Sturgeon’s Mask

I can’t work out whether the SNP’s Nicola Sturgeon is deceiving Scottish people through ignorance or prejudice, because it must be one or the other.

An independent Scotland which rejoined the EU would not have much greater control over its affairs, all the more so since it would lose all the opt-outs the UK has historically negotiated and be compelled to join the euro and Schengen, as specified in the EU accession requirements.

In an independent UK, Scotland would have—because it currently does have—59 out of 650 MPs (9% of seats for 8% of the population) influence in its ‘parent’ parliament, and each of its elected members could propose legislation or become government ministers.

An ‘independent’ Scotland in the EU would have 6 out of 684 seats in the European Parliament, so would have a huge 0.87% of seats in the EP for 1.2% of the population.

Then you have to consider the relative powers and influence of a MP versus an MEP. An MEP, unlike an MP, can not propose legislation (legislative initiative) and can not join the Commission (EU government), as the Commission is appointed, not elected, and is merely approved or rejected en masse by the European Parliament.

An independent Scotland in the EU would ironically have significantly less influence, given the above and the fact that it would have small nation status in the EU.

A truly independent-minded Scot would campaign for independence from both the UK and EU. That I could understand.

I’m not an especially strong unionist in political terms. I have a lot of sympathy for those who seek greater powers to be ceded to Edinburgh and indeed further than that.

If it were up to me, the UK would be a confederation of states, on the Swiss model, with all powers devolved to the lowest practical level—right the way down to village level—and matters only shared up to county, regional, and finally national level where necessary or desirable.

But to swap relatively big influence in Westminster, where Scots often hold very high positions of office, including the PM on several occasions, for minimal influence in the EU suggests that someone is driven either by ignorance of how the EU works or anglophobia.

There’s definitely something fishy about Ms Sturgeon’s claims.


General Ignorance

Last night’s Question Time made for depressing viewing, based on the exhibited level of public awareness around the European Union and fears over Brexit.

The first example of stunning ignorance which jumped out was the audience member who once again parrotted the ‘three million jobs at risk if the UK leaves’ nonsense, despite that nonsense being comprehensively refuted by the author of the report from which it’s taken! Why is it difficult for so many to grasp the difference between jobs being dependent on continuing trade with the EU and dependent on EU membership? Nobody is advocating cessation of trade with EU countries!

The second example was the bizarre bloke who said that young people like to travel and wouldn’t like the idea of not being able to travel to other EU nations. No, really! He actually went further than the standard ‘all trade will cease’ nonsense and thought that Brexit would prevent travel to EU countries!

So these are the kind of nonsense ideas that are stuck in people’s minds. I think that those people who seek to remain in the EU (Bremainers, as I call them) have room for cautious optimism on this basis. I’m sad to say that this referendum will be won by a combination of ignorance and conservatism, and I genuinely fear that the UK will see many dark years ahead as part of an ‘ever closer union’ in which it will continue to play the awkward child. This is beyond tragic.

If you vote to remain in the EU, you should be aware that the status quo is not a viable option. You should vote knowing that if we are to remain in the EU, we should throw ourselves into it fully by joining the euro and Schengen. The euro members will continue to drive the agenda and those outside the ‘top speed’ integrationist nations will find themselves outvoted in the Council on matters which protect euro nation interests over non-euro nation interests. Staying where we are will build continuing resentment within the EU.

This brings me neatly onto the crux of the issue. There was one audience member who had done his homework. He had a pretty good grasp of the institutions and their responsibilities and touched on what I believe to be the heart of the matter.

For those unaware, EU decisions are made by the Commission and to a lesser extent, the Council (formally known as the Council of the European Union or the Council of Ministers – as distinct from the European Council). In the case of the Commission, none of its members are publicly elected – they are appointed. EU citizens do not vote for Commission members and they can’t do anything to vote the Commission out of power every few years through the ballot box in the same way that national governments can be removed from power if they become unpopular.

If you support this, I can only assume that you would be happy with a UK government chosen by politicians and not elected at all. The reality is worse than that, of course. The Commission is the government of the whole of the EU – not just one nation!

Remember too that the EU parliament does not correspond to our national parliament. There is no legislative right for MEPs. That is to say, an MEP can not propose a new law, like an MP can. The direct link between a constituent and the legislative process does not exist in the EU.

As for the Council, things took a turn for the worse following implementation of the Treaty of Lisbon in 2014, which saw the introduction of qualified majority voting on nearly all issues. The Council comprises ministers from each member state’s government and changes according to the issue under discussion. Prior to the introduction of QMV, unanimity was required amongst Council members, but as the EU expanded to its now 28 constituent states, it was clear that unanimity over issues would become almost impossible and slow decison-making down further still.

So, now if a state is outvoted in the Council, a member state can (and does) see measures adopted which are not only unfavourable, but which are positively against its interests. Depending on the issue under consideration, this can have hugely negative implications. And, as a net contributor, the UK pays handsomely for the luxury of having its own best interests out-voted. This becomes all the more relevant when you consider that the core euro nations will always vote as a bloc in their best interests and against the interests of the non-euro nations. That isn’t even nastiness, but merely pragmatism on their part.

People need to really understand these issues around EU processes and the responsibilities of the institutions, so forget what you read in newspapers of any political persuasion – from the Daily Mail to the Guardian – they all have an agenda. Buy a text book or even better, just seek out primary sources on how the EU works (from the EU’s own website, if that helps) and if you can conclude from your research that the European Union is a laudible project, I beg you to persuade me of its merits.

As a former EU supporter, who fell for the mantra of “we need to be in it to reform it” 25 years ago, has lived through EU expansion and increasing disenfrachisment of EU citizens, and has a depressing view of this country’s future within the EU when it could set a great example to other EU states about the benefits of life outside the EU, I could do with a laugh.


Politically Correct Denialism

You can hate an ideology without hating all those who are born under its umbrella.

This appears hard for people to grasp, but then they are the same people who seemingly struggle to differentiate between religion and race; see no causal connection between Islam and an organisation which calls itself Islamic State, which is run by someone who has a PhD in Islamic theology from the Islamic University of Baghdad; and which carries out atrocities accompanied by cries of ‘God is great’ rather than ‘I strongly object to western foreign policy’, and whose thugs require that their hostages recite a koranic prayer to establish who is and isn’t Muslim when they decide whether or not to kill them.

Yes, we know. It has nothing to do with Islam. I am clapping my hands very, very, slowly. Keep on reciting that mantra to yourself; you’re part of the problem.

Look, I wholeheartedly agree that most Muslims in western societies aren’t the problem. Islam is the problem. Not only that, but most victims of Islam are Muslims themselves, both in direct terms as victims of warfare and (to an equally abhorrent level to those of us who value human rights above religious or cultural beliefs, or about hurting the feelings of the religious) those who live under the daily oppression of religion, whether under the discriminatory nature of religious law or due to societal pressures within religious communities.

Those of us who reject all religious doctrines recognise that there would be no Islamic terrorism without Islam, because there would be no means of using those particular teachings of a 7th century warlord, his view of how his god operates, and his acolytes to manipulate the easily-led into believing that they are doing evil things for an ultimately godly purpose.

Those of us who argue vociferously against Islam are doing so because it is clearly at the root of sectarian conflict within the Muslim world and a wider conflict with the outside world, and is the means with which people can be convinced to kill themselves in the real belief in an afterlife.

The people who kill themselves are exhibiting the ultimate act of faith. How many people do you know who have such a strong belief in their religion that they will happily die for it? Are we supposed to believe that people will willingly surrender their lives, proclaiming ‘God is great!’ because they’re displeased with western foreign policy and not because they have absolute faith in an afterlife? Who buys that narrative? Well, apparently thousands of people – even senior politicians.

I dislike rap music intensely, but I’m not prepared to blow myself up proclaiming ‘God is great’ as a sign of my unhappiness at being subjected to it.

We are told that faith is a virtue. Surely, then, killing yourself is the ultimate expression of faith.

This ‘ultimate expression of faith’ is why many of those of us who reject faith – i.e. belief in something without evidence and on the basis of geographical and temporal accident – will do all we can to fight it.

Some mystify martyrdom, making it out to be something more than the mere actions of a prick who is far better off out of the gene pool and is doing evolution a massive favour. In an inspired comment, I recall the words of a soldier in an earlier conflict against the ‘armies of God’ , who calmly demystified and undermined the whole woo around martyrdom by using the term as a straightforward euphemism for killing these idiots.

“Martyrs? Sure, we’ll help a few of them become martyrs.”

The term may be meaningful to those who respect the whole concept of dying for dogma, but to those of us who reject this, it’s a meaningless term and far from worthy of respect is worthy of nothing more than ridicule, or, if we’re feeling generous, patronising pity.

The only worthy martyrs in my book are those who sacrifice their lives to save the lives of others – the heroes who throw themselves on grenades to save a greater number of their comrades in arms.

So, to those who engage in this collective self-deception… Call my disdain for religion any ‘phobia’ you like to gain your social-posturing brownie points and back-slapping from your platitude-peddling buddies, but get used to growing numbers of us making a vocal stance against all faiths, and against one in particular at the current time.

We’re under no illusions that we can prevent people from believing all manner of several-hundred-year-old nonsense, but we can point out its absurdities and educate the young against it, fighting against the very respect for it which society still, STILL, in the 21st century, tries to inculcate in it through our schools.

We hope that as humanity evolves, it will finally exit this dark period of history and move to a time when people don’t define themselves and fight each other over who has the best invisible friend, or whether that friend is edible or not (one for the Christians there – just for a bit of balance).

Mistake our disdain for religion as racism if you like and on that basis, I’ll call your dislike of my favourite music racism too.

Trust me though, you’ll never have our respect while you sustain and side with pre-Enlightenment superstition and neither will those of us with any backbone be curbed from our ultimate desire to rid the world of superstition once and for all; to cast aside an aspect of our history which truly divides people and has caused millions of deaths.

Earlier last week, Labour MP Keith Vaz said he would support the reintroduction of blasphemy laws, a mere seven years after we finally rid our country of these ridiculous laws. Does it not even occur to otherwise seemingly intelligent people that an omnipotent being really doesn’t need to be defended from having its feelings hurt?

Your religion is important to you? Fine. Keep it to yourself and ideally let your children decide for themselves. Don’t expect any civilised country in the 21st century to even consider blasphemy laws. What’s next? Witch trials? I mean, I know they’re still popular in Saudi Arabia, but bloody hell!

Rest assured, I would willingly subject myself to the full force of the law in the event of the reintroduction of such a law. I would love to see an advanced, supposedly liberal society in the 21st century forever condemn itself in the eyes of future generations by prosecuting someone for insulting religion, merely to pacify the most willingly and pathetically outraged factions of society.

If you are willing to debate the issues, and you’re one of the very few who can do so without name-calling or building more straw men than the Crow Man, let’s talk.

The Crow Man. Builder of straw men.

The Crow Man. Builder of straw men.

On an optimistic note, I am reading more and more about people in extremely religious societies, especially those under Islamic laws, turning away from religion. I have nothing but the utmost respect for those people, because, as much as many people in my culture appear to see all religions and cultures as the same, I am only too aware that speaking out against religion in many countries around the world can see you sentenced to death, and even where the state itself isn’t quite ready or prepared to carry out the sentence, it is more than willing to stand aside and let angry mobs carry out ‘God’s justice’.

I note that the #ExMuslimBecause hashtag has been trending in recent days. Not only are some decent Muslims brave enough to state ‘not in my name’ (yes, even objecting to the actions of ISIS can have you branded a ‘coconut’ by some enlightened citizens), but some who have been born into Islam are going one massive step further and abandoning religion altogether. Make no mistake, this is a very big development. Renouncing Christianity will have no effect on most people born into it (although there are still some less, erm, enlightened parts of the world where such a move could see you ostracised), but renouncing Islam – i.e. apostasy, does carry the death sentence according to the Hadith, and I’ve yet to see any believer deny this. So, those taking that step deserve massive support and respect from those of us who have already abandoned faith or never had it in the first place.

It’s perhaps somewhat ironic that ISIS, in attempting to foist the purest version of literalist Islam on those lands it occupies, may in fact be having a polarising effect and driving many of its co-religionists away.

To those who continue to act as apologists for religion, and especially those who claim to hold otherwise liberal values, if you’re happy to side with those on the wrong side of history, go for it. If you’re happy for your descendants to laugh at your support or respect for those clinging on to odd, Bronze or Dark Age beliefs, and for holding back human progress, fine. If you’re happy to facilitate oppression of those who are seeking to drag Islam through its own reformation by acting as an apologist for the most conservative and reactionary members of Islamic society, simply to validate your anti-western narrative, that’s your decision.

Just spare us the holier-than-thou social posturing and platitudes.


Talking up to children

The TV show The Apprentice last week featured both teams writing books for children and then attempting to sell as many copies of these as they could. One team had three or so words which were outside the vocabulary of most kids of their target age. Stock buyers at the biggest book store in London expressed concern at this, as though challenging kids with words they didn’t immediately recognise is a bad thing.

I couldn’t help but contrast this with the prevailing attitude of my formative years and also with what I learnt some time ago about language acquisition, as a linguist myself.

One of the key ways we learn vocabulary in our own mother tongue and in foreign languages is by hearing words we don’t recognise in context with other words. How somebody who doesn’t grasp this is charged with sourcing suitable books and buying stock for London’s biggest book store is truly shocking.

Our youngest (aged 7) is currently reading Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. You will already have gathered that some of the vocabulary is beyond him. He loves the book. Last night he was reading to me from an English translation of Wilhelm Busch’s German classic children’s book, Max and Moritz, which uses words and expressions completely alien to a modern child, even using a borrowed French word in the line “Are our Max and Mo’ perdu?”

This reluctance to patronise children didn’t used to be confined to the written word either. By way of demonstration, see if you can spot the source of this…

“This calm, serene, orb, sailing majestically among the myriad stars of the firmament.”*

Homer? Confucius?

Nope. All from the pen of the creator, writer, and narrator of Bagpuss, The Clangers, Pogle’s Wood, and Ivor the Engine; the late, great, Oliver Postgate.

I grew up watching his work from the time before I could crawl. He didn’t do “dumbing-down” and a generation of my contemporaries are all the better for it. Children born now are no less intelligent than children of my generation were. Unfortunately, some of those overseeing their education in key positions of influence appear to be.


When it comes to slavery, nobody should have a clear conscience

I read last week that Jamaica is to seek monetary reparations from the UK for its part in the historic slave trade, in addition to the £300 million in international aid it’s receiving from the UK. Fine. Let’s have this discussion out then. We’ll leave aside the fact that the state of Jamaica itself was built on the slave trade and that the Jamaican state itself should therefore be compensating the descendants of slaves.

The notion of monetary compensation from the UK to Jamaica for the slave trade is absurd, but right at the outset I want to state unequivocally that I am no apologist for any practice of slavery (unlike some others who cling on to certain mythologies I could name).

As a humanist, I abhor all slavery and those who practise it, especially when they justify it using their religion, which is precisely how it was ‘justified’ by many of its practitioners, both historically and to the present day. It is sad that I have to state that, but people have a tendency to bring their own prejudices into discussions.

The Atlantic slave trade was not the ‘whites seize blacks from Africa’ narrative many take away from the good old school syllabus. I’m not suggesting that we’ve been lied to by our educators. The trade was every bit as grotesque and unforgivable as it has been portrayed. Unfortunately, it’s what is not covered in history lessons that is quite important to consider when notions of reparations are bandied about. The clue is in the term itself.

The Atlantic slave trade involved white slave traders trading with black Africans who sold their fellow black Africans. That last bit is the bit which is left out of the usual, easy-to-understand narrative. As is often the case in history, things do not always follow a nice, easy, black and white (in this case, literally) narrative: they’re a little more nuanced.

Africa was not the united nation some appear to imagine it was at the time of the Atlantic slave trade. It isn’t a single, unified country now, so why do people appear to hold on to the delusion that it was in some way a united and homogeneous state back in the days of the slave trade? That seems like a rather patronising, ‘all Africans are the same’ attitude.

The slave trade was not something which was done solely by white people to other races. This is a blatant, cultural Marxist half-truth and underpins the all-pervasive narrative beloved of self-loathers. I would be surprised if the average person has an opinion which varies from this, based on how history has been taught in schools for decades.

Perhaps, a great part of this perception is in part due to our thoughts on this subject being framed by the more recent history of segregation/apartheid in those countries where this was continued after the formal abolition of slavery, and the resulting rise of the civil rights movements.

If we want to talk about the worst excesses of slave trading, Arabs were taking Africans as slaves between the 7th and 20th centuries. It’s estimated that 10-18 million Africans were taken in this way. In comparison, the Atlantic slave trade between the 15th and 19th centuries took between 7-12 million people from Africa across the Atlantic.

As I have already stated, I’m no apologist for the latter, but my own education saw me grow up with the narrative that slavery was the preserve of western nations: a somewhat incomplete and one-sided view, which, when promoted without a more rounded view, is designed to foster this sense of ‘white guilt’, which is somehow handed down from generation to generation and appears to colour the average person’s view of the world and blinds them to injustices perpetrated elsewhere in the world, somehow excusing them under a collective narrative of victimhood.

Following Great Britain’s outlawing of the slave trade in the early 19th century, it was the Royal Navy’s West Africa Squadron which patrolled the West African coast, seized around 1,600 slave ships and freed 150,000 Africans. It was British treaties with African leaders at the time which encouraged a shift in African societies away from selling defeated, fellow blacks into servitude and a move instead to legimiate commerical ventures, many of which continue to this day. And it was British sanctions against those African leaders who refused to abandon their enslavement of fellow Africans which brought about the collapse of those African societies which refused to renounce slavery.

As long as the slave trade operated, not just Arab, European, and American, but also African economies were built on this trade in human misery. So, any talk of compensation would necessitate corresponding reparations between African nations and by far the most compensation would be due from Arab nations.

Slavery has plagued humanity throughout history. It was common practice across cultures to take defeated enemies from neighbouring tribes or nations as slaves for use as labourers, for ransom, as concubines, or for use in ‘entertainment’ or ‘religious ceremonies’, which generally didn’t end well for the participant.

Clearly, slavery existed under the Romans and was widespread for centuries within what are now European nations. As in Africa, within Europe, fellow Europeans and fellow countrymen were taken as slaves. However, whereas the taking of fellow countrymen as slaves was outlawed in Europe in the Middle Ages, African kingdoms continued to trade in fellow Africans.

Europe had a form of slavery for centuries – Russia into the 19th century – in the guise of serfdom, and many historians regard this as somewhat close to the type of slavery practised within Africa. Even when serfdom ceased, the lot of the average Briton was hardly comparable to life today. With no state welfare state, if you were fortunate enough to be able to work, you worked hard. If you couldn’t work, you risked starvation, and the lot of the average Victorian child is well known, thanks in large to the work of campaigning authors of the time. There was the workhouse to fall back on, of course, but anyone who thinks the workhouse was anything other than effective forced servitude is self-deluded. It is no coincidence that the great movements of social reform originated in Europe.

It could be argued that what made the African slave trade especially despicable was the shiny veneer of legitimate ‘trade’ about it and the wilful collusion of fellow Africans, although there was no sense of a collective ‘group’ identity within the various black tribes, so one particular tribe would have no particular feeling of solidarity towards another tribe any more than Vikings would have taken any soft view of the fellow Europeans they raided or Romans would have had for their white slaves.

Nor have Europeans been immune from being cast into servitude. When it comes to slavery, skin colour is irrelevant. In fact, whereas most African slaves were bought from their black African slave owners and relatively few seized by mercenaries, in the case of white slavery, the slaves were simply taken in raids

Britain and Ireland, along with Italy, France, Spain, and Portugal, and even the Netherlands and Iceland were raided by the Turks (then a collective term for Muslims, rather than citizens of the modern country of Turkey), who took European slaves back to Islamic North Africa. In Iceland, the collective memories of the early 17th century raids by the ‘Turks’ are documented and still commemorated.

It is estimated that over 2 million white people were taken to Muslim lands as slaves, usually forcibly converted to Islam or often murdered for failing to convert. The mortality rate of Europeans taken slaves by Arabs was roughly equivalent to that of the Atlantic slave trade.

The fledgling USA, which had no qualm with the Muslim world following its foundation as an explicitly secular country, paid increasing amounts in ‘tributes’ to the North African, Muslim Barbary states, as did European countries in order to be able to send trade ships across the Mediterranean – essentially as ‘protection money’ or in ransoms.

Following its independence from Britain, the U.S. no longer enjoyed the protection of the Royal Navy and was initially reluctant to possess a navy with any purpose beyond protecting its own coast. However, the Barbary states attacked American ships on their trade routes across the Atlantic and the Mediterranean.

In 1784, Thomas Jefferson and John Adams sailed to London to broker a deal with the Barbary states, having obtained permission from Congress for $80,000 in tribute. When Tripoli’s ambassador, Sidi Haji Abdul Rahman Adja, was asked what gave the Barbary states permission to seize American ships and crews, the ambassador replied that the Koran mandated that it was the duty of all [Muslim] believers to make war on non-believers. Nevertheless, the ambassador, who may perhaps have considered the payment as jizzya (an Islamic tax levied on non-Muslims), agreed to leave American ships alone.

Jefferson and Adams Letter

Excerpt from letter from Thomas Jefferson and John Adams to John Jay. Grosvenor Square, London, 28th March, 1786.

His word to an ‘infidel’ clearly counted for nothing though. He would have had no hesitation in lying to infidels, based in the Islamic principles of taqiyya, which allows Muslims to lie to non-Muslims for the furtherance of their own faith – a practice clearly demonstrated by the founder of his faith himself when Mohammad signed a ten year peace treaty with the Meccans while he secretly prepared his takeover of the city.

Rather unsurprisingly, the attacks on American ships continued, so Jefferson realised that the only way to bring about the end to the situation (at one point, tributes had risen to 20% of the national budget) was to confront the Barbary pirates, or Corsairs. On becoming president in 1801, Jefferson sent frigates to the Mediterranean and the first Barbary War took place between 1801 and 1805, resulting in the release of U.S. crews who had been taken as slaves and a temporary end to hostilities, until once again, Tripoli broke its agreement and started to attack American ships. The U.S., somewhat preoccupied in the 1812 war against Britain, its native American allies, and its colonies in what is now Canada, was unable to respond until 1815, when it finally sent a naval fleet to Africa to put an end to piracy in the region and the practice of slave-taking from its merchant ships.

Indeed, it was the Barbary Wars and the U.S. fight against the Barbary state’s practice of taking slaves and demanding tribute which gave rise to and established the U.S. Navy and Marines. So, presumably in this spirit of restitution, European countries and the USA are due a hefty whack in compensation from Libya and Morocco too.

Of course, nobody can have seen the news in recent years without being aware that slavery and exploitation is still very much with us. From the human trafficking trade or the plight of foreign workers in Dubai, we have hardly removed exploitation from the world.

So, if we are to determine compensation based on the action of conquerors and their actions toward their conquered, at which point in history do we draw the line, or rather lines, since different countries/regions were affected at different times?

Furthermore, if we are going to place mometary value on everything, what consideration is made in terms of infrastructure, institutions, and scientific advances brought about by conquerors? How much do we British owe the descendents of Vikings and Normans in Scandinavia and France for building our cities and establishing institutions? Indeed, what have the Romans ever done for us?

How much do the countries of the former British Empire owe Britain for construction of railways, civil service, health and education institutions, many of which are still in use today and essential to modern life and many of which form the bedrock of these countries’ subsequent success?

It is no more reasonable to demand that modern British citizens bear responsibility for the sins (or take the credit for the successes) of their forefathers than it is to deny that someone of different ethnicity born in a country is a native of that country.

We can’t atone for the slave trade – it was an abomination. But if modern Jamaicans think it’s morally right to make modern British citizens pay for the sins of their forefathers, effectively punishing someone for a crime they didn’t commit, because make no mistake, that’s precisely what any such notion entails, I think it only fair for us to carry out a full audit of all historic debts.

We can’t put a price on the millions of people of all races who suffered at the end of the slave-driver’s whip.

A heartfelt and humble apology for the sins of our forefathers hardly suffices, but it must.

False Narratives and False Hopes

Perhaps we’ll make up our minds one day. Our government intervenes militarily where the UN fears to tread/UN fails to carry out its obligations/UN fails to function due to the OIC voting block countries and their anti-western allies (delete as applicable) and the supposed righteous get out on the streets with the Stop The War mob, demanding that we mind our own business.

We mind our own business and ordinary people are forced to flee their country in desperation while a movement of fanatical murdering religious ideologues grows in military power, confidence, and is able to slaughter and enslave thousands of innocents (including children) and destroy priceless antiquities with impunity – none of it bothering our consciences at all until a poor, drowned child is washed up on the shores of Turkey.So, now we’ve seen the consequences of failure to tackle force with greater force, and the results of parliament’s insistence on non-intervention, thanks to public pressure of an angry, vocal minority, which will it be, humanity?

Turn a blind eye, protest western military intervention, and let the unspeakable happen so long as it isn’t ‘in our face’?

Or perhaps we should stop validating the anti-western “it’s all about oil and money” bullshit narratives which serve merely as a recruitment sergeant to ever more easily-led and uneducated minds, eager to demonstrate their supposed canny, perceptive intelligence through propagating conspiracy theories, falsehoods and victimhood narratives.

I saw the following image shared by a grievance-monger on a social media post. Herein lies the problem with the Internet. This image will be shared and accepted without question or evidence as fact by thousands of people. Many of these will be fed a diet of this stuff and accept it as the truth. In the process, they are building up a false narrative. For some, it will be one of these pieces of propaganda which finally drives the easily-led young mind to abandon their priviliged life in the West and head off to fight alongside the Islamists.

This image says it, so it must be true.

This image says it, so it must be true.

And it’s not just these kind of dangerous, opinion-shaping propaganda pieces which are shared. Whether it’s the ‘five of the same weekdays occurring in a single month and making a Money Bags’ month, the date Marty McFly went back to the future, NASA spending millions developing a pen to work in space (whilst the Soviets used a pencil), or an argument between a US warship and a Spanish lighthouse, people are all too keen to propogate myths without the most basic fact-checking. Snopes is always a good start for the standard urban myths. More political myths require some more personal investigation and checking of primary sources, away from the opinion pieces of the Guardian or the Mail.

Put baseless narratives both into the hands of disaffected youths, struggling with their ‘identity’ and into the hands of those in poorly educated societies, and you have a gunpowder keg of ‘grievance’. In turn, certain people see this anger and accept is as justified. “They’re angry, so we must be being beastly to them.” is a far easier path to go down than “Hang on… From where exactly are they getting their information? Do they have a free press or does the regime in charge or those in influence such as religious leaders promote falsehoods?” or thinking things through for yourself from first principles.

The flip-side to the Internet of course is that it is relatively easy to check claims. For the record, the USA is not currently engaged in 75 current worldwide conflicts… Nothing like it. I challenged the poster to list just ten of these. He won’t manage anything like ten, and if he does, he’s making them up.

Returning to the refugee problem… The Kurds have no scruples in dealing with Islamists in the only way you can fight their ilk and they have demonstrated clearly that ISIS, like any bullies, are quick to turn tale and run when countered by forces who have something to live for – especially female soldiers*, rather than the lSIS death-culters themselves, who, in their own words “love death more than life.”

So, how do we deal with the current refugee crisis? As with many things, the ideal means would be to cut off the problem at source, rather than the sticking plaster approach of moving populations wholesale to a new continent.

I would suggest that a history book may help those who are struggling for answers to conclude what has worked and not worked in the past when dealing with similar forces of evil.

Here’s a hint though… How successful do you think negitations with the infamous moustachioed Austrian whose name I shall not mention would have gone? Here’s another hint… We know, because we tried negotiating, but it’s hard to make agreements with megalomaniacs and those who seek your destruction. If your history isn’t too hot, research the Munich Agreement and Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact and how successful they were ultimately.

If only more people were aware of history, perhaps we wouldn’t condemn ourselves to make the same mistakes time and time again.

The penny will eventually drop that the civilised world will have to defeat Islamism through military force. Alternatively, If we don’t intervene, it may just be possible that, as historian Tom Holland says, the Islamist bubble could burst by itself after a few decades of blood-soaked weariness in a similar way to the how the Thirty Years War finally ended, with populations more than decimated in the process.

The tragedy is that either way, I fear it will take a few more washed-up children and countless thousands of more innocent lives lost in even worse circumstances away from the press photographers and social media sharing images of a single child before the penny does drop.

*ISIS fighters are so faithful to their religion and utterly convinced of their faith that they are more than happy to die for it, because they believe that dying in battle for Islam assures them a place in heaven. Unless, of course, they’re killed by a woman, which means they go straight to hell – one of the many reasons they are scared shitless of fighting Kurdish and Yazidi women.

The Dignity of the Mob

Three days ago, Bob Cole chose to end his life with dignity, with a smile on his face and listening to Beethoven’s Ode To Joy at Dignitas in Switzerland. Last year, he accompanied his wife to the same clinic to end her life. Every two weeks, another Brit has to leave their home and travel abroad while they’re still able to do so to end their life, generally sooner than they’d have to, if they had the same opportunity under British law to die peacefully at a time of their choosing in more familiar surroundings.

Our politicians struggle with the moral questions surrounding euthanasia, often bringing their own personal deity of choice into the debate. On the other hand, most members of the public who have seen a loved one die slowly through a debilitating illness have no such moral quandaries and know exactly what choice they would make, given the opportunity.

A criticism levelled against Switzerland’s system of (semi-)direct democracy is that it leads to the rule of the mob. Interestingly, such criticism is generally advanced by ideologues who think that a ruling elite with the ‘correct’ opinions should rule over others’ lives; that politicians should ‘lead public opinion’, as they proudly put it – as though politicians were somehow vested with powers of super-wisdom, rather than merely ordinary members of the public who seek power and are subject to political pressure from lobby and special interest groups, or in the worst cases, bribes.

Naturally, these advocates of the chosen few leading the common herd always shout the loudest when the wise few ruling over them don’t happen to be their particular chosen few.

For those who aren’t aware, the Swiss have benefitted for nearly two centuries from a system whereby any franchised citizen can launch an initiative, which, when it reaches a sufficient number of votes, automatically triggers a referendum. It’s a system that I know many people in the UK would dearly love to have, if they were even aware of it. It’s a system which has been widely touted by the likes of UKIP MP Douglas Carswell, Conservative MEP Daniel Hannan, Conservative London mayoral candidate, Zac Goldsmith, and, unusually for a leftist party, the Greens.

That means that unpopular legislation from politicians can always be overruled by the voters. Imagine it… If the public supports renationalisation of the railways, it could have it; no privatisation of the NHS – not a problem; no foreign intervention in wars which don’t concern us – consider it off the cards; if most people support the idea of one’s right to decide when, where, and how to end one’s life, it becomes a reality.

It also means that the public is ultimately responsible for good and bad decision-making and that it therefore tends to be more politicially engaged. Bear in mind that a recent UN research once again found that the Swiss are the happiest people in the world.

After almost two centuries, I think we can conclude that the Swiss system clearly works.

Dignitas is a classic example of where public thinking is way ahead of politicians’ thinking over some core fundamental issues. If this is mob rule, bring on the mob. I’ll get my pitchfork.

Hiroshima – 70 Years On

  • Up to ten million civilian deaths in mainland Japan.
  • U.S. military casualties of up to one million (the U.S. still issues Purple Hearts from its stock of 500,000 made in anticipation of a mainland invasion of Japan).
  • 400,000 civilian deaths in Hokaido under Soviet invasion, following Soviet Union’s entry into war against Japan on 8th August 1945.
  • Execution of all Allied POWs in event of mainland invasion, following Japanese orders on 1st August, 1945.
  • Death of 250,000 civilians in China, Vietnam, and wider Asia for each month that the war continued.

These were some of the considerations in continuing with a mainland invasion of Japan and the issues which must have framed Truman’s decision to use the atom bomb.

Due to Tokyo’s largely wooden composition, 100,000 people died in there in a single conventional incendiary raid in scenes reminiscent of the attacks on Dresden and Hamburg. Conventional blanket bombing was hardly a sanitised procedure in comparison to Hiroshima and Nagasaki and death in a conventional firestorm no more humane.

Hiroshima and Nagasaki were not bombed without warning. In both cases, Japan was informed in advance that the Allies were in possession of a new weapon of unprecedented destruction which would be used if Japan failed to surrender. 

We are talking of a time of total war and unspeakable atrocities. Japanese atrocities in Manchuria are well documented, including bayonet practice on live civilians, burying alive, cannibalism and medical experiments on live prisoners, and worse. We should also consider that Japan is responsible for launching hostilities against the U.S.A. and was not shy in planning to visit death on its enemy. Japan was planning to unleash plague attacks on America shortly before war’s end in Operation Cherry Blossoms at Night.

Japanese bushido code had already been strongly in evidence in the invasion of Iwo Jima and Okinowa. In Iwo Jima alone, only 216 out of over 26,000 Japanese soldiers were taken alive. The remainder died fighting or in ritual suicide. And then there were the mass civilian suicides, based on Japanese civilian fear of Allied reprisals for starting the war… fears which were unfounded when these civilians came into American hands.

Don’t misunderstand me, the use of the atom bomb in Hiroshima and then Nagasaki three days later, following Japan’s refusal to surrender, were awesome, in the true sense of the word, but the alternative scenario is easily overlooked and that scenario would have seen millions of more civilian deaths and untold destruction.

So, let us indeed commemorate those poor innocents of a country which is now a firm friend, who lost their lives and suffered from the long-term effects of the events which finally ended the Second World War, but let us do so in the knowledge that countless millions survived as a result of that awful decision taken by Truman in Potsdam.

We’ll never know the alternative scenario for sure, but it’s fairly clear that Truman’s decison was not one taken with sadistic relish, but after quiet reflection of the alternative scenario. It would be better if media considered this a little more in their reporting.

Why we should all, EUphiles and EUphobes, vote to leave the EU

It’s fairly obvious that those of us who oppose the EU (for political, not xenophobic reasons, before the tired old clichés are deployed) are likely to vote no in the upcoming EU referendum.

But here’s why those who are passionate advocates of the EU should vote no too. Assuming those of us who favour Brexit are correct, we have the following scenario:

Britain continues to maintain a good trading relationship with the EU (like the one the British public was deceived into voting for in the last referendum on the issue in 1975) and a friendly relationship with our European neighbours, but the country is able to open up to wider markets around the world and conclude trade deals with whom we please and on mutually beneficial terms; political decisions are made closer to the people by people elected by the people and removable by the people; political decisions can be made more quickly and expediently without having to seek agreement across 28 different member states, each of which has a different set of priorities from its neighbours; the net contribution we currently make to the EU is removed; the country can seek closer ties with nations across the Commonwealth countries, with whom we share a great deal in common; the country continues to cooperate and work very closely with our European neighbours on matters of global significance, such as issues around environmental concern, defence, human rights, and shared values.

But let’s pursue the alternative scenario and assume that following Brexit things take a turn for the worse and Britain nose-dives. We have no reason to suppose that this will happen at all. In fact, the objective views seem to suggest that in the short to medium term, there will be little economic effect, positive or negative, from Brexit. But let’s just humour the doom-mongers and run with the Domesday scenario, whilst bearing in mind that many of those who predict our ruin in the event of Brexit are the same people who predicted our ruin if we failed to join the euro.

In the worst-case scenario, we can simply apply to rejoin the EU. And here’s where things get really good for the serious pro-EU brigade.

Rejoining the EU would require that we adopt the euro, since that is a condition of accession, as is acceptance of the Schengen agreement, so we would have fully open borders with our EU neighbours. We would be very much the humbled, cap-in-hand country, and we would be in no position to play the former great power, but would have to accept the Commission’s decisions happily and with gratitude. We would revel in the benignity of the wise and impeccable decisions of the Commission. We would be the little player in the superstate that the EU fans would dearly like us to be… and we’d still have that massive 3.5% vote share at the ‘top table’ (or possibly less, depending on how many countries join in the interim) they keep banging on about.

So, what’s to lose? Pretty much everyone agrees that business as usual in the EU is no longer an option. The EU has been promising fundamental reform from back in the days when I was a big advocate of the then 12 member European Community, as it was then, around a quarter of a century ago… A mark of how piteously slow the mechanics of the EU operate.

If you’re an EUphile, and the UK leaves and ends up prospering, you win. If things go badly wrong following a Brexit and we apply to rejoin, you end up with the UK even more firmly integrated into the great United States of Europe project.

Either way, you’re a winner!

Still Droning On

Clearly I’m missing something. I hear a lot of objection to the use of military drones and I don’t quite understand why.

If people’s objections are based on incidents where civilians have been killed by drones, that is not an issue related to technology, but a moral objection. Civilians have always been killed by warfare and the area (blanket) bombing tactics used in World War 2 are surely more objectionable than the use of precision weaponry.

If the objection is a generic objection to war, again, that is a legitimate point of view, but that does not relate to drones, but to a pacifist point of view. It’s not one I share, for reasons of history and realism, but I can understand it. However, if the objection is war per se, I wish people who decry the use of drones would declare their position honestly at the outset; otherwise, they’re just muddying the debate.

So, excluding those two standpoints leaves us with the objection that using drones just ‘isn’t cricket’ when it comes to killing people in wars.

These same objections have been raised in the past, from the original objections to the use of long-distance weapons, notably the church’s attempts to ban use of the crossbow, longbow, and gunpowder at different points in history. It’s odd, really, but if your objection to drones is based on the remoteness or desensitisation of the nature of combat, are you saying that you’d prefer good, honest, hand-to-hand combat with axes, daggers, pikes, spears, claymores, or swords? And why isn’t there more general moral outcry about the use of guns and conventional missiles, which can kill from hundreds of metres to continents respectively without any need for the person responsible for firing/launching to come face to face with the recipient(s) of said lethal force?

Personally, I welcome the move in recent decades away from area bombing of cities. I’ve lived in Coventry and been to Dresden. I know full well the effects (both actual and psychological) that the raids had on civilian targets and they’re far, far more horrific than any modern audience can truly grasp. My own mother was almost six when war was declared and was never again able to hear the air raid siren on television or even hear German voices comfortably without recalling bad memories of her early years growing up in Brixton during the Blitz.

No, precision weaponry, in the grand scheme of things, has to be welcomed. If we are going to fight wars (and unfortunately, when civilisations clash and we wish to defend our values, wars must be fought), I am glad that we no longer target civilian areas en masse, but are able to deploy weapons to precise targets.

The use of drones takes the risk away from at least one set of combatants – i.e. those we should be supporting in these struggles, since they are on OUR BLOODY SIDE! I don’t quite understand a mentality which says we should put our military personnel at risk to fight fairly. Most of our military enemies in recent years have not ‘fought fairly’ in any case, choosing instead to hide amongst civilian targets, from schools to mosques, because they know full well that public opinion will not tolerate ‘collateral damage’ or damage to what are ‘holy places’, despite their own disregard for the sanctity of their own people or places of worship.

Indeed, operating drones from remote locations means that those involved in operations can be overseen by senior officers and there are fewer opportunities for rogue actions by individuals who are operating out of sight.

There are of course the stories of wedding parties hit by drone strikes. Again, there’s little to suggest that similar mistakes wouldn’t be made by conventional, battlefield decisions. Indeed, such mistakes have always been made and operative stresses are surely more likely to lead to collateral damage than decisions made in the safety of remote locations, where all the focus can be placed on selecting the correct target rather than defensive concerns.

Warfare has always involved one side striving to get the upper hand on the other side, through better weaponry, technology, tactics, or superior numbers. Our enemies are free to advance technologically, if they choose to do so, but while the self-loathers among us appear to infer that our enemies have the moral high ground, there is something they must consider seriously…

We could utterly destroy our enemies using WMDs if we chose to do so. Isn’t it at least a mark of our civility that we choose not to do so? And if your response to that involves Hiroshima or Nagasaki, I invite you to read up on casualty figures involved in taking just the remote, outlying Japanese islands as a prelude to the mainland invasion of Japan, and extrapolate, as Truman must have done when he made that fateful decision in Potsdam, on how many lives would in fact be saved by that decision, as horrific as the outcome was.

I also invite you to consider carefully what some of our nihilist, religious enemies would do, given the same opportunity to use WMDs, and given that they already proudly and openly declare that they ‘love death more than we love life’.

We may yet live to find out.