The war against error


“We are in a war against terrorism,” French president Francois Hollande declared four days ago and three days after terrorist attacks by ISIS killed 129 people in Paris.  “Terrorism will not destroy France, because France will destroy it.”


To be honest, I thought Hollande’s words were more Hollywood-esque than statesman-like.  They reminded me of Liam Neeson’s catchphrase in the Taken movies:  “I will find you and I will kill you.”


Anyway, we’re facing a War against Terror – again.  The last time we got a War against Terror was in 2001, soon after the 9/11 attacks in New York and Washington DC, when President George W. Bush launched Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan, the Philippines, the Horn of Africa and the Sahara / Sahel part of Africa; and then, with the help of his good friend Tony Blair, Operation Iraqi Freedom against Saddam Hussein.  Research has shown that the number of people killed by terrorists in 2014 – just over 30,000 – was five times higher than the number killed in 2001.  So that last War against Terror worked out really well.


Mind you, the majority of people killed in 2014 were in Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan and Syria – you know, Muslims – so I don’t suppose George, or his old partner-in-prayer Tony, are particularly bothered.




I didn’t feel like blogging about what’s been happening since those attacks in Paris and about what’s likely to happen as a result of them.  But it currently seems that every half-wit (and no-wit) with access to a keyboard is filling the twitter-sphere and Facebook-sphere and blog-o-sphere and every-other-sphere with his or her opinions on the topic.  These include Scott McDowell of Northern Ireland’s Progressive Unionist Party, who tweeted his support for nuking the Middle East and everyone in it, including the children, who are ‘bred’ to hate the West.  (For a member of the Progressive Unionist Party, he didn’t sound very progressive.)  Also having his say was John Rentoul, chief political correspondent for the Independent and according to Wikipedia a ‘slavish’ admirer of Tony Blair.  Barely had the gun-smoke cleared in Paris last Friday night than Rentoul used the atrocity to smear the British Labour Party’s current left-leaning (and Palestinian-sympathising) leader Jeremy Corbyn and tweeted: “Will Corbyn say France made itself a target?”


And let’s not forget various American gun-nuts who’ve been tweeting and posting about how the death toll in Paris would have been lower if ordinary French people were allowed to carry arms like ordinary Americans are.  I have to say that’s rich coming from citizens of the USA, a country where 129 people – the equivalent of the Paris death-toll – are killed by guns every three-and-a-bit days.


So I thought I might as well contribute my tuppence-worth.  Here is some advice I’d offer Mr Hollande and other Western leaders.  If they choose not to listen to me, well, it’s their funerals – and possibly a few other people’s funerals too.


One. Air-strikes alone won’t beat anyone


As journalist Iain Macwhirter has pointed out, declaring war on a country that doesn’t actually exist – ISIS might style themselves as ‘Islamic State’ but they’re more an evil miasma that wafts in and out of existence in various warzones and failed or failing states – isn’t very logical.  Neither is vowing to kill combatants who already see themselves as martyrs and death as their raison d’être.  But it looks like war is what we’re going to get.  Already, the French Air Force has blasted the northern Syrian city of Raqqa, ISIS’s de facto capital, and probably soon David Cameron will be asking parliament for permission to let British fighter planes join in. 


In many ways, air-strikes – unaccompanied by troop action on the ground – are great.  They spare the combatants on the air-striking side the traumas of war: bullets chewing into your body, bombs burning off your skin, other people’s blood and entrails and flesh-fragments making a mess of your fatigues and body-armour.  They also spare the politicians on the air-striking side the dilemma of having to declare war in the knowledge that, a week or two later, slain ground-troops will start to return home in body-bags.


No, air-strikes only involve targeting some anonymous-looking buildings or vehicles on a screen and pressing a button inside an aircraft cockpit or, better still, inside drone-control headquarters thousands of miles away.  Mind you, they’re less great for the people on the receiving end of the high-powered explosives released by that button – although because they’re ISIS terrorists, they deserve to be blown up.  Well, apart from the ones who are actually innocent civilians.  You know, innocent men, women and children who are unlucky enough to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.  Innocent people whose indiscriminate slaughter will soon have thousands of impressionable and enraged youths queueing at the doors of the nearest ISIS recruitment office.


I’ll bet ISIS love air-strikes too.  Which makes them win-win all round.


Indeed, the only people who don’t care for air-strikes (besides those blown-apart innocent civilians) are military experts and historians who’ll tell you that such strikes, unsupported by troops on the ground, don’t win wars.  In military terms, they’re a crap option.


Two.  This time, try having a game-plan for afterwards


I’m sure that in the mid-noughties, as post-invasion Iraq got increasingly bloodier, George W. Bush, Donald Rumsfeld, Dick Cheney and co. tried to comfort themselves with the old adage: “You can’t make an omelette without breaking eggs.”  Although as those broken-eggshells translated into lots and lots and lots of dead people, it became clear that the American masterminds behind the invasion didn’t actually know how to make an omelette.  In fact, they didn’t seem to have a clue what an omelette was.  There’d been no research done, no blueprints drawn up, absolutely no thought given to how Iraq, after the invasion had been staged and Saddam toppled, would be managed.


This reinforces an observation made by Robert Skidelsky during a feature in the Guardian a few days ago: “The US deploys overwhelming firepower, either directly or by arming opposition groups, shatters local government structures, and then pulls out, leaving the country in shambles.”


So this time guys, please, if you have to wage war, at least devote a modicum of thought to what to do with the place afterwards.  Surely now is the time to get everyone with a stake in the future of Iraq and Syria – including the Russians, Turks and Iranians – around the table in heavy-duty negotiations about how best to run post-ISIS Iraq / Syria and how best to stop ISIS taking root there again.


Incidentally, Vladimir Putin might not want to hear this but, post-ISIS, the weasel-faced Bashar al-Assad can’t remain in charge of Syria.  The man has way too much blood on his hands.  As the following graphic shows, he’s responsible for many more civilian deaths than ISIS is (although I strongly suspect the number of deaths attributed to ISIS here is under-estimated).  It would be a mockery to eradicate ISIS without crowbarring him out of office too – for he and his ‘fragrant’ wife Asma al-Assad are two Syrians who deserve to be refugees.  Maybe Putin could accommodate them in Moscow.  He could stick them in the kennel with Buffy, his pet Bulgarian shepherd, or something.


From the Syria Campaign


Three.  And if you beat them – where will the survivors go?


You’d think people would be giving this serious thought after what happened in Mali in 2012-2013.  The collapse of the Gaddafi regime in Libya caused an influx of armaments and fighters (who’d been in Gaddafi’s employ before the revolution) into the north of Mali, which in turn caused the local Tuaregs to stage a rebellion, which in turn again caused the place to fall into the hands of fanatics like Ansar Dine and Al-Qaeda-in-the-Islamic-Maghreb.  Squeeze a giant pimple and the pus is sure to spurt out somewhere.


Even if ISIS are defeated, it’ll be impossible to kill / immobilise / capture all its members.  That means a lot of them will be on the run and popping up, destructively, hither and thither.  What if, say, a good number of the 3000 Tunisians believed to be fighting for ISIS in the Middle East returned to their home nation and then became a threat to the only properly-functioning democracy in the Arab world?  That hardly bears thinking about – so it needs to be thought about, now.


Four.  Stop sucking up to the country that exports fundamentalism and finances extremism


Centuries from now – that’s if human beings still exist centuries from now – historians will find it mind-boggling that 21st century Western governments made such a song-and-dance about fighting Islamic terrorism whilst, simultaneously, performing diplomatic and economic fellatio on the country that’s spawned, exported and financed it all.  Saudi Arabia bears the same relationship to ISIS, Al-Qaeda et al that Mordor – the Land of Shadow, the Black Land, the Nameless Land – bears to the Orc armies in the Lord of the Rings books.


From the Independent–lJVRG3x4dg


Not only has Saudi Arabia used its petro-billions to spread the intolerant creed of Wahhabism – if you’re a fundamentalist who wants to set up a hard-line madrasa and radicalise young Muslims anywhere in the world, you only have to go knocking on the kingdom’s door to get your project generously financed – but it’s poured its cash into terrorists’ coffers too.  A secret memo signed by Hilary Clinton, which surfaced because of Wikileaks, identified the country as “the most significant source of funding to Sunni terror groups worldwide.”


And on top of everything else, it’s a total horror story as far as human rights go.  Some 2000 people have been executed – beheaded – there over the last thirty years.  Meanwhile, as the founder of the Lonely Planet series Tony Wheeler has noted in his book Badlands, any country that treated an ethnic / racial group as hideously as Saudi Arabia treats its womenfolk would be subjected to an international outcry and to political, economic and cultural sanctions.


But when it comes to Saudi Arabia, the UK seems to have a blind spot the size of a shadow cast by an eclipse.  No doubt that blindness is facilitated by the easy flow of oil heading one way and the easy flow of British-made armaments heading the other.  And no wonder the ridiculous Conservative MP Anna Soubry came out with spluttering gibberish on the BBC’s Question Time programme the other night when she was asked to explain why beheadings by ISIS were bad and beheadings by Saudi Arabia were, you know, alright.


Five.  Oh, and the best way to beat terrorists is…


Not to react to them.  To just keep calm and carry on.  Doing otherwise, curtailing your activities and those of people around you, cowering within a hastily-erected cage of security measures, bans, restrictions and curbs on individual freedoms is to gift the terrorists with what they want.


For that reason, I’m surprised that Boris Johnson – Mayor of London and the buffoonish comic-relief mascot of the Conservative Party – recently wrote a column for the Daily Telegraph arguing that the Paris attacks justified giving the security services even more surveillance powers than they have already, for example, the power to access anyone’s lifelong browsing history on the Internet.  That’s right, Boris.  To fight Neanderthal terrorists, we should abandon the liberties that make us better than those Neanderthal terrorists.


No, I’m in agreement with Charlie Hedbo, the French satirical magazine that, you may remember, suffered terrorist problems of its own a while ago.  Its cover this week shows a man determinedly enjoying himself regardless of the terrorist bullet-holes he’s sustained.  “Ils ont les armes,” declares the cover.  “On les emmerde.  On a le champagne.”


From the Washington Post


“They have the guns.  Fuck ’em.  We have the champagne!”  Quite right too.


The banality of evil (people’s taste in music)


Maybe it’s a sign that I’m getting old, but few things seem to surprise me any more.  Certainly not last week’s revelations – taken from emails leaked by a Syrian opposition group to the Guardian newspaper – about what Bashar al-Assad has been buying on iTunes recently. 


Among the songs downloaded by the weasel-like dictator of Syria, who has been busy blasting the hell out of the city of Homs and murderously suppressing resistance to his regime since last March, were Don’t Talk Just Kiss by camp / novelty dance band Right Said Fred, Hurt by X Factor winner Leona Lewis and A Tribute to Cliff Richard by someone or something called 21st Century Christmas.  Here is the Daily Telegraph’s take on the story:


Bashar’s taste in music, then, can charitably be described as ‘mainstream’.  A more critical evaluation of it might be ‘awesomely lame’. 


However, there is plenty of evidence that Bashar al-Assad’s love for mainstream musical triteness is the norm rather than the exception among mass-murdering dictators and terrorist-leaders.  Among those who were offered lucrative deals to perform in front of the Gaddafi clan in recent years were Nelly Furtado, Usher and Mariah Carey.  Meanwhile, Osama Bin Laden was reportedly such a fan of the late Whitney Houston that he talked about launching an operation to execute her then-husband Bobby Brown and abduct her.  The end-plan was that Ms Houston would become one of his wives – though it has to be said that being Mrs Bin Laden couldn’t have been much worse than being Mrs Bobby Brown.


In North Korea, meanwhile, it’s whispered that the ruling Kim dynasty are ardent fans of Eric Clapton.  Supposedly, they’ve proposed mounting a Clapton concert in Pyongyang, under the official guise of improving cultural relations between their hardcore Stalinist state and the West.  One suspects that it isn’t so much Clapton the fiery young blues guitarist who distinguished himself in the Yardbirds, John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers, Cream and Blind Faith that appeals to the Kims, as Clapton the geriatric purveyor of woeful, toothless pap like Wonderful Tonight and Tears in Heaven.


No doubt if Pol Pot was still with us, the man responsible for the Cambodian killing fields would find space on his iPod for J-Lo and James Blunt.  And though Richard Wagner’s compositions are the music normally associated with the Third Reich, I suspect that – were he installed in the Reichstag today – Adolf Hitler would be enthusiastically campaigning for the reformed Take That to come and do a gig in Berlin.


Of course, none of this means anything.  Going by record sales, the majority of the world’s people like pop music that is bland, unmemorable and manufactured.  So it’s not surprising that the majority of the world’s tyrants prefer their music that way too.


Still, over the past three decades, a lot of people – in the USA alone, the Parents’ Music Recourse Group led by Tipper Gore and Susan Baker, the FBI and various religious groups – have inferred a link between music and the behaviour of those (invariably youngsters) who listen to it.  Listening to the wrong sort of music, such people claim, leads to anti-social behaviour, disrespect for authority, depression and morbidity, self-harm, devil worship, suicide and (as in the case of the Columbine High School massacre, which was initially and falsely blamed on the influence of Marilyn Manson) murder.


Inevitably, ‘the wrong sort of music’ is identified as genres like heavy metal and gothic and punk rock.  Though probably none of these genres would qualify as Bashar al-Assad’s cup of tea.


So I’m puzzled.  If there was a link between music and people’s behaviour – I’m certain that there isn’t, but if we took the likes of the PMRG seriously and assumed that there was – I wouldn’t be worried about, say, heavy metal.  It’s unlikely that anybody who’s ever ordered the slaughter of protestors wanting an end to autocratic and corrupt government in their country, or sent passenger-filled airplanes crashing into a skyscraper, was listening beforehand to Cradle of Filth or Extreme Noise Terror.


No, if you’re going to damn certain types of music using circumstantial evidence, the message is clear.  If you’re a parent afraid that your children might grow up to be paranoid, violent sociopaths, don’t under any conditions let them listen to Mariah Carey or Whitney Houston.  Or to Usher or Leona Lewis.


And beware especially of Right Said Fred.