The Good. The Bad. The Asinine.

Russia, Syria, Iran and World War III

From the air ... A video grab from footage made available on the Russian Defence Ministry

It has been apparent for months that Russia was planning a serious move in Syria. Russia, bless them, rarely varies its tactics when it comes to making moves on the QT, possibly because most Russian leaders have always been far more worried what their own people think of them than the opinion of the rest of the world. So, the same tired old ‘subterfuges’ of aid shipments which were really arms and troop shipments, and materiel sales that were really incremental mobilisation have been taking place right under our noses. And most of us guessed what was happening, to our credit.

Judging by the news cycle, however, a whole lot of people seem to be very surprised and, in this state of shock, have begun to scream hysterically about World War III. The argument is that Russia is more or less openly striking targets other than ISIS, and that these targets include rebel groups that are being backed by the USA and a raft of other countries. So, if Russia is killing American allies, then what’s to stop the USA from declaring war on Russia? And also, Iran’s announced its intention of sending ground troops in to fight ISIS and every time anyone says ‘Iran’, heads the world over begin immediately to explode.

I, however, would recommend remaining calm. As I pointed out in a previous post, fears about the advent of WWIII are basically academic. To all and intents and purposes, that gig’s already on, so the worry is not when will it start, but when and to what extent will the West join in. At this stage, it is abundantly clear that aside from limited deployment of air and SF assets, most of the Western powers don’t want a bar of it – not now or any time in the future. The scale of crime against humanity being perpetrated here is more than enough to justify all kinds of force, but we’re simply not willing. In the case of our recent historical experience with warfare, the West has a case of “once horrifically mauled, forever shy”.

The Russia/Syria relationship is a close and long-lived one, and it is widely known that Syria provides the Russian navy’s holy grail – a warm water port – as well as access to lucrative energy markets. Everybody knows this, so it’s not as if anybody is surprised or confused as to why Russia is conducting airstrikes in support of the Syrian regime. And nobody who’s been paying any attention at all (and one would hope this group includes the US government) is in any way surprised. This makes the chance of some state actor reacting rashly from shock or anger a fairly remote one.

Russian airstrikes have followed a pattern that makes it blindingly obvious that they are not targeting ISIS [Institute for the Study of War]

Sure, the people being targeted are, in fact, largely made up of groups that have more or less official US backing, but to call them allies would be ludicrous. In the first place, they’re not countries and in the second, they’re clearly proxy fighters in the same way that the Mujahideen and the Peshmerga have been in the past. And one thing we know for certain about the USA is that they do not make a habit of going to war in defence of their proxies. For evidence, we just have to look at the spectacular non-reaction of the US when Turkey used its UNSC authorisation to begin systematically murdering Kurdish forces. You know, the Peshmerga who we all apparently loved and supported so much. Nobody goes to war in defence of their proxy fighters. If they did, what would be the point of having them in the first place?

And the ‘entry’ of Iran into the war in support of their Shi’ite style brothers in faith, the Alawite Assad regime, is not so much a worrying recent development as it is a worryingly late public recognition of something that’s been going on for a very long time. Iranian militia (and their army is almost entirely organised on a militia structure) and special forces have been on the ground for at least 6 months and probably a great deal longer. I wrote an article about it, predicting that greater rapprochement with Iran would very soon become necessary as a result. But that’s beside the point. The point is, Iran isn’t just arriving – they’re reinforcing. And their entry all that time ago was so far from being a flash factor that it was quietly encouraged by the major Western powers.

Russia Syria

Remember the Kurds?

What we’re looking at with the situation between Russia, Syria, Iran and the USA is a situation that is indistinguishable from most of the cold war. A region is imploding, richer, bigger powers line up on either side according to their national interests and provide varying degrees of support to players who are already on the ground. Sound familiar? That’s right. When thinking specifically about the involvement of Russia and the West in the Syrian conflict, probably the most accurate way to frame it is not as a new confrontation, but as a continuation of the cold war. The last two decades appear to have been half-time, and now that the oranges have been handed out and eaten, we’re unfortunately back to business as usual.

Mine Eyes Have Seen The Glory

ISIS

In about a month’s time, it will be the 156th anniversary of John Brown’s fateful raid on Harper’s Ferry. Now, for most Australians, John Brown is a  vague figure chiefly known for getting a two year jump start on the American Civil War and featuring in a morbid army song. Americans, however, have a much sharper and clearer view of the man, either as a lunatic terrorist, an heroic abolitionist, or both.

Brown and his band of 21 men took over the government arsenal and armoury at Harper’s Ferry in the early hours of the morning of the 17th of October, 1859. His plan was as breathtaking in its scope as it was implausible. His idea was to empty the arsenal and armoury, wait for slaves in the area to rise up and rally to him, and then literally take to the mountains fighting a guerilla war against slavery in the state of Virginia and beyond.

His plans, always more visionary than practical, involved the building of a network of forts in the surrounding mountain ranges, connected by communications tunnels which would presumably be dug by hand by the hundreds or thousands of slaves that he mistakenly believed would rally to his cause. As it was, he didn’t liberate a single slave. He also refused to surrender, in the face of repeated and desperate entreaties for him to save his own life and the lives of his band. On October the 18th, US Marines stormed the engine house that Brown had taken refuge in, killed most of his band and captured Brown.

Immediately after his capture, Brown, who had been bayoneted through the kidneys and severely cut about the head with a cavalry sword, gave an hours long press conference in which he stated in clear, rational terms the reasoning behind his suicidal act of treason. He repeated the performance soon afterwards at his trial and then six weeks later at his execution. It is these clear, ringing phrases, many of which were foreshadowed in his earlier writings and conversations, that have come down to us today.

“I, John Brown, am now quite certain that the crimes of this guilty land will never be purged away but with blood.”

“I have only a short time to live, only one death to die, and I will die fighting for this cause. There will be no peace in this land until slavery is done for.”

“If it is deemed necessary that I should forfeit my life for the furtherance of the ends of justice, and mingle my blood further with the blood of my children and with the blood of millions in this slave country whose rights are disregarded by wicked, cruel, and unjust enactments – I submit: so let it be done.”

The first thing we notice about this rhetoric is its purity. There’s no maundering self pity in these lines despite the aspirations to martyrhood; no manufactured outrage, no writing to the SEO – they’re just pure and clean statements of a position that is simple and powerful in a way that only absolutism can be. And therein lies their very dangerous appeal. In the modern West, rhetoric of this kind has largely disappeared from the mouths of the sane or the intelligent. Most things are qualified, nuanced, considered. We don’t see this kind of rhetoric applied to many topics these days – poverty, maybe, or feminism or domestic violence, but even in these cases, nobody is advocating killing anyone or dying as a solution.

Which means that a young person in the West, looking for a pure and noble cause full of blood and thunder to get behind (as young people frequently do), has our mealy-mouthed, prevaricating slacktivism on the one hand… and on the other? They have the blood and thunder of the Islamists.

“We fear not the swarms of planes, nor ballistic missiles, nor drones, nor satellites, nor battleships, nor weapons of mass destruction. How could we fear them, while Allah the Exalted has said, “If Allah should aid you, no one can overcome you.”

“The spark has been lit here in Iraq, and its heat will continue to intensify – by Allah’s permission – until it burns the crusader armies in Dabiq.”

“…kill the disbeliever whether he is civilian or military, for they follow the same false ruling.”

We see a surprising amount of commentary from people who claim to be mystified as to the appeal of ISIS. Serious, thoughtful people who simply cannot understand what possible appeal there might be in travelling thousands of miles to be raped or used as cannon fodder or propaganda material. This confuses me. Surely, it can’t be that hard to see that these people are not joining jihadi groups with any real conception of what they’re about? Surely, it doesn’t take too much of a leap of the imagination to understand the impulse, especially the adolescent impulse, to throw oneself wholeheartedly into a cause that claims to be pure and powerful enough to warrant death, fire and glorious struggle?

I wonder if perhaps our general inefficacy in counter and de-radicalisation stems from this inability to understand the siren call of radicalisation in the first place? Sure, it’s about poverty and disenfranchisement, but only to a certain extent. Poverty, disadvantage and divisiveness open the door, but what steps through it is the kind of zealotry that resembles, in form if not in spirit or intention, the same power that invests some of our culture’s greatest figures. Perhaps, then, as well as tea, biscuits and welfare after the fact of radicalisation, we should also be looking at tapping that same spirit in our counter-radicalisation efforts.

One does not counter fanaticism with reason, nor passion with equivocation. Perhaps what we need is to create a counter-narrative that is just as appealing as the Islamist one. And why should we not be as vehement, or as absolute in the defence of our freedoms, and our hard-won, liberated way of life? Have not people just like John Brown and thousands – no, millions – of others shed oceans of blood to get it for us? Why shouldn’t we be at least as excited about our civilisation, and as ready to defend it, as a bunch of grubby sex criminals tearing around the Middle East in technicals? Well, there is the risk of sounding rather like the idiots of the United Patriots Front, or Tony Abbott, but surely this can be avoided. Surely, we can point to the monumental achievements of our own shared culture and be at least as inspired and excited about it as anyone else.

 

Why We Can’t Beat ISIS, And Other Imponderables

Last night a plane flew over my home. It didn’t drop any bombs, so I guess I’m safe from Cory Bernardi’s criticism for a while, but what I did notice  was that it had headlights. I’m sure there are excellent reasons for this, but just at that moment I couldn’t think of any. I therefore decided to not think about it any more. Except, of course, at dinner parties, when I fully intend to bring it up as a sardonic comment on the irrationality of the world.

ME: “You know planes have headlights? What the hell for? Isn’t everyone but us so completely stupid!” polite laughter

It occurs to me that this kind of thinking, if you can call it that, is very similar to the way we think about ISIS. What we as the general public really know about ISIS is next to nothing. We have a vague idea that there’s a pretty complex situation on the ground, what with tribes and different kinds of Moslems and a whole bunch of rape and beheading going on. We’re aware that ISIS holds some towns, and may even know the names of those towns, but there is where it usually stops. We accept commentary from the media and from various defence and government officials that say that it’s all just too complicated and all we can do is to make desultory stabs at ISIS cells and leaders with drones and FGA.

But this just isn’t true. When we talk about what can be done, we’re generally not talking about what’s possible, but about what is politically acceptable. The fact of the matter is that ISIS’ territory is loosely held at best. Their military tactics are shambolic, being made up of equal parts of social media based psy-ops campaigns and a focus on keeping recruitment at a higher level than attrition. 130,000 troops, an armoured division and the air assets already on station could probably take the entire territory in question in a matter of months. If we were so minded, we could structure the invasion in such a way that it would drive the enemy through Syria, into the waiting arms of neighbouring allies, thus putting paid to the Assad regime in the process. It should be remembered that a much better defended, similar sized territory was taken with breathtaking speed in the second Gulf War. It’s possible – it’s eminently possible, but what’s unthinkable right now is once again committing to the long, grinding process of military-driven nation-building that has taken so much in time, treasure and lives over the past decade and a half.

The problem is not that we can’t do this, it’s that we don’t want to. This speaks to a shift in public thinking that many see as the end true end of Imperialist thinking in the West. Over the past century we’ve rejected hard, territorial based empires in favour of de facto empires based on influence and hegemony and, now, we seem to be rejecting them in favour of something called ‘soft power’. We think that this represents some kind of advancement or moral improvement in the way that the West deals with the rest of the world, but it really doesn’t. This is apparent through the fact that almost all Western commentary on the current situation still rests on the assumption that the Middle East is a region in which we can and should intervene, which points to the idea that we still feel that we have some kind of ownership over the region. Compare, for example, our deafening silence on the conflict between the two Sudans, or the civil war raging in the Yemen. No, the fact is that deep in the Western mind lie the very same attitudes that informed the British and the Americans back in the immediate post war years. We still see it as our very own territory, we’re just unwilling to go back. It’s a case of forty times bitten, just now becoming shy.

And now is the worst possible moment to become shy. An evil conglomerate of extremists is carving out a new shape for the Middle East that cannot possibly mean anything but bad news for all our interests in the region. In the process of so doing, they are causing one of the biggest humanitarian crises in the last hundred years, one which is threatening to destabilise the EU and playing havoc with the balance of power in the Middle East and North Africa. We could not have picked a worse time to suddenly go ‘hands off’ on the land between the two rivers. And the greater tragedy is yet to come. No sane or informed analysis of the situation can possibly see this situation sorting itself out in a way that is acceptable to us. There are three alternatives, really.

  1. ISIS fizzles itself out, leaving a huge and chaotic power vacuum in the region, ripe for someone even crazier to fulfil. Again.
  2. ISIS firms up its territory, acquires heavier military capabilities and becomes a nation that we have to deal with as a player in the region.
  3. ISIS continues as is and, after an indeterminate period of time, hits the threshold of the amount of human displacement and atrocity that the West is willing to tolerate, and we once again invade the territory.

My big fear is that option three is by far the most likely. Given another decade, as our military commitment is incrementally increased on the back of continuing atrocities and immigration pressures, we are going to reach a tipping point where the public will eventually see that full-scale invasion is the only possible solution. The problem is that, by then, it may very well be exponentially more difficult to effect what could probably be done quite easily today.

Waiting for ‘the people’ to realise what’s at stake and what should be done could be fatal. Our governments need to act decisively now. The opinion of the public, while important, is predicated mainly on ignorance and, most importantly, ignorance of what is actually at stake if the current order in the Middle East is allowed to implode. It’s not just morality that’s at stake here – we in the West are all heavily invested in the fate of the region surrounding the ISIS anomaly – we always have been and always will be. We can’t just give up on the idea of ‘going back in’ just because it’s too difficult to explain why we should. The results of losing out to these lunatics are potentially catastrophic to us.

Sure, it’d be nice to pat ourselves on the back for creating a true post-imperial world, but the reality is that, whether we like it or not, this is going to have to wait. The replacement for the West’s soft, hard or any other kind of power in the Middle East cannot be allowed to be an Islamic State of this kind. The only real choice here is whether we intervene decisively now, or wait until thousands more lives and billions more in treasure have been spent pretending that a limited air campaign and proxy fighters are ever going to be enough to resolve the situation.

Why are defence officials predicting a 20 year conflict? It’s because they know that this covers them for failing to present a real solution in the face of governments that don’t want to hear about the only effective one.

 

When Will World War III Start? Let’s Just Say ‘Tomorrow’.

Ever since the end of WWII, the possibility of a third world war has been a preoccupation of world leaders, conflict watchers and breakfast table analysts the world over. We’ve had some scares in the past, what with the red menace, konfrontasi, the Malay emergency, the Middle East in general and Israel in particular and repeatedly. And that’s not to mention Vietnam, Korea, Iran/Iraq, India/Pakistan and  pretty well everything China says or does. The spectre of another global conflict has loomed on the horizon with a certain grim constancy that speaks volumes about humanity’s general mental outlook. And it’s this that is telling.

I’m often asked, mostly by taxi drivers and people in the pub, when I think the next world war will be. Amateur historians and hysterical commentators like to point out the geopolitical, economic and historical similarities between our times and the fateful years 1913 and 1938. Like campfire ghost-story tellers, they ghoulishly revel in chilling our blood with tales of the ‘eerie’ parallels between the world back then and the world today. But it’s nothing more than cheap thrills. The answer to the question, “When will the next war be?” is, in fact another question: When was the peace?

There has not been a single year since the end of WWII when major military conflict was absent worldwide. And a great many of these conflicts have been direct extensions of the loose ends that the major Western powers started or escalated as part of WWII, but then couldn’t be bothered with when it came to settling accounts and divvying up the post war world. Since our rather Eurocentric declaration of “world peace”, whole swathes of the world have been more or less continuously on fire, from SE Asia to the Middle East and the godawful mess that has been Northern, Central and Western Africa. Basically, we decided that peace had arrived simply because we ourselves had stopped playing.

Repeated emergencies over the years demonstrated to us the short-sightedness of such a view, with multiple interventions having to be authorised by the UN Security Council, as well as a few that weren’t but were pursued anyway. Taken in aggregate, then, the world is still very much at war. We can, if we choose, see this as the same game continued elsewhere, with different players. Or, if we choose to continue thinking of the world primarily in terms of the West, we can say that WWIII has been building up slowly over the past 70 years without us. And now that we’re thinking about joining in again, the same old questions are coming up, tinged excitingly with overtones of Armageddon. People haven’t had this much fun with existential dread since the Cold War.

The fact of the matter is that WWIII has been well underway for some time. The world hasn’t seen this level of mobilisation and conflict since the early forties. We simply haven’t labelled this very similar level of conflict a ‘world war’ because it’s not happening where we live. So let’s stop wasting time and brain power, please. The world is already on fire and we’re all still here. Let’s start thinking instead about how we can help to put it out.

Cecil the Lion

About four days ago, a story broke on RT, Reuters and AP about a well-loved lion having been hunted and killed. The vast majority of the world, including me, ignored it. Two days later, a dentist and bow-hunter from the US called Walter Palmer stepped forward to air his concerns that he ‘might’ have been the killer of this animal. Clearly, Dr Palmer (do you call dentists ‘Dr’? Everyone else is just calling him ‘bastard’) was not at all familiar with the internet and was therefore unaware that hunting creates a larger and more sustained reaction than child murder, one punch kills and mass shootings combined.

A great many posts wished for Palmer’s dentistry business to go bust and for Palmer himself to be immolated, driven to suicide, hunted by lions or killed by PETA activists. His clinic’s Yelp profile, FB page, address and telephone numbers, both business and personal, were released. Netizens all over the world bewailed the death of Cecil the Lion and condemned Walter Palmer for cowardice, malice and general evilness. His practice was shut down and he was inundated with angry calls and death threats. When a FB page called ‘Cecil the Lion’ put up a post asking for people to direct their outrage not at Palmer but at the law that continues to allow hunting, it drew about 667 responses, very much along the lines of these below.

“Regrets killing him,more like he is cacking himself of what will happen to him,now it’s world wide,hope someone shoots him”

Worthless piece of shit, hope you get hunted outside your practice u fucking c*nt!!!!!!!

HERE IS THE BUSINESS ADDRESS OF THIS WANKER. PLEASE REPOST AND RUIN HIS LIVELIHOOD

Which seems to be a fair summation of the world’s opinion of game hunting in general and Palmer in particular. Apart from the Zimbabwean government, of course. They seem to think big game hunting is an essential funding source for the upkeep of Hwange National Park. But there’s always a few loonies out there to ruin it for everyone.

In any case, I’m disgusted, appalled and ashamed at this disgusting episode. I’m also a bit sad about Cecil, and confused as to why killing for trophies is still done in this day and age, but mostly I’m disgusted, appalled and ashamed of the baying lynch mob that has gathered around Walter Palmer.

Firstly, I’m willing to bet that more than 99 percent of these keyboard warriors had never even heard of Cecil a week ago. I certainly hadn’t. Another thing that most of these people would never have heard of is Palmer’s 2 children. I wonder what kind of time they’re having now, and whether the netizens of the world believe that they deserve it, having committed the dread crime of being the offspring of such an egregious criminal? Some netizens have even suggested that a fit punishment would be to hunt and kill these vile offspring to show Palmer ‘how it feels’. There’s also the fact that Palmer runs a sizeable dental practice – do his partners and employees also deserve to suffer from the taint of his association? Probably, but we’ll never know because the mob decided before any of these questions could be examined.

Okay, internet – I get it. Hunting is wrong. Fine. But how on Earth did I miss the memo that said applying sanctions to a man by the means of mob rule was okay? And why are people not more outraged about other stuff? Like Dylann Roof? Or the man who was in the news yesterday for organising the commission of at least 500 sex offences against his own daughter? I suspect it’s because hunting is a ‘safe’ one. Whether you are genuinely outraged or not, if you get on television and cry about the death of a lion and rail against the cowardly practice of hunting dangerous animals at night, you will get a surge in popularity because practically everybody out there is loudly feeling the same way via Twitter. This is something we can all join in on – an outrage that doesn’t raise uncomfortable questions of race, gender or sexuality, that doesn’t seem to target any significant cultural group – it’s a good, old fashioned pecking party directed at one man. And splashing all over every innocent individual that man knows. But we wont worry about that – can’t think, pecking.

If we were really serious about stopping hunting, rather than having a hatestravaganza on someone who can’t kick back, our rage would be focussed on the people who routinely issue permits to kill big game animals for sport. We would be trying to put enough pressure on them to change their ways and find some other means of funding their wildlife reserves. But we’re not. Which means that it can’t possibly be big-game hunting that we’re actually concerned with. What we seem most concerned with, in this instance, is finding safe and popular targets for frenzied outpourings of hate. Which, if you think about it,  is a kind of hunting in itself.

Death Cult? What’s That When it’s at Home?

Watching our PM and his cabinet talking about ISIS, one can be forgiven for thinking that they have absolutely no idea what it actually is. Is it a state? A death cult? An Islamist movement or a nihilist anomaly?

It’s highly unlikely, however, that our PM, with his advisers, security agencies and privileged access to US and UK intelligence, is actually confused about what’s going on over in Syria and Iraq. He couldn’t possibly be stupid enough to have all this information without gaining a more or less clear picture of the events that he and his government are determined to obfuscate. If he was, he wouldn’t be the head of a major institution, he’d be committed to one.

But this isn’t as reassuring as it might superficially sound. While we can be fairly well convinced that they have some sort of idea of what it is we’re supposed to be fighting over there, their standard failure in communicating intelligently to the public leaves me wondering how much the electorate actually knows about ISIS. Not only are the government and local media apparently conspiring to say nothing that cannot be reduced to a catchphrase of five words or less, the movement itself has been through a bewildering series of evolutions and permutations resulting in a bewildering alphabet soup that continues to confuse to this day.

Given that a large amount of what the government is pleased to call ‘policy’ these days is predicated on the notion that fighting ‘Daesh’ is one of this country’s most urgent priorities, it is vital that the public be aware of who and what they actually are. Recognising this, Mr Abbott has helpfully provided the information that they are an ‘evil death cult’. Apparently, we are required to be satisfied with that. I, for one, am not. How does an evil death cult work? What resources, materiel and future potential does it have? In what way specifically does it represent a threat to our country and its interests? What is the best way to fight it? And most importantly, what the hell is it? All that this description does for us is point to an inexplicable phenomenon and identify it as ‘the enemy’.

And this is key – to most people, I believe, this phenomenon is just that: inexplicable. We have a hazy, back of the mind notion that every moslem is one short step away from being a bomb-strapped crazy, which leads us to the uncomfortable belief that organisations like ISIS are an inevitable result of the existence of a faith that the left dare not criticise and that the right blames for every evil currently not attributable to the left.

All of which is, of course, unadulterated bull excrement.

It is ironic that some of the clearest and most coherent branding for ISIS has come from our own government. The movement itself has shown scant regard for this side of things. It markets itself under a bewildering alphabet soup of brand names with reckless abandon, having changed its name at least seven times in the past fifteen or so years. Its history and the history and identity of its founders are enigmatic and contentious, but the official line tells a story of a nihilistic, grassroots offshoot of the classical, intellectually elitist Al Qaeda. More of this in another post. For now, though, I think it’s important to have clarity on what ISIS is in the here and now.

Put simply, it’s an international movement holding a base territory straddling Syria and Iraq, including a handful of major cities, but with affiliates in Libya and other parts of Africa. This basic footprint of its influence has been virtually unchanged through its days as AQI, AQIM, ISIL, etc., because this is a movement that is now and always has been focussed on jihad in Iraq, Syria, the Levant and the Maghreb.  Popular to contrary belief, their activities are not confined to raping slaves and beheading people on the internet. Their brutality, while public and ubiquitous, is far from being chaotic or random. It is a targeted exercise in public relations and intimidation, inspiring the disaffected and terrifying everyone else. Their territories are run with varying degrees of efficiency but, most importantly, they are run. Reports from Raqqa indicate the implementation of complex civil service systems and the delivery of services such as education and garbage collection. The education is reportedly modelled pretty well exactly on the Saudi secondary school curriculum and is delivered to children of both sexes. Taxes are collected, licit and illicit businesses are supported and conducted by both the movement itself and the people living within its territories. In true nation state style, ISIS appears to be selling oil to the Assad regime, one of its declared enemies. These activities produce an estimated revenue stream of about two billion dollars per year. Reports from other, less securely held centres would indicate that the ISIS local leadership is either unable or unwilling to govern effectively. This inconsistency is unsurprising, given the volatile state of its ‘borders’ and the wild variations in the quality, competence and intelligence of its leaders and fighters on the ground.

On a military level, even the most casual observation reveals that they are strategically and tactically shambolic and reckless. Their decision making is difficult to fathom because they appear to have been unable to read or understand the insurgent playbook. They hold territory, fight pitched battles that they cannot hope to win and throw the lives of their fighters away on lost causes. Their entire military strategy appears to be predicated on keeping recruitment numbers above casualty numbers. To this end, practically every ISIS fighter is also an online recruiter and propagandist – a bottomless pool of volunteers and the sophisticated marketing of brutality are the keys to their military successes.

So no, this is not a ‘death cult’. Or rather, it is, in that it is a movement with a violently nihilistic ideology, but that’s purely on a moral level. As an entity viewed in military and foreign policy terms, it simply cannot be reduced to the status of a frothy-mouthed anomaly. It calls itself a state and, in some ways, functions very much like one. It also transcends borders because of the universality of the appeal of nihilistic revolution amongst the poor, the angry and the oppressed. Knowing what ISIS is, it is difficult to understand why our government has chosen the approach that it has. Alienating the Islamic minority in order to fight an organisation that recruits from alienated Islamic minorities? Understating the local effect of an organisation whose chief appeal seems to be the possession of a territory to house its followers? Disincentivising the return of people who have gone to this territory, seen the reality of its operation and now no longer wish to participate? If our government were a recruiting branch for ISIS, they could hardly do a better job of funnelling fighters to them and guaranteeing their retention. Let’s get real, drop the slogans and the pig-headed refusal to acknowledge the realities of their existence. That way, we might be able to formulate a realistic, multi-layered approach to wiping this abomination off the face of the long-suffering Earth.

Daesh. No, Daiersh. Daaaeeiioorshe. Ahhh, F*ck it – ISIS.

When a horrifically violent terror organisation takes by storm a territory about the size of Tasmania and uses it as a base for the re-introduction of slavery, the rape of minors and the radicalisation and recruitment of tens of thousands of people from around the world, obviously one of the first priorities of any government is to make long and tedious announcements about what the name of that organisation is. It’s a self-evident fact that slipping up in the all important area of language would be a fatal mistake in the fight against global terror. Our government is so serious about this that they have abandoned any attempt to communicate clearly on any other issue and, with almost spooky foresight, instituted this policy well before ISIS even emerged.

Now, the name that our government has settled on is ‘Daesh’, being a loose acronym for Al-Dawla al-Islamiya al-Iraq al-Sham. The justifications for this range from the ludicrous to the ignorant to the sensible, which would make it business as usual for the foot-in-mouth gang we inexplicably voted in at the last election. First and foremost is the refusal to use names that identify the group as Islamic or a ‘state’. This falls in the ludicrous (and possibly ignorant) category, as they are using an Arabic acronym that does both these things, just not in English. If just avoiding the words ‘Islamic’ and ‘State’ is sufficient, then the English equivalent of this acronym, ‘ISIS’, does the job equally well and means pretty well exactly the same thing. The other reason for using ‘Daesh’ is that it’s the name favoured by the group’s enemies as it is phonetically similar to words for ‘oppressor’ and suchlike in Arabic.

So, the name was chosen on the grounds that it doesn’t identify the group as an Islamic State, even though it does, but in Arabic, which nobody understands. Also, it is a derogatory pun, which is good, even though it’s in Arabic, which nobody understands. I think this kind of thinking is exactly what the word ‘loopy’ was invented to describe.

Apart from the serious cognitive dissonance and triviality involved in spending any time whatsoever on such a decision, it’s generally been a positive thing. It hasn’t caught on at all, with pretty well everyone calling the group ISIS, IS, ISIL or Islamic State, but it has provided literally hours of amusing television in which various government officials find themselves unequal to the task of pronouncing or mispronouncing the word in any consistent manner. I, for one, think that Julie Bishop suddenly looking rabbit-in-headlights as she realises she’s going to have to say ‘Daesh’, and then making three or four failed attempts at it, is comedy gold. Especially from a Foreign Minister.

But it does make me wonder – how much can our government (or anyone, for that matter), actually understand about this phenomenon if they’re still grappling with what the bloody thing is called? It’s a serious threat to our interests and allies, as well as to the global balance of power and what, for want of a better term, I’ll call the current world order. On top of all this it’s causing untold suffering and committing atrocities and war-crimes on a daily basis. So it’s definitely worth talking about and taking action against, but so far, our action and our talk have been equally misguided, ineffective and just plain old, garden variety stupid. Almost equal portions of time are spent mangling an Arabic dipthong and announcing draconian measures that are a gold-plated, red-ribbon gift to the online recruiters and ideologues of ISIS. If Abbott and the Islamophobes he unwittingly incites want to know why Australia has the highest per capita incidence of jihadist recruitment, all they need to do is find a mirror and take a good, hard look at themselves, preferably just after somebody has tattooed on their foreheads:

ALIENATION CAUSES RADICALISATION. YOU STUPID, STUPID BASTARDS.

 

 

Confusion on the Right and Antifa on the Left

The recent rallies held across the country have been thought-provoking to say the least. Ostensibly, they were about Australia’s attitude to Islam, but in terms of revealing or resolving this attitude they have achieved next to nothing. While I’m certain that both sides had a great deal to say on the issue, all that seems to have filtered through to the media is reports of violence on one day and then reports of its absence the next. What the rallies have done, however, has been to shine a spotlight on some of the more extreme elements of Australian politics.

I spent the last two posts looking at the far right groups that have recently been the loudest. I focussed on these groups because of their relative novelty and, in the case of Reclaim Australia, the intermittent ability to rally significant numbers to their cause, something which has recently been missing from hoary old dinosaurs like Australia First and the Hanson bedevilled One Nation. Of course, the unifying factor amongst all these far right factions and parties has been confusion. The simple fact of the matter is that nobody can really discover what it is they want because they themselves are generally incapable of framing, clarifying or communicating their grievances or their visions for the future. They are nothing more than parties of complaint squawking meaningless protests in the language of victimhood and outrage.

On the extreme left, however, the story couldn’t be more different. Let’s take Antifa as a case in point. For those of us who aren’t aware, Antifa protesters were the ones we saw on Saturday wearing black bandannas and hoodies and doing violent stuff on television.

The first thing one notices about Antifa is coherence. Their various websites are clean and professional looking, with their mission and vision statements outlined in simple, muscular prose that Hemingway would have found unobjectionable. There is neither a cultivated nor an incidental presentation of the ‘Grand Aussie Mess’ that is so fashionable amongst their equivalents on the right. They have no interest in being seen as a regular bunch of blokes fighting with confused frowns the iniquities of the nameless authority. They present themselves as warriors – articulate, purpose-driven and crystal clear as to what they think and what they want. This, of course, breaks down a little on the Facebook pages where individual members launch into long, rambling Marxist rants, but all the official material – the prose that was written by representatives of the organisation – is stark and clear.

It is for this reason that I have absolutely no difficulties in breaking down their position and their mission. Antifa believes that Capitalism is a system that helps to create fascistic and bigoted systems and institutions. Their aim is to detect, disrupt and destroy these as early as possible, lest they gain traction and bleed into mainstream society. This mission could be copied and pasted onto the website of any of their long term enemies in the counter-intelligence world without causing any comment whatsoever. Of course, if we dig deeper, we find the same kind of flailing with reality that is common to much of the extreme left in these progressive modern times: an awkward love affair with the old language of communism and a weird dissonance between efforts to stay relevant and core mission objectives. But the point – the salient point – is that a member of the public’s first and abiding impression is one of unity of purpose and clarity of vision.

So they’re against fascism, racism, homophobia and Islamophobia – so far, so good. What, if anything, makes them extremists? Well, first and foremost is their advocacy of violence. On their various websites and blogs, violence is referred to by various code words, e.g., ‘direct action’, or ‘disruption’, but it is abundantly clear that what they are talking about is physical confrontation and the destruction of property. One blog post recounts a planned right wing rally in Hyde Park. “Our operatives scoured the park but could find no evidence of the cowardly fascists…” says the author. The clear implication is that, hearing about the rally, a posse of Antifa ‘operatives’ mobilised and headed for the park in order to bring the pain. In their social media streams, the far right is characteristically schizophrenic in their treatment of the opposition. They will, in the same breath, dismiss them as “Merlot swilling parlour socialist dickhead keyboard warriors fighting from mummy’s basement”, and then show real fear of their operations on the ground: “God protect our warriors and keep them safe from the Antifa scum”. Which is reminiscent of wartime propaganda concerning the Japanese, if you like.

Are they a threat? In spite of their superior organisation, muster capability, rhetoric and intelligence, I’d have to say no. They are self-consciously reactive, seeing themselves as a sort of quick response force to outbreaks of fascism. They are also deliberately limited in their aims. Antifa, as far as I can tell, isn’t particularly interested in revolution. They are focussed entirely on their aim of smacking down fascist groups wherever they see them. So, no, not a threat unless they decide to go to war against you.

And I guess that comes to the nub of what I find so disturbing about all of these groups. It doesn’t matter what they say they stand for, or what their motives and mission are, you can’t get away from the reality that all of these people, left or right, are willing to view a greater or lesser portion of the Australian population as ‘the enemy’. So whether or not it’s possible to agree with their politics, the absolutist, warring-faction mentality that underpins them is an automatic dealbreaker.

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…

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.