BegumAlthough a phrase that has become more commonplace in recent years where desperate Z-list celebrities and even the living rooms of plebs on the telly are concerned, ‘makeover’ has nonetheless been a routine PR tool in showbiz circles ever since the dawn of mass media. Hollywood effectively wrote the manual, formulating a familiar device to extend careers as Tinsel Town’s leading ladies received makeovers via the magic of the lighting men on set, keeping the ageing process at bay before excessive cosmetic surgery found a way to do it for them. In the 21st century, most post-Madonna female pop stars seem to ‘get sexy’ when seeking to re-launch their fading stock, and squeaky-clean members of clean-cut boy-bands usually embark on solo careers by forgetting to shave whilst suddenly acquiring a Maori-like range of tattoos, supposedly to signify ‘street cred’ – all examples of the makeover in action. Turd-polishers have never had it so good these days, though I would imagine even the most experienced would have faced an unusually tough challenge when entrusted with transforming a Jihadi bride into a sexy R&B siren.

Okay, so the team behind Shamima Begum’s makeover didn’t exactly team her up with Jay-Z and persuade her to filter her vocals through the tiresome Auto-tune machinery; but there was no mistaking the look Ms Begum’s posse were aiming for when she resurfaced shorn of her regulation burqa, dressed in the style most girls her age would have seamlessly slipped into had they not had their adolescence disrupted by signing-up to an Islamic death cult. Sure, Shamima had followed a not-uncommon path by becoming a teenage mother, even if the grotesque circumstances and tragic outcome of her brief parenthood singled her out from her contemporaries. But a large part of the campaign to regain her British citizenship was a cleverly-orchestrated effort aimed at portraying Shamima Begum as ‘just’ an ordinary girl via her dress sense, not to mention rebranding her as that most profitable personality in the current celebrity firmament, the Victim.

As befitting someone seeking rehabilitation in the eyes of the general public following such widespread and extreme demonisation, Shamima Begum has been embraced by the left-leaning quarters of the MSM, with the usual suspects queuing-up to declare their support; the BBC even gave her a platform to state her case with a podcast. Their argument is that, as an impressionable 15-year-old at the time of her conversion to ISIS and her flight to Syria, Shamima Begum was essentially ‘trafficked’ and didn’t know what she was letting herself in for; by the time it belatedly dawned on her what her role in the Jihadi hierarchy amounted to, it was too late. Of course, teenage girls going astray and running away from home is hardly a scenario unique to this day and age, though the majority of young ladies who do so tend to be either in search of the bright lights or have fallen under the spell of a bad boy from the wrong side of the tracks. Joining an organisation whose…erm…negative elements had been heavily publicised at the time of Shamima Begum’s conversion, leaving her comfortable Western home to relocate to a war-zone, doesn’t really adhere to the standard pattern.

I recall penning a post on this subject four or five years back and the arguments haven’t really changed in the wake of the latest legal ruling that has ruled out Shamima Begum returning to the UK. As I said back then, ISIS were well-known as barbaric mass-murderers when they encroached upon Shamima Begum’s radar, so it’s not as though she could claim absolute ignorance of their aims and intentions, even if her tender years perhaps lacked the nous to see through the romantic Islamic imagery they no doubt employed to entice new recruits. And even if she was still a schoolgirl, Shamima Begum nevertheless managed to organise and successfully undertake an escape to Turkey, which suggests she possessed the kind of intelligence and skills in excess of most 15-year-olds, many of whom find keeping their bedrooms tidy a Herculean task way beyond their abilities. Shamima Begum demonstrated she was exceptionally talented in organisational terms, and this is where the ‘grooming’ narrative favoured by her supporters doesn’t necessarily hold up. Certainly, she was seduced by the Dark Web propaganda of ISIS in the same way the perpetrators of US high-school massacres are tipped over the edge by far-right websites; but one could argue the environment in which Shamima Begum was raised had primed her to respond in the way she did to this propaganda as much as troubled teens surrounded by a normalised gun culture respond to white supremacist dogma in America. Shamima Begum had grown up in a ‘multicultural’ society that had repeatedly left immigrant communities to their own devices for fear of racism accusations, a situation of separatist faith schools and in-house policing that led to the turning of blind eyes to grooming gangs on one hand and the easy radicalisation of vulnerable adolescents by unscrupulous hate-preachers on the other.

If one looks at the Shamima Begum saga from this angle, then it’s hard not to conclude she is indeed a victim; but does that excuse her actions or warrant what effectively amounts to a pardon? The newest setback to her rehabilitation has come via a court ruling upholding the decision of then-Home Secretary Sajid Javid to strip Shamima Begum of her UK citizenship in 2019. That decision was made on the grounds that Ms Begum posed a threat to British security should she be allowed to return from the Syrian refugee camp she’s been detained in for the past five years. The Special Immigration Appeals Commission essentially came to the same findings as last time round in 2020; Mr Justice Jay announced the Commission’s position with an acknowledgement that the circumstances of Shamima Begum are far from being the straightforward issue both her supporters and detractors are keen to paint it as being.

‘This commission concluded there was a credible suspicion that Ms Begum had been trafficked to Syria,’ said Justice Jay. ‘The motive for bringing her to Syria was sexual exploitation to which, as a child, she could not give her valid consent. The commission also concluded that there were arguable breaches of duty on the part of various state bodies in permitting Ms Begum to leave the country as she did and eventually cross the border from Turkey into Syria.’ The Judge went on to state that Sajid Javid’s decision to strip Shamima Begum of her British nationality remained founded in genuine security concerns that even the trafficking aspect of the story didn’t render redundant. ‘There is some merit in the argument that those advising the secretary of state see this as a black and white issue,’ he added, ‘when many would say that there are shades of grey…if asked to evaluate all the circumstances of Ms Begum’s case, reasonable people with knowledge of all the relevant evidence will differ, in particular in relation to the issue of the extent to which her travel to Syria was voluntary and the weight to be given to that factor in the context of all others.’

It goes without saying that Shamima Begum’s legal team intend to fight on. They still stand by their belief that the decision of the Home Secretary in 2019 had left their client ‘de facto stateless’, with the counterargument by the British Government being that, as she was eligible for Bangladeshi citizenship, they weren’t legally required to retain her rights as a UK citizen anyway. The case for Shamima Begum to be recognised as a child exploitation victim is one that the likes of Amnesty International is also in favour of, and I’ve no doubt this sorry story is far from over. The current makeover of Shamima Begum appears to have faltered, but there are undoubtedly several makeovers yet to come; and as Ms Begum herself remains indefinitely detained in Syria, the question of how responsible the 23-year-old is for the actions of her 15-year-old self is still a potent one. We all have our teenage skeletons in our adult closets, but most are merely embarrassing fashion statements; if that were all Shamima Begum’s closet contained, she’d have been back home a long time ago.

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Book BurningA painfully prescient quote from Salman Rushdie appeared on Twitter yesterday – ‘The moment you declare a set of ideas to be immune from criticism, satire, derision, or contempt, freedom of thought becomes impossible.’ I’ve no idea how old this quote is, but it’s reasonable to assume it was written in the long shadow cast by the fatwa of 1989. Since that groundbreaking moment of intolerance on the part of an entire State, intolerance towards freedom of both thought and speech, whereby any individual expressing an opinion deemed ‘wrong’ is fair game to be brought to heel by whatever means are at their opponents’ disposal, has filtered down to the masses, facilitated and fuelled by the ubiquitous social media that didn’t exist when Rushdie wrote ‘The Satanic Verses’ in 1988. Previously, a novelist in the West faced potential censure from publishers or book stores if they penned a work regarded as ‘controversial’, yet having a price placed on their head by the Islamic Mafiosi running Iran was a new development; just as the 1570 declaration of Pope Pius V that Queen Elizabeth I was a ‘heretic’ gave the green light to radical Catholics of the 16th century, the edict issued by the Ayatollah Khomeini five months after the publication of Rushdie’s novel not only placed the writer’s life in peril, it legitimised violent reprisals on the part of any mental fundamentalist if they felt their outrage was justifiable.

Amongst numerous other atrocities committed over the past two or three decades, the ‘Charlie Hebdo’ massacre of 2015 can be traced back to the 1989 fatwa, providing yet one more extreme example of how the offended believe they are entitled to exact revenge to ease their offence. At the other end of the scale, Hollywood bigwig Will Smith felt similarly entitled to stroll up to comedian Chris Rock at the Oscars in the middle of his routine and sock him on the jaw simply because he didn’t like what the comic was saying about his missus. In comparison to the serious attempt on Salman Rushdie’s life at an event in New York State yesterday, Smith’s petulant punch seems trivial, yet both he and the lunatic who stabbed Rushdie and left him in a critical condition felt their actions were justified because they’d been offended. Where that leaves either a vulnerable novelist or a comedian when alone on stage, self-censoring their freedom of expression for fear an audience member might take offence at something they say and then leap onstage wielding a weapon or a fist, is worrying when a belief in one’s own self-righteous entitlement has spread from the ivory towers of a hardline Islamic regime to any disgruntled member of the public. An unpleasant precedent has been set.

It may be a blink in the eye of the elephantine memories of Radical Islamists – after all, that has a vintage of centuries – but 33 years have now passed since the Ayatollah delivered his death sentence on Salman Rushdie in absentia; therefore, the understandable security precautions that were taken in the early days of the author’s exile from polite society have been largely relaxed since. A famous story emanating from those days concerns a visit from celebrity chef Nigella Lawson, who was cooking a meal for Rushdie when said foodstuff ‘exploded’ in the oven, causing Rushdie to dive under the sofa in a manner reminiscent of citizens sheltering from the Blitz. It’s no wonder he was jumpy. Various people associated with his most notorious novel have met far worse fates in the last 30-odd years, and Rushdie naturally figured he was through the worst; he even parodied his situation on an episode of ‘Curb Your Enthusiasm’, when Larry David sought advice as he went into hiding following his announcement he intended to produce a musical based on the fatwa. Unfortunately, that joke isn’t funny anymore.

The Iranian Government has distanced itself from the Ayatollah’s decree since around 1998, though so far-reaching was the initial proclamation that the growth of Radical Islamist networks and various terrorist collectives this century has meant the message has never really gone away; there was even a bounty of $3 million offered by an Iranian religious foundation in 2012, meaning Rushdie has continued to exercise a degree of caution when it comes to public speaking. It’s interesting that the provocative burning of books on British streets in certain cities with a large Muslim population first became a regular sight in the wake of the furore surrounding ‘The Satanic Verses’, as did the appearance of those openly advocating the assassination of Rushdie on British television without being challenged – including the otherwise moderate Muslim convert Yusuf Islam, AKA singer Cat Stevens; these stunts went unpunished by police reluctant to be accused of racism.

One might say the inaction of authorities then has left a devastating legacy in the UK since; everything from the terrorist cells responsible for appalling carnage in London and Manchester in the 2010s to turning a blind eye to the insidious ‘grooming gangs’ in Rochdale to the teacher in Batley whose school was besieged by the local Muslim Gestapo in 2020 and remains in hiding due to a glaring absence of support from teaching unions – there’s a direct connection stretching all the way back to failure to act in 1989. Even the response of some of Rushdie’s fellow creative artists at the time saw the debut of the kind of gutless self-preservation that has subsequently become a hallmark of the artistic fraternity during the age of ‘cancel culture’, with even fewer prepared to stand up and be counted when the online hounds are unleashed to silence any artist who has dared to venture an opinion contrary to the consensus. Silence is compliance when one of your own is under threat; and the misguided solidarity shown towards a terrorist organisation like Hamas by the far-left in the West merely because their arch-enemy is Israel – remember ‘Queers for Palestine’? – is another risible strain of this; I’m just wondering how the Pride flag-waving zealots will react when the next World Cup is held in a Middle Eastern autocracy where freedom of expression is effectively outlawed – ‘Queers for Qatar’?

According to police, Salman Rushdie was poised to speak at the large outdoor amphitheatre at the Chautauqua Institution in New York State on the ironic topic of artistic freedom when a man ran on stage and stabbed him in the neck and torso; the attacker was swiftly – if belatedly – apprehended by security and Rushdie was rushed to hospital by helicopter. He is currently on a ventilator after surgery, with the author’s spokesperson telling the press that ‘Salman will likely lose one eye; the nerves in his arm were severed; and his liver was stabbed and damaged.’ The culprit was arrested and is apparently sympathetic to the Iranian Government; if the attack was fatwa-influenced, the Iranian Government he’s seemingly sympathetic to must be the one of 1989, but Radical Islamists tend to live in the past so perhaps that’s no great revelation. I suppose the fact Salman Rushdie was one of the first artists to be exposed to the unhinged wrath of extreme opponents to the foundation stone of Western democracies means this grotesque attack coming at a time when everyone is susceptible to assault if they dare to speak their mind gives it the grim feel of a full circle being reached.

Voltaire’s famous quote on freedom of speech tends to be exhumed for paraphrasing yet again at moments such as this, even if many who spout about freedom of speech don’t necessarily live by Voltaire’s words; for far too many today, free speech is fine as long as it chimes with one’s own opinions; when it doesn’t, it’s deserving of censure, either by organising an online campaign of vile trolldom or going one further, as the head-case who attacked Rushdie did. If hate crime exists at all, surely something like this is the most barbaric example of it, not misgendering some delicate non-binary nitwit on Twitter. As a human being suffering such a brutal attack, one hopes Salman Rushdie survives it; as an increasingly-rare artist advocating freedom of thought, speech and expression, it’s absolutely vital he does.

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VicarPhase One: The Pandemic; Phase Two: Climate Change; and now, Phase Three: Our old friend, Terrorism. There’s plenty out there to maintain a state of panic, and the Islamist branch of the terrorist business has never gone away; it’s merely been marginalised by the musical chairs of Project Fear. But its turn has come again – first with the murder of MP Sir David Amess and then last weekend with an intended attack that was aborted outside Liverpool Women’s Hospital. Mind you, you wouldn’t necessarily know this was an Islamist attack if you’ve followed the story on the MSM. ‘Don’t mention Islam’ has become the contemporary version of ‘Don’t mention the War’; Islam appears to be the most offensive swear word of all in the aftermath of every incident of this nature now – the word that patently ought to be said, yet won’t be by police or media.

The linguistic gymnastics performed when it comes to statements made following each such assault on home soil is laughable when the missing word is the most conspicuous elephant in the room. This ludicrous avoidance also stretches into Parliament, where the entire horrific event wasn’t considered a significant enough issue for MPs to raise during PMQ’s, apparently; perhaps the ‘I’ word might have had to be mentioned. Imagine if, during the IRA’s mainland bombing campaign of the mid-70s, mainstream news reports had focused on the ‘mental health issues’ of the Republicans perpetrating the atrocities in Birmingham and Guildford, and neither police, press, television or radio mentioned the word ‘Irish’. It would’ve been utterly ridiculous, yet this is essentially the manner of the reportage that has accompanied the last couple of high profile incidents both caused by asylum seekers who came to this country from overseas war zones rooted in Jihadi rhetoric and were sufficiently enamoured of their adopted country to slaughter its citizens.

The fact a man trying to gain asylum in England for seven years was apparently attempting to detonate a bomb at Liverpool Cathedral on Remembrance Sunday suggests someone not entirely converted to the British way of life. Thanks to the quick thinking courage of the cabbie whose taxi the wannabe bomber was travelling in, a bloodbath was averted – though the failed Jihadist blew himself to smithereens right outside a maternity hospital, which is a gruesome enough spectacle, if not quite the spectacle the bomber anticipated. But, however much the reality seems to have been twisted into a less incendiary narrative, the terror alert has still been raised as a consequence of last weekend’s events; and now we have to be ‘vigilant’ (the PM’s word) when it comes to mentally-ill Christians. That’s what Emad al-Swealmeen was, of course.

Anyone still desperate enough to claim asylum in the wake of rejection will grab at anything offering the promise of such a decision being reversed. Step forward the Church of England. In a move that is hopelessly naive at best and downright dangerous at worst, the state religion has been converting Muslims that the Home Office doesn’t regard as a safe bet for residency in the hope that the conversion will convince the authorities to let them stay – regardless of the reservations that prompted the application being turned down, as was the case with the Liverpool bomber in 2014. This practice, which has been taking place largely under the radar for several years, has seen hundreds of asylum seekers signing up to the faith in the belief it will secure British citizenship. Sorry, but I can’t help thinking of the Python sketch in which Adolph (AKA Mr ‘Hilter’) and his inner circle are hiding out in a seaside B&B, plotting their comeback at the Minehead by-election whilst posing as Brits – ‘Ah, yes! Bobby Charlton! Chip and fish on the Piccadilly Line!’

Emad al-Swealmeen’s 2017 conversion to Christianity took place at the very same seat of worship that seems to have been his intended target last Sunday. At least this enabled security forces investigating the incident to claim the motive for the attack ‘remained unclear’; yeah, why would a ‘Christian’ be en route to a Christian church on a Sunday carrying an explosive device? It’s one hell of a mystery. The Church of England interfering in the asylum process seems to be an extension of the Left’s ring-fencing of Muslims as their favourite oppressed pets, and whenever one of their pets lets the side down by attempting the occasional massacre it f***s up the narrative to such an extent that we end up with the frankly mind-boggling kind of retarded reporting we’ve received over this particular case, which is akin to the turning-a-blind-eye excuses aired in the midst of Stalin’s purges during the 30s.

Not unlike the way in which members of the SS tried to avoid capture by disguising themselves as prisoners when the death camps were liberated at the end of WWII, the more extremist factions of Islam make allowances for the ambitious Jihadist to blend in with the enemy by adopting his faith and convincing him all thoughts of Jihad have been expunged by Jesus. Emad al-Swealmeen had arrived here without a passport and posed as a Syrian refugee before it was discovered he was actually from Iraq; in order to bolster his appeal following asylum rejection, he embarked upon the Alpha Course, a five-week induction into the Christian faith that the asylum seeker evidently reckons looks better on their file. Well-meaning do-gooders working to assist asylum seekers – some, though not all, connected to the Church – are undoubtedly helpful to genuine applicants with genuine grounds for asylum, but it’s inevitable that their best intentions and naivety are going to be exploited by charlatans and those with a less benign aim in mind. The shocked and surprised reactions of those who’d assisted al-Swealmeen in his ‘conversion’ spoke volumes as to just how wilfully in denial these people are.

The ‘lone wolf’ storyline seems to be the familiar plot we’re being fed, portraying the bomber as a mentally disturbed individual operating in a vacuum, placing emphasis on his spell being sectioned after an incident involving a knife. Yet, one wonders if he really was a solo artist; someone permanently appealing against the decision to reject an asylum application and presumably claiming some form of state benefit is hardly in a strong financial position, which makes one wonder how he could afford to rent a second flat that appears to have been used as his secret bomb factory. Hard to believe he didn’t have some assistance, really – but don’t expect any great revelation. The ‘open borders’ mantra, one that doesn’t distinguish between economic migrants, refugees fleeing persecution or wannabe Jihadists, remains the main jingle when it comes to the majority of Westminster, and it’s a policy that can never weed out the bad apples and ensure only those with a genuine case get through. It seems like a recipe for disaster on paper, and in practice it’s pretty much proven to be so.

However, you probably won’t hear many air that opinion in the MSM; and the problem with a ‘don’t go there’ taboo is that no proper discussion or debate can then take place, leaving it to fall into the laps of extremists from the other side whilst those who have manipulated the scheme can plot away undisturbed. The abuse of the system has not gone unnoticed, but it takes two to abuse it. Priti Patel herself railed against it earlier this week. ‘It’s a complete merry-go-round,’ she said. ‘And it’s been exploited. It has been exploited quite frankly by a whole professional legal services industry that has based itself on rights of appeal, going to the courts day in, day out at the expense of the tax-payer through legal aid.’ When it comes to blood on hands, it seems there’s plenty to go round. Amen.

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US EmbassyWhen one sees images of helicopters carrying the remaining American nationals from the US embassy to the airport in Kabul, it’s all-but impossible for anyone with any knowledge of past military follies to not see the evacuation of Saigon in 1975 all over again; the pictures of ignominious flight are all-but identical, despite the laughable denial of the White House. The skies above abandoned embassy compounds discoloured by smoke rising from the frantic burning of documents, and scenes of chaos as those who can get the hell out get the hell out are horribly familiar; one month short of 20 years since the event that embroiled America and its allies in Afghan affairs, any progress achieved in those tumultuous two decades was effectively wiped out in barely 24 hours as the capital of Afghanistan capitulated to the Taliban. The revitalised Islamic Mafiosi oozed such arrogance that they even paused to take in their triumph at the gates of Kabul as they encircled the city. They spoke of a peaceful transference of power, though promises of an amnesty for those who had worked for the deposed government have been greeted with valid scepticism, for it’s not as though the Taliban are an unknown quantity.

The sense of panic and dread on the streets for Afghan civilians in the nation’s capital as the Taliban approached the city with frightening speed has parallels not only with how it must have felt awaiting the arrival of the Vietnamese People’s Army in 1975 but the similarly tense anticipation of the incoming Khmer Rouge in neighbouring Cambodia that same year. How hard it is to put one’s self in those shoes when it’s so beyond the realm of lived experience on these islands. It’s something nobody in this country has come close to feeling since 1940 and it mercifully ended up not happening then after all. It’s sometimes difficult to relate to that feeling when no one has experienced it for real on British soil for almost a thousand years; it’s an utterly alien sensation, the kind one can only try to imagine with genuine horror. However, so commonplace is this sensation in many parts of the world, there must be an awful sense of déjà-vu for those old enough to remember the last time it happened in Afghanistan.

One of the main differences between the weekend’s events in Kabul and the ghosts it evokes is that, whereas the Communist North Vietnamese troops and Pol Pot’s forces were entering arenas they’d long craved but had never captured, the Taliban are the ambassadors of Afghanistan’s very own Groundhog Day. 20 years after US troops and the Northern Alliance chased them out of the capital, they’re back. A fragile political harmony in this precarious patchwork of a nation evaporated overnight as hundreds of Kabul’s citizens queued outside banks to withdraw their life savings; women who had got used to life without the burqa were desperately trying to get hold of one; the Afghan Army that Joe Biden confidently declared would hold back the Taliban once Western forces exited fell like the proverbial dominos; the country’s President Ashraf Ghani did a runner as his negotiations with warlords laid in tatters as one-by-one they too either fled or surrendered to the Taliban; and the roads out of Kabul were crammed with instant refugees to add to the hundreds already displaced by the Taliban’s race to the capital, refugees telling tales of Taliban atrocities as Afghan summertime is reset to 1996.

An important point, I guess, is that the Taliban don’t exist in a vacuum; without widespread support at home and in surrounding countries, they couldn’t have achieved what they’ve managed over the past couple of weeks. During their previous stint in charge, they banned music, dancing, cinema, painting and photography and relegated women to the status of infantilised property; and if some hadn’t missed living in this medieval theme park, the Taliban’s particular brand of ‘toxic masculinity’ wouldn’t be back in vogue. Then again, the Middle Eastern mindset tends to admire what it perceives as strength and despises what it perceives as weakness; there’d be no talk of an athlete’s ‘courage’ in running away in tears from the Olympics after a bad performance, vaguely citing mental health issues; that would be contemptuously viewed as the embodiment of weakness. The insular West busily undergoing a cultural crisis appears to have forgotten the rest of the world doesn’t think like we do, which is perhaps why the appeal of Putin to many Russians or that of the Taliban to many Muslims is so hard for many Westerners to get their heads around.

The leaders of Western nations who’d sacrificed hundreds of their countrymen’s lives to remake Afghanistan along democratic lines reacted to the situation with a series of spineless statements that barely disguised the dejection those nations feel when witnessing events in Kabul. Boris Johnson said, ‘It’s very important that the West collectively should work together to get over to that new government…nobody wants once again for Afghanistan to be a breeding ground for terror.’ And nobody in the West will be able to prevent it from becoming precisely that. But foreign investment in Afghanistan remains a vital component of its future – and the kind of foreign investment that has facilitated the current coup. For example, the Taliban has had a safe passage in and out of neighbouring Pakistan over the last 20 years – and without that it would arguably have been impossible for the organisation to regroup and rebuild to the point where they’ve been able to stage this admittedly stunning comeback in barely a fortnight.

One also shouldn’t overlook the support of Qatar either; indeed, this grotesque Absolute Monarchy was the location where the doomed Afghan government met with and tried to persuade the Taliban to stick their promises of an orderly transition of power, free from reprisals and ill-treatment of refugees. Now is probably an opportune moment to remember that this Arab autocracy and shining observer of human rights will be hosting the next World Cup. I wonder how many footballers quick to take the knee today will exhibit selective deafness on political issues as we approach 2022. Indeed, how many of them will echo the great Johan Cruyff’s principled refusal to play in the 1978 tournament because he opposed the Argentine military Junta? Nah, I’m not holding my breath either. Some are holding their breath and crossing their fingers right now, but I doubt if many women or girls in Afghanistan are; even those not born the last time the Taliban controlled the country will be aware that Sharia Law tends to single out the fairer sex for special treatment.

All those who were so eager to interpret the television adaptation of ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ as some sort of parable for Trump’s America – even going so far as to don the distinctive Handmaid outfit at anti-Donald demonstrations – were in wilful denial that the one place on the planet where the fictional and brutal portrayal of female subjugation rang true was in a hardline Islamic state. The upcoming Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan will see Margaret Atwood’s story play out in real time once again, but of course the Western luxury of being able to pick and choose one’s heroes and villains will turn a blind eye to the plight of women under the oppressive restrictions of the Caliphate because that doesn’t fit the narrative. Women as ministers in government? Well, that can be consigned to history for starters, as can virtually every other progressive step forward for women’s rights in Afghanistan, which was one of the few genuinely positive gains to have emerged from the post-Taliban era. Going, going…gone. Just like the Western expedition into an often ideologically unfathomable alien landscape where one man’s sunset is another’s sunrise.

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Perhaps it’s no great surprise that a couple of days ago I misread a statement outlining new lockdown plans north of the border. What actually said ‘Scotland will move to a five-tier level of restrictions at 6am on Monday’ I initially read as ‘Scotland will move to a five-YEAR level of restrictions at 6am on Monday’. An understandable mistake to make…or is it? A question James Burke might have posed – well, he did when lampooned on a memorable ‘Not the Nine O’Clock News’ sketch, exaggerating his habit of asking such questions on his wonderful science documentaries at the time. Another sketch from the series came back to me today – a statement from a prominent Minister on the latest unemployment figures. Rowan Atkinson flicks through said stats and wearily responds with ‘Oh, God’ over and over again. I sort-of feel a bit like that with every headline that emerges at the moment, perhaps because they’re all so bloody awful. But, hey, it could be worse – we could have to choose between Sleepy Joe and the Donald (and why does that sound like the title of a Mark Twain story?).

US Presidential Elections rarely tend to be built-up as being no big deal; they’re always sold as ‘one of the most crucial in American history’, the outcome always advertised as being something upon which the future wellbeing of the western world depends. The escalation of pre-Election hype can almost feel as though the old boxing promoter Don King is hovering somewhere in the background, as if a far-from frivolous exercise in democracy is just another Ali fight at Madison Square Garden. Mind you, I guess it’s all bound-up in that unique way US politics and showbiz meet and mingle, the way that often makes it hard to see the join; maybe it began with JFK and his movie star glamour 60 years ago – or maybe with actual movie star Ronald Reagan 20 years later. Either way, having a celebrity President like Trump in the White House, that tradition was destined to ascend even greater heights (or depths) of gaudy tackiness.

It goes without saying that – to use a recurring media phrase characteristic of Presidential Elections – ‘the stakes are high’ this time round; but that’s due to external events outside of the Washington bubble rather than something generated by the two contenders. Both sides may have claimed champion and challenger as their respective personification of the culture wars, but neither can be said to embody the spirit of the moment as Obama did in 2008; one gets the impression Trump and Biden between them are simply weaponising the maelstrom of 2020 for their own personal gain – two old men probably unable to believe their luck that they happen to be fighting for the right to run such a deeply divided, f***ed-up country at their stage of life. Twelve years ago, Obama inherited a nation that had just been plunged into an economic black hole, but he tried to galvanise and unite in the same way FDR had in 1932; whether or not he succeeded is open to debate, but at least his vision stretched beyond his reflection.

For all the hype, the fact remains that, as a contest, an incumbent President taking on a man who departed the Vice Presidency in 2016 after eight years in the job doesn’t have the same frisson to it as when neither candidate has ever held the highest office before. Those kinds of US Elections are like a World Cup Final between two nations yet to carry off the trophy – always a tad more tantalising than if the Germans or Brazilians or Italians are involved again. As it is, the Vice Presidency as an office isn’t necessarily a foregone conclusion for the Presidency itself; indeed, serving Vice Presidents historically have mixed results when running for President. George Bush Senior was Reagan’s deputy when he won his solitary term in 1988, but – thanks in no small part to ‘the Chads’ – Al Gore couldn’t make the leap from No.2 to No.1 against Bush Junior 20 years ago. Incumbent ‘Veep’ Hubert Humphrey lost to Richard Nixon in 1968, eight years after Tricky Dicky ceased to be second-in-command to Eisenhower, sealing one of the greatest comebacks in American politics. Even the previously-untested experience of First Lady couldn’t guarantee the White House in 2016. What this all says about Biden’s chances I’m not entirely sure; but it made for a fairly interesting paragraph.

As we all know by now, the creaky 18th century system by which the results are ultimately decided will inevitably lead to calls for reform by the losing side if the outcome is a close run thing; this year, both parties have been preparing preemptive strikes. Trump has promised to utilise the courts if the Democrats dispute his victory, whereas Sleepy Joe has been advised by Hillary Clinton not to concede at any cost. And, of course, the warring factions on either side of the barricades are stocking-up their arsenals in the event of defeat, ready to demand a recount that will simply keep on going until the result is reversed; reminds me of something that happened not so long ago on this side of the pond, though I can’t remember what at the moment. Perhaps the most worrying element in 2020 is how many of those polled have stated they reckon violence is a legitimate means of opposing an outcome they don’t agree with; the actual principles of democracy seem to have been misconstrued by an entire generation, and what will the endgame of that be, I wonder – a suspension of the clearly ineffectual democratic process and the instillation of dictatorship? Fine as long as it’s ‘the right side’, I guess.

Indeed, just as UK General Elections once took several weeks to be resolved – though we have to go back to 1945 for the most recent example of this – the results of US Presidential Elections in the 21st century have the potential to be stretched beyond the point of human endurance, like the longest penalty shoot-out in history. By now, a system should be in place to convincingly announce a winner within 24 hours of physical polling; but the Electoral College would appear to be as immovable as the House of Lords. Don’t hold your breath. Not that you’d know it from social media, but non-Americans don’t actually have a say in any of this, lest we forget; I can’t help but recall the hilariously patronising ‘letter’ the Grauniad published in 2004 informing Americans why it wouldn’t be a good idea to vote for Bush. The blind eyes turned to Biden’s failings is a joyous excursion into hypocrisy of the highest order for the detached observer, the most entertaining symptom of Trump Derangement Syndrome yet seen; but the blatant online censure of revelations regarding Biden’s son is a far less funny development. Anyway, the doddery old hair-sniffer will probably hand the reins of power to his Woman of Colour Vice President in a matter of months even if he wins – and what a wonderful Woke future we in the west have to look forward to if that happens.

Hell, we don’t have to look to the States for further confirmation of Hell being the destination of the proverbial handcart; recent events in France and in Vienna last night appear to have demonstrated yet again that Radical Islam is far from down and out in 2020. Each faction of this miserable century’s tribes can boast its own dedicated fanatics, and Islam has a remarkably successful recruitment scheme that keeps attracting new generations of devotees. Just as the IRA had the gall to launch mortar shells at Downing Street in the middle of the Gulf War, ISIS and its numerous affiliates have no qualms about striking when the west is already weighed down by a pandemic panic dependent upon carefully selected stats to justify governments scaring and demoralising their people into accepting the removal of their civil liberties. SWJs to the left of me, Jihadists to the right – here I am, stuck in the middle with you…and a killer plague with a frighteningly low death rate.

2020: Review of the Non-Year from Johnny Monroe on Vimeo.

© The Editor


I guess it’s the last thing the authorities needed right now – with the threat of one more national lockdown in the air, they could’ve done without a senseless murder in another country rousing thousands and bringing them onto the streets to protest and risk pushing up infection rates. Of course, you won’t have been able to avoid it on social media, what with the tech providers imposing a suitably fitting image upon their users, one that is an obligatory profile picture for a day of mass solidarity with the deceased; and, naturally, sportsmen and women are mirroring the mood by observing a moments’ silence with a symbolic bowed head – ‘taking the head’, I think it’s called; and Sainsbury’s will undoubtedly express solidarity too. Oh, wait a minute – for a moment, I forgot none of this is actually happening. No, somehow the barbaric beheading of a History & Geography teacher outside his school in Paris on Friday hasn’t generated an international response. Fancy that.

This is a story the New York Times (which is now so Woke it makes the Guardian resemble ConservativeHome) reported with the headline: ‘French Police Shoot and Kill Man after a Fatal Knife Attack on the Street.’ In case, you weren’t aware, the man who wasn’t shot and killed by the French Police was 47-year-old Samuel Paty; he’d had the gall to show his students the Charlie Hebdo cartoons of Muhammad during a lesson on freedom of speech, something he’d made clear beforehand. He’d offered the Muslim members of the class the opportunity to abstain if they so wished, though his lesson still provoked an angry response from some parents who took to the internet to ramp up the pressure inevitably heaped upon a teacher working in a country that has been Europe’s most secular nation for the best part of 200 years. Misinformation was spread to the point where Paty was accused by one parent – whose daughter apparently wasn’t even present in the classroom – of displaying a ‘naked image’ of the Prophet.

Monsieur Paty’s murderer was revealed as an 18-year-old refugee who had been a resident of France for barely six months and seemingly had no connection to the school at all; he must have been scouring social media on the look-out for local infidels and happened to stumble upon his target. He turned up at the school in a Paris suburb as it was emptying for the day, asked exiting pupils to point out the guilty man and, from all accounts, launched an unprovoked attack on the teacher that climaxed with decapitation. The French themselves got over beheading people after the Terror, but it seems the spirit of Madame Guillotine is alive and kicking in some of the more enlightened overseas souls France has been generous enough to offer a home to. It’s certainly a novel way of embracing the culture of one’s chosen country, even if it is a couple of centuries out of date; but at least he was trying to fit in.

The murderer, Moscow-born Abdullakh Anzorov, went on to fire at police with an air rifle and also wielded a knife, prompting them to shoot and kill when they cornered him – hence the rightly outraged New York Times headline. This particularly appalling murder has taken place at a moment of heightened tension in France’s relationship with Islam, just as 14 people are currently being tried in connection with the January 2015 Charlie Hebdo massacre; it’s only a fortnight ago that two employees of a TV production company were stabbed in the same location by a bright spark who thought the satirical magazine was still based at its former offices. France’s anti-terrorist prosecutor Jean-François Ricard said Samuel Paty had been ‘assassinated for teaching’; it’s hard to disagree with his additional statement that the murder was an assault on the principle of freedom of expression. The western world is experiencing a lot of that at the moment, though the brutal methods of doing so that were employed in Paris remain a mercifully rare manifestation of it.

The man who committed the crime clearly viewed western culture and values with hatred and contempt, which is a very chic hallmark of the far left right now, visible in its daily pronouncements and denunciations; and as the far left has been the instigator behind this year’s heavily-publicised campaigns against these values, campaigns that have received the backing of tech corporations, institutions, mainstream media and academia, perhaps it’s no great surprise that there has been no organised protest over the Samuel Paty murder beyond France. The far left may be at pains to condemn the killing, but the ideological motivation isn’t a million miles away from the relentless chipping away at the cultural inheritance of the west we’re bombarded with day-after-day, one where everyone and everything is racist and evil, where the original sin of whiteness demands its sufferers are re-educated, and the Woke ‘Mein-Kampf’ that is ‘White Fragility’ is recommended reading material whilst JK Rowling books are burned. It’s not too hard to join the dots between the extremes.

The far left are also amongst the prime lockdown cheerleaders; as some wag said the other day, lockdown suits them because it translates as middle-class people being paid to stay at home while working-class people deliver everything to their door. Therefore, who cares if this year the UK has seen the closure of 11,120 shops on a high street that was already in decline even before Covid-19 intervened? It would appear some are doing alright, Jack. The authoritarian streak and casual ambivalence over the ongoing erosion of civil liberties that has unfortunately become symptomatic of the left probably wouldn’t object to the new ‘digital health passports’ currently being tried and tested either. Permission to enter another country could henceforth depend upon whether one has submitted to a vaccine that will miraculously overcome the obstacles that generally require a good five years or more to overcome during the development of such a substance. Maybe there also won’t be any concerns that those told to self-isolate through NHS track & trace could have their details shared with police, who will have access to that private information. Ah, well – all for our own good, eh?

When we live in a world in which Twitter is guilty of blatantly suppressing quite important revelations regarding the son of the man who is hoping to be voted into the White House next month, it’s increasingly difficult to take anything at face value anymore. Mind you, his opponent has spent the last four years so brazenly twisting the truth to fit his own surreal agenda that the pattern is already well-established as the way forward on both sides. It’s been refreshing to see some of our regional mayors over here at least challenge the Covid narrative, but what can the likes of Andy Burnham really do other than publicly state his opposition? Yes, it does seem a tad unfair that when London seemed threatened by the coronavirus back in the spring the whole country was willing to shut up shop, yet when a similar situation arises in the north, only the north has to close down. At the same time, trying to avoid a repeat of last April is understandable, especially when the damage that did is becoming more apparent.

Okay, so none of this on the surface seems to have much of a connection with horrific events in Paris last Friday; but as was mentioned in a comment I made on the previous post, looking back five years to the first few ‘Telegram’ missives reminded me of how nothing has really changed since 2015 when it comes to Radical Islam on western soil. The first-ever ‘proper’ post covered the murder of 14 people by two ISIS sympathisers in San Bernardino, California as well as the non-fatal stabbing of three commuters at Leytonstone Tube Station by an individual who declared ‘This is for Syria’. I wonder, five years hence, if anyone (including yours truly) is still here, whether or not I’ll be looking back to 2020 and musing on the fact that we thought the first lockdown was bad – as we live through our eleventh? Plus ça change, as they say across the Channel.

© The Editor


The murder of Jo Cox was politicised and weaponised within 24 hours of it happening, and that awful event continues to be a dependable default reference whenever a (usually) Labour MP needs a few re-tweets to stand out during a rowdy Commons debate. Therefore, it shouldn’t really come as a surprise that Friday’s grisly incident on London Bridge provoked a similar response with similar haste. Remainers have made a big deal out of the fact that one of the extremely brave members of the public to subdue the wannabe Jihadist with nothing more than fire extinguisher and whale’s tusk was Polish – thus apparently demonstrating the benefits of free movement; the Conservatives have blamed the presence of the killer on early release laws introduced by the last Labour Government; Labour have apportioned blame to Tory cuts in police numbers, the security services, mental health support, prison officers and…oh, I dunno…the weather?

In truth, it was probably a combination of all the factors mentioned rather than one isolated element. Just as hectic was the swift addition of further information in the hours following the attack that left two people dead – that one of those who held the killer down was himself a convicted murderer on day release; or that the presumed ‘ordinary member of the public’ seen holding a bloodied knife and urging pedestrians to move away was in fact an undercover member of the security services. And then there were questions over the fact what appeared to be a disarmed assailant on the ground was shot dead point blank by the police. Then it turned out he was wearing a suicide vest he was allegedly poised to detonate – a vest that was found out to be fake once it could be examined on his lifeless body.

I saw the ‘uncut’ footage on Twitter, though not through voyeuristic searching, mind; it was my first exposure to the incident rather than TV or radio and I didn’t know what to expect before I saw it. Yes, it was shocking, but before the MSM news became squeamish, such graphic images of unpleasant incidents used to air on bulletins, perhaps in order to show grownups the brutal realities of brutal events rather than the ‘I’m sure the viewers at home don’t want to see that’ approach in place today. Anyway, it wasn’t nice, but neither was what Usman Khan did in the name of Allah.

Of course, it’s not much more than a couple of years since the last General Election campaign was momentarily derailed by terrorist incidents and, lest we forget, Jo Cox was murdered just days away from the 2016 EU Referendum. It seems that such high profile political events are now viewed as a prime platform for any stray radicalised lunatic to have slipped under the MI5 radar to achieve tawdry immortality; and the fact these campaigns have become more regular than the World Cup or the Olympics over the past half-decade means there are growing opportunities for the deluded and deranged in this particular branch of showbiz. The Jihadi community must be looking forward to the prospect of a People’s Vote and another Scottish Independence Referendum.

The ramifications of London Bridge have naturally fed into the Election narrative, but it’s a sad measure of how normalised such attacks have now become that just as much coverage is still being given to the usual electioneering point-scoring. Boris won’t submit to an Andrew Neil grilling, Channel 4 replaces the absent Boris with a block of ice, then the incurably-unlikeable Michael Gove strolls into Channel 4 HQ accompanied by his own film crew in a desperately cheap stunt; Jezza is still being pilloried for his inability to apologise to British Jews for the anti-Semitic elements in his own party; and the electorate are still being cornered in vox-pops, only to express the same despair with the choices on offer as they expressed before the PM even announced the date.

When this General Election was called, there was a brief hoo-hah over the fact it was scheduled just a couple of weeks before Christmas – as though a two-minute detour into the nearest polling station to scrawl a cross on a piece of paper was a massive inconvenience to a populace who would be devoting every spare moment for a whole month to trudging up and down shopping malls. Who’d have thought you could buy the lot on Amazon these days, eh? Maybe it’s just me, but I’m quite happy about the timing. If it pushes the relentlessly tedious festive juggernaut out of the spotlight for a week or two, I’m all for it. Cut the ‘Christmas Month’ back to the ‘Christmas Fortnight’ we used to have and I won’t be complaining.

Last week’s YouGov poll placed the Tories on course for a 68-seat majority, though we should all pause before accepting this prediction as Gospel following the pollsters’ performance in 2017. Having said that, it’s difficult to see how – valid points re the NHS and Universal Credit not withstanding – the Labour Party won’t be indulging in one of its perennial soul-searching sessions once all the results are in. More so than last time round, it looks like this really will be the Election Labour lost rather than the one the Tories won; as stated in a previous post, it’s hard to think of an incumbent administration in power for almost a decade that has presented its opponent with so many open goals and yet still stands poised to be returned to office. Both Labour – in its belated realisation it needs to reclaim its Leave voters – and the Lib Dems – backtracking on their ‘Cancel Brexit’ brainwave – are now attempting to prove the pollsters wrong; though one can’t help but feel they’ve already missed the boat.

Apparently, there was another one of those seven-way ‘leader’s’ debates on ITV last night, something I’ve only just found out about whilst writing this at 1.45am; mind you, I saw the similar one on the BBC last week and came to the same conclusion that prompted Andrew Oldham to axe ‘Sixth Stone’ Ian Stewart from the band in 1963 – that five is the absolute limit when it comes to any kind of ensemble. Any more than that and the audience are struggling to get a grip on who’s who. Mind you, I didn’t even know the stand-in for Boris who’s apparently a member of the Cabinet, but I guessed correctly that he’d defend his party’s immigration policy by mentioning his ethnic origins in true Sajid Javid style as soon as he opened his mouth. I see Farage was the cat amongst the careerist pigeons on the ITV outing, so it might be worth skimming through on catch-up to see how much he winds up the likes of Jo Swinson and Sian Berry. That’s entertainment.

Well, we have just over a week to choose between shit and shitter now. I was marked as a ‘don’t-know’ by the Labour canvasser who door-stepped me last week, and I think he was probably pretty accurate in his summary. I reckon I’ll probably continue to be so until the moment I’m in that bloody polling booth again. Come back, Screaming Lord Sutch. All is forgiven.

© The Editor


I remember a first date once, which – though an encouraging start – turned out to be merely the prologue to another example of why my being one half of ‘a lovely couple’ is the relationship equivalent of a coalition government, i.e. an exceedingly rare aberration destined to end in tears. But I was younger at the time, so can be excused. And, anyway, she was a fascinating woman who worked for a charity and was about to jet off on a related business trip to New York. A second date was definitely on the cards, but the Manhattan outing would put it back a week or two. I resolved to pick up some kind of quirky guide to the Big Apple for her and pass it on before she packed her suitcase.

One topic of conversation that came up during the evening was a shared recollection of early 80s nuclear paranoia. She and I recalled the collective fear of those years, when pre-apocalypse tension infected the culture and seemed doomed to become a self-fulfilling prophesy; it was the age of Greenham Common, ‘Threads’ and ‘Two Tribes’. My date and I agreed such a bleak atmosphere genuinely (and thankfully) appeared to be a thing of the past – at least where the west was concerned. And when, you may ask, did this rather pleasant exchange take place? Why, to be exact, September 10 2001.

I was in a second-hand bookshop the following day when, having located just the kind of offbeat volume I’d intended, I heard something strange was happening at the World Trade Centre; the shopkeeper shrewdly informed me a fire in one of the twin towers had sent it crashing to the ground only after I’d bought the bloody book. Of course, it was no use to its recipient, as the trip to New York was cancelled and the state of global emergency she and I had perhaps unwisely relegated to the past tense suddenly re-emerged uglier than ever in the here and now. And, although the panic 9/11 unleashed unsurprisingly lasted longer than my dalliance with this particular lady, the numerous offshoots of the September 11 attacks that are still with us have sadly become part of the cultural wallpaper.

I don’t know if it’s fair to say that those of us who were transfixed by the grotesque sights on our TV screens 18 years ago have gradually become immune to the horrors embodied in the events of 9/11 since. But exposure to subsequent wars and terrorist atrocities with their roots in that day could possibly have engendered a subliminal immunity so that what initially provoked genuine fear of a potential WWIII scenario is now met with shoulder-shrugging weariness. During the recent blanket coverage of the first Moon Landing’s 50th anniversary, one overlooked fact left out of the celebrations was that the viewing public of the time became bored with the great adventure so quickly that the only other Apollo mission anyone ever recalls is 13 – and that crew never even made it to their destination. When an achievement as immense as men on the moon can induce a jaded response as one lunar landing rapidly follows another, perhaps the repeated detonation of bombs in a crowded environment fails to maintain the level of shock such an appalling act warrants simply because it’s just one more atrocity in a very long line of them.

The world is far more intricately connected today than it was in 2001 – a period when social media was in its infancy and traditional mediums still had a monopoly on the way we consumed news. Indeed, the only occasion in which I can ever remember the newspaper racks being emptied in my local supermarket was the day after 9/11; everybody had clearly purchased a paper as a souvenir, just as their fathers (or grandfathers) had when Kennedy was assassinated in 1963. It’s hard to imagine that happening with an equivalent incident today. I suspect many a website or search engine would crash, but there’d still be plenty of Fleet Street’s finest waiting to find a home. Then again, how long would shock linger now? Long enough for that interminable 24 hours between a story breaking and it making the physical front page? Probably not. The nature of how news is transmitted to the masses has changed so much since 2001 that the manner of its digestion has changed too – as has its presentation, presumably in order to hold the diminishing attention span of the reader. Often it seems that stories which don’t really deserve the dramatic headline ape the major event so that each and every item battling for space has to be given the full (to use a quaint old phrase) ‘stop press’ treatment.

It could be a result of living through two traumatic post-9/11 decades or it could simply be my age, but I find I don’t lose sleep over any of the news stories designed to provoke panic nowadays. I feel almost ashamed to admit it, for I realise I’m supposed to be in a perpetual state of fear – fear of climate change or Brexit or knife-crime or the far-right or the far-left or Boris or Corbyn or Trump or Putin or China or North Korea or No Deal…and yet, I’m not. However, that’s not to say I don’t care; caring about an important issue and (on occasion) being passionate about a few is listed on my membership card of the human race – and I hope that’s been evident in some of the things I’ve written here. But I don’t worry about today’s shock-horror stories, certainly not the level of worry I’m constantly told I should feel. Then again, being told how I should feel is something that media in all its current incarnations has come to specialise in.

Media of the social variety is regularly – and often rightly – castigated for its ‘echo chamber’ tendencies, and (should I wish to do so) I can certainly think of an easy way in which I could severely deplete my friends list on Facebook overnight, simply by expressing an opinion I’m not supposed to possess, let alone express. But hasn’t the new media merely learnt the lessons of the old media? Yes, Facebook and Twitter reflect users’ already established opinions back at them, confirming biases and upholding prejudices whilst discouraging discovering different perspectives; but then again, so do the Daily Mail and the Guardian. This trend could also be responsible for the current vogue in looking at an unfavourable event from a favourable angle in order to make it more palatable to those it upsets.

The remarkable success of the Brexit Party in the recent European Elections was countered by its opponents combining the split Remain vote as spurious evidence that Nigel’s barmy army didn’t actually win after all. The same tactic was applied in the wake of the Brecon & Radnorshire by-election by the other side, showing how putting the Tory and Brexit Party votes together somehow proved the Lib Dems were actually the losers. The fact that none of these combinations actually appeared as such on the ballot paper is regarded as almost immaterial when it comes to a ‘moral victory’ – or it could just be that this curious development proves how the Remainer/Leaver divide now counts for more than traditional party allegiances.

I considered using Nick Ross’s sage advice as the title for this post, and then remembered I’d used it as the title of an obituary for ‘Crimewatch’ I penned on here whenever it was that the show ended its lengthy run. As a matter of fact, I do have nightmares – constantly; and they’re horrible, far worse than any I had as a kid. But they’re all of a domestic nature, nocturnal kitchen-sink dramas featuring those I have loved and those I have lost; they don’t contain any bogeymen that dominate national or international headlines at all. Perhaps it’s because I’m in a strange place that I don’t scare easily anymore – at least when I’m awake.

© The Editor


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


Considering all the cynical baggage accumulated on life’s journey, retaining a little lingering magic in relation to a specific source of childhood fascination doesn’t do any harm; even if utterly illogical, it serves a purpose as a welcome interlude from the grown-up grind. I’ve often found that magic via the London Underground. Yes, we’re all aware of its numerous faults and no sane person would use it during the rush hour unless work made doing so an unavoidable necessity; but for me it’s the nearest non-Time Lords can get to owning a Tardis. You arrive in one station, jump on the train, you arrive at another station that looks like the one you just left, you travel up the steps and you’re in a completely different corner of the capital without having witnessed the route from A to B as one would over-ground. I’m well aware of the science, but it’s still magical to me.

However, from its innovative inception in 1863, the London Underground has regularly inspired as much dread in some as it has magic in others. A train service that could travel below the surface of the great metropolis naturally provoked shivers; perhaps it was the thought of people being ferried about in a neighbourhood previously reserved for the dead. These kinds of associations have continued to exert an influence over popular culture’s view of the Tube, something the numerous abandoned lines and ‘ghost stations’ have aided and abetted.

The 1967 ‘Doctor Who’ story, ‘The Web of Fear’, played on these old superstitions by taking Patrick Troughton’s Doctor and his companions deep underground, where the alien Yeti were plotting world domination; and anyone who has seen the 1972 horror movie, ‘Death Line’, will never have heard the familiar Tube phrase ‘Mind the Gap’ in quite the same way since. But there have also been occasions in which genuine horrors have visited these subterranean departure lounges; and while they remain amongst the most used suicide sites in London (643 were attempted across the network in the decade from 2000-10), death has often struck without premeditation.

Bethnal Green 1943, Moorgate 1975 and King’s Cross 1987 – three stations and three dates that marked a trio of disasters. The first was an awful accident, a stampede to Bethnal Green Tube Station’s wartime use as a makeshift air-raid shelter when the crowd mistakenly believed an air-raid was taking place; 173 were crushed in the panic, mostly women and children. It’s believed to be the largest single loss of civilian life during WWII on the home-front. The cause of the Moorgate tragedy of 1975 remains disputed, though many have accepted the driver drove into the tunnel end beyond the platform, killing himself and 43 passengers in an act of suicide. The King’s Cross fire of 1987 killed 31 and was thought to have begun when a lit match or cigarette ignited debris beneath the wooden escalators that were subsequently replaced; the incident also marked the start of a more rigorous enforcement of the Tube’s smoking ban.

There have also been more deliberate attempts at slaughter below street level. The IRA had a crack as far back as 1939, during a mainland bombing campaign that tends to be overshadowed by other events of that year; their more well-known assault on the city from 1973-76 saw various stations targeted, though the intended roll-call of casualties was mercifully small. It wasn’t until the 7/7 attacks of 2005 that the London Underground was the scene of a successful terrorist outrage, with an overall death-toll of 52. For many, the carnage of 7 July 2005 served as a good reason to avoid the Tube altogether, though as we have come to belatedly realise this year, any location in which crowds of people are liable to gather will suffice. Perhaps it’s the instinctive fear of being trapped underground that imbues this particular method of transport with such horrific resonance for many.

Today’s events at Parsons Green seem to have been the work of an amateur or maybe the mechanism simply cocked-up at the crucial moment. The home-made device was planted in a bucket inside a carrier bag in a carriage travelling along the District Line from Wimbledon and was detonated as the train was pulling into the station; its detonation appeared to cause what has been described as a ‘wall of fire’ that left 22 commuters with burns. Taking place at the height of the rush hour (around 8.20am), the device was obviously designed to provoke greater damage than it turned out to and police have already claimed to have identified a suspect via CCTV footage.

I think we can all probably write the script of what follows next, though the surname of the suspect and the mosque he frequented will remain a mystery until all is eventually revealed as the event continues to play out on rolling news channels for the next 24 hours. The well-oiled counter-terrorist machine rattled into action minutes after panicked passengers exited Parsons Green and the obligatory COBRA summit was arranged in record time. But will any of that mean we can sleep easy in our beds? Well, I reckon those of us who don’t suffer from insomnia probably do so regardless of whatever lunacy is currently gripping the waking world. The real concern surrounds public, rather than private, places.

For some it’s simply a convenient means to get from one part of London to another; for others it’s an unnatural incursion into a netherworld that should never have been disturbed; for some it’s a nightmarish, claustrophobic approximation of life as a sardine; and for others it’s one of the greatest engineering achievements those ingenious Victorians left behind for us. It’s all of these things and more, both good and bad. All that life can afford, as Dr Johnson might have said.

© The Editor