. Not only were the attackers against us, they couldn’t be more clear and loud about this fact. Yet again they choose to listen to themselves rather than the facts.

One of the more disappointing aspects of this is that they are helping least the people their pitifully solipsistic sense of guilt is meant to be considering. The peoples most in need of the liberating view points of Charlie Hebdo are the Muslims, atheists and others stuck in places far less amenable to a free existence than France. Try Raif Badawi, Avjit Roy or Sabeen Mahmud if you wish to get specific.

This brings us on to Teju Cole. This ball of self-regard and pretension specifically draws a line between Charlie Hebdo and Roy and Badawi. In his letter to PEN he wrote:

I would rather honor Raif Badawi, Avijit Roy, Edward Snowden, or Chelsea Manning, who have also paid steeply for their courage, but whose ideals are much more progressive than Charlie’s.

Much more progressive? This really does confirm either startling ignorance or a willful denial of reality. I would like very much to hear his response to this question: What are Charlie Hebdo’s ideals? As I wrote in my Letter to Laurie Penny:

Charlie Hebdo consistently and unfalteringly engaged in opposition to the following:

  • Corruption in government
  • Unwarranted power of big business
  • Europe’s disastrous austerity policies
  • Israeli actions in Gaza
  • Restrictions on immigration
  • Anti-immigrant policies
  • Any form of racism
  • Organised Religion
  • The Le Pen family, the National Front and their populist politics

This list hints at some pretty progressive ideals no? I will go further, I cannot conceive of an organisation with more progressive ideals than Charlie Hebdo. On what grounds does Cole feel qualified to draw this line? He needs to back this up. Avijit Roy was described by many as Bangladesh’s Charlie Hebdo and Raif Badawi is in prison for the same reasons so many at Charlie Hebdo are dead. Could it be that there isn’t a real difference in their ideals but that the other two happen to be a bit brown? It’s the only answer that fits the facts. And it is pathetic.

To read the letters justifying the grandstanding of these people is depressing. I am both saddened and maddened that such self-serving discharge is openly expressed by people considered to be thinkers and that in our time this is what passes for an intelligentsia.

We are bound by duty and decency to show solidarity with Charlie Hebdo. But more than that we are bound by self-preservation. A case I have made previously. (Shit, hasn’t all this been said previously?)

Their bravery is beyond question, that giving them an award for it should be questioned on taste grounds is wrong. That the objections to the taste are fabricated from falsehoods and smears is odious. Salman Rushdie said “I hope nobody ever comes after them”. It’s a noble sentiment. My nobility is really beginning to show cracks.

You Know What it Means So Why Are You Bullshitting?

By David Paxton

Did you just say something along the lines of this?

How can it be antisemitic when Palestinians are Semites?

or,

Saying one group of Semites is treating another group of Semites appallingly is not Antisemitism.

In short, have you used the ‘semite’ part of ‘Antisemitism’ to refer to all Semites and therefore discredit the word ‘antisemitism’ as normally understood and the accusation behind its use?

If so you have done something which you might believe to be insightful and clever but is, in fact, facile and ignorant. Here is why:

It was coined over 130 years ago in Germany by people specifically discussing Judenhass. In these discussions  ‘Jew’ and ‘Semite’ were considered synonyms. It quickly became understood to mean only that and is widely accepted in common parlance to mean the hatred of Jews and nobody else.

Therefore ‘antisemitism’ is a misnomer, that’s no big deal. Greenland isn’t green and the woods in one’s golf bag are not made of wood. But if you refuse to pass somebody their golf club for this reason you wouldn’t just be fired as a caddy, you would be universally considered a dick. ‘Antisemitism’ is a word that has stuck and is commonly accepted to mean something quite specific, namely Jew hatred. If you can find any regular use of ‘antisemitism’ to mean literally, anti the Semitic languages or its speakers, you might be able to make a case for the invention of a clearer term. I suggest you can’t so there is no need.

So what difference does it make that, when broken down into its constituent parts of ‘anti’, ‘Semite’ and ‘ism’, it has a different meaning? Especially when everyone knows what it denotes? Calling a stick of rhubarb an ‘aircraft carrier’ doesn’t mean you can eat an aircraft carrier or land a plane on a stick of rhubarb.

If you honestly think ‘antisemitism’ doesn’t make sense and this bothers you then simply swap it in your head for ‘anti-Jew’ or ‘Jew-hatred’ and continue the discussion. The disparity between its accepted use and its literal formulation is of no consequence and is entirely irrelevant to any discussion where it is being used.

But you already know this, surely, so why did you attempt to make it mean something other than its universally understood meaning? What purpose does your pseudo-clever interruption serve? That is a serious question and it is worth searching within yourself for an answer.

We all say stupid things due to ignorance so don’t feel too ashamed if that is what occurred. However, you have been told now and so lack the excuse of ignorance. If your mistake is repeated again it is not from ignorance but from malign intent, likely from a desire to mask your hatred and exculpate yourself or others of the offence of antisemitism by denying it exists. Be in no doubt that if you choose to do this you are an unmentionable, a four letter word, a dissembler, a liar and someone to be vilified or ignored.

You’re welcome.

The Verkrappt

Revisiting an old bit from Normblog, here is a visual representation of Norm’s useful and amusing, Algorithm for the verkrappt. His definition of ‘verkrappt’ is below.

Slide1

From March 16, 2013

Verkrappt, adj

From time to time, usually after I have used it in a post, I receive an email enquiry about the meaning of the word ‘verkrappt’ – as in ‘verkrappt section‘ of the Western left or ‘algorithm for the verkrappt‘. The person making the enquiry has Googled the word but found no definition of it. As a public service on this March Saturday, I here give my answer to that query.

I invented the word and you may take its meaning from its sound. You might like to think of ‘cramped’ or ‘crapped out’ or both. It is possible that the prefix ‘ver…’ came to me unconsciously because of the way it echoes the Yiddish ‘farkakte‘. This suggestion was made to me a few days ago by a Twitter follower/followee, but certainly I didn’t have the association clearly in mind at the time. In any case, that is the full history, so far as I know it.

“What About Fallujah?”

by David Paxton

What do you have to say about Fallujah, let’s talk about Fallujah, what do you have to say about Fallujah? Since you care so much on the Left… What have we done in Fallujah Nick? WHAT HAVE WE DONE? Have you even bothered to find out?

-Yasmin Alibhai Brown

When they say ‘Fallujah’ they refer to the Second Battle of Fallujah from Nov/Dec 2004. For commentators with an engrained anti-American perspective it is almost impossible to write about any combat, anywhere, without name checking Fallujah. Usually it comes in handy as whataboutary, ‘you think X are bad guys? Yeah? Well what about Fallujah?’. For them it proves we are no better than our enemies, it proves what the Coalition did in Iraq was evil, it is the unarguable catchall to show just how sick we are as people and how sophisticated in their self-criticism those that deploy it are.

A classic of this type can be seen in this show (04:00-04:30) with Nick Cohen cross-examined by Yasmin Alibhai Brown and Iain Dale. Although in this, like the Douglas Murray one, Dale generally sits back and laughs while Alibhai Brown is humiliated. It really is worth watching in full just for giggles. For now though watch the specified section and examine the moral outrage. The word ‘Fallujah’ is nothing less than an accusation to be spat at people, you can positively feel the indignant anger.

To further demonstrate the contempt many have for the actions in Fallujah you can look to its common inclusion in a list, such as: ‘what about Abu GhraibHaditha, Fallujah?’ These lists come out in people’s comments daily. There are countless examples, try googling the three together and you’ll see.

It is in strange company there as both of the other two were out of policy. The abuses in Abu Ghraib were indeed disgusting, though barely comparable to the systematic barbarism Saddam’s goons undertook as official policy there. However, they were admitted as wrong and 11 of the perpetrators were convicted. Everyone’s favourite villain Donald Rumsfeld said of the scandal:

They are human beings. They were in U.S. custody. Our country had an obligation to treat them right. We didn’t do that. That was wrong.

To those Iraqis who were mistreated by members of U.S. armed forces, I offer my deepest apology. It was un-American. And it was inconsistent with the values of our nation.

The killings at Haditha were also out of policy. It could certainly be said that the legal follow up was not to a standard one would hope for, but illegal killings by soldiers are notoriously hard to prove. The action was however condemned and very much appears to be an exception.

With these two incidences, does one choose to claim them as an indictment of officially malign U.S. policy and morality or does one use it to show that such behaviour is not the norm, not the intention and not condoned? When making a moral comparison is it not strange to compare an action by the U.S. but condemned by the U.S. with an action by the enemy which is in policy and actively encouraged? I say it is and yet it so often occurs.

So why is Fallujah included? What is it about this three syllable word that has transformed it into a four letter one? Beyond the fact that a U.S. led coalition were victorious in the battle? It is very hard to ascertain as it is rarely spelt out by those that use it. The word has just seemed to pass without fight or enquiry into the debit column in the ledger of morality. But surely something terrible must have happened for it to be casually included in lists of criminal atrocities? If there was something I am yet to find out what it is.

I suggest a mistake has been made by the people unwilling to contradict those that use it, so that it has now been commonly and unthinkingly accepted as a stain on the record of the Allies. Even in that Nick Cohen exchange he readily concedes that it is legitimate to say ‘a plague on all your houses’ regarding it. Fallujah is asserted as a wrong and very little counter argument is ever provided. It seems to be accepted with a shrug that says ‘you might be onto something there but look at the wider picture…” This is a mistake and it will take some effort to restore some sanity regarding it.

We can take for granted that those who use Fallujah as a pejorative were against the invasion of Iraq. Fine. Accepting however that the invasion occurred and once it had there was a responsibility to try and do the best possible by Iraq, the first question is ‘should anything have been done in Fallujah at all?’

Before the Second Battle, Fallujah’s defences had been handed over, on request by the Iraqi government, to local Iraqi forces. In the proceeding months they had utterly failed in their task and according to U.S. intelligence a takfiri gang, led by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi had taken de facto control of the city. His forces numbered up to 5,000 (probably closer to 3,000-4,000) and were mostly foreign fighters. This group was the direct predecessor of ISIS.

Their control of the region was not only to be considered a current and increasing disaster for the inhabitants but it was also beginning to be the home base for wider Islamist and Baathist disruptions. I posit that to leave these people in place would not only be immoral but tactically insane. After taking the city Coalition troops found torture rooms, IED factories and a calendar for video beheadings. Both the inhabitants of the city of Fallujah and the new Iraq as a whole required their removal if there was to be any chance at all at a better future. Unless you disagree with this the requirement for action to rid the city of this force is overwhelming.

As I am yet to hear any serious argument that when confronted with the situation as it was at the end of 2004 Fallujah should have been left to rot, we can begin to look at what actually happened.

Indulge me in a thought experiment:

Imagine a city with up to 300,000 civilian inhabitants. Inside there are un-uniformed enemy fighters that need to be removed but are hard to distinguish from the civilian population. They have had substantial preparation time and have set up IEDs and ambush points on all routes into the city.

Now imagine you control a military force with almost unimaginable might. You are charged with removing the enemy force inside. You have it within your power to obliterate the entire city without losing any of your own forces and the costs will amount to little more than jet fuel and bombs.

I propose that in this scenario the number of civilian deaths incurred says a great deal about your morality as a leader and as a society. Let us try and estimate a number for them.

Try these:

1: You’re Gengis Kahn born again. I would suggest the civilian deaths would number fairly close to 300,000. Perhaps some will be allowed to live for slavery and rape purposes. Sound reasonable?

2: You’re of the moral level of ISIS. About the same.

3: You’re an Assad Jr. or a Saddam. You’d kill as many as necessary and probably a few more and you’d surely use poisoned gas and barrel bombs no? Assad Senior was faced with a similar number of Islamist combatants in a city with a similar population in Hama in 1982. He managed to kill between 20-40,000 civilians. In his own country.

4: You’re a modern Russian. Perhaps the best comparison is the Battle of Grozny. There the Russians faced a similar problem with similar numbers. But the civilian dead were never reliably counted and the corpses merely stuffed into unmarked, mass graves. It was certainly in the thousands, most probably in the 10s of 1000s. What would you have done in a totally foreign, Arab city?

5: You’re part of an evil corporate American empire that simply doesn’t care about Iraqi lives at all and are comparable in morality to others mentioned but have to make some effort for the cameras. What, 10,000 dead? Minimum?

Well, according to the Red Cross, who I have no reason to suspect are good friends of Dick Cheney and George Bush, 800 civilians died. And it is by no means clear that all were killed by the allies. 800 out of 300,000. 1,500 insurgents were captured and 1,200 – 1,500 were killed.

800 civilian deaths is 800 we can wish had not occurred. 800 deaths is though, by many orders of magnitude, a smaller number than if the equivalent action had been taken by our enemies or more tellingly by the moral actors the apologists and anti-Americans pretend exist in the U.S. Still the question, ‘how many fewer could it still have been?’, should be asked.  I suggest not very many. Not realistically, not without massively increased risk to allied forces and not when compared to any other combat of similar nature. I contend this is a remarkably low figure.

The allies surrounded the city and painstakingly passed through their lines up to 90% of the entire population. Thus leaving perhaps 30,000 in pockets in the city. The insurgents knowing that civilians were good cover for them (it seems the insurgents had a higher understanding of their enemy’s care for civilians than the moral equivalence monkeys do), prevented as many leaving as they could. It was only after this was complete that the U.S. Marines began systematically moving through the city at great risk to themselves. In total the Coalition forces lost 107 killed and over 650 wounded. Overwhelmingly from the U.S.M.C.

A colleague of mine told me of a lecture he attended when in the British Army, given by a WW2 veteran on the subject of fighting through Western Europe. The veteran spoke of the orders to protect civilian housing and of the restraint they were ordered to show. He said however, that no matter who you are, when you lose a good friend the previous day going house to house, the urge to ignore the orders, sit back at a distance and shell and machine gun the target building to the ground is overwhelming. I mention this to suggest the coordinated, controlled and relatively restrained actions of the U.S. Marines go against every sensible instinct of self-protection and speaks to an enormous degree of professionalism. Professionalism in this case being the reflection of Coalition command’s intention to do the least damage practical and to show the highest care and attention to civilian lives.

Combat is ugly and messy. The results rarely perfect. Once such a grim undertaking as clearing Fallujah of insurgents is deemed necessary it must be judged on its merits, with relevant comparisons to relevant examples. It can’t be judged against a bland pacifism or with no counter-factual beyond an assumption of zero deaths. Sam Harris’ ‘perfect weapon‘ thought experiment is important here and worth the read. Yes 800 civilian deaths is 800 deaths but if the perfect weapon existed the number would have been zero. Do you think we could say the same if those that we are compared to undertook the mission?

A note on chemical weapons:

The example of Fallujah is oft heard in comparisons of illegal warfare with specific reference given to chemical weapons. This week it was mentioned in a very confused piece by Owen Jones where he wrote:

But the Assad regime does not flaunt its cruelty. It does not make videos with Hollywood effects – slo-mo, closeups, haunting music, the aftermath in high definition. Instead, it adopts the same regretful tone of western powers, like when the US dropped flesh-burning white phosphorus over Falluja. We regret any civilian casualties (or “collateral damage”, as the west prefers). We do not target civilians, unlike our opponents – and so on. The scale of death may be far greater, but the claimed intentions are different: unlike our opponents, we do not aim to kill civilians, they say, so we retain our moral superiority.

I think he is being sneaky here. Even if he honestly means to simply compare the tone, he is wrong. I read nothing regretful in the U.S. admitting the use of WP. Nor should they had to have been. If there is any regret it is simply because it contradicts earlier reports. The U.S. denied it killed civilians with it so its use here is irrelevant. It strongly whiffs of an attempt to tar them with the same atrocity brush he uses against Assad.

I quoted more than required by Jones there because as a side note I want you to look at his final use of ‘they say’. I think he is hinting at a claim he isn’t actually willing to make. Yes Owen, all things being equal, not aiming to kill civilians makes you morally superior to those intending to kill them. Argue this case explicitly or don’t at all. As I say, sneaky.

But other’s apart from the Orwell of Our Generation use the WP incident and usually in more brazen terms. It was repeated many times during the debate about striking the Assad regime for its use of chemical weapons in order to show that we are no better than they and have no high ground from which to launch our strikes. This form of masochism is worth little even with solid examples. Fallujah is not a solid example.

White Phosphorus is not a chemical weapon. When not used as a smoke screen it can be used as an incendiary weapon. This is not illegal. The U.S. used it in Fallujah in highly specific attacks to push the enemy out of cover due to the heat and then kill them with high explosive shells. The very nature of the tactic requires highly specific and accurate use of artillery fire. At worst, some claim that the generation of heat when the WP meets moisture is a chemical weapon because this amounts to toxicity. But it isn’t asphyxiating, it is burning. This may be a small distinction for some. But the distinction remains. It was effective and it was legal.

In the interest of fairness I recommend George Monboit’s article from the time, I don’t agree with it but it is worth a read and he is more responsible there than many. He also provides reasons why the execrable Italian documentary on Fallujah, which still appears to be at the root of so many feelings about Fallujah, can be dismissed.

The use of incendiary weapons against civilians is illegal. However, seeing that it was used in areas cleared of civilians and no credible evidence of it causing civilian deaths has been presented, I suggest this charge can also be dismissed. Its use in combination with HE rounds was highly effective. That’s why it was used, both sparingly and deliberately. And as much as this may offend those of the Pansy Left, killing the insurgents was the point of the exercise and of benefit to the the vast majority of civilians who remained unharmed. To do so efficiently is a moral act.

So what is the actual complaint? If it is that the U.S. used chemical weapons it is false. If it is that it used incendiary weapons against civilians, it is false or at least entirely unproven.

If it is that that the deaths of 800 civilians from a population of 300,000 is an example of callousness, incompetence, bloodthirstyness, or a lack of care comparable with our enemies or reasonable expectations, then the complainant is ahistoric, ignorant and frankly, silly.

There are tradeoffs in military operations. Risk to property, risk to civilians, risk to your own forces, effectiveness in dealing with the enemy. Each army and society has to make rules and undertake the training to reflect their own operational and moral priorities. Some like Monboit won’t be happy unless the risk to civilians is non-existent and all of that risk is placed on our armed forces. This is not realistic and at some point becomes its own form of immorality. Regardless of how much moral wrangling is done around the legality. I look at the decisions of the Coalition in the Second Battle of Fallujah and see a set of moral tradeoffs that put us in stark and favourable contrast to those who apologists seek to compare us to. Even if one accepts the worst versions of accounts from the most unreliable of sources, the Coalition still comes out on top in any reasonable moral comparison.

We can’t allow this military action to be used as rhetoric against our society or our armed forces. I won’t because I don’t think it merely not a crime, I think it a startling military undertaking which clearly indicates our moral superiority over those we fight.
As an isolated action it should be mentioned with pride and placed firmly in the credit column of the moral ledger. And yes, I am comfortable expressing moral superiority.

What about Fallujah? Good question, what about it?