Tuesday, 22 July 2014

For some, sanctions. For others: ammo

We can all be forgiven for thinking the world's going to hell in a handcart. South Sudan, Syria, Palestine, Ukraine to name just a few places. Thank heavens we live in a nice quiet bit of Northern Europe/North America or Australia. What's wrong with these foreigners that they reach for a gun at the drop of a hat? They're just barbarians. We're civilised.

Of course we're civilised. As long as you miss out Northern Ireland, or make sure you carry out your genocides before international law and media get going. Native Americans? Just enough left to weave some rugs for the tourists. We wouldn't behave like these savages. Or at least, not in public. Yes, there's Guantanamo and Bagram and Diego Garcia and black sites in Poland, Romania, Egypt and various other places, but they're only for terrorists. We're for democracy. At least, when and where it suits us. Sure, Egypt's a military dictatorship and Saudi Arabia is the worst place on earth for Jews, women, atheists, black people, liberals, trades unionists and religious minorities. But they put on a good spread and some of their leaders are very hospitable to our salesmen. Really, Rolls-Royce and BAe haven't a bad word to say about them.

Look at these brutes. Smashing civilian planes out of the sky. We wouldn't do that. Well, OK, we would, using the USS Vincennes which had entered Iranian waters after getting annoyed by Iranian speedboats. But that plane was packed with Iranians, in Iranian airspace. Honestly, they were asking for it. And we said sorry. Well, not exactly sorry, but we did give the 290 victims' $61m between them without admitting legal liability. These things happen.
When questioned in a 2000 BBC documentary, the U.S. government stated in a written answer that they believed the incident may have been caused by a simultaneous psychological condition amongst the 18 bridge crew of the Vincennes called 'scenario fulfillment', which is said to occur when persons are under pressure. In such a situation, the men will carry out a training scenario, believing it to be reality while ignoring sensory information that contradicts the scenario. In the case of this incident, the scenario was an attack by a lone military aircraft.
What did President Bush the First say?
"I will never apologize for the United States — I don't care what the facts are... I'm not an apologize-for-America kind of guy."
In fact it was the Iranians' fault for being at war with Saddam Hussein, he said. And you can't say fairer than that. Which is why Bill Clinton continued to refuse to apologise.

But anyway, apart from that, it's pretty clear that the dividing line between Civilised and Uncivilised is religious and ethnic. Arabs and Muslims are Uncivilised, White People are Civilised. We don't do these things to each other.

Except that we obviously do, and we help out when our Civilised friends want to go about smiting the Uncivilised. After all, we can't leave the Israelis to do all that child-killing unaided. We (rightly) sanction Russia for at least helping shoot down a jet, but we send Israel more ammo. All the stuff a feisty little nation might need to bombard a densely packed city with heavy weaponry.
David Miliband admitted that Israeli equipment used in Gaza in the 2008-9 conflict "almost certainly" contained UK-supplied components. He cited F16 combat aircraft, Apache attack helicopters, Saar-Class corvettes and armoured personnel carriers.
Perhaps it's a tinge of imperial nostalgia. After all, it's almost a century since the British got to bombard a densely-packed city of lightly-armed rebellious natives holding a largely symbolic insurrection next door: Dublin, 1916. (A side-note of pride: my great-uncle Thomas was Commandant of the 1st Dublin Brigade and fought in the GPO that day). I'm really looking forward to the wall-to-wall BBC/Daily Mail coverage of that proud moment in a couple of years time. I mean: these Palestinian children and bakers and mothers and street-cleaners and lawyers are just asking for it. And that's not just me, that's the Wall Street Journal:

So what am I rambling on about really? Well, it comes down to realpolitik: the understanding that any principles evinced by democratically-elected leaders are contingent. Democracy is something with which to taunt your enemies, not press on your friends. Palestinian children just are expendable. The planes your enemies shoot down are evidence of barbarism. The planes you shoot down are regrettable instances of unfavourable conditions. You kidnap: we have secure rendition facilities. We were provoked: you're inherently evil. We must defend ourselves: you're warmongers. We have security concerns: you're terrorists. We have values that must be defended: you're fanatics.

Right now, I've got a 'plague on all your houses' feeling, which is wrong. All these conflicts are more complicated than they seem. Every side is committing offences against humanity that we should be getting outraged over, case by case. But watching the news and social media, hearing the same tired old lies and evasions trotted out by our political leaders, it's hard to do anything other than accept the disempowerment and watch events unfold as though we're at the cinema. When you hear John Kerry tell the news that Israel is conducting 'pinpoint' operations then being caught on camera using the phrase sarcastically, you have to admit that – as Baudrillard pointed out – we're not in a real war at all. There's what happens, which Kerry can only mutter to his aides about, and there's the simulation, which is far more important. Kerry clearly doesn't like Israel killing children and civilians on a personal level, but his job is to deny it's happening for the purpose of maintaining the USA's uncritical support for whatever Israel wants to do. (As an aside, the Fox presenter challenged Kerry for expressing regret for the dead children: criticising Israel is just not on). Social media's no better: one Christian activist polluting my timeline on Twitter is spending his time explaining why exactly it is that God needs lots of Palestinian kids dead in a hurry. I'm no wiser, to be honest. It's just thousands of people posting decontextualised photos or propaganda points in pursuit of what, exactly, I don't know. Still, they're all better than Caitlin Moran's all-purpose outrage:

Well done Caitlin. We can all stop worrying about it now because all those FGM-advocates will be bowled over by a columnist writing WTF on her hand. Staying seated on a bus? Passing a law? Throwing yourself under a racehorse? Boring. Or BORING!!!!! as Caitlin would say. She's written an opinion on her hand and posted it on Twitter. End Of!

Time to stop. Even by my standards this is rambling nonsense rather than an argument. It's hot and everybody's gone mad. Including me.

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