How did we get here?

A brief history of events which led up to the killings in Paris last weekend, and beyond.

There was an old woman who swallowed a fly, I don’t know why she swallowed a fly, perhaps she’ll die.

In 1914 the First World War started. Historians agree that the causes of the war are complex, as large alliances battled for global supremacy, the diplomatic battles turned into physical ones. Millions died as the Allied nations fought against the so called ‘Central powers’.

In 1917 the Russian empire collapsed, and following the revolution which saw Russia become a Socialist republic, the Russians came to terms with the Central powers.

In 1918 the Allies overcame the Central powers, nullifying the treaty they had agreed with Russia, and peace treaties were negotiated with the various countries involved.

The Treaty of Versailles saw Germany agree to a raft of measures which included vast sums in reparation and the occupation of parts of it territory by Allied armies.

As the 1920s began, in Italy the politics headed to the right wing and a fascist party built power. In Japan a growing culture of militarism began to take hold.

With their national pride destroyed and their economy in tatters, some Germans began to follow a new leader, an Austrian born painter turned politician known as Adolf Hitler, he took power in 1933 promising to rebuild.

There was an old woman who swallowed a spider, that wriggled and jiggled and tickled inside her, she swallowed the spider to catch the fly,  I don’t know why she swallowed the fly, perhaps she’ll die

In 1939 a new war began, as Allied powers took on Germany and its allies after it’s invasion of Poland. Japan and Italy too became involved.

This war was bloodier than the last one, and lasted longer too. When it finally came to an end in 1945, economies were in tatters, and millions of people were dead, huge amounts of them were Russians.

Although they had been allies in the war, relations between Russia and America, which had dramatically different political outlooks, cooled dramatically. Shortly after WW2 ended, the Cold War began.

There was an old woman who swallowed a bird. How absurd to swallow a bird!
She swallowed the bird to catch the spider, that wriggled and jiggled and tickled inside her, she swallowed the spider to catch the fly, I don’t know why she swallowed the fly, perhaps she’ll die.

The Cold War continued for decades, fought hot in proxies here and there as economies were slowly rebuilt. America fought a doomed campaign in Vietnam, and some years later, in 1979, the Soviets invaded Afghanistan. The Afghans, like other countries in the same region had been pawns in the Great Game for a long time, now as the Cold War ground on they were once again in the thick of things.

Immediately following the invasion, the British and others began to work out how they could send covert military aid to Islamic insurgents who were battling against the Russians. The Mujahedeen became our proxies in the on going struggle for global supremacy.

Shortly after the invasion a radical Islamist cleric called Abdullah Azzam travelled to Peshawar to assist the Mujahedeen in their struggle. With him went a 21-year-old disciple from Saudi Arabia, an engineer called Osama Bin Laden.

There was an old woman who swallowed a cat.  Imagine that, to swallow a cat!  She swallowed the cat to catch the bird, she swallowed the bird to catch the spider, that wriggled and jiggled and tickled inside her, she swallowed the spider to catch the fly, I don’t know why she swallowed the fly, perhaps she’ll die.

In 1989 the Russians withdrew from Afghanistan, but not until another million and half people were dead, and further millions had fled the country, leaving it battle scarred, stunted and deprived.

In 1988, Bin Laden who had supported the Mujahideen, decided to start his own movement, called ‘The Base’ or in Arabic ‘Al Quaeda’ which would focus on terrorism rather than ‘traditional’ military tactics. He left Afghanistan around the same time as the Russians, to raise funds for his new organisation.

The 1990s saw the start of AQ’s terror campaign, which climaxed in 2001 with an attack on the twin towers.

It had suited various powers over a number of years to prop up totalitarian regimes in various Middle Eastern and African countries, political support meant access to resources vital for the rebuilding of post war economies. In 1972 the progressive political leader Saddam Hussein had won support from Russia, the Baathist coup of 1968 had seen the US supported regime thrown out. A few turbulent decades led eventually to the invasion of Iraq in 2003.

As the Middle East grew yet more unstable, in 2010 the Arab spring saw violent and non violent uprisings across the region, which was widely (if nervously) welcomed by the democracy loving West. In Syria, former ophthalmologist turned politician Bashar al-Assad had won international support from a variety of right wing figures including the founder of the KKK, and the BNP’s Nick Griffin held power, and it was widely agreed that he should be toppled.

There was an old woman who swallowed a dog. What a hog, to swallow a dog! She swallowed the dog to catch the cat, she swallowed the cat to catch the bird, she swallowed the bird to catch the spider, that wriggled and jiggled and tickled inside her, she swallowed the spider to catch the fly, I don’t know why she swallowed the fly, perhaps she’ll die.    

While some regimes fell relatively easily, Assad proved difficult to unseat, another bloody civil war ensued, governments were wary of becoming involved too directly, but military advisors and weapons found their way to those opposing Assad in Syria. As they did so, a new group began to emerge.

Now known more generally as IS (Islamic State) this group was founded by Abu Bakr Al Baghdadi an Iraqi who claims direct descent from the Prophet. His first recorded message was a eulogy to Osama Bin Laden who was killed by US forces in 2011. As they fought Assad, Al Baghdadi and his forces seized large swathes of land in Iraq and Syria and declared a Caliphate.

There was an old woman who swallowed a goat. Just opened her throat, to swallow a goat! She swallowed the goat to catch the dog, she swallowed the dog to catch the cat, she swallowed the cat to catch the bird, she swallowed the bird to catch the spider, that wriggled and jiggled and tickled inside her, she swallowed the spider to catch the fly, I don’t know why she swallowed the fly, perhaps she’ll die.

The situation in Syria had become polarised, on the one hand America and others wanted Assad out, but nobody wanted IS to prevail. There appeared to be a catch 22, support the loathed Assad in his fight against IS, or attack Assad and thereby indirectly support IS. Meanwhile hundreds of thousands of refugees streamed out of the region, heading for the safe haven of Europe.

After the debacle in Iraq in the 2000s, Europeans and particularly the UK were reluctant to commit military support to action in Syria, all the same, British forces were fighting IS in Iraq, and British planes as part of a UN force were flying sorties in to Syria. Other countries were more strongly committed in Syria, in particular France who were strong in their demand for Assad to step down, but had also committed considerable resources in air strikes against IS positions in the country.

There was an old woman who swallowed a cow, I don’t know how she swallowed a cow! She swallowed the cow to catch the goat, she swallowed the goat to catch the dog, she swallowed the dog to catch the cat, she swallowed the cat to catch the bird, she swallowed the bird to catch the spider, that wriggled and jiggled and tickled inside her.
She swallowed the spider to catch the fly, I don’t know why she swallowed the fly, perhaps she’ll die.

In November 2015 a Russian aircraft was brought down over Egypt, IS claimed responsibility. They also claimed responsibility for attacks in Beirut, and then for the extraordinary series of coordinated attacks in Paris which saw the best part of 500 people killed or injured in a series of paramilitary attacks in the heart of the city.

The French response was understandably full of grief and bitterness, and they vowed to redouble their efforts in Syria, immediately launching more air strikes against IS targets. Other countries considered their positions.

There was an old woman who swallowed a horse, she’s dead—of course!

This is a grossly over simplified timeline of events over the last hundred years, which, among other omissions, doesn’t mention colonialism, hardly mentions expansionism, and takes no account of growing religious fundamentalism and its impact on politics. However, it makes, in a very general way, a point.

Osama – the making of a myth

In the much publicised end of Osama Bin Laden’s life this week, the US military seem less likely to have pulled off a geo political coup, than to have bolstered their president’s domestic popularity.

The reported killing, which will evidently not now be officially ‘proved’ by photographs, and which will probably always be questioned by conspiracists, is not going to bring an end to anything much, but is likely to put a upwards spike in Obama’s popularity ratings. ‘Hot damn!’

While it has been lauded and applauded in some circles, and sadly accepted or even mourned in others – the fact is that the killing of Osama Bin Laden is very unlikely to change much in terms of global terrorism or the Jihadi movement. I am unaware of any major conspiracy in which Bin Laden has been sited as a key player in the last few years. Indeed if he has indeed been hiding out all this time, it seems likely that a significant amount of effort and expense has been spent by the Mujahideen to keep him hidden, presumably those resources will now be redirected.

As I mentioned of course, there have been numerous conspiracy theories doing the rounds for the last decade or so – initially that Bin Laden was a CIA stooge, then later that he was already in captivity, or even dead. Now it seems that he actually is dead – will this news end the conspiracy speculation?

Unlikely – in fact the muddy waters surrounding his death are only likely to further fuel the theorists imaginations. Why no pictures? How could he have lived there in the first place? What about the conflicting reports from different intelligence agencies about who tipped of whom about the compound and when? Why the mysterious burial at sea?

As it goes, I have no problem believing it – but in a world where nothing is real unless its televised, simulcasted, micro blogged (actually this one was almost tweeted) or captured by video on a mobile phone – is Osama Bin Laden really dead?

In some ways of course, he isn’t. Bin Laden had long since stopped being the central mover of a global terror network – Al Quaida is a movement, its very strength is the fact that it is totally decentralised and capable to working independently in small cells. In some ways, you might say Bin Laden had long since stopped being a man. Rather Bin Laden was a centralised myth, an icon, a bogey man figure who represented the very otherness of the Jihadi movement. With his well photographed beard, turban and combat jacket he depicted for many ‘the evil of the east’. Variously described as a wealthy Saudi, a desert fighter, a plotter, a devout Muslim – he was everything the west had to fear in an age when old antipathy with communist Russia had died away.

But aside from a few videos and an ongoing drip drip of reports of his suspected wherabouts, Bin Laden has had little to contribute to the narrative of the West’s ongoing struggle against evil. His killing was, a cynic might say, rather well timed for the American cause. It also leaves the stage now open for a new focus on the evil of… well take your pick – could be Gadaffi, although we’ve not heard much about Iran recently, so perhaps they are in for it next.

Osama Bin Laden was less of a person, more of a talisman. He represents a personifiable evil which suits the dualistic approach of Western (and Muslim) thinking. For us to be good, someone somewhere must be evil. By focusing on him, we’ve endowed him with mythical status, the evil murdering Muslim who would slit your baby’s throat and set fire to your house as soon as look at you. They seek him here, they seek him there… But at the end it turns out he’s just a man, easily killed by the elite forces of good, who have God on their side.

I don’t know if this makes much sense to anyone but me, but I really see this whole story as much more to do with reinforcing a narrative than the death of a terrorist.

So while the man may indeed be dead (I think he is) Osama Bin Laden lives on. His name, his image, his ideology, his myth remains strong. What he represented to people on either side of the struggle remains – just in different form. Osama Bin Laden lives on in despised dictators, in turbaned Mujahideen, in council estate boys trying to come to terms with confused ethnic and religious identities, in geo political power struggles, in history which is now being written by everyone.

He was – is, a mythical figure for the digital age. Thousands of images peer out of websites into the hearts of presidents and teenage wannabes. His thin smile adorns the targets of rifle enthusiasts, who take careful aim at the spot between the eyes. His name lives on in the world where turbaned arabs are ‘rag heads’ and where an aeroplane crashlanding is automatically assumed to be a terrorist plot.

It’s a sad week really – those who live by the sword are indeed likely to die by it, but regardless – this miserable life ending means nothing in terms of bringing peace to a world full or hatred and pain. Rather we have endowed his myth with a measure of immortality, the same sort enjoyed by James Dean and Che Guevarra – and sold to another, future, generation the other myth of redemptive violence – which works for all of us, whether we believe in a martyr’s paradise or the triumph of God over his foes.

I won’t be mourning or celebrating his death, I am mourning the the ongoing death of a world which seems determined to tear itself apart, to demonise and antagonise, to find immortality in human endeavour, and to define itself by opposition and duality.

What this death reminds me of most powerfully, is the need to recall that there is no them – there is only us.

This means war! Our boys take it to the slugs.

(post number 3 in the ‘War on slugs series’)

In a series of daring raids, our troops have taken the battle back to the slugs – capturing them in their hideouts, and showing them who is boss!


Our brave boys… and girls… take the fight to the slugs.

“Now the war has really stepped up a gear” commented one official, who explained he doesnt like “the way slugs are all slimy and stuff.”

With precise timing, a series of attacks were launched on known slug hide outs, which included paving slabs, and an area of rockery.  During the rockery raid, one slug was discovered hiding only feet away from the runner bean plant which suffered a devastating attack only days ago.

“To find the slug hiding in the very area in which we lost so many young leaves…” said one onlooker, “is chilling.  I can only thank heaven that we got to him, before he got to the pumpkin plant.”


Hiding in the rockery… the slugs are everywhere.

A full scale seek and destroy mission is still underway for the slugs spiritual leader, Oslima Bin Sluggin, who is believed to be in hiding in the wall between the garden, and Harold-next-door’s garden.

“The problem is that there are so many caves, a real network of hideouts” admitted a spokesman.  “But we are in this for the long haul, he wont beat us.”


A cave system in the wall adjoining Harold-next-door’s garden.

In addition to the attack missions, a  renewed defence system has hurriedly been put into place, three new beer traps have been put into effect, and it is hoped that these will help cut down the number of slugs who can roam freely in the garden.


Commisioned: three new beer traps.

One thing is for certain, the longer this goes on, the more difficult the diplomatic situationwith Harold-next-door, who now claims that extremist slugs are holding training camps in the compost bin.


Now Harold-next-door claims the slugs are in the compost bin!

More to follow.

the war on slugs II

“We are aware of at least twelve cells of fanatical slugs who have been planning raids on targets in the garden.

“The problem we have encountered is that our agents, have traditionally been trained to infiltrate  gangs of earwigs and woodlice.

“As a result of this, our ability to speak the language of slug is hampered.

“Fortunately we have a snail in the fish tank who speaks a form of snail – which is a bit like slug, but agents who are fluent in slug are hard to come by.  This is an issue we are currently redressing, but not quickly enough to make an impact to this situation.”  Press release issued by the office of the supreme gardener.

This was the grim news which greeted us as we rose this morning, the world is different now… there is a tangible sense of fear in the air, and extra blackbirds and thrushes are constantly patrolling the skies above the garden.

Without a doubt, the spirit of the blitz is alive and well here.  We’ve all been making the best of it, digging for Britain, that kind of thing.  Last night we hunkered down as best we could, hardly sleeping, knowing that any moment the slugs could strike again.

But there is also a constant air of suspicion in the air, and it has been directed not just at the overgrown weed patch in Harold-next-door’s garden, but also at a more distant, and older enemy… the French!

Conspiracy theorists weren’t slow to point out that in fact the French beans had not been touched by the invaders, and some witnesses claimed to have seen snails in the area.  These two factors taken separately may have meant nothing, but we all know snails are french, and so are french beans.  Curioser and curioser.


Suspicious – the French beans werent touched.

At first light this morning the garage was raided, two slugs were discovered hiding out there, but a spokesman said that they were believed to be loners, not part of the terror network.

The whereabouts of these captives is unknown, but using the emergency powers granted by the crisis cabinet, a salt encrusted prison camp has been set up on the old-green-table-in-front-of-the-kitchen, this facility has become known as Bantam Guano Ay, or sometimes Pa Cry Max.

Meanwhile moves are underway to engage in dialogue with Harold-next-door, in a dramatic last ditch effort to prevent hostilities breaking out.

“I remember when a ball went in his garden, he didnt throw it back for weeks” said one little girl tearfully.  “He’s a vile dictator!” She added.

It is certainly clear that Harold-next-door has been known to dig ‘tators, but whether he does this in a vile way, is unclear.  Also unclear is the whereabouts of the slug spiritual leader, Oslima Bin Sluggin, he is thought by some to be hiding out in a small cave in the old wall which borders the side of the garden, and has so far been thought to protect us from the ravages of Harold-next-door, and his chemically powered gardening practises.

“A man who uses chemicals on his plants cannot be trusted” reminded a ministry spokesman.  “This kind of indiscriminate use of chemical and biological weaponry to cleanse his gardens of plants he doesnt like, which he describes as weeds, is evidence of his callousness.”

Some dissident voices have claimed however that in fact the slugs were initially trained by our own government, during a campaign against the-bloke-who-lived-next-door-on-the-other-side-but-who-moved, which began after he kept blocking up the lane behind the houses, with his van, at inconvenient times.

“Our own government financed and trained the slugs, in an effort to destroy his plants during the spring of 2005.

“At that time the slugs, in particular the Mujasluggin were seen as useful to us… the enemy of our enemy is our friend and all that.” Said film maker and outspoken chubby guy Michael Moremoremore.
“It just goes to show!” He added knowingly.

More to follow.

the war on slugs

This morning the world awoke to a terrible sight. Extremist slugs had wreaked untold devastation on an innocent, and unsuspecting runner bean plant.

Apparently the slugs had been secretly training for many days before carrying out the outrage, led by senior slugs who had attended secret training camps for Mujasluggin.

“This was a dramatic failure of intelligence on our part” admitted one official. “These slugs have taken us entirely by surprise, our defences have been breached, and a terrible cost has been extracted.”


The scene of devastation.

A crisis cabinet was convened, and a ministry spokesman briefed a hushed press conference early this morning:

“We will not let this go unpunished. These slugs cannot strike at the very heart of our garden and be allowed to slither away totally free.

“As far as we know, they have returned to their hiding places, under logs, in between stones in the wall, and in other dark and damp areas.

“But believe this, we will find them, and they will answer for what happened here today.”

This statement was later followed by a message of support from the primeminister of the garden over the road, who pledged his full support, and made clear his personal commitment to be “tough on slugs, tough on the causes of slugs.”

As yet though the causes of slugs are unclear. The primeminister also said that he had been made aware of intelligence which showed that slugs in Harold-next-door’s garden were able to strike at the runner beans at just 45 minutes notice.


One problem that has been highlighted in the aftermath of the attack, are that our garden’s deterrants are outdated.

“It’s clear that our systems need to be overhauled” a spokesman said, “these slugs should never have slipped through so easily.

“It may even be that they disguised themselves as snail, or even worms, to affect this infiltration, and we therefore advise that all citizens be aware of any, and I mean any slimy creature, as they may pose a real and present threat to the security of our garden.”

Some campaigners have pointed out that under the terms of the Innes no3 treaty, all gardens have pledged not to renew or update their deterrant systems. But a government spokesman pointed out that these rules are for ‘other’ gardens, where the administrations cannot be trusted to garden efficiently.

“Some of these gardens are allowed to run wild, with little or no investment made in terms of cultivation. In such places, which are best described as ‘the axis of evil’, we as responsible gardeners need to be firm in our resolve over allowing them to develop new weapons, which they could in future use against us, or worse, could fall into the wrong hands.”

“Imagine what a slug could do with that technology!” He added.


Innocent and vulnerable – the French beans could be next!

Concern is now growing for the vulnerability of some young french bean plants, which have so far remained unscathed.

“We dont know when, but we do know that at some point an attempt will be made on these french beans, and in order to prevent that we must take decisive action.” The spokesman explained.

“A garden shed cabinet has been convened, and we are considering the next step in this campaign . An invasion of Harold-next-door’s garden has not been ruled out, it is clear that he is harbouring slugs, and our intel supports the theory that the slugs spiritual leader, Oslima Bin Sluggin may be based there.”

Opposition voices have been raised, as fears grow that a full on invasion may happen, which would pose terrible problems with the police, what with it being someone elses garden and everything… Critics have also claimed that the real reason for the invasion is not slugs at all, but is motivated by the fact that Harold-next-door is brewing his own bio diesel in his garage.

More to follow.