The Good. The Bad. The Asinine.

Who Are the United Patriot’s Front?

Not being an avid watcher of the far right, I was blissfully unaware of their shenanigans until various organisations started advertising this weekend’s rallies in Melbourne and Sydney on my Facebook newsfeed.

I should explain that, having noticed just how tightly shut an echo chamber the internet can be, I deliberately follow several feeds and pages that are diametrically opposed to my own beliefs. This ensures that I am not just hearing my own opinions in different words, and is closer to the ideals that I think should inform our usage of the internet.

It was for this reason that I began hearing about an organisation called the United Patriot’s Front (not to be confused with the Sudanese separatist movement), a far right, ultra-nationalist, anti-Islamic group that could be described as a splinter group of Reclaim Australia, if only because their founder is a former spokesman for Reclaim and split off on the assumption that the bulk of Reclaim would follow him (they didn’t). The UPF are initially quite difficult to gather information about, largely because of the looseness of their organisation. In digital terms their existence is confined to a handful of Facebook pages, some very angry Youtube videos, and a website with the message “Please bare [sic] with us while this site is under construction”.

This means that in order to find out about who they are and what they have to say, one has to go through the rather depressing process of reading their material and watching their videos. What we first gather about these people is that they are angry. They are, in fact, very angry indeed. What they mainly seem to be angry about is the existence of Islam, having a confused idea that just because violent political ideologies in the Middle East happen to identify with Islam, that Islam must therefore be the enemy of civilisation. They also appear to be angry about female genital mutilation, cherry-picked passages of the Quran, Halal certification, the media and, weirdly, communism. The upshot of their worldview appears to be that a vague entity that they label ‘The Left’, in cahoots with the ‘Communist Media’, is conspiring to destroy the Australian way of life. So far so garden variety loony. Unusually, they are also inordinately angry at the idea of being called racist. I could just about understand this if I was able to believe it. Unfortunately, their non-racist credentials are seriously questionable. Aside from their public and close association with more or less openly racist parties and groups, there is clear evidence that a senior neo-nazi was invited to join yesterday’s bus trip from Sydney to Melbourne, and that he was prominently and loudly kicked off only after various media outlets had detected and reported his presence.

As for numbers and support, this is also a bit nebulous. Many of the ‘allied organisations’ they reference do not appear to exist and their on again off again relationship with Reclaim Australia is obviously fraught. Far less fraught is their relationship with parties like Australia First and the National Democratic Party of Australia. Their turnout at the Melbourne rally yesterday, which would ordinarily serve as a good guide, is difficult to calculate as their leadership failed to name the pre-rally point, meaning that by the time the rally had begun many of their supporters appear to have been stuck on the wrong side of the police lines set up to protect them. This is sourced from their Facebook page and would appear to be fairly indicative of their general intelligence and organisational ability.

So what are they? Farcical or dangerous? It’s extremely difficult to say. I, personally, find them deeply worrying. The brand of non-reflective, anti-intellectual ultra-nationalism that they push seems to me to have the potential for mass appeal. There is a significant portion of the Australian community who are sufficiently ill-informed to buy in to the kind of xenophobic anxiety that groups like this push. It is interesting to note that their FB page has over 8000 likes and their founder’s page over 22000. And the half-truths and fabrications that they publish are no more radical or bizarre than the comments on Islam that I hear from many ordinary Australians on an almost daily basis.

Why does a group like this even exist? Neo-nazis and fascists haven’t had this kind of a popularity wave since the ’90s, when the Howard government attempted to access deep-seated anxieties about Asian immigration in a bid to garner populist brownie points.

Wait a minute… I think I’ve got it…

What’s A Few Hundred Years Between Friends?

Lions For Lambs was a fairly unmemorable, if well-intentioned, film dealing with some aspects of the war in Afghanistan. In it there is a scene in which Tom Cruise, playing a hawkish US Senator, tries to sell the broader motivation behind the war. At one point, he talks about the absolute necessity of fighting “crazy Islamists who want to turn the clock back 500 years”.

I mention this because it’s a common idea – it’s stated and implied in the media and in the more right of centre academic discussions of Islam, Islamism and the threat represented by elements of the Moslem world. The basic thesis is that the Islamic world is stuck in the mediaeval period, having chosen to regress there, and wishes to drag us all back there with them.

There are two blindingly arrogant assumptions required to underpin such a world view.

  1. The development of the world should be measured solely along the timeline of Western history.
  2. Western Civilisation represents the current apogee of human development.

There is, however, one key problem with both of these assumptions, and that problem is a matter of approximately 600 years. The simple fact of the matter is that the Islamic world as we know it today began its development five or six centuries after what we used to call Christendom and now, thankfully, label “The Western World”.

So, as an exercise, let’s take a look at some basic timelines for the Umma and Christendom, each starting from its respective ‘year dot’.

Christendom Islam
Year Zero(ish) 

A woman from an outpost of the Roman Empire falls inconveniently and/or inexplicably pregnant. She claims to have been impregnated by a golden shower and told about it by the Archangel Gabriel, who, as we go on, would appear to have been a very busy person.


A man who sells holy souvenirs claims to have been visited by the Archangel Gabriel who, for some reason, dictates to him a book of verse containing some fairly vague guidance about life, the universe and everything.


After a snappy three hundred odd years of proselytization, the Roman Empire becomes Christian. Sort of. Depends how you define it, really, but, officially, it’s Christian. Which means so is most of the Western World, whether it likes it or not.


At the time, it was largely ‘not’.


The extended family of Gabriel’s impromptu amanuenses spend their time invading Sham, North Africa, Turkey, Syria and, finally, Spain, thus collecting pretty much all the regions that the previous collapsed empires either couldn’t or couldn’t be bothered holding on to. They officially make these places Moslem but, unlike the Empires of Christendom, penalise non-Moslems by adding taxes rather than removing limbs.


This period is a little bit dark and vague. Essentially, most of Europe spends an inordinate period of time invading its neighbours and infighting in the aftermath of the collapse of the Roman Empire. Unfortunately, they are too busy doing this to keep good or detailed records of a lot of it, which is probably why Merovingians and others from this period are so favoured by conspiracy theorists.


Eventually, several hero-kings emerge to re-unite the European regions that we spent the previous few hundred years tearing apart. The most prominent of these was Charlemagne, who advanced the interests of the Church and the culture of the West, often using nothing more complicated than fire and the sword.


This period is a little bit dark but not at all vague. Essentially, most of the near East spends this period invading its neighbours and infighting in the aftermath of the collapse of the Ummayad dynasty. Fortunately, the various peoples and factions kept excellent records of this. This is probably why they were able to preserve a lot of the knowledge that the West was busily washing away with blood and fire.


Eventually, this culminates in the formation of the Ottoman Empire, which advances the influence of the Umma and Near-Eastern civilisation using fire, the sword, education and health care. And fire and the sword.


Early on in this period, having sorted out who’s who in the zoo internally, the Christian Empires start looking abroad to see who they can beat the crap out of. This results in four Crusades. Some of these are in response to aggressive Moslem expansion, some because ‘Empire’.


A small island kingdom drafts a document intended to guarantee the freedom of all people who are not slaves, but, for the most part, this is the period where Christendom invades, enslaves and slaughters because God has told them to rid the holy lands of infidels.


Having finally sorted out who’s in charge of the Caliphate, the Moslem states spend these centuries fighting people who aren’t Moslem. Some of this is in response to Asian and Eurasian aggressive expansionism, but a fair amount of it is because ‘Empire’.


Finally, in 1916, the long-running collision with Christendom culminates in the collapse of the Caliphate and the carving up of its territories. All over the Moslem world, groups and nations fight tooth and nail against the Russians and the West because God has told them to rid the holy lands of infidels.

As we can see, there are some eerie parallels. Okay, admittedly, there are a lot of not so eerie ones too, largely due to the fact that the story of Islam and Christendom has often been a story or collision. The point is, though, that the Islamic world today is at almost exactly the same point as the Christian world was at a similar stage of development. Make of this what you will, but it does invalidate the specious and somewhat dimwitted idea that the central aim of the Islamic world is to turn back the clock.

The Logic of Hatred

It’s easy to think, given the current happenings in the Middle East and elsewhere, that the world is in uncharted territory, facing a new, historically unique threat.

Nothing, however, could be further from the truth. There is no new thing under the sun, and the recently prominent wave of Islamist terrorism is no exception. Strip away the superficial, incidental factors of faith, ethnicity and geography, and what we are left with are the basic fundamentals common to all violent radicals – something I like to call ‘the logic of hatred’.

The Red Brigade, The Black Hand, every tired old variation of the ‘People’s’ this and the ‘Freedom’ that, right back to the bomb throwing nihilists and anarchists of three centuries ago, have all hated exactly the same thing. Problems arise, however, when we try to determine what that thing actually is. The language of hatred tends to be vague, dealing heavily in symbols whilst being sparing with specifics. The enemy tends to be described in practically meaningless terms such as ‘The Man’, ‘The Military Industrial Complex’, ‘Western Imperialism’ or ‘America’. Chasing down what these things actually mean is a complete waste of time. They are labels of convenience, bandied about merely to provide a focus for the specious reasoning that is the real common identifying factor of all such groups.

Basically, it goes like this:

  1. I don’t have the things that I want
  2. This must mean that the world has been rigged against me
  3. It therefore follows that those who have these things must also be the ones who rigged it.
  4. Given this state of affairs, violence is my only recourse.

Which, if you look at it, is an interesting mix of self-pity, blame culture and zero-sum thinking, none of which are worth a tinker’s damn to anyone interested in the truth.

The problem, however, is the intense appeal of this kind of logic to the disaffected. It is a line of thought that chimes in perfectly with feelings of impotent rage and bitterness, providing the perfect pretext for the angry and the marginalised to follow their own personal inclinations. We are never more ready to believe in the truth of an idea as when it happens to agree entirely with our own personal feelings.

So there we have it – the logic of hatred is not only invalid, it’s not even original. So why bother to understand it? The answer is simple. We need to understand this kind of thinking in order to clarify our own position.

In the case of Islamist extremism, this understanding leads neatly to three conclusions.

  1. As the majority of this kind of ideology is centred on political goals, the fact of their professed faith is little more than a coincidence. Basically, this kind of action has nothing to do with mainstream Islam.
  2. Bearing in mind the narrow stupidity of this kind of world view, it is generally fair to say that these groups are not susceptible to reason, which means that attempting to engage them in dialogue or negotiations of any kind would be pointless.
  3. Given that these groups are violent almost by default, and that they cannot be reasoned with or appeased, the only possible solution is to eliminate them, while at the same time making efforts to prevent the formation of whatever next week’s flavour of violent malcontent is going to be.

When we understand the logic of hatred,the seemingly irreconcilable imperatives of tolerance and the prosecution of the ‘war on terror’ no longer seem quite so contradictory. Which is nice. But the important thing – the vitally important thing – is to be absolutely 100% crystal clear as to who we are fighting and why.

The enemy is emphatically not Islam, even when it takes the form of angry teenagers shouting in the street because they’re sick of being discriminated against. The enemy is actually any individual, ideology or group that uses the logic of hatred as a pretext for violence. Our own use of force cannot – must not – derive from this same mixture of self-pity, self-righteous indignation and fear. Just as we ruthlessly exterminate the personnel and materiel of terror groups overseas, we must fight, with equal ruthlessness, the flawed and vile logic of hatred that exists within ourselves.



Shorty Wanna be a Thug

Let’s say my name is Abder Mohammed Moussa. Let’s say that I was born in this country, in the fine city of Sydney, some time in the late seventies. Let’s say that my parents were refugees from Iran – my dad was an atheist and my mum a civil rights activist: two categories that guaranteed death in the homeland and refugee status in this land, the country of my birth. Let’s say that the government at the time persuaded my parents that a Moslem services hub existed in Lakemba, and that this was therefore the very best place for us to stay.

Let’s say that I went to school in my local neighbourhood, surrounded by local boys and girls, laughing, brassing, making a nuisance of myself in fast food outlets and shopping malls, all in the great Australian tradition of larrikinism.

So years pass by. I marry someone, have some children and start working on becoming a pillar of the community. I go to RSL raffles. I join Rotary and the Lion’s Club. My wheel alignment business becomes one of the major employment options in my neighbourhood. I spend about as much time as the average Christian does actually thinking about God – which is practically none at all.

Then all hell breaks loose.

9/11. Gulf 2. Afghanistan, Syria, Iraq. Bali, 7/7 and Boston. All of a sudden, my name produces difficult questions. The young lads I hung out with are inevitably contacts of interest from ASIO’s point of view. My faith – never something I thought all that much about – becomes a major concern. It seems that every hand is turned against me. People who I’ve known for years are suddenly forensically interested in every detail of my faith and upbringing. They ask me questions I’ve never actually known the answers to. The news is full of not-so-veiled inferences about crazy Moslems and people look at me suspiciously on public transport. Especially if I’m carrying a bag. The only people who seem to have anything nice to say to me are on Youtube wearing balaclavas and holding RPG launchers. Then, to cap it all off, one very early morning my front door gets kicked in and a bunch of officers who refuse to identify themselves are taking all my computers, asking me questions about my local Imam, the people I go to prayers with on Fridays. They seem to find it impossible to believe that my attendance is mainly about community – about making friends in my neighbourhood and keeping my devout wife happy.

After a fun-filled few days in a white room with no windows, I’m turned loose. Everyone on my street looks at me like I’m Osama himself. The busted door and remains of police tape don’t help. Nor the plain van parked across the road day and night.

Obviously, all this makes me feel like an accepted and valued part of a community. Not, however, the one I grew up in. My completely understandable reaction to this kind of thing is clearly going to be along the lines of knuckling down and loudly proclaiming that I’m part of ‘Team Australia’. Mainly because I don’t want to be dragged to a paddy wagon in my underpants again. And possibly booking a flight to Syria, where there are people who really understand me.

This hypothetical is not all that far fetched. Okay, so the name I made up is ridiculous, but the circumstances are drawn directly from the experiences of people I’ve met, drank with (yes, alcohol) and worked with. From the Morroccan I knew who disappeared off the face of the Earth after announcing his intention to join Hamas to the Indonesian family who appear to have been raided on the strength of a lone anonymous call to a hotline and membership of an iffy mosque. Ordinary, hard-working people who spoke with Aussie accents and tried desperately to take more than ten years of suspicion, marginalisation and abuse with a sense of humour.

If any or all of these people become a threat to Australia, I know exactly who and what I’ll be blaming. Here’s a clue – it won’t start with ‘Is’ and end with ‘lam’. The real culprit starts with an ‘H’ and ends in ‘ysteria’. For as long as we are unable and/or unwilling to distinguish between radicalised and non-radicalised Moslems, we will continue to largely create the threat that we are currently most afraid of. Just as grinding poverty and police brutality creates gang culture, marginalisation borne of hysterical ignorance creates radicalism.

Shorty wanna be a thug in Compton. In Sydney, Moussa wanna be a Jihadi – in much the same proportions and for much the same reasons.





The Moslem Problem in Australia and How to Solve it.

Our country is under siege. Insidious foreign fanatics, hiding amongst our neighbours, aided and abetted by a fiendish fifth column of intellectuals and anyone else who refuses to acknowledge that Islam is an evil, violent cult and that all Moslems are terrorists waiting to happen, are all conspiring to explode themselves in airports. Or something. I don’t really know anything about radical Islamism, Islam or the background to the various global Islamist insurgencies, but what I do know is that we’re facing some kind of terrible crisis. Thank God Tony Abbott and the Telegraph were there to tell me about it or I never would have known.

We face a terrible and frightening situation. Perhaps not on the same scale as having your country invaded by crazy fundamentalist mass-murderers, or living with the direct aftermath of nearly half a millenium of constant warfare, but it’s disturbing nonetheless. Just like our friends in the Middle East, we are threatened by the rising tide of radical Islam. We too, apparently, have come face to face with the fearsome spectre of militant radical Islamism at home. Just like the residents of Homs, Falluja and Basra, we walk streets haunted by sectarian hatred and violence. Sure, we generally don’t know the names of any of these sects, and most of the violence appears to be on the front page of the Telegraph, but still – it’s a serious problem. Especially since so few of us in this country are, in fact, Moslems. It just goes to show how virulent the problem is. Those other countries are chock full of Moslems, whilst we’re having this terrible crisis with nothing more than 2.2 percent of the population. It’s a constant source of wonder that so many of us are able to go safely about our daily business. The amazing courage with which we doggedly continue to watch television, drink beer and quaff lattes is a constant source of inspiration. Any other nation facing such a dire threat would probably spend all their time fortifying their houses and building panic rooms. Not us, however – we go on living our lives as if the clear and present existential threat represented by these demented killing machines simply doesn’t exist here.

In fact, one could be forgiven for believing this to actually be true. It’s very tempting to look at recent events and apply rational thought, evidence based reasoning and statistical analysis, but why would anyone do that? It’s bloody obvious – we have been completely swamped by these Islamic invaders – there’s even a McDonald’s somewhere that’s Halal. If that’s not enough proof of the crisis, I don’t know what is. Except perhaps all the kebab shops and Lebanese, Malay and Indonesian restaurants who have been quietly poisoning us with Halal foodstuffs for decades. No, never mind the numbers. Or the facts. Let’s just go with how we feel about the whole situation. That way, we can all enjoy holding strong opinions without the inconvenience of having to learn about the people we live with, or what exactly our issue with them is.

Besides, you only need to read the newspapers and look at Facebook to see that everything is changing radically for the worse. We never used to have all this violence, angst and conflict before we were flooded with Moslems. Okay, sure, there were numerous anti-Chinese race riots in the 1800s, and there was all the violence that accompanied the various waves of Greek and Italian immigrants in the early and middle twentieth century, and all that neo-nazi versus Asian crime gang business in the nineties, and the ongoing feuds, riots and racism involving the Lebanese, and, of course, the never-ending toxicity of our two hundred year relationship with Indigenous Australians, but none of these things really count. That all happened in the past and I have Greek friends and Asians are good at maths and cooking. This Moslem thing is totally different. Not the same thing at all.

Friends of mine are beginning to suggest that if Moslems are so fundamentally evil, we should get them out of our country. Except, of course, the really violent ones who want to go and fight overseas. Clearly, it’s our duty to keep those people here. Other people are wondering if a few tactical nukes might not solve the problem once and for all. Deportation and nuclear strikes are expensive, but how else are we going to protect ourselves from these crazy Moslems? Have you seen how they treat their women? And they’re always beheading people on the internet. Clearly, something has to be done and the government’s no use – all they have is a bunch of spy agencies, a military and a national budget. Clearly, it’s all down to us.

So what can we do? Don’t worry – I have a plan. All we have to do is regard all Moslems with deep and obvious suspicion. This can be helped along by constantly running offensively ignorant, inflammatory news stories every day, and generally letting the Moslem interlopers know that we are watching them and that we’ll be ready for them. And as an added bonus we can get some of our politicians to suggest that people who obey Sharia law should leave Australia while the Prime Minister declares on national television that domestic intelligence agencies are specifically targetting anyone and anything to do with Islam.

The brilliance of this plan is that it creates, albeit on a different scale, exactly the kind of circumstances in which radicalisation is achieved overseas. Marginalise, ostracise and alienate them enough, and very soon finding home-grown terrorists becomes much easier.

And most importantly – this part is crucial – it is hugely important that we, as concerned citizens, ensure that we learn absolutely nothing about Islam, Moslems, Middle Eastern Politics or anything that might actually inform the conversations we have about these issues. It would be a critical mistake, for example, to discover that Sharia law is not a single, unified body of law created by the evil Islamist conspiracy, but a myriad and varied, and often mutually exclusive and contradictory, collection of findings from various Ummahs around the world, mostly to do with ethical and doctrinal issues. This just needlessly complicates things and, more worryingly, makes it seem less frightening. And necessitates learning what the word ‘Ummah’ means. It also raises the problem of having to similarly deport anyone who obeys canon, ecclesiastical, Masonic, Buddhist and other secret, sinister, unofficial laws whilst pretending to be decent, hard-working Australian citizens. But we can’t let any of that rubbish stand in our way. We need to solve this problem once and for all, and no amount of being vague as to what the problem actually is, or who or what is actually being threatened, can be allowed to distract us from being completely outraged about it all.

So that’s it folks – our duty is clear. If we want to solve the Moslem problem, we first need to make certain that it exists, and this strategy is by far the best way to ensure that it does.

Can We All Stop Screaming About Iraq and Think for a Second?

Recently, a friend pointed out that the left has been strangely silent on the subject of IS and its atrocities. He posited that this argued an unreasonable degree of Islamophobia-phobia: i.e., an unwillingness to criticise Islam in any way for fear of being branded an Islamophobe, presumably by hipsters who believe that vegan females should free range or something. I thought about this for  while and decided that, whilst correct, this is completely beside the point.

I’d like to illustrate the idea using a thought experiment of sorts. Imagine I have created a meme. Imagine that it’s like the unimpressed African child who points out the stupidity of first world problems and behaviour, only specifically appropriate to Iraq. Which is why I have called him ‘Headless Baby’. Which is also why you need to imagine it. I’m not trawling Google for images of a headless baby – I’m on enough watchlists already (probably).

So, we have the Headless Baby meme. What would it say? I don’t believe it would say anything. I reckon any meme that represented the Iraqi people under IS would scream. It would scream things like:

Headless Baby does not give a fuck about your ignorant, retardedly simplistic opinions of Islam.

Headless Baby does not give a fuck about your internal politics.

Headless Baby does not give a fuck about your paranoid fantasies about immigrants.

Headless Baby would like IS to stop murdering his remaining family, defiling his country and pissing all over the spirit and laws of his religion.

And you know what? I’m pretty sure that we can agree that point number four is the one that’s really of the essence. We can deal with the other stuff when it’s time to be mean and xenophobic to the displaced Iraqis and Kurds that we’ll get a tiny trickle of in the near future.

What we need to do now is to wrap our heads around how we can get this done. We need to stop shouting in the language of outrage and begin performing the calculus of force/resistance, victory/defeat. Because, for better or worse, we live in democratic countries where our governments require broad-based public support to make any policy decision viable in the longer term. This represents an opportunity to show the rest of the world that we deserve the power that we hold, by discovering the best solution and backing it. So what might that be?

If we are to believe what we hear, boots on the ground is out. Apart from military advisors, it seems unlikely that this will change unless and until Irbil and/or Baghdad is threatened. Or maybe not even then. So, having knowledge from recent history that airstrikes alone do not a total victory make, what are we left with? Proxies.

I hear a lot of talk about the Peshmerga. With generous and entirely proper feelings, people declare that we should arm the Peshmerga and give the Kurds their own state already. Five seconds of thinking will make people realise that doing this will cut the territory of three major Middle Eastern powers and cause geopolitical chaos. And I think we can all agree that now is probably not the best time to be causing additional ructions in the region. As for arming them, that’s been done (repeatedly in secret, before any of this mess ever started and once now in public). There are a couple of problems, however, with the Peshmerga as a solution, however brave and committed they might be.

Firstly, they’re small. Too small to counter the IS threat by themselves, much less eliminate it.

Secondly, their focus is split. They are currently fighting three insurgencies in various nations – they had their hands full before these murderous bastards ever came knocking.

Thirdly, for very excellent reasons, they view the West with profound distrust. They are much more comfortable acting as proxies for Iran, which they have been doing for quite some time. In fact, it is believed that Iran is ramping up support for the Peshmerga, deploying Al  Quds unit(s?) to fight alongside Peshmerga forces in Mosul.

Which leads us to Iran as ‘surprise helper’ in the Middle East. In the case of IS, the interests of Iran and the West co-incide. Iran is not an Arab nation and is also predominantly Shia and, crazy mullahs aside, generally practises religious tolerance. Which means that they are as afraid of and disgusted by groups like IS as we are. Co-operation against radical Islamists also has an historical basis – Iran were key allies in the invasion of Afghanistan. They helped locate and target Taliban, as well as capturing and holding approximately 2000 Al Qaeda fighters on our (the coalition’s) behalf. Granted, they let them go again, but only after Dubya publicly spat in their faces by calling them a part of the ‘Axis of Evil’ for no reason at all that I can conceive of other than the currying of domestic favour. Remember that, as we go on.

They’re ready to help us again. They have boots on the ground – eager, formidable boots. The Quds force is known throughout the region and is believed to have conducted audacious and successful operations all over the world, including on US and Israeli soil. Usually to our horror and chagrin, but not always.They’re not supermen by any means, and, by some Western standards, they’re not even proper soldiers, but what they are is willing, battle-hardened, committed and – above all – free. Free in the most important sense being that their deployment should not cost us a single drop of blood.

And there we sort of run to the end of the list of immediately viable options. The Iraqi armed forces are disheartened and overwhelmingly absent, riven by sectarian-driven mistreatment and antagonism, they simply cannot represent a coherent or responsive force for some time to come. The Peshmerga are an excellent piece, but they are by no means even close to constituting man materiel sufficient for an entire campaign. Turkey’s not talking to us because we armed them, and also because they have problems of their own. Syria, to whom we would have turned in the past, is… well… Syria. Our biggest ally within a thousand miles is unable to move outside its contested borders without the entire damn world screaming and is, in any event, locked in its own murderous and toxic struggle.

We’re down to Iranian help. Again. They have the militia, they have the will and they have a history of (secret) co-operation with the US. They have a long history of supporting beleagured religious minorities throughout the region, and not always for hard-nosed political reasons. A longer history than ours, probably because they know the names of these minorities and how to spell them. This could work – Iranian boots, NATO planes… But it must be remembered that if and when Iraq is resolved, there’s Syria to go. And on Syria, Iran and the West fundamentally disagree. Iran wants Assad, or at least a Shia-like bloc, to stay in power. This presents a future problem, against which I think we would be advised to store up some good will.

So, can we please stop shouting about Moslems for a bit and get this problem sorted? Because Iran does, in fact, give a fuck about our opinion of the Islamic world in general and of Iran in particular. They’re famous for it. So if we want to help, we can start by not poisoning any chance of co-operation with the big players in the region. We do this by shutting our stupid mouths about Islam. Not Islamism or Islamists – criticising those things is the right and duty of every right-thinking individual. Islam itself though? Just leave it alone. Especially if all you know about the difference is based on spelling.

Syria? That’s that place where that thing’s happening, right?

So, recent sarcastic posts about Syria on a related page have led to a request from our fearless blogger, Tim, that I knock up a rough guide to the current conflict in all its convoluted glory. Not something I’d generally inflict on the world but, if you’re interested, read on…

First up, it’s very important that you understand straight away that in the Middle East, history is not just some vague stuff it’s cool to know about the past. It is the living, breathing body of the dog that wags the tail of the present.

So. What is this history?

It’s rich, varied and complicated, and I am about to do vile injustice to it by compressing it into a couple of paragraphs.

We’ll start with the 4th century a.d., when Syria became a heartland of Christianity – a jewel in the crown of Constantine’s newly converted  Roman Empire. Syria under the Romans, and later under the Umayyads, was a much larger and richer province than the modern state, with greater access to the sea – a key point to remember for later. Fast forward to the 7th century and we have a confederation of Arabs under the prophet and war leader, Mohammed, who swallowed up Syria almost immediately after taking care of business at home, and Syria became what it still is today – a major part of the beating heart of the Islamic world.

It has been said that Damascus, for the moslems, carries a religious and cultural significance that is similar in magnitude to the ideological and symbolic importance of New York for the West. Syria was also central to the main schism in Islam today. Briefly, the Shi’ite moslems believe in a hereditary succession of prophets leading down from Mohammed, whereas the Sunni school of thought rejects this. Back in the time we’re talking about, they rejected it so violently that the Sunni Umayyad dynasty killed Mohammed’s nephew in order to take control of Damascus and, therefore, Syria. Syria became the centrepiece of one of the largest empires the world has ever known, and it was a decidedly Sunni one. It is important to note, however, that Syria has always held a reputation for absolute tolerance – which is part of why the current conflict is such a tragedy.

There were a number of ructions and changes – Syria, with real justification, claims the Turkic war leader Saladin as one of their own. Fast forward a few more centuries and we have Syria at the heart of the Ottoman Empire. T E Lawrence (of Arabia), with significant help from the Pan-Arab revolutionary Prince Faisal, broke the back of the Ottomans in the closing years of the First World War. Lawrence, the man on the ground, made promises to Faisal that the Foreign Office had no intention of honouring, having handed the territory over to the French in table-top warfare nearly at the outset of the conflict. A completely gormless official drew a basically random line partitioning it and its surrounding territories, cutting Syria largely off from the sea, screwing over the heroic Faisal and basically setting the hearts and minds of pretty well the entire Middle East against Western intervention forever more.

It is important to note that during the years of occupation, local militia were formed in order to curb the rambunctious and economically and politically powerful Sunni blocs within the territory. Finding motivated and loyal militia was easily accomplished by scouring the hills for a persecuted and beleaguered Shi’a minority known as the Alawites. By the time of independence, Alawite ascendancy in the ranks of the military was a fait accompli.

Syria gained independence from France in 1946, after some extremely bloody fighting, and proved solidly over the next twenty odd years to be incapable of playing nicely with itself. They drafted four separate constitutions during that time, and a fair amount of blood was spilt. It was around this time that the idea of Pan-Arabism began to sweep through the region in earnest, and Syria at one point even formed an integrated state with Egypt. During this period, Syria was consistently aligned with the USSR, which helps to explain their relationship with Russia to this day. Also during the period, the Baath party – a secularist, hard-line communist organisation, replaced the Syrian parliament and ruled over what was increasingly becoming a military dictatorship.

After a couple of embarrassing wars with Israel the defence minister, Hafez Al-Assad, seized power in a bloodless coup (1970). Hafez did a number of good things for the country, standing on a platform of absolute and universal religious tolerance, a focus on commercial prosperity and modernisation and a simultaneous attempt to re-vitalise the agrarian economy. He was also a paranoid and murderous tyrant, who commanded and oversaw numerous artillery strikes and death squad corrals on his own people. The apple doesn’t fall far, and all that. His rule was marked by ruthless authoritarianism but, and most importantly, it was stable. The Syrian people, by this point in their history, were by and large willing to swap just about anything for a country which was not on fire or being bombed every five minutes.

Hafez died, in due course, and his son – a medical doctor trained in London and known as Bashar Al-Assad, succeeded to power. Bashar’s early rhetoric was indicative of major government reform. A phenomenon known as “The Damascus Spring” took place, where open dissent and dialogue on reform was conducted on the assumption that it would be tolerated. This assumption was incorrect. The demonstrations, meetings, fora, etc., were cracked down on ruthlessly and with brutal violence. Bashar seems to have done a reverse Scrooge – starting nice and very quickly turning very naughty indeed. Resentment grew amongst the people as well as amongst elements of the army, who were frequently called upon to supplement the efforts of the security forces. There are accounts of summary executions of army personnel refusing to fire on demonstrators. There was also a major drought and, for oppressed populations, hungry and angry is never a good mix.

Eventually, units from within the army – sometimes whole platoons – cast off the chain of command and vanished into Syria’s expansive hills and plains to conduct guerilla warfare against government forces. Ostensibly, their mission was to: “Protect the right of the Syrian people to conduct protests in safety”. These units eventually banded together in a loose confederation known as the Free Syrian Army. Initially the FSA were mainly seen running herd on demonstrations and funerals, but they very quickly began mounting a highly effective war of attrition on government forces.  It should be noted that this was not Sunni against Alawite – some senior figures in the FSA are, and always have been, Alawites themselves.

After about a year, and feeling above themselves through riding a localised groundswell of support, the FSA seriously overreached itself by taking and attempting to hold a sizeable chunk of territory around the Homs/Deraa area. They were absolutely mullered. This was not something that was going to go unnoticed, however, and several things happened during and after the battle for Homs.

Firstly, foreign Jihadi began flooding into the country. This is not an uncommon occurrence in any conflict involving moslems, but it is abundantly clear to any watcher of Syria that the FSA is far from comfortable with the ideology and tactics of its new helpers. Lacking credible centralised command and control, however, there isn’t a great deal they can do about it.

Secondly, the Arab League and, at something of a distance, the UN, became involved. This necessitated the recognition of a central body that could be engaged with as being representative of the rebels. This group, formed ad hoc and specifically to meet this need, took the name of the already extant Syrian National Council. I have no idea who is speaking for that group this week, or whether they’ve dropped or re-engaged with the FSA in the last hour or so.

Thirdly, the Western media machine rolled in, spreading disinformation, half-understood truths and flat-out lies over the front pages of scream sheets and at the top of prime time broadcasts all over the world. This fatally coloured the uprising in exactly the wrong light at the very outset. Now, with embedded specialists and brave war journalism professionals in country, the information situation is much better, but it seems that the world simply stopped listening after digesting exactly the wrong story. As far as mass-consciousness is concerned, we are stuck with the wildly inaccurate version of events promulgated in the early days of the West noticing that something was happening.

It has been said by people on the ground that this is rapidly degenerating into a sectarian conflict. What is also clear, is that the rebel side is working very hard to retard that process, insisting on a message of tolerance, often in strange dissonance with the announcements their crazy jihadi mates. The government claims that it is trying to do the same thing, but nobody really believes them and neither do I.

So, there it is. Not the whole truth, but at least it’s not the hysterical pack of lies that seems to constitute the vast majority of what I will loosely term ‘popular thinking’ with regard to the conflict in Syria.

Until death do us part… and that’s when the fun starts

Most husbands are sad when their wives die. But apparently Egyptian Muslims just get horny. Which perhaps explains all the loose fitting attire at funerals.

Thankfully, the Egyptian parliament is going to do something about it. They’re going to legalise dead sex with your ex. Well, for the first six hours after death anyway. Any longer would be weird.

Now I don’t know about you, but I found this a little wacky at first. Why on earth would anyone want to have sex with their dead wife so soon after she died? But after thinking it through, I think they may be on to something:

Game on
One thing that’s always bugged me about sex is that women sometimes don’t want it. Not a problem when they’re dead. Just go up to your wife and say “Hands up who doesn’t want to have sex with me?”. Just make sure your other wives aren’t in the room. They’ll probably raise their hands, and that might kill your buzz.

Silence is golden
The other thing that annoys me about sex is that even when they’re up for it, they want it to be fun for them too. Finally, you can have sex in peace, with no more of the incessant “a little higher”, or “a little lower”, or – the worst – “is it my turn to come yet?”

Egypt is hot, dead bodies are not
Let’s face it – Egypt is pretty hot. So imagine how refreshing it would be to have your wife die, clear your head with a quick run to the pyramids, and then be home just in time for a nice, cooling, sex session with a former human.

One final thing…
I’m a misogynistic arsehole who thinks women are nothing more than two fun bags and a hole. Two holes if it’s my birthday.