Pigs and Evidence

Friday 25 September 2015

The migrant crisis was meant to be the topic this week. I didn’t really want to write about ‘Pig-gate’. When the story first appeared on Twitter I said that I wouldn’t do it, but here we are. I’m about to write about it and you’re going to read it. Let’s just accept that neither of us come out of this in a positive light, our standards of political discourse have slipped, so let’s hold hands and step into the void…

During his university days at Oxford back in the late 1980s, David Cameron placed his genitalia in the mouth of a dead pig as part of an initiation ritual for the Piers Gaveston Society, an exclusive men-only dining society. If that is true, then it is odd and shows that students do crazy things to be accepted by their peers. But we already knew that. Acceptance aside, it is terribly unlikely to have impacted his less than perfect performance as prime minister. We already knew that too. And, as Stephen Bush explained in the New Statesman, it is strangely not illegal: “Bestiality involves penetration of the “vagina or anus” of a living animal. Necrophilia involves having sexual intercourse with a dead person. The mouth of a dead pig is a legal no man’s land.” So what’s the big deal here? Its attraction lies in its absurdity.

Number 10 has not officially denied it. Once you start denying things like this it could open the flood gates. There are people who think David Cameron is a lizard man. As much as I enjoy the image of him at a podium saying the words “Let me reassure the electorate, and David Icke, that I am most certainly not a lizard man,” I really think that that and indeed this is somewhat beneath politics in this country, whether it is true or not.

Let’s take the story seriously for a moment because so many people I respect have done exactly that and have used social media to pass it on. Where did it come from?

The story appears in a biography of David Cameron to be released this year. It is titled Call Me Dave and co-authored by Lord Ashcroft and Isabel Oakeshott. Lord Ashcroft is a multi-millionaire and long-time Conservative Party backer. He was offered the position of junior whip in the foreign office in David Cameron’s 2010 government as a thank you for giving so much time and money (nearly £8 million according to Ashcroft himself) to the party. He rejected the position, however, saying that he was insulted to be offered such a lowly role, writing that “It would have been better had he offered me nothing at all.” Such is the entitlement of the super-rich that when they essentially succeed in buying their way into government they believe the position offered to be low and take personal offence. Ashcroft believed money, not talent, is what was important and felt personally slighted when he learnt otherwise.

Isabel Oakeshott is an award winning journalist with The Sunday Times. That’s her positive bio and probably the one which will feature on the inside cover. What one should know about Oakeshott is that two years ago one of her sources – Vicky Pryce – was jailed. I know what you’re thinking: surely that’s no fault of hers, Joe? Well, it was: the source was jailed because of evidence given by her and her editor, John Witherow. The evidence was not pried out of their hands by a legal diktat, nor was it stolen in a raid. No, it was freely volunteered to the judge. Journalists must protect their sources at all cost because the relationship between a source and a journalist is based on trust. Otherwise how could, say, a dissident living in a despotic dictatorship be able to trust that the journalist in front of them will not reveal their identity, which may endanger their life and those of their family? Oakeshott violated this trust. The ridiculous thing is that they appealed the decision – as they should have done – but they then handed over the files before the appeal took place! Then she wrote a piece in The Sunday Times blaming Pryce for her own imprisonment! How can anyone trust what Oakeshott says or does again?

On the one hand you have a peer with “beef,” and on the other you have a journalist lacking in principles. Nonetheless, a story is not axiomatically a lie if told by crooked individuals. It could be based on sturdy foundations. So, who told them the story? A Tory backbencher who claims he was a contemporary of Cameron’s at Oxford; however, he has refused to be publicly named but says he’s seen a photograph. Anonymous sources are sometimes a necessity, but without said photograph or a corroborator the story’s foundations are looking decidedly shaky. Luckily, for all of the parties involved, the story broke in a newspaper; hence, this newspaper is backing them up with its good name, its credibility, and the expertise that comes from years of ethical, objective investigative journalism. So, the newspaper has risked its reputation to put this story out, correct? Well, no, the book was only serialised in the newspaper. They did no further fact checking and merely printed what was in the book. The foundations are shaking themselves loose. It is so improbable that the story is true at this point that the only thing that can save it is the newspaper’s good name; so, what is the name of the bastion of journalistic excellence putting their moral weight behind the story? The Daily Mail. Ah, the story seems to have all but retracted itself.

This reminded me of an anecdote Hunter S. Thompson tells in Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail 72 which has been flying about on social media as Pig-gate came to light. Supposedly, one of Lyndon Johnson’s first political campaigns in Texas was getting a bit too close for his liking, so he “told his campaign manager to start a massive rumour campaign about his opponent’s life-long habit of enjoying carnal knowledge of his own barnyard sows.”

“Christ, we can’t get a way calling him a pig-fucker,” the campaign manager protested.  “Nobody’s going to believe a thing like that.”

“I know,” Johnson replied.  “But let’s make the sonofabitch deny it.”

I hope you understand why I wanted to ignore this story and hope that everybody regained their collective sanity. It was unlikely to be true and not worth the time I had to put into it; hence, I forgot about it and went back to researching the migrant crisis.


“Just when I thought I was out they pull me back in,” says Al Pacino’s Michael Corleone in The Godfather: Part III.

I got pulled back in when I noticed the people most enthusiastically spreading the story. These were the same people who shouted “smear” when I and others raised objections about Jeremy Corbyn’s candidacy for the Labour Party due to the unsavoury company he keeps. Stephen Daisley termed it nicely in his column for STV News:

The hypocrisies of this episode are boundless. The Corbynistas, who cry “smear” at every fresh revelation about Jeremy, jihad and the Jews, are gleefully retweeting a single-sourced claim from the Daily Mail.

The quandary here is that people – especially, it seems, those of my generation – appear to lose their critical faculties and sway according to their predilections and what they want to be true. To these people Jeremy Corbyn must be defended at all costs and, ergo, everyone else attacked mercilessly. Everyone is held to a higher standard than Corbyn because he is working towards the greater good.  For an example of what I mean, go to Twitter and search for the words “Liz Kendall Tory” and witness how Corbyn supporters debated campaign policies with another candidate during the leadership race (here is a link for those of you not on Twitter).

I got frustrated with the spreading of the Cameron story not because I am any kind of fan of his, but because the truth should win out. If someone is accused of something they did not do, I see injustice. Likewise, if they are accused of something which they have done then I think they should be judged accordingly. Corbyn supporters do not work within these basic parameters because he is working for the greater good. He is holier than thou. His cause is held above all others and his actions are therefore deemed necessary. This is leader worship based upon denial and revisionism. Imagine, if you will, asking a Corbyn supporter whether they had heard the radio interview where Corbyn refused five times to take the opportunity to condemn the actions of the IRA. The response you would receive would be an equivocal: no, that didn’t happen. Should you direct them to the clip on the BBC website and play it through to the point where he got so flustered that he hung up, you’ll be told that this is all part of the mainstream media’s attack on him. Should they accept that it happened they will then try to explain away why he wouldn’t condemn terrorism and cheerfully spout off some nonsense about dialogue and helping the peace process, not acknowledging their previous positions of denial or conspiracy theory. A full reverse ferret with bells on.

Martin Robbins wrote a brilliant article on Little Atoms last week highlighting this penchant for conspiracy theory. He used Richard Hofstadter’s seminal 1963 essay The Paranoid Style in American Politics to explain how Corbyn supporters are drawn from the same conspiratorial mindset as those who consider Nigel Farage the saviour of the UK or Donald Trump as someone who will make the USA “great again.” I know Hofstadter’s essay intimately having spent hours studying it for my postgraduate thesis – the title of which is a play on Hofstadter’s own (and can be found here) – and I had to reconsider my position after reading Robbins’ article.

I thought that Corbyn supporters were the disillusioned and the disenfranchised. I thought that they could be persuaded, with reason and logic, to see that Corbynism is illogical and would lead both the Left and the UK in general down a disastrous path. I thought, naively as it happens, that if spoken to in the right tone and presented with the evidence Corbyn’s current supporters would admit they were wrong and would help us and our likeminded thinkers return the Left to its historical positions of anti-totalitarianism and pro-human rights. I can now see how wrongheaded that thinking really was.

Should you ask a Corbyn supporter if they think David Cameron’s has ever put his private parts into the mouth of a dead pig, one will receive a vociferous affirmative. This is because they believe that Cameron and his ilk are expected to debase themselves, what with them being all that’s wrong with society. However, by sacrifice and submission to  a greater cause, by breaking the monopolistic control that the right-wing media exhibits over the brainwashed general public, the true Left – the Corbynistas – can (and will) usher in a new leader who will rid our country of the evil in which it is currently engulfed, and welcome us into a new age of prosperity.

That’s the founding myth of Corbynmania and a perfect conspiracy theory. People who fall for these myths make everything fit their preconceived worldview, no wonder they believe the Daily Mail when it suits their interests.

Don’t read this as a crossing over to conservatism, I still believe in the foundations of the labour movement. This isn’t about Dave anymore, it’s not even about the long deceased pig; it’s about large swathes of the Left – my political home – giving up their critical faculties and surrendering in exchange for delusions. It does force me to ask a brutally honest question, though: is a government led by David Cameron preferential to one headed by Jeremy Corbyn? Does one want the pig or the hammer and sickle? The political landscape of the United Kingdom is beginning to look ever so bleak.

Foreign Policy and Jihadism

10.01-Cherif-Kouachi-Said-Kouachi-et-Amedy-Coulibaly.-1280640
From left to right: Chérif Kouachi, Saïd Kouachi and Amedy Coulibaly.

Monday 2 February 2015

One of the most preposterous statements made after the killings in France between the 7th and 9th of January was that the murders were a protest against the West’s foreign policy. This has mostly come from people on the Left of the political spectrum, and I am not entirely surprised that it has resurfaced. It’s an old argument which I first recall being used after the September 11 attacks, but it probably dates back further. Nonetheless, it would be remiss of me to ignore it: so, were the Kouachis and Coulibaly stirred to kill by a difference of opinion over the foreign policy of the French or Western governments? Indeed, was their rampage an expression of disgust at Western imperialism?

It is easy to mix up cause and effect, especially as humans wish to think in binary; nothing is ever that straightforward. Students have teachers, who were once students with their own teachers, ad infinitum, ad nauseum. Put it this way: on a large, hellish, Jihadist spider diagram one could draw a rather short line from the Kouachis and Coulibaly to Abu Hamza and the Finsbury Park mosque, or, even, to Osama bin Laden. A narrow lens is essential. One must pick their way through this minefield of tangents because in an attempt to explain everything, one often ends up explaining nothing. We are not trying to understand global Jihadism, merely whether foreign policy was the sole motivator for these men to kill a group of twenty people consisting of journalists and cartoonists, policemen and policewomen, and Jewish shoppers.

The picturesque Parc des Buttes Chaumont.
The picturesque Parc des Buttes Chaumont.

The killers were not intellectuals; they did not leave behind a detailed treatise explaining why and how they decided on this rampage and these targets. Both Chérif Kouachi and Amedy Coulibaly said that the fate of Muslims abroad played upon their minds, but neither went into great detail. Saïd Kouachi said and wrote very little that could get him in trouble or leave an indication as to why he decided to go on a rampage. We know he studied in Yemen in 2009-10 and briefly shared a room with Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the underwear bomber. Saïd returned to Yemen in 2011 and met Anwar al-Awlaki, then the leader of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula – the group which claimed responsibility for the attack on Charlie Hebdo. (Meeting al-Awlaki does not necessarily mean that he trained with the group, but it cannot be discounted.) Whether Chérif was with him during this trip is a matter of speculation, but he was certainly not there during Saïd’s time as a student. All this being said, we do not know how or why Saïd was radicalised; it is likely that he was influenced by his younger brother, but we do not know when. His trail goes dark from 2011 onwards, approximately four years before the attack on Charlie Hebdo. A lot can happen in four years.

Chérif Kouachi’s statement is drawn from a deposition he gave in December 2007 before the trial of seven members of the Buttes-Chaumont network of which he was a part. Arrested in January 2005 as he was about to travel to Iraq, via Syria, to fight for Abu Musab al-Zarqawi’s al-Qaeda in Iraq, he was then incarcerated for over two years before the trial commenced. Chérif, according to his deposition, said: “I got this idea [to go to Iraq] when I saw the injustices shown by television on what was going on over there. I am speaking about the torture that the Americans have inflicted on the Iraqis.” Similarly, in a video posted on Twitter a few days after his death, Amedy Coulibaly stated that his own actions were “perfectly legitimate, amply deserved… You and your coalition carry out bombings regularly over there, you kill civilians, you kill fighters – and why, because we apply Sharia? Is it you who decides what goes on on this earth? No. We won’t allow it. We are going to fight.”

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The iconic image of Ali Shallal al-Qaisi being tortured at Abu Ghraib.

The message is clear, both are saying that they want to wage jihad because of events elsewhere: Chérif because of the deaths of Iraqis, Coulibaly because of bombings “over there”. This being said, foreign policy was a tool used in the radicalisation process, so it cannot have been the primary motive for the attacks. I have no doubt that images and discussion of the fate of some very unfortunate people during the War in Afghanistan and Iraq War were used as a recruitment tool to convert people like Chérif Kouachi to Jihadism. It needs to be pointed out though that the current concept of Jihadism predates both of those conflicts. Extreme fundamentalist Muslims were committing acts of violence and calling it Jihad well before the war began in Afghanistan. The resources used to get someone to believe – the propaganda – has changed but the ideology is still the same.

One of the incidents referenced by Chérif Kouachi was the torture and prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib, which was brought to light in late 2003 by Amnesty International. Several people who have studied the Buttes-Chaumont network, to which Chérif and, probably, Coulibaly belonged, have said that its leader Farid Benyettou used images from Abu Ghraib, Afghanistan and Iraq to rile up his followers. According to a lawyer at the trial “Benyettou would talk to [his followers] about Abu Ghraib, the abuse of Muslims, and say, ‘What are you going to do about it?’… He was like a little guru who claimed to know the sacred texts. And he convinced them that the texts said it was their duty to go to Iraq to fight for the cause.”

On the same deposition Chérif Kouachi notes that “the wise leaders in Islam told him and his friends that if they die as martyrs in Jihad they would go to heaven… [and] that martyrs would be greeted by more than 60 virgins in a big palace in heaven.” The delusion that one will be rewarded for martyrdom is never created by a disagreement over foreign policy; it can only come from religion, as Voltaire once asked: “What to say to a man who tells you he prefers to obey God than to obey men, and who is consequently sure of entering the gates of Heaven by slitting your throat?” Benyettou was a strict Salafist and, amongst many other disturbing things, he preached that the Islamic scriptures state that suicide bombing was a good thing. A thoroughly repugnant figure who has apparently reformed and was – until the attack on Charlie Hebdoworking as a trainee nurse at the hospital where many of the Kouachis victims were taken. Just one of those weird twists of fate history can conjure up.

I posit that the ideas Benyettou put to his disciples would not have materialised purely because of a dislike for the Iraq War; they were moulded by his extreme, fundamentalist, literalist version of Islam. Simply put, Jihadism did not begin because of the Iraq War or the bombings in Syria – that’s just a matter of chronology – but a skewed view of these and other conflicts will have been employed to persuade new recruits. Foreign policy will have played some part in the conversion process, but it isn’t the reason why the attack happened. Claiming that this was the case would be akin to stating that women’s rights were the reason why Anders Behring Breivik went on a rampage. Now, every time you hear people say “if we stop all foreign wars, these Jihadist terrorists will stop,” mentally replace the words “Jihadist” with “misogynist” and “foreign wars” with “women’s rights” and then proceed to explain how their argument is ill conceived.

George Galloway
George Galloway

The first time I heard someone say that foreign policy caused Jihadist violence was after 11th September 2001. A perfect example comes from a 2005 debate in New York where the odious George Galloway stated, mildly for him, that:

[You] may think that those aeroplanes in this city on 9/11 came out of a clear blue sky. I believe they emerged out of a swamp of hatred created by us. I believe… that by their unending, bottomless and total support for General Sharon’s crimes against the Palestinian people,… I believe that by propping up… the puppet presidents and the corrupt kings who rule the Muslim world almost without exception from one end to the other, western policy has created this swamp of hatred against us. …We have to drain that swamp by stopping that support for Sharon’s Israel, his apartheid war, his crimes against the Palestinians. …I think unless we stop propping up these dictators in the Muslim world – none of whom who would last five minutes if it were not for the military, political and financial support of countries like yours and mine. Unless we stop invading and occupying Arab and Muslim countries, then we will be forced to endure the atrocities that took place in New York on 9/11 and in London on 7/7, over and over again. …Revert your policy towards Israel and Palestine; reverse your policy towards dictators in the Muslim world. Reverse your policy towards war and occupation and we can all be safer!

It is this same argument which is being wildly rehashed over and over again by self-centred fools who cannot conceive of a world where what they and their country are doing is not all that others think about and despise. The blame game begins with the USA, then the West, then Israel and the Jews, and then to proxy support given by any of the above. I know this is tough to accept for a lot of people, but we do not have a central role in this contest. At best we are a spectator. The majority of Jihadist terrorist attacks take place in nations in the Arab world and Muslim majority countries, why would that happen if it was all about us and our “imperialism”? France, for example, was deeply opposed to military action in Iraq. This is a fight within Islam between the extremists and the liberals. And we really want the liberals to win.


Addendum

I’ve recently been hearing about how the use of violence is merely the way that the Left-wing expresses themselves in other cultures and societies. In the West, the left write essays and pamphlets, but in Africa and the Middle East – so the argument goes – they blow themselves up to make a similar statement. I feel that I cannot shy away from using the word racist to describe this argument. That violence is what they do and that we write and maintain intellectual pursuits is an abominable way to think. Here’s a tip: spread the load. Critique all streams of thought equally, regardless of the ethnicity or culture of its adherents. Fight against the anti-gay marriage, anti-immigration line of British parties like UKIP by all means, but also stop trying to claim that Hamas, Hezbollah, Boko Haram, ISIS and other nut-bag Islamist groups are really fighting to unseat the power structures and be rid of the shadow of Western imperialism. It is okay to call a spade, a spade. If there’s one thing that can be said for UKIP it is that they don’t use violence, beheading, and rape as a political tool, unlike ISIS, et al. One should call out all bigoted, racist groups, and not shy away because their followers may be of a different ethnicity and/or claim to represent a minority. It is not a Left-critique to side with Islamism, nor is it racist to highlight extreme Islam’s totalitarian tendencies. It is simply common sense.