The war on terror, and the absence of evidence based strategy…

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By the time you read this, we will probably be bombing Syria. The war rhetoric is almost impossible to counter, because it is not based on rational analysis of evidence, or even of recent history. It is significant that if any history is mentioned, we go back to just one date; 1939. We invoke the myth of appeasement and the wisdom of that old war monger, Winston Churchill.

In the face of violence and fear, something must be done. Preferably something that is clean and clinical, with all bloodshed exported and outsourced.

George Monbiot quoted from this study in the Guardian today, which makes some staggering points about just how ill considered our death dealing has become. Of the 11 military adventures the researchers analysed, they found that five had no discernible impacts on subsequent terrorism. Six were followed by more terrorism than there had been before. This means that if our main objective in making ‘war on terror’ is to reduce the risk of terror attacks, then we are fighting a losing battle.

In the wake of the attacks on the twin towers, following a side show attack in Afghanistan (on the basis of some justification, but again very little strategy or awareness of history) the arguments were stacking up for an invasion of Iraq. There was huge effort to convince the public of the reason they should be fearful of the totally fictitious weapons of mass destruction that were pointed at each and every one of us. However there was very little understanding of the likely consequences of military action waged by a hated superpower against those who already saw themselves as being victimised by ‘The great Satan’.

There were other voices of course. At the time they were often dismissed as left wing lunatics or (as Cameron would have it now) ‘Terrorist sympathisers’. Remember this from 1992? (Notice the man sitting over his shoulder on the back row.)

Benn warned before the invasion that it would end in hundreds of thousands of innocent deaths and an increase in terror attacks. No one believed him.

It is always worth remembering that if it were not for the invasion of Iraq, and the subsequent imprisonment of thousands of young militants in prison camps, there would be no ISIS. This article is worth reading as a description of just how important American run prisons were in the formation of the organisation and the motivation of members.

The question is, if these military interventions are not based on thoughtful engagement with fact, or understanding of history, why are so many convinced that they are necessary? What does motivate those who are seeking war? I am not a conspiracy theorist and so I am not prepared to suggest that the desire for war is entirely about control of oil resources, or a secret plot to distract us all from some dastardly political design.

Perhaps some feel that evil has to be confronted directly. If so we are very selective in our confrontations- yesterday’s hero soon becomes the villain of today- think the Mujaheddin of Afghanistan.

Perhaps others want to hit back at the perceived source of violence and  fear that assails them- after all, it has become normal to bomb these far off points- NOT to bomb almost seems neglectful of government responsibilities.

There is also a hang over from imperialist thinking that would suggest that Britain has to be in the fight, otherwise we will lose power, status, influence. Almost as if war is a measure of power.

Finally there is the fetishization of weapons and weaponry. How proudly we heard of the uniqueness of our war machines, in particular, our ‘Brimstone’ missiles that range down, god-like, to smite the evil below.

Cameron’s speech in the debate today was described as an ‘impassioned plea’ for air strikes. Corbyn was recorded as saying that Cameron had ‘failed to make the case’. Passion for war makes me shudder. Let us have some more reasoned humanity please…

Trickle down economics, the poem…

I read this today, and loved it.

Given the growing gulf between rich and poor in the UK, itself one of the wealthiest in the world, I decided to post it here…

 

The Trickle-Down Theory of Happiness
by Philip Appleman
Out of heaven, to bless the high places,
it falls on the penthouses, drizzling
at first, then a pelting allegro,
and Dick and Jane skip to the terrace
and go boogieing through the azaleas,
while mommy and daddy come running
with pots and pans, glasses, and basins
and try to hold all of it up there,
but no use, it’s too much, it keeps coming,
and pours off the edges, down limestone
to the pitchers and pails on the ground, where
delirious residents catch it,
and bucket brigades get it moving
inside, until bathtubs are brimful,
but still it keeps coming, that shower
of silver in alleys and gutters,
all pouring downhill to the sleazy
red brick, and the barefoot people
who romp in it, laughing, but never
take thought for tomorrow, all spinning
in a pleasure they catch for a moment;
so when Providence turns off the spigot
and the sky goes as dry as a prairie,
then daddy looks down from the penthouse,
down to the streets, to the gutters,
and his heart goes out to his neighbors,
to the little folk thirsty for laughter,
and he prays in his boundless compassion:
on behalf of the world and its people
he demands of his God, give me more.

Philip Appleman, “The Trickle-Down Theory of Happiness” from New and Selected Poems, 1956-1996. 

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1st Sunday of Advent…

 

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And many people shall go and say, Come ye, and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob; and He will teach us of His ways, and we will walk in His paths: for out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. And He shall judge among the nations, and shall rebuke many people: and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.—Isaiah 2:3–4

Here we are again.

Starting a new journey towards hope.

Setting out in uncertain times

 

towards a rumour glimpsed only in the shape of the stars

and the smell of something strange

in the changing of the weather.

 

Have I  journey left in these brittle bones

what did it ever mean before?

How many false donkeys and tin foil angels can one man take?

 

We know that this Messiah fell from heaven not

on feathers, but to the stab and scratch of straw.

I get the humility, but when will things be different?

 

When will Kalashnikovs be melted into spades?

When will missiles be just fireworks in the shining sky?

When will Lions chose to nurture Lambs?

 

But here I am again

Starting a new journey towards hope

 

 

 

 

A blinded eye for a blinded eye…

 

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Death came to the streets of Paris this week. We watched it all displayed for our collective horror on all those 24 hour spooling news channels. All that grainy footage from security cameras and interviews with the nearly-killed and those now left behind.

Desperate things have happened in Paris. People were relaxed, eating, listening to music, laughing with friends when in came death. In came the scythe of violence. In came religion.

The narrative around all these events is still too raw, the blood on the streets too fresh. Perhaps it should remain unexamined. The trauma is still ringing out like a broken bell.

Meanwhile however, politicians both sides of the Atlantic are lining up to declare war on the perpetrators of this violence. The Europeans are looking for someone to bomb. The Americans are recommending the ‘tracking’ of all Muslims in the USA, and the screening of Syrian refugees (fleeing violence) as if they were ‘rabid dogs’. Unless they can prove that they are Christians.

People are not equal- not even in death. Those hundreds of thousands who have died in the invasions of Iraq and the civil wars in places like Eritrea and Syria hardly register as worthy of mention- even when (as in Iraq) our governments have to be regarded as directly responsible.

I fear that in the wake of the terrible events in France, we will take a famillar path.

I have written before about how we might try to learn some lessons from history;

…Then there are the lessons of even recent history (let us not even mention the dreadful colonial legacy that has far more to do with the creation of terrorism than religion ever could have).

Although we have to start there in a way. At the end of Empire, Britain had lived with terrorism for at least 100 years. The transition from colonial territory to autonomous nation has rarely been peaceful; too many artificial borders imposed on disparate peoples, with a history of being on different sides of the many colonially sponsored conflicts. Britain learned the hard way that conventional warfare is never the long term solution to insurgency and terror. Or rather we had to re learn this again and again, treading a path that is remarkably familiar; concentration camps, secret police, propaganda campaigns that leave no room for dissidents, and along the way many a blood bath; Kenya, Zimbabwe, India, Iraq, Afghanistan, Ireland etc etc. Eventually we had to talk to people. We had to turn away from violence and try to make peace in the face of all sorts of provocations.

Ah- but these conflicts were largely about geography, not about ideology, I hear you cry; modern terrorism has no obvious negotiation point; we can not walk away, because it is coming to us- our homes, our streets. It arises internally from our own ethnic minority communities.

I would suggest that there are more similarities than would first appear, it is just that like all post modern movements, terror has globalised. It has worldwide franchises, but power and motivation are still generated in the conflict zones.

After the attack on the World Trade Centre, America declared a war of vengeance. They were quite open about it at the time. Someone had to pay. First Afghanistan was invaded, with a narrative about evil regimes, then on far shakier evidence (later almost entirely discredited) Iraq. Hundreds of thousands died. The bulging prison camps became training grounds for new terror movements. Surveillance and a suspension of the rule of law was seen as justifiable and expedient. To support the war effort successive governments incited fear in a wider public who, in general terms, had probably never been so safe. Has it worked? Can we really regard the world, even the USA as a safer place, a better place?

Perhaps we never learn. Violence has always to be met with more violence.

Perhaps too what our culture experiences is akin to that of a person going through an experience of post traumatic stress;

 

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Violence breeds fear. Fear breeds the desire for safety/protection, even to the point of violence. The violence re-traumatises.

So perhaps it is indeed time to examine the narrative of fear and death that is being carried in the media at the moment- no matter how unpopular.

This ‘war on terror’- whom are we fighting? Where is the enemy and how much are they putting us all at risk?

There are indeed dangerous, violent people who live within our communities. Some of them are animated by a twisted religious conviction. However, all of these people are convinced of the injustice and evil that they and their kind have been subjected to by the West.

Surely the point of acts of terror is to create fear on a population wide level. Violence of this kind is intended to breed violence. People of violence are vindicated in turn by the violence that then results.  They are happy for us both to see through blinded eyes.

How then do we fight a war against this kind of violence?

Perhaps it is to seek peace. Sooner or later it will have to come.

To revisit my earlier post again, I said this;

As a nation we are vulnerable to many things in these changing and rootless times. Our chances of early death at the hands of an Islamic terrorist are absolutely tiny. Lots of other things that we live with every day will kill thousands of us; our lifestyles, our motor cars. There is a chance that our over consuming will be the end of our kind.

So let us pause, remember with respect those souls who passed and then try to make peace with ourselves and then with our neighbours.

For the sake of the sight of the next generation perhaps we should start by setting aside fear, and seeing it clearly with unblinded eyes for what it is; a traumatic smoke screen that stops us seeing the obvious, and tends to lead us into destructive delusion.

 

 

On self belief…

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There is a man who ‘busks’ on the street near my office. He stands just inside the underpass holding his nylon strung guitar awkwardly, unstrapped. He plucks at one string over and over again.

duh duh duh duh duh duh duh duh duh duh duh

He makes no pretense at melody. He utters not one word of song.

I walk past him regularly on my missions to meetings or for the odd sandwich. There he stands, motionless but for that monotone finger, staring zen-like at a point on the far wall, seemingly oblivious to the hand full of coins that some have dropped at his feet. Not by me, I hasten to add. I tend to shake my head in wonder. Surely he could just learn a chord for heavens sake?

However, the more I have observed him, the more I have come to think that there is something admirable, majestic even, in his stoical vigil. His total lack of artifice, of artistry, of concern for the judgement of others- it is remarkable. So much so that I find myself humming along to his droning string.

Hum hum hum hum hum hum hum hum hum hum

I have played guitar since I was 11 years old. But I could not have stood all those hours in that cold underpass and attempted to play for money. I would be too concerned about getting it right, about looking cool, about wanting people to be impressed by my art, by my skill. I would fuss over tuning and resonance. I would almost certainly fall short of my own expectations of myself.

So it is with many creative folk. To create we need to believe we have in us something worth creating. But self belief is a fleeting thing, often wafted away in the first breeze of public scrutiny.

Or at least that is how it often feels to me. It is almost as if each string I pluck makes nothing more than that same monotonous duh duh duh.

There he stands. And I walk by.

Send in the revolutionary heroes…

My son was wondering where they had all gone. He has heard of Mandela and Luther King and Ghandi- but he knows they are all dead and gone. The battles they fought belonged to other generations, not his (although perhaps the battles go on for ever in reality.) He wondered why there were no leaders like these around now. Where are the revolutionary heroes of 2015?

I was reminded of this song;

We thought about this, his mum and I. Perhaps heroes like this are only ever visible in hindsight- from the close perspective of history they are more nuanced and shadowed by compromise. Perhaps too the nature of our media twists and shapes the message so that it just becomes another piece of electronic background noise; at best something that flicks across your Facebook feed then fades back into ephemera.

Perhaps too the age of great ideological debates has been replaced by a homogeny of endless consumption; each and every thought and idea has value only because it generates hits on a server somewhere that also sells something.

Perhaps too that activism also has had to play by these rules. Movements like Occupy have eschewed ‘leadership’ in the traditional sense, moving instead for fluidity and protest modeled more on performance art- the sort of stuff that twitters well.

But sometimes you encounter someone to whom that rather cringeworthy word authentic can be applied to. Someone who is prepared to live in a different way. This is part of the dramatic appeal of Corbyn in British politics at present- for once, substance is elevated over style. Content is valued above communication.

For those of us who still long for flawed heroes, perhaps this will pierce the cynicism of these words. A real revolutionary hero.

Here you go son. He is not your generation- not even mine- but a hero none the less.