by Martin Odoni

Hopefully everyone recalls in early-April last year that the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad was accused of launching a chemical weapons attack against the city of Douma, as part of the Syrian Civil War. An airstrike by bombers of the Syrian Air Force on the city threw up clouds of smoke and dust that triggered an apparent allergic response in the local population on the ground. Photographs and video of those affected went around the world, including of children choking and foaming at the mouth, and were taken as evidence that there had been chlorine gas in the warheads.

However, early investigation by Robert Fisk of the Independent, when he arrived in Douma a few days later, raised severe doubts about the use of chemical weapons in the attack. Conversations with local medical professionals led him to conclude that the supposed ‘allergic reaction’ was probably not chemical poisoning, but hypoxia i.e. the victims had been breathing in too much smoke and brick dust, which had been thrown up into the air by explosions brought on by ordinary conventional warheads.

By this point, Western Governments, namely the USA, the UK, and France, had carried out retaliatory airstrikes that had not been authorised by the United Nations. The legality of these strikes was already highly doubtful, but with the possibility that the pretext behind them – deterring further use of chemical weapons – was false, any legal ambiguity would be gone. It was highly debatable whether the reckless airstrikes were even necessary, especially as the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) had sent in investigators to check for evidence of any illegal weapons. The airstrikes, if anything, were bound to hamper any such investigation, raising the unsettling possibility that they were carried out for precisely that purpose, in the hopes of preventing Assad from being cleared of such a crime.

Early investigation did find traces of chlorine at the site of the airstrikes, although did not establish whether it was military-grade chlorine gas. The OPCW investigators found two gas cylinders in the area, and there was a strong possibility that the detected chlorine may have been stored in them – perhaps for industrial purposes, perhaps for more nefarious reasons – and was released from them during the bombardment, perhaps due to the damage inflicted.

One of the gas cylinders was on the top floor patio/terrace of an apartment block.

The second was found lying on a bed in a top floor apartment of a separate building. At first glance, it appeared it was originally stored in the roof above the room, but there was a massive hole in the roof that might have caused it to fall through. The hole was originally thought to have possibly been caused by the airstrikes.

In the last few days, a 15-page report from the OPCW, drafted in February this year, has been leaked online, with the findings of analysis of the cylinders, and their surroundings. Study of the report leaves the reader in no doubt as to why Donald Trump, Theresa May and Emmanuel Macron have not made any attempt to draw attention to it.

The draft report, written by Ian Henderson, an OPCW engineer of some twenty years’ standing, concluded from a lot of complex analysis that,

The dimensions, characteristics and appearance of the cylinders and the surrounding scene of the incidents, were inconsistent with what would have been expected in the case of either cylinder having been delivered from an aircraft. In each case the alternative hypothesis [that the cylinders were of a standard design used for liquefied chlorine storage and had been manually placed in the locations where they were later found] produced the only plausible explanation for observations at the scene… Observations at the scene of the two locations, together with subsequent analysis, suggest that there is a higher probability that both cylinders were manually placed at those two locations rather than being delivered from aircraft.

[Emphasis added.]

Conclusions of OPCW investigation in Douma

Screenshot from page 8 of the OPCW report

The report was published this week by the Working Group on Syria, Propaganda and Media (WGSPM). They said of it that it establishes

beyond reasonable doubt that the alleged chemical attack in Douma on 7 April 2018 was staged. [Emphasis added.]

Now, if we go back almost exactly another year, we should remember a similarly ugly story at the town of Khan Sheikhoun, in which it was alleged that the Assad regime had again launched chemical weapons during an airstrike in April 2017. The ‘evidence’ to this effect was a small crater in the middle of the main road of the city, which appeared to have some kind of ruptured gas canister at its trough. Professor Ted Postol, of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, published a comprehensive report explaining why he had concluded that the evidence was inconsistent with the use of air-to-ground chemical weapons, and why the damage to the canister in the crater was inconsistent with a launch from the air. (Screenshots of the report can be seen at the foot of this article.) He went as far as to accuse a report accusing Assad of chemical-weapon-use published by the White House in Washington DC of being ‘fabricated’.

This week, Professor Postol has also assessed the leaked OPCW report from Douma; –

Evidence collected by the OPCW Fact-Finding Mission (FFM)… indicates two analyzed chlorine cylinder attacks were staged in April 2018 in Douma. The holes in the reinforced concrete roofs that were supposedly produced by high-speed impacts (impact at speeds of perhaps 100 m/s or more, 250 mph) of industrial chlorine canisters dropped from helicopters were instead created by earlier explosions of either artillery rockets or mortar shells. In one event a chlorine canister that was damaged on another occasion was placed on the roof with its head inserted into an existing crater hole, and in the other case a damaged chlorine cylinder was placed on a bed supposedly after it penetrated the building roof and bounced from its original trajectory into a bed. In both cases the damage to the chlorine cylinders was incompatible with the damage to the surroundings that was allegedly caused by the cylinder impacts. As such, 35 deaths that were originally attributed to these staged chlorine events cannot be explained and it cannot be ruled out that these people were murdered as part of the staging effort.” [Emphasis added.]

This all should have been headline news before the start of March. Instead, it appears to have been buried, not just by the Governments of the US, UK and France, but also by the world media, and by the OPCW itself, which made no mention of these findings in its report to the UN.

The OPCW has confirmed that the document is the genuine article, and has stated that it is investigating the leak. That is all well and good, but the Organisation has nothing to say about the scandal of the document being kept secret in the first place.

The unbearable stink of political corruption can be smelt coming from all angles of this latest chapter. That a crime was committed by the US, UK and France when they launched the ‘punitive’ airstrikes is difficult to argue with, but there was always a likelihood that people would largely shrug their shoulders about it in the event that it was established that Assad really was using chemical weapons. The probable refrain would have been, “We haven’t got the time for legal niceties to be sorted out, people are being gassed in the most horrific way devised by Man.”

But now, with strong evidence that the whole ‘gas attack’ angle was staged to make a conventional attack look like an explicit violation of International Law, the responding violation of International Law by the three Western Governments becomes as unnecessary as it is illegal. And that makes it an act of corruption too.

Add in events in Eastern Ghouta in 2013, where significant doubts also linger about Assad’s supposed use of chemical weapons, and again the aforementioned events in Khan Sheikhoun in 2017, and the pattern that stands out is not the brutality of Assad. It is the relentless desperation of his opponents both in Syria and in the West to convince everyone of his brutality. That Assad has at times been a bloody dictator is impossible to dispute, but the crimes he, and his father before him, have truly committed (Hafez al-Assad was probably one of the leading minds behind the Lockerbie Bombing of 1988, for instance, even though the atrocity has always been officially blamed on the then-dictator of Libya, Colonel Muammar Gaddafi) should be enough to condemn the regime; there should be no need to keep trying to invent other crimes that simply do not leave behind the evidence that they would.

Map of the Middle East

The Western determination to bring down the Syrian Government always has US/European strategic interests at its heart. Yes, there are some politicians who support the efforts for genuine humanitarian reasons, but it is long past time that everybody recognised that what Governments want from intervention is entirely self-serving. In this case, the US, the UK and France are concerned about Syria’s close ties to Russia, as well as its alliance with Iran. Preventing Russia from expanding its sphere of influence along old ‘Soviet-Union’ lines is seen as an end in itself. Meanwhile, the USA in particular wishes to bring down the Iranian regime, which already exercises a powerful influence over neighbouring Iraq, and is extending its reach into Syria. Iran and its old enemy, Saudi Arabia, are using Syria as a proxy war-zone in much the same way they are also exploiting the Yemeni Civil War. (The Shi-ite Republic has been a thorn in the flesh of American and British oil interests in the region since it began in the Iranian Revolution of 1979. Arguably, the Iranian problems went back to the time its secular Prime Minister, Mohammed Mossadegh, tried to nationalise the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company in 1951, leading to an Anglo-American coup, which removed him from power two years later.)

External interference in Yemen's Civil War explained

Turkey and Israel are key allies of the West, as they spare the British and the Americans the enormous practical difficulty of having to station their own armies and navies in huge numbers in the region to patrol the eastern Mediterranean and guard its oil shipping routes. Turkey and Israel also fear Iran’s growing power in Syria; Turkey in particular as it shares a long border with Syria, and the lands around it are almost ungovernable as it is due to rebellions by Kurdish freedom fighters. The thought of that border coming under the control of Iranian sympathisers frightens the Government in Ankara. Israel also shares a border, albeit a much shorter one, with Syria, and is almost paranoid in its fear of the reach of Iran, and so is eager to see Assad fall as well.

All of which explains the real reasons why Governments in Europe and North America keep trying to stitch up Assad, and co-operating in stitch-ups created by Assad’s wartime enemies. Some of these enemies, I cannot reiterate enough, make Assad, brutal though he may be, look almost philanthropic, especially the former ‘al-Nusra Front‘.

So we understand why Trump, May and Macron co-operated with the staged ‘chemical attack’ in Douma. What we now need to know is how. Or to put that more precisely, how much did their Governments know in advance about the stitch-up? Were they aware beforehand that the evidence was going to be faked? Or were they just being opportunistic? More disturbingly still, did they assist in some way in the faking of the evidence to begin with? That seems unlikely on the face of it, given the local rebel groups probably would not need help with it, but it cannot be discounted.

In any event, the Governments of the USA, the UK, and France, have all committed a war-crime, and one that can no longer be extenuated on the grounds of it being an ‘essential intervention’ to prevent chemical weapon use against civilians, because that use was not happening. That the mainstream media in the West have kept completely silent about this demonstrates once more how hollow the term ‘Freedom of the press‘ continues to ring.

Just like Tony Blair before her – albeit for less extreme reasons – Theresa May is a British Prime Minister who must be made to stand in the dock in the Hague, for violating International Law.

While the media keep their lips zipped about this, there is zero chance of that happening.


Professor Ted Postol’s Report from 2017 on the Khan Sheikhoun Attack; –


by Martin Odoni

Gaza Great Return March

The Israeli Government insists that thousands and thousands of terrorists are storming the Gaza boundary fence. They do remarkably little damage for being so numerous, don’t they?

The latest massacre on the Gaza boundary on Monday was the largest of the year, taking the death-toll among Palestinians during the Great Return March past one hundred. Among the predictable, nauseating attempts to blame the victims, or Hamas, for the atrocity, a lot of equally-predictable pick-up-and-play ‘experts’ on  the Israel/Palestine conflict are coming out of the woodwork in the West. These would-be experts appear only dimly aware of the conflict most of the time, but hear about it in the news frequently enough to think they have a fairly strong grasp of what is what. Most of these people are Zionist/Israel-sympathiser in their leanings.

Part-time Zionists do not have a complete monopoly on inaccuracies in the argument over which side is the aggressor, of course – I have no doubt some of my own knowledge is incorrect. But they definitely have the lion’s share, and when it comes to really glaring mistakes, they are pretty much in a realm of their own. It can be quite breathtaking how they get, not just the finer details, but even the most fundamental facts, completely wrong.

In six days of reading lame, anti-Arab, pro-Israel apologia on social media, I have seen claims that Palestine is a separate country from Israel, that the Palestinians are being shot at because they have ‘invaded’ Israel, that Hamas are behind the protests and are trying to make them turn violent, that the destitution in Gaza is the handiwork of Hamas, and that the Palestinians who have died are being punished for ‘trespassing’.

These are all predictable jumps-to-conclusion that often happen in the aftermath of atrocities abroad committed by people on ‘our’ side. The British media always like to portray Israel as ‘our’ side, and therefore habitually offer vague descriptions of the real history of this conflict, while playing down the violence of Israeli actions. The above myths however are easily debunked even before a detailed examination of the events is carried out; –

Palestine is not a separate ‘country’ from Israel. Palestine is Israel. The land that became Israel in 1948 had, for the previous thirty-one years, been a large part of the British Mandate for Palestine. Before that, it had for centuries been part of the Ottoman Empire. What the land is called is not as important to the Palestinians as simply the reality that the land was theirs and was taken from them without asking and without recompense. The Gaza Strip and several parts of the West Bank are officially governed by devolved Palestinian administrations, but even so, they are not countries in their own right, they are semi-autonomous territories that have been occupied alternately by Egypt, Jordan and Israel.

The Palestinians have not ‘invaded’ Israel, certainly not during the current Great Return March. Nor have they been ‘trespassing’. They have simply gathered near the boundary between Gaza and Israel-proper, and protested, at times slightly violently, at being effectively imprisoned in an enclave. The Israeli Defence Force have responded by stationing snipers on the boundary and having them gun down protesters. Despite claims, with no supporting evidence, that the protesters who were shot were attempting to break through the boundary fence and to attack innocents, the truth is that the vast majority of those to die were hundreds of yards from it. Any claims to the contrary are defeated by the fact that snipers were guarding the fence at all. Why use sniper rifles to defend against opponents at close range? Why not use rubber bullets on targets at close range? Why use technology designed expressly for targeting at a distance? I do not doubt that some protesters did go straight up to the fence, and probably tried to break through it, but “the punishment doth greatly exceed the crime”.

Either way, the Palestinians are not ‘trespassing’, as they are not getting across the boundary. They are staying on their own side of the fence, and therefore are staying inside the zone administered by the Palestinian Authority.

Gaza buffer zone

The red-pink-coloured area is the buffer zone that Israel declared in a territory over which it has no right of control.

The Israeli Government declared a ‘buffer zone’ at the boundary that it insists Palestinians must not enter. But as the buffer zone actually begins at the fence and extends only into Gaza, while leaving Israeli-administered territory untouched, it must be illegal; Israel has no right to impose a buffer/no-go zone on territory it does not directly govern. That is very important for reasons that go far beyond the current protests as well. Gaza, with a population density of over five thousand per square kilometre, is the third most-over-populated territory currently inhabited by Man, and desperately needs to use the land in the buffer zone to make more room for its inhabitants. But it dare not attempt to build houses in the zone as long as the IDF continue taking pot-shots at any Arabs setting foot there.

While Hamas, an extremist Sunni-Wahhabist faction, probably deserves some blame for the current misery of life in Gaza, the above shows that the severe over-population (and eleven-year blockade by the Israeli security forces) plays a much bigger role. Palestinian voices have widely insisted that the protests were not Hamas’ idea at all, and have been carried out independently of the faction’s wishes, and have even extended their criticisms to Hamas themselves. It also needs to be noted that Hamas was only founded in 1987, and the general conditions in Gaza have seldom reached the heights of ‘tolerable’ at any time since the Second World War, so it seems a bit much to have Hamas carry the can alone for it all.

asa palestinian

Palestinians are not the brainwashed pawns that British Zionists like to paint them as.

Perhaps the most glaring myth I have seen spread is a historical one, and it left me gob-smacked when I read it. Someone, whose name I shall kindly keep confidential, claimed on social media that the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians began, and led to the Palestinians losing their lands, because, and I quote; –

“Palestine attacked Israel in the Six-Day War.”

Intellectual confidence is often inversely-proportional to historical literacy, and this is one of the most startling examples I have ever seen. Let me itemise the reasons this claim is completely idiotic; –

  1. The conflict actually began in 1948-49. The United Nations drew up a plan to divide the land of the British Mandate between Arab natives and Jewish settlers roughly in proportion to their respective population sizes. The Jewish settlers were happy with the plan, the Arabs were not. Israel was officially founded in 1948, but neighbouring countries, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, and Syria, invaded and took control of the Arab zone, and used it as a platform from which to attack Israel itself. Israel successfully fought off the invading forces, and in the process seized control of over sixty per cent of the Palestinian zone that had been allocated to the Arabs. The West Bank was brought under Jordanian control, while Egypt occupied the Gaza Strip. This struggle is known as the First Arab-Israeli War, and the Palestinians did not really do any serious attacking at all, in large part because there was no immediate central authority to organise them at that point (bar the Arab Liberation Army, which in any event was more international than Palestinian, and was head-quartered in Syria). Large numbers of Palestinians were displaced from their homes during the conflict and had to flee to neighbouring territories, including Gaza. This initial dispossession is known in Palestinian infamy as the Nakba, roughly translated as the ‘Catastrophe’.
  2. The Six-Day War happened nearly two decades after Israel seized most of Palestine. The Six-Day War was a ‘re-match’ of the First Arab-Israeli War, but did not take place until 1967. Egypt and Israel had been on unhappy terms for many years over access to the Straits of Tiran, which were critical to Israeli shipping.Strait of Tiran
    When Egypt tried to close the Straits, and began a military build-up on Israel’s border in anticipation of a retaliatory attack, the Israeli Air Force launched a series of strikes on Egyptian airfields, wiping out the Egyptian Air Force in a single day, and gaining control of regional airspace. Jordan and Syria mobilised in support of Egypt, but in the days before they could intervene, the Israeli army overran both Gaza and the entire Sinai Peninsular. The Egyptian army was totally defeated, while the Israeli military turned east to defeat the Syrian and Jordanian forces in turn. The whole war lasted less than a week, and the Israeli victories saw them seize control of the West Bank from Jordan and the Golan Heights from Syria. And with the aforementioned seizure of  Gaza, Israel now had possession of all the land the UN had allocated to the Palestinian Arabs back in 1948. Again, the Palestinians, beyond unsuccessful defensive fighting in Gaza on the orders of the Egyptian Government, played no real role in the war at all, let alone ‘attacked’ Israel. On the contrary, Israel used the attack by Egypt as a pretext for capturing Gaza and the West Bank.
  3. Most Palestinian loss of land tends to happen outside of full-blown wartime. It has been a permanent feature of Israeli policy that any ethnically-Jewish individual on Earth who needs a home and ‘safe space’ against anti-Semitic persecution can automatically receive citizenship in Israel. But Israel was a small land at its birth, and soon ran low on space to keep taking in more refugees from around the world. Therefore, it became a routine process every few years for the Israeli Government in Jerusalem to pass a new law authorising itself to seize the land and property of entire Palestinian communities, award it to Jewish settlers, and then cart the Palestinians off into Gaza or the West Bank. This sort of practice happens semi-frequently,  no matter how the Palestinians behave. The current protest campaign by the Palestinians, the Great Return March, marks the anniversary of Land Day in March 1976, which was a previous protest that ended in bloodshed against precisely such a shameless Israeli land-grab. You see, Palestinians have not lost so much land to Israel because they are being ‘punished’ for violent behaviour (even allowing for the fact that they have often acted violently). It happens because they have land, and Israel needs land. That is it. Occasional bursts of Palestinian militancy are just used by Israel as a justification for the mistreatment, but even when such militancy does not happen, land-seizures continue to happen anyway. Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank have little alternative but to use force, as they have few legal rights, and are not allowed to vote in Israeli Elections, but only in the Palestinian Authority Elections, which are fairly useless as long as the boundaries are controlled by Jerusalem. And the Israeli Government will never change that, as the total Palestinian population in Israeli-held territory is roughly the same size as the Jewish population. It is projected to grow faster than the Jewish population too, and so, with suffrage, Arabs would soon be able to outvote Israeli-Jews. Given the original ethnocratic notion behind Zionism of a strictly Jewish nation, that is a prospect that the Israeli right wing in particular dare not contemplate. (It is also one more reason why I argue that Zionism is a failed ideology.)

Israel is not exclusively culpable in the history of this conflict. Much of the blame must go to neighbouring countries, especially Egypt, for fuelling a very paranoid emotional outlook in Israel. But it is time that the real history of modern Israel was properly understood in Britain. The Palestinians are far more sinned-against than sinning. Some atrocities they have committed against ordinary Israeli civilians during the various Intifadas have been terrible. But the Gazans are a people in a permanent condition of imprisonment and destitution, chiefly for reasons of their race. Atrocities they may be, but they are hardly unprovoked.

One more point needs to be made, and that is on the matter of what caused the renewed protest on Monday – the US President deciding to move the American Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. This was an astonishingly stupid move, even by Donald Trump’s standards, and not just because it was so obvious it would provoke furious protests. It also puts a huge obstacle in the way of the potential for a ‘two-state solution’ to the conflict, which would require Jerusalem to be neutral territory. East Jerusalem was originally meant to be the Palestinian capital city. For a major foreign embassy to Israel to be located in Jerusalem actively prevents that neutrality.

Many Israelis are celebrating Trump’s decision, which says little for their intelligence. They appear to miss the fact that the move leaves only a ‘one-state solution’, which ultimately will have to include full suffrage and legal equality for all Palestinians, if the arrangement is ever to be accepted by the majority of Arabs. Therefore, the demographic issue mentioned in section 3 above will be brought into play. The future existence of a Jewish state, if we must accept the notion that one is truly necessary, is being endangered by the very people its most fanatical supporters are applauding.

Sad? Yes.

Ridiculous? Certainly.

Symptomatic of the modern world? Totally.

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.


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.


Vote For Petulance!

September 13, 2013

by Martin Odoni

I noted a few days ago that this coalition Government, especially the Tory presence in it, is the most petulant in living memory, always quick to throw insults around whenever it is validly criticised, or doesn’t get its own way. I would therefore like to acknowledge, with considerable gratitude, their apparent efforts over the last two days to prove me right.

For any who don’t know the story, two days ago a representative of the United Nations, Raquel Rolnik, official job description of Special Rapporteur On Housing, published a brief summary of her findings after investigating the effects of what has been pejoratively nicknamed ‘The Bedroom Tax’.

And yes, its real name, before I get the usual tidal wave of paranoid objections from Conservative supporters, is Spare Bedroom Under-Occupancy Penalty. Strangely, objections against the nickname are sometimes raised as a defence of the penalty, insisting that as it is not a tax but a benefits deduction, it isn’t as bad as the ‘Bedroom Tax’ label makes it sound. But in fact, the reality of it is rather worse than it would be if it were tax, because at least a tax would be applied more proportionally; –

The charge is levied on all social/council housing occupants who have unused bedrooms in their houses by reducing the amount of benefits that household is entitled to receive. By definition, the well-off are very unlikely to be claiming benefits, so the charge almost certainly won’t affect them (and even if it did, it would do them no recognisable harm, as the amount of benefit they would receive would be trifling compared with what they have in the bank already). But it has caused serious financial complications for the less well-off, many of whom were already on the threshold of hardship at best before its introduction.

So as a benefits cut, it can only affect people who are seriously disadvantaged – a sadly typical pattern with almost all coalition legislation designed to ‘tackle the National Deficit’ (HAH!). This means that a billionaire living alone in a twenty-five-room mansion, say, is not in any way financially hampered by the charge – unless he is disabled in some way and for some bizarre reason has been allowed to claim benefits for it – whereas a single mother living in a two-up-two-down terrace house with one child will have to get a lodger for the spare room, or lose state-support. Unfortunately, many people around the country do not live in an area where there are enough lodgers to go around.

The charge was introduced, officially, to encourage use of unoccupied residential space in response to the growing problem of homelessness. But as it pushes more and more of the poorest home-owners into financial woes, it hugely increases the likelihood of evictions, and so of upping the amount of homelessness.

Why the Government couldn’t have instead put far more investment into house-building – which would also have injected some much-needed stimulus into the construction sector to boost economic growth – or imposed the tax on wealthy people who clearly have far more space than they will ever need in their homes, has to date not been explained. But the most convincing thought-process the Government might have offered as an explanation would have been, “Well naturally we wouldn’t want to coerce our chaps [read: the rich] into having to give up some of their living space to – and worse still to rub shoulders with – squalid, uncouth poor people.”

Now some of these details didn’t actually make it into Rolnik’s initial press release, for the simple reason that calculating motivation was beyond her mandate. But she did speak of the Bedroom Tax in pretty scathing terms.

The response of the Tories, entirely predictably, has been to speak of Rolnik in very scathing terms as well. Some of their responses have been just plain offensive, some transparently dishonest, some downright hypocritical, but all of them reinforce the long-running pattern of a governing coalition made up of Primary School starters.

To start with the offensiveness, the Conservative MP for Peterborough, Stewart Jackson, went on Twitter and labelled Rolnik a ‘loopy Brazilian leftie masquerading as serious UN official’, thus insulting her mental state, her professionalism, her integrity, and possibly even her country, all in one incoherent sentence. It is noticeable that this ‘rebuttal’ was composed of nothing but insults, with no attempt whatever to explain what was wrong with what Rolnik had said. (And by the way, don’t an awful lot people on the right wing love labelling opponents rather than articulating reasons why they are wrong?)

More complicated was the dishonesty. The Conservative Party chairman Grant Shapps publicly raged at Rolnik in the media, labelling her press release an ‘absolute disgrace’. His objections were at least a lot more coherent than Jackson’s: “It is completely wrong and an abuse of the process for somebody to come over, to fail to meet with Government Ministers, to fail to meet with the department responsible, to produce a press release two weeks after coming, even though the report is not due out until next spring, and even to fail to refer to policy properly throughout the report.” He also claimed that Rolnik had entered the country and conducted her investigation uninvited by the UK Government.

But coherence, let us not forget, is no measure of accuracy. Despite Shapps’ objections, Rolnik did meet with the department responsible i.e. officials at the Department Of Work & Pensions (including Andrew Parfitt, the head of its housing policy division), and with several Government Ministers such as Eric Pickles, the Communities Secretary, and Don Foster, Under-Secretary of State. Just not with Iain Duncan-Smith, and apparently that was despite her requesting such a meeting. Furthermore, the correct name of the policy was referred to in Rolnik’s summary, more often indeed than the term ‘Bedroom Tax’. (If the Report isn’t due until the spring, by the way, how exactly does Shapps know what’s in it? If he is referring to the summary Rolnik published, then he got the name wrong. Irony, anyone?) And Shapps, again, never really explained what was wrong with Rolnik’s conclusions, all he listed were procedural improprieties, most of which were untrue anyway.

The hypocrisy arrived in the form of Conservative objections that Rolnik’s conclusions were wrong, and that she did not have possession of sufficient facts to draw them. Given that the Tories themselves, especially IDS, have remained stubbornly set against running an in-depth study into the effects of Austerity measures, including the Bedroom Tax, on below-breadline households, they are fine ones to complain about others not having the facts at their fingertips. More importantly though, Rolnik has at least spoken to people around the UK in the communities hard-hit by the coalition’s extreme measures, so how can the likes of Shapps and IDS even be sure that Rolnik has her facts wrong, when they have very deliberately accrued less information than she has?

Predictably, the jingoistic yobbos in the right-wing press swiftly joined in the xenophobic mud-slinging, trying to discredit Rolnik’s findings almost entirely on the grounds that they were written up by a foreigner. The Daily Express referring to Rolnik as an ‘idiot’ and as a ‘Brazil nut’ was quite bad enough, but the Daily Mail descended almost to a new level of irrational, scare-mongering character-assassination, even by its own abysmal standards of anti-professional journalism, calling Rolnik a dabbler in witchcraft who offers up sacrifices of animals to the ghost of Karl Marx, or some such hysterical codswallop. Arguments against what Rolnik said have been few and far between, and blatantly untrue when they have been offered, with doubtfully-informed insult, innuendo and personal rumour being the standard offering in their stead.

In truth, an awful lot of this grotty right-wing slime-slinging is so crude and obvious that there is no need to get angry about it. It won’t fool anyone who hadn’t already chosen to dislike Rolnik, and it gives a worse impression of the people doing the hatchet job than it does of the person getting hatcheted. The Government has been caught red-handed, and as the right wing have no defence, they have two choices. Hold up their hands, take the criticisms on board, and accept that the Bedroom Tax is deeply unfair, or attack the critics like some teenage brat screaming, “I HATE YOU!” when his parents say, “Do your homework properly this time.” Was it ever in doubt which route the Tories would choose? Even before Rolnik’s press release was in the public domain, we could almost feel the Conservative Party backlash already on its way.

We can take this spiralling cycle of petulance as a sign of desperation on the part of British Conservatism. It is the lash-out of people who don’t want to face up to the terrible job this Government has done during its first three-and-a-half years, and who are now operating on the same undignified level as Fox News Channel in the USA; not concerned with what’s really happening, only with trying to find other things for people to take their frustrations out on, and dubious rumours with which to discredit their critics. This current display isn’t even a clever or sophisticated smear tactic, it is just crude personal abuse, and with its irrelevant obsession with attacking Rolnik for her nationality, it is also akin to racism.

By behaving in such ways, the Tories and their traditional allies in the right-wing media are doing themselves no favours. It shows them to be unworthy of sitting in public office, an office that demands as a bare minimum a modicum of diplomatic skill, and if the Labour Party were really on top of its game, it would take full advantage, holding up every single moment of bullying vitriol and ad hominem viciousness to public scrutiny, saying to the nation, “This is the sort of juvenile name-calling mentality that is at Number 10 at the moment! Surely you don’t want more of that!” Shame on you, Ed Miliband, for missing an open goal.

But just because the Tory behaviour is predictable and much too crude to sway anyone, that doesn’t make it any less telling. This really is all you get from about ninety per cent of the Conservative Party in pretty much any era. What the swooning droolers in the Daily Mail call the ‘patriotism’, or ‘national pride’, or ‘British bulldog spirit’ of the traditional right is, in practise, almost invariably stubbornness, insufferable pettiness, and xenophobia. We got plenty of renditions of precisely this same song while Margaret Thatcher was Prime Minister, particularly during her embarrassing rivalry with Jacques Delors, William Hague attempted to continue the mantra with his utterly brainless and irresponsible (but also, thankfully, ineffective) Save The Pound scare-mongering around the turn of the millennium, and now the anthem has been resurrected once more by the coalition. “When things are going badly, have a go at the foreigners. And when the foreigners are having a go at us, scare people about the foreigners.”

I recall in school at a very early age, I was regularly sitting at lunch with the same group of friends, when one of them started routinely telling lies about the rest of us to teachers, just so he could draw their attention away from the fact that he was frequently stealing food from other people’s plates. We can easily forgive him for that, because he was only six at the time. It is very difficult to forgive that exact same type of behaviour in men of advancing middle age who have their hands on the most critical mechanisms of the British Government.

Perhaps the guilt in this case is amplified by a further layer of hypocrisy; David Cameron has spent over a year trying to angle for military intervention in the Syrian Civil War, and when he finally tried (unsuccessfully) to get the support of Parliament, he did so on the basis that the Assad regime had supposedly violated International Law. The evidence for that is deeply suspect anyway, but more importantly, it’s a bit rich for the UK to make pompous noises about the importance of protecting vulnerable people and upholding International Law one week, and then two weeks later be found to have broken Human Rights’ Laws. If Syria is a legitimate target for military repercussions from the outside world, surely, with Rolnik’s scathing assessment, the UK now is as well? As things stand, I for one see precious little moral difference between what the British Government is doing to its own people and what the Syrian Government is supposedly doing to theirs. Only the military aggression is different – is killing people with guns and gas really worse than killing them through poverty and desperation? (It is happening, whether you are aware of it or not.)

Whatever their reasons for lashing out at Rolnik, it is pretty clear that it was reflex rather than reason that led the Tories and their supporters to retreat into such gutter-level abusiveness. The sheer speed of their retorts, clearly too fast to think them through, and the dearth of responses to Rolnik’s actual criticisms, tell us that this was not an honest defence, but out-and-out knee-jerk defensiveness. A raw nerve was struck, and Shapps, IDS and Jackson instinctively chose to hurt what was hurting them. And they tried to hurt her in the manner of a gang of playground bullies swarming around the smallest girl in the class on the first day she had to start wearing spectacles. (Not that Rolnik was exactly devastated by their bullying. On the contrary, in her impressively resilient response on Channel 4 News, her counter-punches were clearly far harder than anything thrown at her, not least because she focused on talking about the subject under discussion, rather than hurling more petty verbal abuse back at her attackers).

So, right wingers, that is what you people chose to put into power. These are the tantrum-throwing, bullying yobs that you want to represent you in the forum of the nation, and in the wider world at large. People who turn the most important subjects-of-discussion in national and world affairs into a bar-fight. People who make the United Kingdom look, to the rest of the world, like a stroppy, quarrelsome juvenile.

You can only be sure with the Conservatives, one of their slogans once proclaimed. If by that they meant, “You can be confident that the country will be run like an After-School Sports Team once you’ve put this bunch of hooligans into office,” then it was true. And yes, I know a lot of you people voted for the Tories because they’re very good at finding ‘others’ for you to blame for your problems, and they’re also very good at picking on such people on your frustrated behalf. But when the bullying is done, you will always find that the real troubles in your lives are still there, and wouldn’t you like those problems to go away sooner or later? And do you really think a bunch of schoolkids singing, Come ‘n’ ‘Ave A Go If Ya Think Ya ‘Ard Enuff are going to have the analytical skills, imagination and fortitude to solve such issues?

Because that’s effectively what you are pretending to yourselves every time you vote for the Conservatives. You vote for petulance.