Saturday, August 28, 2010

Abe Said Man, You Must Be Puttin' Me On

A conversation with a family member this week about that Richard Dawkins faith schools documentary threw up a point that I haven't made strongly enough, whenever I've mentioned the man.

I mean, sure. I enjoyed The God Delusion and I think he's absolutely correct in almost all of his major points. He's a very eloquent proponent of rationalism and science as an investigative method for arriving at reliable conclusions. Unfortunately, as I've noted before, he's also a po-faced grump with an insufferable habit of rubbing people up the wrong way.

And still, he may be arrogant, yet not quite so arrogant that he claims possession of the singular, absolute revealed truth, nor does he claim that his philosophy is the key to the final salvation of humanity, I think. He believes that his ideas are our best shot at a better future, but - critically - he doesn't suggest that they're a guaranteed pass to an earthly or heavenly paradise.

Note - The good professor is also entirely right on the burka, as it happens. If you have any regard at all for human individuality and autonomy, it's an affront and an offence. The burka is a brutal indictment of the cultures that produced it, and the Dawk's reaction - "visceral revulsion" - is entirely correct.

And yet, he doesn't think it should be banned, out of respect for the same principles that make it such an affront in the first place. When the spokeswoman for the Muslim Association of Britain calls him an Islamaphobe, that tells you everything you need to know about that organisation and its commitment to open discussion.

Double note - How could I talk about this without raising Terry Eagleton? My favourite argument of his is the one about how God must exist, because he is inherently unseen, which raises interesting questions about the daily lives of elves and fairies.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

...Me, Or Your Lyin' Eyes?

Hooray, Tony Blair is back a-questin' for peace in his role as middle east envoy! I wonder how he's furthering the cause of amity and freedom today?

Oh, uh... Right. Okay then.

Well, let's not automatically join in the general hate-harsh on Tony every time he opens his mouth. The good points first - he didn't rollerskate onstage, wearing a Beitar Jerusalem strip and smoking a fat cigar. He didn't don goggles and charge about the room making jet fighter noises and shouting dakka-dakka-dakka! or get down on his knees and lovingly fellate the entire Israeli political and pundit class line-by-line. Well, except metaphorically...

...And it must be said that, when Tony talks about people who won't ever admit that the Israelis have a point on anything, he's not just blowing smoke. There are a lot of these people about, boring the hell out of everyone, although in my experience they tend to be an internet-based phenomenon. Those awful Liberal dinner parties haven't become ubiquitous quite yet.

And he does tell the conference that the Palestinians should be more fairly treated, and with more respect for their dignity, which is nice. Admittedly, he does it while calling Benyamin Netanyahu "an advocate for peace", which is a little like calling Hamas "advocates for synagogues", but I'm sure he means well.

And still, damn, it's some vintage Blair waffle. Let's be charitable here, and see what we can take away.

First and foremost, let's grant that the topic of his speech - "delegitimisation" of Israel - actually represents some kind of vague threat to the state, rather than being a trumped-up pile of alarmist horseshit.

It's a stretch, since the Israelis currently enjoy absolute military supremacy over every feasible enemy and are, as has been repeatedly proven, diplomatically bulletproof from any kind of international attempt to prevent them doing whatever the hell they like. Nonetheless, let's accept that Tony believes that this isn't the case.

Further, when Tony's explanation for international revulsion at the ultraviolent and intentionally destructive 2006 attack on Lebanon is to note that television images of the ultraviolence and intentional destruction "are so shocking that they tend to overhelm debate about how or why the conflict began", we may smell a rat, but let it pass.

Couple that with his only reference to the Mavi Marmara incident, which is that the awful delegitimisers "won't accept that Israel might have a right to search vessels into Gaza" - ORLY? - and his casual fucking-off of the whole Operation Cast Lead debacle, and we could be forgiven for thinking that we're being served up some industrial-strength propaganda here.

Like I say though, we'll grant the lot in the interest of open-mindedness. Here's what we're left with...

"(The problem...) ...Is a disjunction of perception... To those outside, Israel is regularly perceived as arrogant, overbearing and aggressive..."


"...It is our collective duty... to arm ourselves with an argument and a narrative we can defend and with which we can answer the case against Israel, with pride and confidence".

Is that - is that the independent envoy for the quartet, representing the UN, the EU, the US and Russia, telling the Israeli political class that they're entirely in the right and urging them to come up with better lies to feed to the press?

Uh, yes, it is. It's an unusually partial stance for an independent envoy to take, but no doubt he knows what he's doing.

But then, that's Blairism all over - it isn't your actions that count, it's how you present them to the world. Thus was craven headline-chasing turned into an act of high political principle; then, you know, Iraq and so on1; thus does international horror at Israeli jets blowing up bakeries, petrol stations, ports, airports etc. become a problem of perception, rather than an appalling and unnecessary crime.

Publicly telling the entire planet to go fuck itself if it doesn't like it becomes an interesting cultural quirk, with the right branding.

If readers might think that this stuff casts Tony's behaviour in office in a new light - say, his decision to sit on his hands while the Israelis fruitlessly blasted the hell out of Beirut - you'd be right to do so.

I mean, you'd almost think that by employing this man as their envoy, the various powers were indicating that they have no interest in peace between Israel and the Palestinians, and were merely playing out an empty charade designed to give the Israelis space and time to impose their own settlement.

Well, you might just be right about that too.

Ah, Tony Blair. You have to admire his raw honesty.

Update! While I'm at it, there's a classic Blair line in there. Check this out...

"I had an argument with a friend about Israel. I said to them: 'ok let's assume you are charged with a crime you didn't commit and the penalty is 20 years in prison. And you're a critic of the Government. Tell me: under which country's legal system, in this region, would you prefer to be tried?' He struggled for a bit and then said: 'that's not the point.' 'But it is' I replied".

Now, I can see what he's trying to say, and there's a ghost of a good point in there. Sure, I'd prefer to be tried in Israel than, say, Syria. I'd far rather live in the former, if those were the only choices.

Still, Tony's question does rather demand the counter-question Would you rather be locked into an open-air prison with one and a half million of your compatriots and suffer a process of intentional economic strangulation aimed at forcing your compliance by a democracy or a tyranny?

1. One of the many hilarious sights that you'll occasionally see on sites run by Tony's fans is some crazy Israeli partisan demanding to know why the UK and the US are allowed to charge all over the world blowing motherfuckers up left, right and centre, but the Israelis aren't? It's like pouring lager into a MacBook - sparks, whirrs, flashing lights... does not compute, phut-bang!

Monday, August 23, 2010

First As Tragedy, Then As Arse...

"Rival protestors clashed in Manhattan yesterday over plans to build an Islamic centre two blocks from Ground Zero...

Herbert Lon
don, the president of the neoconservative Hudson Institute, said that the centre would represent an Islamic victory at the site where Islamist terrorists killed 2,752 people. "We are engaged in a civilisational struggle. We have to defend America", he said...

John Press, the presi
dent of the Brooklyn Tea Party, said "We are not against Muslims but we know Islam is expansionist and America has got to stan
d up to it... (The centre is) ...a victory memorial for Islam conquering the West".

Report on protests against the so-calle
d "Ground Zero mosque", The Times, 23rd August 2010


8th May 1970

ddenly, from all directions, two hundred construction workers marched in to the cadences of "All the way! USA!" and "We're number one!" and "Love it or leave it!" In their identical brown overalls, carrying American flags of the sort that topped off construction sites, they looked like some sort of stormtrooper battalion.

They starte
d arguing with the police: Why weren't the flags flying in front of Federal Hall like at the Wall Street Banks? Had the hippies stolen them? (The flags, actually, per federal regulations, were not flying due to inclement weather)...

...Some stu
dents tried to shout the workers down. Others, nervous, tried to melt into the lunchtime crowd.

The riot began. Workers single
d out for beating boys with the longest hair. The weapons of choice were their orange and yellow hard hats.

A construction worker recalle
d, "The whole group started singing 'God Bless America' and it damn near put a lump in your throat... You just had a very proud feeling".

A stu
dent recalled, "When I was on the ground, I rolled myself into a ball
just as four or five pairs of construction boots started kicking me..."

A municipal secretary: "I saw one construction worker arm himself with a pair of iron clippers an
d head towards a student already being pummelled by three workers... He yelled at me, 'Let go of my jacket, bitch'; and then he said, 'if you want to be treated like an equal, we'll treat you like one'. Three of them began to punch me in the body. My glasses were broken. I had trouble breathing, and I thought my ribs were cracked".

Construction workers in New York City take exception to protests against the Kent State shootings four days earlier, in which four students were killed by the National Guard and nine wounded, from Nixonland, Perlstein, p.493-4; Excerpt


Is an anti-student riot by flag-waving nationalists apt as a comparison to a largely non-violent piece of paranoid, xenophobic, nativist fucknuttery? I think so.

I coul
d offer instead the Philadelphia riots, 1844 (anti-Catholic), Excuse - Nativists intentionally spread bullshit rumours that the Catholics were trying to remove bibles from schools; Or perhaps even the 1834 Ursuline Convent riots (anti-Catholic), Excuse - sectarian hysteria.

... Or the Astor Place riot, 1849 (anti-British), Excuse -
Rival productions of Hamlet, one featuring an English actor and another an American...

...Or the various Know-Nothing riots, 1854, 1855, 1856, 1857 & 58, (anti-immigration, mainly Irish, German); Excuse - ignorant bastar

...Or the
New York Draft Riots, 1863, which readers may recall from the film The Gangs of New York. Excuse - Anti-Civil War draft, swiftly devolving into a pogrom upon the city's black population.

I could go on - my point is that the various excuses invoked by the anti-"mosque" demonstrators - that some building near the former WTC site is an unforgiveable affront; that the Islamics represent a unique and imminent threat to the Homeland and must be stopped from their underhand attempts at subtle conquest; that it's a genuine, grassroots working class movement; that tha librulz are colluding with the foreign enemy, and so on - are not new or even particularly respectable.

Previous pant-shitting,
doom-crazed movements have spread terror of the Native Americans, the Spanish, the Mexicans, the Japanese and god knows how many others, but let's put the "mosque" protestors where they belong - at the heart of a centuries-old American tradition of periodic race-terror freakouts and mobilisations. It's simple white-guy rage venting on this year's mortal, flag-burning enemy... In the middle of perhaps the greatest Wall Street heist ever perpretrated on the American people, no less.

If the Unite
d States' record of intra-communal violence is long, it's certainly not unusual and, given the huge mix of ethnicities, nationalities and religions that the country has absorbed and assimilated into itself, it's also significantly less bloody* than other nations' histories.

Still, I remin
d readers that the protestors aren't the heirs of Jeffersonian democrats. They've got a lot more in common with the Know-Nothings and - fuck it, let's go Godwin - Father Coughlin and his ilk. Their complaints should be heard with this in mind, by their opponents and their boosters.

*Unless you happen to have been Native American, but you don't hear much from them these days.

(Video of August 2010 NY demonstration here)

Sunday, August 22, 2010

The Furedification Machine

Being a step-by-step guide to churning out by-the-numbers whataboutery for Spiked! Online.

1) Open a newspaper; grab the dumbest media spaz-out in it as your subject material, then put pen to paper.

2) Lay out the entire, sorry episode, making it entirely clear that it's an electorally-driven spankathon confected out of bugger all by insane right wing bigots for political purposes, with the support of dupes and cranks.

3) Concede that liberal criticisms of said spankathon are essentially correct in every major aspect.

4) Suddenly announce that the real issue is not the confected right wing spankathon, but is instead the fact that condescending Yankee liberals think they're so bloody clever.

5) Waffle at length about how out of touch with, like, working class concerns and shit the libs are by pretending that belligerent stupidity is a class issue.

6) Round it all off with a spurious declaration about how, if only those godawful libs weren't so obsessed with political correctness, they would somehow magically squash the controversy by focusing instead on some unrelated horseshit.

7) Fin.

Congratulations! A speaking slot on The Moral Maze or a post as Social Affairs Tsar under Boris Johnson awaits.

Basic Framing Fail, Part 8,751

Ay, Dr. David Kelly's death is back in the news for the umpteenth time.

The whole story uncannily shares a notable trait with pointless distractions such as the infamous Iraq-will-kill-everyone-in-45 minutes claim; the Oooh, how legal is the war debacle - a bit or not really?; the dodgy dossiers and so on, namely that it's composed entirely of utter bullshit.

The Kelly case provides critics of our various wars with an unmissable opportunity to take aim at the previous government and its naked dishonesty with a twelve-bore shotgun and then, with unerring accuracy, blow their own feet off in full public view.

Much like the entire case for the invasion of Iraq, Dr. Kelly's death is a huge diversion from the colossal, ongoing crime that is our foreign policy, and still we lefties can't resist chasing it down the rabbit hole.

Here's how it's gone for the last decade with every one of these non-issues - some new shred of evidence comes to light. A load of journos and bloggers grab it with both hands and start shouting about the corruption of the last government, and then some joker suggests that a minor supporting character may be an MI6 agent, or that the politicians knew full well that there were no horrible explodey weapons in Iraq and then...

Boom, headshot! 11-Kill Streak, enemy AC-130 inbound!

Instantly, you get Blairite chucklers of the Aaronovitch genus cackling about tinfoil-hatted conspiramentalists and their crackpot theories of lizardoid assassination squads offing government scientists, and pedantic, punchable Kammtwats burbling about UN resolution fourteen-forty-fucko.

For their part, the various lefties get all huffy, stamping their little feet and digging themselves further into a hole, while a shower of media vermin take the opportunity to once again bury the Iraq disaster under a billion-ton shitpile.

I can't be alone in finding this Punch & Judy pantomime infuriating. The only issue here should be this - We invaded a country on an entirely false pretext of self-defence and sat on our hands bleating about human rights vs. fascism while the conditions we created led inexorably towards possibly the worst incident of inter-communal slaughter since Rwanda.

Dr. Kelly, the aluminium tubes, the model planes filled with anthrax that were going to genocide Dogdick, Alabama - quibbling about all of the individual lies, big and small, that were concocted to support the invasion allows its authors to wriggle out of their culpability and makes the quibblers look like idiots.

I've said it before and I'll say it again - the United States, the world's only superpower and possessor of the most terrifying, planet-crushing military colossus in human history, invaded the two-scared teenagers in an obsolete Russian tank nation of Iraq under the feeble excuse of self-defence.

And what are we worried about? The possibility that military intelligence might have quietly and unprovably bumped off a scientist. That's like scoring an own-goal from the opposition's six-yard line.

Scene - on the eve of the war, Tony Blair and Alistair Campbell sit before a gigantic, roaring fire in their Satanic palace of lunacy.

Tony: So Alistair, our deranged and wildly irresponsible plan for ultraviolent and unnecessary warmaking is almost complete. I still worry though - are our left-wing critics about to expose us as liars, bullshitters and epic criminals? What are they up to, do you think?

Alistair: What?

Tony: I said, our deranged -

Alistair: I'm sorry, I can't hear you over this bloody Wagner. Do you mind if I turn it down? (Leans over, turns down hi-fi blaring Ride Of The Valkyries at ear-splitting volume). Now, what were you saying?

Tony: I said, what are the anti-war mob up to? Are they concocting a simple narrative of elective warmaking and near-total indifference to the possibility of mass civilian death that even the layman can understand?

Alistair: Uh, no. They appear to be bleating about some numbnuts MI6 conspiracy to knock off some scientist and parsing the text of UN resolution fourteen-forty-fucko.

Tony: (Steeples fingers, adopts Vincent Price-esque, mad-eyed mentalist look). ...Excellent.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

The Waggy Finger Wags, And Having Wagged, Moves On

Okay, I'll try to respond to Professor Norm's post without being too much of a dick about it. I can see that it's going to be very, very difficult.

Here's reason No.1 for that. The point I was trying to make - an
d judging from the response, failing to make clearly - about Priya Gopal is that her critics intentionally reach for the most uncharitable reading of her piece they can muster, and then stuff it into a pre-existing narrative of liberal perfidy and indifference to suffering, for political reasons.

Professor Norm responds by... Offering the most uncharitable reading he can muster, and then with the stuffing, and the liberal perfidy etc.

First blame the playa, then hate on the playa, then coalesce the playa into a previously-constructed framework of Bien-Pensant Liberal Relativist Playas Whose Tendency To Pay Lip Service To Human Rights Is All Too Common In Our Times, Yo.

The crux of his argument is that Gopal is belittling and sneering in her attitude towards Afghan women's freedom from oppression and shows insufficient Moral Seriousness and Mature Judgement. I'm far more receptive to this argument than I am to the more hysterical versions elsewhere.

d yet, and yet. What form do these sneers take? The examples of sneering he offers - 'the trendier option involv[ing] incorporating the security apparatus of the US into modernity by teaching it to live in a law-saturated present', another about how western security services can change the character of Afghans - are very clearly an attack on Hollywoodised depictions of Afghan people. You can tell because she instantly references Kabul Beauty School and The Kite Runner, and starts on about "formulaic narratives" where the bad guys get their comeuppance and the goodies save the day and so on.

These are fair points - popular culture's take on any complex issue is always reductive and not a little bit stoopid. Take it alongside her calls for "ideas for real change" and it's absolutely clear that she's saying depictions of Afghanistan in fiction are insufficient to appreciate the reality of daily life in that country, and have a tendency to bleed over into reporting. Thus, do you get a war and an entire country reduced to a photo of a mutilated woman.

Professor Norm's argument - the whole of it, as far as I can see - is the insistence that this
constitutes mockery. How would you misunderstand this and take it to mean Let 'em eat razorblades? The answer is "intentionally", I think.

Other points, in no particular order -

- For the umpteenth time - while I agree with Gopal on some of her points, I'm not buying the whole shebang. I think her calls for "real ideas" are vague and windy, and that she's guilty of trying to adapt a fucking movie review into an incisive comment on propaganda, popular culture and a godawful war.

- Nonetheless, if the Professor wants to have a very detailed discussion on the subject of "not... want(ing) to recognize when those you perceive as being on your political 'side' haven't got a leg to stand on" and "want(ing) to defend them at all costs by facile point-scoring", I'm happy to oblige. The words "Mutually-Assured Destruction" spring to mind.

- To refute my point about how "(x) is bad but let's not (y)" is a perfectly reasonable argument, Norm asks the following question -

"Imagine, for example, that one fine morning you were to open the Guardian to discover the following about the use of torture by the CIA or some other US agency: "Torture is unacceptable, but we must also be concerned by the continued insistence that the complexities of Western security policy can be reduced to bedtime stories".

Oh yes, just imagine. I'm suspicious that there's some kind of gotcha, spring-loaded argumentative trap here, because I can certainly imagine opening The Observer to discover Norm's fellow Euston Manifesto drafter Nick Cohen scratching his head and mumbling about ye olde "Ticking Clock" dilemma with torture, calling for suspected terrorists to be deported even if they'll be arriving home at baseball bat o'clock.

Further, I can also imagine clicking on Normblog to discover that Professor Norm himself has said that torture shouldn't be "taboo", musing on the "dirty hands problem" and contends that the case for torture "deserves careful consideration".

Now, I don't believe that Norm is endorsing thumbscrews there, and I see no profit in pretending that I do... Perhaps by writing a blog post bewailing the Awful Perfidy of the Decent Left and its Wilful Moral Unseriousness and Tendency To Ignore The Awful Realities of etc. and so on.

In summary - point not conceded. It's still fine to say "(x) is bad but (y)", especially where (y) is "an extended and hyperviolent military campaign with no clear plan for victory".

- And, while we're on the subject of people pretending to be horrified by the things other people haven't said, I'm reminded of other occasions when such things have happened.

- Quite what that extended burble about how some people are rude to and dismissive of those who loudly and enthusiastically called for the invasion of Iraq is doing in there, I have no idea. Other examples were surely available. I think it might be an extract from page 388, Chapter Seven, Book Nine of the Professor's thirty two-volume epic poem "Just Because Iraq Was a Disaster Doesn't Mean I'm a Dumbass, You Snotty Liberal Bastards".

I think it would probably be good if we were all nicer to the Professor, starting with me. On the other hand, in the grand scheme of horrible, unconscionable things that happened this decade, "some tossers on the internet being a bit snarky to an academic" is probably less than tragic.

- On moral seriousness - or, as I read it, Moral Seriousness! - I take our wars, our enemies and the fate of the civilians they stomp over very seriously indeed. I tend not to take jokers with blogs quite so seriously, because I'm one myself and frankly, a fairly ridiculous individual. Others may be moral titans, but I usually work under the assumption that everyone else is as full of shit as I am.

- I'm aware that Professor Norm doesn't like being referred to as "Professor Norm" one little bit. So it goes.

Update!: Professor Emeritus Norman Geras - having just read this post - would like to remind us that the Taliban are sick, evil fucks, who do sick, evil fuck things.

I've been aware of the Taliban's sick, evil fuckery since long before the September 11th attacks and continue to be appalled by them, but* I really don't know how I'm supposed to respond to news I'd already seen myself. I've been publicly calling them sick, evil fucks for years and frequently escalate that description on request, and I know that they'll continue to be sick, evil fucks for centuries to come.

And still, what's the take-home here? Should I tattoo I hate the Taliban on my forehead? What will it take, do you think? A photo of me wiping my backside on a picture of Mullah Omar? Perhaps - and this is a long shot - I'm to stop believing that the war is unwinnable and conclude that it's actually now winnable. No doubt we'll find out soon enough.

*See what I did there?

Thursday, August 05, 2010

Rule One - Always Get Involved In a Land War In Asia

(Yet more Afghanistan stuff, I'm afraid. I'd stop shovelling this horseshit if there were more stablehands and/or less IBS-stricken ponies).

Here's an undeniable, straightforward proposition for you - it is perfectly acceptable to use the argument "(x) is horrible, but (y)" where x is "Something horrible" and y is "something idiotic". In fact, I'd say there's a positive duty on people to use this argument when dealing with people who are prone to demanding idiotic things.

Examples - The Mafia are horrible, but let's not drop nuclear warheads on Sicily. Mel Gibson is horrible, but there's probably no need to lop off his legs with a chainsaw. Piles are horrible, but I don't think that shoving a live hand grenade up your arse is the cure.

Similarly, we have "Mutilating women is horrible but let's not allow a shower of mendacious bullshitters to browbeat us into supporting an unwinnable war".

Which is the point that Priyamvada Gopal is making in this article, directed at Time magazine's decision to run a picture of a horrendously mutilated Afghan woman under the headline "What Happens If We Leave Afghanistan".

Naturally, the piece has prompted paroxysms of howling outrage amongst the nation's premier fantasists. Specifically, the use of the phrase "bedtime story" in relation to the Taliban's horrific behaviour towards women is causing explosions of priapic, self-righteous rage.

"There is no aspect of this article that is not morally and politically corrupt..." roars Aaro on Twitter. "Shameful. Really shameful". "...The most despicable piece of relativist horseshit", howls Faisal at the Spittoon. David Thompson unleashes the Sarcastosaurus Rex; Professor Norm, hilariously and with no detectable irony, waxes wroth upon those awful lefties who refuse to acknowledge Afghan realities. Former Islamist idiot turned anti-Islamist idiot Shiraz Maher freaks the fuck out, while the Shiraz Socialist mob go predictably apeshit.1

All goo
d clean fun, but every one of them is forced to tilt at windmills by the simple truth of the situation. Put bluntly, it's been apparent for a long time that the Taliban are just dug too deeply into the ground of southern Afghanistan to be removed without devastating the entire warzone. The war is unwinnable. Aaro himself recently told his readers in the Times that victory "may be impossible" before following that with the sucker punch - but we must stay anyway!

I'm sorry to bore readers with this point yet again, but if the war can't be won, it can't be won. Further, if it can't be won, there's no point in jamming atrocities down people's necks, because it is beyond Britain's powers to prevent these atrocities.

When Gopal compares the plight of Afghan women to a "be
dtime story", she's saying that the central propaganda plank of our ongoing war effort - we will free the womens once the Taliban are defeated - is not going to happen. Even if the former were achievable militarily, Afghanistan is not New York. It's still going to be an extremely reactionary backwater where the government - the government that we give our full support! - tries to legalise rape. We absolutely cannot change this situation... Ergo, the women/freedom part is a bedtime story!2

When she says that mutilated women "fill a symbolic void where there should be ideas for real change", she means this void -

Step One: We must defeat the Taliban and install liberal democracy in Afghanistan.

Step Two: (Huge, howling,
desolate emptiness into which men, munitions and money vanish in vast quantities, bridged with a worryingly weak-looking plank of rhetorical plywood marked "The Taliban are evil and we must fight until victory!")

Step Three: We have
defeated the Taliban and installed liberal democracy in Afghanistan.

Make these points - ask how, exactly, the Taliban are to be defeated, for instance - and you get the nation's worst Risk players melting down and making like Donald Duck and his nephews spazzing out at a recalcitrant cartoon goat. Fundamentally, they do not want to have that conversation.

Thus, we're treated to the spectacle of these jokers laying into the Guardian with bullshit like Walter Sobchak with his tire iron. Do you SEE what happens, Larry? (Shoves photos of mutilated Afghans into your face) Do you see what happens when you fail to offer unconditional support for an interminable and ultraviolent war conducted in a state of absolute denial? This is what happens, Larry. THIS is what happens!

Hell, this is before we even get onto Time's rank
dishonesty in publishing that cover in the first place - how would the rah-rah crowd feel about a few photos of the hundreds of exploded victims of allied fuck-ups that our armed forces kill every year, under the headline "What Happens If We Stop Bombing The Shit Out Of Afghanistan And Obliterating School Buses And Weddings?". 3

Well, I can guess. All this, from self-
declared enlightenment rationalists! It's been years since I studied 'em, but I don't imagine that yer Kants and Voltaires used to sit around, shitting themselves with rage while inventing new ways to argue against things that their political opponents don't say.

You're killing your father, Larry.

date!: Following Shuggy's comment, I think it needs pointing out that the Sex & The City references in Gopal's article are based on the recent movie's typically crass treatment of women in Abu dhabi. Basically, the film makes out that inside every burka-clad Muslim woman of the middle east is a tottering, entitled, jewellery-draped Paris Hilton, which is primarily objectionable on the level that it suggests that being a high-maintenance, vaccuous socialite is the pinnacle of feminine achievement.

Gopal's article is clearly channelling "Burkas and Burkins" - you can tell because the titles are virtually identical - Lindy West's excellent review of S&TC2. Notice how West finishes her article with the following...

...If this is what modern womanhood means, then just fucking veil me and sew up all my holes. Good night.

Note to those burbling about relativism - I
don't think that West literally means that she'd rather live in a woman-hating theocracy than in Hollywood's Manhattan. I strongly advise reading Gopal's article with the S&TC movie in mind, and this summation in particular.

Update 2!: I endorse Magistra's comment -

Let's rephrase Gopal's last paragraph more succinctly, so we can see the essential truth of it. "Western governments who don't care about improving the position of women in their own countries aren't going to be really concerned about improving the position of women in foreign countries".

Gopal wants a political system that treats women equally, but what she's seeing in the West is the dominance of a view that social justice and women's rights are old-fashioned hippy, socialist rubbish. I don't think her writing is very clear: she's using 'modernity' to mean 'contemporary politics' when it's usually used for developments in the last 200 years, but it requires a certain wilful misunderstanding to say she doesn't want to improve the position of Afghan women.

1. Interestingly, the only person who's attempte
d a serious answer to the question "How can we win in Afghanistan" is Shiraz Socialist's Jim Denham. His advice was that as political types,we shouldn't even ask and should instead focus on bickering over whether we should've invaded in the first place.

2. I'm sorry about this, because I don't like the fact that we can't defeat the Taliban any more than you do. I'm just the messenger here.

3. This point needs to be reiterated, again and again - our armed forces are killing civilians left right and centre; our political class accepts this as an unavoidable part of our war effort, but is intent on continuing with that policy. Again, it's difficult to liberate people by dropping high explosives on their houses. When pro-war types tell you that we have no choice but to continue this strategy, think of that scene in Fight Club... Ed Norton suddenly realises that he is a terrifyingly dangerous lunatic whose split personality alter ego Brad Pitt is intent on bombing and mayhem... And his imaginary friend Brad says "We need to talk about how this affects our goals".

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

Afghanistan - Ten Years Of Solid Gold Bullshit

So, Wikileaks dumps a load of documents revealing what we all knew - that we're losing an unwinnable war, using extremely unsavoury and hyperviolent methods in the process. We learn that we little understand the enemy and can, without too much effort, surmise that we have no clear plan for victory.

Further, we get final confirmation that we're rubbing out hundreds of civilians per year, possibly thousands - our governments can't guess how many men, women and children our armed forces are killing and frankly, they show little sign of caring. When questioned, their stock response is that our deranged enemies kill far more than we do. This none-too-sly evasion is generally received as if it were a fair point, rather than a travesty.

Civilian casualties are regretted, but expected. The President of the United States' plan, endorsed by our own government, is to continue doing exactly what we've been doing and to keep our fingers crossed for a favourable outcome.

Let me put that in plain English: we acknowledge that it is impossible to fight this war in Afghanistan without killing large numbers of civilians, but we do not intend to stop fighting and withdraw. Mass casualties are an inseparable and accepted outcome of UK/US military strategy, and we intend to follow that strategy for the forseeable future.

The next time a predator drone strike rubs out a houseful of women and children, we might call it upsetting or unfortunate, but we can't credibly claim that it was unexpected.

And yet, knowing all the above as well as I do... Having the attention spans of pot-smoking fruit flies and possessing a crocodilian talent for keeping their eyes on the prey, various pundits now inform us - apparently in all seriousness - that we should be outraged that this leak may jeopardise civilian lives.

Let's put this bluntly, shall we?

Afghan civilian deaths caused by the ongoing war: 10,000? 15,000? We don't know, we don't care to count and we don't intend to stop any time soon.

Afghan civilian deaths caused by Wikileaks: 0.

Let's recall why NATO forces are in Afghanistan in the first place. In October 2001, following the worst, mass casualty terrorist attacks ever broadcast live on television, the United States declared that it would invade Afghanistan, drive out the dominant militia and capture the 9/11 attackers' leaders.

Half-achieving that goal with relative ease by bribing, arming and providing air support to local warlords and drug barons, an international coalition then plopped thousands of heavily armed soldiers into Kabul and announced that... they would be staying indefinitely!

Ostensibly, this was to facilitate the painting of some schools, the education of some little girls and the transformation of a fractious, narcotics-riddled, tribal war zone into a modern liberal democratic state, amongst other simple, straightforward and laudible goals. And so, the Afghans settled down to the long project of creating the world's most corrupt political and economic system under the watchful gaze of it's most awesome military.

In the interim, ourselves and the Americans saw fit to launch a disastrous invasion and occupation of Iraq for reasons that made no sense whatsoever, and then presided impotently over its meltdown into a horrific sectarian civil war.

When some measure of order was finally and bloodily restored, as death squads attached to our allies threatened to entirely exterminate the rebellious population among their countrymen, allowing us to bribe our former enemies to our side, the United States declared this method Good and vowed to export it to Afghanistan, where...

...Almost a decade later, our once-defeated foes were miraculously back and ten times as ferocious as ever, spitting bullets and chopping heads. For our part, we have intentionally and massively expanded the country's war into the territory of its nuclear armed neighbour.

Somehow, this reformed "Taliban" are able to resupply themselves with men and materiel in some of the most rugged terrain on Earth, a region in which a donkey can't fart without being monitored by billions of dollars worth of spy satellites and drones.

They're able to move freely within a population that reputedly hates and fears them and are now stalemating a superpower and its allies in a country that has already defeated and contributed to the downfall of the world's only other superpower within living memory.

I look at this sorry mess and I try to draw some kind of lesson, be it military, moral or political, but find myself constantly returning to the same question...

What the fuck are we doing in Afghanistan?

Whatever, you guys. One thing we all know for sure is that those Wikileaks guys, well Jesus, they sure are irresponsible.