“Religious” violence

My response agreeing with someone’s post on an Open University blog:

Every conflict which has escalated into terrorism has ultimately been resolved by listening.  “I think there has to be a political solution.  All wars have to end in some kind of political compromise.”  (Jeremy Corbyn)

I think you are right.  In this case it is not militant Islam that is the problem, that is the excuse.  It is the tool used by cowardly and genuinely evil people to get angry young men to commit murder and become suicide bombers.  It is the lazy branding used to explain the behaviour and ‘other’ those aligned with or sympathetic to their views.  But the claim that it is the cause or the causation is misinterpreting the situation; if it wasn’t religion making the divide it would be race or nationalism or political belief.

There were a lot of unhappy people in the Middle East cross with the Western world, united in a woolly concern about cultural imperialism or economics or tired of being sidelined or concerned about the future of the Middle East given an apparent bias in financial and political support to one particular country, or even a number of other things too.  And we weren’t listening, so the shouting got louder until a couple of buildings got destroyed in New York.  Given they were a global emblem of globalised capitalism I suspect we can take a guess at what the protest was about: cultural imperialism and the imposition of products, media output and values upon a number of closely-related societies who found those impositions increasingly intolerable.

And when protests are not heard, they get louder and louder until they go bang.

I am not aware of any great effort on the part of Western governments to say “Hmm.  There’s some unhappy people here.  Let’s find out what the problem is and come to an agreement.”  But there are many calling for airstrikes and selling weapons and destabilising governments and killing civilians.  And the protests are getting louder and more frequent.  The combined political view seems to be “The question is whether we can kill people who hate us at a faster rate than we make other people hate us by killing so many people.” (David Mitchell)

If there is a religion involved here, I fear it is the worship of Mammon or Plutus, or one of their many allies.

Why do otherwise sane people do this?

Do you mean the suicide bombers and murderers?  I think that is fairly easily answered; a lot has been researched and written in psychology and criminology about how people can be made to believe what our philosophy says is nonsense or wrong.

Do you mean those who recruit, indoctrinate, train, equip and despatch them?  The easiest ones to explain: power-hungry cowards who get a kick out of disruption.  ‘Psychopath’ and ‘sociopath’ probably cover it.  Every terror group needs those, as does most nations I suspect – I bet there’s plenty work in the various secret services.  It’s just these ones are the baddies and ours are the goodies.

Or do you mean the government leaders who believe airstrikes really are accurate, that military intelligence from foreign agents is never unreliable, that killing people because they hold a different passport is morally good, that killing people will make the related survivors more friendly, that using their land for our proxy wars won’t upset anyone?  The sort of people who proudly proclaim they would conduct the first strike to start a nuclear conflict?

We need to UNDERSTAND violent, militant Islamism – and writing if off as a form of insanity is simply an admission that we don’t understand it.

I agree.  Coming to the realisation that you have no option left to make your voice heard other than kill yourself and take others with you, is a very sane act.  When done in our name we consider it the highest form of self-sacrifice and heroism.  And it is done to make a point, whether it is holding out one’s hand in the flames when being burned at the stake for religious freedom, dousing one’s self in petrol and self-immolating for national freedom or any of the people who have died on hunger strike in prison.  These people are not killing themselves and others because they are insane.  They are trying to make a point, to be heard, a final desperate act in the hope their life can mean something by throwing it away.  Or rather they are the poor unwitting victims of the militant section of a much larger unhappy group of people.  It is that larger group who need to be heard.

But I don’t think we know who that group are.  And I’m not sure we’re even asking the question.

Stupid, stupid, stupid.

Woken by the 6:00 news as usual. Just one story: an explosion in a Manchester night club; Police say it is a terrorist bomb; grandparent in hospital with shrapnel wounds; children killed; people running, screaming, panicking, crying; the election suspended by all parties.

Stupid: the media reporting it as terrorism before it is confirmed. Exaggerating the known facts to sell news. They make things worse when they do this.

Stupid: the reporting of screaming, crying and panicking. Mobile phone footage on the main story site taken by some bloke outside the venue running away showing other people running away. Rather outweighs the other footage taken inside of an orderly evacuation. But it’s a funny kind of panic where someone gets their phone out to record themselves running down the street. Not the most useful evidence for the facts. But it does help create the moral panic – well done BBC for playing into the hands of those who want chaos.

(It probably is just random that the stories next to the video of the explosion are “Muslim comedian who sat next to a Trump” – omigod how did Trump survive? – and “The mysterious case of the missing Briton”.)

Stupid: a quote from every major political party – provided between the night-time explosion and available for broadcast by 6a.m. to say they are suspending election activity because of the blast. Well done, you’ve done the terrorist’s work for them, even if it turns out not to be a terrorist attack. You’ve stopped the election activity. So the government has ceased, democracy has ceased, you’ve added to the moral panic and the terrorists just won.

Every party that has done this is not fit to run a multi-racial, multi-religion country with a history of empire and links to the rest of the world and that likes to think it can stand on the world stage giving opinions based on centuries of experience.

Whatever happened to “starve them of the oxygen of publicity”?

Yes, it probably was a terrorist attack. Yes, it is appalling. Yes, it is pathetic they targeted teenage girls. I get all that. But I do not get the response. When did we become so frightened?

So, having written this rant, I shall finish my cup of tea, get dressed and go to work. I shall continue to talk to people and, more importantly, listen to people who have different opinions from mine, then try to discuss them in an open and friendly fashion, exploring differences and celebrating the things we have in common. As a citizen, that is how to combat terrorism. Not falling for the media- and political-party inspired fear and division that serves their ends but makes life more miserable.

Go and make a new friend today. Or at least, reach out to someone and say “Hi!”. Or just give a stranger a smile.

Make tea, not trouble.

Keep calm and carry on.

Chilcot, briefly

At the most sympathetic interpretation, the second Gulf War was initiated on poor quality intelligence, incomplete intelligence, contrary to evidence-based failure to find WMDs, an overly-keen desire to initiate war, a premature decision to initiate war, a lack of collaborative decision making and not listening to objections and alternatives.

So, it should not have been initiated.

Tony Blair is a war-monger.

I don’t think we learned anything we did not know already.

There’s also no discussion going on about alternatives – which is what I have been feeling and saying for years.  Stop looking for reasons to go to war – which is what happened here – but instead look for evidence-based, properly-researched, alternatives.

Confidence in our leaders

Defence Secretary Michael Fallon announced that the RAF would move to round-the-clock bombing raids and taunted the terrorists that they will enjoy no respite at Christmas.
Daily Mail.

I wonder if someone should tell him IS are Moslem extremists and, as such, probably don’t book a week off for Christmas to scoff pigs in blankets and quaff sherry.

Still, I shouldn’t be nasty.  Peace and good will to all men, and all that.

“We were only following (the UN’s) orders.”

Another OU student made this observation on his blog:

The whole Authoritarianism thing a complete area on its own as there is a definite case of further investigation needed into why socially superior society accepts these individuals as authority.

which prompted these thoughts:

I did a Coursera course on international criminal law which talked about how the “I was only following orders” defence was challenged at the Nuremberg Trials and created a precedent for international justice by rejecting it.  I find that whole history—from Nuremberg to modern day decisions about what legal action can be taken across borders—fascinating.  We now have continental courts of justice and war trials procedures and all sorts of good stuff to improve the safety and security of (most) everyone on the planet from abuses by their own government.

But the pendulum seems to have swung the other way from the principal established in the mid-1600s of sovereign states having absolute control of internal affairs, (“Westphalian Sovereignty”) to NATO saying the Westphalian principles are undemocratic and humanity is not relevant and then Tony Bliar simply called it anachronistic and that you can therefore attack who you like with impunity which, it appears, he could.

When I take a step back and look at the last 1,000 years of European history, it seems in this past 20 years we have undone the work of the preceding 350 in a supposed pursuit of justice on behalf of the citizens of other countries.  We have scrapped the idea of governments killing their own citizens and replaced it with it being OK to kill the civilians of other countries.

The victims of the Nazis got justice (as much was practically possible, anyway) at Nuremberg.  But where do civilians killed by Western airstrikes get their justice?  As Hilary Benn said yesterday: “Ve are only folloving ze orders of ze United Nations!”

So that’s all right then.

As for accepting authority, the Milgram Experiment was the one where unwitting volunteers were talked into electrocuting people to death because the bloke in the white coat told them to.

When Hilary Benn¹ gave his speech, the bit about “We are only following a UN mandate” was the bit that won over the MPs: knowledge that whatever happens, not only does their collective responsibility mean they are only a tiny bit to blame if things go wrong, it was all the UN’s idea anyway.  They can vote for war and airstrikes that will kill civilians² with impunity.

Maybe that right there is a very good argument for our elected representatives to be held responsible for their actions, not just those of countries we don’t like, and I don’t mean at the ballot box.  Maybe we should be sending our war criminals to trial as a lesson to the others.  Maybe the MPs will cheer less than they did last night when they voted for war.

 

¹ The son of Tony Benn, the man who said “When there is a great cry that something should be done, you can depend on it that something remarkably silly probably will be done“.

² The first targets are to be oil fields and related infrastructure.  These are operated by civilians.  (Why weren’t these destroyed over a year ago?  Oh, yeah, the oil has to keep flowing, doesn’t it?  Even if it is bankrolling Islamic State.  Until it ends up all over the media that Israel and Turkey are cheerfully buying it for sale to the world market.  But it’s not all about oil, oh no…)

Not in my name

The decision in the House of Commons today was the wrong one.  I hardly know where to begin with the reasons why.

But I can tell you the causation for the decision: political incompetence and ignorance, which is why I want to study peace studies and get into a position where I can influence stupid (because they are) MPs.

This is why we are about to kill more moslem civilians and create more anti-West sentiment:

(a) Something must be done.
(b) Airstrikes are something.
(c) Airstrikes will be done.

The problem with collective responsibility is that nobody takes responsibility.

And, Mr Corbyn, you were wrong to permit a free vote.  That will end your career as party leader before this week is out.  Your adherence to the party was greater than your adherence to your principles, and that is why you are not a great man.  Sorry, dude.  I was with you until you blinked.  But thanks for having a go.  Rather than listen to the self-serving and mercenary political advisers, you should have rallied the academics and used them to defeat the debate in advance with facts and case studies.  The Tories will always be better at rhetoric, they do it at school.  You should have used evidence.

Bombing for Peace. This time: Syria.

1.  Cameron loses Commons vote on Syria action

“It is clear to me that the British parliament…does not want to see British military action”

“”David Cameron, Prime Minister, 20th August 2013

BBC: “MPs have rejected possible UK military action against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s government to deter the use of chemical weapons.  David Cameron said he would respect the defeat of a government motion by 285-272, ruling out joining US-led strikes.”

Had that very close vote gone the other way, we would be attacking Syria’s government, troops, infrastructure and, inevitably, civilians as “collateral damage”.


2.  MPs support UK air strikes against IS in Iraq

Intervention at the request of the Iraqi government was “morally justified” to combat a “brutal terrorist organisation” and was clearly lawful.  Britain has a clear “duty” to join the campaign, and IS is a direct threat to the UK and I am not prepared to “subcontract” the protection of British streets from terrorism to other countries’ air forces.

Paraphrasing of David Cameron, Prime Minister, 26th September 2014

BBC: “The UK Parliament has backed British participation in air strikes against Islamic State extremists in Iraq.  After a seven-hour debate, MPs voted for military action by 524 votes to 43.  Some MPs expressed concerns about the prospect of future engagement in Syria.”


3.   David Cameron believes ‘there ​i​s a case to do more’ in Syria

“British MPs need to think again about what else British forces can do to help moderate forces in Syria.”

David Cameron, Prime Minister, 2nd July 2015 via Downing Street

Guardian: “No 10 stressed it would be better if military action, likely to be air strikes, only went ahead if there was a consensus in the Commons.  Michael Fallon, defence secretary, said Isis was directed and led from northern Syria.  He vowed that if there was any decision to include air strikes in Syria as part of a full spectrum response (spot the weasel words), the government would seek the approval of parliament. “Our position remains that we would return to this house for approval before air strikes in Syria.  We are clear any action we take must not provide any succour to Assad’s regime.”  The prime minister’s spokeswoman stressed that British military assets were already flying over Syria, and British forces were helping to train members of the Syrian Free Army outside Syria itself.”

So we’re training ‘freedom fighters’ / ‘insurgents’ / future terrorists?  Isn’t that the classic mistake the CIA has been making for decades?


4.   Syria air strikes conducted by UK military pilots

” ”  ← (i.e. nothing so far)

David Cameron, Prime Minister, 17th July 2015

BBC: “UK pilots embedded with coalition allies’ forces have been conducting air strikes over Syria against the Islamic State group, it has emerged.  Crispin Blunt, Conservative MP and Foreign Affairs Committee chairman, said the 2013 vote on action in Syria was a “totally different decision” to the question of strikes on IS and that that decision had not been undermined.  Labour has indicated it would not oppose military action in Syria. Acting leader Harriet Harman has said the case for air strikes was now different to the situation in 2013, when Labour voted against UK military action in Syria.”

When was this discussed and arranged?  Apparently a couple of days ago when the Greece crisis was all over the news.  What a good day that was to bury bad news.

Both sides of the Commons are all for this.  Politicians are odd creatures: opposition in everything, everything, as a matter of principal, regardless of the logic, yet unity in wanting to extend violence.  There is something about the desire for power that results in a mind-set of wanting to see others hurt.  [ note to self – there’s a psychology essay to be written based on that last sentence. ]


It seems there are three sides in Syria:

  1. Assad’s regime which is being attacked by the US and allies.  UK troops may or may not be embedded and supporting these attacks.
  2. The revolutionaries trying to bring down Assad’s regime (sorry, who are these people exactly?) who are being trained by the UK.
  3. IS / ISIS / ISIL / whatever we are to call-them this week are being attacked by the US and allies and (covertly) the UK.

This is like the proxy wars of the Cold War in the1900s where NATO and the Warsaw Pact tested and demonstrated their weapons’ capabilities in other countries by supporting opposing sides.  At least then the West and East could pretend we/they were on opposite sides.  Now the West seems to be supporting the fighting on all sides.

Had the 2013 vote gone the other way (requiring a difference of just 7 MPs’ votes), we would be openly bombing all of Syria.  No wonder Moslems think there is a Holy War going on.

As for training the rebels (the next generation of elite mercenaries and terrorists) trying to bring down and take over Assad’s government, how many of them are now fighting for, leading, arming or training the IS / ISIS / ISIL forces?

Presumably, if and when IS / ISIS / ISIL have been defeated, the airstrikes will continue but against the Syrian government.  Therein lies the inevitable argument of the next few days: “We may as well start bombing Assad now to prevent his resources falling into IS / ISIS / ISIL hands“.  Yep, I predict a scorched earth policy, although it will not be called that.

Here we are in 2015, still bringing peace with bombs.  And how well has that been working since 2003?

Not taking sides can be the side that really matters

Nick Taylor, CEO for Warrington’s Foundation for Peace, recently posted an article on LinkedIn saying they don’t take sides and that’s how they work. He asks:

Violent conflict is increasing, the first time since the second world war, and yet many of us are immune to the news feeds and the horrors that are taking place in front of our eyes. So what can you do to help? What do you think of our position? Do you think the side of ‘peace’ we take is right and will make a real and lasting difference? Join in the debate and let me know your thoughts.

These are my thoughts.

I’m already a convert to that way of thinking. Revenge creates more revenge. “An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind”. If things don’t change, they’ll stay the same.

Mind you, not taking sides and tackling the violence with peaceful means is slow, it is hard work, it is a long slog, it is not glamorous, it does not win votes and does not result in valuable non-executive directorships in weapons manufacturers. It also reduces widows, orphans and embittered young men but also reduces opportunities for global corporations to implement ‘economic developments’ for the benefit of their shareholders. Before we know where we are we’ll be talking about open communication, understanding, cautious respect, individual empowerment and sustainable local economies.

So, can’t we just send in some more airstrikes? (I don’t mind who just so long as it is someone else.) They make better TV news than peace talks. I know they’ll mean another generation or two of easily-recruited martyrs, but I’m sure yet more airstrikes can deal with them. If we bomb them enough (whoever ‘them’ might be next week), they’ll thank us eventually.

Forgive the above sarcasm, but current and recent foreign policies of “bomb / drone / airstrike / missile them into submission to gain peace” is blatantly insane, ignorant and short-sighted.

War ends when the remaining survivors prefer peace. The sooner we get there, the better. But adding more guns and explosives to the conflict surely cannot be the way to get to that point, can it?

For humanity’s sake all this killing needs to slow down, calm down, and pause long enough for some listening to happen. Or genocide. It’s one or the other.

Maybe the world ends with a text message

100 years ago today, Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria was assassinated which was the catalyst for the Great War.

That prompted someone called Night-Gaunt49 to comment on the Candorville comic strip of 27th June 2014 to say:

Seems insane that the murder of one person would start a global war, but it did. The stupidity of “entangling alliances” that Washington warned us about did them end.

The “entangling alliances” view is from pro-German revisionist thinking of the 1960s. Academia is now reverting back to its view of the time that it was about the unified Germany’s rapid growth and expansion not being matched by having a presence on the world stage. Germany would have started a war before 1918 whatever happened. The death of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria, heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne, was merely a conveniently timed catalyst. It was used by Germany as an excuse to push the Austro-Hungarian Empire to start a war (it mattered not with who) so that Germany could conduct either an expansion to the East, or, if necessary, follow the Schlieffen Plan to quickly defeat attack France and then Russia. Either would have achieved the desired effect and likely given Germany diplomatic presence on a par with France, England and Russia.

The Schlieffen Plan was ‘improved’ by a committee which reduced the size of the attacking force, which meant the German forces failed to sweep through Belgium and France as quickly as intended. That resulted in the trenches and the machine-gun meat-grinder that killed millions.

It was not one murder that started the Great War. That was just one tiny step in a long succession of events and circumstances.

It was not inevitably a global war. That was caused by Germany not following their well-designed plan, resulting in them being delayed by defensive forces, which allowed time for lots of other states to pile in to see what land or diplomatic advantage they could grab in the process.

The major casualties of war are civilians

“Armies are now so protected and their weapons so effective that the major casualties of war are civilians.”

Dave Turner, Open University tutor and course leader of criminology at the University of Gloucestershire.

By all means continue to fret for “our boys out there” and the body bags they come home in.

But spare some time to fret for yourself and the civilians our brave boys are killing and maiming and orphaning and widowing in our name.

Depending on whose figures you use, the 2nd Gulf War resulted in between 15 and 30 civilian deaths for each US soldier killed.

“Because of new body armour and advances in military medicine, for example, the ratio of combat-zone deaths to those wounded has dropped from 24 percent in Vietnam to 13 percent in Iraq and Afghanistan. In other words, the numbers of those killed as a percentage of overall casualties is lower.”

Christian Science Monitor, 29/8/2006

That’s good news, it really is.  But civilians don’t get any body armour.  And when they are being targeted by drones where the operator is in another continent, they won’t be getting any first aid from their attackers, never mind military medicine.

Not starting the 2nd Gulf War would not have just saved nearly 5,000 US troops, it would have prevented hundreds of thousands of orphans too.

Coalition & allied forces killed: 25,286
Coalition & allied forces wounded: > 117,961
Iraqi combatants and insurgents killed: 34,144 – 37,344

Still, Saddam got strung up, so it was all worth it in the end, wasn’t it?

So that really was the best way to topple his regime, wasn’t it?

And in case you’re not bothered about the human cost, here’s what Wikipedia has about the financial cost:

In March 2013, the total cost of the Iraq War was estimated to have been $1.7 trillion by the Watson Institute of International Studies at Brown University.[361] Critics have argued that the total cost of the war to the US economy is estimated to be from $3 trillion[362] to $6 trillion,[363] including interest rates, by 2053.

A CNN report noted that the United States-led interim government, the Coalition Provisional Authority lasting until 2004 in Iraq had lost $8.8 billion in the Development Fund for Iraq. In June 2011, it was reported by CBS News that six billion in neatly packaged blocks of $100 bills was air-lifted into Iraq by the George W. Bush administration, which flew it into Baghdad aboard C‑130 military cargo planes. In total, the Times says $12 billion in cash was flown into Iraq in 21 separate flights by May 2004, all of which has disappeared. An inspector general’s report mentioned that “‘Severe inefficiencies and poor management’ by the Coalition Provisional Authority would leave no guarantee that the money was properly used”, said Stuart W. Bowen, Jr., director of the Office of the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction. “The CPA did not establish or implement sufficient managerial, financial and contractual controls to ensure that funds were used in a transparent manner.”[364] Bowen told the Times the missing money may represent “the largest theft of funds in national history.”[365]

Wouldn’t it have been better to ring up Saddam Hussein and say “Here’s $1,000,000,000 up front and $100,000,000 per year for life on the condition you clear off and don’t come back” ?

According to the UK National Audit Office, the UK spent £850 billion on the bank crises in 2009 alone.