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.


Terrorism — the clue is in the word




I’ve been thinking a lot about terrorism lately.  This is hardly surprising.  Yesterday was the tenth anniversary of the July 7th, 2005 suicide bombings on the London transport network that killed 52 people.  And twelve days ago saw the mass-shooting of Western tourists at the Tunisian coastal resort of Sousse – in which 38 people were murdered, 30 of them British.


The clue is in the word.  The purpose of terrorism and the raison d’être of terrorists is to inspire terror.  To terrify people and governments.  Therefore, logically, if we wish to resist and defeat terrorists, we should respond in a simple way.  We shouldn’t be terrified.  We shouldn’t allow ourselves to be afraid of them.  To quote the slogan that’s been ubiquitous in Britain during the last few years, emblazoned on mugs and on T-shirts, we should keep calm and carry on.


In the case of the Tunisian attack, a reaction of fear and panic is the thing that the terrorists want – and the very last thing that the situation actually needs.  It was originally believed that this was carried out by a gunman acting under the auspices of Islamic State (IS), although more recent analyses suggest that he was trained by a Libyan terrorist outfit, Ansar al-Sharia.  Both IS and Ansar al-Sharia loathe what Tunisia represents – a modern Arab state that, four years after its revolution, has been able to create a functioning democracy.  One where a moderate Islamic party was elected into government and then, later, voted out of government and replaced by a secular one – all done peacefully, which after all is the democratic way of doing things.


Unfortunately, the Tunisian economy is also fragile.  Just over 15% of its GDP and nearly half-a-million Tunisian livelihoods are dependent on tourism.  Attack the local tourist industry and scare away tourists, and you cause severe damage to the country’s economy and leave a lot of people in poverty.  And of course, it’s relentless, hopeless poverty that provides the likes of IS and Ansar al-Sharia with one of their greatest recruiting sergeants.


The appropriate response, then, is for Western tourists to set aside their fears and keep on holidaying in Tunisia.  By doing so, they thwart the terrorists’ objectives and put much-needed money in the Tunisian economy, which indirectly helps the stability of the Arab world’s only proper democracy.  The other day, this argument was put forward in an article by Justin Mozarra in the Spectator magazine.  I have to say that its appearance in that particular publication surprised me, considering how I normally find the Spectator to be a blinkered, intolerant, right-wing rag that I can only read when I’m holding it at arm’s length with a clothes-peg fitted over my nose.


Sadly but inevitably, the thread below Mozarra’s article was soon full of abusive comments from the Spectator’s usual shower of bigoted, cave-dwelling, knuckle-dragging trolls.  Many of them argued that no right-thinking white British person should ever go on holiday in Tunisia again because (a) all Tunisians are Muslims, and (b) all Muslims are jihadists.  That last bit’s been scientifically proven, apparently.


Actually, if those trolls were correct, and all Tunisians are jihadists, I find it strange that many local people tried to save the lives of Western tourists on the beach at Sousse on June 26th — by, for example, forming a human chain between them and the gunman, or by piloting their boats close to the beach to rescue tourists who’d fled into the sea in an attempt to escape the carnage.  If such folk are jihadists, I can only say that they’re the sort of jihadists who give the jihad a bad name.


For more about the heroics of ordinary Tunisians that day, check out this article by Chris Stephen that appeared in Sunday’s Observer:


Sadly, what’s likely to happen now is that tourists will shun Tunisia in the near-future and everything that the terrorists hoped would happen will happen.  Meanwhile, it’s possible that the British government will respond, in the state of panic that seems to be its default mode of response to terrorist attacks, with military intervention in the likes of Iraq or Syria.  It’s as if those big military interventions in the Bush / Blair years, in the name of the supposed War on Terror, haven’t taught anyone any lessons.


In recent years, the British authorities’ other response to terrorist activity has been to curtail civil liberties and extend state powers to snoop upon and detain people, i.e. to bring in measures to combat terrorism that go against citizens’ rights to a fair trial, freedom of speech, privacy laws and all those other things that mature democracies are supposed to be about.


One wonders why they haven’t learned anything from the experiences of the Irish Republican Army’s campaign between the 1970s and the 1990s, which saw atrocities being wreaked daily in Northern Ireland and regularly in England.  The British response to the IRA was at its best when people simply shrugged off those shootings and bomb attacks and got on with their daily lives as if the terrorists weren’t there – adopting the ‘stiff upper lip’ that’s supposed to be a quintessential characteristic of Britishness.


On the other hand, there were plenty of dumb official responses to the IRA.  These ranged from the incredibly counterproductive, such as the introduction of internment-without-trial in Northern Ireland in 1971, which today is regarded as a terrible blunder that only succeeded in driving more young people into the arms of the IRA; to the merely idiotic, such as when Margaret Thatcher decided to “deny terrorists of the oxygen of publicity” by banning the broadcasting of the voices of people like Gerry Adams, head of Sinn Fein, the IRA’s political wing – with the result that when such people were interviewed on TV, their voices had to be dubbed by actors.  If nothing else, the ban at least provided some much-needed employment for Northern Irish actors, such as Conor Grimes, who did the dubbing.  (“Well, Conor,” Adams asked Grimes later, “what’s it like being me?”)


(c) The Independent


One reaction to the recent spate of Islamic-terrorist attacks has been for journalists and politicians to argue that Islamic State shouldn’t be known as Islamic State anymore.  Rather, they say, IS should be referred to by its Arabic name, Daesh.  The French government, for instance, has complained that calling the organisation Islamic State implies that it represents an actual, legitimate state; and, also, it “blurs the lines between Islam, Muslims and terrorists.”  French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius has said of IS and its members that, “The Arabs call it ‘Daesh’, and I will be calling them ‘the Daesh cutthroats’.”


Well, I suppose there’s some logic in the idea of renaming terrorist organisations to avoid offending innocent people.  Although I think it’s a bit unfair on, say, the many Irish people who didn’t support the IRA but for decades had to put up with them being called the Irish Republican Army.  Anyway, if we are going to rename Islamic State, why don’t we go the whole hog and give them a really unflattering name?  I would suggest Caliphate of Crap.  Or possible, Stone-Age-Mentality Dumb-shits.