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That’s Ok Then February 22, 2009

Posted by Garibaldy in International Politics, The War On Terror.
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I’ll never do it again. Honest.

Mercenaries and Iraq. A Tale of Woe. November 17, 2008

Posted by Garibaldy in Capitalism, Iraq, The War On Terror.

A while back, I remember reading a post I think on this site about the mercenary army that was enabling the occupation of Iraq to continue by keeping the number of US combat deaths artificially low. I can’t find it now. Anyway, I wouldn’t usually cross-post, but I think this piece I just put up on my own blog will also be of interest to readers here. And perhaps the author of the other post can add a link to it.

The Guardian has an entertaining story on its front page with British mercenaries in Iraq and Afghanisatan complaining about being undercut by cheaper eastern European labour, with backgrounds in the special forces of those countries.

The National Association of Security Professionals (Nasp), an organisation for those working in the private security industry, said former British soldiers are being laid off by companies in Iraq who are turning to east Europeans instead. The number of Britons providing security in Iraq has fallen from a peak of about 5,000 in 2004-05 to nearer 2,000 this year.
Mark Shurben-Browne, a director of Nasp, said the market had reached saturation point, with companies receiving 10-20 CVs a day. But many firms were trying to reduce costs by hiring staff from eastern Europe, particularly Serbs and Croats.
“One company sacked half their British workforce and replaced them with cheaper guys with a special forces background from eastern Europe,” said Shurben-Browne.
“The companies are mixing the teams up, keeping two or three expat or British guys on in a team with the rest from eastern Europe.”

The National Association of Security Professionals. Talk about a misnomer. What this is is a gang of mercenaries, who have been getting fat and rich as an unaccountable special army that has a dreadful record of human rights abuses and killing civilians, often being spirited out of the country to avoid local courts – or any justice at all. Astoundingly, there is also an employers’ federation for these people:

Andy Bearpark, director general of the British Association of Private Security Companies (BAPSC), said: “There may be some blokes in Iraq earning £100,000 a year tax-free, but £50,000 tax-free is a much more likely figure now.”
Bearpark has heard of Fijians, Gurkhas, Ukrainians and Sierra Leoneans being employed, usually on much lower wages than British and US personnel. “There was a US firm which was not even paying Sierra Leoneans 10% of what they paid their US staff,” he said.

So mercenaries are the victims of the credit crunch as well as merchant bankers. Every cloud has a silver lining. We on the left are sympathetic to people who lose their jobs by inclination. And perhaps we could view becoming a mercenary as a rational choice by people to employ their particular type of skilled labour power. However, the fact that many are coming from Croatia and Seriba should raise questions, and a clear description of the character of many of the British people involved is provided by Bearpark:

“It’s not unusual for guys to go and buy shares in a Bangkok brothel and within three months they’ve lost it all and then they have to try to get another contract to pay off their debts. They’re not people used to handling a lot of money. The average guy is earning £40,000-£45,000 in Afghanistan, which is nothing like what people were earning in Iraq,” said Bearpark.

I think that says enough about the mercenaries. One other point – the language employed by The Guardian. What have we come to when a paper that is supposed to be the voice of progressive Britain unquestioningly adopts the language of the “private security industry”, and puts it on its front page?

US casualties in Iraq January 14, 2008

Posted by franklittle in Iraq, Middle East, The War On Terror, United States, US Media, US Politics.

In December 2007 15 US troops lost their lives as a result of hostile action in Iraq according to CNN’s tracking of Coalition casualties in Iraq and Afganistan. Another eight died from non-hostile action, amounting to 23 in total. In order to find similarly low figures, it’s necessary to go back to February 2004 when 12 US troops were killed as a result of hostile action and another nine from non-hostile action amounting to total fatalities of 23. Last week six US soldiers were killed in a booby-trap bomb north of Baghdad. It was the first incident involing multiple deaths of of US soldiers since September and the bloodiest attack since May.

Suggesting the decrease US casualties is not a blip, US fatalities have been steadily declining since May 2007, with month on month decreases. Newspaper reports have indicated a growing number of military successes for US forces since the ‘surge’ began almost a year ago. While everything coming from official sources in Iraq needs to be treated with a large dose of salt there have been numerous reports of Sunni tribes who have switched sides having been alienated by Al Qaeda tactics. Last week the US launched the largest air offensive in Iraq since 2006 dropping 40,000 pounds of explosives on almost 50 targets following which US forces claimed they were able to move into previously insurgent held areas.  Bush indicated on his visit to Kuwait in a piece in the LA Times yesterday that the proposed reduction in US troop levels of 30,000 in July remains on track.

This throws up a couple of interesting questions. Are the US actually beating the insurgents or have Iraqi militants calaculated that the better option is to hunker down, hit more vulnerable Iraqi civilian and security targets and wait for the surge to die away knowing the US doesn’t have the ability to sustain it? Is the Bush administration, and the US Republican party, trying to create an image of success in Iraq ahead of the Presidential election that will allow them to bring home 20-30,000 US combat troops weakening the ability of the Democrats to use the war as an issue to attack whomever is the Republican nominee? Or is it possible that the new strategy and new troops are having as sizeable an impact as official sources claim and the insurgency has been delivered multiple hard blows in a short space of time? Could the US military strategy in Iraq be starting to work?

The internet. A new front in the so-called War on Terror. November 6, 2007

Posted by franklittle in European Politics, European Union, Freedom of speech, Internet, Islam, Media and Journalism, Terrorism, The War On Terror.

Great news in the war for freedom and against people of a different religion and darker skin pigment than ours. According to Examiner Breaking News, the European Commission is to unveil proposals today to make it a criminal offence to promote acts of terrorism on the internet.

EU Justice Commissioner Franco Frattini wants a new law making illegal ‘public provocation to commit a terrorist offence’ including under the definition of ‘public provocation’, ‘the distribution, or otherwise making available, of a message to the public, with the intent to incite…’ terrorist acts. Note that it is a crime to incite acts of terrorism regardless of whether an act of terrorism actually results from that incitement, something which would anyway be very difficult to prove.

According to the Examiner, Commission officials insist, presumably with a straight face, that this will not impinge on the expression of political views or analysis of terrorism. Also worth noting that though the Commission is stating that the internet and the use of it by terrorists is the main motivator behind this, the law will apply to all forms of communication.

Statewatch have an analysis up here.

In a related story, the EU Observer has an interesting piece about another EU Commission in the fight against terrorism to increase the amount of air passenger data stored by EU member states and to store it for up to 13 years. The proposal, which would require unanimity, would see name, address, credit card number, passport data, telephone numbers, travel agent, flight history and, my favourite, seat preference, join a great deal of other information in computers in European capitals.

Statewatch again:

According to Tony Bunyan from UK liberties group Statewatch “this is yet another measure that places everyone under surveillance and makes everyone a suspect without any meaningful right to know how the data is used, how it is further processed and by whom”.

“The underlying rationale for each of the measures is the same – all are needed to tackle terrorism”, Mr Bunyan said, referring to the mandatory taking of fingerprints for passports and the mandatory storage of telecommunications data.

“There is little evidence that the gathering of mountain upon mountain of data on the activities of every person in the EU makes a significant contribution. On the other hand, the use of this data for other purposes, now or in the future, will make the EU the most surveilled place in the world”, he concluded.

Terrorists seek to destroy our freedoms but worry not, the European Union will erode our civil liberties first in a weird kind of scorched earth policy. And in case there’s some confusion, wherever I use the word ‘terrorism’ or ‘terrorist’, I do so with more than a little cynicism. Terrorists after all are the people with the small guns and the tiny bombs. The ones with the big guns and gigantic bombs are defending our diminishing freedoms by abolishing those of others.

US Army speeds up expansion October 12, 2007

Posted by franklittle in The War On Terror, United States, US Politics.

Interesting little piece from the AP wires I came across on Mother Jones. US military leaders have announced that they intend to increase the size of the US Army by 74,000 extra soldiers by 2010. This is two years ahead of the planned deadline of 2012. To put that figure in context, this would give the US a standing ‘active’ army of 547,000, so we’re talking about an increase of somewhere in the region of 15%.

One of the initiatives they plan to take to assist this plan is to give members of the National Guard $2,000 per recruit for every person they bring into the active duty Army. Sign up a friend, get a two grand bonus. What a deal. Worth noting that the US military has add to offer better and better deals to maintain recruitment figures. I seem to recall a figure of 80,000 recruits a year simply to maintain existing troop commitments, but I could be wrong on that.

Yet at the same time as this expansion is being speeded up, General Petraeus, in charge of the ‘surge’ in Iraq, is claiming they will soon be able to reduce US troop strength in Iraq.

Maybe he’s lieing, and maybe they figure they’re going to need those troops elsewhere.

Pr(yi=1|xi) = 1/(1 + exp(-xi ß)) The formula for a ‘successful’ war October 6, 2007

Posted by franklittle in Iraq, Other Stuff, Pseudo-Science, Science, The War On Terror, United States, US Media, US Politics.
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Some people cherish the fond belief that many of the more confusing problems of this life can be reduced to mathematical forumlae and equations. One of these seems to be Patricia Sullivan, a professor at the University of Georgia in the US, who has devised a mathematical equation to predict the outcome of conflicts based on a detailed analysis of 122 military interventions involving the US, Britain, China, Russia and France since 1945.

She claims that the correct outcome is predicted in 78% of the conflicts run through it. The chances of success for the US in Vietnam for example, come out at 22%. The Soviets had a 7% chance of success in Afghanistan and the invasion and overthrow of Saddam started off with a 68% chance of working.  The forumlae gives the objective of routing the insurgency and the creation of a democratic Iraq a success rate of 26% with an estimated duration of ten years.

While accepting that there is some truth in the accepted wisdom that the relatively poor success rate of the major powers in foreign military interventions is down to a combination of lack of resolve and poor decisionmaking, Sullivan argues that the key determinant in many conflicts has been the attitude of the civilian population. Without ‘target compliance’ the chances of success through the application of overwhelming use of blunt force are pitiful. Decades after Vietnam and the notion that hearts and minds must be won over still seems not to have caught on.
“We can try to use brute force to kill insurgents and terrorists, but what we really need is for the population to be supportive of the government and to stop supporting the insurgents,” she said. Otherwise, every time we kill an insurgent or a terrorist, they’re going to be replaced by others.”

Strangely, despite a level of understanding of mathematics that has floored me in calculating the tip in a restaurant, I’d figured all that out by myself. Also interesting that the notion that foreign powers have a right to intervene isn’t questioned, merely the efficiency with which it is done and whether the target population is compliant enough. Key words there being ‘target’ and ‘compliant’.

More of an oddity I suppose than a newsy story for the blog but easing myself in again after an unavoidable absence. Also, would be curious to know what the chances of a successful armed revolutionary uprising in Ireland would be. If ‘y’ is the number of copies of Socialist Worker sold in the country and ‘xi’ is the number of capitalist running dogs, how many ‘Pr’ (left-wing blog posts) are necessary to push us over the top?

The Bourne Ultimatum – a very contemporary spy movie. August 25, 2007

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Art, Culture, Film and Television, The War On Terror.
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Interesting stuff the contemporary spy movie. Ever since Paul Greengrass got his hands on the first of the Bourne franchise he’s been able to work a certain magic upon what was a rapidly atrophying genre. So much so that we can now forego the nonsense of the last of the Brosnan Bond franchise which saw invisible cars skidding around ice sheets. Two cheers for that at least.

Whether Casino Royale was quite the reinvention some have suggested is a different matter. Good, I thought, but also peculiarly ropy in places, particularly in the final set piece set in Venice where one just knows that the pressure from industry execs to get one big showy finale overcame the more restrained elements that had preceded it.

And perhaps an extra cheer for the current Bourne film which I saw yesterday. There’s lots to admire, even quite a bit to like. The pacing is excellent. Grainy shaky camera work with little or nothing of the glossy high finish and CGI that has come to represent the average Hollywood product. In fact the visual style is not entirely dissimilar to that series of early 1970s thrillers typified by Three Days of the Condor and The Parallax View. Cars crash, colours collide, disaster movie stuff. Again and again and again. From set piece to set piece. First we have a cat and mouse game in Waterloo train station in London between Matt Damon, a Guardian journalist he is trying to assist and a CIA backed assassin. Then there is Madrid. Then there is Tangiers. Then New York. And travel in this series is low level. There is little of the exotica and excitement that characterised the early Bonds, where it was possible for the audience to live somewhat vicariously through the lead… in Bermuda, or the wealthy resorts on the south coast of France. Bourne uses ferries, trains and suchlike, to the point one wonders about just how low impact is his carbon footprint. The locations are the underground car parks and service corridors that one sees bizarrely in the West Wing when the President is decanted from a limousine in the access ways leading to restaurants and suchlike.

But then, and this is the real strength of the film, this is juxtaposed with a contemporary communications and surveillance system that has a terrifying authenticity to it. Mobiles are tapped in real time. Offices bugged. Surveillance cameras co-opted to target individuals. Banks prevented from making payments and so on.

And Paul Greengrass uses the skills he developed as a documentary film maker well. At times the action unfolds like a sort of meta-lesson in just how security services operate, for good bad and exceedingly ugly. The film is littered with references to the war on terror. Hooded captives. Renditions. Termination of agents. Experiments in de-personalisation. And even the suggestion of deep cover assets used by the CIA who may not even know which side they work for.

Matt Damon, for slightly too long rather unwinningly youthful in the role suddenly – finally – begins to look his age, and none the worse for it.

One criticism is that women fare poorly in this series. That’s true to a point. The rather fantastic Franka Potente was killed off in the first five minutes of the second movie. Julia Stiles is fairly reserved in this movie. Yet Sarah Churchwell who wrote an argument about this in the Guardian recently neglects to mention the moral centre at the heart of the film in the form of Joan Allen as CIA boss Pamela Landy. It is her energy and autonomy that carries the plot forward throughout to the closing minutes [incidentally, and on a slight tangent, I caught five minutes of Wolf Creek last night on RTÉ 2. Now that’s misogynistic. I hope I never catch another five].

Another might be that the Guardian comes out both with reputation as fearless purveyor of truth enhanced but with its journalistic staff portrayed as idiots unable to keep their heads in a life-threatening situation.

But these issues don’t detract too much from the film. Indeed it is heartening to see that it retains at its core some of the humanism that characterised the original source, the thrillers written by Robert Ludlum. They were never great literature. But at the height of the cold war they were quite unusual in recognising both the cynicism of the links between east and west and the inherent humanity of those involved in such activities. And the original Bourne novels were explicit in blaming an intelligence complex that was largely out of control.

Greengrass presents a Bourne that resonates with contemporary issues. But in a way the issues are no different in real terms than they ever were. An interesting, instructive and entertaining film.

Quislings, Iraq, Neil Clark and Nick Cohen… and how decency isn’t the preserve of the “Decent Left”. August 17, 2007

Posted by WorldbyStorm in 9/11, Iraq, The War On Terror.

Being otherwise preoccupied I missed this article by Neil Clark on the Guardian’s Comment is Free site (incidentally splinteredsunrise has a post on a similar issue and it’s well worth reading the link to Johann Hari, who while irritating provides at least some sort of analysis on the pro-war left). And in a way I’m glad I missed it first time around because I think the response to it is very revealing and demonstrates some aspects of the left that the “Decents” have tended to ignore in the past.

What does Clark suggest? Under the heading Keep these quislings out he proposes that:

A group of pro-war bloggers is playing a prominent role in a campaign to grant asylum to Iraqis who have been working as translators for the British forces in Iraq. Not all who back the campaign were in favour of the war, but some of its most strident supporters are.

It seems the Iraqis in question live in real fear of their lives in their newly “liberated” country. Surely, this can’t be right. Weren’t we told five years ago by the same pro-war bloggers that the Iraqi people were simply baying for a US/UK invasion, and that the “liberators” would be greeted with bouquets of flowers and cucumber sandwiches? Now the cakewalk brigade is telling us those who collaborate with – oops, sorry, work for – the liberators may not actually be the most popular guys and gals in town.

One has to love the ‘It seems’… and indeed the way in which the translators suddenly become meat to an argument.

Then there is the contention that:

If more Iraqis had followed the example of the interpreters and collaborated with British and American forces, it is likely that the cities of Iran and Syria would now be lying in rubble.

This, to my mind is just an inversion of the neo-con argument. Here a people is asked to assume superhuman attributes and qualities in order to fulfill a political objective. For the neo-cons that ran along the lines of ‘Iraqi’s will pay the price of invasion and occupation in order to establish democracy and forestall the spread of Islamism across the Middle East’. For Clark it runs along the lines of the Iraqi’s sacrificing themselves on the alter of the resistance in order to forestall the US from waging war across the Middle East. Both ask others to do the heavy lifting. Both ignore the human cost implicit in their viewpoint.

Still, if we want to get to the heart of the argument consider one of his parting shots:

Before you rush to condemn Iraqis who feel ill disposed towards the interpreters, ask yourself a simple question: how would you view fellow Britons who worked for the forces of a foreign occupier, if Britain were ever invaded? History tells us that down through history, Quislings have – surprise, surprise – not been well received, and the Iraqi people’s animosity towards those who collaborated with US and British forces is only to be expected.

Isn’t this the know-nothing school of political and historical analysis? The use of the word Quisling – is so specific as to render the point he makes meaningless. Is he seriously suggesting that an interpreter for the US or UK military is a Quisling, i.e. akin to a fascist who directly aided and abetted in the occupation of a democratic country by a National Socialist regime? Well actually he doesn’t exactly because he suggests that they are also “self-centred mercenaries who betrayed their fellow countrymen and women for financial gain”. Now Quislings may well have been mercenary, but the truly appalling aspect of them was that they were for the most part entirely sincere in their beliefs.

No mention of the fact that Iraq is effectively an imperialist creation in the first place, a crushing together a host of differing nationalities, at least one of which – the Kurds – has achieved something close to de facto nationhood. Are Kurds collaborators against ‘Iraq’ because they accepted US help against the Saddam regime throughout the 1990s? It’s a nonsensical proposition, particularly from a self-described ‘democratic socialist’. Then looking at the Sunni-Shia, we see how the phrase ‘Iraqi peoples’s’ loses all meaning. Iraq was a profoundly divided society, remains a profoundly divided society and in all likelihood is going to be a profoundly divided society into the foreseeable future. In that context, one of submerged civil war throughout much of it’s recent history the concepts of ‘Quisling’ and ‘collaborators’ become moot.

This is before we even examine the motivation of those who would work with the US and UK in this situation. No mention of the dictatorship prior to the invasion and how this might just conceivably colour the view of an Iraqi who sought a democratic future and mistakenly put his or her trust in the US. No mention of the host of personal, political and other reasons a person might decide to assist, perhaps even to ameliorate the Coalition presence.

It is this lack of balance, nuance or depth that makes me think that this is this simply rhetoric, some handy stick to beat Bush and Blair and beyond that is representative of a personalised conflict between Clark and pro-war bloggers. Because it is difficult not to see the hyperbole, the stretching or ignoring of fact as part of an argument which has little relation to actuality.

Which means that this is effectively a toytown political analysis, in other words an analysis produced simply to berate one’s political opponents ignoring the actuality of the impact such an analysis has. And Clark isn’t shy about the implications of his thesis:

If that means some of them may lose their lives, then the responsibility lies with those who planned and supported this wicked, deceitful and catastrophic war, and not those of us who tried all we could to stop it.

For those of us who came up through parties with even the most tenuous connection to Republicanism and Socialism the glibness with which Clark makes such pronouncements are redolent of the certainties of another era. One of the worst periods of the conflict in the North was when the list of those who were viewed as legitimate targets was extended out to encompass cleaners, sub-contractors and others. The reason was obvious. The security forces were reasonably well protected, but these ancillary groups were not, so they provided a convenient proxy. But the North wasn’t Vichy France. The IRA wasn’t the Resistance. And many of those cleaners and sub-contractors belonged to a Unionist community which had a national identification with the British Army and the British state. To attack them was to de facto attack that community. That was a tactic almost nihilistic in it’s stupidity.

What Clark proposes is no better, perhaps even worse. Iraq isn’t Vichy, those fighting the US and UK and the Iraqi government aren’t the Resistance. And that government isn’t a Vichy government either. The situation is far too complex for a simplistic template drawn from the Second World War to be applied to this. Take the Mahdi Army. By Clark’s lights they must be effectively part of the Resistance since they fought the US some years back…but wait, they have allied MPs in Parliament and they haven’t fought the US since. Doesn’t that make them collaborators as well? Or what of the Sunni parties, some of whom have links to the insurgency. Collaborators or Resistance? Both or neither?

Where does he draw the line? Where could anyone?

And what of the left, of which he is nominally a member…

What of the Trade Unions who have fought the US backed oil law? Does not their engagement make them ‘collaborators’? Some in the ‘resistance’ appear to think so to judge by the continuing attacks on them. What of the Iraqi Communist Party which suffered grievously under Saddam and has engaged with but been entirely critical of the US and UK? They too have been under assault. What of ordinary Iraqi’s who voted in flawed democratic processes. Does not their engagement mark them down for the bullet or the sword?

I mentioned that the response was very interesting. Almost overwhelmingly it was negative, and this from those, as I would expect, who were against the war in the first place. The basic retort was that these are human beings, that the US and UK, whatever Clarks protestations have a duty of care even just as employers to people who they used and this must be upheld. Nick Cohen – who sadly has been something of an inverse of Clark, has argued that the left has lost its bearings. I see no sign of that. I see a left which is confused on the issue and unsure as to the best possible way forward. One that was bitterly conflicted over the war, and rightly so. But I also see a left which is innately decent and while not prepared to support the war is prepared to support those who are victims of it from whatever quarter.

Decency, and a common humanity isn’t the preserve of the “Decents”. Far from it. In some respects it is the aversion to epochal transformative projects which symbolises a more decent approach than that pursued by the keyboard warriors. Their view of all on the anti-war left as being appeasers or cheerleaders for the most revanchist elements of Islamist thinking is simply incorrect. Those are the exceptions, not the rule.

Cohen is wrong because he wants everyone to accept that there was no principled argument against the invasion and war. Everything he writes is a justification of that position, even as the war and its aftermath are now clearly a complete disaster. And it’s not that there were no principled arguments in favour, simply that cooler heads on the anti-war side were more broadly correct in their analysis. Clark is wrong because he wants to implicitly put all to the fire whose actions might suggest that the situation is more complex than just the result of an US/UK intervention. But Clark is representative of very very few people. Far far fewer than Cohen and others on the ‘decent’ left would like to suppose and also far far fewer than Clark might like to think.

Thoughtcrime: Terry Eagleton, Salman Rushdie, the Iraq War and how it isn’t what you do or say, it’s what you might have done…. July 13, 2007

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Culture, Iraq, The Left, The War On Terror.


A provocative article in the Guardian last weekend by Terry Eagleton about the role of politically engaged writers. Now I have to admit that broadly speaking I like what Eagleton writes. He manages to be clear and concise while simultaneously dealing with interesting and weighty concepts. Do I agree with these concepts? Nah, not all the time, but he’s hardly likely to lose any sleep over that.

Still, I’m not entirely convinced by a correspondence that is working its way through the Guardian this week on foot of the article. Eagleton proposed that:

For almost the first time in two centuries, there is no eminent British poet, playwright or novelist prepared to question the foundations of the western way of life. One might make an honourable exception of Harold Pinter, who has wisely decided that being a champagne socialist is better than being no socialist at all; but his most explicitly political work is also his most artistically dreary.

Lest the accusation of “champagne socialist” in reference to Pinter give you pause for thought, consider where Eagleton goes next.

The knighting of Salman Rushdie is the establishment’s reward for a man who moved from being a remorseless satirist of the west to cheering on its criminal adventures in Iraq and Afghanistan. David Hare caved in to the blandishments of Buckingham Palace some years ago, moving from radical to reformist. Christopher Hitchens, who looked set to become the George Orwell de nos jours, is likely to be remembered as our Evelyn Waugh, having thrown in his lot with Washington’s neocons. Martin Amis has written of the need to prevent Muslims travelling and to strip-search people “who look like they’re from the Middle East or from Pakistan”. Deportation, he considers, may be essential further down the road.

Ouch! We’ll return to Rushdie in a moment. But…David Hare is really a reformist, is he now? Hitchens, in fairness, has retreated from his more unpleasant (as, I think, ejh rightly noted in response to an earlier post) positions, and that contrarian spirit still seems to burn brightly. Amis is a different matter. smiffy has dealt at length with some of his more curious pronouncements previously. In any case, being pedantic, there is the small issue of definitions, since all the above remain politically engaged, if not quite promoting the politics Eagleton might approve of. And of those given as examples has any one of them shifted in the totality of their approach to a clear right wing position? Doesn’t seem like it to me, although Amis might be the closest contender for that particular accolade.

Eagleton does make some interesting points.

There are a number of factors in such renegacy. Money, adulation and that creeping conservatism known as growing old play a part, as does the apparent collapse of an alternative to capitalism. Most British writers welcome migrants, dislike Tony Blair, and object to the war in Iraq. But scarcely a single major poet or novelist is willing to look beyond such issues to the global capitalism that underlies them. Instead, it is assumed that there is a natural link between literature and left-liberalism. One glance at the great names of English literature is enough to disprove this prejudice.

In some respects I agree with that thesis, except that I don’t think it is necessarily” global capitalism” – that diffuse, nebulous entity that everyone blames and yet is reified to the point where inaction is the only possible logical response – alone that is the problem. Frankly I think it’s the much more boring and familiar local version of capitalism that locks out even the most anodyne alternatives (and again, and that’s twice in one week, I’d point back to Nick Cohen and what he writes about the fundamental power of the nation state to at the very least ameliorate the negative aspects of globalisation).

Anyhow, back to Rushdie. Eagleton is unstinting in his praise…up to a point.

The great communist poet Hugh MacDiarmid died just as the dark night of Thatcherism descended. Rushdie’s was one of the few voices to keep alive this radical legacy; but now, with his fondness for the Pentagon’s politics, we need to look elsewhere for a serious satirist.

[As an aside someone noted in the Guardian that MacDiarmid is, ironically, also notable for rejoining the Communist Party after the invasion of Hungary. Hmmm…]

Let’s consider the original quote again…

The knighting of Salman Rushdie is the establishment’s reward for a man who moved from being a remorseless satirist of the west to cheering on its criminal adventures in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Which is fine…except as one S. Rushdie wrote in the Guardian on Wednesday:

In the past weeks I have had to endure an astonishing quantity of vitriolic attacks. It has been quite like old times. I find myself quite unable to respond to the many attacks on my character, my integrity, the quality of my writing, my courage or lack of it, my alleged weaknesses as a husband and even my choice of home address. I have learned the hard way that public opinion, once formed, simply exists, and even if it is utterly detached from the truth it acquires, by repetition and credulity, a truth of its own. So be it. I am grateful to those who have spoken up on my behalf, at a time when I have felt too shocked and hurt to do so myself.

Rushdie has accepted – whether wisely or not – a knighthood. This has infuriated a range of people who still harbour a grudge over the Satanic Verses. Most notably Al-Queda, who in their perpetual search for some new infamy to justify the unjustifiable have alighted upon this matter (Actually it was profoundly depressing, to see a few Labour politicians with cultural links to the sub-continent line up to condemn the knighthood with the most spurious ‘back of an envelope’ criticisms).

So the name Rushdie has re-entered the public space in a way which is unfortunate and potentially dangerous to his safety.

Still, as he notes:

…allow me, rashly, perhaps, to take issue with Terry Eagleton’s description of me as someone who has been “cheering on [the west’s] criminal adventures in Iraq and Afghanistan” (Comment, July 7). As to Afghanistan, it is true that I, in common with many others, not all of them on the right, and many of them in the Muslim world, believed that the hold of al-Qaida and the Taliban over Afghanistan needed to be broken. Eagleton may be the kind of “radical” who would prefer those fascist, terrorist gangsters to have retained their hold over a nation state, but that is his problem, not mine.

He continues:

As to Iraq, it is true that I wrote, before the beginning of the Iraq war, that there was a case to be made for the removal of Saddam Hussain. In the same article, however, I also wrote that the American plans for regime change, unsupported as they were by a broad international coalition, were not justifiable.

And that:

Since that time, anyone with the slightest knowledge of my activities in the US must know that, as president of PEN American Center, I led that organisation in a number of campaigns against the Bush administration’s policies, that I participated in any number of anti-war events and that in my public lectures all over America I have for years been a vocal critic of the Iraq war. It is bizarre and untruthful to say that I have a “fondness for the Pentagon’s politics”.

Pausing for a moment, let us consider that far from being ‘fond’ of the Pentagon’s policies Rushdie has – again at some danger to his own safety – been prominent in disputing them publicly. The issue of ‘cheerleading’ the ‘criminal adventures’ in Iraq and Afghanistan…well, the latter remains under a sufficiently broad UN mandate to arguably justify supporting the events of 2002. What has come afterwards is a matter for a different debate. Yet as regards Iraq cearly the overall tone of the article is a misrepresentation of the position of Rushdie.

And it is an interesting misrepresentation because it would take as much time for Eagleton to collate information that would puncture his thesis of Rushdie as global shill of the neo-cons, as it took me to pull together the various articles and letters I have referenced here. That he did not, that he was convinced Rushdie supported the Iraq War is perhaps indicative of a narrative that has developed around Rushdie, one which has moved from viewing him as a staunch liberal/left upholder of freedom of speech to one where he is seen as in part the architect of the chaotic political and cultural response to his writings (although talking about reactionaries I well remember the response from sections of the Conservative party during the initial period… but then why would one expect any better from that quarter?). And this narrative is but a hop skip and a tap of the keyboard away from branding Rushdie as somehow a fervent neo-conservative, because after all that’s what liberal/leftists are, isn’t it? This is a dubious narrative to buy into – even by accident – because unlike Eagleton, or me, or most likely you, Rushdie is someone whose life is literally on the line for expressing thoughts that others view as anathema and worthy of extirpation.

But it is in the apology that Eagleton excels. For here he says:

Sincere apologies to Salman Rushdie for falsely claiming that he supports the war on Iraq (Letters, July 9). I am, however, dismayed by his implications that he might have supported an invasion under different circumstances. My general point, I think, still stands that he and other writers have ceased to challenge the global system which lies at the root of the war.

The second sentence is the important one, more important than the rhetorical fluff of the last one which makes almost no sense in terms of the public profile that Rushdie has assumed on the Iraq War, or the broad scope of his writings which are clearly positioned in a critique of a global system that has developed from the colonial period and the clashes between tradition and modernity (a vastly better methodological viewpoint than the ridiculous notion of ‘clash of civilisations’) within societies still disentangling themselves from colonialism and/or the traumas of rapid societal change.

That there was a case to be made for the removal of Saddam is one which democrats and socialists should hardly find contentious. The debate and discussion had to be what were the means employed to do so or whether such a removal was a sensible goal in the then existing circumstances. I see nothing in what Rushdie wrote in response to Eagleton that would make me believe that ‘he might have supported an invasion under different circumstances’.

But even if he did, and how on earth is one to know what is inside the mind of another, this smacks of an almost Orwellian approach to the inner self (although considering that Eagleton is a champion of Slavoj Žižek – who I like too, but would regard the veracity of his propositions with some caution – that perhaps goes with the territory, after all, if you believe there is a methodology for interpreting the complexity of human thoughts and feelings it is hardly more than a further step to believing that you can predict them even when the person says otherwise!) . How can Rushdie – someone who is in a much more exposed position – defend himself against the charge that what ‘he really really means, no really’ is some course of action he didn’t, and couldn’t take?

How can any of us?

Within the wave… three possible terrorist attacks in the UK June 30, 2007

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Terrorism, The War On Terror.


So, that’s possibly three attacks so far. Two car bombs found in London and thankfully made safe, although the unbelievable detail that one was unknowingly towed away bomb and all is quite something else. And now an incident at Glasgow airport by four people in a Jeep Cherokee which according to the BBC:

A Whitehall spokesman said the incident was not being treated as a national security threat however the prime minister is being kept informed of developments and is expected to chair a meeting of COBRA – the emergency committee later.

Two thoughts strike me. Firstly the low level nature of these attacks, assuming Glasgow is an attack, which is not to say that they might not have potentially been lethal in effect had they succeeded. The technology used was bare bones stuff. Gas canisters, nails, petrol. These are everyday items, easily accessible. And that tells us something about the nature of these attacks. They are not part of a serious co-ordinated campaign such as was seen during the 1970s through to the early 1990s with PIRA. Instead they seem to blossom from tight social groupings who act, not quite on impulse, but with a seeming lack of any long term (or even mid-term) strategy. Their access to serious weaponry appears, thankfully, to be limited.

The problem here being that this sort of DIY terrorism is enormously difficult to contain by the sort of security measures that eventually brought the PIRA to a stand-off. In fact it is arguable that the sort of intensive high surveillance operations that blanketed the North would quite simply be unacceptable in Britain and perhaps impossible to implement. And that gives considerable opportunity to those who want to utilise violence in this fashion. All they need, as the most recent events seem to imply, is a car and some petrol. And that in and of itself can shut down a major transportation centre.

But what is also striking is the rather muddled and contradictory nature of these events. What exactly are the political effects they are supposed to produce? The new British Cabinet appears to be tilted towards the anti-Iraq war position in a very public way. Milliband was outspoken in criticism of the Lebanon interventions by Israel last Summer. John Denham resigned over the Iraq invasion. Mark Malloch Brown was, as Deputy Secretary General of the UN, strongly critical of both the invasion and the US administration. There is credible evidence that British involvement is being scaled down in Iraq. This is not a cabinet which would support intervention in Iran. This is a cabinet which might find itself non too pushed ultimately (and I’d argue wrongly) to support a continuing presence in Afghanistan.

So a bomb campaign would appear – in terms of the aspirations of those carrying it out – to be at best pointless, at worst counterproductive. This really does seem to be purely gestural political violence. A reminder.

And it is that lack of focus which is so striking. The bombings aren’t intended to achieve anything concrete. Instead they’re almost a sort of rhetorical flourish, demonstrative. An indication that the forces which resulted in 7/7 remain active, perhaps will be strengthened, as was suggested on Channel4 News last night, by a newer generation of radical Islamists.

If true, then we are within a wave of such attacks. There might be more as some seek to emulate the current events. And there will presumably definitely be others. Low level, probably with very long gaps between events, often displaying an amateurish but stupidly effective lethality , sometimes not, but likely to recur again and again and again.

And worst of all essentially immune to whatever changes there are in the political environment.

Welcome to the future.

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