Sneering At September’s Dead: 9/11 As a Symbolic Point of Abuse

By Jack Staples-Butler

On September 11th 2016, the fifteenth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, members of a social justice activist group organised on Facebook named Coalition Oxy for Diversity and Equity (CODE) destroyed a 9/11 memorial at Occidental College, Los Angeles, which was mainly made of small American flags to mark each victim of the attacks. The memorial had been planted by the Occidental College Republicans. Many flags had been snapped in two or pushed them into overflowing garbage cans. The group had left flyers ostensibly memorialising the “1,455,590 Innocent Iraqis Who Died During the U.S. Invasion for Something They Didn’t Do”, placed over an image of the Twin Towers. CODE, following the anti-imperialist moral tropes of Milosevic and Assad, denied their own organisational responsibility for the vandalism whilst supporting the actions of those who carried it out, claiming “this symbol of the American flag is particularly triggering for many different reasons. The same ‘RIP’ image was previously known for being posted on September 11th 2015 by the Entourage lead star Adrian Grenier, who deleted it following an angry backlash, and subsequently enjoying uncritically positive coverage Al Jazeera’s AJ+ on Facebook.

The insincere and belittling ‘RIPs’ have been added to by other celebrities of left-wing imagination, including the official Twitter account for Ahmed Mohamed, the ‘clock boy’ erstwhile of Irving, Texas now living in the Qatar emirate. Mohamed’s official account received positive acclaim in likes and retweets after repeating the same fabricated statistic on September 11th 2016. Noticeably, the Mohamed account’s tweet copies the language of the original image almost word-for-word, but adds an additional 500,000+ deaths and changes ‘Iraqis’ to ‘Muslims’ without further explanation. Variations of the image give different numbers, asserted with the same certainty.

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‘1,455,590’, the oddly-specific death toll of Iraqi civilians is a fabrication; a deliberately sensationalist ‘rough estimate’ which originated on the website of the left-wing pressure group Just Foreign Policy now presented in the ‘RIP’ image as received truth. The exact, minute death toll from the 2003-2011 war is unknown, partly because Saddam Hussein’s regime did not keep accurate census records. Most recent estimates place total casualties below the one-million mark. Iraq Body Counts puts the grand total from 2003-2016 at around 268,000. The majority of these casualties were not inflicted by U.S. forces or ‘during the U.S. Invasion’ in 2003. The purpose of the deliberately inflated Just Foreign Policy figure, in the ‘RIP’ image’s juxtaposition with the confirmed and familiar 9/11 death toll, was to belittle the commemoration and memory of the victims. The ‘RIP’ image’s recurrence each September utilises the 9/11 anniversary to promote manipulatively sentimental anti-Americanism, and distorts public understanding of Iraq and the Middle East. But in ‘social justice’ left-wing social spheres online, it is morally praiseworthy to circulate this intellectual detritus in September, and then some.

Mainstream leftism and even liberalism can accommodate junk statistics deployed in a similar invective of minimisation and whataboutery; the “more likely to be killed by right-wing terrorists and “more likely to be killed by a lawnmower than terrorism” tropes are among the most widely-circulated in social media discussions of terrorism on the left. The ‘lawnmower’ claim entered the maelstrom of mainstream popular culture as celebrities like Kim Kardashian shared an aesthetically authoritative image based on a selective study of terrorism after 9/11, from 2001-2014. Fawning clickbait headlines such as “This powerful image being shared across social media is a powerful reminder that religion isn’t the problem” are written in the passive voice to disguise the headlines’ own agency in constructing the terrorism-belittling narrative. This narrative around terrorism after 9/11 has remained one of minimisation, denial and wallowing in the comfort of junk explanations and misinformation. Instead of encouraging sober or unprejudicial reflection on the reality of security threats or the dangerous allure of totalitarian ideas, praise is given for the liberal burying of heads in the sand.

This Image Being Shared Across Social Media Is A Powerful Reminder That Religion Isn t The Problem

Whilst visiting the United States in September 2016, I observed something on social media which I had not thought possible in socially acceptable, real-name public discourse. An American friend (referred to here as ‘R.X.’) working in the universities sector, a proudly self-proclaimed ‘social justice warrior’ with teaching responsibilities, had posted the same image which belittled and sarcastically diminished the dead of September 11th 2001. The image was identical to one which would be left at the vandalised Occidental College memorial, and contained links to 9/11 ‘Truth’ websites and a crank journal deceptively named Euro Physics News which serviced the melting temperature-fixated paranoia of the far-left and far-right. With the aesthetics of a memorial graphic typical of those circulated around tragic anniversaries, the clickbait image signalled the virtues of anti-Americanism and diminishing of the importance of 9/11 and the lives of the dead, via the vehicle of a pseudo-tribute made with snarling insincerity. R.X. was certainly no liberal patriot (photos of American flag-burning by various radicals sometimes got generous sharing from them), but the 9/11’RIP’ image seemed to cross a new boundary of contempt for life, liberty and the existence of historical truth.

The tawdry piece of clickbait being shared by an educated person, to approval by other educated members of a wide social circle, managed to insult and instrumentally exploit the 9/11 victims, the civilian casualties of the Iraq war, and practically every veteran of the United States armed forces and the international coalition which served in Iraq. The piece is a vulgar distillation of a language around 9/11 which became familiar in left-wing politics from almost immediately after the attacks. The extreme border of this mindset was the Ward Churchill controversy and his description of the incinerated World Trade Centre staff as “little Eichmanns. But others as morally sensible and empathetic as Mary Beard could be warped by the reflexive desire to blame the yankees and obliterate the moral agency of the murderers. As Beard infamously wrote in October 2001, as the bodies were still being pulled out of smouldering rubble:

“This wasn’t just the feeling that, however tactfully you dress it up, the United States had it coming. That is, of course, what many people openly or privately think. World bullies, even if their heart is in the right place, will in the end pay the price.”

Beard has never apologised for these remarks, and has consistently defended the legitimacy of the substance and form of portraying the hijackers as delivering a rational and predictable response to “bullies”. The original ‘take’ she offered is shared by the malaise of reductive left-wing thought following 9/11 and more recent attacks by ISIS cells in Europe. Here is the wisdom of the socialist pop-historian historian Howard Zinn, author A People’s History of the United States, urging readers:

“We need to think about the resentment all over the world felt by people who have been the victims of American military action… We need to understand how some of those people will go beyond quiet anger to acts of terrorism”.

Consider what this beloved left-wing writer of “well, actually” history, name-checked with praise in the film Good Will Hunting, is really saying about the murderers and victims of 9/11. These words, published on September 14th 2001 (the same day the FBI first named the nineteen hijackers), portray Osama Bin Laden, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and the hijackers as men of “quiet anger” who were “victims” of American foreign policy. The beliefs, personalities, moral agency and all empirical evidence about the hijackers is pre-emptively obliterated from the equation, and would remain so throughout the default left understanding of the attacks.

The attacks were provoked, the true murderers and “bullies” were the hatred liberal capitalist nations of the West, and the attackers themselves possessed no real responsibility for their actions. The possibility that the attacks were not the desperate response of a downtrodden peasant army was not considered. As was self-evident from the group’s founding statements, concern for the poor and wretched of the Earth did not factor in Al-Qaeda’s calculations before 9/11, nor did they have any desire to see the end of ‘imperialism’ itself. Bin Laden’s own dream was for a global jihadist war on Afghan soil, a great struggle against the West in which he predicted and hoped that millions of Muslims would die in a protracted humiliation of the United States. Abu Al-Baghdadi and the Islamic State got further in seeing their nightmarish vision realised, albeit within limited geography. The perpetrators of 9/11 or since were not exploited peasants or workers dreaming of emancipation, but the builders of a theocratic empire with dreams of slavery, conquest and the extermination of Jews and Yazidis. In the narrative which Beard promoted and shared with many others, all of this was irrelevant to fact that the privileged yankees “had it coming”.

My friend R.X. had long-standing form for blaming their country of birth for the multitude of the world’s evils. However, I had presumed they would spare their friends and themselves the injustice of sharing such palpably manipulative numerology, particularly on the anniversary of the attacks. When I asked R.X. why they had decided to share the untrue numbers of dead with an unknowing audience, their answer was a revealing insight in the epistemological norms they inhabited:

R.X.: “I know the numbers might not be right, but the societal impact this graphic gets at is still relevant. To be honest though, I don’t care enough to look these up.”

For R.X., the moral parameters were simple. Fabricated statistics, the belittling of 9/11 victims, the obliteration by omission of most Iraqi civilians killed by terrorism and insurgencies supported by Iran and other regional actors, the absolution of convicted and self-proclaimed mass-killers with yet more fabricated evidence from the Truthers, were perfectly reasonable things to share and promote in the week of a 9/11 anniversary. ‘Societal impact’ of a narrative was the primary concern; facts and numbers contradicting the narrative were irrelevant. A neat distillation of postmodernist nihilism aside, the popularity of this attitude among R.X.’s social circle reveals something about contemporary society even apart from the ideology which produces it. In the 2010s, it is acceptable to lie, scoff and sneer about and at the victims and survivors of the 9/11 attacks and other terrorist atrocities without social consequence on the social justice left. If any public backlash that does arise from the obscenity of vandalising memorials or insulting victims and survivors on the date of memorial using junk statistics, you can be assured defences from social justice academia and viral media targeting a progressive audience.

The self-identified social justice left is not alone in its abuse of 9/11 victims and the memory of 9/11 itself. The partisan exploitation of the attacks during the Bush Administration was followed by the GOP-controlled House and Senate’s miserable failings in healthcare provision for 9/11 rescue workers. Even before Trump, the GOP had fallen badly at the measure which judges a society by how it treats its heroes and the most vulnerable; embodying both were the illness-stricken 9/11 rescue workers who were deprived of healthcare by Republican votes in successive Congresses. The 9/11 First Responders bills being politically championed by Jon Stewart and his army of Comedy Central-watching liberals in 2010, with the rescue workers losing health coverage again in 2015 due to a Republican-led Senate deadlock was a subject which ‘Blue Lives Matter conservatives preferred to forget.

The most widespread vice drawn from 9/11 on the American Right was conservative embrace of authoritarian pornography like the ludicrous ‘Flight 93 Election’ essay comparing Trump supporters to the heroic cockpit-storming passengers of the doomed United 93. The essay gained wide popularity and acceptance among the Trump-supporting commentariat and even fence-sitting conservatives unsure about whether to back Trump, whom the essay directed its millenarian pontificating towards. The right-wing journalist Bret Stephens argued that the ‘Flight 93’ essay was a painful reflection on the state of conservative thought:

“To reread “The Flight 93 Election” today is to understand what has gone wrong not only with the Trump presidency, but also with so much of the conservative movement writ large... To imply, as Anton did, that Barack Obama, for all his shortcomings, was Ziad Jarrah, Flight 93’s lead hijacker, is vile…To suggest that Donald Trump, a man who has sacrificed nothing in his life for anyone or anything, is the worthy moral heir to the Flight 93 passengers is a travesty.”

In comparison to these ‘real-world’ assaults on the dignity of 9/11 victims from the conservative right, it is easy to dismiss observations of leftists belittling the victims of terrorism as ‘somebody’s wrong on the Internet’ syndrome. However, since 9/11, the coalescence of the online world and real life has made distinctions between the wrongness of a misinformed town hall meeting and a misinformed network of social media friends almost redundant. Circulating false information, whether aggressively promoting fake news sites protected with a ‘satire’ disclaimer, or just old-fashioned physics-warping conspiracy theories passed on in chain emails, is only half of the equation. Historical truth means nothing to the 9/11 Truther, or the fabricated death toll mourner, when these claims continue to be promoted after their falsehood is made unambiguous. The warped ethics and morality of circulating the ‘RIP’ image are downstream from this happy dissolution of historical fact.

At the extreme end of the social justice left’s abuse of the 9/11 victims is the mindset of what Jamie Palmer described as the ‘Theatre of Radical Cruelty’, which includes gleeful revelling in the death and suffering of those who share America’s collective guilt. American student Otto Warmbier’s show-trial, torture and murder by the North Korean gulag system brought smiles and sneers to bloggers on Salon and The Huffington Post that ‘white privilege’ was being revoked and punished by the DPRK. The vandalism of the Occidental College 9/11 memorial was similar in mindset to the Marxist-Leninist youths who in March 2017 ‘protested’ against the Victims of Communism memorial in Washington DC, gleefully tweeting a group photo of finger-flipping obscenity pointed at the hundred million dead. The January 2015 Charlie Hebdo and Hyper Cache attacks prompted disturbing responses on the Anglo-American left ranging from tepid displays of non-sympathy for the victims; to Laurie Penny’s open contempt for the ‘racist trolling’ she attributed to the murdered cartoonists whilst their blood remained spattered on office walls. Similarly, the victims and survivors of the worst terror attack in U.S. history have more frequently found themselves on the receiving end of the social justice left’s blunt anti-imperialist moral calculation.

One of the great social media frenzies of 2016 was in reaction to the Stanford University rapist Brock Turner, who was given a sentence of only three months imprisonment after being found guilty of a serious sexual offence. The manifestly poor decision of a California judge was embedded in the social justice hemisphere as irrefutable validation that the United States was in the grip of a rape culture where victims were blamed and rapists were routinely tolerated. BuzzFeed Editor-In-Chief Ben Smith declared an article on Brock Turner was BuzzFeed’s most-shared story since ‘The Dress’, a record-breaking pseudo-event created by Kim Kardashian. Social justice activists and intersectional feminist websites whose columnists publicly promoted a utopian fantasy of the Foucauldian far-left, the goal to “abolish prisons, police and the American settler-state” now demanded the harshest penal punishments for Turner. In the broad issue of ‘rape apologism’ and victim-blaming, leftists and liberals would be enraged at images claiming that Brock Turner was innocent, was framed or mocking his victim by comparison to fraudulently inflated sexual assault statistics drawn from other countries.

Yet this is what the ‘RIP’ image demands of readers. It is predicated on the essential anti-liberalism, anti-Americanism and anti-Westernism of social justice politics. Americans cannot really be victims of mass murder just as whites and Jews can never be victims of racism; thus, only America, Israel or other ‘colonialist’ powers can be guilty of committing mass murder, rape and ‘oppression’. Conversely, Al-Qaeda and other jihadist groups cannot be morally responsible for mass murder; they are either reacting to oppressive American foreign policy, are being secretly controlled and funded by Israel, or they never carried out the attacks in the first place. The actual perpetrators of the mass murder of almost 3,000 Americans are absolved of their guilt. For people who share the ‘RIP’ image around September 11th, the moral culpability of Osama Bin Laden, the hijackers and the entire Al-Qaeda network responsible for the atrocities and thousands more since, is erased or diminished into irrelevance. Noticeably, the Arab and Muslim victims of Al-Qaeda and other Islamist movements are absorbed into the fabricated death toll attributed to solely U.S. military action.  

When asked about the obscenity of declaring the terrorist killers of thousands of Muslims innocent by blaming other parties, R.X. sneeringly replied that to even name Al-Qaeda’s murder of Muslims was to speak of “black-on-black crime” – a cardinal sin of racism which social justice leftism treats a priori as both wrong and wrongthink. If hundreds of Shia pilgrims are slaughtered in an Al-Qaeda suicide bombing of a holy site, or Sunnis who refuse to accept the authority of Abu Al-Baghdadi as their Caliph are slit by the throat en masse, all responsibility lies with America. Far from genuinely commemorating or mourning Muslims who have died violently since 9/11, the ‘RIP’ image posters display only a willingness to instrumentalise their deaths, stripping the dead of dignity and their killers of any accountability.

This has likely been familiar territory for those familiar with the work of Norman Geras, though I notice a difference in the phenomena presented in the disturbed responses to 9/11 and terrorism exhibited on social media. Geras analysed and critiqued the response and group behaviours of the organised and cultural left, the intellectual circles who gathered around literary journals, book reviews and campus lectures. The kind of thinking which permeated through devotees of Noam Chomsky, Howard Zinn, John Pilger, Edward Said and the who’s who of the ‘anti-imperialist’ left could hardly be called popular culture. The debasing argument over ‘root causes’ was a feud in ivory towers and broadsheets, among the politically-interested class who subscribed to wonkish magazines, the poets and novelists who conflated radicalism with style, and a few celebrity enthusiasts from the film and music business. As with those on the right and centre-left who criticised and exposed their intellectual abuses, they all existed in nerdish subcultures separate from the general public. Those who intently followed arguments between Noam Chomsky, Christopher Hitchens and their toadies and critics were unlikely to overlap with the tens of millions who followed reality television and talent competitions.

Since Norman Geras’s death, the advance of social media into the realm of intractability has accelerated the mainstreaming of fringe ideas to lightning speed. The British Labour Party has been conquered by the former senior membership of the Stop the War Campaign and Venezuela Solidarity Campaign largely due to the organising capacity of Facebook and Twitter. The success of radical and illiberal parties and regimes are downstream from the cultural acceptability of their ideas. The circulation of tropes about terrorism once trafficked by cynical closet sympathisers of extremism now enjoy the casually-tweeted support of the most popular and influential figures of mainstream culture. Terror-apologising nihilism is now a display of public virtue. To adapt a phrase from Chomsky himself, this must involve the responsibility of intellectuals.

One statistic about 9/11 and the passage of time since can be more terrifying than many of the figures now synonymous with the atrocity. The statistic, based on an estimate by the Los Angeles Times journalist Terry McDermott is difficult to quantify and must be given appropriately cautious treatment. If true, it reveals something about the culture of Western democracies and the curiosities of their intellectual classes. Ten thousand books have been written about the 9/11. Only one was about the 9/11 hijackers themselves. Being generous, it is possible true number of books specifically focused on 9/11 itself, and not part of a larger tome on war and terrorism, is only around one thousand. The prognosis, however, is unavoidable. There has been a dearth and desolation of interest in the 9/11 hijackers themselves from the lettered classes. For the people responsible for culture and the written word in Western societies, preferred narratives about 9/11 are known before and apart from knowing anything about the men responsible for it.

McDermott himself, with his 2008 book Perfect Soldiers, was the first and only civilian writer to produce a close study of who, how and why the hijackings of the four aircraft actually took place. Most of the other ten thousand plus books were polemics, political tracts, academic metanarratives or literary works which instrumentalised the attacks with no consideration of who carried them out. Lost in the portentous screeds of civilisational struggle by reactionary bluster, the Chomskyan superstructures of imperialism and anti-imperialism, Said’s Orientalist theories spoon-fed through cultural studies reading lists, and all the memes and tropes blaming America for bringing the attack on itself, is who actually carried out the attacks and why.

The names of the hijackers remain unknown to most people in the United States, both the general public or the educated. Social sciences graduates who can confidently pronounce how 9/11 was ‘blowback’ for Western imperialism and reel off lists of activist-inflated death tolls from American foreign policy crimes, draw blanks when asked to name the men whose crimes redefined the course of history.

On any anniversary of September 11th, the great and impulsively reached-for narrative of ‘anti-imperialism’ must be held up against the evidence. The narratives built around the murder almost 3,000 people by eminent figures of academia and now parroted by the most popular celebrities are constructed with total disregard to the most basic facts of the event. What went on inside the skulls of Osama Bin Laden, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and the pilot hijackers Mohammed Atta, Ziad Jarrah, Marwan al-Shehi and Hani Hanjour barely, if ever, factors into the analysis offered by the moral certainties of “had it coming”, “beyond quiet anger” and “RIP”.

Whilst writing this article, the editor raised the term “symbolic point of abuse”, a description which eclipses any I had for the relationship between social justice leftism and 9/11. The memory of the attacks remains one of the most misinformed subjects in modern history, though arousing moral certainty from those who hold the victims of 9/11 in a haze of contempt, and the hijackers in a haze of ignorant, de-personalised sympathy. Both victims and perpetrators of the attacks are a source of irritation and cognitive discomfort for the people enthralled by the verbosity of social justice newspeak or the vulgar simplicity of the ‘RIP’ trope. On any anniversary of the mass murders committed by the Al-Qaeda cult, we would do well to honour the victims by learning why they were killed. They deserve as much, as equally the murderers are deserving of the accurate judgement of history.

 

You can read more by the author at his blog.

Apologists among us

By Norman Geras

July 13, 2005

OK, it’s more than time to nail this. Within hours of the bombs going off last Thursday the voices one could have predicted began to make themselves heard with their putative explanations for the murder and maiming of a random group of tube and bus passengers in London. It was due to Blair, Iraq and Afghanistan, illegal war and all the rest of it. The first voices, so far as I know, were those of the SWP and George Galloway, but it wasn’t very long – indeed it was no time at all, taking into account production schedules – before this stuff was spreading like the infestation it is across the pages of Britain’s oldest liberal newspaper, where it has remained for going on a week (and today as appallingly as ever).

Let’s just get by the matter of timing – of timeliness – with the brief expression of repugnance which it deserves. No words of dismay or regret, let alone sorrow, mourning, could be allowed to pass these people’s lips without the accompaniment of a ‘We told you so’ and an exercise in blaming someone else than the perpetrators. No sense of what an awful tragedy like this might call for or rule out. Just as if you were to hear from a distraught friend that her husband (or lover, mother, son) had just been murdered while walking in a ‘bad’ neighbourhood, and were to respond by saying how upset you were to hear it (or maybe even to give that part a miss) but that it was extremely foolish of the deceased to have been walking there on his or her own. We had all this in the early aftermath of September 11 2001, so in a way it was to be expected. But one constantly nurtures the illusion that people learn. The fact is that some of them don’t and, from where they think, can’t. It is a matter of interest to me now that there was even (some time during the last year, though I don’t recall where and so can’t link to it) a comments thread on which one or two of the participants questioned whether there had really been left and liberal voices after 9/11 making excuses for the crime of that day and proffering little essays in ‘understanding’. Yes, there really were then, and there have been again now.

It needs to be seen and said clear: there are, amongst us, apologists for what the killers do, and they make more difficult the long fight that is needed to defeat them. (To forestall any possible misunderstanding on this point: I do not say these people are not entitled to the views they express or to their expression of them. They are. Just as I am entitled to criticize their views for the wretched apologia they amount to.) The plea will be made, though – it always is – that these are not apologists, they are merely honest Joes and Joanies endeavouring to understand the world in which we all live. What could be wrong with that? What indeed? Nothing is wrong with genuine efforts at understanding; on these we all depend. But the genuine article is one thing, and root-causes advocacy that seeks to dissipate responsibility for atrocity, mass murder, crime against humanity, especially in the immediate aftermath of their occurrence, is something else.

Note, first, the selectivity in the general way root-causes arguments function. Purporting to be about causal explanation rather than excuse-making, they are invariably deployed on behalf of movements, actions, etc., for which the proponent wants to engage our sympathy or indulgence, and in order to direct blame towards some party for whom he or she has no sympathy. Try the following, by way of a hypothetical example, to see how the exercise works and doesn’t work.

On account of the present situation in Zimbabwe, the government decides to halt all scheduled deportations of Zimbabweans who have been denied the right to remain in the UK. Some BNP thugs are made angry by this decision and they take out their anger by beating up a passer-by who happens to be an African immigrant. Can you imagine a single person of left or liberal outlook who would blame, or even partially blame, this act of violence on the government’s decision to halt the deportations, or who would urge us to consider sympathetically the root causes of the act? It wouldn’t happen, even though (ex hypothesi) the government decision is part of the causal chain leading to the violence in question. It wouldn’t happen because the anger of the thugs doesn’t begin to justify what they have done.

The root-causers always plead a desire merely to expand our understanding, but they’re very selective in what they want us to ‘understand’. Did you ever hear a Jenny Tonge who empathizes with the Palestinian suicide bomber also understanding the worries of Israeli and other Jews – after the Holocaust, after the decades-long hostility of the Arab world to the State of Israel and the teaching of hatred there against Jews, after the acts of war against that state and the acts of terrorism against its citizens? This would seem to constitute a potentially rich soil of roots and causes, but it goes unexplored by the supposedly non-excuse-making purveyors of a root-causism seeking to ‘understand’.

The fact is that if causes and explanation are indeed a serious enterprise and not just a convenient partisan game, then it needs to be recognized that causality is one thing and moral responsibility another, although the two are related. Observe…

Me, David and Sam are chatting. I make a remark to David, David gets cross because of the remark and he punches me in the mouth. Sam says ‘You had it coming’. In this story it is uncontroversially true – I can tell you this, being the story’s one and only author – that my remark to David and Sam is the cause of David’s anger. Is Sam, then, right to tell me in effect that I either share the blame for David’s punching me in the mouth or am entirely to blame for it myself? Well, the content of my remark was ‘I love the music of Bob Dylan’. David for his part doesn’t like the music of Bob Dylan. I think most people will recognize without the need of further urging on my part that, contrary to what Sam says, I didn’t have it coming, David is entirely to blame for punching me in the mouth and I, accordingly, am not to blame in any way at all. If, on the other hand, my remark was not about Bob Dylan’s music, but was a deeply offensive comment about David’s mother, then without troubling to weight the respective shares of blame here, I’d say it would have been reasonable for Sam to tell me that I must bear some of it.

In circumstances he judges not too risky, Bob, an occasional but serial rapist, is drawn to women dressed in some particular way. One morning Elaine dresses in that particular way and she crosses Bob’s path in circumstances he judges not too risky. He rapes her. Elaine’s mode of dress is part of the causal chain which leads to her rape. But she is not at all to blame for being raped.

The fact that something someone else does contributes causally to a crime or atrocity, doesn’t show that they, as well as the direct agent(s), are morally responsible for that crime or atrocity, if what they have contributed causally is not itself wrong and doesn’t serve to justify it. Furthemore, 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. So simply by invoking prior causes, or putative prior causes, you do not make the case go through – the case, I mean, that someone else than the actual perpetrator of the wrongdoing is to blame.

The ‘We told you so’ crowd all just somehow know that the Iraq war was an effective cause of the deaths in London last week. How do they know this, these clever people? Leave aside for the moment the question of rightness and wrongness – for, of course, there were many people (in London, in the rest of the UK) for whom the Iraq war was not wrong but right, and if they are right that it was right, then no blame attaches to those who led, prosecuted and supported that war, even if it has entered the causal chain leading to the bombings, by way of the motivating grievances of the ‘militants’ and ‘activists’. But, as I say, leave this aside. How do they know?

What they need to know is not just that Iraq was one of a number of influencing causes, but that it was the specific, and a necessary, motivating cause for the London bombings. Because if it was only an influencing motivational cause amongst others, and if, more particularly, another such motivational cause was supplied by the military intervention in Afghanistan, then we don’t have that the London bombings wouldn’t have happened but for the Iraq war. Now, I’m aware that some of the ‘We told you so’ people are of the view that the intervention in Afghanistan was wrong too. But others of the ‘We told you so’ people aren’t of this view; and that segment of root-cause opinion, at least, will have a hard time of it establishing that just the Iraq war, and not Afghanistan – or anything else, for that matter (Palestine, the status of women, modernity, sexual freedom, pluralism, religious tolerance) – is what has provoked the murderers to their murders.

As for those (the SWPers, Galloways, etc.) for whom the intervention in Afghanistan should also not have happened, I’m happy to leave them where they are on this. These are people for whom the crime of 9/11 did not constitute an act of war meriting a military response, people whose preferred course of action was to leave the Taliban in situ ruling that country and al-Qaida with the freedom to continue organizing there. This rather does help to establish what is one of the main objects of the present post, namely that the root-causers are very selective about the root causes they’re willing to recognize as relevant; and, attached as they are to an ethico-political outlook that has lately been (let us just say) indulgent towards anti-democratic forces, they particularly favour root causes originating in the vicinity of Washington DC.

To shift part of the blame for the London killings and maimings on to Blair and Bush – and also Parliament and Congress, and everyone who supported the war in all the coalition-of-the-willing countries – you not only have to guess at the Iraq war having been operative and decisive in the motivations of the actual bombers, you not only have to overlook anything that might have been right about that war, like seeing off one of the most brutal and murderous dictators of the last few decades, you further have to reckon that what was wrong about the war not merely caused the anger of those bombers but made their response, in some sort, morally appropriate rather than (what it in fact was) criminally excessive. Just think about the implications of this position. If on account of the Iraq war Tony Blair is to blame for four young British Muslims (as it now seems) murdering and injuring some large number of travellers in London, will he also be to blame if one or two members of the Stop the War Coalition for the same reason should decide to bump off a few people in, say, Dundee? Ever on the lookout for damning causes, the root-causers never seem to go for the most obvious of them, so visibly obvious a one that it isn’t even beneath the surface of things the way roots often are, it’s right out in the open. This is the cause, indeed, which shows – negatively – why most critics of the Iraq war and of other events, institutions, movements, do not go around murdering people they are upset or angry with; I mean the fanatical, fundamentalist belief system which teaches hatred and justifies these acts of murder, justifies them to those who are swayed by it but not to anyone else. It somehow gets a free pass from the hunters-out of causes.

So, there are apologists among us. They have to be fought – fought intellectually and politically and without let-up. What is it that moves them to their disgraceful litany of excuses? This is doubtless a complex matter, but here are a few suggestions. One thing seems to be the treatment of those who practise terror as though they were part of some natural environment we have to take as given – not themselves free and responsible agents, but like a vicious dog or a hive of bees. If we do anything that provokes them, that must make us morally responsible, for they can be expected to react as they do. If this isn’t a form of covert racism, then it’s a kind of diminishing culturalism and is equally insulting to the people transformed by it into amoral beings incapable of choice or judgement.

Then, with at least some of the root-causers, their political sympathies and antipathies naturally incline them towards apologia. Here are people for whom the discomfiture of the US is number one priority, who would therefore have been happy to see the Americans bogged down without reaching Baghdad and toppling Saddam Hussein, who have openly spoken their support for an Iraqi ‘resistance’ committing daily crimes against the people of Iraq.

However, there are others not of this ilk and who would be horrified and outraged – and rightly – to see themselves described as indulgent towards such ugly and murderous forces, but who employ the tropes of blame-shifting and excuse-making nonetheless. These people, one may speculate more charitably, are merely confused; and amongst the things they are confused by are more local political divisions and animosities, which can seem to loom larger before them than the battle for and against democratic societies, for and against pluralist, enlightenment cultures, being fought across the world today.

Whatever the combination of impulses behind the pleas of the root-causes apologists, they do not help to strengthen the democratic culture and institutions whose benefits we and they share. Because we believe in and value these we have to contend with what such people say. But contend with is precisely it. We have to contest what they say of this kind, challenge it all along the line. We are not obliged to respect their repeated exercises in apologia for the inexcusable.

(My thanks to Eve Garrard for discussion and advice in the preparation of this post.)

Ed.: The original post is here

Iraq and a Labour Foreign Policy future: Stand tall, be brave, send help

When you think of the state of our world, Labour’s troubles can seem very small, almost irrelevant. But they’re not. They’re important, because Britain is important, and because the Labour Party is important to Britain. We have lost our capacity to become the government,we have lost our intellectual credibility in the eyes of the country and the world, and – maybe most tragically of all – we have lost our instinctive sense of morality. To recover on any count means facing down some powerful, by now almost endemic, beliefs on the Left, and none more so than those embodied in the Stop the War Coalition, and Jeremy Corbyn’s ‘foreign policy.’ Their dominance for a decade and more over what constitutes moral internationalism has eroded away Labour’s belief in the robust defence of human rights in the world, and this is wrong.

The most profound damage they have done is in shaping Labour’s understanding of the consequences of the intervention in Iraq. They argue perpetually that the world’s current ills started at the removal of Saddam in 2003. Kobani, Sinjar, Yezidis, Paris, Nice, Orlando, Aleppo? Iraq, always Iraq. Nothing before that point is ever relevant, and to bring it up triggers incredulity on the Left. But what went before is of course relevant to understanding the world that came after. Long before the Iraq war the Taliban were already meting out Islamist enslavement of women and girls, Iran’s Islamist government had been burying women alive for adultery and hanging gay men from lampposts for decades, and Al Queda had already carried out mass murder in America on 9/11. What links them (and these are but the tiniest number of possible examples) is the political ideology of Islamism, a deep rooted, incredibly contagious, violent philosophy whose proponents have been killing and oppressing for decades. Imagine what the world could be like had Saddam’s sadistic regime been here to give Islamism financial, political and military support. No, it is good that he is gone, and we need to stop apologising for thinking that. Long before the Iraq war, Islamism was already a deeply oppressive force for those with the misfortune to live within it, and it had already become the ideology of contemporary international terrorism. It’s not about us, it never has been.

A terrible effect of the Left’s determination to blame the ongoing violence in the Middle East and beyond on the Iraq war is that Labour has focused on our own military intervention as the main cause of Islamist terrorism, when it should have been relentlessly trying to understand and find ways to counter Islamism itself. This is a political ideology with its own internal propulsion, it’s supporters may use our own actions as propaganda but the roots of Islamism have nothing to do with the Iraq war. Labour has spent a decade and more apologising for something we did not create, and – as Jeremy Corbyn did again last night in the Leaders debate – damning initiatives, such as Prevent, designed explicitly to protect children from Islamist propaganda. Labour should have been contributing to finding solutions, to making Prevent better, using our links within communities to help bridge divides. We should have been relentlessly constructive, but instead – beleaguered by an activist Left full of misplaced certainty and anti-Western theory – we have too often used our voice to condemn those who have been trying to help.

Labour is an internationalist party that has always believed that the strong should help the weak yet by the time parliament voted on whether to join the fight against Assad we voted against sending military help. We watched carnage being inflicted and we walked away. Thanks to the Tory government, Hilary Benn and many Labour MPs, we have now intervened against ISIS, but in the meantime the world has witnessed pure horror in Syria and the situation has deteriorated, possibly beyond repair. One day I hope to see a Public Inquiry into the reasons and the consequences of that initial inaction in Syria, (called for here by the Director of the All Party Parliamentary Group on the Kurdistan region in Iraq), which should include an assessment of the role and agenda of the Stop the War Coalition and its member MPs. For now, Labour must start to remember that without a strong military,  and the international will to enforce, ‘Human Rights’ is not a foreign policy, it’s just some words on poster.

The world can be a terrible, messy and infinitely complex place. That the Iraq war could be ‘blamed’ for every Islamist atrocity that subsequently occurred is by now as ludicrous as blaming it for every atrocity that went beforehand. We can’t continue to damn our politicians for failing to achieve a world peace that transparently cannot exist. It is fantasy. What we can do is ask them to make honest decisions, based on the facts in front of them, and on solid understandings of what they are dealing with. For those of us who believe in the principle of humanitarian military intervention, and for those of us who believe removing Saddam was right and necessary, that means being prepared to force the truth on to the table within the Labour Party. It also means accepting that there are no perfect answers in foreign policy and that leadership demands making choices, sometimes extremely difficult choices. Finally, if Labour is to stand tall again and make our rightful contribution to a the world, we must remember that the rise of Islamism is not about us, and it never has been.

The Immorality of Corbynism

By Rob Francis

This is a cross post from the author’s Medium blog, reproduced with kind permission. This post is Part 1 of a series by the author.

In May 1987, eight members of the Provisional IRA launched an attack on the police station in Loughgall, County Armagh. Three men drove a digger through the perimeter fence with a Semtex bomb in the bucket, while the rest arrived in a van and opened fire. However, the British Army had received a tip-off about the plans, and ambushed the IRA unit, killing all eight men.

In London, a short while later, Jeremy Corbyn joined others in a minute’s silence for those killed whilst trying to murder police officers. He explained that he was “happy to commemorate all those who died fighting for an independent Ireland”.

The next couple of months will see a Labour leadership election which will test Jeremy Corbyn’s support in the party. My expectation is that he will win in September and remain in post; however, I very much hope for him to be defeated.

As I write, the news is covering Owen Smith, one of the potential candidates. Smith is discussing Corbyn in terms familiar to anyone who follows Labour politics; that Jeremy is a decent man, but he is not meeting expectations as leader and so must be replaced.

I suspect that it ultimately will be his performance that denies him his leadership of the party, either via the members deciding he isn’t up to taking the fight to the Tories, or by a crushing general election defeat. And in the second part of this piece, I will set out why I believe Corbyn will not be electorally successful.

But to focus on electability, as Smith does, is to sidestep a very serious conversation that Labour and the left need to be having. In this blog I will argue that it is his politics that should preclude him from leading the Labour movement. That Corbynism is an immoral politics, which the left should wholly reject. That Jeremy Corbyn is not the “decent man” he is often professed to be.

As with almost everything in contemporary Labour politics, it goes back to the Iraq war. Part of Jeremy Corbyn’s rise is undoubtedly due to his uncompromising opposition to the invasion, and already, his supporters are making much capital out of comparing Corbyn’s supposedly prescient stance against the war with Angela Eagle’s support.

I opposed the war. Yet I also recognise that the decision facing Blair and Bush in 2003 was a choice between two terrible scenarios. The brutal crimes of Saddam Hussein’s regime are well documented. To not go to war was to acquiesce in leaving Iraq in the hands of a monstrous tyrant.

None of this seems to trouble Corbyn or his acolytes; for them, the war was wrong and that’s it. Jeremy Corbyn has no answer as to what the world should do about future Saddam Husseins, nor does he seem to care.

Still, any decent person who opposed the Iraq war should, at the least, have hoped for a quick end to the fighting, a rapid overthrow of Saddam, minimal casualties, and a successful transition to a stable, democratic Iraq. Regardless of your position, you should surely hope for the best possible outcome to the situation, the least bloodshed.

But in 2004, the Stop The War Coalition, of which Jeremy Corbyn was a founder and one of its leading members, said

“The StWC reaffirms its call for an end to the occupation, the return of all British troops in Iraq to this country and recognises once more the legitimacy of the struggle of Iraqis, by whatever means they find necessary, to secure such ends”

Jeremy Corbyn in 1987 held a minute’s silence for people whose aim was to slaughter police officers. Jeremy Corbyn in 2004 was part of an organisation which urged jihadists to kill British soldiers. Why?

To unpick Corbynism, it needs to be understood that everything is viewed through an anti-western prism. The “West”, typically America, Britain and Israel, are seen to be at fault for all that goes wrong in the world, the source of all problems. Everything else is subservient to this premise.

This explains why Corbyn so often forms alliances with toxic people. For him, anti-western politics is the focus of his energies; the character, words or actions of any allies he makes in the struggle become secondary or unimportant.

This is why, despite professing to be a staunch defender of human rights, he can be paid to appear on Iranian state television, on a channel that filmed the torture of an Iranian journalist, and which acts as a mouthpiece for a regime that executes gay people.

This is why he speaks at Cuba Solidarity events, in support of a regime that has an appalling human rights record, one with a long history of jailing gay people and trade unionists.

This is why he finds friends amongst people such as Raed Salah (jailed for inciting anti-Jewish violence in Israel, and found by a British judge to have used the blood libel), Stephen Sizer (a vicar who shared an article on social media entitled “9/11: Israel Did It”), Paul Eisen (Holocaust denier), and of course, Hamas and Hezbollah.

Is it any wonder that the Israeli Labour Party is extremely concerned? Do we not owe our solidarity to them, as our sister party? Do we not owe our solidarity to gay people facing persecution in Iran, or trade unionists in Cuba? Why would anyone on the left seek to side with their oppressors instead? These alliances are made because Corbyn places anti-western ideology above all else. His enemy’s enemy has become his friend.

So, is Jeremy Corbyn a decent man?

One way out of the above could be to argue that he is not bad, but instead hopelessly naive; a foolish man who romanticises revolutionaries. That should in itself be enough to prevent him holding any real authority, but let’s take some recent examples to test the decency claim.

Following the launch of Shami Chakrabarti’s report into Labour antisemitism, Marc Wadsworth, a Momentum activist, stood up and accused Ruth Smeeth, a Jewish Labour MP, of colluding with the media. Wadsworth says he didn’t know Smeeth was Jewish. Perhaps not. But Jeremy Corbyn did. And accusing Jewish people of controlling the media is a classic antisemitic trope. So, confronted with this, what did Jeremy Corbyn do? He stood there and said nothing.

Except it was worse than saying nothing. Because later, Corbyn was caught on camera apologising to Wadsworth, and saying that he’d sent him a text message. Smeeth now understandably believes Corbyn has made Labour an unsafe place for Jews.

As a further example, consider his actions at the recent NEC meeting, which was to decide whether Corbyn needed MPs’ nominations in order to stand in the leadership election. Some committee members pleaded for the vote to be conducted in secret. One member was in tears as she explained her fears of intimidation, bullying and worse. Ignoring the distress of members, Corbyn voted against a secret ballot. He was not prepared to intervene to protect his colleagues.

After the NEC decision, Jeremy Corbyn went to a rally, and shared a stage with people who referred to senior members of the party as “fucking useless”, a “disgrace to Wales”, and told Labour MPs to leave the party. Corbyn said nothing, save for some laughable platitudes about being against abuse.

Every time, Corbyn puts himself and his ideology above people that he owed a duty of care to. Wadsworth was a comrade, an ally, so Corbyn had texted him before he’d even left the building. No such treatment for Ruth Smeeth. On the NEC, Corbyn’s priority was getting on the ballot, and he was happy to put other committee members in harm’s way to get there. Jeremy Corbyn saw no need to defend his MPs from the abuse at the rally. It was enough for him to disown abuse in general terms. His hands were clean.

Is he a decent man? Is this how decent people behave?

The problem of placing abstract ideology above real people is a facet of not just Corbyn but Corbynism. Witness Diane Abbott explaining how Chairman Mao is revered because “on balance, he did more good than harm”. Or George Galloway’s consistent support for tyrants. Or John McDonnell supporting theIRA bombing campaign. So committed was McDonnell, in fact, that during the negotiations leading to the Good Friday Agreement, Sinn Fein had to ask Tony Blair to keep him quiet, as he was discouraging hardliners from accepting a deal.

The Labour Party Rule Book is explicit; we are committed to deliver people from the tyranny of prejudice, and to work with international bodies to secure peace and freedom for all.

If your allies execute homosexuals, or imprison trade unionists, or bomb shopping centres, or murder people who dissent, or hold deeply antisemitic conspiracy theories, I don’t see how you can claim to be upholding these aims. If you say nothing whilst members of the party you lead are insulted in public, are you living by the Labour values of solidarity, tolerance and respect?

None of this is a left I want to be a part of.

The left now needs to decide what it stands for. An anti-western, anti-American, self-righteous strand of thinking, nurtured by the Iraq war, is gripping the party ever tighter. We cannot let the Labour Party fall prey to people who believe that every brutal dictator who opposes America is to be venerated. We cannot let the terrible errors of Iraq turn us away from supporting those who suffer at the hands of tyrants; this road leads to Srebrenica and Nyarubuye.

There is an internationalist left, which does not rely on knee-jerk anti-westernism. Which believes in alliances with other liberal democracies and showing solidarity with those being persecuted rather than their oppressors. There is also a left which genuinely believes in those values of solidarity, tolerance and respect; not just in the abstract or in platitude, but in how we conduct ourselves, and the examples we set for others.

The Labour leadership election isn’t just about whether Jeremy Corbyn can beat the Tories. It’s about salvaging a morality that has gone desperately missing.

 

Dear Jeremy…

By Leo Gibbons (aka Layo)

This is a cross post from the author’s blog, reproduced by kind permission.

Dear Jeremy Corbyn,

In 2004, the Stop the War Coalition released this statement:

“The Stop the War Coalition (StWC) reaffirms its call for an end to the occupation, the return of all British troops in Iraq to this country and recognises once more the legitimacy of the struggle of Iraqis, by whatever means they find necessary, to secure such ends”. Statement issued by the officers of the Stop the War Coalition, signed by Lindsey German, Convenor, and Andrew Murray, Chair of the StWC.

You were an officer of the Stop the War Coalition in 2005 and later became its Chairman in 2011. I hope when you read this letter, you read that statement again and understand the meaning of those words. Have in your mind our British troops as your finger follows the words ‘by whatever means they find necessary’.

The Iraqi ‘resistance’ was predominantly made up of Ba’athist fascists and Jihadists militants. This ‘resistance’ executed and tortured Iraqi trade unionists, aid workers and election supervisors. They planted bombs in election booths. Stop the War’s statement was a tacit approval of this reign of terror.

While many of those on the Left in this country and abroad opposed this war. The international Left spoke in one united voice when it condemned the murders of Iraqi Trade Unionists, socialists and democrats — who with great courage and dignity — fought for a civil society and a democratic Iraq free from tyranny.

As someone often exalted as a man of high principle and clear integrity, I must ask why did you chose to support this statement by the Stop the War Coalition?

Last week I sat and watched you apologise to our country for the war in Iraq on behalf of the Labour Party. I watched as you were applauded by some of the families and loved ones of British service personnel killed in Iraq. I wondered if they knew about your links with an organisation that willed on the Iraqi resistance ‘by whatever means necessary’. A ‘resistance’ that killed and maimed British soldiers.

I think if they knew this fact, there would have been no applause.

I like many, deeply admired the bravery and courage of our troops who fought fascism and fought to build a democratic Iraq. I urge you to apologise to the families of British service men and women who died in the Iraq War for your tacit support of those who fought them.

I believe the Iraq War was an error of the gravest magnitude and today we are still reaping the consequences. You were right to stand against the decision to go to war and your principled stand has now been vindicated. However the longer you stand by these words and alongside the Stop the War Coalition, the longer your legacy as a man of peace and integrity will be tarnished.

Yours sincerely,

Leo Gibbons

The Muslim leader who can defeat Islamism

By Jake Wilde

After the terrorist attacks in Brussels three months ago I wrote about the danger of under-reacting, in particular about not making the mistake of thinking that Daesh were comparable to traditional European “liberation” movements such as the IRA.

“Daesh are not attacking European cities in order to conquer them. Or to force countries to leave them in peace in their so-called caliphate. They attack because they wish us dead. If they had nuclear weapons they would use them. There are no demands from Daesh because they have none. There are no warnings before bombings because this is not about terror, it is about death. There is nothing to negotiate, nothing to discuss over a cup of tea.”

I think this is being missed in the analysis of the atrocity in Orlando, described by President Obama as terrorism (and there are other factors involved too). This is understandable shorthand for ideologically based mass murder but it is incorrect. The purpose of terrorism is to induce fear amongst a population in order to modify behaviour, such as the withdrawal of troops or political concessions, or flight amongst a civilian population. Daesh have no such motivations. They do not demand that the United States stop their bombing campaign. They do not demand peace talks. These are not terror attacks, these are death attacks.

In my previous piece I also drew the contrast between Al Qaeda and Daesh, in that the latter have generally relied upon radicalised national citizens to undertake their attacks, either as part of a centrally organised and coordinated campaign using cells and networks, or inspiring individuals to act alone without any direction. This is covered in greater detail in an excellent piece by Kevin D Williamson today in National Review:

“We speak of “lone wolf” jihadists as though this phenomenon were somehow independent of the wider Islamist project. It is not. The model of “leaderless resistance” in the service of terrorist projects is not new, and it has not been employed by the Islamists at random. If Omar Mateen turns out, as expected, to have had little or no substantive contact with organized Islamist groups, that fact will demonstrate the success of their communication strategy rather than the limitations of their reach.”

Max Boot, writing in Commentary today, also makes the point that there is no magic bullet for stopping the “lone wolf”, but diligence and extensive (occasionally undercover) intelligence:

Of course, the best human intelligence-gathering depends on the cooperation of the communities where you are trying to gain information. Thus, maintaining good relations between the American Muslim community and various law enforcement agencies is of critical importance. Unfortunately Donald Trump’s crude anti-Muslim rhetoric and his calls to “ban” foreign Muslims (which would not have stopped the American-born Mateen) detract from this goal by sending Muslims a message that they are less than wholly American. Part of the reason why there has been less terrorism in the U.S. than in Europe is that we have done a better job of assimilating our Muslims. It would be a costly tragedy if that achievement were to be undone.

The multi-layered Islamist war upon non-Islamists claims lives across the world, in Iraq and Syria, in Indonesia, Kenya, Nigeria, Western Europe, the United States and countless other countries and regions besides, with the fifty people murdered in Orlando the latest western casualties. The Islamists involved in this war are a mixture of conventional troops, cell-based terror groups and individuals motivated to act alone. The latter two concentrate upon, almost exclusively, “soft” targets amongst the civilian population. As Manuel Valls, the French Prime Minister who is still the clearest voice in The West on what needs to be done, observed after the Paris Attacks “We are at war”. So why are we not behaving as though we are? There is no sense that we, as a society, have been galvanised to do anything other than mourn when yet another atrocity is committed.

We need to be honest with ourselves. We have an enemy, and that enemy wants us dead. We must abandon our normal concepts of an enemy that can be subdued, educated and brought back into the fold. I fear we have yet to convince people, especially in the West, that this is not like the terrorism they are either used to or have read in history books. The blunt truth is that the only good Islamist is a dead Islamist. This is a difficult concept for our Western liberal sensitivities to accept.

But we forget that we are not the only enemy of Islamism and we need to work harder to build alliances at home and around the world, not just with Muslims but with everybody who isn’t an Islamist. This requires genuine leadership. It is understandable why some have mistaken Donald Trump’s overblown, ill-conceived and insubstantial rhetoric for leadership.

The controversy surrounding Owen Jones’s appearance on Sky News illustrates what needs to happen. People who attend a gay-friendly nightclub are targets in the same way as Nigerian schoolgirls, Jewish shoppers, or Parisian rock fans. Gay people are targeted because they are gay, and that, to Islamists, is an additional crime upon their broader crime of not being Islamists. It follows that there should be common ground between the LGBTI community and every other non-Islamist section of society on this one issue if nothing else, and this is important enough to be called a matter of life or death.

To create such an alliance between the LGBTI community and non-Islamist Muslims is certainly a challenge but we have, in Europe, an example of the leadership that is required. Earlier today I tweeted about the importance of Muslim leaders like Kosovo President Hashim Thaçi:

President Thaçi is a Muslim who fought to liberate his country, not to impose a caliphate but a liberal democracy. He is the fifth President of a country that saw 314 of its citizens join Daesh in the last two years. Constitutionally secular Kosovo has found itself at the centre of the broader conflict between the old West and the new East. This is from Carlotta Gall’s detailed piece for the New York Times on Daesh’s Kosovar recruits:

They were radicalized and recruited, Kosovo investigators say, by a corps of extremist clerics and secretive associations funded by Saudi Arabia and other conservative Arab gulf states using an obscure, labyrinthine network of donations from charities, private individuals and government ministries.

“They promoted political Islam,” said Fatos Makolli, the director of Kosovo’s counterterrorism police. “They spent a lot of money to promote it through different programs mainly with young, vulnerable people, and they brought in a lot of Wahhabi and Salafi literature. They brought these people closer to radical political Islam, which resulted in their radicalization.”

In May of this year President Thaçi was at the head of Pristina’s first ever Gay Pride march. Those who think that it is impossible for Islam and the LGBTI community to work together against hate and death need look no further than President Thaçi. More than that, he also knows the perils of failing to act. Carlotta Gall again:

Why the Kosovar authorities — and American and United Nations overseers — did not act sooner to forestall the spread of extremism is a question being intensely debated.

As early as 2004, the Prime Minister at the time, Bajram Rexhepi, tried to introduce a law to ban extremist sects. But, he said in a recent interview at his home in northern Kosovo, European officials told him that it would violate freedom of religion.

“It was not in their interest, they did not want to irritate some Islamic countries,” Mr Rexhepi said. “They simply did not do anything.”

Writing in The Guardian towards the end of 2014, while Prime Minister, Thaçi said:

“Kosovo is a country where the majority of the population declare themselves to be Muslim. But Kosovars wholly reject the religious dogma proposed by radical strains of political Islam, and we shall not allow it to endanger our path towards eventual NATO and EU membership.

We will crush any cells that believe, wrongfully, that they can find cover in Kosovo. Just as my former guerrilla Kosovo Liberation Army rejected offers from jihadists who wanted to volunteer in the 1999 war, we now reject the new evil that is stemming from Islamic State and related groups in the Middle East.”

Here is the model then, for both Western countries and Islamism’s enemies amongst Islamic countries, to follow. Kosovo have turned the situation around, destroying the networks that acted as recruitment to Daesh and putting the perpetrators on trial. The result has been popular support for Hashim Thaçi’s election as President in February and Kosovars having the highest approval rating in the world for the United States.

Writing after Austria’s Presidential election saw a narrow defeat for the far right candidate, Norbert Hofer, Thaçi explained the potentially crucial role that Kosovars, and other Balkan citizens, could play in the quest for a peaceful future:

“Hofer’s platform, like other far-right movements in Europe is based on the Huntingtonian concept of the clash of civilizations and on promoting the theory that Islam is incompatible with Europe. For us in Kosovo, Albania or Bosnia, with large strata of our societies belonging to the Muslim faith, this effectively excludes us from feeling part of the continent where we have lived for centuries, indeed millennia.

Besides, Kosovo is not Muslim: our society is secular and civic.

Kosovo became the first Balkan country to elect a woman president in 2011 and is the only Balkan country to have recognised the LGBTI community in its constitution. I led the LGBTI Pride Parade in Kosovo last month to mark our support for this community precisely to show our citizens and the wider world that extremism and prejudice has no place in our midst.

Neither are we a safe haven for extremists. Our security services have made 110 arrests and secured 67 indictments and 26 convictions against ISIS supporters in our country. US Secretary of State John Kerry noted in a recent visit to Kosovo that Kosovars are the regional leaders in combating violent extremism.”

The bombastic soundbites and the vague military strategy offered by Donald Trump needs to be rejected, not because the use of force is not the solution, but because Trump suggests that he can solve the problem without Muslims. That is to ignore the most fundamental of simple facts – more Muslims die at the hands of Islamists than anyone else. Islamism is a far bigger problem for Muslims than it is for The West and Muslims like Hashim Thaçi have proved they have the answers to destroy Islamism while retaining a commitment to liberal democracy. If it’s a strongman you want then at least look to the real thing.

 

Bouattia, the Yazidis and Daesh

By Jake Wilde

When is a motion condemning Daesh not a motion condemning Daesh? When it is dismantled and rendered free of the original meaning.

Back in September 2014 the following motion was proposed at an NEC meeting of the National Union of Students:

Iraqi/Kurdish solidarity

Proposed: Daniel Cooper
Seconded: Shreya Paudel, Clifford Fleming

NUS National Executive Committee notes:

  1. The ongoing humanitarian crisis and sectarian polarisation in Iraq – which has resulted in thousands of Yazidi Kurds being massacred.

NUS NEC believes

  1. That the people of Iraq have suffered for years under the sectarian and brutally repressive dictatorship of Saddam Hussein, the US/UK invasion and occupation, the current sectarian regime linked to both the US and Iran, and now the barbaric repression of the “Islamic State” organisation.
  2. That rape and other forms of sexual violence are being used as weapons against women in IS-occupied areas, while minorities are being ethnically cleansed.

NUS NEC resolves

  1. To work with the International Students’ Campaign to support Iraqi, Syrian and other international students in the UK affected by this situation.
  2. To campaign in solidarity with the Iraqi people and in particular support the hard-pressed student, workers’ and women’s organisations against all the competing nationalist and religious-right forces.
  3. To support Iraqis trying to bridge the Sunni-Shia divide to fight for equality and democracy, including defence of the rights of the Christian and Yazidi-Kurd minorities.
  4. To condemn the IS and support the Kurdish forces fighting against it, while expressing no confidence or trust in the US military intervention.
  5. Encourage students to boycott anyone found to be funding the IS or supplying them with goods, training, travel or soldiers.
  6. To make contact with Iraqi and Kurdish organisations, in Iraq and in the UK, in order to build solidarity and to support refugees.
  7. To issue a statement on the above basis.

 

Malia Bouattia, then Black Students’ officer, led the opposition to this motion, saying:

“We recognise that condemnation of ISIS appears to have become a justification for war and blatant Islamophobia.

“This rhetoric exacerbates the issue at hand and in essence is a further attack on those we aim to defend.”

The NEC agreed to defer the motion to the next meeting in December 2014. They were forced to issue a statement because of the negative publicity generated by the decision not to pass the motion.

 

Here’s the motion Malia Bouattia brought back:

Motion 5: Kurdish Solidarity

Proposed by: Malia Bouattia

Seconded by: Zekarias Negussue, Toni Pearce, Abdi-Aziz Suleiman, Zarah Sultana, Piers Telemacque, Vonnie Sandlan, Gordon Maloney, Kirsty Haigh, Sai Englert, Colum McGuire, Megan Dunn, Raechel Mattey

NEC Believes:

  1. The Kurdish people have been fighting for freedom and democracy throughout the course of history and are amongst the largest stateless groups in the world.
  2. They have experienced mass genocides committed by surrounding states, followed by mass displacement and millions of refugees.
  3. There is a new democratic structure in the 3 cantons of Rojava which has been set up by the people of the region and enacts women’s rights as well as other forms of social justice for all those oppressed.
  4. Kurdish women have played a key role by co-leading the resistance in the region, with non patriarchal and anti-sexist methods which has also been the case throughout history.
  5. The Kurdish people in Kobane are restricted in healthcare, food and clothing.
  6. The Kurdish struggle aims to protect co-existence between the different ethnic and religious groups.

NEC Further Believes:

  1. That all peoples have the right to self-determination.
  2. Rojava is entitled to its independent political establishment which is inclusive of all the communities within the region.
  3. That the Kurdish struggle should be recognised and supported by the international community.
  4. That the Kurdish people should lead in defining their freedom and making demands of solidarity.
  5. That kidnapping sexual abuse and trafficking of Kurdish women and children are crimes against humanity.
  6. That ISIS should be condemned for its atrocities, against the Kurdish people and all others who have been affected.
  7. That aid should not be prevented from reaching the Kurdish people.
  8. Provisions should be put in place to cater for the people in the Kurdish region, namely Rojava, Shingal, Mosul and Sinjar.

NEC Resolves:

  1. That Kurdish emancipation will neither be obtained through groups like ISIS nor imperialist endeavours.
  2. To meet with and support the UK Kurdish groups and community’s solidarity efforts and the international Kurdish diaspora’s.
  3. To call on the international community to recognise the Kurdish resistance.
  4. To support the international movement to find and bring back all the Kurdish people who have been captured by ISIS.
  5. To raise awareness about the situation and support Kurdish societies within Students’ Unions to show solidarity.
  6. To pressure the UK government to meet the needs of the Kurdish community in the UK and within the region.
  7. For relevant officers to campaign to support the Kurdish struggle.
  8. To condemn the atrocities committed by ISIS and any other complicit forces.
  9. To call on the UK government to meet the needs of refugees from the region.
  10. To support women’s organizations which help young girls and women who have been abducted and trafficked.

 

It is not difficult to spot the glaring difference. It is hard to imagine how it is possible to ignore the religious aspect of Daesh’s murderous campaign against the Yazidis but Bouattia decided to do so. Rather than condemn Daesh as, for example, nothing to do with Islam, she chose to ignore the religious basis entirely.

That is the reason why the movement to disaffiliate from the NUS is picking up pace.

That is the reason why, at last night’s debate in Cambridge University Student Union on disaffiliation from the NUS, Oriyan Prizant (@oprizant) condemned Bouattia for indicating that “Yazidis are not human enough to merit human rights.”

It is a strong accusation. And it is fully justifiable.

‘We told you so, you fucking fools’: the Euston Manifesto 10 years on

Nick Cohen, in a piece from a forthcoming anthology of the best writing of the late and much missed Norman Geras, writes about the Euston Manifesto ten years on.

Nick Cohen: Writing from London

k2

Spectator 18 February 2016

The Euston Manifesto appears a noble failure. It was clear in 2006 that the attempt to revive left-wing support for internationalism, democracy and universal human rights did not have a strong chance of success. Looking back a decade on, it seems doomed from the start. The tyrannical habits of mind it condemned were breaking out across the left in 2006. They are everywhere now. They define the Labour Party and most of what passes for intellectual left-wing life in the 21st century.

To take the manifesto’s first statement of principle: the left should be ‘committed to democratic norms, procedures and structures’. An easy statement to agree with, I hear you say. Not so easy when the leader of the opposition, feted by his supporters as the most ‘left-wing’ in Labour’s history, will excuse dictatorial regimes or movements, however reactionary, if and only if, they…

View original post 1,655 more words

Brussels: The danger of under-reacting

By Jake Wilde

 

In the days after the cowardly, murderous and unjustifiable attacks upon Brussels, Manuel Valls, Prime Minister of France, stood out for me as the one European leader prepared to address the enormity of the challenge facing Europe. Valls said:

“We are at war, in Europe we have been subject for several months to acts of war. And faced with war, we need to be mobilized at all times.”

 

After the Paris attacks Valls said that France’s war against Daesh would take place both abroad and domestically. In respect of the former the method was clear – military action in Syria and Iraq. As part of the latter Valls warned that Europe must take strong measures over border controls:

“It’s Europe that could die, not the Schengen area. If Europe can’t protect its own borders, it’s the very idea of Europe that could be thrown into doubt.”

 

Valls was at the European Commission on 24 March renewing his push for a Passenger Name Record (PNR) Directive, a measure that would oblige airlines to hand EU countries their passengers’ data. Although nobody thinks of this measure as a panacea on its own it would be an important step in applying controls over free movement.

 

On the same day Simon Jenkins wrote in The Guardian of politicians being driven by the prospect of there being “big money” to be made out of “terrifying” the public, and of “megaphoning” the attacks to “promote” Daesh’s cause, He mocked the warnings of the security services and talked of England “becoming old East Germany”. Jenkins instead called for “a quiet and dignified sympathy”, to “downplay” the attacks and not to “alter laws”. In other words, to do nothing.

 

The problem with Simon Jenkins’s approach is that it assumes that a love of freedom and democratic principles flows intrinsically through the veins of the whole population of Europe. There might have been a time when, in liberal elitist circles untroubled by exposure to extremist religious and/or political ideology, this was an easy assumption to make.

 

Here’s where Simon Jenkins is wrong and Manuel Valls is right. For too long Europe has simply assumed that the brief post-war interlude of peaceful, progressive liberalism – Western Democracy™ – was a benign contagion. That the belief in its principles was so inherently powerful that all who grew up in, migrated to, or became part of through “expansion”, Europe became automatically imbued with them. Or, put another way, that integration just worked without having to do anything. That is simply untrue now, if it ever was.

 

In 1961 Ronald Reagan said:

“Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn’t pass it to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same.”

 

Reagan’s words have not been heeded. Perhaps they were assumed to be a relic of a Cold War era rhetoric. That somehow they no longer applied because communism, in Europe at least, has been defeated. We have stopped fighting for freedom in Europe because we think we won.

 

The threat of Islamism is no different to the threat that communism posed. Individual human rights; freedoms of speech, religion, assembly and expression; democratic elections; an independent judiciary; the right to a fair trial; legal protection for minorities and independent trade unions. All of these rights, the hallmarks of Western Democracy™, cease to exist in an Islamist society in just the same way as they did in communist ones. Yet we have failed to recognise this threat or, if we have, then we have not taken it seriously.

 

Jenkins’ article exemplifies the attitude that we have, as Valls says, “turned a blind eye to terror”:

“We closed our eyes – everywhere in Europe including France – to the progression of extremist ideas, Salafism, neighbourhoods which through a combination of drug trafficking and radical Islamism perverted, and I’ll use this word again, a part of the youth.”

It is no longer necessary to look far to see gender segregation, calls for blasphemy laws, and the oppression of female and Jewish political activists. And that is in just one UK political party.

 

Just as with communism there are both external and internal threats. The attacks by foreign nationals that characterised the Al Qaeda methodology have been replaced by the use of radicalised national citizens of European countries to undertake Daesh’s bombings and shootings. In his article Jenkins draws a comparison with how UK governments handled the IRA (though some may dispute his recollection of events). I think this comparison is wholly invalid. The IRA were trying to force the UK government to cede territorial control of a defined geographical area. Daesh are not. Daesh are not attacking European cities in order to conquer them. Or to force countries to leave them in peace in their so-called caliphate. They attack because they wish us dead. If they had nuclear weapons they would use them. There are no demands from Daesh because they have none. There are no warnings before bombings because this is not about terror, it is about death. There is nothing to negotiate, nothing to discuss over a cup of tea.

 

After every atrocity there is a routine, outlined by Douglas Murray in The Spectator recently:

“All of the ‘models’ [have] failed.  So here we are – stuck with a problem our politicians have given us and to which they have no answers. Perhaps all this pointless chatter is just what people do to distract themselves before they have to face up to that fact.”

 

We can no longer under-react. We should listen to Manuel Valls and finally start to fight the war we are in.

The Killing of Osama bin Laden: Part 2 – Tragicomedy

By David Paxton

In Part 1 I explained why I consider the raid on Osama bin Laden’s compound to have been a legitimate military action against a military target under the principle of self-defence.  I suggested it should not be considered an illegal ‘assassination attempt’.

In this part, I wish to examine various reactions to the raid, including Corbyn’s, and the controversy these caused.

Tragedy and Farce

The fallout following the unearthing of Corbyn’s statements came to a peak when David Cameron alluded to it in his conference speech in October. It was a few seconds in a 1 hour speech, 100 words inside of 6500. However, he caused quite a stir and brought many people to a point of anger.

This is what the prime minister said:

And on the subject of protecting our country from terrorism, let me just say this:

Thousands of words have been written about the new Labour leader.

But you only really need to know one thing: he thinks the death of Osama bin Laden was a “tragedy”.

No.

A tragedy is nearly 3,000 people murdered one morning in New York.

A tragedy is the mums and dads who never came home from work that day.

A tragedy is people jumping from the towers after the planes hit.

My friends – we cannot let that man inflict his security-threatening, terrorist-sympathising, Britain-hating ideology on the country we love.

This was apparently to take Corbyn’s words out of context, to be dishonest. I have heard this directly called a lie. Some have gone as far as to make a comparison with the following picture or this link, a version of which was reported in the Mirror.

Cameron Tragedy

The idea being that the same could be done to Cameron. But is it the same? Obviously it isn’t literally the same as Cameron was clearly quoting somebody but is this a comparable act of bad faith?

Peter Hitchens, always keen to condemn Cameron, said the following:

Though I doubt whether Mr Blair would have had the nerve to make the deeply dishonest misrepresentation of Jeremy Corbyn’s perfectly reasonable and civilised objections to the extrajudicial killing of Osama bin Laden.

The false and cheap suggestion that Mr Corbyn does not regard the events of September 11, 2001 as a tragedy – when he specifically said that he did – was a disgrace for which Mr Cameron should quickly make amends.

I attempted a discussion with Hitchens via Twitter to explain why I don’t consider it ‘perfectly reasonable and civilised’ of Corbyn. One of the questions Hitchens asked me was ‘don’t you prefer trials to summary executions?’. Furthermore, he alluded to a Boris Johnson article from 2001 which, apparently to him, to this article from the Huffington Post, this from Russia Today, and many on social media, sees Johnson getting away with what Corbyn does not.

Hitchens Quote 1Hitchens Quote 2

Others have made comments about the rule of law as if the actions that night somehow worked against it. Popular secularist-blogger, Futile Democracy, said exactly that. To him the operation that killed Bin Laden was tragic because it abandoned the rule of law.

Futile Democracy Quote 1

He writes with moral seriousness, he isn’t a knee-jerk anti interventionist or a pacifist and he has a firm grasp of facts and ideas, and yet, I struggled to get answers from him regarding which or whose law had been abandoned or broken.

In the episode of BBC Question Time subsequent to the raid, Lord Ashdown and Yasmin Alibhai-Brown were in fine moralising form though at least Ashdown managed to be fairly reasonable. It took Alibhai-Brown to push this tale to the levels of farce. Regarding Bin Laden’s burial at sea she literally stated that it makes us no better than the terrorists and that it would ‘set off another generation’.

In brief then, the complaints from Corbyn and others following the killing of Osama Bin Laden are as follows:

  1. There was no attempt to arrest Osama bin Laden. This was therefore an assassination.
  2. The operation has made the world a more dangerous place.
  3. The operation was a tragedy like 9-11 was and the invasion of Afghanistan was.
  4. Cameron implied that Corbyn didn’t think the attacks of September 11th were a tragedy after he explicitly said they were.
  5. Cameron lied, he quoted Corbyn out of context and in bad faith.
  6. Osama bin Laden was ‘summarily executed’ via an ‘extra-judicial killing’.
  7. The U.S. abandoned the ‘rule of law’.
  8. The U.S. government, in doing this, and especially in disposing of the body, showed they are no better than the terrorists.
  9. Boris Johnson said the same thing as Corbyn but received different treatment.

I believe all these to be fairly worthless complaints. Some are misjudged and some are utterly ludicrous.

I’ll go through them in a rough reverse-order and try to keep this on the brisk side of comprehensive.

Boris Johnson

In 2001 Johnson said:

Osama bin Laden… is both sinister and ludicrous at once, and a trial would expose that. If it is really true that a trial would provoke a revolt in the souks, then that is a small price for showing the souks how we in the West obey the rule of law

The piece apparently implies hypocrisy to the disadvantage of Corbyn. Johnson indeed suggests a trial is superior to abandoning the rule of law but what nobody else seems to be bothered to note is that the dichotomy he provides isn’t between a trial and an operation similar to the one which occurred and which I discussed in detail in Part 1, but between a trial and a ‘murder’.

He said:

It is Osama bin Laden, badly injured, and against all predictions, he is trying to surrender. The man who encouraged demented young men to take their own lives is making a pitiful attempt to save his own.

What do you do? Do you blow him away? You could sort of accidentally squeeze the trigger and pow, no more bin Laden; and if you did, there is hardly a person in the West who would condemn you.

To be sure, there would be long editorials in the Guardian, denouncing the shoot to kill policy of Her Majesty’s Armed Forces, and John Pilger would accuse you of being a war criminal.

….

No matter how angry you might feel, and how vividly you recalled the events of September 11, you might think, as you raised your rifle to point at his chest, that British soldiers are not taught to murder unarmed people in the act of surrendering.

This isn’t just word games or a lawyer’s quibble, Johnson  described a specific situation. He described a murder. Osama bin Laden wasn’t in the act of surrendering. What occurred in 2011 was not illegal. The rule of law was not abandoned. In a military raid they had every right to shoot him.

Nobody is arguing that you cannot prefer a trial. Nobody is making an accusation from Corbyn’s doing so. It is the rest of what was said that is being compared and the rest is different from what everybody else has said.

If people really wanted to pick at Johnson’s words on this subject they would be better going after his piece of 2011. In this he says more interesting things:

This was an assassination, a liquidation, an extra-judicial killing and a termination with extreme prejudice. Whichever way you look at it, President Obama has carried out one of the most effective whack jobs ever seen, and if he doesn’t get re-elected I will be amazed.

In so far as President Obama has a duty to protect America and Americans, he almost certainly has the necessary legal cover, provided by Congress, to remove bin Laden from the scene by any means at his disposal, and that is what he has triumphantly done. As an argument, it is not without its difficulties. If America is to go around indulging in extra-judicial liquidation of anyone who poses a threat to American interests, then we are entitled to wonder where it will end. We may be worried that the enemies of America may be spurred to symmetrical retaliation and that we will be caught up in a cycle of killing and counter-killing.

But it is at least plausible, and emotionally convincing, to say Osama bin Laden was a clear and present danger to America; he had it coming, and the president had him killed. All I ask is that we stop pussy-footing around about “hostile acts” and accept that this was an execution.

So why don’t we all just cut the cackle and admit the groaningly obvious. It is perfectly clear why the US will not release the video footage they were all watching in the White House, and that caused Hillary to press her knuckles to her mouth. There was no firefight.

It’s a confused piece and, in parts, dead wrong.

There was a firefight:

…As he started toward the stairs, which were directly in line with the door, AK-47 rounds tore through the glass above the door, narrowly missing him. I rolled away as the bullets cracked just inches over my head.

Owen, Mark; Kevin Maurer (2012-09-04). No Easy Day: The Only First-hand Account of the Navy Seal Mission that Killed Osama bin Laden (p. 220). Penguin Books Ltd. Kindle Edition.

The SEALs didn’t have live helmet-cams or the like. The video feed being watched was from the drone circling overhead. According to Mark Bowden in The Finish: The Killing of Osama bin Laden it was the helicopter crash visible via the drone which was responsible for Clinton’s expression.

If, as Boris says, Bin Laden was posing a threat then this isn’t an ‘execution’ but a military strike on a military target. They can simply kill him.

That’s the general threat. There is also the idea of immediate threat which is relevant if this was not a to be considered a military action. The U.S. discussed what a reasonable course of action a suicide-bombing advocate who loves death would have to take to not be considered an immediate threat. It sounded fair to me and Bin Laden didn’t take that course of action. Therefore, the ‘pussyfooting around’ is no such thing.

Either way, Johnson did not say what Corbyn said. As confused as his second piece is he never chose to describe the killing of Bin Laden, or even his missing out on his day in court, as a tragedy comparable with the attacks of September 11th 2001. This forms the basis for a sensible guess as to why, other than hypocrisy, they were treated differently.

The Body

Yasmin Alibhai-Brown’s protestations were so pathetic that I was tempted to leave them where they lay. However, I think her effort serves to highlight a trait that runs through many discussions of this type. One which I describe as ‘sophistication-via-masochism’. The making a fetish, which by definition is illogical and unreasonable, of blaming the West.

Her discussion on Question Time went thus:

Yasmin Alibhai-Brown:

The rules of war say, and Paddy [Lord Ashdown], I don’t know, can confirm or deny this, when people are killed in battle their bodies are given to families to bury, properly. This did not happen. He’s no friend of mine but they should have done that.

…If we say we are more civilized then we have to act. And it’s difficult. What do you think is going to happen now?  People ‘A’ won’t believe he’s dead, ‘B’ and the lady’s completely right this wasn’t done according to proper rites. It will just set off another generation.

Douglas Murray:

….What Yasmin is doing… is holding America and our allies to such a uniquely high standard that no society could ever live up to it. That even the worst enemy of a society has to be buried according to the customs that they would want. I can’t raise it in me, Yasmin to think that whether or not the customs around his burial were perfect in your eyes is the most important thing in the Bin Laden story

Yasmin Alibhai-Brown:

Then you are as barbaric as them… you’re no better.

For Alibhai-Brown it will be the outrage arising from outrageous outrages, such as giving Osama Bin Laden an Islamic burial at sea, which  will ‘set off another generation’. Those potential jihadists who were previously on the fence about a life of terrorism will apparently be motivated to kill random civilians due to events such as this. And presumably, once again, this would all be our fault. It’s incredible the number of things we need to do to ensure we don’t make these perfectly reasonable people angry.

Her attempt to criticise U.S. actions as part of a ‘cycle of violence’ argument echos Corbyn’s comments. I shall discuss this later.

From Mark Bowden:

After much discussion and advice, it had been decided that the best option would be burial at sea. That way there would be no shrine for the martyr’s misguided followers. So the body was washed, photographed from every conceivable angle, and then flown on a V-22 Osprey to the aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson cruising in the North Arabian Sea.

As a formality, the State Department contacted Saudi Arabia’s government and offered to deliver the body to his home country, but bin Laden was as unwanted there in death as he had been in life. Told that the alternative was burial at sea, the Saudi official said, “We like your plan.”

Procedures for a simple Muslim burial were performed on the carrier. The body was wrapped in a white shroud with weights to sink it.

The last sequence of color photos in the death album were not grotesque. They were strangely moving. A navy photographer recorded the burial in full sunlight Monday morning, May 2. One frame shows the body wrapped in the weighted white shroud. The next shows it diagonal on a flat board, feet overboard. In the next frame the body is hitting the water with a small splash. In the next it is visible just below the surface, a ghostly torpedo descending. In the next shot there are only circular ripples on the blue surface. In the final frame the waters are calm. The mortal remains of Osama bin Laden were gone for good.

Bowden, Mark (2012-10-16). The Finish: The Killing of Osama bin Laden (p. 264). Atlantic Books Ltd. Kindle Edition.

You will recall that Alibhai-Brown, to her shame, said “Then you are as barbaric as them… you’re no better.” I ask you to consider the events and decisions described above and then choose whether these are the reasonable actions of a serious and civilised nation or more in keeping with the barbarism of Jihadist murderers?

Let us grant Alibhai-Brown the presumption that she knew nothing of the U.S. contact with the government of Bin Laden’s origin, the home to most of his remaining family, and that the U.S. had already correctly speculated what that government would say. Let us also assume she was smart enough to have realised that the U.S. had, after considered thought, decided this was the most beneficial course of action. This wasn’t something they would have forgotten so simply bunged his body off the side of a ship. It should be obvious that they thought it safer not to create a shrine and a cause for future problems. Serious people concluded that this was the preferred option. I suspect it was more than Bin Laden would have hoped for.

The U.S. government have a duty to the safety and security of their own citizens. Alibhai-Brown tells us that ignoring that duty in favour of her sanctified process of dealing with the mass murderer’s corpse is not only right and moral but to do otherwise makes you barbaric. And more, as barbaric as the mass-murderer himself.

Does it not seem like this was a final, desperate, complaint she clawed from the bottom of the barrel? The remaining chunk of mud to fling at what she described on the program as the ‘ugly American’? And does this not speak to a deeper problem?

What she said is daft. More than daft, it is perverse. When no logical explanation can be provided for somebody’s argument then one is forced to search for the ad hominem. In this case, a fetish is all I have.

Only somebody utterly compelled by their fetish would appear on television to discuss matters of great import yet choose to shower us with the effluent of their proclivity. 

This is your brain on sophistication-via-masochism. We should perhaps be grateful to Alibhai-Brown for providing us with such clear example.

If the masochism she publicly indulges wasn’t so widespread she would have been mocked and jeered by the television audience. Instead, alas, there were plenty there who heartily applauded.

Abandoning The Rule of Law

They didn’t and Part 1 explains why, so I’ll breeze past this. I will simply note that anybody suggesting that the United States government did abandon the rule of law, and who wishes to be taken seriously, needs to at least explain which law was abandoned and in what way.

If the law is so important to you and you think the raid broke it when it killed Bin Laden, why would you support his kidnapping for trial from a foreign country?  What is it that makes the latter legal but the former an abandonment of the rule of law? Is the rule of law something that gets broken in degrees?

Word Games

Hitchens called the killing of Bin Laden a ‘summary execution’. Johnson called it an ‘assassination’. Part 1 of this explains why they are both wrong.

Both of them also described it as an ‘extrajudicial killing’, as have countless others.

The former government lawyer, Carl Gardner, wrote an excellent piece on the trouble with this term.  In it he uses Orwell’s Politics and the English Language to demonstrate why the word is so shifty. As the title of his piece demands, ‘if you think it murder, say so’. He wrote:

The phrase extrajudicial killing is indeed spreading and corrupting thought. Judicial killing not being fine, “extrajudicial” adds nothing and means nothing. All that these critics are actually saying is that killing’s to be feared, or always wrong: something that’s either banal or plain inaccurate, since killing can be justified in self-defence or war, or even out of compassion. But what are they trying to say?

The convenience of extrajudicial killing is that it implies wickedness vaguely connected with the law, without accusing anyone of breaking it; and its repetition suggests to the mind unspecified wrong by sending thought to sleep.

If this is an ‘extrajudicial killing’, and we can probably assume from his use of it it is a bad thing, then what sort of killing isn’t?

Entering the Bataclan theatre and killing the terrorists inside?

Shooting a Nazi machine gunner at Normandy?

The killing of Yamamoto?

What does Hitchens think he means? Is it different if under the rules of war? Is this an attempt to say ‘targeted killing’ that went awry? Is any killing bar judicial-execution, which Hitchens advocates, unacceptable?

Once again, this was a military strike against a military target. Either Bin Laden was murdered or he was legally killed. If Hitchens wants to call it murder he really should. If he doesn’t he should not be hinting at wrongdoing without owning the accusation. Does he not know what he’s talking about or does he not care?

Justice

Perhaps much of the trouble people have had with the raid stems from the sense of it being an act of reciprocity or revenge. Bin Laden carried out acts and this act was done in return.

The killing was announced to the world with the language of ‘justice being done’. It was billed as being a relief to the families killed in 9-11.

The question then is can a military assault under self-defence also be considered an act of justice? I don’t see why these are to be considered mutually exclusive. In Part 1, I used the killing of Heydrich as an analogy. Am I unable to deem his death both a military act in an ongoing war and a righteous act of justice? I say I am able. Either way, this doesn’t render the killing of Bin Laden illegal, barbaric, or anything negative.

Just because in our society, and to our citizens, justice involves courts and juries I do not see why taking military action against an active enemy, outside of our jurisdiction and control, cannot be described in the same way. Both take the most civilised form which it is practicable to undertake in the circumstances we find.

Context

Any quote or excerpt is, by definition, out of context. The moral component comes with the question as to whether the exclusion of context deliberately changes the meaning. But if the context is important let’s have the full context.

Jeremy Corbyn was appearing on Press TV, an Iranian government channel of low repute and one on for whom he has been a presenter. The editorial line of that channel, which they stick to, seems to go against all the principles Corbyn professes belief in. But they are deeply anti-West.

They also pay. Corbyn’s parliamentary register shows the contractual (not to say lucrative) nature of the relationship, with four payments totaling up to £20,000 between 2009 and 2012.

The particular program in which he was appearing when he made his comments was titled: Why is Obama Reluctant to Show the Final Moments of Osama bin Laden’s Life? 

The title hints at the conspiratorial ramblings so popular on Press TV.  The entire text of all Corbyn’s contributions of that episode are to be found here after being lovingly transcribed by myself. Here is another transcript provided by the Daily Mirror. In them is plenty of context. For example:

…the president has to explain why he’s not confirming evidence of the death, why the burial at sea, if there was indeed a burial at sea and if it was Bin Laden. Because Bin Laden may well have been dead a year or two for all we know.

I couldn’t help but chuckle at the “if there was indeed a burial at sea and if it was Bin Laden”. It reminds me of South Park’s Johnnie Cochran and “ladies and gentleman of this supposed jury”.

There is more context:

Well, I can’t answer the question of why, we can only guess there is something fishy here.

And yet more:

Right and the next stage will be an attempted assassination on Gaddafi…

This is the context of Corbyn’s ‘perfectly reasonable and civilised objections to the extrajudicial killing of Osama bin Laden’. He was on the propaganda network of the Iranian regime spouting conspiratorial bollocks. For money. Though, before it seems like I’m suggesting he said it JUST for money, let me be clear: It’s worse. He believes it.

The context of his ‘tragedy’ remark does not help him. If he has been taken out of context he should be thankful for it.

Still though, there is the question of whether he said the lack of a trial was a ‘tragedy’ or Bin Laden’s killing/death was.

He Said It

I’ve heard this a lot:

Corbyn didn’t say killing OBL was a tragedy, he said not putting him on trial was.

Sure, but it’s the same thing. If not achieving Outcome A (a trial) = Tragedy then Outcome B-Z (not a trial) = Tragedy. There’s not a lot you can do against that. If Jeremy Corbyn said that not putting Bin Laden on trial is a tragedy then all other outcomes are, to him, a ‘tragedy’. This saves somebody like Cameron from the accusation of a ‘lie’.

Is that too lawyerly? Too sneaky? Perhaps you think in accusing him of calling the killing a ‘tragedy’people are allowing the uninformed audience to assume that Corbyn was lamenting the death of a close chum or something. This would mean we were being asked to think Corbyn felt the absence of a living Bin Laden was the tragedy rather than Western civilisation’s missed opportunity in putting the man on trial. In this regard I wonder if Cameron have been less criticised if he had said ‘the killing’ of Bin Laden rather than ‘the death’?

Regardless, if this is the case it is, at worst, a bit of sharp practice. Though I for one never thought that this is what was meant or insinuated and nor was it why Corbyn’s comments angered me. I need no strawmanning. What Corbyn said is worthy of condemnation when steelmanned. It sounded bad when Cameron and so many others said it because it is bad.

If you do object to an apparently misplaced implication in the criticism of Corbyn, if that is the basis of your defence of him, then it demands us to ask ourselves what he did in fact mean.

Tragedy Upon A Tragedy Upon a Tragedy

Here’s the rub, Corbyn didn’t just call the absence of an ‘attempt to arrest him’ a tragedy. He called it a tragedy like 9-11 was. Therein is where all known defences of Corbyn fall to shit.

He said:

This was an assassination attempt and is yet another tragedy upon a tragedy upon a tragedy. The World Trade Center was a tragedy, the attack in Afghanistan was a tragedy, the war in Iraq was a tragedy.

How exactly is the result of the raid on Bin Laden a tragedy like 9-11? If they are all tragedies then what is the tragic strand that unites them? What is the underlying and consistent theme of tragedy?

This needs to be answered by anybody stating he was taken out of context. If you have no reasonable explanation for this you are best to keep quiet when tempted to say you understand what Corbyn meant and that the rest of us are being unfair to him.

Hitchens’ ill-considered stab at Cameron provides us with a nice point to work around. And, for what it’s worth, I think Cameron was being clever.

Hitchens said:

The false and cheap suggestion that Mr Corbyn does not regard the events of September 11, 2001 as a tragedy – when he specifically said that he did – was a disgrace for which Mr Cameron should quickly make amends.

Ok. But Corbyn called them both tragedies. Cameron suggested 9-11 was a tragedy because of human reasons such as:

A tragedy is nearly 3,000 people murdered one morning in New York.

A tragedy is the mums and dads who never came home from work that day.

A tragedy is people jumping from the towers after the planes hit.

There is a choice. Did Corbyn call Bin Laden’s death a tragedy due to the sadness and horror of the act or did he call a 9-11 a tragedy due to the ‘perfectly reasonable and civilised objection’ to its lawlessness? You can have one or the other. And I suggest you want neither.

Cameron knew what he was doing. The 9-11 reference wasn’t ‘false and cheap’, it was a move of wit and sophistication from a politician making a political speech. It spoke a truth about Corbyn and it left open the chance for people, who were so keen to have a crack at Cameron they couldn’t be bothered to consider what Corbyn actually said before they leapt to his defense, to be reduced to spouting nonsense. Further analysis ends up making him look worse and his defenders silly while all the while keeping the conversation on Corbyn and security.

You may have preferred if Cameron had taken the time to lay all this out at length and in depth. But he was making a podium speech to his troops which excuses brevity and some level of simplicity. Does it excuse lying and falsehoods? No. But I think I have demonstrated that that simply didn’t occur.

In short – Corbyn said Bin Laden’s death was a tragedy like 9-11. If he thinks it was a tragedy in the way Cameron describes 9-11 then he wasn’t being misrepresented or taken out of context, smeared, or slandered. He is guilty as hell and all the shit slung his way was well deserved.

Cycles of Violence

There is but one way in which Corbyn’s comments have a semblance of coherence. Though it isn’t one his defenders seem to acknowledge as his actual intention. I don’t blame them.

Corbyn often speaks in terms of cycles of violence. It’s the most sophisticated thought he has and he applies variations of the logic wherever he can. You know the drill, if we don’t want nuclear war the West must give up their missiles because our enemies only want theirs because of us. Peace by bending over. Our inaction will invite their inaction. If we prefer fascists to stop murdering their way through the Middle-East we must resist shooting at them so they will embrace folk guitar-music. Or something.

The U.S. attacked Bin Laden and killed him. This is an outrage which will feed the cycle, as were the attacks on September 11, 2001, the war in Iraq and the invasion of Afghanistan. He lumps them together because each to him is a missed opportunity to be unilaterally peaceful and thus spontaneously usher in multilateral peace.

Can’t we learn some lessons from this, that we’re just going to descend deeper and deeper…

…and so it will go on and this will just make the world more dangerous and worse and worse and worse…

This is Corbyn’s foreign policy mantra. The reason jihadists are a bit coarse and boorish is because of us. It’s all reaction. If we were only willing to talk, to show that we care, the death cult would start talking and we move onwards and upwards in cycles of peace. It is a coherent idea. The only problem with it is that it’s bollocks.

Jaw jaw might well be better than war war and one outrage might well begat another. But it doesn’t mean one side’s perpetual unwillingness to take military action will bring peace. I’ll spare you the full explanation of this because you know it already, it’s a triumph of slogans over experience and who but a few fringe-hippies still believe this nonsense?

It’s bollocks in general terms and as a prescription but it gets worse when you consider it in this particular context. Here it is another example of what Yasmin Alibhai-Brown ejaculated into debate.

It’s been 5 years since Bin Laden’s camouflage alarm call and how many jihadists have listed “the Sheik didn’t get his day in court” on their grievance list? Would this have made the murderously angry any the less murderous than keeping him in a U.S. prison?

I doubt even Bin Laden was offended by the manner of his death. Though somehow Corbyn is on his behalf. He insists that shooting a man famous for ordering civilians killed without trial will lead to more violence and that it is part of a descent into barbarism like 9-11 was. I struggle to believe that people sawing heads off on HD video, which they publish as an advertisement for their way of life, are truly to be riled in this way.

This is such an unreasonable proposition that mere stupidity isn’t a good enough explanation. It is that squalid fetish once again. To follow it is to essentially render us powerless to take any action in our own defence which has its own immorality and, perhaps worst of all, it sets up a ready-made exculpatory analysis for future terror. If anything were to follow it it would be our fault again and not that of the fascist thugs.

This is your brain on sophistication-via masochism.

Conclusion

The negative reactions to the ‘tragedy’ comment were quickly written off by Corbyn admirers as almost any criticism of him is. But I also found lots of fairly impartial people did the same. Even before Cameron mentioned it. People were instantly convinced he had been smeared and that closer examination would reveal nuance that exculpates him. I looked at the nuance and it doesn’t.

The comedic ramblings of the 62 year-old adolescent should have remained ignored in the depths of YouTube, but somehow 250,000+ people, apparently intent on us virtue signalling our way to impotence and defeat, elected him leader of a great political party. It becomes worthy of attention.

Corbyn has some detailed explaining to do. His appearance on such a show and on such a channel is a problem anyway but his specific comments were shameful. The childish moral wailing, or as Peter Htichens describes it, the “perfectly reasonable and civilised objections to the extrajudicial killing of Osama Bin Laden”, were sandwiched between low conspiracism and worthless conjecture.

To have a public attack of the vapours when a man who declares war on the United States, who murdered thousands of her citizens, who was responsible for the deaths of thousands of others around the world, who still planned attacks, who claimed to love death, who begged to fight, lived to fight, and then eventually got a fight and lost… is perverse. It is pure masochism.

Shooting Bin Laden may not have been your perfect outcome and I won’t begrudge anybody for wishing he currently sat stateside in a supermax prison. But his killing wasn’t a descent into lawlessness or barbarism or anything close. The children in the compound lived and the minimum damage was done to complete the task. In hunting down and killing Osama bin Laden the United States demonstrated something laudable.

They showed that justice will catch up with you in one form or another. They showed that diligent, thorough, hard working people were willing to dedicate a good portion of their careers, on civil service wages, to tracking down the culprit and the threat. Then they showed they were willing to take physical and political risks to move the task to completion. Perhaps a trial would have shown something better on top, perhaps a different conclusion might have been preferable. But wildly so? At what risk is this advantage to be achieved. Should they retrain troops to the point that their lives are worth less than the public relations potential of putting a man, who didn’t want to come quietly, on trial? How many trained and willing soldiers should be risked? What punishment would we suggest after the first one or two are shot the third kills the target?

A man who worshiped death, killed countless and swore he would never surrender was dispatched. And if you think I am getting to close to sanitised euphemisms, he was dispatched by a bullet cracking open his skull and emptying the contents onto his bedroom floor. Force is ugly. But this was no tragedy and nor was it a further descent in cycles of violence. It was a disciplined, professional, controlled and considered act that was sensible, proportionate, necessary and had no credible alternatives to it suggested. It’s difficult to escape the conclusion that those stating otherwise are one of the following: anti-American, masochistic, foolish, naive, working to an agenda, sympathetic to terrorists, or in the tragic case of Jeremy Corbyn, most of the above.