(Apologies - posted a day late due to distractions)
One click in our sidebar takes you swiftly to the Guardian’s ever-changing top stories. Landing upon a media-round-up (several pieces about Alan Yentob, Strictly cum dancin’ and complaints that there were too many repeats on “festive TV”) my attention wandered to their sidebar, headed “Most Popular”.
Giant lizard gives Australian man a fright.
Imagine seeing a 1.5m goanna dart across your property. I wouldn’t even like one to saunter across at a leisurely pace.
Which brings me to the widely lauded speech by Hilary Benn. How so? Oh yes, because Jeremy Corbyn was enduring it with a decidedly reptilian demeanour. It did not go unnoticed that he and Tom Watson stealthily invaded the space on the bench behind Benn, closing the gap to which he had the legitimate right of return.
I missed the early part of the debate, but I hear this was dominated by indignation from Labour MPs over David Cameron’s ‘terrorist sympathisers’ remark. It was somewhat undiplomatic and poorly judged because he must have known that all the ‘no-voters’ would take umbrage and pretend that the jibe was aimed at every single one of them instead of the two most prominent Labour figures who are indeed, terrorist sympathisers.
Perhaps the Labour-left rank and file don’t know the grisly details about Hamas and Hezbollah, and even if they did, they wouldn’t understand why Corbyn’s “inclusivity” would count as sympathising with terrorists. I imagine they are more familiar with the IRA’s bombing and knee-capping activities, but McDonnell distances his past self from his present-day self, which appears to suffice.
The bulk of the debate was riveting, apart from tedious patches, which seemed to stretch out endlessly, but it was refreshing to witness an important issue being thrashed out in front of the nation. Some speeches were repetitive and unfocused, and though the most accessible arguments were dealt with one by one, much was left unsaid and uncertainty was still hovering, even after the fat lady had sung her last encore.
I must say that the Labour MPs who said they were reluctantly voting for military intervention, but would be keeping a beady eye on the government and holding it to account were being pretty sly. ‘Don’t blame me if it all goes wrong’ seems a childish way of hedging ones bets.
Of course it’s not really a debate because it’s not interactive. It’s not a matter of argument versus direct counter argument, but pre-prepared reiteration of near identical points, over and over again, mostly inconclusive and many with yawning gaps in logic. A few speakers said something fresh. I thought Tim Farron was impressive, a big surprise.
Hilary Benn’s speech was passionate. He did at least address many of the opposing side’s arguments. He had taken notes during the proceedings and had adapted his speech to counter certain points accordingly, but there was much to disagree with, and the elephant was still in the room. Fascists? No. It’s the Islamists, stupid.
”What’s with the orgy of fawning over Hilary Benn’s Syria speech?”
It needed to be said. Unadulterated fawning is a dangerous thing. I hope Brendan O'Neill won’t mind if I reproduce some of it:
“Benn’s speech, and the feverish reaction to it, confirms that British politicians, especially Labourite ones, really, really miss the Second World War. They crave the moral certainty of that conflict that pitted Us against the worst Them imaginable: a vast, murderous system of Nazism.This is why Benn madly talked about the decision to fire a few rockets at the godforsaken city of Raqqa in the same breath as Britain’s long slog of a war against Hitler and Mussolini. Such a comparison is the height of historical illiteracy.” [...]
But in terms of size, reach, politics, outlook and just about everything else, the head-choppers of Isis are not comparable to the exterminators of Nazi Europe. [...]
Benn’s speech had a powerful whiff of issue-avoidance. He’s absolutely right that Isis holds our values, especially liberty and democracy, in contempt. But so do an eye-swivelling number of our own citizens. Visit any Western campus, jump on the Eurostar to Belgium, hobnob with Occupy activists or Islamist yoof, and you’ll find an awful lot of people who think the Enlightenment was a mistake, freedom is overrated, and everything the West has ever done is a crime.
While Brendan O’Neill has articulated the case against Benn’s speech so eloquently, I have to say that the arguments in the speeches against military intervention were far worse.
Many of the opponents of military intervention clearly haven’t listened to the other side at all. They refer to “invading Syria” or “indiscriminate killing of civilians” despite military experts continually assuring us that this is not the case.
Few of us can know with any certainty how well-founded or realistic the claims put forward by pro-bombing advocates might be, but it has been emphatically asserted many times that we’re not ‘invading’ Syria, that we do have the capacity to accurately target our attacks, and (bearing in mind that this is a war, and one not of our making) that civilian casualties will be limited.
The no-voters also say military intervention is a recruiting sergeant for IS and that the 70,000 moderates on whom we're relying to provide essential boots on the ground are, in fact, non existent, and I’d agree that both those arguments do seem fairly plausible.
They also claim it makes terrorism at home more likely, which seems less logical.
They call for a political solution, de-radicalisation programmes; cutting off funding and calling them nasty things like DAESH or SCUM.
All of these suggestions are additional, though. We are implementing these measures. They’re not mutually exclusive; it’s not a case of either or.
One suggestion we cannot entertain is the possibility of any kind of political engagement with Islamic State. They have only one, non-negotiable, aim. No amount of appeasement is going to help. No concessions, no compromise.
Everyone now appears to agree that IS is evil and that ‘something’ must be done. Muslims of all shapes and sizes and all degrees of fanaticism are distancing themselves from the barbarism of Islamic State. (Not that all Muslims dislike the idea of Sharia law or are wholly opposed to some kind of ‘ideal‘ world - a caliphate by any other name)
We’ve heard the argument that we might be far better off redirecting all our resources towards protecting ourselves, here in Britain, but since the problem is already embedded in our midst, that would be nigh on impossible. It’s too late now. In fact everyone, Hilary Benn included, has been forced to insist that ISIS are ‘fascists’ and ‘criminals’ and - here we go - nothing to do with Islam. To admit to anything else is tantamount to admitting defeat.
Which brings me to the appallingly ‘value-judgement’ laden item we heard on the Today programme this morning just after 7:30 am.
Sima Kotecha was tasked with investigating the so-called right-wing extremism that we’re told has reared its ugly head since Paris. Yes, Islompohobic attacks have increased, ‘Tell Mama’ says so.
It’s nasty out there. Some veiled women have experienced name-calling and some have had their clothing tugged. Those right-wing extremists - what are they like?
“Police have reported an increase in the number of attacks on Muslims living in some British cities some three weeks after the slaughter in Paris. An official who works on the government’s counter-terrorism programme in Leicestershire said there is a threat from far-right extremists. He said he was very concerned it could lead to serious acts of violence. Sima Kotecha reports”
said John Humphrys by way of an intro to the following item. Cue background noises of shots and screams.
“Last month, a nightmare unfolded in Paris”
began Sima in that carefully enunciated, laboured tone of hers. More atmospheric sounds.
“Shootings and bomb blasts left more than 100 dead. So-called IS said it was behind the attacks”
“We are not the enemy here. We haven’t declared war. War has been declared on us”
came the voice of Tommy Robinson, who Sima appears to label a far-right extremist and a racist.
“Stephen Yaxley-Lennon, known by the pseudonym Tommy Robinson, used to be the leader of the English Defence League, to its many critics, a hated organisation branded racist. He believes Islam is toxic and holds the religion responsible for promoting terror and violence”
continued Sima, emphasising certain words menacingly.
“With migration, with the birth rate, because of the birth-rate the Muslims have - as it doubles we have double the amount of problems...”
“You seem to be blaming it solely on Muslims”
squeaked Sima indignantly.
“I’m not..”he began - but Sima interjected indignantly:
“We seem to be talking about a minority - a minority of people who have these extreme views. Millions of Muslims around the world don’t believe in violence. You seem to be blaming all of them”
“No, I’m just clarifying that they’re Muslim. What’s driving them to do it, they shout Allahu Akbar...”ventured Tommy.
“Many people would argue that they’re not Muslim. they don’t believe...the faith that most Muslims actually believe in.”Sima retorted.
“I’m pointing out that the next terrorist attack in this country will come from Muslims”
said Tommy in conclusion.
“Of course, many would find these comments deeply offensive, but there’s a concern these views are increasing, post Paris attacks, and have the ability to ignite violence on a mass scale.”continued Sima. Whirring sound effects
“William Baldet has worked for the government;s counter-terrorism strategy ‘Prevent’ for 8 years. He works in Leicestershire, where he says the threat from the far right is serious."she said.
“We know that the fear is there in far right communities and an anxiety around Islam, and my fear and concern is that it goes to the next level and we start seeing violent attacks against our Muslim communities.”said Mr. Baldet.
“How likely is that, because it’s all very well that you say you are concerned, but are we really facing a threat from the far-right?
challenges Sima, impartially.
“We’ve seen a local case where something could have happened, if the plans had gone through it would have been fire-bombing a mosque, so as a ‘Prevent’ coordinator I am very concerned that we might see these attacks happen, and we might have some real tragedies that follow from it.”he replied. Sima continued:
“Figures from the Metropolitan Police show that Islamophobic hate crime tripled in London after the Paris attack. There were 76 recorded offences in the week afterwards, compared to 24 in the week before. Police in Scotland say they also saw a spike. last month its deputy chief constable said he was disappointed to report that there had been 64 anti-Islam attacks after the tragic incidences in France. Police say hate crime is under-reported, so the real figures are likely to be higher. Here in Leicestershire police say there have been several Islamophobic incidents over the last few weeks, compared to just one over the same period last year. Khaled is a taxi driver in Leicester and says customers here seem more hostile towards him in recent weeks."
“Things happen like France we do get a lot of people sometimes. we do get called names as well..”said Khaled.
“Tell me what names you’ve been called...”
“Bin Laden, because of my beard and everything. They just get in the cab and say Bin Laden.”
“Name-calling is one thing, Mass murder is something else,”
observed Sima thoughtfully. One might assume she was referring to the bonkers moral equivalence between the Paris attacks and bearded Khaled being called Bin Laden. But no. She meant ‘right-wing' extremism.
“Two years ago Pavlo Lapshyn a Ukrainian student was found guilty of plotting to bomb mosques. Willian Baldet says 30% of his annual work load is about dealing with threats from the far-right.”she said.
“If we don’t tackle the far right threat, what we will see in response from our Muslim communities is a greater sense of disenfranchisement and a reduced sense of belonging. Now if you look at the recruitment tactics of, say, ISIS, the one thing they are experts at exploiting is a lack of a sense of belonging.”
Now Humph :
"I’m joined in the studio by Vidhya Ramalingam, director of Moonshot CVE, an organisation that works with communities and governments to trial new methods of how to fight right-wing extremism. "
(I’m going to summarise this wordy interview, rather than transcribe it.)
Morning to you.
You might define right wing extremism.
People that are willing to undermine democratic values and destabilise communities. They turn to violence as a means of achieving those grievances.
That’ll be the Muslims, then, surely? (that's me)
There have always been such groups, whether there has been an attack or not? We might call them anarchists, we might call them extremists, we might call them all sorts of things.
Like, we might even call them "Bin Laden"?
“Far right extremists play off Islamist extremists. They need one another.
and you need them both.
Is there much evidence that they are doing ......anything much?
Yes, we have evidence from an organisation called ‘Tell Mama” (!) They’ve confirmed (!) well over 600 incidences this year alone.
Is there a danger in conflating ’attacks’ and ‘incidents’?
There are challenges between hate crime and terrorists, Pavlo Lapshyn for instance. The EDL destabilises communities. People who air their grievances by committing violence - we must try and steer these individuals away from violence.
She's referring to the Islamists now, surely? But no. She doesn’t mean that at all. She's solely referring to the EDL and right-wing extremists. They are the ones who destabilise communities and air their grievances by committing violence. Even after Paris.
Oh the irony. It beggars belief. People making the case for ‘Muslims as victims’, but never ‘perpetrators’ have lost the plot very badly.
Before I hear someone say “well, what about complaints about the rise in antisemitic incidents after ‘Gaza?” Well, let’s not forget that Israel’s military activities in Gaza’ were retaliatory, and came only after protracted and unbearable provocation. There was no justification for those or any other antisemitic incidents. They were just antisemitic. There is no moral equivalence.
While the BBC is determined to continue hammering away at us in this manner, they should fess up and take ownership of David Cameron’s undiplomatic jibe, for transparency’s sake. Go on BBC. Admit it and announce: “We are all terrorist sympathisers now; out and proud.”