Dangerous Baggage

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Archive for December 2015

Trump has Filled the Void Obama Left

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rt_donald_trump_mm_150616_16x9_992Donald Trump is not a man revered outside the US, he’s regularly mocked by British and Europeans on social media. His recent outburst however has left many shocked, even UKIP supporters may wince at supporting his sentiments. And this guy is running for president!

“Donald J Trump is calling for a total and complete shut down of Muslims entering the United States, until our country’s representatives can figure out what the hell is going on.”

– Donald Trump (video here of Trump’s statement along with Paul Ryan’s response)

He is an astute businessman and it shows, his statement here was a ruthless stroke of genius in terms of his election campaign. The advantage was handed to him by Obama and he has played that advantage perfectly. As an intellectual Brit or European this may not make sense, but from the perspective of the US this is an obvious and smart, albeit repugnant, move on Trump’s part.

After the Charlie Hebdo attacks in January, Obama refused to say that the attacks had anything to do with Islam. After the Paris attacks last month he again said that the attacks were nothing to do with Islam. He repeatedly refuses to draw any association between the attacks and the religion, constantly using phrases like “mindless violence”, “hateful terrorists”; but never, not once, did he talk about how those hateful terrorists are in some way connected with Islam. Those “madmen” make statements, before, during (and sometimes after) they have committed some despicable act, declaring in absolute and certain terms that they are operating in a religious context. Perhaps they’ll say they’re doing god’s work while citing a verse or sura that justifies their actions. They also talk about their grievances with western intervention (or lack thereof depending on the situation), they talk about the wars and the oppression of Muslims. We all accept these connections, some of the strongest anti-war movements on Earth are in ‘Western’ democracies, we’re aware of these factors. But Obama has repeatedly failed to address the role of religion in their motivations.

Americans are seen as impulsive by other countries in the world, we mock them as they let their emotions rule their intellect. But they’re not dumb. They are able to hear the cries of Allahu Akbar before the triggers are pulled. They can watch the videos posted by Islamists. They are not dumb, but it doesn’t matter, the religious motivation and fervour is something that doesn’t require intellect to detect.

Obama’s constant denial of this connection has left a gaping void, a vacuum of frustration. Maajid Nawaz coined a term for this trap, The Voldemort Effect: to not only refuse to name the threat but to then conclude that the threat that you can’t name doesn’t even exist. This creates an empty space of confusion, anger and fear. All Donald Trump needed to do was fill it, his short statement even amplified the feeling of confusion that naturally forms in this space.

The following is a video of Maajid’s powerful speech back in Feb 2015, in it he predicts that this void would occur due to Obama’s labelling aversion; if you haven’t seen it you’re unlikely to gain more from any other 11 minute period today than this.

We in the UK have a different situation, for all of David Cameron’s flaws he has named this threat as Islamism (or the Islamist ideology). He, among others, has named it and promoted the use of that lexicon to divide this war of ideas along its true ideological lines. Obama’s succumbing to The Voldemort Effect has left the US in a state where hysteria, hatred, bigotry and confusion will reign. Obama and Trump have played the game ISIL set for them and I fear that America’s Muslims will now become ever more isolated and radicalised over the coming years.

It’s not the fault of Americans that so many are backing Trump. His ideas about vetting and profiling are wrong, his blaming ‘Muslims’ is wrong, almost everything he says is simplified and ignorant. But to a public that doesn’t even have the terminology to identify what they’re afraid of, he is speaking sense. I hope that someone soon is able to call the threat of Islamism from inside American politics in a way that opposes him. For now though, it seems the left has lost its spine.


Written by matthaughton

December 8, 2015 at 10:34 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Nicolas Henin: Are Strikes on ISIL Really a Trap?

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In this video Nicolas Henin voices some coherent, interesting and most of all important insights. One would be wise to listen.


Nicolas points out that ISIL are slightly delusional, but also self-coherent. They watch the news constantly and take everything they see as confirmation of their righteousness. He then goes on to talk about how the international community did nothing when the Syrian people were being attacked by the Assad regime.

Nicolas argues that the Western governments did not intervene when the Syrian regime was using barrel bombs and chemical weapons against its people. In his opening statement he also says that Mohammed Emwazi will have have killed many more Syrians than Western aid workers and journalists – but who showed compassion for them?

I absolutely agree with him up to this point. That it took a successful attack on a European city for us to intervene is something to admit with shame. Nicolas goes on to identify 3 ways to tackle the problem in Syria. The first seems perfectly logical, the acceptance of refugees in Europe was a major blow to ISIL, this is a very good point and one that can’t be stressed enough. They want us to close our borders. They want to show the fleeing Syrians that the narrative of Europe attacking Muslims is true. We have shown thus far that we will not let this happen. We believe in humanity, we believe in human rights and we will not turn away those fleeing from brutality. And the Syrian people know now that these are not mere words.

The second action he suggests taking is also an excellent idea, and one that members of the public in the UK can assist with from their own homes. The cities in Iraq and Syria have normal civilians living there. They have mobile phones and internet access. Some of these people do not want to live under the rule of ISIL and many don’t want the Syrian regime back either. The public from around the world, without leaving their sofa, can reach out to these people with a simple offer of solidarity. Listen to the stories they are telling, let them know that the West does not hate Muslims and is not attacking Islam. Let them know how you feel and listen to what they have to say. Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently is one such group. Don’t get all of your information from the media news channels, find civilian led groups on the ground, listen to them and let them know you’re listening.

It is Nicolas’ final suggestion that I just can’t accept without critique. He suggests implementing no fly zones over the ISIL occupied areas of Syria, to restrict the coalition, the Syrian regime and Russia from entering that air space. Nicolas argues that once this no fly zone has been applied ISIL will lose ground ‘very quickly’ and they will essentially collapse.

Let us set aside the rather practical fact that we would have to seriously consider whether we want to shoot Russian planes out of the sky should the contravene this restriction. This is a scary prospect and I’m not sure it is one we should follow through on, nevertheless this is a practicality and it is the principle of Nicolas’ proposition that I wish to address.

I wish he’d been able to expand on this argument a little more, I have so much I’d like to ask him about how this strategy would work. ISIL have money, infrastructure and are trying to build a caliphate in which Muslims can live, Nicolas seems to be saying that we should just leave them to it. But it is very feasible that ISIL could simply operate their caliphate successfully without our intervention. They could pump whatever propaganda they wished onto the news channels, restrict travel into and out of the area and implement an education system that indoctrinates and recruits young children to their ideology. Could this be an all too foreseeable outcome of Nicolas’ suggestion? Would this serve to strengthen their hold on the territory they already occupy?

There would of course be lots of ground fighting between the Syrian regime and ISIL, as well as other rebels, even if the air support was withdrawn. How would this play out if our air strikes were not supporting any particular side? What about the Kurdish fighters? Would they thank us for such a move? Would they lose ground? Would they lose soldiers?

Nicolas also fails to mention the fact that many nations have been bombing ISIL in Iraq and Syria for 16 months now and they have gained very little ground in that time. He has some great ideas and is correct when he identifies this as a war of ideas that will not be won with sophisticated weaponry. However, ISIL are most definitely attacking with military force and they are trying hard to gain more land for their caliphate through military means. It is imperative that we contain the geographical spread of ISIL, a large expansion in their territory would provide them with enormous power to recruit new members, they would be able to tell people that they are winning. Nicolas simply does not address this.

In short, Nicolas has said that when we didn’t intervene it provided ISIL with a narrative that we didn’t care. When we directly intervene they have the narrative that Europe is attacking Syria and Islam. In fact he readily admits that ISIL will scour the internet for news stories and will be able to use most of what they find for their own PR. He then suggests that we withdraw military intervention so they can’t use that as PR – this just does not follow a coherent argument.

Nicolas presents a very eloquent, impassioned speech; that this man was imprisoned by ISIL for 10 months makes it well worth listening to, but does not mean it should be accepted uncritically.

Written by matthaughton

December 7, 2015 at 10:39 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Syria: Sticking to the Stats

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Current Situation

(Figures correct on Thu 3 Dec 2015)


IMG_0053These are the locations of all air strikes since August 2014 in Iraq and Syria. Over 8000 air strikes, mostly by the US. Current estimates are that 23,000 ISIL fighters have been killed in these air strikes. These figures do not include any ground combat.

Civilian deaths

  • Between 682 and 977 civilians have been killed in 115 incidents
  • Between 703 and 804 claimed deaths in incidents that are either weakly reported, single sourced or the claims about who carried out the air strike is contested.

(Data taken from http://airwars.org/)

These figures are sobering and don’t alone provide sufficient information to justify nor condemn the air strikes, for that a great deal more detail is required. There are however conclusions we may draw at this point

  1. The civilian casualties are too high. The minimum estimate is currently 682 in 16 months. To posit that figure would be morally acceptable over the next 16 months simply isn’t viable. Any air attack that causes civilian casualties is a failure.
  2. Anyone that says “we’ve been bombing them for a long time now and it hasn’t defeated them, it isn’t working and isn’t going to work” (I’ve heard these sentiments countless times, almost always by someone who has done little research and cites no sources). It’s absurd and a denial of the facts to suit a particular ideal. Let’s assume 23,000 is a vast overestimate, let’s assume the real figure is half that. Removing 11,500 soldiers from any army is significant. Anyone that is currently against the bombing has got to answer the question, what do you imagine ISIL would be doing now if they had an extra 11,500 (or 23,000) soldiers in their army? ISIL would be much stronger now if the air strikes did not start when they did? Anyone that claims air strikes have no effect is making claiming that those thousands of armed militants would have made no difference to their strength. Please, for the sake of intelligent debate at least admit that the air strikes thus far have weakened them. Denial of this prevents the debate going any further.


To understand these statistics in some context we must look at the involvement of the allied forces over the last 16 months. There is no alternative but to quote the statement of context from Airways in full:

“After the swift capture of much of Iraq by Islamic State, the US began military actions at the invitation of the Iraqi government on August 8th 2014, focused mainly on airstrikes. It was later joined in its Iraq campaign by

  • France (from September 19th);
  • the UK (September 30th);
  • Belgium (October 5th);
  • the Netherlands (October 7th);
  • Australia (October 8th);
  • Denmark (October 16th);
  • Canada (November 2nd) and
  • Jordan (unspecified date.)

The US began Syrian operations against ISIL on September 23rd 2014, initially aided by

  • Saudi Arabia;
  • Jordan;
  • the United Arab Emirates;
  • Bahrain and
  • Qatar.

These actions did not have the consent of the Assad government – and most other Western nations have not engaged militarily. US targets in Syria have also included a faction of the Al Qaeda-affiliated al-Nusra Front, labelled the ‘Khorasan Group.’ On April 8th 2015, Canada also began airstrikes against ISIL in Syria, followed on August 26th by Turkey, by Australia on September 15th and by France on September 27th.

The coalition’s war against ISIL has inevitably caused civilian casualties, certainly far more than the six deaths Centcom presently admits to. Yet it’s also clear that in this same period, many more civilians have been killed by Syrian and Iraqi government forces, by so-called Islamic State and by various rebel and militia groups operating on both sides of the border.”

Further Historical Context

An eloquent, well researched, well produced and reasonably objective documentary on the history of the middle east throughout the 20th century has been put together by Adam Curtis. His Bitter Lake throughly explains the history of various political developments in Saudi Arabia and Afghanistan. At over 2 hours long this investigation documents the exportation of Wahhabism from Saudi Arabia right back to the 1920s and follows the story through to the present day. The trouble with this is that however in depth and historically accurate this documentary is, it is necessarily rather summary. The history of the geographical region that stretches from West Libya to East Afghanistan over the past century is not a history that can be condensed into 2 hours without omissions and summaries. If you haven’t seen this documentary you should probably reserve comment until you have. If you have seen this documentary however, you should probably be open to changing your mind if you are going to read more. It doesn’t, nay could not, tell you everything.

Any history of the Middle East in the 20th century that offers no detail of the Saddam Hussein regime, the Murkhabrat nor even the Iraq and Syrian Ba’ath parties must be considered incomplete. These are not simply details.

The conflict between Israel and Palestine was also touched on in the documentary, as was the changing political nature of Iran over the decades. However the rise of Hamas and Hezbollah were barely mentioned, again these are not minor players in the region.

This is not a review nor critique of Bitter Lake, quite the opposite, it gives an excellent grounding in the subject and even those well versed in this subject will likely learn something, I certainly did. However, please think of this as a foundation, a timeline, a framework on which to hang future knowledge and understanding.

If there is one point I would make about Bitter Lake and this is a point admitted in the beginning of the film. It is a story of the Middle East told through the prism of our intervention in Afghanistan. It necessarily expands into other areas to give a fuller picture but if we are to draw from this film the conclusion that air strikes in Syria are a mistake (a conclusions that seems implicit at the end of the film) then we have to ask how appropriate a comparison of the situation in Afghanistan is to Syria. This is a comparison the film draws without considerable examination and unfortunately the similarities fall down on a number of levels. Learning from the mistakes in Afghanistan is essential, but I wish the film had highlighted some of the key differences between the 2 conflicts before drawing its conclusion.

Qualitative Detail

To arrive at a decision on intervention in Syria on statistics alone would be to avoid some very chilling truths, knowledge that many would prefer to never know. At present the statistics we have are only estimates, and perhaps they always will be, but we also have many stories told by the people living there.

Here is a report with a more qualitative analysis. Before forming a final opinion consider an essential, albeit uncomfortable, read. This UN report has many details, broken down some important subsections:

A. Killing and maiming of children

B. Recruitment and use of children

C. Sexual violence against children

D. Attacks on schools and hospitals and their protected personnel

E. Abduction of children

Do you consider yourself left wing? do you wish to take up that mantle of sitting on the left of the French national assembly? A believer in the enlightenment, and defender of freedom of the people? If you wish to post a hashtag on your Facebook profile to facilitate a clear conscience then by all means do it and carry on with your day. But if you want to attempt to truly act on behalf of the Syrian people then please read this report. Read about the number of dead civilians at the hands of ISIL. Read the individual stories.

“At least 1,297 children (685 girls, 612 boys) were abducted in 322 documented incidents.”

How you feel is a personal choice, please visit Airwars, look at the data for yourself and make your own mind up. Also before you decide please read about this particular group of activists, “Raqqa is being slaughtered silently”  is a campaign operated by activists in Raqqa, they’re under constant threat from Bassad and ISIL forces and put their lives in great danger to report this information, do them the respect of reading their words.

If you just need to make a few comments denouncing war and claiming you’re a peaceful being, then go ahead and get on with your life with a clear conscience. Honestly it’s fine. But know this, unless you have faced all of the uncomfortable facts in this case, then arguing that civilian casualties will result from our bombs is a matter of discomfort for you, and alone does not justify a vote against air strikes. I’m afraid to say that inaction comes with its own civilian body count that may be much, much higher.

Written by matthaughton

December 6, 2015 at 9:48 pm

Posted in Uncategorized