False Equivalence: The logical fallacy of defending Jeremy Corbyn

By Connor Pierce

The company Jeremy Corbyn keeps should by now come as a shock to no one.

On 11 July, Jeremy Corbyn was photographed enjoying a pizza with a man called Marcus Papadopoulos. Papadopoulos tweeted the picture with the caption: I spent the evening with @jeremycorbyn , who the United Kingdom desperately needs as its next Prime Minister…

Papadopoulos is known primarily as a chief apologist for Slobodan Milosevic, the president of Serbia who was convicted by the Hague in 2002 for crimes against humanity during the Bosnian war. Amongst other things, Papadopoulos has openly denied that the Srebrenica massacre — during which 8,000 Bosnian Muslims were slaughtered by Serb nationalist forces, ironically 22 years to the day before his meeting with Corbyn — ever took place.

Papadopoulos has also repeatedly voiced support for the Assad regime in Syria, declaring shortly after Assad’s chemical attack on Khan Shaykhun in April, that he would ‘stand with Assad 100%’. In short, he is a conspiracist crank whose appeal should stretch no further than the spotty adolescent sofa masturbators that populating obscure MRA Reddit forums that no doubt make up the majority of his fanbase. No mainstream politician should touch him with a bargepole. None would, of course — except for the leader of the opposition.

Those familiar with Corbyn’s ‘questionable’ relationships with dictators, terrorists and anti-Semites no doubt greeted the news of their meeting with the same air of weary despondency and resignation that has become routine. Given his vocal support of the dictatorial governments of Venezuela, Cuba and Iran; his admiration for Putin and his reluctance to openly criticise the atrocities committed by Assad’s government, it is no surprise at all that Corbyn would attract the support of a man like Papadopoulos.

The reaction amongst Corbyn’s supporters has also been grimly predictable. His most ardent defenders — those who are so emotionally invested in the deification of Jeremy Corbyn that their reaction to each lurid revelation can only be either disbelief or deliberate, willful ignorance — always give two deeply unsatisfactory responses to news of his connections.

The first is that famous retort Corbyn has espoused himself in defence of his links with Hamas: the peacemaker excuse.

When challenged on the company he has kept in the past, Corbyn has made much of the importance of open dialogue with the enemy in the aim of achieving peace. Such a sentiment might of course be laudable, if only it were true.

In his frequent meetings with members and supporters of Hamas, Hezbollah, the IRA and any number of other deplorable people and organisations, Corbyn has never made any attempt to challenge the insidious views of his hosts.

Instead he has either passively endorsed them — by keeping quiet and toeing the line, as he did when he called Osama Bin Laden’s death a tragedy on Iran’s PressTV — or has actively embraced them, as he did when he called Hamas a ‘movement for social justice’, or when he reminded us all of the achievements of the viciously homophobic Cuban regime after Fidel Castro’s death.

Neither has Corbyn ever met with these organisations’ counterparts — Loyalist terrorists like the UDA, for example, or Israeli settlers in Gaza.

When one considers how little scrutiny his peacemaker claims stand up to, it is depressing how many people — including those in the supposedly hostile ‘MSM’ — are willing to take him at his word. Given his form, the likelihood that Corbyn used his evening with Papadopoulos to challenge him on his propagation of warped conspiracy theories and support for Ba’athism seems somewhat slim.

The second strand of the Corbynista’s defence is that most infuriating of argumentative tactics: Whataboutery.

The act of responding to any argument with a separate, unrelated point that exposes the hypocrisy of an opponent rather than engaging in a meaningful discussion, Whataboutery has always been endemic amongst sections of the left. It was a popular propaganda technique of the Soviet Union that has been employed with a new vigour by Corbyn’s acolytes when asked to address the issue of his unsavoury relationships.

Whataboutery is the last refuge of the debater with nowhere to go. It is a logical fallacy, the purpose of which is to wilfully mislead, serving only as a kind of character assassination of an opponent rather than a genuine attempt to justify or defend a position. That in itself is enough to disregard it — but one particular strain used by Corbynistas relies on a certain twisted logic which is not often enough addressed.

It is that which seeks to justify Corbyn’s chumminess with oppressive governments in conjunction with Britain’s own diplomatic ties to questionable regimes — popularly now, though not exclusively, Saudi Arabia. In response to a question over Corbyn’s allegiances, a typical retort runs: “Well, what about Saudi Arabia? Their government is killing people in Yemen — and we still sell them arms!”

If one were to make a list of the most heinous, despicable countries, of the most repressive, patriarchal or corrupt regimes on the planet, Saudi Arabia would likely come somewhere close to the top by almost any measure. It is hard to imagine a country that more embodies the antithesis of liberal democracy, or that has done more to spread hateful, violent ideologies that unsettle the safety of the world.

The UK’s cosy relationship with Saudi Arabia is both morally repugnant and politically myopic. Saudi Arabia’s intervention in the civil war in Yemen has taken a backseat in comparison to Russia’s intervention in the war in Syria, but it is no less vile or indiscriminate. Saudi Arabia has shown scant regard for human rights on both domestic and international fronts. The humanitarian case for severing links with Saudi Arabia has, in short, never been stronger.

Similarly, from a purely pragmatic point of view, the UK’s close ties with Saudi Arabia are also an increasing liability. Its rife Islamism arguably undermines whatever national security benefits Britain gets from the relationship. Furthermore, Britain can hardly claim to be setting a moral example with its tacit support for the militant Wahhabism that governs the country.

The UK government should halt the arms trade with Saudi Arabia if it continues its campaign in Yemen, and it should also take measures to reduce its dependence on the country. I say this without qualification and fully aware of whatever ‘commercial’ price the country may pay.

That said, international relations are seldom simple. Reducing dependence on Saudi Arabia would at the very least be complicated. Ties between the west and the Kingdom of Saudi go back decades — long before many of today’s politicians were even born, and the fragile global order means that such decisions can rarely be made unilaterally. The reality of international governance is that sometimes, despicable regimes remain allies.

This is not to say that criticism of the UK’s relationships cannot be made, or that it is justified. But political necessity and the pressures of power are legitimate defences for maintaining them. Part of the nature of power is that principles must sometimes be compromised.

Comparing Corbyn’s support for hostile governments like Iran to a Prime Minister’s support for Saudi Arabia is therefore a false equivalence. From a purely moral and ethical perspective, they are totally different.

Corbyn has never held any position of real power. There has never been any real need for him to compromise with his principles. However, he still lends his support to some of the most brutal regimes on the planet. The defence of compromise in the face of political necessity, or even expediency, is not available to him: he chooses to support these regimes, causes and organisations regardless of their conduct and the suffering they cause, all without the excuse of the pressures of power.

Duty did not call for Jeremy Corbyn to share a pizza with a man who denies genocide and supports General Bashar Al-Assad. Just like his countless other friendly meetings with apologists for murder, terrorism and anti-Semitism, Jeremy Corbyn met with Papadopoulos in his free time because he wanted to — and not to disagree with him, but because he views him as an ally.

If this is the company he chooses to keep, one can only wonder at how he might react when the pressure is really on. It should worry everyone that we may well find out soon enough.


This article originally appeared on the author’s Medium account and is kindly reproduced with permission here.


There’s Nothing Moral about Stop the War

An excellent read on the fallacy that underpins the Stop The War movement

Soft Left Politics

Making the case for war should always be the last resort. An intervention should only be motivated by our duty to save lives.

The world is now interconnected by global social media and corporate media outlets. An atrocity cannot happen that we will not hear about.

The question is do we just stand by and allow it to happen?

For many on the left, post-Iraq War foreign policy is one afraid to answer that question. Humanitarian intervention, even in the case of human atrocity, is ‘bad’ because any Western intervention creates only more chaos and instability.

The solution must merely be a political one, longer and driven by discussion.

Yes, we must search political solutions where they exist. But the left have forged a supposedly leftist position in which one is ‘anti-war’ to the extent of apologising for fascists, tyrants and terrorists – and ideologically opposing any intervention, even when…

View original post 825 more words

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.


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.

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.

Two Can Play the Blame Game

A man stabbed some people on the underground. “This is for Syria” he cried.

Event A occurs, man choosing of his own free will to undertake event B claims it is due to event A. There is apparently no need to examine what each event entails, 1 + 1 = 2 and we therefore all know who is to blame. Why of course, it is David Cameron.

Here are a few from thousands:

Early reports suggest the attacker was North African, which would seemingly make this attack one of Islamic Nationalism rather than a direct response from a Syrian for Syrians. If this turns out to be the case I hope those saying this has ‘nothing to do with Islam’ are not the same people that also claim it is due to us ‘attacking Muslims’.

I’ve written plenty on these ridiculous assessments of causality and here, once again, is Norman Geras  with the definitive attempt at explaining what really shouldn’t require explaining:

The ever-so-slightly more nuanced counter-argument might go something thus:

I do not condone what the man did, it was his choice, his action, but Cameron was warned about what might happen after Wednesday’s vote, he ignored that and therefore he must take his share of the blame, he has blood on his hands.

The chosen actions of this man are not adequately explained by expanding the geographic area of an already underway military operation. It didn’t mean that he had to go and start stabbing civilians.

However, I’m not going to repeat what I have argued several times before so I will try another approach and this approach is best summed up as “if you can’t beat them, join them”.

I too am going to shift the blame from the shoulders of the man who undertook the attack but I am going to put it on those belonging to the people most vociferously campaigning for a ‘no vote’ on Wednesday.

In order to achieve this sleight of hand, let me give you a previous example of something which I shall call the “phenomenon of the excuse to hand.”

The London riots of 2011 were a blank canvas to commentators from Left and Right upon which they threw their favourite colours. The Right were happy to explain by a lack of discipline at school and family breakdown, the Left spoke of rage. Rage about the 1%, the ‘rich’, the bankers, the elites behind austerity. Sometimes this went as specific as the removal of the Education Maintenance Allowance.

With the above in mind I invite you to listen to this BBC interview with some girls who were fresh from a bit of looting. It’s only 50 seconds.

They looted local shops for their wine because these were ‘the rich’. It is illiterate and nonsensical.

Listen to this, with its expression of enjoyment and fulfillment, and tell me that their invocation of the ‘rich’ and the related injustice is anything more than an excuse which happens to be floating nearest. They don’t know who the government is, they don’t realise that the ‘rich’ who are apparently to blame are not represented by the local off-licence. However, they are aware that this might provide a protective blanket from criticism, they know its invocation may serve to absolve them and cause arguments among others. It’s victimology 101.

Which of us hasn’t seen such behaviour when two parents cease to provide a united front and argue with each other about the actions of their child? No matter how young that child, they will jump at any split in the parents and, hey presto, they have their excuse. And it will have traction with one of the parents against the other.

When a suicide bomber leaves the video with a list of his reasons, and they include Israel, how well do you think they understand the conflict and how well are their actions explained by it? Will they know the name of the leader of the Palestinian Authority? Will they be able to speak to the border disputes and arguments of either side? Unlikely. But they will give it as a reason and people sympathetic to the plight of the Palestinians will repeat the mantra that there can be no peace across the Middle-East until Israel is dealt with.

I am not suggesting there is no anger about Israel but I am suggesting the excuse is out there in the air, and with no real knowledge about the situation it can be easily plucked and provided in the knowledge that it will have currency within our society.

The debates surrounding this latest British expansion in operations to some extent helped create a self-fulfilling prophesy. The more we proclaimed that this would produce greater anger and responses, the more we set up a situation where any responses would be used as a weapon against our own government to weaken its resolve. In doing so it makes such responses more likely. Our own weakness, which is manifested in the production and repetition of such self-hating tropes, is being jumped upon and utilised against us.

If you say terrorism is meant to divide us then surely we are providing such a division, ready-made, to be taken advantage of when some of those arguing against the action choose such poor arguments.

If Cameron wasn’t observing the new convention that all military actions need to go before the Commons, one I am far from certain I approve of, if he had just allowed jets to bomb over the border with little fanfare, I wonder if we would not be under less of a threat. If people hadn’t made such perfect ready-made excuses and pre-approved the right to be angry, would the same number feel enabled to express the anger thus? Especially knowing that they would be excused and embraced and their justification laid at the door of the Government. This is a form of protest and division made effective by the most shrill voices campaigning for a ‘no vote’. I suggest they made Cameron’s decision far more potent and liable to be used as justification by men with knives than more reasoned objections would have.

To be utterly clear, the blood is ‘on the hands’ of the man wielding that knife. However, if you are to insist that I abandon the principle of assigning agency to the murderer, as so many people do, then I am choosing to blame you, the Verkrapt Left. And I shall do for any future incidences. Two can play this game.

An Attack on Parris

I’m a big fan of Matthew Parris, he brings credit to conservatives, to the Conservatives and to writers everywhere. If I ever find myself disagreeing with him it usually amounts to just a sense, a grumbling somewhere within me, because frankly, I’m usually not smart enough to articulate exactly why.

His piece of the 28th November on the Syria vote is well written but is also dead wrong and I think this time I might manage to explain how.

The article is paywalled and so I have added photos of it below. In an attempt to offset the accusation of larceny I will claim its age as mitigation and will further add that if you don’t subscribe to The Times, and happen not to be on the breadline, you most certainly should.

Parris says the ‘yes’ vote is only about us wanting to play a part in an event and he knows this because of various ‘silences’ from the ‘bombs-away brigade’. I heard Cameron’s statement to Parliament before this article and I heard the debates on Wednesday and I concluded that those voting ‘yes’ did so reluctantly and through a genuine belief that expanded military action against Islamic State is an unfortunate necessity. I shall refer to his side as merely the ‘no voters’ as I assume that in the main they are similar people that reached a different conclusion.

Joining the bombing in Syria will do nobody any good. And the funny thing is, I think that in its heart Britain knows that. But it’s one of those things that’s just going to happen anyway. Britain will join the bombing because it’s the kind of thing Britain does. It will make no serious difference to the allied campaign, and the whole thing will end up in a bloody mess.

Nobody? Does he really mean ‘nobody’?
I assume, unlike Corbyn, that Parris approves of the bombing in Iraq. The Islamic State actions in Iraq are supported and controlled by units across the border in Syria. How is he so certain that those people fighting Islamic State in Iraq, which he supports, will not be done ‘any good’ by the campaign? What about those units fighting Islamic State in Syria, in particular the Kurdish units in the north? They have shown in Iraq how useful air power is to them, surely Parris can’t be claiming to know that their desire for support in Syria is misplaced as it will in fact do them ‘no good’. If he is, how is he able to? What is this based upon? Perhaps these are quibbles and he accepts this but is addressing the long-term.

One of the problems with the ‘no’ side of the argument has been the total lack of follow through on the implications of what they argue. Parris’ piece is no different.

Parris is saying either: it is bad and nobody should do it or it is good but we should let other people do it for us. I think he implies the former, that the campaign itself is wrong and will cause a “bloody mess”. As he also believes that our involvement “will make no serious difference”, then he must think that our allies will cause a bloody mess alone.  Therefore, Parris shouldn’t merely be advocating that Britain, alone, stays on one side of an imaginary line but he must also push for us to use our full diplomatic weight to stop France and the United States from doing what they are doing.

If he thinks the campaign is wrong then surely it is a moral imperative for him to use his voice to tell our government the same thing. Nobody on the ‘no’ side has been saying such a thing. If it is wrong we must protest. If it is right then what justification, beyond self-preservation and penny pinching, is there to say that we shouldn’t lend our hand and do what is admitted to be right?

For clarity, these are questions all on the ‘no’ side need to answer:

  1. Are you saying bombing Islamic State should occur but just without us?
  2. If yes, how do you justify us abandoning allies?
  3. If no, what should we be doing to prevent the bombing by our ‘allies’ then?
  4. If no, does this apply to Iraq also, or do you support the campaign up to the border?
  5. If yes, how is bombing the same enemy across a border, which they don’t believe exists, the variable?

If you don’t provide clear answers to these you’re not being serious. I find it concerning that in almost all cases these points are not made expressly clear, and in some cases, such as Corbyn on Wednesday and Abbott on Question Time on Thursday, such questions are actively dodged. Their silence is far more telling than any coming from the ‘yes’ side.

This might well all end in a ‘bloody mess’. I for one am fully aware of that and freely admit it. However, it already is a bloody mess and it will continue to be. The case needs to be made that this will be a worse bloody mess or there is no case being made at all. He doesn’t make that case.

But we shall brush those doubts and presentiments aside, and in a moment I’ll tell you why. First, though, to the doubts themselves. They can be addressed briefly because (as I shall explain) this decision doesn’t turn on the merits. Arguing whether British bombing makes any military and political sense is a sideshow, an epiphenomenon.

I’m not ashamed to admit that I had to look that word up (I am ashamed). It means a ‘secondary effect or by-product, in particular’. My immediate question of ‘why is it?’ was answered thus:

It was all summed up for me last Sunday in the nanosecond of a ministerial hesitation. I was on a radio programme in which the broadcaster John Pienaar interviewed Matthew Hancock about Syria. There was a case, said the paymaster general, “for making sure there are boots on the ground from . . .” and here there was the slightest of pauses, “. . . somewhere”.

So much for the state of official thinking on stage two. It’s pitiful.

So why do I say there’s no point in persisting with the rational case against Britain joining the airborne queue to bomb Raqqa? For your answer, listen to the silences.

This answer of Parris’ is far from convincing. The pause isn’t enough and I believe the ‘silences’ Parris refers to are either imaginary or are actually well-founded.

The question from this firest silence is, with the number of unknowns is it realistic or possible to lay out a ‘full and comprehensive’ long term plan? Such a plan has very little chance of surviving contact with reality and which will make those advocating it a hostage to fortune for the Corbynites from here on in.

All the ‘official thinking’ in the world doesn’t mean you can know something which is unknowable. If we cannot muster more forces to support in a fight against Islamic State in some areas then we don’t get to support them. That still leaves us requiring permission to assist those that are already fighting them. And some are. It still requires permission to degrade them as best we can, when we can, and we now are doing so.

Parris is suggesting that a lack of detail about something which cannot realistically be detailed is evidence that this is only about something unrelated to the actual results. This does not follow, there are good reasons even without those solid answers.

If you don’t wish to press ahead without the unobtainable detail, you are saying that Islamic State should be left in-situ due to the stability they provide being better than the unknown future. That’s a view, some good old realpolitik, but make the case, put your name to it. Don’t just play Motte and Bailey with it.

Assuming you can’t have that plan then the next question is: Is that sufficient reason to not press ahead?

Rather incredibly, Parris concedes that he thinks we will defeat Islamic State but that he is more worried about what replaces it in the region. Well, I’m not more worried about that. On the balance of all the imperfect solutions and outcomes laid before us, I will take a military defeat of Islamic state with the corresponding uncertainty over any variation of the status quo. I am clear about that and Parris would do well to be just as clear himself. Does he want us all to pack up and leave, stay on the border, what? And why doesn’t he say?

So by now you are perhaps despairing of getting Mr Cameron and his hawkish friends to focus on the lessons from the past. In vain will you ask if for Syria we have the plans we lacked in Iraq and Libya. In vain will you ask if we know this time who we want to install. In vain will you ask most of them to name (let alone spell) two or three of the leaders of the “moderate” Free Syrian Army, or give you a potted history of where these mysterious individuals and their supporters come from, and how their fortunes stand.

Cameron isn’t silent, he is perfectly clear that it is largely unknown and risky. We are accepting that risk not pretending it isn’t there. Parris has no way of mitigating that risk or all the risks that come with not attacking Islamic State either so he instead opts for the unknowns of leaving them in place.

This is a point of honest diagreement. However, he  claims that this lack of knowledge is being hidden whereas he himself makes no attempt to provide the counter factual for his advocated inaction and his own known unknowns. There are far more ‘silences’ from him and the ‘no’ voters than there are from us.

Try asking most people the question which Parris’ analysis allows for but which he doesn’t himself phrase: If we can beat bring a military defeat to Islamic State but are, at the moment, unsure exactly how things will play out after, should we still do it?

I think most will bite your hand off with that offer. This is not Libya, this is certainly not Iraq. If Parris, and everyone else for that matter, wants to ask the same questions about the downfalls of a decapitation strategy in this particular case then go ahead. But we should require to hear the words implied:

“I would rather Gaddaffi had stayed in place than the unknown”.

“I would rather Saddam had stayed in place than the unknown.”

“I would rather Islamic State remains in place than the unknown.”

You may well have had a lot of takers for the first two but how many for the third? Furthermore, I suggest the experience of the first two adds far less light to the question of the third than Parris and the ‘no’ voters would have you believe. If Saddam or Gaddaffi was a stability you could live with, is Islamic State? Are all three unknowns just as bad?

This lack of detail is not a silence indicating that they are actually not interested in the answer, it is in fact a known unknown that is admitted to and factored into the decision we have reluctantly advocated making. A decision made with eyes wide open. Parris is reading in to it something that isn’t there.

Listen to the silence when you point out to the bombs-away brigade that two years ago the debate that the PM failed to carry was about going to war against Bashar al-Assad, whereas now the plan is to join two much bigger players than ourselves, Iran and Russia, who are determined to keep him in place.

Perhaps this silence is due to the disbelief somebody actually said that to them.

If Parris wants something other than silence I’d try this:

I recall no debate about ‘going to war’. Cameron advocated  a “tough response to the use of chemical weapons” in partnership with the United States. Obama is the ‘no troops in the Middle-East’ President. Are we to believe that this wasn’t about limited punishment for crossing ‘red lines’ consisting of a short spell of strikes on facilities but was actually to be the start of a war against Assad? That’s not a small distinction and I cannot imagine Obama signing off on the latter, he barely seemed keen on the former. Unless there is solid reasoning to assume the intention was to extent this ‘tough response’ into such a war, this is a dubious argument and am disappointed to see it made by Parris.

Even so, Cameron has also been clear that this is an ‘Islamic State first’ policy.

Finally, so bloody what? The threat from Islamic State in 2013 was simply not as clear as it is now. The facts have changed. How this apparent silence means that it is all for show is yet to be revealed to me.

Wrong questions, every one. They haven’t the foggiest, but that isn’t the point. Does Britain want to be left out? That’s the question, the only question, that the prime minister’s Commons statement this week was really meant to answer.

The point is to join our allies in a fight. Never mind on which side, so long as we’re all on it together. Our friends are in there, for God’s sake, fists flying. We must be in there too. We have armed forces, we have jets, we have bombs. Use them or lose them. Do we really want to be left out?

This horror of being left out is for psychiatrists not military strategists to ponder.

I do not know why such an important part of his assertion is left merely to ‘psychiatrists’. Parris gives himself free reign to ponder the benefits of military strategy while not being a strategist himself. Why doesn’t he also have a stab at the psychology? Especially as he seems so aware of the psychological imperative we all feel to get involved. This really isn’t good enough as it allows him to discredit it without examination.

Let us assume, for the sake of argument, that it is all merely about getting involved. Parris writes as if we should take for granted that this is inherently wrong.

The problem with his assumption is that the getting involved, the doing our bit, are important in and of themselves. Our activity and our maintenance of alliances is important for the credibility of our future threats of any military activities that will then be pondered by said military strategists. It is important for our credibility and presence in diplomacy and in the maintenance of soft power.

The desire to take part and to stand with our allies is not merely some psychological flaw. Others go further and make it just about the prime minister’s ego. This is not good enough and Parris owes an explanation beyond this. Our role in the world, the credibility of our willingness to take action are important things. To abandon them, and to be seen to do so, has consequences, it ends up having material outcomes. This should not be denied or dismissed as an irrational sense of ‘horror’.

If Parris is unwilling to protest to the French and the United States and he believes we will make no real differences then what difference does it make to vote ‘yes’? This surely means that the solitary reason he claims it is all about should be reason enough to proceed anyway.

However, it isn’t the only reason.

Parris himself thinks we will bring a military defeat to Islamic State and seeing as our declared intention is to degrade them, by what logic can he seriously then suggest we advocate the action for no other reason than taking part? He believes in the outcome everyone apparently says is the very reason they were voting yes. It makes no sense to suggest this is not a reason too.

In the piece he says the unthinkable, he says that Corbyn is right. Perhaps he thinks Corbyn is right merely in the sense that he too wanted a ‘no’ vote. But Corbyn says ‘no’ to any military options involving red, white and blue, and so if he is right for that reason, he is right merely in the same sense as the stopped clock is twice a day. If he is right for anything beyond that than Parris requires a much more cogent explanation as to why than he provides in this article.

Stop The War Bingo

Today Parliament votes on the Governments’s plan to expand the scope of British operations against Islamic State. Limitations and problems with the plan have been expressed by many people from various sides. In a previous piece I described the objection I have to the nature of some of this criticism.

The thing is though, I think it’s a pretty lousy plan too and I agree, to various degrees, with much of the criticism. I think in the medium-term it may well marginally increase the risk of terror attacks at home, and when that occurs it will also fuel the apologists and give impetus to our domestic Islamists. I think the risks for mission creep are substantial. I think it might help Assad and I think it is possible that more civilians will die because of that. I think it could reach a stage where Putin will be able to make demands of the West in other areas due to the hand he will hold in Syria. I think the risk of increasing Iranian influence and power is great. I think British help will make only a marginal difference. I think the limitations of the ‘moderate opposition’ might be exposed and the case for Western ground troops and special forces will increase exponentially as we progress and we will find it increasingly hard to resist deployment.

I am a supporter of the Government’s plan.

Just about.

If you happen to follow me on Twitter or know me personally you might well think I am a fervent supporter of engagement in Syria and this would be due to how much time I spend arguing against the Stop The War types. This reminds me very much of 2002/3 where once again I found I spent more time objecting to objections than in offering support to what was being proposed.

Anyway, to business. There are so many poor arguments, repeated canards and rank dishonesty being presented that I thought I’d run through a few of them. Those advocating a ‘no’ vote against the government come from across the spectrum and have an array of views. What follows here does not apply to all of them all of the time. You will though hear plenty of these made in the debate on this subject today so I suppose if you wish to play anti-war bingo, this is a good basis for a card.

“You can’t win a war just by bombing.”

Not technically true I’d suggest though in this case it is. However, nobody is telling anybody that this will be ‘won’ just by bombing. Cameron was clear that we will require ground holding units at some point to bring about the defeat of Islamic State in Syria and airstrikes will support them. Already the Kurds are being supported by airstrikes inside Syrian borders, just not by us. Bombing does  still have the potential to degrade IS capabilities and to kill their commanders however (this is a good thing).

“What do we put in its place?”

This is a good question but is it contingent on a decision? I for one am comfortable with taking the risk of it coming out wrong. I’m not sure ‘better the devil you know’ is particularly strong when that devil is Islamic State. Also with the number of unknowns before us it is something which is going to remain to a large extent, well, unknowable. A complete plan for this is not really possible as it stands and I suggest this is not a good enough reason to reject attempts to degrade Islamic State.

(Related) “We need a full and comprehensive plan”

This sounds the “impossible standards” klaxon.
No plan will be full and comprehensive enough for the Stop The War types. However, the likes of Corbyn can always demand it is MORE full and MORE comprehensive.

No plan survives contact with the enemy and with a situation as dynamic and complicated as Syria the idea of a ‘full and comprehensive plan’ is a nonsensical suggestion. However, “plans may mean nothing but planning is everything”, we must plan for what we do next.

A full, detailed, preannounced path to rainbows and sunshine in Syria wouldn’t be worth the printing and distributing. And to make one’s approval being contingent on such a thing is not just to create an impossible standard it is to provide an excuse for your decision which is not honest. We don’t have a full and comprehensive plan. In this time and in this place this is the best we can come up with. If you have a better one, spell it out.

“Iraq is now a worse place than when under Saddam Hussein”

Assuming this is true (plenty of Shia will argue with you and quite a few Sunnis too. Oh, and most Kurds), this is to suggest that life post-Islamic State will be worse than life now because of what happened in Iraq. It isn’t a logical assumption. One could just as easily say that life in Sierra Leone improved after we wiped out most of the West-Side Boys. Neither are good arguments. Each time is different. Though the ‘Islamic State provides stability’ argument is very close to being implied.

(Related) “The last two times we intervened failed so…”

Camilla Long Tweet

Actually no, the last time we intervened was in assisting the bombing against the Islamic State in Iraq. This was clearly a good thing. It helped the Kurds. It halted the Islamic state advance, or at least prevented them from mounting the next stage, it alleviated some of the suffering of some of the Yazidi and it has assisted greatly in forcing the retreat of Islamic State in some areas. [See this.]

However, assuming they mean Iraq and Libya, the answer is this: It’s not the same. Unless you are suggesting ALL military activity leads to unfavourable results then you need to be clear about what the similarities and differences are between each example. The invasion of Iraq and the support for rebels in Libya have key differences. If you are not willing to argue these and simply make the argument which says ‘intervention is intervention’ then you’re not serious.

“Got to defeat them but you need to get a broad coalition”

Is this not broad enough? How broad exactly is ‘broad’? Impossible standard alert.

“Cameron asked us to bomb Assad now he wants us to ally with him”

This is a canard that has been used by many and keeps coming up. Cameron was asking for a “tough response to the use of chemical weapons”. This was about Western credibility regarding the use of WMD. Strikes on facilities for a limited time were the intention. It sent a message, it maintained the credibility of ‘red lines’. It was never proposed as a war against Assad. As such it bears no relevance to the policy proposed today. This is a charlatan’s tactic.

Besides that, Cameron insists that his policy is Islamic State first. He is not conceding that Assad should remain in the long-term. So if you hear this argument made you’re listening to a bluffer.

“What difference will our few make?”

Marcus Chown Tweet

This is my least favourite of all. It is suggesting that we should merely allow our allies to do the work for us and assume both the risks and the costs alone. I don’t consider this morally serious. In fact I think it is dishonourable and shameful. Cameron said that the UK “cannot sub-contract its security to other nations.” I say this is correct. Even if our own bombs don’t turn any tide it is no reason to leave it all to others.

“We need a full solution with ground troops.”

Bizarrely, Ken Livingstone seems to be suggesting we need a full spectrum assault with long-term ambitions and will. Good on him. Though I suspect this is a bluff because he knows it will not happen and it shields him from accusations of inaction. But if you are one that seeks a more comprehensive solution it is no argument against the plan for increased airstrikes. Furthermore, if ‘mission creep’ is a genuine risk then allowing the mission that you wish to creep to creep into Syria is a good start no?

“They’re a symptom not the disease”

This is the best making the enemy of the good once again. Assuming the statement is true why not try to alleviate symptoms?

“All conflicts end with a political settlement”
“We need negotiations and a wider political settlement”

This is a Corbyn favourite. The problem with it is you tend to need to have the bloody war first. A clever German once said “war is the extension of politics by other means”. Why is anybody going to negotiate when they think they can win by fighting? And what Islamic State want cannot be negotiated away. This is fantasy.

“We want peace, not war”
Well guess what, we all do. If you have a peaceful method of ridding the world of Islamic State I would be most pleased to hear it. However, the assumption of Corbyn, previously implied elsewhere, is that those who advocate military action do not wish for peace. Sometimes war is necessary to bring peace about. Corbyn’s team are quick to take umbrage at any assertion that he is a ‘terrorist sympathiser’, though painting his opposition as people who would prefer war to peace is somehow acceptable.

“Cameron is involved in a rush to war”

We are already at war. Islamic State declare it on us. We are already bombing in support of Kurds and against Islamic State inside Iraq. France and the U.S. are also doing so inside Syria. This is simply not a war/peace binary. Besides, there hasn’t been much of a rush, this has been going on for ages.

“Bombing will make us a target”

We already are a target. This is for several reasons but not least because we are already bombing them. If you prefer us not to be attacking Islamic State at all, then say so.

According to the intelligence services several plots this year have been foiled already. We are not at peace now and I cannot see that our good fortune in not receiving an attack is because they just haven’t tried hard enough yet.

Furthermore, so bloody what? If people say they will murder civilians and down airliners if we engage with them is that less of a reason to kill them or more of one? Are we just to accept the terrorist’s veto and leave it to our allies to bear all the risk? Spell out that case more clearly please.

“They don’t need Raqqah to launch an attack like Paris” 

This is probably true. However, the ability of Islamic State to hold ground means they are better able to recruit, train, plan and organise. This means greater potential for ‘spectaculars’. If denying them their capabilities doesn’t prevent Paris (it might make it harder though), it still helps to limit their capabilities to do other, worse, things.

“We will just make matters worse”

Possibly. Though I note most do not spell out how. But imagine how bad things would be if Islamic State was allowed to continue to grow. They had momentum, the reputation of invincibility, they call themselves the ‘Caliphate’ with all its attraction to jihadists and they spread unspeakable misery wherever they go. Not fighting them will certainly, definitely, definitively, make things worse. We need to discredit the invincible Caliphate and the sooner the better.

“Civilians will die”
True. It’s terrible. Fortunately our armed forces are getting ever better at minimising this and take great pains to do so. However, here’s the rub. Civilians ARE dying already. The abandonment of a utilitarian approach and basing the morality of this on “at least their not killed by us” is morally wrong. Unless you can reasonably attempt to demonstrate that more will die this way than from inaction this is not a good argument.

“The ‘70,000 moderates’ is a made up figure”

It just isn’t. The numbers might change either way, some might not turn out moderate enough, they might be useless, they might end up fighting each other. It is a tricky part of the plan which Cameron admits comes with risks. But the knee-jerk statement that these numbers are nonsense are exactly that. Knee-jerk and themselves, nonsense.

“It’s just what they want us to do”

The actor Stephen Fry tweeted the following:

There tends to be more than one rule in conflict, Sun Tzu has a ton of them. But ok… Firstly, surely this applies when actually engaged. Not in the decision to fight. It is possible for one side to want to fight and be completely ill-judged about that. Secondly, because somebody asks for martyrdom and entry to a paradise Fry doesn’t believe in, that’s no reason not to oblige with the contingent element in that process. Namely, killing them.

And why limit the categorising of the action to just attacking them? Perhaps the distinction is that they want us to attack and lose but what they want least is for us to attack them and win?

More to the point, how is it that so many are so certain that this is exactly what they want? What specifically is this based upon? I would bet any money I have that when engaged in the fight for Sinjar the Islamic State would have preferred if the Kurdish units they were fighting did NOT have air support from the US, UK and Canada. Is Fry suggesting they would? Does Fry think the attempted attacks on us over this last year is because they want us to extend our bombing over the border? How does he know this?

“They attack us because they want us to bomb them” 

This is basically the same as the last point. However, I wish to add this: Beware of those who claim this and then also claim we are attacked BECAUSE we bomb them. If the motion is passed and we change some locations in our bombing mission and then the mainland UK is attacked, I truly hope the likes of Fry will not claim it is because we bombed them. These are surely mutually exclusive positions? They attack us because we attack them OR they attack us to make us attack them. It surely cannot be both.

“It’s none of our business”

It is. They attack us. There is a refugee crises. And we are all humans.


Saw this photo online and think there’s room for one more.


“You have no money for X but have money for war”

How UKIP is this? “No money for British Grannies but you have money to try and save foreign types?” It’s the logic that says until every hospital has solid gold toilets you can’t spend a penny on the Olympics.

This is suggesting not that the war is bad because of outcome but merely because of expense. That’s a legitimate argument perhaps but in this case it is saying that a marginal (imperceptible) difference in the ability to spend money on education in this country trumps the chance to allow for say, a Yazidi girl to stop being raped or murdered, and be able to get any education there. What are the odds, do you think, that this girl in the picture says the same thing about the foreign aid budget and its relationship to education? I say none.


There are many more. Too many. And most of these points above, fully expanded on, are an essay in themselves. However, in the meantime…