NO PLACE LIKE HOME

Blame it on John Craven. Without ‘Newsround’, I probably wouldn’t have been aware of numerous stories that grabbed headlines when I was an otherwise disinterested schoolboy in the mid-70s, ones provoking many questions that began with the prefix ‘Mum’ or ‘Dad’. Alas, poor parents, presented with enquiries re white mercenaries heading for the Dark Continent – how to explain the presence of Brits in the likes of Angola? At that time, I had yet to hear Johnny Rotten’s reference, ‘is this the MPLA?’ due to the BBC’s post-Grundy blanket ban of ‘Anarchy in the UK’, and wouldn’t have got it anyway; my babysitters (largely secretaries from my father’s firm) professed more of a fondness for The Real Thing. Maybe comparisons back then were made with those who had volunteered for action in the Spanish Civil War forty years previously. Such comparisons emerged anew when Syria exploded into conflict forty years later.

There’s a difference, though. British recruits to the International Brigades of the 1930s were mostly motivated by idealistic (if naive) anti-fascist principles, whereas 70s mercenaries were motivated by money, despite attempts to paint them as heroic upholders of White Africa at a time when minority colonials were engaged in an increasingly desperate and doomed struggle to retain control over the natives and their Marxist leanings. Come the Arab Spring aftermath and the turmoil it gave birth to in Syria, however, religion reared its ugly head as the prime motivator and did so via newfangled methods of recruitment courtesy of the inter-web thingy.

It’s interesting in a week that saw sympathy for professional pissers on yet another famous grave – those whose bladders were emptied for the voyeuristic delectation of TV viewers prepared to accept their wobbly testimony against a dead man as Gospel (yes, we’ve been here before) – that concepts of innocent children groomed by knowing elders didn’t extend to those rendered stateless by their misplaced embrace of a nihilistic philosophy that even racism sniffer-dogs like Lammy and Abbott are hard-pressed to present as one more legacy of Evil White Men. Yesterday, it was confirmed that the baby born to ‘ISIS Bride’ Shamima Begum has died in the same refugee camp that his short, miserable life began in just three weeks ago.

It must be difficult for Guardian readers to fall back on favoured accusations when the blood of this unfortunate British subject is seemingly on the hands of a Home Secretary who inconveniently happens to be a Muslim. The decision of Sajid Javid to strip the baby’s mother of her citizenship has been seen by some as a cynical, populist move in a bid for the Tory leadership during the run-up to Theresa May’s imminent exit, whereas others have viewed it as another example of the Home Secretary’s ‘Coconut’ tendencies. Whichever perspective one takes, however, the refusal to retrieve Shamima Begum and her newborn from the Syrian hellhole they were discovered in by the war correspondent for the Times has now taken a tragic turn with this latest announcement.

The recruitment of deluded British Muslims to the ISIS cause in Syria four or five years back was facilitated by the same call-to-romantic-arms previously utilised by old-school paramilitary outfits such as the IRA. In the States, armchair Irish Republicans who had never set foot in the Emerald Isle gleefully contributed to the begging bowls passed around Boston bars, having being seduced by deep-rooted sentimental attachment to inherited Irishness; but (luckily for those funding ‘the revolution’) flying to Belfast to participate in person wasn’t deemed necessary. Comparisons with Brits who made the journey to Spain eighty years ago are more prescient in the case of Syria, though few of those 30s idealists rushed to join the fascist cause; the prevailing aim was to fight fascism. In contrast, home-grown ISIS recruits were knowingly signing-up to a blatantly barbaric death cult that had never shied away from publicising its methods of madness; nobody, however young, naive or gullible, could have responded to the ISIS cry for help utterly ignorant of what it would ultimately entail. Shamima Begum showed herself to be a resourceful young woman far from clueless when she embarked on her backpacking gap-year with a difference, despite being legally defined as a child. She’s still only just 19, yet is now stateless, and has three dead babies to her name. At least she’s one 19-year-old who can’t blame Brexit for ‘stealing her future’.

In the recent blitz of media coverage afforded this articulate adolescent since her discovery, the absence of remorse in her account of her Jihadi holiday convinced many that bringing her back would sow seeds of future atrocities on home soil. Had she sought public redemption by shedding tears and pleading for forgiveness in the manner of a disgraced celebrity coached by Max Clifford before the late PR guru was hoisted by his own petard, perhaps the assertion that she poses no threat to the UK would have sealed her return; post-Diana, few emotional gestures provoke a sympathetic response in Brits more than the waterworks. Instead, like a disability claimant failing an ATOS assessment, Begum forgot to play the victim and has therefore faced the harshest consequences.

The complicated case of Shamima Begum and what to do with her has presented politicians with many problems, and in the process has exposed some double standards in the definition of children. If, rather than volunteering for Holy War service, Begum had been involved in a sexual relationship with her teacher when weeks away from her 16th birthday, she would have been viewed as an innocent, blameless victim of grooming and regarded as unable to distinguish between consent and rape. Yet, the fact she made her way to join ISIS in Syria as a 15-year-old by cannily using her older sister’s passport appears to negate the blameless innocence that would have applied in the aforementioned other circumstances. Yes, the facts suggest she knowingly endorsed the philosophy of an organisation committed to eradicating western civilisation – one responsible for the deaths of many of Begum’s countrymen and women; but surely the indoctrination she received presumably online and (possibly) within her own community is a classic case of grooming as so severely defined in other areas of the law?

Blair’s disastrous faith schools policy and the willingness of police and politicians to leave ‘them’ to their own devices when it comes to education and designs for life for fear of being labelled racist or Islamophobic has helped engineer the situation that allows some Muslim communities to be effectively governed in the style of Mafiosi Sicily or the East End during the reign of the Krays. It has enabled hate preachers to have a platform or underage white girls to be repeatedly abused by gangs or a 15-year-old Muslim schoolgirl to voluntarily put herself in one of the most dangerous environments on the planet. Sadly, the multicultural fault-lines run much deeper than one person stripped of her nationality or one freshly buried baby.

© The Editor

THIS YEAR’S MODEL

It says a lot about ‘terrorism fatigue’ that the latest atrocity – 14 dead in Barcelona to date – is something I’m struggling to write about without being overwhelmed by déjà-vu. Spain hasn’t experienced this kind of attack since the appalling Madrid bombings of 2004, but Blighty hadn’t undergone anything on the scale of 7/7 until Westminster, Manchester and London Bridge in our ‘Spring of Discontent’ earlier this year. By the time the third of these casual massacres came around, the media clichés were becoming familiar enough to induce the kind of reaction that dilutes the brutality of the slaughter and renders it almost on a par with all the other eye-rolling headlines that newspaper proprietors concoct to arrest falling sales figures.

The censorship of the gruesome reality is part of the game. There was an almighty storm on Twitter last night in which some thought it vital to show images from Barcelona whereas others regarded doing so as insulting to the people who lost their lives. Key to their recruitment policy, ISIS don’t spare the gory details in screening the aftermath of allied bombing raids on innocents abroad; seeing pictures that news outlets prefer not to show us has an impact that the Jihadi mindset responds to with a sense of vindication for their own retaliatory actions. What, one wonders, would the response in the west be were our broadcasters to practice a similarly uncompromising disregard for the editor’s scissors in the wake of another terrorist incident? Perhaps their very worry as to what response it might inspire is significant.

Whereas television news initially picked up the fearless baton from cinema newsreels and broadcasted the grim warts-and-all facts in vision from the 60s through to the 80s, recent trends have seen oversensitive censoring that leaves the reality to the viewers’ imaginations. Footage of Nazi death-camps may not have emerged until six years of conflict were already reaching their climax, but the horrific sight solidified hatred of the Germans for a generation and offered further justification for the Second World War, even if it was hardly still needed by 1945. Programmes this week marking the 70th anniversary of the partition of India have screened archive film of the bloodbaths in the wake of the British exit from the Subcontinent, yet it’s almost as though the grim images being in monochrome and from so long ago means they’re permissible in a historical context – akin to a false admission that this kind of brutality is something the civilised world left behind more than half-a-century ago.

Hearing of one more massacre on European soil and being denied the evidence transforms mass murder into an abstract concept and distances it further from the gut reaction images naturally provoke. When the world was shown the 1982 butchery at the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps in Beirut, Israeli troops absolving themselves of responsibility led to impassioned demonstrations in Tel Aviv that spilled over into Israel’s parliament; merely hearing of what had happened probably wouldn’t have inspired the same level of outrage as seeing the images did.

But seeing the hideous truth of precisely what it is Jihadists are capable of would tarnish the fatuous script Theresa May recited with routine precision last night – the whole ‘standing with…’ speech, which has no doubt already been accompanied by complementary appropriation of the Barcelona FC badge as a makeshift profile picture on social media. The pat sentiment of this speech, echoed across Europe in the respective languages of all the other leaders who recycled it, says nothing about the issue and fails to address it because to address it would leave the harmonious Utopian narrative in tatters. Jeremy Corbyn’s dismissal of Sarah Champion for having the nerve to say a fact out loud is symptomatic of this brush-it-under-the-carpet and don’t-frighten-the-children attitude which is fine for an ostrich but won’t prevent another atrocity in another European city before the year is out.

Unrelated on the surface, though sharing the same spirit, are the increasingly fanatical demands by the Puritan militants to remove public monuments to long-dead American heroes whose philosophies are out of kilter with contemporary mores (no surprise when most have been deceased for over a century). Confederate generals are the current target, though one enlightened online idiot apparently advocated the blowing-up of Mount Rushmore yesterday. Considering the first handful of US Presidents were slave-owners and that the White House itself was built by slave labour – something Obama at least acknowledged with a refreshing absence of froth in his mouth – means any rewriting of American history on this level will require the removal of a good deal more than a statue of Robert E Lee from the landscape.

The Taliban or ISIS destroying ancient antiquities and Islamic iconography that they find offensive or insulting to their twisted take on the faith is no different from what is being allowed to take place in America at the moment; to condemn one and condone the other is hypocrisy of the highest order. These are not the symbolic gestures of revolutionary rebellions emanating from a subjugated populace breaking the chains of totalitarian bondage, but the product of those indoctrinated in the ideology of fanaticism. Whether on an American campus, in a Middle Eastern Jihadi training camp, or inside English churches under the reign of Edward VI, it matters not; the motivation is the same, and it is this unswerving tunnel vision that drives the greatest threats to freedom of thought, speech and living we are confronted by in 2017.

© The Editor

EVERY BELITTLE HELPS

chaplinLong-term followers of my ‘oeuvre’ may recall a weekly YouTube series of mine that spanned a year from the spring of 2014 to 2015; called ‘25 Hour News’, it parodied rolling news channels by presenting a satirical spin on the headlines of the preceding seven days. Although most episodes have since been deleted on account of their irrelevance to the here and now (not to mention a few ‘copyright’ issues), there are still a small handful of specials available, including my takes on both the Scottish Independence Referendum and the 2015 General Election as well as a compilation review of 2014. Revelling in freedom from the permanently anxious censorship committees that police the potential for offence re most television comedies these days, I viewed everyone as fair game for having the urine extracted from them.

At the time when ISIS decided American journalists would function better by having their heads removed, I recall concocting a spoof on a certain 70s game show called ‘Muhammad Forsyth and the Decapitation Game’; I only put together the opening titles and a description of what the programme consisted and that was that – job done. The audience was in the thousands rather than the millions, so I didn’t have to respond to the kind of ludicrous Twitter outrage that this week greeted a rare comedy parody of our friends in the Middle East.

The blurb in the Radio Times accompanying the new BBC2 series ‘Revolting’ painted it as a hidden prank show, to which my reaction was ‘just what the world needs – a hipster Beadle’s About’; it wasn’t until the online serial offence-takers kicked up a fuss yesterday over a sketch from the show spoofing those horrific reality TV ‘rich wives’ programmes that I realised the series apparently amounted to more than a ‘Candid Camera’ for the Instagram generation.

The skit in question was called ‘Real Housewives of ISIS’ and was, I thought, a pretty funny piss-take of both a nauseating television genre and the equally nauseating principles of those stupid enough to seek salvation by selling themselves into Jihadi slavery. Lest we forget, British Muslim women who have made the journey from the UK to Syria haven’t been kidnapped; they volunteered. And if they’re dumb enough to fall for the ISIS PR, they’re worthy of ridicule, as is the organisation nobody forced them to join. Considering the absence of sensitivity to non-believers and infidels that the ISIS philosophy promotes, why should anyone spare them the deserved scythe of satire? According to the ISIS apologists on the left, however (those for whom Israel is the only Middle Eastern nation that has blood on its hands), this sketch was beyond the pale.

‘Real Housewives of ISIS? Wow, the BBC got some explaining to do’; ‘The Real Housewives of ISIS is so distasteful. Lowest of the low from BBC2’; ‘Sick, you are truly sick in the head and morally bankrupt’ – just a small selection of the Twitter comments that followed the programme’s broadcast. I suppose the ‘morally bankrupt’ accusation is the one that stands out; morally bankrupt by taking the piss as opposed to the unimpeachable morality of the suicide bomber? One can’t help but think that the same voices would probably have reacted in similar fashion to ‘The Great Dictator’ had Twitter existed in 1940. ‘Chaplin, you are morally bankrupt 4 attacking Nazis and Hitler’!

To be fair, Chaplin himself later admitted that had he known of the Final Solution when he made ‘The Great Dictator’, he wouldn’t have poked fun at Adolf in quite the same way, but by making a movie satirising Hitler in the US at a time when America had yet to enter the Second World War, he was putting himself out on something of a limb. The great exodus of European Jews from the continental film industry to Hollywood bore fruit for American cinema in the years to come, but the stories they told upon arrival were ones Chaplin absorbed when formulating the concept of ‘The Great Dictator’; he’d also viewed Leni Riefenstahl’s grandiose Nazi propaganda movie, ‘Triumph of the Will’, and had apparently found it unintentionally hilarious. The end result of these influences was one of the first comedic takes on Hitler and the Nazis, but not the last; as the conflict escalated, Chaplin was hardly alone in mocking the Führer.

Cartoons and comics aimed at children were crammed with humorous interpretations of Hitler and Mussolini throughout the war years; wartime strips in The Dandy and The Beano included ‘Addie and Hermy, the Nasty Nazis’ (Hitler and Goering reborn as archetypal DC Thompson dimwits) and ‘Musso the Wop (He’s A Big-A-Da-Flop)’. It’s an age-old truism that one way an enemy can be belittled by those not in a position to take them on with force is to laugh at them; just look at James Gillray’s caricatures of Napoleon in the early nineteenth century, whereby the physically inaccurate portrayal of Bonaparte as a short-arse literally belittled him and established the myth of the French Emperor’s size that still lingers. I wouldn’t go so far as to say this image contributed towards Napoleon’s eventual overthrow, but it definitely served to make him less of a bogeyman in the popular imagination and defused the fear of him that he undoubtedly drew strength from.

It’s a measure of how effective the PC intelligentsia have been in dictating to TV companies what we can and can’t laugh at that something such as the ‘Real Housewives of ISIS’ sketch is seen as outrageous. A fashionably dismissed comedy from the 70s like ‘The Goodies’ had a dig at Apartheid in an episode simply called ‘South Africa’, one scene of which features a spoof travel ad for the country wherein the Black & White Minstrels act as salesmen for the system that had its fair share of appeasers in Europe at the time. It all sounds very radical and daring by today’s standards, but this was a pre-watershed mainstream series that was even regarded as lightweight back then.

There are so many aspects of contemporary life that often seem more like parody than the real thing, and I sometimes think the architect of the present day’s culture is not some great political thinker, but Chris Morris. And, as the old adage goes, if you don’t laugh, you’ll cry. Laughter is an essential salvation at times like these, and the BBC should actually be applauded for allowing ‘Real Housewives of ISIS’ to air; they’ve nothing to defend or apologise for.

© The Editor

IT’S NOT OVER YET

cunt-2The decision of the ‘Newsnight’ production team and presenters to take an early holiday as of last Friday seemed to suggest 2016 had finished slinging shit at the world; paid vacations for BBC freeloaders doesn’t mean the most unpleasant twelve months in living memory has completed its catalogue of carnage, however, as yesterday’s events both in the centre and on the fringes of Europe indicated in the worst possible way. The assassination of Russia’s ambassador to Turkey in full view of TV cameras, swiftly followed by another horrible massacre – this time on the streets of a city with its fair share of past atrocities, Berlin – confirmed this year’s obituaries have been prematurely penned.

Not dissimilar to the gruesome scenes that accompanied the murder of Lee Rigby three years ago, the brazen pride in the killer of Andrei Karlov as he waved his weapon and ranted whilst the dying ambassador lay at his feet was an irredeemably ugly exhibition that suggested the secular constitution of Turkey isn’t merely under threat from the country’s dictatorial President Erdogan. The assassin, disconcertingly dressed like an extra from ‘Reservoir Dogs’, was apparently a serving police officer who quickly met the same fate as the man he shot in the back once Turkish security forces gate-crashed the incongruous surroundings of the Ankara art gallery where the murder took place.

Turkey has been a tense nation (to put it mildly) since the failed coup several months ago, but the ongoing crisis in Syria has added to the strained relations between the Turks and the Russians; lest we forget, it was only a year ago that a Russian warplane was shot down by Turkey on the border with Syria. As Syria is on Turkey’s doorstep, a leader who makes no bones about his religious leanings, not to mention having purged the police, armed forces and judiciary of his enemies, is hardly in a position to dissuade his underlings from expressing similar beliefs with the kind of violent force Russia has unsurprisingly labelled ‘terrorism’.

Barely had the international community had the chance to react to that awful act before news began breaking of the latest slaughter of civilians on a European street. Echoing appalling events in Nice last July, the same method of murder was employed in an effort to maximise the body count, i.e. a lorry ploughing pedestrians down. Mercifully, the numbers killed at the Berlin Christmas Market were far lower than the 89 in France, but the incident will no doubt place further pressure upon Frau Merkel and her benign approach to immigration on the eve of a General Election in Germany, not to mention gifting Madame le Pen a fresh batch of headlines rich in exploitative potential when she prepares to sell herself to France’s own electorate next year.

Neither incident yesterday has yet to be connected to ISIS or any other Middle Eastern paramilitary organisation with a grudge against the west, though the one in Berlin does bear all the hallmarks. Mevlut Mert Altintas, the assassin of the Russian ambassador to Turkey, had included the words ‘Syria’ and ‘Aleppo’ in his post-assassination rant as well as the popular Radical Islam catchphrase ‘Allahu Akbar’, yet his actions seem more reflective of anti-Assad, anti-Russia/pro-Syrian Rebel Forces protests in Turkey over the days leading up to the murder rather than any suggestions of ISIS sympathies. Nevertheless, all major European cities are on high alert again, anticipating sleeper cells being triggered into action by news from Berlin in particular.

If 2016 has taught us anything it’s that all the worst bits of 2015 have simply been taken to the next level, and there’s little evidence that 2017 will see any improvement. Those keen to see the back of this year will probably find next year just as gloomy, but to turn Harold Macmillan’s trademark sound-bite on its head and say we’ve never had it so bad is to betray an ignorance of the past. The world has been here before, but I suppose to anyone born after, say, 1985, the current global turmoil is unprecedented within that short lifetime.

On a trivial, mildly inconvenient level, the concerns that claim tabloid column inches such as train and postal strikes were considerably more far-reaching forty-odd years ago. In the case of Southern Rail’s ongoing chaos, a nationalised railway industry would have seen the entire nationwide workforce come out in solidarity with their London colleagues and the whole country would have been affected over the Christmas holidays rather than just the capital and its Metroland commuter belt. But I wouldn’t expect people who weren’t even a twinkle in the milkman’s eye in 1974 to grasp that fact. Equally, the Daily Mail mindset that is forever lecturing those struggling in a zero-hours minimum wage ghetto where owning one’s home is a pipe-dream merely shows how long some have resided in a cosseted cocoon from the harsh realities of trying to make an honest living when wages and prices are such distant bedfellows.

It would be jumping the gun to compare 2016 to other seismic shifts in the world order – 1848 being the most obvious; a degree of distance is really required in order to measure the after-effects once the dust has settled, and we’re still too in the thick of it to make neat summaries of how this or that event altered things forever thereafter. But the pace of change, and the periodic bursts of violence that have characterised the change as it has unfolded with relentless aggression would, as I pointed out in a post a few months ago, make for a cracking edition of ‘The Rock n Roll Years’ were we lucky enough to have some decent Rock n Roll; that we’re not seems to emphasise the absence of alternatives to the grim world about us; we’ve had to make do with overgrown school-kids dressing as clowns and people playing at statues for yet another tedious selfie fad; so much for cultural salvation.

Anyway, as the previous post attracted little in the way of attention, I’m optimistic enough to put that down to people having several distractions during a time of year when there are numerous demands on their time rather than attributing it to an especially uninspiring piece of writing. With that in mind, it’s probably best if I take a few days off myself – not that I don’t expect something else characteristically awful to occur before we hit January 1; and if it does, I’ll probably be compelled to comment, whether or not anyone is listening. Merry Xmas everybody.

© The Editor

THE RISE AND FALL OF A MEDIA WHORE

AdjemSo, after a green-fingered interlude, we’re back to Hate Crime again. I always thought Anjem Choudary was a shit-stirring prat. Nick Griffin with a beard; a rentagobshite joke conjured up by ‘Channel 4 News’ or ‘Newsnight’ to play the tediously token controversial contrarian; a caricature of an Islamic hate preacher who could have been concocted by ‘Viz’; a desperate publicity-seeking defender of the indefensible because it brought him infamy; to be honest, I half-expected him to turn up on ‘Celebrity Big Brother’ at some point, he was so pathetic in his attempts to be noticed, no better than the stars of ‘Geordie Shore’ or ‘The Only Way is Essex’ he’d be sharing the Big Brother House with. A mate of mine regularly used to wind him up on Twitter, playing on the online evidence of his far-from devout student days before he became a Professional Muslim; he rose to the bait on every occasion.

At the same time, I could see no real difference between him and those who spout the other side of the argument on the same programmes – the PC preachers, the patronising middle-class North London-dwelling spokesmen and women for ‘the working-classes’, the squeaky-voiced Feminazi Babes pleading for Victimhood as they auditioned for a column in the Grauniad. I got the distinct impression that all these sad media whores had far more in common than whatever ideological differences divided them. In some respects, I sensed Choudary was invited onto such shows simply as an amusing alternative to the insufferable right-on platitudes of the rest of them. By challenging the consensus whenever a terrorist atrocity occurred, Choudary represented a rare minority opinion; the problem was that his ego and deep desire to make a name for himself overshadowed any valid opposition he may have harboured. It generally came across as contrariness for contrariness’s sake.

Unlike Owen Jones or Laurie Penny, however, Anjem Choudary has now felt the full force of British – as opposed to Sharia – Law, convicted of inviting support for a proscribed organisation, namely ISIS, otherwise known as ‘So-called Islamic State’ or ‘Daesh’. The latter to me always sounds like a description of somebody suspected of being Welsh – ‘Hmm, he sounds a bit Dai-ish’ – but that’s beside the point. The point is that Choudary’s years of exploiting the democratic rights of a free society by advocating the dissolution of them have finally caught up with him, and he’s due to receive his sentence next month. Playing the cartoon Hate Preacher for the benefit of the media wasn’t enough to bang him behind bars, and he knew it. Therefore, the authorities spent months trying to find a way to finally silence him, and the CPS found it in Section 12 of the Terrorist Act of 2000.

Reporting restrictions have been tight around Choudary’s trial – no doubt the powers-that-be will cite the sensitivity of clandestine terrorism-related issues, whereas Choudary’s supporters will claim the veil of secrecy within the media has been imposed to obscure the fact that the charges that have been dubiously cobbled together to nick Choudary quickly collapse if subjected to scrutiny. At least we know what the charges were. Choudary belongs to the generation whose every utterance is an online footprint that can be easily accessed by those eager to bring him down, and it would appear they’ve succeeded.

Ironically, the very democratic freedoms he claimed to despise were ones he utilised after his arrest, approaching the Supreme Court in order to halt the prosecution. He failed. That was one option he wouldn’t have had if his alleged dream of the Islamic flag flying over No.10 in ‘Londonistan’ had ever come to fruition. I’ve a feeling he was toying with the media yet again when he made that claim, but too much toying has cost him his freedom now. He’s poised to experience the kind of isolation from democracy he purports to support, though it won’t be coming via Sharia Law, but British Law.

The crime with which he has been charged is encouraging the vulnerable and easily-influenced to sign-up to the nihilistic agenda of ISIS, though I have strong doubts that he ever genuinely believed in the ISIS philosophy. I think Anjem Choudary is as much a wannabe celebrity as anyone whose ultimate ambition is to grace the front cover of ‘OK!’ magazine; he merely took a different route to that facile fame. He’s not some Bond-like criminal mastermind, just a sad little publicity-seeker who found an alternative avenue to the front pages of the tabloids that spared him (and the nation) from having to get his kit off on TV.

I don’t agree with anything Anjem Choudary advocated in his numerous television appearances, but – as the old saying goes – I respect his right to advocate them. It’s evident the authorities have searched high and low to locate something they can convict him for, and it would appear they’ve found it. I can think of many in the public eye I would gladly silence if only there were an offence on the statue books they could be charged with – can nobody evoke an ancient law that can stick James Corden in Strangeways? But in the case of Choudary, one has been found. Whether or not it stands up as a genuine offence remains to be seen. I certainly won’t miss his presence, but I can’t help but wonder if this is another case of the authorities concocting a convenient charge that will remove a thorn in their side from the headlines.

© The Editor

CIVVY STREET

V-1It’s a ghastly side-effect of warfare that those who haven’t signed up for either side always end up in the firing line. Whether their turf is contested by professional national armies, amateur guerrillas or nihilistic terrorists, the civilian population is invariably caught in crossfire while attempting to go about their daily business. To the left is a remarkable photograph taken on a London street in 1944: two women step off a bus onto the pavement while the cloud from a V-1 rocket that exploded a second before the photographer clicked the camera shutter can be seen rising in the background. It’s the juxtaposition of the ordinary with the extraordinary in the image that speaks volumes as to the tenacity of the human spirit when necessary routine is confronted by a potentially fatal threat.

By 1944, of course, London’s population had already survived the devastation of the Blitz, rendering the introduction of the flying bomb – Hitler’s last petulant throw of the dice towards a country he couldn’t conquer – the latest in a long line of man-made meteors falling from the sky that were faced with weary resignation. The people wouldn’t have been desensitised to the horrors inflicted by the V-1 due to having endured half-a-decade of bombardment on the home front, but that experience made a new spin on the art of mass murder perhaps less shocking in 1944 than it would have been in 1940. Such experience counts for a lot when the enemy devotes so much time and energy to devising more effective ways to kill you.

Life goes on in Israel and Iraq just as it went on in London when V-1s were being launched from the French coastline and as it went on in Ulster at the height of the Troubles; when the possibility of carnage is an ever-present, acceptance of the fact is one way of being able to deal with it, it would seem. Otherwise, every metropolitan area with the permanent likelihood of premeditated bloodshed hanging over it would simply consist of streets filled with people running up and down screaming all day long.

Ever since the Madrid Bombings of March 2004, when 191 lost their lives in ten separate bomb blasts on the rail line, Europe has had to contend with the threat of large-scale slaughter that puts past masters such as ETA, the Red Brigades and the IRA firmly in the shade. What happened in Madrid twelve years ago was the first mega-massacre of modern times on European soil and the first in which the Allied Invasion of Iraq was held up by the perpetrators as justification; a year later, Islamic terrorism hit London when 52 died in the 7/7 attacks. After 148 innocent lives were lost in the two Paris attacks that bookended a gruesome twelve months for the French capital last year, it seemed to be only a matter of time before the next one, and it came yesterday in Brussels, with a death toll so far of 34.

These major incidents have been interspersed with smaller acts of terrorism, often carried out by a lone wolf and lacking the meticulous planning of a Madrid or Paris attack, buts ones that have nevertheless still claimed lives. The kind of hideous event that occurred in the Belgian capital yesterday remains mercifully rare. One year and four months separated Madrid and 7/7; almost a full decade separated 7/7 from the Charlie Hebdo attacks; there was a gap of eleven months before the second, even more devastating, assault on Paris last November; and, rather worryingly, just four months between that and Brussels.

Whereas previous terrorist movements used political ideology or nationalism to justify the murder of civilians, the faith element of Al Qaeda or ISIS is a throwback to the state-sponsored slaughter that flourished across Europe several centuries ago. A continent largely governed by contemporary secular values was unprepared for the resurgence of religion as a convenient excuse, but the way in which Radical Islam has taken grip of young men of Middle Eastern descent across Europe can arguably be viewed as a failure on the part of authorities to provide its young with that most necessary of human goals – hope.

An adolescent male raised in a poverty ghetto is susceptible to the allure of fast cash that drug-dealing and other forms of petty crime can bring, especially in the kind of desperate environment the financial crash of 2008 gave birth to. When he inevitably ends up behind bars, this is when religion can be sold as salvation. Someone who feels powerless will grab at anything that offers the illusion of power, and the alienation from their fellow man that social deprivation can engender is a dangerous weapon in the hands of recruiters for the cause. The public cease to be viewed as merely annoying, uncaring idiots and are transformed into vermin that can be wiped out without conscience.

Dehumanisation is a necessary aspect of warfare that persuades the soldier he has the right to kill his enemy and is never plagued by doubt. Anyone not signed-up to the ISIS agenda is therefore regarded as a viable target and can be exterminated without the perpetrator being kept awake at night by the lives of strangers he has ended – if he lives to survey the carnage he has created, of course.

The suicide bomber element of Radical Islam is an innovation in the urban war-zone, with the only comparable precedent being the Kamikaze pilots of World War II, young Japanese men indoctrinated with the fanatical belief that dying for their Emperor was a worthy act of heroism; substitute Hirohito with Allah and the indoctrination is identical. The key difference is that the inheritors of the Kamikaze mantle aren’t conducting their suicide missions out in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, but on the street, one indistinguishable from the street you’ve set foot on in the last 24 hours.

Whether one is the ‘collateral damage’ of Obama’s insidious indiscriminate drones or a European commuter boarding public transport in order to simply get from A to B, Civvy Street is today’s Agincourt, Waterloo or Verdun – a battlefield for the non-conscripted. We’re all in the army now.

© The Editor

HORRORS OF ARABIA

LibyaFive years have now passed since a 26-year-old Tunisian named Mohamed Bouazizi set himself on fire, a horrific act of protest that not only led to his death a month later but also inspired a nationwide revolt against the rule of Tunisia’s President that rapidly brought his 23 years in power to an end. What happened in Tunisia sparked something remarkable in the Middle East that spread with breathtaking speed in the opening weeks of 2011; the people of Algeria, Oman, Yemen, Morocco, Egypt, Libya and Syria all took their cue from events in Tunisia as hereditary regimes that had generally been established following military coups decades previously suddenly seemed less invincible than they ever had before. The western world, still smarting from its interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan, held its breath and cautiously pledged moral support to what was christened the Arab Spring, even though many of the unelected leaders threatened by the people had received the backing of the west for years, regarded as a necessary evil in the battle with al-Qaeda.

Although history has shown that most revolutions tend to rise from the people, there is often a figurehead around whom the people rally and effectively nominate as ruler-in-waiting once the regime against which they’re rebelling has been removed. However, what distinguished the Arab Spring from many previous revolutions on a similar scale was that there was no people’s hero waiting in the wings to replace the toppled dictator; there was no Libyan Castro to succeed Gaddafi’s Batista, just the euphoria of freedom from tyranny and no plan in place as to what came next. Following the collapse of the Soviet Union, it was only really the Balkans that underwent the turmoil that can come when a populace accustomed to being told what to do are suddenly left to their own devices; most of the nations on the eastern side of the Iron Curtain adapted to change relatively quickly because there was a Yeltsin or a Vaclav Havel ready to step into the vacuum.

In scenes reminiscent of what had happened in Romania twenty-five years earlier, the astonishing daily gatherings in Cairo’s Tahrir Square forced the resignation of Egyptian President Mubarak in February 2011 – though simultaneous demands for the end of long-running dictatorships in Syria and Libya didn’t lead to surrender. Libya’s uprising against Gaddafi was met with fierce resistance that quickly spilled over into civil war; by August of 2011, however, Tripoli fell to rebel forces backed by NATO and within a couple of months Gaddafi himself was cornered in his hometown of Sirte, where the same kind of bloody street justice once meted out to Mussolini by Libya’s former colonial overlords awaited the man who had controlled his country as an effective Absolute Monarch since 1969.

While Libya was coming to terms with the death of Gaddafi, Egypt was adapting to democracy, voting in a June 2012 election that eventually saw Muslim Brotherhood candidate Mohammed Morsi declared President; in Syria, however, President Assad clung onto power with the military support of Putin’s Russia by unleashing unprecedented savagery on his people as revolution morphed into civil war. The Syrian Army massacred 225 in the village of Tremseh in July and topped this the following year with a chemical attack on Ghouta, slaughtering over a thousand civilians. A month before, Egypt’s strides towards democracy were delivered a setback when their democratically-elected President of a year was deposed in a coup d’état and the military were back in charge. The Arab Winter had set in.

Due to the ferocity of the ongoing civil war, the connections to insurgency in Iraq and the ramifications of fleeing refugees, Syria has claimed the majority of middle eastern headlines over the past three or four years, whereas Libya has been rather overlooked since Cameron and Sarkozy played the part of triumphant victors for democracy in Benghazi. Gaddafi had successfully suppressed any form of Islamic militancy throughout his reign, but in his absence violent lawlessness arose when regional militias that had formed during the civil war showed a reluctance to relinquish control of their corners of the country after liberation, often joining forces with hardline Islamic militants from neighbouring Arab nations and engaging in battles with rival militias.

Former Gaddafi loyalists and members of his Army also grouped together, and ancient sectarian animosities re-emerged to present the newly-elected government in Tripoli with further security headaches. Following a second civil war, Libya was effectively left with two competing governments, a situation that continues to prevent any NATO intervention, despite the wishes of those attempting to prevent ISIS forces from spreading outwards from Sirte, which they captured exactly one year ago. At this moment in time, Libya is giving Syria a run for its money as the most f***ed-up nation on the planet, though there’s no shortage of competition in the Arab world.

Yemen was initially regarded as a success story of the Arab Spring before the fragile democracy collapsed into civil war and eventual military intervention by Saudi Arabia. The high number of civilian deaths as a result of airstrikes conducted by the Saudis from March 2015 onwards have been blamed by the UN for an imminent humanitarian crisis in the country along with the Saudi-led naval blockade of Yemeni ports, yet the campaign continues to receive the support of the US and UK, the former providing intelligence and the latter providing weaponry.

From supporting the autocratic rulers of the Middle East to supporting the revolutions to remove them to supporting the military coups to remove those who removed the autocratic rulers in the first place has been the pattern of the western position on the Arab Spring and its bloody fallout; giving power to the people may be admirable in theory but doesn’t always lead to a satisfactory outcome in practice. As things currently stand, the conflicts that can be traced back to events five years ago seem to share only one guaranteed outcome right now – the prospect of more lives being lost.

© The Editor

WAR BABIES

WarI don’t believe children see the world in black-and-white; I believe adults impose monochrome upon them with the inadequate answers they give to their children’s questions. Anyone who was ever fobbed off by a parent as a child should recognise the parent came up with a simplistic explanation to a beguiling poser simply to obscure their own ignorance. After all, children are given the impression their parents know everything about everything; they’re a cross between God and Norris McWhirter. To shatter the illusion would be a threat to both their authority and omnipotence.

As a child myself, I don’t recall asking any especially tough questions about ‘the war’ (which WWII – just thirty years previous – was still referred to as); the black-and-white explanation was already in place via old movies and comics – the Germans were bad, as were the Japanese. That’s why we had to fight and defeat them. In the broadest sense, that’s not too far from the truth, though. If any war could be called a just war, WWII can; as pointed out in the landmark ITV documentary series of the time, ‘The World at War’, the combined force of the Allies rid the planet of three evils – German Nazism, Italian Fascism, and Japanese militarism. It needed doing. Have there been any just wars since? I’m not so sure. But I digress.

Pete Townshend once remarked on his frustration at the reluctance of his parents’ generation to provide a suitable answer to the infant guitar-smasher’s question as to why the Germans did what they did in the 30s and 40s. To be fair, there were a lot of subjects families didn’t openly discuss back then; wartime experiences weren’t unique as regards topics to avoid. Everything from whispers of illegitimacy, insanity or homosexuality joined sexual abuse in the no-go area. Townshend was born less than a fortnight after the end of the Second World War in Europe, and though he will have grown up in the long shadow cast by it, he arrived too late to have any memories of life on the home front. Although the old soldiers of that conflict are quickly slipping away, the generation that crouched under the stairs or in the Anderson Shelters as children are still with us; and no matter how many rare reminiscences can be prised out of them, none of us will ever really know what it was like to start one’s life in such remarkable circumstances.

When wars are raging, the media divides its focus between opposing armies and the civilian population; since Vietnam, which is often referred to as the first television war, the latter has been a crucial element of coverage, but it’s probably true to say the upsetting images of innocents suffering have a shock value consistent with the bite-size remit of 24-hour broadcasting. Beyond that, there’s precious little indication of what happens once the cameras cease recording. What, I wonder, do the parents under fire tell their children when the inevitable questions are put to them?

There are aspects of a war-zone that are often too incomprehensible to imagine. In a western world which has gradually elevated children onto a pedestal as paragons of innocence to be protected from the big bad world, the thought that they could be a stray drone away from death on a daily basis is anathema. Yet, that is the reality for children in parts of the Middle East and Africa every single day. Try being a parent there and perhaps the stress of getting Junior into the right school in the right catchment area can be put into proper perspective.

I remember seeing a news report on neglected and virtually abandoned animals in an East European zoo during the Balkans conflict of the 90s. What had they done to deserve this? Nothing, of course. The poor beasts were simply unacknowledged collateral damage. If Doctor Doolittle had wandered through the pitiful menagerie, what kind of answer could he have come up with had one single animal asked why? I was reminded of this news report when I read a novel by Penelope Lively called ‘City of the Mind’, in which a chapter describes events as seen from the viewpoint of an ARP warden during the London Blitz. In the middle of an especially fearsome air-raid, he observes a cat carrying a kitten along a window ledge, an ordinary sight against a backdrop of extraordinary carnage. If that cat had turned to the ARP warden and spat out a string of expletives directed at the human race, one could hardly blame it. An animal kills another animal to feed the hunger in its belly – a justifiable reason; could any war raging in the world at this very moment come up with one as valid? I doubt it.

If a child asks why Israel and Palestine hate one another, or why Irish Catholics and Protestants hate each other, or why Pakistanis and Indians hate one another, or why all the different divisions of Islam hate one another and everyone else, even an exhaustive history of the roots of the hatred wouldn’t satisfy the simple fundamental question posed. The child asks the question for which the parent has no tangible answer because nobody has a tangible answer. The footage I saw last night of an air-strike on Syria, in which a screaming toddler ran through the wreckage into the arms of a presumed parent who was at least present to scoop it up and carry it away might one day ask that same question. I wondered what right anyone had to put a child through that trauma and concluded nobody had that right, ‘good’ guys or ‘bad’ guys, ‘them’ or ‘us’.

When the late author Beryl Bainbridge said that seeing newsreels of the liberated Nazi death camps at the climax of WWII was the end of her innocence and the moment she stopped seeing the world in a benign, benevolent light, she was lucky she’d even had such an outlook to begin with. What’s it all about, Alfie? Barack? Vladimir? Angela? David? Francois? Please tell me, ’cause I really don’t know.


© The Editor

ALLAH MADE ME DO IT

KhyberIN the past few days, two horrible incidents have occurred on either side of the Atlantic that initially appeared to be random acts of violence – a mass shooting in the US in which several lives were lost (hardly uncommon) and a man with a knife stabbing commuters on the London Underground.

The first of these, which took place last Wednesday, resulted in the deaths of 14 people at the Inland Regional Centre in San Bernardino, California. The atrocity was carried out by a married couple, one of whom – Syed Rizwan Farook – was a public health inspector, attending a function alongside many of his work colleagues at the venue before abruptly departing and returning with his wife and some firearms that the pair of them proceeded to unleash upon the crowd of 75-80. Despite being clad in a ski-mask, Farook was recognised by several survivors, and within four hours of the massacre, both perpetrators were dead, killed by police following a pursuit and a shoot-out.

So routine are these kind of gruesome incidents in the US that talk of motive in the immediate aftermath seems almost irrelevant; the damage has been done and getting to the source of whatever provoked the assault won’t bring back the dead. I suppose the thinking is to gift a semblance of meaning to what seems an utterly senseless act, as though to know why it was done will somehow join the dots and make it appear less inexplicable.

What happened in San Bernardino brought the numbers of mass shootings in America for just 2015 alone to a staggering 355, not far from one shooting for every day of the year. But this latest in what often feels like an endless succession of civilian slayings has been upgraded to a terrorist incident, lifted out of the standard ‘loner with movie star/rock star/white supremacist fixation’ model and placed on another level altogether.

Three days later, an individual armed with a large knife stabbed a trio of commuters exiting Leytonstone Tube Station; thankfully, nobody was killed and the perpetrator was brought down by Taser-waving police before anyone else came within range of his weapon. Although on a far smaller scale than the kind of bloodbath Americans have been forced to become accustomed to, this unpleasant episode is rare albeit not unusual in British cities, where many mentally-disturbed, self-medicating wanderers adrift in the urban jungle occasionally act out their fantasies in public. Yet, this assault has also been classified as a terrorist incident, elevated above yer average knife crime on account of one statement issued by the knifeman before launching his attack – ‘This is for Syria’.

Was it really for Syria anymore than the San Bernardino shootings were for Syria? Terrorist motivations have been attributed to the latter due to the fact that Tashfeen Malik, Syed Rizwan Farook’s wife and fellow assassin, apparently pledged allegiance to ISIS on Facebook – possibly alongside a photo of her evening meal the same day. The FBI says there was evidence of ‘extreme planning’ of the massacre by the couple, but most of the high-school shootings in the US have been planned beforehand and on the odd occasion, rather extremely.

When it comes to the Leytonstone stabber, the terrorist tag stemmed solely from the attacker’s Syria announcement. Had he shouted ‘Ap the Ammers!’, would he have been regarded as a football hooligan? Had he quoted a line from a song, would the singer of it now be blamed for inciting violence as Marilyn Manson once was?

In theory, every gun-toting American nobody or every knife-wielding London loser could proclaim their belief in the ISIS cause prior to kicking off their spree; but does that place them in the same terrorist annals as the 9/11 hijackers or the 7/7 bombers? Surely the Real McCoy would have selected locations a tad more significant than what was essentially a Californian DWP outpost on one hand and an Underground station that is hardly the highest new entry in the Tube top forty on the other? After all, those who carried out the recent Paris attacks at least picked places in the city centre that were listed in tourist guidebooks.

I’m not quite sure if labelling both incidents terrorist ones is a concerted effort by the authorities in both Britain and America to maintain the level of fear established in the wake of Paris (thus justifying fresh legislation to keep closer tabs on everyone), or if doing so will enable these two cases to achieve a higher priority than they would otherwise warrant and the crime will therefore be solved quickly due to popular demand. So far, there doesn’t seem to be much conclusive evidence that points to actual terrorism, whereas there does seem to be at least a modicum of evidence that places both incidents in the context of unbalanced individuals possessing a distinct lack of empathy with their fellow-man and able to kill – or attempt to – bereft of any conscience. That could be a definition of terrorism, but it would make every murderer in history a terrorist if it was.

© The Editor