Saturday 14 April 2018

Bombing Syria

On Saturdays there’s Dateline London on the BBC News Channel and Any Questions and the News Quiz on the radio. 

It’s awkward to make time for TV on Saturday mornings, and as for Any Questions, I rarely listen on Fridays and I don’t know how many times I’ve forgotten to tune in on Saturday till Any Answers is well underway. I do like using the term “tune in”. (So retro.)

Dateline was very bad-tempered today, what with Theresa May’s reckless foray into Syria without waiting for Jeremy Corbyn to hold a few conversations and reflect, while Assad  has time to ferry his appalling chemicals out of harm’s way. 

So much contradictory information surrounds the matter that I don’t feel equipped to opine. So I won’t. All I will say is that Dateline’s most frequently invited guest Bari (‘Arry Batwan) was more animated, even, than usual; making chopping movements with his arms and flapping his hands in that excitable way of his, eyes popping with rage. He claims that the Russians effectively disabled 70 of the US’s 100 strikes, but a US spokesperson later categorically denied that any had been disabled. 

The issue is often carelessly described as “bombing Syria”, distorting the stated aim (allegedly to reduce Assad’s ability to manufacture chemical weapons, and to send  the message, “up with this we will not put“) and the conversation is almost as if we / Theresa May had personally bombed the al-Assad family plus all the men, women and children remaining in Syria. I do hope this isn’t what happened.

Alexander Nekrassov was angry, but his anger was not entirely in accord with Bari Atwan’s. “There is no proof that Russia was involved on the Skripal poisoning - if it was a poisoning,” he said.  “Novichok doesn’t even exist.”  A very Russian take on the matter.

Bronwen Maddox was the calm voice. The voice of sanity. She sounded maternal and sensible, but  Jane Hill was beaten into submission and chaos reigned.

Now. Any Questions and an extended version of Any Answers, thankfully not involving Anita Anand. There were just two major questions on Any Questions from Oxford, and the audience was so noisy that Dimbles Jr. had to reiterate the plea that the audience was ‘self-selecting’. I say he protesteth too much.

The main question was about the prospect of Britain, France and America collaborating in a joint military exercise in Syria. Unfortunately events overtook them, and by Saturday the deed had been done. Hence the extension to Any Answers. I have to say that most callers were against any kind of military intervention; so much so that they were, perhaps inadvertently, supporting appeasement for fear of repercussions in the form of terrorism or World War Three. Understandable, but arguably as indecisive, directionless and devoid of strategy or long-term planning as the military intervention they were opposing.  Most of them.

The question that gave the most illuminating picture of the Oxford zeitgeist was “Is criticising Israel always antisemitic?" What a question. A non-question. The very phrasing ridicules itself. It makes a mockery of a very serious situation. Critiscim? Shmiticism. They mean denouncing every single defensive measure Israel is forced to take. 

Caroline Lucas’s voice actually shook with passion as she gave an outrageously ill-informed account of Hamas’s Right of Return fiasco. In her eyes, ‘criticism of Israel’ ultimately gives credence to Hamas’s demand that Israel is subsumed by 4 million Palestinian Muslims. To her, that’s what  justice for the Palestinians means. And ’peace.’

Is she really as ignorant of the hate-filled, genocidal rhetoric, the incitement and the antisemitic nature of the Hamas ‘education system” as she appears to be? Either she is or she isn’t. Either way, that is not the same as ‘criticising’ Israel, and it is antisemitic. When she was asked if she felt as passionate about any other injustice, she had to think hard before coming up with the Rohingyas. You could hear her brain desperately trying to come up with a convincing answer. 

The Syria debacle completely overwhelmed Any Answers, pushing the antisemitism question into the long grass and to rumble on and on in the background in the unresolved manner to which it has become  accustomed. 


  1. To me Dimbleby seemed almost embarrassed by his own justification. You are spot on when you describe, “Is criticising Israel always antisemitic?” a non question. “Criticising the actions of the Israeli government” would not necessarily be anti-Semitic, but by widening the debate to Israel in general reveals the dark heart implied in the question - something that wasn’t even touched on by the panel. None of whom came out of this well. Peter Hitchens, as ever in love with the sound of his own voice, talked over everybody else at such length that the whole topic became an arms race of platitudes. It is strange at time when “evidence” is so sought after no such rules apply to Palestinians claims. Phases like “unarmed civilians” are simply accepted without question.

    I don’t believe condemnation of Israel is as universal as BBC groupthink would suggest, but where are the dissenting voices? Could there ever be a clearer case of BBC bias?

  2. See an interesting piece about anti Semitism from 1945 which will add light to this phenomena.


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