Syria: We’re Not the good Guys

It’s too easy to be cynical about politics and politicians, and so when something out of the ordinary happens, we often dismiss it. This week’s British parliamentary vote against joining an American attack on Syria was historic, and to be celebrated. It established both that Britain can be independent of the US, and that we can step back from a war that seemed inevitable.

Until the vote, the whole situation stank of the 2002-2003 period during which Bush and Blair concocted their illegal attack on Iraq. Back then, we could see that the war was unnecessary. We could see the lies being created before our very eyes (Brits at least – Americans took several more years to realise they had been scammed). We knew, at least six months before the war that the decision had already been made. We marched in record numbers, but it was futile: Blair dragged us into the war against our will. He destroyed his political career as a result, but earned himself millions in “consultancy” fees from those who had benefited from the war.

Now, for the moment, our democracy has proven it can stand up against war-greedy corporations, the demands of the US Empire, and the need for military and intelligence “communities” to justify their own dubious and expensive existences. However cynical we may be about our democratic representatives, we should applaud and support them at this moment. The vote against war was a brave moment for Parliament.

“But”, comes the response, “what about the people of Syria”? It’s an important question, and a hard one to answer, but while considering the answer, we should remind ourselves of some important facts.

1. We’re Not The Good Guys

This is hard for Europeans to recognise, and even harder for Americans, who live in a propaganda bubble that North Korea would be proud of. It’s a mantra we need to remember. We (the West) are the bad guys. In the past few centuries, we have committed crimes and atrocities beyond count.

The three biggest warmongers today – UK, France, USA – are the worst of the worst, and have been for decades (in America’s case) or centuries (in the case of Britain and France). At the very least, tens of millions of people have been slaughtered by these three nations in their self-serving grabs for power and resources. We shouldn’t be distracted by the fact that the centre of Western power has moved from Paris and London to Washington. It’s the same imperialistic drive, the same European tribal instincts and allegiances at work.

These three powers between them have chewed up the rest of the planet. From India to Algeria, Colombia to Lebanon, Vietnam to Indonesia, Guatemala to Iraq, we have directly or indirectly caused misery on a global scale. There is only one significant moment in modern history where we have been on the right side: World War II. That was the exception, not the rule – and even then, we were hardly squeaky-clean. WWII set the stage for American imperialism. Better perhaps than German imperialism, but not to its millions of victims.

One more time: we’re not the good guys. Whoever should be leading an intervention to help the Syrian people, it should not be us. Sending Britain, France and America into Syria is like sending child rapists to run a nursery.

2. We Don’t Do Humanitarian Intervention

A brief look at modern history will kill the idea that we are prepared to spend billions of dollars in warfare for the good of foreign civilian populations. There are minor exceptions: interventions in African conflicts are cheap in dollars and lives, and these are easy to win because any opposition will be poorly trained and armed. The UK’s intervention in Sierra Leone was against a few thousand hungry gangsters holed up outside Freetown. France’s interventions in Ivory Coast and Mali were quick and easy. All three of these interventions were designed to support existing leaders against rebels, not to change regimes; and they were self-serving too, preserving old colonial ties.

Besides these, our behaviour speaks for itself. The biggest war since WWII has been in the Democratic Republic of Congo, and we have left the UN to deal with that, despite slaughters and reports of 50 rapes per hour taking place at times. Ditto in Darfur, where hundreds of thousands were killed. Our “allies” in Sri Lanka are reported to have slaughtered 40,000 Tamils in 2009, and herded hundreds of thousands more into camps. Mass rape is reported. We tut-tut and keep trading with them. Our new friends in Burma are averting their gaze while nationalists slaughter and rape members of the Rohingya Muslim minority. And we line up to sign oil deals there.

While we invaded Iraq to “deal with the evil dictator Saddam”, we continued to partner with leaders who were as bad, or even worse. While Saddam was torturing and killing his own people, the British ambassador Craig Murray was warning that in Uzbekistan, the leader Islam Karimov was boiling dissidents to death. Murray was fired for criticising a friend of the war on terror.

3. Syria Is Next To Iran and Israel

Amidst all the Syria noise, you might have forgotten that for the past decade or so, Iran has been “months away from developing a nuclear weapon”. The war party has been trying to justify an attack on Iran (one of the world’s biggest oil producers) for many years. Even world-class neo-con liars have found it hard to persuade anybody that a war on Iran might be necessary. In 2008, as he was leaving office, Bush was still trying to persuade the public that Iran was a threat. An attack on Syria would at the very least destabilise Iran, which is already suffering from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars on its doorstep. A friendly regime in Syria would provide another good launch point for a future attack on Iran.

Meanwhile, Israel would love to see its Middle Eastern enemies weakened and broken. Israel is still occupying the Golan Heights, Syrian land that was taken and occupied during the 1967 war. Israel appears to have no intention of letting the land return to Syria, and a weakened Syria would allow Israel to finalise its land grab. In reality, this is already happening: in February this year, Israel granted an oil-drilling license in the Golan Heights to a US company with links to Dick Cheney, one of the chief gangsters involved in the Iraq war. This is an illegal move: international law does not recognise the land, or the oil, as belonging to Israel.

4. What’s The Big Deal With Chemical Weapons Anyway?

Obama’s stipulation that use of chemical weapons in Syria would be the last straw is weird and arbitrary, and reminds me of nothing more than Bill Hicks’ “pick up the gun” sketch. The line appears to have been drawn solely for the purpose of claiming it had been crossed. I don’t know whether Assad has used chemical weapons or not: the man seems perfectly capable of doing so. But likewise, the US is perfectly capable of telling massive lies in order to justify new wars, as demonstrated in both Vietnam and Iraq.

To use chemical weapons would be horrendous, but far less so than many acts of the US, British and French empires. Assad would also have to excel in evil to beat the murderous behaviour of the US in Iraq and so many other places. America is now known to have supported Saddam Hussein’s use of chemical weapons against Iran, and used vast amounts of depleted uranium (and perhaps other substances) which have led to many birth defects in Iraq. In other words: even if Assad is a murderous bastard, several recent US presidents have been far worse. Whatever Assad has done, to allow a US attack could only make things worse at every level.

So What Now?

The Syrian civil war is a reality. Mankind only has one tool to deal with such situations: the United Nations. It may not be perfect, but we have nothing else. The UN must be empowered and trusted to do whatever it can to help refugees, protect civilians and try to end the conflict. The American, British and French should stay as far away as possible – except, possibly, to supply resources to a UN peacekeeping operation. There is no quick and easy answer to Syria, and a US attack is not even an answer at all – it would be fuel added to the fire. Bullying the UN Security Council into backing yet another US war is not the same as allowing the UN to deal with the situation.

And if the West truly has billions of dollars to burn, peace can be bought far more cheaply than a war which can only increase instability in the Middle East, and lead to more terrorist attacks both there and here.

The US is trying to broaden and continue its endless, pointless war on terror. We can be proud that the British Parliament has just made that task a little more difficult. Obama wars are no better than Bush, Reagan or Nixon wars. At least if America goes to war against Syria, this time we can try to ensure they go alone, and are exposed as the gangsters they are, and have been since the 1950s.

Moral Panics: a useful political tool?

In 2010 I found myself in the middle of a moral panic, so began reading around the subject and watching how moral panics unfold. The panic was around East End strip pubs where I worked and that had been in the area for decades. Usually family businesses, run by the matriarch of the family, and an accepted part of the East End. Then a panic hit and suddenly these places were the gates of hell and all that was evil in the world emanated from them. People who had previously been oblivious to them were suddenly on a crusade. I went to a ‘debate’ in October 2011, called ‘Lap-Dancing: a choice or exploitation’ which demonstrated the mechanisms of power and politics perfectly and shocked me.

A small lobby group whips up fear until they create a panic. The narrative then moves on to ‘Something must be done!/Won’t anyone think of the children!’ and when it gets to this point you have manipulated your audience correctly and you will be able to legislate. But there was also a lot of manipulating being done to those who were creating the moral panic. A group that called it’s self Communities Against People Exploitation, that claimed to be helping the East London community, had a ‘feminist’ spokeswoman. This woman would give the full dramatic performance about the evils of ‘pornification’, ‘objectification’, ‘sexualisation’ throwing out all the fashionable buzzwords to appeal to her audience. However a little investigation using the Land Registry and the good old Internet showed that she was not running this organization. It was actually run by a man who lived in leafy Surrey but, surprise surprise, owned property right next to one of the strip pubs he was trying to close down. From this moment on I lost what little respect I still had for the 3rd wave feminist movement. Was this all about property development and investment? Were they being manipulated by the ‘patriarchy’ that they so despised in order for that ‘patriarchy’ to make money? Were they complicit or ignorant?

So it seems that moral panics can be very useful. They are generally created by pressure groups and lobby groups, often through good intentions and a genuine trigger, which is then picked up by media as they have a lot of space to fill. Column inches, 24-hour news, websites etc. There is a lot of content to be generated so even if the journalist or editor doesn’t really believe in the panic it’s their job to explore all the angles. They run opposing editorials asking ‘Is this right? Is this wrong?, look for the human angle, can they get a confessional piece from someone involved? Run the story for a bit as it gives you something to talk about, to fill airtime with, to fill column inches. These mechanisms of the media are borne out of necessity but do our governments look at these panics and view them as useful? Are they a very convenient smoke screen? Can they use them to implement certain policies that the public may find unpalatable?

The panic of the moment is porn on the internet, the very thing that drove the early development of the internet, and it makes sense if you look at it in an historical and political big picture way. So let us look at the timeline of the last 3 years, the changes that have happened and the role of the Internet in all of this. Three years is a really short space of time for governments to lose control and I’d take a bet that there have been some fraught behind closed doors meetings.

1.The first strand is that too much classified information has been freely distributed online beginning with Bradley Manning. The decorated US private released around 750,000 restricted documents to Wikileaks causing major embarrassment to the United States government and many of its allies. Including of course the UK but also allies such as Saudi Arabia when it was discovered they had been urging the west to go to war with their Middle Eastern nemesis Iran. Then between April and November 2010 Wikileaks and news outlets around the world published these documents to all their readers and viewers. To these news outlets this was like striking gold (or oil). Julian Assange is now running from the US government rightly fearing a fate similar to Bradley Manning. So first it was Bradley and Julian and then when all had seemed calm Edward Snowden struck. Releasing all the details of the Prism surveillance operation that included America spying on it’s European allies and once again causing great embarrassment to the US and UK governments. (As GCHQ had also been implicated.)

I would take a guess that western governments and especially the UK and US governments are no longer enamored with the idea of a free and open Internet.

2.The second political and historical strand that has been a feature of the past three years is revolution. The Arab Spring began in Tunisia in December 2010 and quickly ignited the Arab world into demanding freedom and democracy. From the success of Tunisia to the disaster of Syria, the Arab world has been finding it’s voice, and this has been coordinated on social media. Syria has been especially bad as Iran and Hezbollah are now involved and this could result in years of trouble. Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Buzzfeed have allowed those protesting against their governments to organize and sometimes win. Western politicians have been watching, and saying carefully vague sound bites in support for democracy, as long-term allies like Mubarak were toppled. Even prosperous and relatively secular Turkey has seen a popular uprising that no mainstream media reported until the din on social media got so loud they couldn’t ignore it.

I wonder if there is a general fear in governments that us normal people are starting to get a little too knowledgeable and possibly feeling a little too empowered?

3.The third strand in recent years is the recession, which has hit Europe particularly hard. Countries like Greece are languishing in a terrible depression with lots of anger amongst people and extremist groups growing popular. There has also been a raising of awareness in the United States with the Occupy movement starting in November 2011 with Occupy Wall Street. One of the causes of the Arab Spring was youth unemployment and cost of living. The world is getting more and more populous and those at the top are not releasing any wealth so an anger is fermenting. Many young people in Europe are unemployed and over qualified with no hope of attaining the future they dreamed of. What if revolution is not confined to the Arab world? Which can be understood in terms of freedom, what if a European nation is the next to fall? Then it is no longer an ‘us and them’ situation it becomes something bigger? Maybe something about social justice in general?

Again, I can’t imagine our governments feeling very easy with all of this anger, and the information in the hands of the masses.

Information, revolution and recession; it’s like a perfect storm of poverty, over population, inequality, empowerment and access to all information and the ability to communicate it. I’m pretty sure these three strands have made our leaders feel rather uneasy. So what are the governments of the world going to do about this potential dangerous set of circumstances that have evolved in only three short years? Conveniently for the UK Government, the ‘sexualisation’ moral panic has been rumbling away for around a decade, and conveniently it has reached the ‘Something must be done!/Won’t anyone think of the children!’ stage. The groundwork has already been laid which is very handy indeed. So could it be that David Cameron’s recent attack on Internet porn is in fact a smoke screen?

The porn panic has been fuelled by supposedly well-meaning but extremely foolish people and lobby groups and will now come back to bite. After all we are not party to the late night phone calls from Washington that may go something like this,

‘The United States may be unable to work with the United Kingdom unless …… (insert instructions here)’.

It seems like this has everything to do with limiting access to information in general and protecting the power structure. The clamp down on Internet porn is, in my opinion, all about censoring the Internet brought to the fore due to recent world events and absolutely nothing to do with protecting the innocence of children. It may also be run by Chinese Internet filtering firm Huawei, who are no doubt censorship experts.

So beware of moral panics, as there may be a hidden agenda behind them. All is not what it seems on the surface and be aware of new ones forming. What is the end game of these panics and who exactly benefits from them?

Online Free Speech: Sticks And Stones…

Barely a week goes by in which the British “left” doesn’t display its increasing disdain for free speech, but this past week has been especially troublesome. The idea that only free speech and rational thinking can allow civilisation to advance isn’t exactly new; it descends from the Enlightenment. And yet, however many times mankind has to relearn this lesson, it gets forgotten again.

The thing that much of the left can’t grasp is that free speech (in practise, encompassing free expression in any form) really means Free Speech. Including – brace yourself – speech that you might find offensive, disgusting or just plain unnecessary. As the Enlightenment thinkers explained, only in a truly free market of ideas can the good ideas be separated from the bad. Any attempt to coerce speech in any direction, by any means, even for the best of reasons, can only distort and suppress, and will crush good ideas along with the bad ones.

What’s even more annoying (to me, as an ex-tribal leftie) is that parts of the right grasp this concept better than the left. The Telegraph (which I’ve spent most of my life loathing) today defends free speech far more stridently than The Guardian (which I’ve spent most of my life reading). Free speech is a progressive idea – how dare those righties take it from us?! But then, the left doesn’t seem to want it any more.

So, for example, here is how I started last Sunday:

A little explanation: last week, idiots in the UK government and Home Office decided to send vans to immigrant areas carrying a pleasant message to illegal immigrants: “Go Home or Face Arrest”. How lovely. The vans were designed to appeal to the racist vote that might be shifting from the Conservatives to the even-more-racist UKIP. The word “wog” is pretty much extinct now, but was a favourite of racists in the 1970s, referring either to black people or all non-whites, depending on preference.

I had sent the tweet on Sunday because I was planning to spend the day at Jamaican independence parties, including one in Brixton, south London.

My tweet had two replies of any substance: a black follower kindly pointed out that Jamaican independence day was actually on Tuesday 6th, not Sunday; and a PC follower objected that the tweet was offensive. Yes, because it included the word “wog”.

Sigh. Let me just point out, again, that offence is taken, not given. Words are not offensive, or harmful, though they have the power to cause offence in some, especially in the more delicate souls among us, the poor fragile dears. And, as we all learned in school, “sticks and stones can break our bones, but words can never hurt me”.

Easily offended Guardianistas are on the rampage against any form of expression that they consider to be offensive. “Free speech doesn’t mean you can cause offence”, they lecture. But yes, morons, it does! The legalisation of homosexuality required speech that offended many people. The abolition of slavery could not have been achieved without “offensive” speech. If you accept that offensive speech can be policed, then all speech is policed. And if you think minorities will actually benefit from such a system you truly are a moron. Censorship only benefits the powerful.

Of all the social media platforms, Twitter is the most tolerant of free speech. While my “wog” tweet remains on Twitter, Facebook not only removed it from my page, but banned me for 12 hours. Yes, a post satirising racism was considered racist because it contained a word considered (by the unthinking) to be offensive. What clearer illustration is needed that censorship is not the solution to racism, or any other nasty attitude?

Given Twitter’s defence of speech, it is no surprise therefore, that well-orchestrated outbursts of rage against Twitter are becoming frequent. The latest anti-Twitter panic also came last week, when some very nasty tweets, including rape threats, were sent to a number of high-profile women. Although I was raised with the feminist idea that women are just as capable as men of looking after themselves, modern-day feminists apparently agree with 1950s women’s magazines that women, like children, need special protection from their benevolent menfolk. Threats against men? No problem. Threats against women? SOMETHING MUST BE DONE!

Threats of violence are as old as mankind, and I can testify that I’ve seen them online for over two decades, and indeed have received many myself. The beauty of free speech is that, left to itself, it allows the good to overcome the bad. High-profile female journalists with many Twitter followers have the perfect solution to abusive tweets: no, not the block button, but the retweet button. Transmit an idiotic comment about rape to 50,000 adoring fans, and the abusive tweeter will soon wish he had kept his mouth shut.

No black person was ever kicked in the balls by the word “wog”, although many black people have been kicked in the balls by police officers, who now (according to some morons) should be preventing people from being offended online. No Jew was ever gassed by a swastika, and no woman was ever raped by a tweet. The most dangerous enemies of free speech are those who argue persuasively that the world will be a better place if just these few words, these few symbols, these communication platforms were just a little more policed.

Of course, censorship advocates are a little more sophisticated, and try to prove that some speech is actually harmful. Rape tweets feed into “rape culture” (they tell us) which leads to actual rapes. Do they provide evidence of this process actually happening? Of course not. They ignore the fact that rape tweets can generate anti-rape tweets in far greater numbers. They forget the lesson, provided to us by Jimmy Savile, the Catholic Church and their supportive police forces, that the greatest victory for rapists is to suppress speech. Only the powerful benefit when some subjects are deemed unworthy of public discussion.

I find it a little annoying when I’m referred to as a “fucking Jew”, as has happened recently, and not for the first time; but I’ll get much more worried when the authorities ban the term in order to “protect” me from being offended. Minorities know better than to trust somebody else with our protection. So long as “offensive” words are allowed, I can defend myself. The moment they are banned, supposedly in order to protect my feelings, is the moment Jews and other minorities can really start to worry.

Under David Cameron’s new Internet filter (aka Internet censorship), this blog will probably find itself blocked to households that have chosen not to see “hate speech”, because it contains terms that the authorities consider hateful. Discussion of hate speech is being crushed under the banner of stopping hate speech. We need to go back and learn again the lessons of the Enlightenment, before we all live in a benign dictatorship that protects everybody’s feelings. Because there’s no such such thing as a benign dictatorship. Surrendering one’s right to free speech by attacking somebody else’s is about the dumbest thing any person can do.

Why Don’t Women Hunt? Sex Work: The New Civil Rights Struggle

Recent debates about sex and sexuality, in the context of moral panics and attempts at censorship, have revealed a lack of understanding among “experts” of the core subject itself: human sexuality. Perhaps that’s not too surprising, given how taboo sex has been – and still is, for many.

Both left and right have found themselves equally drawn into the panic, each one imposing its own values on sexuality. Meanwhile, scientific understanding of the subject develops rapidly, and undermines the assumptions and dogma of both sides. The left rejoiced when it was discovered that homosexuality is ubiquitous in the animal kingdom. This demonstrated both that homosexuality is natural, evolved behaviour (rather than a modern-day “sin”) and that sex is about far more than procreation: it appears to have social and health purposes too.

But new research also undermines left-wing dogma. Many on the left are as keen to demonise prostitution as the right are to attack homosexuality. The existence of prostitution is blamed on “Capitalism” or the ethereal “Patriarchy”. And yet, we are discovering that the sex trade too has its origins deep back in nature. Conservatives on both sides of the political spectrum are keen to paint the animal kingdom as “innocent”, while we humans have somehow polluted and twisted our idea of sexuality in modern times. It is a deeply conservative view of the world – that somehow our ancestors were pure and unsullied, while modern society is dirty and tainted.

It becomes increasingly clear that all widespread sexual behaviours – including homosexuality, masturbation, prostitution and rape – are inheritances from our animal past. That we are still struggling to accept the first three, and eliminate the fourth, is a measure of how young our civilisation really is.

The evolution of gender created a massive imbalance in nature. Males (of any species) are designed to create vast numbers of offspring, while females can have relatively few. In humans, men have been known to father hundreds of children (and theoretically could father thousands), while a woman can manage – at great cost – a few dozen. The same imbalance exists across all sexual species, both plant and animal.

Economics take over. Such an imbalance of supply and demand will have consequences. A fertile human egg has huge value to a male, while sperm (as any young man or woman can tell you) are so common as to be almost worthless. Masturbation is one way in which the imbalance can be corrected, and this, too, is common in nature.

The anthropologist and author of some wonderful books, Jared Diamond, published a small book called Why Is Sex Fun, featuring a chapter titled Why Do Men Hunt? Here’s the spoiler: it’s not for nutrition. There are easier and safer ways to get good nutrition from plants and small animals. Men (in early societies) hunt because they can trade the meat for sex. Diamond shakes his head at the way in which successful hunters that he has studied, in tribal societies, use their catch to spread their seed around the village.

Diamond looked at the male perspective, but the corollary is: Why Don’t Women Hunt? I put a similar question to a “liberal” in a Twitter discussion, and they told me it was because The Patriarchy oppresses women, making them stay home and cook. And yet hunting is hard and dangerous. Cooking in the village is not. Similarly, in all modern societies, men take on the most dangerous jobs: soldier, fisherman, security, construction, late-night taxi driving, etc. Men have lower life expectancies than women, partly because they are far more likely to die from violence or accidents. Could The Patriarchy have its wires crossed? Why is it sending men off to do the nastiest, most dangerous jobs?

Just as the answer to Why Do Men Hunt? is: to increase their chances of having sex, so the answer to Why Don’t Women Hunt? is: because they don’t have to. Sex is the oldest commodity of them all, and female sex is far more valuable than male. The first commercial transaction between two humans was almost certainly a gift of food from a man to a woman in exchange for sex: people had nothing else to trade in pre-civilised times.

This isn’t human behaviour. It’s sexual behaviour. In an experiment in 2008, an economist introduced monkeys to the concept of currency, and they swiftly responded by inventing prostitution (to the great surprise of the researcher).

So how would men respond to this unfairness of nature? It’s obvious in hindsight: men would seize ownership of female sexuality and take it for themselves. The Bible is full of laws to enforce just this: laws which make a daughter the property of her father, to be sold in marriage to a man. Laws which punish rape as a property crime against a father, not a crime of violence against a girl. Female fertility, humankind’s most valuable possession, was stolen by men.

And now, beginning in the past couple of centuries, women are reclaiming their bodies. As women take back control of their own fertility – via their right to sleep with who they want, their right to contraception and abortion, and, still most contentiously, their right to sell sex – they have created a shock through a male-dominated economic order that is many centuries old.

Those who cling to the old order attack sluts, contraception, abortion and prostitution, not because they want to protect women, but because they want to restrain female economic power. They claim that these things weaken, rather than strengthen, women, and (in order to protect the poor, delicate things) they must be outlawed.

Progressives claimed the right to “sluttishness”, to contraception and abortion in the last great culture clashes of the 1960s. Today, front-line battles are being fought by sex workers against prejudice, hate and stigma. Conservatives are manning the barricades against them – and many of these conservatives have adopted liberal language, falsely linking prostitution to trafficking, and claiming to be saving, rather than attacking sex workers. This “saving fallen women” mantra is, of course, an old trick, often employed to keep women in their place.

This is the civil rights battle of the 21st century, and it demarcates the modern line between conservatism and progressivism.