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.

The posh and the volunteers

A really good article in the guardian today talks about the return of the posh to popular society. It talks about various aspects of posh, and how they have become acceptable again in public circles, its well worth a read.

But as a class warrior (ha!) myself I am worried about the seeming rise of the posh towards a perhaps now inevitable Tory victory in the next election. I find Dave, Boris et al a troubling group who seem to work on the basis of an old school of patrician conservatism – although the same could of course have been said for Blair. Basically I dont really like our political system, but let’s gloss over that for now.

What I have been considering is the potential changes in society that a Tory government would bring, I fear that many of the progressive social institutions that arose under labour will disappear – I’m talking Sure Start, extended schools workers and so on. What will have to appear in their place is the volunteer – arguably a good thing I suppose, as a perpetual volunteer I must support the idea. But it does concern me that the kind of voluntary social care provided is provided as ‘charity’ or elitist conservative patronage.

However, what will be will be, and I suppose every cloud has its silver lining, with the new posh will probably come the new mods – and mod music is some of the best music in history.

By the way, also on this kind of subject is a video of a Copenhagen confrontation (more like a love-in) between Boris Johnson and George Monbiot (himself just a bit posh) on carbon emissions and electric Porsches. It’s also on the Guardian – newspaper of choice for posh lefties everywhere.

when did we go back to the dark ages?

somehow I turned around and there were fascists in the streets again, thought I’d gone back in time, but in fact it was just the BNP and their cousins the slyer UKIP celebrating election wins.

Simon Barrow of Ekklesia says we need to re-examine their Christian nation rhetoric , he’s right as usual.

“Churches need to dissect and reject attempts to identify and conflate faith, race and nation, as well as combatting the mainstream drift towards blaming, targeting and scapegoating migrants.”

I agree, we need to take serious stock of the way we think, talk, act around this whole area.

This all reminds me of Oldham in 2001 where I was part of the coverage of the race riots, and got hit by a brick for my troubles. We’re about to head into a long hot summer apparently (evidence is lacking) and if the BNP are likely to agitate, we could see more disturbances yet.

For the record I didnt vote in the Euro election, that is my principalled choice, I dont support the system and so I wont participate – however I remain part of the system like it or not, and so the votes of others do affect me, and sad to say Yorkshire and Humber were one of the two places in the country to return a BNP MEP – oh dear.

Must confess to finding the hassle Griffin is getting a bit amusing though, I met him in 2001, sadly didnt have an egg with me at the time, I did give him a mean look though… don’t think he noticed 😦 The BNP have talked about a new era of politics, I doubt they meant one where elected politicians cant give press conferences without being attacked by mobs. ho hum.

MP’s expenses – the perils of a free press

Please be warned, you might not want to read this one, I wrote this late at night, it’s ill thought out, it probably doesnt make sense, and its a proper rant, takes a while to get going, but it’s a proper rant alright.

Only read on if you’re prepared to bear that in mind. Kel will be back soon, and I wont be staying up late ranting on the blog, I’ll be ranting at her instead like I ususally do….

Rant starts….3,2,1… now:

Are we reaping the benefits of a free press by having the Daily Telegraph drip feed us salacious news about the expenses claimed by MPs? Or are we experiencing nothing less than the deliberate undermining of a political system in order to force an early general election, at a time when Labour could never win? Or are we just reaping what we’ve jolly well sown?

Is it me, or does the (totally hypocritical by the way) hounding of politicians by the media seem a little contrived? There has certainly been an amount of spin put on this story, which, given the facts, quite frankly needed no spin to help it along.

But hey, we got labour politicians front and centre, giving Cameron time to prepare his ‘Strong leadership stance’ – which at other times would simply have been seen as authoritarianism.

Key labour figures who might have taken Brown’s place and steered a course through the next election have been (from my pov) targetted, that doesnt seem to have happened with the Tories. In fact its almost like the Tory stories have all been about the old Tory stereotypes, (moats, pools, gardeners) and the Labour ones have been about the excesses of post Thatcherite Blairism – 8000 pound TV’s. Sneer sneer at the Labour Nouveau Riche – well that’s a ll well and good if you were sneering at them when times were good you sniping gutter bandits.

But instead, in those good old days, which now by the way are the bad old days when we were being diddled by everyone and didnt know it because we were too busy putting our own snouts in the trough… Brown was ‘the Iron chancellor’ the king of prudence’ and the nouveau riche Labourites were ‘Blairs Babes’ – what a backlash, what a shower, what a hypocrisy.

I’m no fan of labour, or of our democracy, or of democracy as a general concept – SEEING AS IT DOESNT EXIST, but unless everyone’s going to stand shoulder to shoulder and work for a better life together, we’re going to have to make the best of what we’ve got. That isnt going to be acheived by bringing the government to its knees at a time of financial crisis, and putting David silver spoon Cameron into power. Yes Dave, we know you didnt fiddle your exes, you were already stinking rich – woopedy do.

Tories go in – big business gets more of a foothold, simple as that. You know, just like when we all voted new labour in, cos we didnt like the unions… duh! The Unions are actually working for you, you wally! One of the most important things about fair trade (which we all love right) is the right to unionise – no union power, no protection.

The Telegraph is making a packet out of this by the way, which is morally dubious in itself, given that the material was (no doubt) technically stolen in the first place.  I’ve always respected the Telegraph for their adept news reporting, even with their trademark right wing angle – you can adjust for that if you know its there can’t you. Now the only thing I like about them is their gardening blog, and that’s only about flipping Chelsea boring flower show now.

A general election now would be a disaster, lets be honest the Euro elections will be a disaster, Nigel Farrage and his bunch of looneys will make a big gain, and wont that just be great. Vote UKIP to keep out the BNP – hmmm great, what a wonderful choice – feels like comparing Hitler and Stalin to me.

I dont think we shouldnt have known about all this, I just think that the Torygraph shouldnt have spun it out in the way it did – it has simply pumped an enormous shot of adrenalin into the little Englander artery, which has sent a jolt of blood to the collective head of the British people, and mde our eyes pop out. Aaaargh! Some nasty little commie is pinching extra money to buy a big tele and make a profit on their house! Yeah well no wonder, you wouldnt vote the real commies in would you, you numbskull… instead you voted for people like you, who say… ‘well if it’s there and I can take it, I may as well, it’s not really hurting anyone…’ after all, its just like taking a pen home from work really, the sums arent so great are they? Not when you consider how much we’re spending on killing people.

Say it together children ‘I do believe in democracy, I do, I do’

Wasnt going to be a rant – just turned out that way.

Gun Control and Apartheid South Africa

Steve Hayes is a blogger whose writing I enjoy greatly, he writes often about fascinating topics, from social justice and environmental issues, to spiritual stuff.  All worth reading.

The other things he writes are vivid accounts of life in Southern Africa during the Apartheid era, he really does paint amazing word pictures, partly fuelled by what seems to be a very comprehensive set of diaries.

His best work combines the two approaches, and today’s article is a good example of that, talking about the issue of gun control, illustrated with a vignette from his life in the 1960s, I shan’t say more, you should read it.

Get rid of all immigrants now!

What this country needs to do is rid itself of the immigrants that currently bolster our economy.  They come over here, marry our women, spend their foreign cash, take all our menial jobs, the stinkers! The worst thing is, to look at them you wouldnt even know they are foreign, them under cover immigrants are definitely the worst!

Yeah alright, I dont actually think we should get rid of all immigrants, quite the reverse if anything, I am all for hospitality, and rather anti the island mentality that I find around this little nation.  But I wanted to see if my brother was right, he told me I’d get lots of hits if I wrote an anti immigration article – I tried to start one off, but it just became about Americans, and the bigots dont seem to mind them, seeing as how they’ve got the dollars…

I dont mind Americans either as it goes, in fact I like the ones I know.  Some of them are blighters mind – Mr Bush dont get my vote… sadly my Bushisms calendar is now all finished, so sad, but I have some of the best ones saved, and I seem to remember a Bushisms website somewhere…

Anyway, now I’m going to sit back and see if the stats shoot up – or not.