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by Martin Odoni

The details that have emerged about the Manchester Arena Bomber, Salman Abedi, seem to suggest that, in spite of the organisation’s self-aggrandising claims, he was probably not a member of Daesh (ISIS).

The first point that needs emphasising is that, as is so often the case with these forms of terrorism, the bomber was native to the country under attack. Indeed, Abedi was not only British, he was even native to Manchester itself, and lived just three miles from the Arena. The inevitable tidal wave of cries from the xenophobic right in the days after the attack to close the borders and throw out the refugees are therefore, once again, shown to be futile hate-speech. One of the worst examples of this I have seen is this meme on social media; –

Xenophobes taunt Manchester over the Arena Bombing

The xenophobic right think taunting a city while it is in mourning is suitable behaviour.

Taunting a city of people who are in mourning is an oddly British thing to do – just ask the people of Liverpool. But as much as this mentality is disgusting, it is also irrelevant; Abedi was not a refugee, and so turfing out refugees before Monday would have made not a jot of difference. The meme, in short, says far more about the insecurity and fear of the people who made it than it does about the terrorism situation. (It must be terrible to be a member of the Far-Right. To live a life so full of fear, and to be too weak-willed to resist that fear, must be a harrowing existence.)

The point has been made that Abedi’s family were refugees from the Libya of Muammar Ghaddafi. Yes, they were, but they were not the ones who carried out the bombing. So unless evidence is found that they helped Abedi with the attack, this is, again, irrelevant.

But back to the more immediate point, Abedi’s putative links to Daesh look doubtful. The only particular reason for assuming he had any is that he supposedly visited Syria a few weeks ago. But that is a pretty wild assumption, given there are plenty of other factions in the Syrian Civil War than Daesh.

Abedi’s family may have links to a jihadist group in Libya, called the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG), and it is likelier to my mind that this is the faction that radicalised him; the LIFG is believed to have members in the Whalley Range area of Manchester. The important detail in that is that the LIFG is not an ally of Daesh. LIFG instead regards itself as an affiliate of ‘al-Qaeda’. I have said more than once in the past that the idea of ‘al-Qaeda’ being a single worldwide organisation is a bit of a nonsense. But insofar as the network exists, it is in fact an enemy of Daesh; –

An internal split developed in ‘al-Qaeda’s’ operations in Iraq and Syria during the so-called Arab Spring. The ‘al-Qaeda’ faction in Syria, the al-Nusra Front, broke off from ‘al-Qaeda-In-Iraq’ because its commander, Abu Mohammed al-Jalani, wanted to have a free hand in fighting the Syrian Government. When the ‘al-Qaeda’ supreme leader, Ayman al-Zawahiri, gave his blessing to the split, the head of the Iraqi faction, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, was so incensed that he revoked his oath of allegiance to Zawahiri, and declared his territory to be ‘The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria/Levant’ (ISIS/ISIL) – or ‘Daesh’. Since then, the two Wahhabist armies have been permanently at loggerheads.

With this in mind, it seems unlikely that an apparent LIFG sympathiser – therefore an ‘al-Qaeda’ follower – would take orders from al-Baghdadi. It is not beyond the bounds of possibility that Abedi had changed sides of course, but if he really had joined Islamic State on his visit to Syria, it would be very interesting and informative to learn why he did so. Until such information comes to light, I am leaning away from the notion that Abedi was with Daesh.

There is one more aspect of the matter of Libya I want to discuss. The Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, voted against military action in Libya back in 2011.

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At that same time, the current Prime Minister, Theresa May, was Home Secretary. In that capacity, she was of course working directly with MI5. MI5, at the time, was helping the Libyan jihadists in the war with Ghaddafi, and had been doing so since at least 1996. See this from Mark Curtis; –

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Given the ‘al-Qaeda’ sympathies of the LIFG, it is a pretty big policy-swing in ‘The War On Terror‘ that Britain gave them support at all. This certainly underlines precisely what Corbyn was saying in his controversial speech on Friday. But there is a darker, more personal element in this. If, as seems likeliest, Theresa May was co-operating with the LIFG in 2011, while Corbyn was working to try and keep Britain out of Libya, and if, as also seems likeliest, Abedi really was an LIFG soldier, then May becomes (loosely) implicated in Monday’s attack. She is certainly more heavily implicated in that than Corbyn supposedly is (yeah, right) in Irish Republican terror. Now whether they feel Corbyn was guilty of IRA support or not, people have to recognise that that threat is largely a thing of the past. Whereas Wahhabist militancy is very much in the here-and-now, and the Prime Minister appears to have helped it grow. In that light, the British people have a very uncomfortable question to mull over ahead of the General Election; –

Just what evidence is there that Theresa May would be a better option for keeping Britain safe and secure than Jeremy Corbyn?

So far, I have seen precisely none.

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by Martin Odoni

I lost count long ago of the number of times I had read xenophobes, racists and Islamophobes on the Internet saying, “Finally someone’s got the courage to say it!!!” These declarations have invariably been in response to someone else making a wildly-generalised, prejudiced, hate-filled and simplistic remark against other races or nationalities.

Today (well all right, yesterday by the time this is published), it was my turn to say it, and it was in response to the diametric opposite. It was one of the Labour Party leader’s most adroit speeches, and marked something of a watershed moment in British politics. Perhaps for the first time in the midst of any General Election campaign, we finally got to hear the leader of a major party put into words something that was not only demonstrably true, but took enormous courage to say. Cue Jeremy Corbyn; –

“Many experts, including professionals in our intelligence and security services, have pointed out the connections between wars that we have been involved in, or supported, or fought, in other countries and terrorism here at home.”

A lot of people, far beyond myself in expertise, have been screaming this out for years and years, and have been forever frustrated at how it never gets discussion in mainstream political debate. For instance, take Mark Curtis, author of Web Of Deceit, and an historian I believe every Twitter-user in the United Kingdom should follow fastidiously. He has worked for decades to expose to the majority the amoral reality of British foreign policy. A foreign policy that has led the country to assisting in the toppling of foreign Governments – often democratic ones – and replacing them with dictatorships and oligarchies, in countries including, but by no means limited to, Iran, Chile, Indonesia, and Cambodia. They are of course just the tip of a very large, chilling and brutally hard iceberg, an iceberg whose painfully sharp, jagged features Curtis has catalogued in a lot of detail.

More pertinent to the horrors in Manchester this week, Britain, hand-in-hand with the United States of America, has played a key and disastrous role in the rise of Militant Wahhabi terrorism. Indirectly allying with Jihadists in Afghanistan during a war with the Soviet Union through the 1980’s paved the way for the emergence of Osama bin-Laden. At other points, the rise has been accelerated by myopic policies using local militant groups to fight ‘wars-by-proxy’ – for instance in Libya in 2011 or today in Syria – and help Britain secure resources, or markets, in far-off lands by weakening their Governments. In Iraq in 2003, Britain and the USA carried out a more overt invasion in the name of ‘freedom’, under the almost-childish assumption that a nation can be bombed into democracy.

Quite simply, British foreign policy is, as it has always been, amoral. Too many Britons are unaware of the degree of this problem, partly because so many British ‘activities’ abroad are hidden from the view of the unskeptical media, partly also because, insofar as it is known by the man-in-the-street, it is too often simplified to be ‘all-about-oil’. Britain may no longer be openly Imperialist, but that is less for moral reasons and more due to practical realities; the country was too exhausted by two World Wars, and so had simply fallen too far behind the likes of the USA to be able to remain a colonial power. But the country’s policy abroad remains as exploitative and aggressive as ever it was. It creates the very enemies British politicians and media eternally demonise.

That does not justify the crimes of these enemies of course, but then explanation is not justification. Corbyn himself went to great pains to emphasise that, no matter how cynically (and predictably) other parties have tried to misportray his words. As Corbyn said,

“That assessment in no way reduces the guilt of those who attack our children. Those terrorists will forever be reviled and implacably held to account for their actions. The blame is with the terrorists, but if we are to protect our people we must be honest about what threatens our security.”

The sad reality is that, if we want to stop the emergence of such terrorists, we have to understand the process that radicalises them in the first place, and alter it.

When Corbyn said, “The War On Terror is not working,” he was objectively telling another grossly-obvious truth. In the aftermath of the 9/11 Attacks on New York and Washington DC, hysterical paranoia gripped much of the USA, with the UK joining in with it. Tony Blair in particular was eager to endorse a wildly-exaggerated narrative about a worldwide terrorist network called ‘al-Qaeda‘, and western intervention across the Middle East began to increase. Military action in Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran (aborted), and Libya were meant to make the democratic world safer from a threat that, truth be told, scarcely existed on the scale presented, while also exacerbating a widespread impression among British and American Muslims of being ‘a faith under siege’.

But far worse, these military interventions caused entire countries to break down and all semblance of cohesion and governance evaporated across vast stretches of territory in proximity to the Persian Gulf. With no central authority or security left in these territories to intervene, they became like a magnet to a range of factions with militant-extremist leanings. They had freedom and space to pool resources, recruit more and more troops to their cause, accumulate weapons, formulate strategies, and become far, far stronger than they had had any hope of being in times when the regions were firmly governed. The greatest opponents to these groups a lot of the time were each other, and there were occasional breakdowns in relations.

Daesh, or the ‘Islamic State of Iraq and Levant‘ (ISIL) as it vaingloriously likes to call itself, emerged  from precisely one of these schisms in the so-called ‘al-Qaeda network’, caused by a ‘demarcation dispute’ between Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and his former henchman, Abu Mohammed al-Jalani, over expanding operations from Iraq into Syria, forming the al-Nusra Front. Al-Baghdadi wanted to retain authority over the al-Nusra Front, but al-Jalani refused. To settle the dispute, Ayman al-Zawahiri, leader of ‘al-Qaeda’, ruled that al-Jalani had authority in Syria, al-Baghdadi in Iraq, and there should be no cross-over. Al-Baghdadi responded by formally retracting his oath of allegiance to Zawahiri, sent forces into Syria, and seized al-Jalani’s headquarters and over eighty per cent of the al-Nusra soldiers. With this victory, al-Baghdadi established the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, or ISIS/Daesh/ISIL. By 2014, it had a very large army, and was substantially well-supplied. While this force’s reach and punch are still heavily-overstated – the facts in the cold light of day show that attacks beyond the Middle East are still few-and-far-between – they are now strong enough to present much the kind of threat that ‘al-Qaeda’ was talked up as being during Tony Blair’s time as Prime Minister.

So Corbyn is correct. If its first purpose was to make the West safer, then the UK’s (and the USA’s) War On Terror is very clearly not working. Quite the contrary, it has brought about precisely the scenario it was supposedly meant to avert, and given Militant Wahhabism the room to build up into a significant threat. The West is in more danger now than it was back in 2001, when it all began. Sixteen years is surely sufficient time to judge whether such an endeavour is successful, and the judgement when comparing outcomes to stated aims has to be negative.

This merely demonstrates the foolish side of British foreign policy. It does not even touch upon the amoral side, in particular Britain’s illicit manoeuvres in foreign lands for the purposes of lifting resources.

Anyone who tries to dismiss British foreign policy as a weak ‘excuse’ for terrorism are not only guilty of the juvenile error of confusing explanation with extenuation. They are also ignoring a welter of evidence. The London Bombers of 2005 firmly implied that they were meting out ‘punishment’ for the invasion of Iraq. On Monday, the Manchester Arena Bomber, Salman Abedi, was looking to avenge Allied airstrikes in Syria, according to his sister; one such airstrike occurred just a day before the Westminster Attack in March, and so may explain the crime of Khalid Masood.

Of all the major party leaders over the last thirty years, only Jeremy Corbyn has dared to acknowledge publicly that British foreign policy – particularly its century-plus history of interference in the ‘Holy Land’ – is probably provoking Wahhabist attacks. To say as much during a General Election campaign is doubly brave, as it redirects the root cause, and therefore perhaps some of the blame, away from ‘the other’ and back onto his own country. Many in the electorate will not like the implication, which is that some of the failings that lead to terrorism will touch upon themselves, however inadvertently. The implication also acknowledges that the problem is far more complex, and therefore more difficult to resolve, than the parental-sounding reassurances of a casual ‘We’re-the-goodies-and-they’re-the-baddies’ narrative, into which most Prime Ministers retreat.

Those of a knee-jerk-xenophobic disposition mis-proclaim that anti-foreigner messages are ‘courageous’ – loud intolerance is often mistaken for bravery – because those who spread them risk being labelled ‘racist’ by ‘shrieking liberal hysterics’. But what is the reaction of the ‘courageous’ intolerants when Corbyn counters with the suggestion that other mechanisms may be at work here? They shriek at him hysterically, accuse him of ‘crass timing’ (maybe they could explain when would be a good time to discuss the complexities of radicalisation, if not in the days after a terrorist attack?), of ‘making excuses’ for terrorists. Of course, we all knew that response to his words was coming, but that meant it required all-the-more courage to say them. The lunatic right, and even others more centrally-aligned, are resorting to precisely the same types of intimidating shout-down tactics of which the lunatic right themselves claim to be victims.

It does not take courage to resort to ‘othering’ in response to tragedy. What requires courage is acknowledging the failings of the country itself, and admitting that addressing the root causes of radicalisation is not a straightforward, black-and-white matter of beating up the baddies. A lot of people will not be happy to hear of such grey areas, and are more eager to be told, “I’ll keep you safe. I don’t need to explain why or how I can do it, just let me do it,” which is substantially the position of Theresa May and many a Prime Minister before her. But now, at last, a politician challenging to be Prime Minister – and with a better-than-expected chance of succeeding judging by recent opinion polls – has dared to draw attention to the grey.

In doing so, Corbyn has raised a question about the people of Britain themselves, a question we will soon have answered. That question is, would more people prefer being reassured by mummy that everything-will-be-all-right-just-leave-it-to-me-now-go-back-to-sleep, or would more people prefer having a mature, nuanced debate about the realities of geopolitics?

If Corbyn wins the Election in under two weeks, we can assume the answer is the latter – in which case there is hope for Britain yet.

by Martin Odoni

I moved from Glasgow to Manchester in May 1996. That was just one month before the Provisional Irish Republican Army bombed Corporation Street, wrecking a dozen city centre buildings and partially destroying the Arndale Centre.

What happened at the Manchester Arena on Monday night was clearly far worse, but having attended the Vigil in Albert Square on Tuesday evening, and then walked along the rebuilt Corporation Street up to the police cordon starting at The Printworks, my thoughts were inevitably taken back to that startling morning twenty-one years ago. Not least because the cordon appears to have been set up less than thirty metres from where the IRA bomb went off. (Coincidence I am sure.)

The cordon on Corporation Street.

The National Football Museum centre, the Printworks on the right edge of the picture. Victoria Railway Station is the building covered in tarpaulin. The cordon keeping people away from the MEN Arena starts here. The roof of the Arena can be glimpsed in the distance to the left of the Museum.

The IRA were not completely without scruples, and to their (slight) credit, they did tend to give evacuation warnings before triggering a bomb. Hence, even though it was the largest bomb ever detonated on the British mainland in peacetime, no one died in the 1996 attack. Truth to tell, while most Mancunians felt angry and violated by the attack, and there were some serious injuries, it was more a matter of hurt pride than an all-out atrocity. It can also be a bit of a shock to look back to pictures from before the attack and be reminded of how different, ultilitarian, and even shabby the affected zone looked back in the early-1990’s, when compared to how it appears today. So you could almost argue that the bombing did Manchester a back-handed favour, as it forced the city to give its central hub a handy facelift to get it out of the 1960’s.

On Monday night however, Salman Abedi crossed several lines that the IRA did not. Not only did he not offer any prior warning before he attacked, but he appears to have very deliberately targeted children. Even the two boys killed in the Warrington Bomb Attacks in 1993 were not specifically targeted by the IRA (even if the IRA and their allies in Sinn Fein showed little notable remorse over the deaths).

Although I am not a Mancunian – and truth to tell I doubt I will ever truly feel Manchester is my ‘home’ – I have been a resident of the city during both of the big terrorist attacks on it. And I do feel strong enough links to the city now to feel personally hurt by them both. But for all the ‘deja vu‘ sensation of the last forty-eight hours, I have concluded that the similarity between the attacks is slight. June 1996 was a shock, but only on Monday night did the city witness horror.

Those who say terrorism was new to Britain prior to about 2005 are talking nonsense of course. But those who say that there is ‘nothing new’ about the terrorism we experience in the post-IRA era are equally in error. Radical Islam is objectively far more ruthless, indiscriminate, and relentless than Militant Irish Republicanism.

Certainly I will not join the foolish, manipulative/knee-jerk cries of the hard-right to close the borders, to intern terror suspects without trial, to turn away all refugees, or to exterminate British Islam.

Somewhere between the words 'Hopkins' and 'Katie' in the dictionary, you will of course find the word 'hypocrite'.

Katie Hopkins thought criticism of hard-right activism after the Jo Cox murder was exploitative. That has not stopped her from using the deaths of 22 people at the MEN Arena to call for a ‘Final Solution’ against Muslims though.

Nor do I want to imply that Islamist attacks are particularly commonplace in the UK. They are likely to remain a less frequent feature of British life than Irish Republican attacks were. No, people should not become consumed by paranoia and assume that it can never be possible to live safely, or that there will be a major threat to their lives every time they open their front door. To their credit, the people of Manchester have demonstrated since the Arena Bombing that they are indeed not easily cowed.

Equally, I will always argue against letting Governments – especially Tory ones – manipulate this threat to grant themselves ever-more-unchallengeable power. Hence, I am very concerned about the decision to raise the Terror Threat level and put troops on the streets, while also doubting it will have any effect on precisely the people it is supposedly meant to stop.

But at the same time, we do have to recognise that the picture has changed. The threat between the early-1970’s and late-1990’s is not the same as the threat today. The threat today is blind to all notions of honour, and attaches no value to human life, except for the value of ending it; the more lives it takes, the better it assumes it is doing. The mindset is that basic and primitive. No matter how much the British media like to vilify the name of the IRA, in practise, Irish Republicans were never so bloodthirsty as Radical Islamists.

I do not accept that the threat can reliably be labelled ‘Daesh’, or ‘ISIS’, or ‘ISIL’, as all these names, like ‘al-Qaeda‘ before them, are ill-defined. ISIS, in the sense of the extremist army presently trying to conquer Iraq and Syria, does not have the reach that its mimickers in other countries make it seem to possess, and it is only by accepting that those mimickers really are members of that army that the assumption gains traction. And I repeat, an attack in the UK is not as likely as it was in the IRA’s time. But when an attack does happen, it is more likely to kill innocents.

So to compare the two attacks on Manchester, the conclusion is unavoidable; the enemy has changed, and with it, all idea of what constitutes ‘scruples’ has changed too. Paranoia is not needed; to become scared and intimidated or hostile would be to give the enemy what they want, while jumping at shadows will not help anybody. But vigilance is crucial, because the consequences of ill-judged complacency are worse than they once were. Even children are now being seen as legitimate targets, rather than just as ‘collateral damage’. Civilian spaces are now seen as indistinct from military ones.

Confusing the threat of the present with the threat of the past will always lead us to choose the wrong approach to counter it. While there is no need actually to be scared, we do face some nervous times, but it is probably better to be nervous than oblivious.

I would now like to turn my attention to Ariana Grande, the singer whose concert ended in Monday’s tragedy. Now, it will not come as an earth-shaking surprise, I am sure, when I reveal that I am not a particular fan of Ariana’s music. Not a criticism of her, her style is just ‘not my thing’. But I bear her absolutely no ill-will either. Therefore, while I rather feared she would, I am saddened to learn that she has started feeling so much guilt over what happened on Monday that she is talking about retiring.

Ariana Grande might retire

Ariana Grande has been so traumatised by the Manchester Arena Bombing that she is considering retirement. But she should carry on.

I should make clear that I commend her wholeheartedly for her responsibility and compassion, but her retirement would be quite wrong. The Manchester Arena Bombing was not Ariana’s fault in any way, and so it would be an unjust shame if she retired from her career because of it. Even if her music does nothing for me, there are millions out there who adore it, and why should they be deprived because of one madman from Manchester? Ariana’s retirement would, inadvertently, make the attack a success, as it would indicate that Western culture can be intimidated into stopping doing what it wants to do, even the activities that harm no one.

There is no greater defiance of madmen and fanatics than simply demonstrating that life can carry on, no matter what they do to stop it. Nothing will infuriate them more. It shows to them that they were wrong to turn fanatical; when they did that, when they let their minds collapse, they stopped letting their own lives carry on as normal. So showing them that others can keep on keeping-on where they could not puts them to shame – makes them look weak. So Ariana Grande should carry on doing what she loves, partly as a tribute to the loyal fans who died, and partly to defeat Salman Abedi. She should keep on keeping-on.

There is no reason in the world to imagine she will ever read this, but in the enormously unlikely event that she does, I just want to say to her, “Do not retire because of this. Carry on because of this. Carry on with more determination and more feeling than ever before because of this. That way, and only that way, will you defeat the warped purpose behind the Manchester Arena Attack.”

One last thing to say, and I left it until last because it is the most important; –

May those who lost their lives far too soon rest in peace, may those who were injured, either physically or emotionally, find healing, and may those who have lost loved ones know that the great, great majority of Mankind i.e. the billions of decent people who are dominant everywhere, are with them.

by Martin Odoni

After lengthy investigation – and it would appear some very reckless and unjustified arrests in a big show of looking ‘in control’ – the police have concluded that the Westminster Attacker, Khalid Masood, acted alone when he took the lives of five people this week.

The media, and many in the wider public, seem to have determined for themselves that Masood, nèe Adrian Ajao, was a Radical Islamic terrorist operating on behalf of the Islamic State of Iraq & Levant (ISIL/’Daesh’). That is a perfectly understandable conclusion to draw. Although born and raised a Christian, he converted to Islam at some point probably between 2001 and 2004. His method of killing, involving driving a vehicle into a crowd of people on Westminster Bridge, has very loud echoes of last year’s attacks in Nice and Berlin. And of course Daesh have claimed Masood as one of their own, calling him “a soldier of the Caliphate”. Open-and-shut case then?

Daesh announcement

Daesh claims Khalid Masood was one of its soldiers.

People would do well to show a bit more caution though – yes including you, Andrew Marr – as the idea has now taken such a firm hold that everyone is just taking it for granted. In fact, while on balance Radical Islam is perhaps the likeliest explanation for Masood’s actions, it is by no means a certainty. There are a few details that lead me to having doubts; –

Firstly, after the aforementioned investigations concluded that Masood acted alone, it is perhaps a little difficult to reason exactly how or when he had been radicalised. For one thing, radicalisation is not exactly unknown among middle-aged men, but younger men are far more vulnerable to it. More importantly, it is a little incongruous that Masood supposedly joined a movement that radicalised him, but then he acted completely independently of it. When and how did it happen? He is understood to have spent a couple of years living in Saudi Arabia teaching English, but that appears to be the closest he ever got to the heartlands of Radical Islam. He did feature in a counter-terrorism investigation into an extremist group some years ago, but he was very much a peripheral figure, and it was before Daesh had even existed in any event. He may have had very loose associations with radicalised individuals, but the truth is that we can find ways of saying that about almost anybody. There really is no firm indication that Masood was ever ideologically radicalised.

Secondly, it is high time everybody grasped that just because Daesh claim a crime as one of their own, that does not mean that it genuinely is. Daesh wants the world to fear it. It especially wants Western countries to be afraid, as it hopes to intimidate the West into abandoning ‘The Holy Land’. Therefore, so long as it sounds plausible, Daesh will always claim these sorts of crimes as their own; it makes the organisation sound like more of a threat than it really is. But the reality is that the investigations have found no direct, practical link between Daesh and Masood. He might well have carried out the attack as an act of support for Daesh, he might well have done it after being inspired by Daesh (although actual evidence for either has not yet been uncovered), but the signs are that he did not do it as a part of their organisation. He did not appear to act under Daesh’s specific instructions, he certainly did not act in co-ordination with Daesh. Nor indeed did he act in co-ordination with anyone else. He acted alone. It is only by appending a very, very broad definition of what constitutes a member of Islamic State that the claim can really be sustained.

This leads directly into the third of my reasons for doubt, and it is quite a major sticking point. The truth is, as yet, no one really knows precisely why Masood did what he did, because he did not appear to leave an explanation behind for it. This may sound like a minor point, but it is fairly important to my mind, because it is where his modus operandi deviates from the norm; it is quite unusual for a Radical Islamist not to leave behind an explanation, usually by video recording, for his actions. Not unheard-of, but unusual. The London Bombers of 2005, just for instance, made prior video recordings of themselves explicitly pointing to the Anglo-American invasion of Iraq in 2003 as their justification for the attacks. So far, no explanation for Wednesday from Masood, written or spoken word, has been found. No political or religious motivation has been established. Given the extent of the police investigations, it seems highly likely that they would have found it by now if he had provided one. As Deputy Assistant Commissioner Neil Basu of the Metropolitan Police commented yesterday,

“There is a possibility we will never understand why [Masood] did this. That understanding may have died with him.”

Analysis of Masood’s history suggests a man with serious problems controlling violent and criminal impulses, dating back to long, long before he became a Muslim. He spent three terms in prison, all before he converted to Islam, including twice for stabbing victims in the face with knives. In both cases, it seems more-than-possible that the attacks were intended to be lethal, but also they foreshadow his killing of PC Keith Palmer on Wednesday. Masood further had an extensive history of substance abuse, including cocaine and steroids, which were bound to have long-term effects on his mental health. Perhaps paradoxically, after his conversion, he for some years showed signs of bringing his behaviour under control.

So while Radical Islam is one strong possibility, another strong possibility cannot yet be ruled out. If we look at the Westminster Attack in the context of the rest of Masood’s life, instead of in the context of popular hysteria against Muslims, we see an equally consistent pattern. The possibility is that Khalid Masood was just an unstable man who, having spent some years battling to bury old impulses, finally reached the end of his tether. He may simply have been carrying out a mindless act of last-gasp despair similar to the massacre by Derrick Bird in Cumbria a few years ago.

Nobody called Bird a terrorist, or assumed some kind of ideological motive for the Cumbria Shootings. Given Masood was attempting to force a way into Parliament, it seems more likely in his case, but we should at least be cautious about it. It is possible he took inspiration from the Nice and Berlin Attacks when choosing his method, but not necessarily when deciding to attack in the first place; Masood may have only decided to drive into the crowd on Westminster Bridge on a sudden mad impulse for all we know. (The fact he was carrying a knife on Wednesday tells us nothing, as it is clear from his previous convictions that there was nothing unusual about him carrying a knife.)

We really do not know why Masood did what he did on Wednesday, and as he was gunned down, the odds are that we never will. Without finding more information first, any attempt we make to fill that void will be a mixture of prejudiced speculation and fevered guesswork. Such an exercise is not only futile, it will potentially blind us to better information, should it become available.

In the end, such impatient guessing games will only reveal more about the people playing them than they will ever reveal about Khalid Masood.

by Martin Odoni

Owen Jones is a guy I agree with more often than not – though not always – and true to form, I would like to express agreement with him again. What I agree with is his decision on Sunday to storm off the set at Sky News at the end of an increasingly bitter discussion of the horrendous massacre in Orlando.

Now Jones will know his own mind better than anyone else will, and so he hardly needs me (a blogger he has doubtless never even heard of) to explain his reasons for leaving the set. Indeed, he has briefly written his reasons in the Guardian. But I thought I would add my tuppence-worth, as there was an aspect of the way the segment was being discussed that I found bothersome in other ways.

The segment was one of those routine features on TV news broadcasts that I never quite understand the need for – a look at the daily newspapers. Seeing a news studio has its own work to do, why it would want to use up airtime giving exposure to other outlets has always been a bit beyond my grasp. The discussion focused on the way the Daily Telegraph had summarised the atrocity, but there was a strange sort of ‘overbearing coyness’, oxymoron though that may sound like, on the very, very obvious homophobia of Omar Mateen, and its clear motivation for the attack.

Now, I am sorry, Sky News (no actually I am not, I will never meaningfully apologise to the Murdoch media, for reasons that regular readers of this blog will be well aware of by now), but Jones’ anger is quite correct. The presenter seemed to be unaccountably desperate to turn the Orlando attack into a kind of ‘everyman’ incident, rather than speak of it as the attack on the LGBTQ community that it undoubtedly was. As Jones tried to say during the conversation but was repeatedly cut off, if Mateen had attacked a Synagogue instead of a gay club, it would be described without hesitation as an attack on the Jewish community. No need would have been seen to call it an ‘attack on everyone’ or an ‘attack on human beings’. That would not only have been needlessly vague and obscure, it would also have been dishonest as it would disregard the important reality that some communities are treated worse than others.

Watching the conversation unfolding, I got the toe-curling impression that the presenter was almost too embarrassed to acknowledge the LGBTQ community as a community in its own right. Too embarrassed to respect and acknowledge the identity that was so viciously assaulted on Sunday. Did he almost think anyone outside that community would just not be interested unless he could give the attack a ‘heterosexuality-related’ veneer, by only referring to the victims as ‘human beings’? That is condescending to both the LGBTQ community and the wider public; does he honestly imagine that people do not know that gay people are as human as the rest of us? (Well all right, some people out there genuinely refuse to acknowledge it, but thankfully they are a receding minority.)

My distaste for this silly ‘I-don’t-know-how-to-talk-about-gay-people-without-blushing’ attitude was amplified as the presenter uncritically regurgitated the Telegraph‘s irresponsible leap-to-conclusions that this was an attack organised by Daesh – from which he tried to fit Orlando in with the Paris Attacks last November. In fact, although Omar Mateen appears to have had past links to terrorist groups – and indeed he may even have committed the attack in the name of Daesh – all the evidence so far uncovered indicates that he was operating alone. Mateen planned the attack himself, he obtained the weapon himself, he carried out the massacre himself. He was a member of Daesh because he had simply decided that he was. There is also no doubt from prior comments he made to co-workers that Mateen was driven by a primitive loathing for homosexuals.

Therefore the context Sky News and the Telegraph were presenting was, characteristically, very misleading; an attempt to brush aside embarrassing, awkward homophobia, and replace it with some fashionably stirred-up islamophobia. Introducing Daesh into the discussion adds fuel to the ‘Islamic State bogeyman’ semi-fantasy that too many in the West are becoming excessively afraid of. The same phenomenon was happening in the years after the 9/11 attacks on New York and Washington DC, in the shape of the ‘al-Qaeda‘ semi-fantasy. ‘al-Qaeda’ is an organisation that, in the sense people normally think of it – a unified worldwide network of terrorist cells – does not even exist and probably never did. It was never even called ‘al-Qaeda’ until Governments in the West started using the term, due to a partial mistranslation of an intercepted Jihadist communication. This organisation’s power and reach was so hysterically exaggerated after 9/11 that many people all over the West genuinely feared that it was poised to conquer the world.

Just like ‘al-Qaeda’ before it, Daesh/ISIL’s reach and strength are being heavily overstated, and Sky News’ attempt to portray every moment of violence by a Muslim as “another dastardly scheme by Islamic State!!!” (complete with verbal-images of a stereotype Arab tweaking his moustache and grinning devilishly) is deceitful.

Unfortunately, Sky News are certainly not the only ones doing it. The campaign to Leave the European Union has plumbed nauseating new depths of indecency, taking cynical advantage of the Orlando massacre with a completely dishonest, scaremongering post to social media. It was so deceitful and so indefensibly libellous that even the ineffable Nigel Farage has distanced himself from it. But some people are genuinely taken in by it and really imagine that the atrocity could be replicated here unless borders are closed. That is in spite of the fact that the massacre was committed in the USA by a 29 year-old man who was born in the USA, who was brought up and educated in the USA, who spent his entire life living in the USA, and who obtained the gun in the USA under the laws of the USA that freely allowed him to carry it in any part of the USA. Where immigration, of all things, comes into the massacre, which appears instead to be yet another consequence of the insane absence of gun controls in the USA, is not entirely clear. The discussion is being turned into the wrong issue, doubtless to the delight of the Republican Party and the National Rifle Association. They want people panicking about Muslims, not worrying about the very real destruction caused by the USA’s out-of-control gun culture.

This ISIL/ISIS/Daesh hysteria conforms to a familiar historical pattern, and oddly enough, it is partly another American one. Paranoia against ‘ISIL’ is akin to the old ‘Jesse James’ syndrome in 19th Century America, in which, every time a train or coach was held up in the Old West, the terrified victim could never accept that it was just any old thief stealing his every worldly possession. Oh no no no, it had to be Jesse James! Jesse James was the most famous criminal in the Old West, he was terrifying just when he was spoken of, so when anyone was terrifyingly robbed at gunpoint, it had to be Jesse James.

Ten years ago, every time a Muslim – possibly even every time someone Asian-or-Arab-looking – fired a gun, it could never be that it was just an ordinary criminal. Oh no no no, it had to be ‘al-Qaeda’! ‘al-Qaeda’ was the most famous terrorist organisation in the world, it was terrifying just when it was spoken of, so when anyone saw a terrifying violent death, it had to be ‘al-Qaeda’.

For ‘Jesse James’ and ‘al-Qaeda’, we now substitute ‘Islamic State’.

But never mind the labels. Every time we go through these ‘bogeyman’ fantasies, it is the same ghost story we are re-living, over and over, only with the characters renamed. The thing about ghost stories is that they are normally only believed by children, so those of us who are not children really ought to grow up, and stop believing such over-simplified narratives.

by Martin Odoni

Discussion of the Syrian Refugee Crisis has caused a lot of increased emotion over the last few days, especially since pictures began circulating on social media of Aylan Kurdi, the boy who drowned off the Turkish coast. One of the upshots of the photos has been that many people who normally resent immigration, including a lot of the ever-fickle mainstream media, have suddenly become passionate humanitarians, although often only in narrowly militaristic terms.

The clamour has met stiffened resistance from other xenophobic elements however, who seem determined to view compassion as a weakness, and who regard the refugees with an stubborn suspicion. Hand-in-hand with this has, inevitably, been a campaign of misinformation about the crisis, misinformation clearly designed to cast refugees in a very ugly light.

I have decided to address a few of the rumours I have seen circulating.

1) “Islamic State (ISIL) are sending hundreds of thousands of their soldiers to Europe by infiltrating the refugees.”

This may just go down as the daftest conspiracy theory currently circulating on social media. It implies that ISIL has noticed huge numbers of refugees fleeing Syria, and many of them heading for Europe, and realised that if their own troops were to ‘mingle’ amongst the refugees, they could ‘ride the flow’ to the West and cause havoc when they arrive.

This idea is ridiculous for several reasons.

Firstly, ISIL is presently fighting a war on at least seven fronts. It is not only fighting several campaigns in different parts of Syria, but it is also in Iraq, Iran and Jordan, while also holding a substantial presence in Libya. The highest estimate for the total number of troops fighting for ISIL is around 200,000. Most other estimates suggest fewer than 100,000. Therefore, for ISIL to send ‘hundreds of thousands’ to Europe would mean displacing their entire forces, and the instantaneous surrender of what they view as ‘The Holy Land’, which is the prize they are fighting over in the first place. While fighting on so many fronts, ISIL simply does not have the soldiers to spare to send to Europe, even in their hundreds, let alone hundreds of thousands.

Furthermore, seeing many of ISIL’s recent recruits are from Europe, infiltrating the refugees sounds needlessly over-elaborate. The organisation could just send their European recruits back home, any of whom who have not been identified in the West as ISIL recruits would be allowed in by birthright, without all the knotty difficulties caused by immigration procedures. If there is anything to be afraid of at all on this score, it would be European nationals who have been radicalised and return home. (And even then, given how incompetent the average militant tends to be when operating alone, that danger is still pretty slight.) It is not a plausible danger from the refugees.

One more thing; when challenged to prove that this infiltration is really happening, the standard source the anti-asylum lobby offers us – without a link to a corroborating report – is an assertion that ISIL have openly announced that they are doing it. Given that infiltration is by definition something that is done in secret, would it not defeat the object of the exercise for ISIL to let us know like this? If they really are saying such things, and I can find no reliable source to suggest they are, it seems very likely that they are bluffing to heighten our fear of them.

To the xenophobes, I would therefore like to extend thanks on ISIL’s behalf for co-operating with them so completely.

2) “The refugees are refusing aid we have generously sent to them, so clearly they do not need our help.”

This rumour seems to have been triggered by a single video of what is claimed to be a train full of Syrian refugees in Hungary. The video shows several people in a crowd apparently throwing away a couple of crates of bottles that have been presented to them.

While not wishing to sound like a bit of  ‘tin-foil-hat-wearer’, I need to point out that there are several reasons why this evidence is being grossly misrepresented.

Firstly, people are presenting it in a wildly-generalised way, assuming that all refugees are refusing aid from the West, wherever they are, just because of one example in one place and time. This rumour has been debunked by the British Red Cross via its Twitter account; –

The Red Cross refutes accusations that refugees are declining aid.

The lie that refugees are refusing aid in Syria’s neighbouring countries, debunked by the Red Cross.

The incident in the video was a couple of people in a crowd of dozens rejecting aid from Hungarian authorities. It is ridiculous to portray that as indicative of refugee attitudes everywhere. It is even quite a stretch to assume it is indicative of the attitudes of the people just on that train.

Secondly, the video is not free-of-suspicion in itself. The only versions of it I have so far seen include no soundtrack – not that I speak Hungarian or Arabic but there would be plenty of people out there who would be able to translate what the people in the video are saying if only there were sound – there is no time-stamp on the images, therefore we cannot say when they were recorded – they could be years old for all we know – and the context of the video is unclear. We do not know, for instance, where the train came from, who the people on board the train are, or what happened to them during their journey which might have led them to reject aid.

Were I pushed for a possible explanation – and I freely admit this is speculative – the one I would point to is that the police officers in the pictures are all visibly wearing paper masks over their mouths; the implication of that is something at which the refugees could easily take offence if they are unable to understand the explanation, and their rejection of the bottles could be a way of saying, “You think we’re dirty? You think we’re carrying germs? Well we think your water is dirty!” Given the crass hostility the Hungarian Prime Minister, Viktor Orbán, has shown towards the refugees, this presumed insult would fit a pattern in their minds.

If you think that unlikely, remember that most of the refugees will probably speak Arabic and no Hungarian, while most of the police will probably speak Hungarian and no Arabic. Communication is therefore going to be immensely difficult, and it will be quite a trick for the police to explain that they are compelled to wear the masks as a precaution, whether they wish to wear them or not.

As I say, this is a speculative explanation, but it is no more speculative or less plausible, and it is far more coherent, than simply writing the refugees off as being arrogant and ungrateful – which is scarcely an explanation at all in fact.

What I can say is that there is plenty of evidence from other refugees who have made it to Hungary that they are deeply unhappy with how they have so far been treated there.

EDIT TO ADD 12-9-2015: PLEASE SEE THE COMMENT BELOW BY ROSA LICHTENSTEIN, WHICH GIVES BACKGROUND DETAILS AS TO WHY THE BOTTLES WERE REFUSED BY THE REFUGEES.

3) “Why don’t the refugees stay in neighbouring countries instead of coming here?” Also sometimes worded as, “The other countries in the Middle East aren’t taking in their fair share!”

Quite simply, most of them are. The below image from the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) was published in August last year, since which time the crisis has increased by well over twenty-five per cent; around September last year, the total number of refugees from Syria went past three million, and has now gone past four million.

As the graphic shows, most of Syria’s neighbouring countries had already taken in enormous numbers of refugees by a year ago, and tiny Lebanon in particular had become massively overburdened.

c/o UNHCR, Syrian refugee estimates from August 2014

c/o UNHCR. These figures are over a year old, and the crisis has increased by a quarter since then.

So refugees in the main do go straight to near neighbours. But the more people arrive, the more difficult it becomes for them to stay, as resources start to be used up rapidly. Hence, many of them start to move further afield after a while. The Kurdi family, for instance, had been in refuge in Turkey for some three years before attempting their ill-fated sea-voyage to Greece, with the number of refugees in Bodrum growing so rapidly that living conditions were deteriorating.

So when Ross England, the ironically-named Welsh Conservative candidate for the Vale of Glamorgan Assembly constituency, ‘knowledgeably’ asserts, “Genuine refugees flee to the nearest safe country. Those crossing to Europe are illegal economic migrants”, he is rather taking a ‘snapshot’ view of what the refugees are going through i.e. assuming their circumstances will remain identical for the entire time they are in exile, while asserting that if they were genuine refugees, they would be doing…. well, exactly what the Syrian refugees are in fact doing.

Now there are some neighbours in the region who have not accepted refugees, and I am certainly not defending those countries, especially the immensely rich House of al-Saud in Saudi Arabia. But even some of them have still sent considerable amounts of money to help the refugees, while the reasons they have for refusing to let people in, while still not justifying their stance, are not simply narrow callousness; the delicate ethnic and cultural balance of their populations could be adversely affected by attempts to assimilate large numbers of predominantly Sunni people. If that were to happen, it might lead to even more conflict.

So the real picture is quite a lot more varied and complex than the one the anti-asylum brigades are trying to paint.

4) “The Kurdi family tried to make the crossing from Turkey to the Greek islands because Abdullah Kurdi wanted a set of replacement teeth he could get for free in Europe.”

This rumour has been circulating since last weekend, and seems to have originated with supporters of either Britain First or the UK Independence Party (surprise, surprise). The idea is silly and would depend on Abdullah Kurdi behaving in a very counter-intuitive fashion.

The notion appears to have its roots in a part of Abdullah Kurdi’s explanation for why he had chosen to take his family away from Syria. He mentions in it (no, James Delingpole, you habitual, tantrum-throwing liar, Kurdi did say it, even a reporter from your own beloved Daily Telegraph attributes the story to him, and not just to some random blogger) that he was tortured by ISIL operatives who beat him so severely that eight of his teeth were broken.

This, along with an interview given by Kurdi’s Canada-based sister Fatima, has been twisted by xenophobic elements to mean that the only reason they were making the journey to Greece was so that Abdullah could get his teeth fixed. The problem is that this is not what she said. The reason for leaving was just that life in Turkey was so miserable for them that after three years they could bear no more and wanted to start a new life somewhere else. Being Kurdish Syrians, which is not an ethnicity held in high regard in Turkey, this is hardly surprising. Now, I suppose a chance for Abdullah to get his teeth fixed might have been a part of a ‘new life’ in the very long term, and for his own health it would have to be attended to sooner or later, but the mention in context shows clearly that it scarcely featured in their considerations.

The big question that the accusation misses of course, and for which we are still awaiting a sensible answer, is as follows; if Abdullah Kurdi’s big priority was dental treatment, why did he bother dragging his family along with him at all? He was sent money by his sister so he could hire smugglers to get him to Europe, but taking his wife and sons with him made the journey much more complicated and heavily increased the cost. (To the degree, come to think of it, that he would struggle to afford the dental treatment.) If finding a better life for his family were not a factor in his plans, would it not all have been easier, and cheaper, for him to travel to Europe alone, get his teeth fixed, and then go back to Turkey? For that matter, why the long-term plan to head all the way to Canada if all he was looking for was a dentist? We do have them on this side of the Atlantic, you know.

Another bizarre aspect of the rumour is that, with the crossing to Europe costing about three thousand dollars, a ‘free’ set of dentures sounds like a seriously false economy. I am not suggesting that Abdullah Kurdi is a man of shrewd thrift – I have no way of knowing – but then he would not have to be to see that the crossing was a dangerous and expensive gamble, for which false teeth would surely not be a worthwhile prize.

5) “This refugee crisis proves that Parliament should have voted in favour of military action against Syria in 2013.”

Just over two years ago, UK Prime Minister David Cameron attempted to get Parliamentary approval to intervene militarily in Syria against the Government of Bashar al-Assad. Cameron lost the vote at the end of the debate, and some of those who wanted military action are now presenting the current crisis as evidence that he should have been given the go-ahead.

The difficulties with that assertion arrive at us from several directions.

For one thing, the intervention proposed two years ago was expressly and specifically to be against the Assad regime, whereas a great many of the refugees are from areas that have been devastated by ISIL, which is one of the many forces arranged against Assad. Intervening to destroy the Syrian state military would have made it easier for ISIL to conquer northern Syria, triggering much the same refugee crisis.

For another, the reason there are so many refugees is that vast stretches of Syrian territory have been left uninhabitable by intense bombing and fierce ground-fighting. Whole towns have been turned into ruins. Military intervention would mean more bombing, more fierce ground-fighting, and therefore potentially still more refugees. Rather than solving the crisis, there is a great danger it would have made it worse.

The slightly infantile Western presumption of heroism in military intervention is a constant feature when Britain or the USA are at war. There are often genuine altruistic motives at work, but seldom very well-developed ones, and many of the people and organisations linked to military action do not share in them. The over-excited enthusiasm in the media, mentioned above, for the possibility of war abroad goes hand-in-hand with an unquestioning assumption that there are no sinister motives for it. There are times when the fraudulence, especially in right-wing tabloids, is like this; –

Anglo-American 'heroics' as seen by The S*n.

The mainstream media are experts in portraying hawkish and bombastic behaviour by the USA and Britain as heroic and noble.

Even when motives are genuine, the effects of military interventions in the Middle East are frequently terrible, due to poor planning and clumsy execution; for instance Tony Blair’s wish (though not the wishes of most of the rest of the British Establishment) for the invasion of Iraq in 2003 was probably born of genuine motives to ‘destroy evil’, but it was almost juvenile in its development and caused much of the regional instability that led to the very war now being fought in Syria.

It is therefore hard to credit the unspoken assumption that an intervention would even have been successful.

6) “The migrants aren’t refugees because they have nice clothes.”

It says a lot about our petty prejudices that we become suspicious of those in need just when they do not conform to the image we are conditioned in our heads to expect of them. It is as though we are startled by and resentful of such people not looking the way they would stereotypically appear in a movie about dispossessed people. The most well-reported example of this judgement is probably a Tweet from UK Independence Party member Peter Bucklitsch.

Rags are part of the refugee uniform that UKIP insts be issued.

The Far Right have great trouble accepting anybody as being what they are when they do not conform to the stereotype appearance imagined. Note that the ill-informed Bucklitsch is assuming the Kurdi family were looking to settle in Europe, when they were actually trying to get to Canada.

So there you have it. Because refugees are often arriving wearing clean T-shirts and intact shoes, they cannot be refugees, and how dare they come asking for help while still in possession of one or two things that are quite nice. It is an elitist position to take, akin to the irrational tendency to get uncontrollably angry when seeing a benefits claimant owning something expensive, even if it is the only nice possession in their whole life.

It is a silly prejudice, nothing more.

7) “These refugees are cowards! They should stay at home and fight to protect it, instead of running away.”

There is a very naive machismo driving this concept, as though every human being is just a natural soldier, born to unlimited military skills. This idea may be created by watching far too many Rambo movies, or by assuming that Luke Skywalker’s sudden transition from farmer to tyranny-toppling magical warrior is based on a real story.

In reality, in most countries the great majority of people will have no military experience or skills at all, and without them, they are likely to be a liability rather than a bonus to the defences of their home. It might have been different back in the pre-industrial era, when simple weapons, city walls, and brute strength were the orders of the day, but in these days of bombing jets, semi-automatic rifles, ballistic missiles, and heavy tanks, the best thing almost any civilian can do is just get his/her family as far out of the way as possible. It does not matter even if the civilians are young men. If they have no military experience and are poorly-equipped, they are simply going to get in the way, before just adding themselves to the gruesome pile-up of dead bodies. There is nothing to be achieved by that.

I have heard more than one person saying, “Why don’t they stay and rebuild their homes then?” which is just as silly a question. Anything they rebuild while the war is going on will almost certainly be destroyed again. This is assuming they would even have a supply of the materials they would need with which to rebuild anything, which is itself a big doubt. “Why don’t they stay and wait for the war to end, and then rebuild?” Because they will die if they stay, either of thirst and starvation from remaining in a ruined city with no infrastructure or supply lines left, or simply by getting gunned down by the combatants.

The majority of the refugees would probably like to return and rebuild, but they can only do that once it is safe to do so. In the meantime they have to concentrate on simply keeping themselves alive. Getting killed is not going to help rebuild the ruins of north Syria.

This is what the war has done to vast stretches of land from Libya to Syria to Iraq. Wishing to escape it is not cowardice.

If this happened to your home, and there is little sign of help or protection coming from anywhere, and the conflict showed no sign of relenting, would you stay?

So people who make this testosterone-fuelled accusation are completely ignorant of obvious plain reality. Judging experiences of which they can have no earthly knowledge, it is easy for them to make such stupid remarks, because Britain has not been subject to horrors on this scale for centuries. (Before anyone says it, no, the Blitz in 1940 did not come anywhere close to what is happening in Syria right now. The damage caused by the Blitz was relatively brief, superficial and intermittent.) It would be very instructive to see how these ‘armchair macho men’ would respond if anything similar ever did happen to the UK.

It also bears mentioning that a lot of the Syrian refugees are Kurdish. The idea that a Syrian Kurd crossing borders into Iraq or Turkey is a ‘coward’ is nonsense, as they would be heading into countries that have very hostile views of Kurds – at least foreign-born ones. Such a move is therefore brave to the point of foolhardy.

And finally, for now at least…

8) “Isn’t it a bit suspicious how all the refugees who get to Europe are athletic young men?”

They are not. It is true that a high proportion of the refugees who get to Europe are men aged between fifteen and twenty-five, but then, while not wishing to sound chauvinistic or to write off older generations, that is the demographic that is most likely to survive such dangerous journeys. For unavoidable biological reasons, they are simply the people who are likely to be strongest and fittest.

But they are certainly not the only ones to get to Europe, nor are they even particularly close to being the only ones. Selective editing and presentation of media images by people who have an agenda are what give that impression. I will let someone else take up the story there.

EDIT TO ADD 13-9-2015: PLEASE SEE THE COMMENT BELOW BY GORDON RANKIN, WHO HAS A COUPLE OF INTERESTING STATS ON THE DEMOGRAPHICS OF THE REFUGEES. NB: I HAD PREVIOUSLY STATED THAT MR. RANKIN’S STATS CONCLUSIVELY DEBUNK THIS RUMOUR, BUT IT HAS BEEN BROUGHT TO MY ATTENTION THAT THEY APPLY TO REFUGEES IN SYRIA’S NEIGHBOURING COUNTRIES ONLY. APOLOGIES FOR THE MISINFORMATION THERE.

by Martin Odoni

Defence has always been a tricky subject, as the lines between self-defence and paranoia are often very blurred. What some would call a preventative measure, others would call an act of hysteria. More often than not, I suspect, the truth is somewhere in between the two, but a general lack of openness will usually make it hard to judge.

On Monday, Prime Minister David Cameron, who is showing increasing symptoms of a man who equates leadership skills with ruthlessness and the ability to avoid being held accountable, delivered a statement to the House Of Commons in which he discussed the growing Syrian Refugee Crisis, and conceded that emerging news of British nationals fighting for Islamic State of Iraq & Levant (ISIL) being recently killed in British air-strikes was true. It happened on 21st August.

Now I have already mentioned recently that Cameron’s decision to authorise military action in Syria in direct contravention of a House Of Commons vote from two years ago showed a contempt-for-Parliament that borders on corruption. It was not actually illegal, I must stress, but whatever the precise lettering-of-the-rules might be, he was essentially declaring that he can ignore the People’s Representatives in Parliament, even over the deployment of the Armed Forces. This is almost a declaration of dictatorship. If the country were currently in a fairly balanced and rational collective frame-of-mind, he might have been forced to resign for it, but with a dominant right-wing media in love with bellicose rhetoric, and a growing xenophobia and intolerance tingeing most political discussion, the majority response has been a shrug-of-the-shoulders. I shall not go into further detail on that right now, but I wanted to analyse some of the remarks Cameron made in defence of this particular military action.

The deaths of the two men killed in the air-strike, Reyaad Khan and Junaid Hussain, Cameron described as “entirely lawful”. “We took this action because there was no alternative,” he said. “We were exercising Britain’s inherent right in self defence.” The two men had been with ISIL for some time, and according to Cameron, “There was clear evidence of the individuals in question planning and directing armed attacks against the UK. These were part of a series of actual and foiled attempts to attack the UK and our allies.”

While I would agree that Britain has a right to defend itself, is this action not a pretty big stretch? Khan and Hussain were in Syria when they died. Unless these planned attacks that Cameron claims he has evidence of – as usual with these things the ‘evidence’ has been mysteriously withheld – involved use of inter-continental ballistic missiles, which seems astonishingly unlikely from an organisation like ISIL that does not even possess an air force or navy, the threat they posed to Britain does sound somewhat remote. Hussain appears linked to a derailed attack on an Armed Forces Day parade – if you think we can trust a reporter for The Sun – but the facts that a) he did not play any direct, hands-on role in it, and b) it failed, underline that his threat was nothing about which we should get into a sweat. Indeed, all the attacks in question have been foiled, according to Cameron, so where exactly lay the apparently urgent need to kill them?

Cameron spoke of planned “barbaric attacks” against the West this summer. But it is September, the summer is now over, and even at the time Hussain and Khan died, August was already long in the tooth. So such attacks would only have happened in the past – which they did not anyway. So what were the killings going to prevent? Other attacks they might attempt in the future? Well okay, but this is precisely why I argue that paranoia can be mistaken for defence, as “They might do something terrible in the future” is a pretty abstract reason for killing someone, especially someone with a dismal success record to-date. If we really are going to follow the principle that people should be killed because of a history of plotting crimes, in case they commit a crime in the future, we are rather heading into the draconian realm of Thought Policing.

NB: Before I get any of the usual accusations of being a wishy-washy liberal who is divorced from the real world, I am not saying I am particularly sorry that Hussain or Khan are dead. Despite Cameron’s refusal to release any details, there is some evidence in the public domain from other sources, including YouTube videos, that they may be implicated in several brutal beheadings. So with a little more openness from the Government, and accepting the realities of war, I would be quite prepared to accept that Hussain and Khan deserved no better. My concern is why the Prime Minister feels the need to make their deaths sound so urgently essential that he opted to violate the will of Parliament, when the practical threat the two men posed seems both minor and easily-thwarted. I might also add that I find people who just take a Prime Minister’s word for it, when he tries to justify militarism in foreign lands by invoking ‘defence’, are more likely to be living in a fantasy world than I am.

The danger of using self-defence to describe the killings is that the explanation can easily be turned around and used to defend the acts of ISIL. As far as soldiers in ISIL are concerned, their rapid conquest of wide stretches of Syria and Iraq are ‘defensive’ of the Islamic Holy Land. From the perspective of Radical Islam in all its many and varied forms, attempts to purge the Holy Land of the ‘taint’ of Westernisation are nothing worse than the antibodies of a human body trying to fight off an infection. I do not agree with them on that score, of course, but the area they argue from is hardly any greyer than the one the West argues from when it meddles in the Middle East in the first place, and Cameron is not helping matters when he uses the same distorted definition of ‘defence’ when it is convenient to him.

Defence, in short, seems to mean anything from actual self-protection to attacking anyone when it just seems to be too much of a fuss not to attack them. It therefore means nothing specific at all.

As for Cameron’s insistence that the killings were ‘lawful’, on the basis that there was no Government in the region who could ratify them, that does sound a little like saying that he is staking a sort of claim to sovereignty. “Nobody else is in charge there, nobody else is enforcing justice there, therefore I am.” This underlines my earlier points about Cameron beginning to appear increasingly megalomaniacal. He seems to think he is entitled to authorise violent death without being accountable to anyone, which makes him as dangerous as Tony Blair proved to be, although for slightly different reasons. In international terms, both seem to live in a childish Star Wars fantasy, one where Blair pictures himself in a simplistic world of Good vs Evil and, like Luke Skywalker, he will fight heroically for the goodies and bring ‘evil’ to its knees, with little forward planning, without seeking much definition of what constitutes ‘evil’, and without acknowledging the horrendous, uncontrollable knock-on effects. Cameron’s perspective is also simplistic, but more in keeping with Anakin Skywalker’s affection for absolute authority summarily to destroy what he sees as ‘evil’, and to be as violent and unhesitating in doing it as is practical, and without pausing to consider whether he really has the right to do it.

Once again, by the letter, you can probably raise enough reasonable doubts to conclude that what happened was lawful, due to the worryingly broad ‘executive powers’ that the Prime Minister’s office has long held. But part of me wonders whether Cameron authorised the killings while the two men were in Syria, in the hope that he could avoid any awkward legal entanglements if they had to be terminated elsewhere later. Certainly, the legal implications if they had returned to Britain and were then gunned down by the SAS on the streets of Cardiff or Birmingham would be huge.

To those who say, “What’s the problem? They got what was coming to them, we should have done it sooner,” I say, “What is to stop the Prime Minister doing similar things to anybody he dislikes? Anybody who disagrees with him?” If we tell him we are not going to question him using summary execution, what else will he assume he can do without repercussion? Surely state-sanctioned killing is the action, above all others, that a leader can commit to that must always be cross-examined? And surely any and all flaws in its application must always be highlighted? If we are not going to hold the Prime Minister to account for that, surely there is nothing for which it is worth holding him to account at all?

And yet we do have a go at Cameron – usually rightly – for all manner of other deeds he does, which says something about us that we probably do not wish to notice; we are living in very disturbing times indeed when many of the same people who grumble long and loud (and correctly) about politicians claiming dodgy expenses, will at the same time happily cheer the Prime Minister on without a moment’s hesitation when he metes out summary ‘justice’ in the name of ‘defence’.

Unaccountable expenses = bad
Unaccountable killing = good?

What a deranged country we are.