Idiot Wind: Corbyn’s Fake Refuseniks

If my inadvertent involvement in last year’s media onslaught against Stop the War taught me one thing: it was the incredible mendacity,  political dishonesty and sheer venality of Jeremy Corbyn’s opponents inside the Labour Party.  It is possible – within limits – to respect one’s political opponents when they uphold genuine principles that they sincerely believe in, and when they themselves have the decency to consider opposing arguments and actually think about them.

None of these conditions were present amongst the Labour politicians who entered December’s ‘debate’ over Stop the War.   From the outset Corbyn’s opponents  on the Labour right wilfully misinterpreted and distorted Chris Floyd’s ‘reaping the whirlwind’ blog and my own,  without any indication that they had even read or understood the two pieces concerned.

No one did this more relentlessly or more cynically than MP for Wolverhampton North East Emma Reynolds.   Throughout the week leading up to the (in)famous Christmas dinner, she was a ubiquitous public presence in the shrill and witless McCarthyist campaign  against Stop the War, as she poured forth a stream of fauxtrage about the ‘Stop the War blogs’ that accompanied it.

On the Radio 4 Today programme, Reynolds claimed that Stop the War

‘… blame Paris for reaping the whirlwind of Western intentions after the recent terrorist attacks. They compared ISIL/Daesh with the international brigades who fought fascism in 1930s Spain and they have failed to condemn Russia for its invasion and occupation of Ukraine and Georgia.’

Told by STW’s Chris Nineham that both posts had been removed, she responded:

‘ I think the mask is slipping on the real views of Stop the War.   I don’t believe for a minute that they don’t believe the views I’ve just outlined.   The posts were published on their website.   One of the authors Matt Carr is somebody who represents you on public platforms.’    

The day after her Today interview, she was on the Week in Westminster, debating John Rees, and declaring that

‘… Matt Carr, who wrote the piece comparing jihadism to the International Brigades that came together to fight against fascism in the 1930s, has also been a spokesman for Stop the War and has sat on different platforms representing the organization.’

In fact I have never been a member of Stop the War, and I have never represented the organization on any public platform.   Reynolds had clearly been briefed, and the most charitable interpretation that can placed on  her statements is that she was briefed incorrectly.  But I don’t think that charity is called for here, because she and Tristram Hunt were clearly acting in concert, as part of a political  strategy whose essential aims were a) to make Floyd and me appear as depraved as possibly b) to portray us the authentic ‘voice’ of  Stop the War  and c)  to tarnish and undermine Corbyn by association.

This pseudo-debate appeared to die down over the Christmas period, but yesterday it came back into the headlines as a new bunch of political zombies shambled off into the backbenches clutching straw men arguments in response to Corbyn’s chaotic and ill-managed reshuffle.

First up was Pat McFadden, MP for Wolverhampton South East, who was sacked as Shadow Europe Minister.  Not many people outside his constituency had heard of McFadden until yesterday.  Elected in 2005, McFadden has said that Britain shouldn’t be ‘imprisoned’ by the Iraq War, and he voted on eight occasions against holding a public inquiry into the war.

He also supported the extension of the bombing campaign to Syria.  During the debate he  indirectly referred to Chris Floyd’s blog, when he posed the following question:

This question was as cunning and deceitful as Hilary Benn’s ‘International Brigades’ speech.  In the midst of the most important foreign policy debate since 2013, McFadden deliberately used a gross distortion of Floyd’s arguments in an attempt to undermine and humiliate his own party leader in front of parliament and the whole nation – and he even appealed directly to Cameron of all people to help him do it.

No wonder Corbyn sacked him.  The only surprise is that it took him so long.  Yet now McFadden has the unbelievable gall to claim that he was  sacked  not because of his disloyalty, but as the result of ‘  a disagreement on substance and national security….I made the decision to serve in the best interests of the Labour Party. He (Corbyn) made the decision that my views on terrorism and national security mean I cannot continue.’

Yes that Corbyn is a monstrous autocrat, isn’t he?   And yesterday Shadow foreign minister Stephen Doughty,  resigned in protest at McFadden’s sacking and cited his intervention in parliament as a a justification for it, tweeting:

[stextbox id=”alert”]’I agree with everything @patmcfaddenmp said in these comments. Shocked if this why he’s been sacked.'[/stextbox]

This noble gesture of solidarity was repeated by Shadow rail minister Jonathan Reynolds, who also resigned, declaring

[stextbox id=”alert”]’I believe my colleague Pat McFadden was right to condemn those who would to any degree absolve ISIS for their actions following the atrocities in Paris.'[/stextbox]

The very best that can be said about McFadden, Reynolds and Doughty is that they are completely obtuse, or perhaps lack the ability to think critically.  None of them appear to have read Floyd’s piece, which looks back on the history of Western involvement in the Middle East with more insight than any of them have ever shown, and which echoes an argument about the relationship between terrorism and foreign policy that many people have made, including the British government’s own intelligence agencies.

At no point did Floyd argue that the murderers in Paris were not responsible for their actions or that their victims had somehow deserved it or brought it on themselves.  On the contrary, his horror and disgust at their actions is absolutely transparent in the following passage:

‘I write in despair. Despair of course at the depravity displayed by the murderers of innocents in Paris tonight; but an even deeper despair at the depravity of the egregious murderers who have brought us to this ghastly place in human history: those gilded figures who have strode the halls of power for decades in the high chambers of the West, killing innocent people by the hundreds of thousands, crushing secular opposition to their favored dictators — and again, again and again — supporting, funding and arming some of the most virulent sectarians on earth.’

Floyd also added:

‘And one further cause of despair: that although this historical record is there in the open, readily available from the most mainstream sources, it is and will continue to be completely ignored, both by the power-gamers and by the public. The latter will continue to support the former as they replicate and regurgitate the same old policies of intervention, the same old agendas of domination and greed, over and over and over again — creating ever-more fresh hells for us all to live in, and poisoning the lives of our children, and of all those who come after us.’  

Floyd is absolutely right.  And the faux-outrage displayed by McFadden and his fellow zombies only bears out his argument.   Like Emma Reynolds and Tristram Hunt before them, these politicians would like the public to believe that they are acting out of principle.

But there is nothing principled whatsoever about traducing and distorting the arguments of your opponents in order to fit a preconceived political agenda, or reducing a serious debate about the relationship between terrorism and foreign policy to a straw-filled travesty, simply in order to undermine the elected leader of your own party.

To behave like that you have to be operating at a very low level, somewhere near the lower reaches of the political gutter in fact.  Unfortunately for Corbyn, I fear that there are many more where this lot came from.  And they might  fervently proclaim their ‘principles’, but they might more truthfully echo the words that T.S. Elliot once wrote many years ago: ‘We  are the hollow men/We are the stuffed men/Leaning together/Headpiece filled with straw.’





Many years ago, when I was doing my A’ Levels, my English teacher gave us three basic rules of thumb to apply when reading texts: 1) What is the author trying to achieve? 2) To what extent does he/she succeed on his/her terms? 3) To what extent does he/she succeed on your terms?

Of course there are a lot more questions you can ask about books and writers, and even the three that have mentioned immediately raise a number of issues.   But I have always found my English teacher’s advice useful not when thinking about books, but on many other occasions.  When I was writing my history of terrorism The Infernal Machine, for instance,    I often tried to apply them to the individuals, organizations and movements I was writing about, as well as the states that were fighting them.

But in the process of researching that book, I often realized how rarely such questions are asked, not only in the abundant literature that has historically framed ‘terrorism’ as an un-Western, un-democratic and alien phenomenon of violence, but also in the wider discourse that has surrounded particular terrorist emergencies.

Whether it was the ‘anarchist terror’ of the 1890s, the Kenyan ‘Mau Mau’ or even the IRA, the societies that were on the receiving end of this kind of non-state violence were rarely encouraged to think about what its protagonists were trying to achieve, or whether they succeeded on their terms, and independent judgments about the causes and context of such violence were generally preempted by officially-orchestrated hysteria and anathemas that attempted to impose their own answers.

Conventional wisdom on the subject tended to present terrorism as an eruption of irrational and monstrous violence whose essential aim was nothing less than terror itself. The practitioners of this kind of violence were often  depicted as moral aliens and wild beasts who were beyond rationality and understanding, and these representations often acted as a pretext for ‘virtuous’ counterterrorist violence, in which the extermination of terrorists could become a ‘sacred duty’, as the anthropologist Edmund Leach once put it.

Privately, governments might have a very keen understanding of their opponents, their tactics, strategies and political goals, but this knowledge rarely informed public debate about terrorism and was often deliberately concealed from the wider society.

Generally speaking, in the course of terrorist emergencies, civil society is discouraged from thinking or talking about terrorism beyond the very narrow parameters that governments seek to impose or disseminate.    The events of the last week have brought home to me how narrow these parameters have become.  Over the last few days I have often heard my words and those of my fellow-blogger Chris Floyd described as ‘unacceptable’ by the Labour MP Emma Reynolds and others.

Leaving aside the question as to whether Reynolds has even read or understood the pieces she has condemned, and the extent to which she was merely using them for political purposes, the hysteria and outrage that she and others expressed so readily nevertheless demonstrates that our current emergency is not that different from many of its predecessors.

Today, as in the past, civil society is expected to applaud dishonest and opportunistic depictions of the enemies we face that tell us much more about how our governments would like us to see them than the way they see themselves.  We are not supposed to think about what it is about these organizations that enables them to continually find new members.   We are not supposed to think about what their political aims are or the source of their global appeal in any other terms except their common hatred for everything that is good about us.

We are not expected to think about where that hatred may come from, and whether – at times – it may be related to things that our governments have done,  and not simply because we are all good people who love freedom.  We have now reached such a level of hysterical dishonesty that the British government is prepared to monitor Muslim toddlers for signs of ‘radicalization’, yet politicians dismiss any discussion that includes us as well as the demonic Other is considered to be ‘unacceptable.’

Often we are told  that jihadists are ‘death cults’ with no political aims beyond death, even when it is very clear that their organizations are using violence – however extreme and horrific – strategically for political purposes.  Politicians like to tell us that these groups – whether al Qaeda or Daesh – are a new form of fascism comparable to Nazism – an explanation that should make it possible to understand them in political terms, yet try and write about the political context in which these groups emerged, as Chris Floyd attempted to do after the Paris massacres, and you hear that this ‘unacceptable..

The least that can be said about these constraints is that they are not helpful in eliminating the lethal threat that these groups represent.  Instead they leave the broader debate about terrorism to governments, thinktanks, ‘terrorist experts’ and establishment commentators, who too often reproduce the official interpretations of terrorism that have done absolutely nothing to bring the ongoing emergency to an end.

If we look back on the way that western governments have responded to the atrocities of 9/11, virtually everything they have done has played into the hands of their jihadist enemies.  Al Qaeda wanted to bring the ‘crusaders’ into the Middle East and Central Asia; we obliged them.   Jihadism feeds off weak or failed states; we have helped given them four.  Islamic State would like to have ‘crusader’ armies bombing Syrian cities and get involved in yet another open-ended war; we’ve done that too.

Again and again, ill-thought-out and often blatantly opportunistic forms of military intervention have helped create precisely the kinds of conditions in which al-Qaeda type formations thrive, while heavy-handed and authoritarian campaigns against ‘radicalization’ at home have only exacerbated the bitterness, alienation and anger that makes it easier for such groups to recruit.

The result is a global terrorist emergency that, unlike its predecessors, is not only global, but is potentially indefinite, because it is unfolding in so many countries and in so many different contexts.

The consequences of this situation have already been disastrous, and unless we can get to grips with it, and design appropriate strategies, both abroad and at home, they will certainly get worse and we will never find our way out on this dire trajectory of terrorist massacre, war, national security authoritarianism and racism that is choking our world to death.

In order to do that we need to be able to talk and think openly about terrorism and terrorists, regardless of  whether governments and politicians find what we say ‘acceptable’, because the evidence of the last fifteen years suggests that too many governments are not thinking about it at all, and that if they have applied the three very useful questions that my English teacher once recommended many years ago to the current state of emergency, then they are not telling us the answers.