(UPDATED BELOW) (UPDATED AGAIN) For the past few days, I’ve had the curious experience of being — peripherally, indirectly — a political football. The original piece I wrote on the Paris bombing got picked up by StopTheWar UK, an organization associated with Jeremy Corbyn, and was then used by Labour Blairites and Tory twits to bash Corbyn for the “sickening” article, which showed what an ungodly radical he really was. He was later asked about it by the BBC.
Of course, I was not and am not associated with STW in any way. Without my knowledge or permission, someone at the organization put my piece on their website. (Not that I would have minded if I’d known, or refused permission if asked.) Then at some point later, someone removed it from the website. This too became cause for controversy, as it was “proof” of a radical conspiracy to hide what Corbyn and STW really believed, etc. etc.
Needless to say, I knew nothing of any of this as I sat at home reading the torrent of news about the attacks. The first I heard of it was when someone came onto my Twitter timeline demanding that I confirm that my article had been the original “official position” of STW before it was later, dastardly pulled. This tweet was hooked to others — a whole gaggle of Blairites raging at the “despicable” article and how it showed the urgent need to purge Holy Tony’s party of Corbynite filth. A couple of MPs were apparently on the case as well, busily tweeting away about this all-important issue in the midst of the crisis. I must say, this petty, point-scoring exploitation of the attacks for political game-playing seems more “sickening” than anything I wrote.
As for the article itself — written as the opinion of a private citizen, not on behalf of any organization or institution — I honestly didn’t see what was so controversial about it. Is it really controversial to say that without the US invasion of Iraq, there would be no ISIS? I don’t think even the supporters of that war dispute this fact. Is it controversial to say that the NATO intervention in Libya has turned that country into a chaotic spawning ground for violent extremism? Is that a disputed fact in any way? Is it disputable that the United States and Britain overthrew a secular democracy in Iran in 1953 with the help of religious fundamentalists that US/UK spies helped organize and promote? I mean, I read it in the New York Times, so it must be true.
Is it disputable that the United States and Saudi Arabia helped organize a worldwide network of violent jihadis in order to provoke the Soviet Union into intervening in Afghanistan, then trying them down there for years, in order to “give them their own Vietnam?” This is the proud and open claim of one of the chief architects of that policy, former National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski. Did not Ronald Reagan sit down in the White House with the forerunners of the Taliban and al Qaeda, and praise them as “freedom fighters” and moral paragons, even as his administration supplied them with textbooks extolling violence and terrorism, thus indoctrinating a whole new generation? (The Taliban continuned to use the US textbook after taking over the country.) Has the West not plied the Saudis with money, weapons and kowtowing respect, even as they exported their retrograde Wahhabi sectarianism all over the world?
Finally, is it disputable in any way that these historical facts — and many others like them — have played a decisive role in forming the unstable and violent world we live in today? Is this controversial? I grant that it might be “sickening” — but it is still the truth.
Later, a couple of people wrote to say that although they agreed with the piece and “thought it needed to be said,” they objected to the phrase “reaping the whirlwind” in the headline. Somehow, a phrase encapsulating a process which — as I clearly wrote — has been taking place over many decades was somehow read as “blaming the victims.” Well, what can I say? I was raised a Southern Baptist by a Southern Baptist deacon; the Bible’s tropes and cadences are in my head. “Reaping the whirlwind” is a good biblical phrase, well-known in the wider culture. It means just what it says — and just what I was trying to say: you sow violence, you reap violence. You spend decades destroying secular political movements in Middle Eastern countries, spend decades deliberately and openly fostering sectarian extremists as your proxies, spend decades in an open military alliance with the world’s chief peddler of retrograde Islamic extremism, spend years invading and destroying whole nations, leaving sinkholes of violence and ruin behind — and guess what? You’ll have a world crawling with violent sectarian groups that have the means to strike back at you when you strike them. Again, I made the specific point that what we were seeing was the result of decades of policies and actions. It was in no way “blaming the victims” on the Paris streets; it was saying — very clearly — that there would have been no victims on the Paris streets if not for these actions and policies.
But I’m sure very few of the Blairite bleaters and Tory twit-tweeters actually read the article. Certainly none of them took issue with its substance. They saw a headline that set their hive-mind going, in a setting — the STW website — that could be exploited to make partisan hay, and off they went. Of course, except for that first Tweeter, no one ever contacted me to find out if I actually was a STW “activist” or member, as they happily and witlessly repeated around the country.
Anyway, the dogs have barked and the caravan, as they say, has already moved on, to other witless and inaccurate game-playing and partisan hackery. And our leaders continue down the same path — more bombing, more repression, more fearmongering and hate-fomenting — which they well know will only lead to more death and destruction across the world. Unfortunately for the rest of us, their murderous folly is not a game.
UPDATE: Now (Tuesday) it seems that the article is being brought up in Parliament, as David Cameron — and several blood-eyed Labour MPs — rail at Corbyn for “the “Stop the War” tweet” about “reaping [the] whirlwind of western support for extremist violence in Middle East”. Again, it is patently obvious that no one involved in this entirely manufactured moral apoplexy has actually read the article in question. The fake outrage is being used both as a stick to stir up the poisonous brew of political gaming, and as a diversion from any serious, measured — and above all, informed — discussed of the situation, and the best ways to deal with it. A very instructive episode all around.
UPDATE 2: After a long day of seeing the article egregiously mischaracterized not only by the giants of statesmanship in Parilament but also by the founts of savvy wisdom throughout the UK press, I sent the brief statement below to a couple of reporters in the national media. Needless to say, naught came of it. But I append the statement below just for, as they say, the hell of it.
Just for the record: I wrote the original blog post behind the controversy over the “Stop the War tweet” mentioned in Parliament today. I wrote it for my own political blog, Empire Burlesque. I have nothing to do with Stop the War UK. Someone there picked it up from my blog, altered the headline, then later removed the post, all without my knowledge. I knew nothing of it until someone tweeted me about it. My original article did not say the attack was “the fault of the French” nor did my headline mention “Paris”. Given the broad historical context of the piece, the reference was clearly that we, the whole world, are all reaping the whirlwind of the policies and actions described in the article — going back several decades, not just to the interventions and approaches of the recent past.
There is very little that is controversial or disputable about the historical facts I noted in the post; for example, even Tony Blair admits that the Iraq War was instrumental in the rise of ISIS. But I doubt very seriously that any of the people now pouncing on the article to make great shows of moral outrage have actually read the piece. I’m sorry to see that they would rather indulge in petty political game-playing than engage in a serious, measured discussion about the best response to the Paris atrocities.
Again, I am not a member of Stop the War. I am not a member of the Labour Party. I was speaking as a private citizen — an American citizen with a British family. The article dealt almost wholly with US, and to a lesser degree, UK policy. It did not “blame the French.” It did not “blame the victims.” Nothing absolves the perpetrators of the Paris massacres; this is so self-evident that it seems insulting or condescending to have to spell it out. They chose to do evil, and the responsibility is their own. But neither can we keep pretending that these horrific eruptions spring out of nowhere, or that the proper response to them is to continue the policies of violent intervention and supporting extremism for geopolitical purposes that have brought us to this hell in the first place.