The World According to Bono

I’ve got  nothing against famous people getting involved in politics or embracing political causes.  On the contrary, there’s no reason why the accident of fame and the weird cult of celebrity-worship that comes with it should place anyone above politics  or preclude celebrities from taking moral and political positions on issues that they feel strongly about.

My reservations about celebrity politics are essentially four-fold: 1) when an issue becomes important or interesting simply because someone famous is associated with it 2) when celebrity-politics becomes an exercise in narcissism and self-aggrandizement 3) when celebrities think that being famous entitles them to say things that are idiotic and banal, and 4) when celebrities use their fame to confer political credibility and legitimacy on governments, individuals and institutions that actually deserve to be criticized .

The rock-star politician known as Bono sums up most of these reservations.   Many years ago, back in the early 1980s, I saw U2’s first gig in New York and thrilled to the Edge’s chiming guitar sound and the soaring anthemic songs that lifted the roof off a packed club in the Lower East Side.

I wasn’t quite as keen on Bono’s histrionic and somewhat messianic stage persona. In the years that followed it became obvious Bono was a rock star whose exaggerated but not disreputable belief in the power of music to change the world was coupled with an extremely grandiose conception of his own ability to change it, or simply to be seen to change it. .

Since then Bono has gone on to become the perfect embodiment of 21st century hip capitalism, combining philantrophy with tax avoidance, while hanging out with NGOs,  US generals, George Bush and Tony Blair, and now Lindsey Graham.  In his polemic The Frontman: Bono (in the Name of Power), writer Harry Browne has accused Bono of “amplifying elite discourses, advocating ineffective solutions, patronising the poor and kissing the arses of the rich and powerful”.

He’s not wrong, In Bono the now quaint notion that rock n’ roll is inherently subversive force or a challenge to the status quo has become an advertisement for the status quo, in which even the most right wing politicians seek to acquire a veneer of cool humanitarianism and rock star chic by having themselves photographed alongside the man in the leather jacket and shades.

Bono’s appeal to politicians like Blair, Bush and Lindsey Graham resides in his willingness to tell certain governments and politicians what they want to hear about themselves, and leave out the things they don’t.  As a cool variant on missionary benevolence and Western good intentions, he makes them feel good, and he also makes them feel that they could be cool themselves.

This has been going on for a long time.   Nevertheless it was a novelty to hear that Bono has been summoned by the US Congress to give testimony to a Senate committee on the ’causes and consequences of violent extremism and the role of foreign assistance.’

It’s difficult to understand why the Senate felt it necessary to consult Bono on these matters. It’s true that the US doesn’t exactly have a stellar record when it comes to dealing with ‘violent extremism’.  In fact  this phenomenon has grown exponentially across the world since 9/11, partly as a consequence of the insane and reckless militarism which the Bush administration embarked upon so disastrously, and which has been continued less overtly by his successor.  But is the US Senate really so desperate that it needs to seek advice on these matters from a man who believes that   ‘comedy should be deployed’ in the struggle against groups like Boko Haram and ISIS?

It seems so, and his audience at the Senate might chuckle at this fetching example of rock star naivete, but  one can’t help suspecting that Bono was serious when he observed that: 

‘The first people that Adolf Hitler threw out of Germany were the dadaists and surrealists. It’s like, you speak violence, you speak their language. But you laugh at them when they are goose-stepping down the street and it takes away their power. So I am suggesting that the Senate send in Amy Schumer and Chris Rock and Sacha Baron Cohen, thank you.’

Yep, if only Hitler hadn’t ‘thrown out’ those dadaists and surrealists, why the whole German population would have quickly fallen about laughing at the sight of those goose-steppers, and their belly laughter would have ‘taken away their power.’   If you believe that, it’s perfectly possible to believe that ‘sending in’ Sacha Baron Cohen and Chris Rock into occupied Mosul or northern Nigeria would help defeat ISIS or Boko Haram.  Because it’s like, as Bono says,  ISIS is showbiz,  and if you can just get people to laugh at all those floggings, executions, rapes and murders, it takes away their power.

No wonder Bono’s pronouncements have been working their way through the Internet, accompanied by the clacking of a thousand dropping jaws at what is surely one of the most idiotic pronouncements that any celebrity-politician has ever made.

But no one should be surprised that Bono would say such a thing.  What is really surprising – and alarming – is that  the government of the most powerful country should feel the need to call upon this posturing narcissist in the first place.

If the US Senate really wanted to understand its own contribution to violent extremism, it might have done better to invite Malik Jalal, the tribal elder from Waziristan who has just come to the UK to ask why the US has been trying to kill him by drone on various occasions over the last few years.  Jalal is a member of the North Waziristan Peace Committee (NWPC), which has been trying to broker peace with local Taliban groups in Waziristan.  In denouncing the American and British governments for his unwarranted inclusion on a US ‘kill list’ and the deaths of entirely innocent people that has resulted from the attempts to kill him, Jalal argued:

‘Singling out people to assassinate, and killing nine of our innocent children for each person they target, is a crime of unspeakable proportions. Their policy is as foolish as it is criminal, as it radicalises the very people we are trying to calm down.’

Too right.  And perhaps if the Senate invited people like Malik Jalal to its committees, the US government might have a better understanding of the roots of extremism than it has shown so far.

Unfortunately, it seems to prefer Bono.

 

 

2016: All Aboard the Armageddon Express

One thing you can say about the maniacs who are intent on dragging our world to destruction is they don’t waste any time.   They don’t listen to seasonal bromides from the Queen or anywhere else asking us to light candles in the darkness.  Not for them New Year messages about peace, hope and goodwill.  In a global civilisation ravaged by war and violence and threatened by looming ecological disaster and the prospect of the next financial crisis, they can always be counted on to do whatever is likely to make matters worse at any given time.

Take the House of Saud’s execution of 47 men on terrorism charges yesterday, including the Shia cleric Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr. The execution of a leading Shia critic of the Saudi monarchy is both a deliberate provocation and a clear demonstration of malign intent from a thoroughly rotten regime hellbent on fomenting an all-out Shia-Sunni sectarian war in order to shore up its declining power and influence.

Yet Saudi Arabia is also a key ally of the West in the global struggle between civilisation and terrorism that was unleashed after the 9/11 attacks and which is now entering its fifteenth year.  As such, it knows that it can do pretty much whatever it wants and that neither our government nor any of the other states that have fallen over themselves to sell the Saudis weapons will do anything about it.

The Saudis have also been among the most active promoters of the takfiri/Salafist jihadist groups that Western governments have been fighting. If we take seriously the idea that the ‘war on terror’ is really intended to eliminate terrorism and ‘keep us safe’, as our governments keep insisting, then an ally like this would be considered a massive liability rather than an asset.

Yet there is no indication that our government or anyone else’s has reached such conclusions. Rather than invite the public to consider the dangerous geopolitical alliances that have done so much to make Daesh/ISIS possible, our government, and so many others, prefers instead to whip the citizens of the West into a state of frightened paralysis, while they continue to wage an endless series of pseudo-wars that have already produced such catastrophic consequences, and which play into the hands of the enemies they are supposedly fighting.

In the 1870s, the Russian anarcho-Narodnik Sergei Kravchinsky, a leading propagandist in the ‘Nihilist’ political movement that assassinated Alexander II, advocated a strategy of assassinating high state officials in order to draw the Tsarist regime into a long and debilitating conflict in which ‘the strong is vanquished, not by the arms of his adversary, but by the continuous tension of his own strength, which exhausts him, at last, more than he would be exhausted by defeats.’

Since 9/11 Daesh and the other variants of the al-Qaeda franchise have pursued a very similar strategy with remarkable success. Consider this: the 9/11 attacks cost between $400,000 to $500,000, whereas the various wars on terror have cost more than eight million times as much.

Not only did the nineteen hijackers carry out one of the most cost-effective attacks in history, but their adversaries have given them everything they could have asked for, through a series of reckless, self-interested and incoherent wars and military interventions that have done nothing to diminish the security threat these wars are supposedly intended to eliminate.

Readers who want to think about how we got into this mess rather than merely rant about it might start with a brilliant essay by the anthropologist Scott Atran on the rise of ISIS and its implications. In a discussion of terrorist attacks in Europe and the United States, Atran observes how:

‘Today, mere mention of an attack on New York in an ISIS video has US officials scurrying to calm the public. Media exposure, which is the oxygen of terror in our age, not only amplifies the perception of danger but, in generating such hysteria, makes the bloated threat to society real.This is especially true today because the media is mostly designed to titillate the public rather than inform it. Thus, it has become child’s play for ISIS to turn our own propaganda machine, the world’s mightiest, into theirs – boosting a novel, highly potent jujitsu style of asymmetric warfare that we could counter with responsible restraint and straight-up information, but we won’t.’

No we won’t.   Just as we won’t recognize the strategic objectives outlined more than ten years ago in a document called The Management of Savagery/Chaos, written for the Mesopotamian wing of Al-Qaeda, which urges its followers to : .

1) ‘Diversify and widen the vexation strikes against the Crusader-Zionist enemy in every place in the Islamic world, and even outside of it if possible, so as to disperse the efforts of the alliance of the enemy and thus drain it to the greatest extent possible.’

And

2) ‘If a tourist resort that the Crusaders patronise… is hit, all of the tourist resorts in all of the states of the world will have to be secured by the work of additional forces, which are double the ordinary amount, and a huge increase in spending.’

Today we have reached such a state of collective terror that ISIS achieve these objectives without striking at all.   Thus on New Year’s Eve the German authorities received  a tip that militants from Iraq and Syria were planning New Year attacks in Munich, yet a police chief has now said that ‘ police could not find the suspects and are not even sure if they exist or are in the country.’

And yesterday Belgium released the remaining three men out of an original six suspects, who were arrested for planning a terrorist atrocity during the annual fireworks display on New Years Eve, which was cancelled.  Despite these false alarms Europeans are now being told that threats, cancellations and lockdowns will become the ‘new normal’ over the coming months.

The Belgian security expert  Professor Rik Coolsaet has warned against conflating refugees and terrorism “into something near hysteria. We must not confuse these two separate issues and we must be wary of any politicians who try and do that for their own ends, to the detriment of the very fabric of our society.”

These warnings are likely to fall on deaf ears, when they are aimed at governments for whom public hysteria increasingly seems to be a desired outcome.   As Pankaj Mishra notes in a typically sharp column in the Guardian today:

‘The modern west has been admirably different from other civilisations in its ability to counterbalance the arrogance of power with recognition of its excesses. Now, however, it is not only the bankers who radically expand our notion of impunity. Their chums in politics and the media coax, with criminal irresponsibility, the public into deeper fear and insecurity – and into blaming their overall plight on various enemies (immigrants, budding terrorists in Calais’s jungle, an un-American alien in the White House, Muslims and darkies in general).’

Absolutely right, and if the scapegoating succeeds, then Daesh will the the main beneficiaries.   In  a 12-page editorial published in ISIS’s online magazine Dabiq in early 2015 entitled ‘The Extinction of the Gray Zone’, its authors hailed the ‘blessed attacks’ of September 11 and announced that ‘the time had come for another event to… bring division to the world and destroy the Grayzone.’

Today, as we look forward to another year of fear, hysteria, security paranoia and terrorist provocations, we need to resist these efforts to use atrocity to divide the world into warring camps. But as the Saudi executions make clear, they aren’t the only ones seeking that outcome.

So let us resist the attempts by Daesh to reduce us to cowering wrecks.  But we should not allow governments that seek to use their violence for their own ends to herd their terrified populations into fearful and hateful national security enclaves where we question nothing and accept everything. Let’s do whatever we can, wherever we are, to sow the seeds of something different over the next twelve months.

Let us despise the terrorists by all means, but let’s also remember that the Armageddon Express has many different drivers, and it’s up to all of us to prise their hands off the wheel and find a way to get this world back on track towards a different kind of future, which reflects the best of us, rather than the worst. .   .

 

We Need to Talk About Agrabah

Last week’s poll of Republican primary voters by the left-leaning Public Policy Polling firm has attracted  the usual mockery and arrogance from  the usual suspects.  The poll found that 30 percent of Republican voters believe that the fictional nation of Agrabah, birthplace of Aladdin,  poses a national security threat to the United States and should be bombed, whereas thirteen percent opposed bombing.

Among supporters of Donald Trump, the two figures were 45 percent and 9 percent respectively.  The poll also found that 36 percent of Democrat voters opposed bombing Agrabah, while 19 percent supported bombing the country.

Now some people have seized upon this poll to suggest that some American voters are not as well-versed as they should be in the history, culture and politics of the Middle East, and may even have a dangerously distorted understanding of the region. Others have asserted that U.S. military power should not be directed against an imaginary country.

Both these notions are false, and typically emanate from the same commie/pinko/liberal circles that have already placed the security of our great nation in grave danger on so many occasions.   Firstly, there is absolutely no reason why a country should not be bombed just because it does not exist, and if we look more closely at Agrabah, there are plenty of reasons American voters are right to  be concerned about it even if it doesn’t.

Physically, Agrabah looks a lot like places we have already bombed::

File:Castle of Agrabah.jpg

Such places  are not that different from the artificial ‘Arab’ towns and Potemkin villages that the U.S. Army has built in Virginia or other places to prepare for ‘Military Operations on Urban Terrain’, or the Middle Eastern cities that appear in many first person shooter video games.  So Agrabah is pretty much of a muchness. As the original 1993 Aladdin song once put it:

‘ Oh I come from a land/ From a faraway place/ Where the caravan camels roam/ Where they cut off your ear If they don’t like your face/ It’s barbaric, but hey, it’s home.’

Some of you might remember that the line about cutting off ears was  changed after pressure from the same politically-correct, Islam-is-a-religion-of-peace crowd who are currently undermining our national security, on the grounds that it was ‘racist’, but any patriotic, red-blooded Republican voter knows that the writer was telling it how it was and how it still is.

Then there are the people.  Specifically, there is Jafar the Grand Vizier of Agrabah and advisor to the Sultan.  Jafar is an evil sorceror, a tyrant, a sadist and a psychopath, who tortures his own people.  He wears a turban, like Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and that sheikh whatshisname from Hezbollah. He is devious, sensual, corrupt, and power-hungry.  As the song Arabian Nights put it:

‘ In the palace, right here, lived a wicked vizier; the advisor to Sultan Hamed. And this part-time magician, this amateur seer, wished his boss, the good sultan, dead. He was charming and slick, but unspeakably sick, this despicable parasite. What a villain, boo hiss! Further proof, dears, that this is another Arabian Night.’

The Disney character profile describes Jafar as psychopathic, sadistic, hysterical, deranged, narcissistic, manipulative, and driven by an ‘obsessive desire for power and sense of entitlement.’ Jafar is also, literally a snake, who reveals his reptilian inner self when he gets hold of the Genie’s lamp in the Cave of Wonders.

In other words, another Arab in another Arabian night, who better be put back in his magic lamp before he becomes a danger to us and a danger to  global security. After all, we know what Arabs in caves can do to us, and just because Aladdin got the lamp away from Jafar twice, doesn’t mean he always will.

We invaded Iraq for less, and so I say, to paraphrase Dick Cheney, that if there is a one-percent chance that Jafar might get back into the Cave of Wonders, then we have the right to turn his country into a friggin’ car park.

And there’s another thing: Princess Jasmine. That girl is hot, but her Disney character profile says that ‘ despite living a lavished life (sic), Jasmine often feels suffocated by the laws of her kingdom, which restricts her from socializing with her subjects, as well as forcing into unjust practices, such as forced marriages.

Well we know what to do when we see Arabs treating their women like that. And the fact that Jafar lusts after her makes an intervention even more urgent, because the Disney profile makes it clear that this sleazeball wants Jasmine ‘primarily for her good looking body, and not for Jasmine herself as person.’ The profile also points out that he ‘first creates a golden crown for her from her shackles…with a wave of his hand, saying that a girl as beautiful as her ” should be on the arm of the most powerful man in the world” and he even says that Jasmine’s speechlessness is ‘ a fine quality in a wife.’

Now that is sexism. And remember that  we knocked over the Taliban to stop stuff like that from happening.

OK, some of you might say, what about the geopolitical repercussions? What happens if we bomb Agrabah and it turns into a failed state?  What about Afghanistan, Iraq or Libya? What happens if kill civilians?    Suppose bombing Agrabah isn’t enough and we have to put boots on the ground?

I say, this is a risk worth taking,and anyone who won’t take it, as Ralph Peters says of our president, is a total pussy.

And to those of you who still say, but Agrabah isn’t real, I say, when was any of this ever real?

Talkin’ World War III Blues

I know that the British media and political class have had a lot of important things to think and talk about recently, and far be it from me to distract from the seriousness of the debate that  has been taking place about our latest headlong leap into the Middle Eastern unknown.   Nevertheless, there are certain alarming events which I feel might just be worthy a nanosecond of our attention – just a smidgen and then we can move on, because I know that our politicians and journalists are men and women of real gravitas who don’t like to waste their time on trivia.

The first thing I wanted to mention is the curious fact that yesterday Saudi Arabia announced the formation of a 34-member ‘Islamic anti-terrorism’ coalition to fight Islamic State.   You in the back, stop laughing now.   Of course some cynics might think that a country that last year declared all atheists to be terrorists might not be the best state to be leading a coalition against Daesh.

It is true that Saudi Arabia has been mercilessly pulverising Yemen day after day in its war against Houthi rebels, regardless of the fact that its onslaught is pushing one of the poorest countries in the world towards the brink of total collapse – and all this with weaponry supplied by Britain, France and the United States.

But then we ought to remember that Saudi Arabia is the current president of the UN human rights council, thanks to a little support by the UK government, so I think you at the back should really stop that giggling and show a little respect.

Because today the Telegraph revealed that this coalition may send special forces into Syria in order to fight ISIS, with the approval of the British government.  According to the Telegraph:

‘British military sources told the Telegraph that while the UK would not provide boots on the ground, they were on standby to provide air support and ” command and control”. But any Gulf or other forces would clearly add to or take the place of the 70,000 “moderate rebels” whom David Cameron, the Prime Minister, wants to be the “boots on the ground” to displace Isil in Syria but who say they already have their hands full fighting the Assad regime.’

And equally significant:

‘The Saudis and their Sunni Muslim allies would also be intent on preventing any vacuum being filled by the Bashar al-Assad regime, or its Shia Iranian allies, against whom the Gulf is facing off across the region.’

So in other words Saudis and their allies – some of whom have been instrumental in financing and supporting Daesh and other Salafi groups in a variety of ways, are now proposing to attack IS, and provide ground troops in Raqqa and other areas that have been bombed by the coalition..

This surely explains why Saudi Arabia staged a conference of Syrian rebels – from which Syrian Kurds were naturally excluded – in Riyadh only last week in yet another attempt to forge the Syrian opposition into a unified front.  The Saudis are clearly intent on escalating the war no matter what the cost to Syrians or anyone else, and they aren’t alone in this. Because now the British government is proposing to provide air support and ‘command and control’ to a military offensive in Syria that will almost certainly pit the Saudi ‘anti-terrorism’ coalition – and the current bombing coalition that includes the United States, Britain, and France against Assad, Russia, and Iran.

A regional peacekeeping force in Syria that might safeguard a ceasefire and a political settlement is one thing, but there is nothing to suggest that Riyadh’s ‘Islamic antiterrorism coalition’ has any such intentions.  It is a Sunni coalition, not an ‘Islamic’ one – a carnival of reaction lumbering towards what even the Telegraph recognizes may ignite an all-out Shia/Sunni sectarian war – and our government appears to be disposed to go along with it and seems to regard it as a positive development.

So now we know where those 70,000 fighters came from, though none of this was mentioned when Cameron first made that claim.  Instead the Tory government, with the assistance of Hilary Benn and his conscience-stricken MPs, convinced themselves and the public that they were just planning a little recreational bombing, something to help us get our mojo back.

I don’t wish to be melodramatic or upset anyone, but this is how world wars start.    This is how entire regions as well as countries become battlegrounds. But all these possibilities were almost entirely absent from the ‘mature’ debate that so many journalists congratulated our parliamentarians upon.

Instead we talked about Stop the War, and whether Jeremy Corbyn should go to their Xmas dinner, and what two bloggers did or didn’t say.

And now we are sleepwalking towards what threatens to become a global conflagration, and we don’t seem to be talking about it at all.