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Saturday, April 03, 2004

Decline and Fall
Its official. The Spectator has now completed its mutation into John Kerry in print. I have a slight hope that the excrescence of an editorial they published this week owes something to the fact that it was published on April 1st but given the increasingly erratic directions of Boris' political thought I doubt it. It reads like something out of the Independent circa January 2002 - idiotic and badly thought out but before the 'Angry Left' psychosis took hold. It is too bad to just summarise, it requires a good old fashioned fisking.

We are not at war

As day broke on 11 May 1941, Londoners could survey the devastation wrought by 100,000 incendiary bombs. Whole streets had been razed. More than 1,400 Londoners had been killed; many thousands more were lying terribly injured beneath the rubble.

The difference between this and the killing of 200 railway passengers in Madrid three weeks ago is more than one of scale; the difference between the Luftwaffe officers who masterminded the Blitz and the suspected al-Qa’eda bombers arrested in London, Crawley and Luton this week is more than one of accents and costumes. The Blitz was war. The activities of al-Qa’eda terrorists over the past few years are straightforward murder. For anyone lying bleeding in Madrid, the difference may seem academic. But for Western leaders contemplating a strategy to defend our cities against the terrorists, the distinction is crucial.
This first section manages to define 'war' to mean 'the Second World War', which is an interesting definition. Obviously, if that is the working definition of war these days, then no, we are not at war. I mean, if we are to concede that point then we may as well give up and go home, consigning 'war' to the same scrap-pile of devalued words and phrases, along with 'imminent threat', 'unilateral' and 'quagmire'. However, since I define 'war' a little more broadly I will continue, for what is worst about these paragraphs is not the Blitz comparison but the claim that the Madrid bombing was 'straightforward murder'. After the past two and a half years the Spectator is now advocating a return to the failed terror-as-a-law-enforcement-problem template - which shows that the editorialist has failed to grasp the point that we are not dealing with an enemy that will be content to blow up a few dozen people per year, an enemy whose objective is something rational and an enemy who we can make a deal with. For this enemy, killing us is enough - it is the objective.
Schools, buses and telephones, as we have argued in these pages over the years, all tend to work better when they are removed from the hands of the state. War, however, is the one thing that by definition cannot be privatised. To conduct a war it is necessary for your opponents to recognise you as a political entity: if not a state then at least a tribe or a dispossessed people. The loose network of al-Qa’eda operatives in grubby west London bedsits possesses no such identity. Their activities may reasonably be called a campaign, an uprising, an outrage or any of about 50 other suggestions in Roget’s Thesaurus. But to say that they amount to a war is to argue that al-Qa’eda has a chance of defeating Western regimes. This is ridiculous: Osama bin Laden is no more likely to march triumphantly down the Mall than is a little green man from Mars. Al-Qae’da has means but no end — at least not in this world. Its ‘war’ cry is not ‘lebensraum’ or ‘freedom’, but the defeatist ‘you love life and we love death’.
Our esteemed editorialist has now decided to vary the definition of a war to one where the enemy has a sporting chance of winning. I guess anything else just would not be cricket. [What status this places the myriad of colonial wars the British Empire's Spectator-reading Generals fought in the nineteenth century pitting spears against the Maxim gun is unclear].
That al-Qa’eda’s murderous campaign should be awarded a dignity it does not deserve is not the fault of its sympathisers. It was the American President who opted to call his response to the attacks of 9/11 a ‘war against terror’. The philosophically minded have already made the point that it is hard to go to war against an abstract noun, unless one has in mind the sort of linguistic battle waged by Lynne Truss.
Some of us have been banging on for years about this one, noting the rather successful Wars Against the Slave Trade tend to contradict the oh-so-clever assertion that you can't fight an abstract noun. But then again, that was the might of the British Empire (again) ranged against some West African merchants and a bunch of ne'erdowells in some leaky sloops so I guess it doesn't meet the new definition of 'war'.
But there is a more serious reason why George W. Bush’s declaration of war was ill conceived. It is not possible for the West to achieve an outright defeat of a terrorist organisation. With or without bin Laden’s head, and no matter how many swarthy men are caught with Semtex on their hands, there will always be one more evil figure beavering away over bundles of fuse wire in a London bedsit. Terrorism is a threat which cannot be defeated, only managed.
"Chin up old chap. You've just got to accept that you might get blown up one day." Certainly back when the terrorists limited themselves to a dozen or so deaths at a time this made some sense from the viewpoint of the state. To seriously go after the terrorists would have required an immense effort of willpower (and the taking of steps which would be deemed internationally unacceptable). When the terrorists want to kill as many as possible its not an option, and certainly not if and when they get a working nuke.
Yet the language employed in the fight against al-Qa’eda makes us wonder whether the authorities still possess the presumption in favour of liberty which they did when defending London against the IRA at the height of that organisation’s bombing campaign in the 1970s.
It obviously has not dawned on the editorialist that the aims of the IRA were quite simple and rational in terms of western political thought. For the IRA to kill a hundred or more at one sitting would have been counter productive. For Al Qa'eda it is the objective. The means is the end in itself. So, given the stakes are higher, is it any surprise that the authorities are a bit more skittish? Not to mention that there are some who would suggest that an innocent Irishman coming into contact with the wrong part of Special Branch in the mid-seventies was rather worse off than Mohammed al-Mohammed will be when he's picked up in Guildford next week... However I digress.
We salute the efforts of intelligence staff and police officers which led to the arrest of eight terrorist suspects this week. Yet already there are suggestions that ammonium nitrate — the fertiliser seized in the raids and which is capable of being used as an explosive — might be banned or controlled. Farmers forbidden to grow GM crops in response to public paranoia may find themselves unable to grow economic quantities of conventional crops as well.
Ah, the straw man. What great editorial would be complete without one. I'm sure someone who did not know better suggested this (though I missed any reference to it), but even a government as agriculturally illiterate as this one would not actually do such a thing.
We can discount conspiracy theorists who suggest that this week’s arrests were staged by the Home Office to deflect attention from the embarrassment over immigration policy. But what of the deployment of armoured personnel carriers — useless in a confined space — to Heathrow on the eve of the debate on the Iraq war in February 2003? If the aim was to provoke fear in order to swing public opinion behind the war, it was a very grave wrong.
And now the patented Howard Dean "Tinfoil two-step". Oh and is that followed by a baseless allegation of malfeasance levelled at the government with no supporting evidence? Have they given Gilligan the password to Boris' computer?
he invasion of Iraq was a war; we supported it; it was won and Iraq is a better country for it. The defence of London against al-Qa’eda terrorists is something different. It requires intelligence, skilled policing and common sense on the part of the public. It does not require the armoury or the emergency restrictions on freedom associated with war. In order to protect our liberty it is necessary for citizens to maintain vigilance on our leaders as well as on the terrorists.
Note how the support for the Iraq war is now used by some on the right in the same way the left used to claim they supported the ouster of the Taliban. "Oh yes, but...". And excuse me but I don't recall anyone suggesting we use the same tactics as used in Iraq to root out the jihadis in our midst (though some Israeli tactics would be nice: a blotch on the pavement in Finsbury Park, the mangled remains of a hook the only recognisable item remaining...). But this is just another straw man, for I don't see any sign of nasty emergency powers in effect. The government wants ID cards, (something I oppose resolutely) but at the end of the decade, and I think they'd be after them regardless of the war. There has been no introduction of censorship and no arbitrary internment (something that I seem to recall was tried during that hayday of the oh-so-successful 'management' of Irish terrorism, the mid-seventies!)

This is a very different war to any we have fought before but it is a war nonetheless. We are the enemy's targets and we will be until either we convert to Islam or we kill enough of them for them to give up. To adopt the law enforcement approach, the defensive and passive assertion that for want of a better phrase the bomber will eventually get through is foolhardy. The enemy don't have nukes yet (or they would have used them) and extreme elements of Britain's muslim communities are not yet raising arms against their government, but if people don't wake up soon all such bets are off.

Posted by Sir Francis  

Light traffic
Have been pretty busy this last week, so haven't been able to post much, but I've done a couple of posts over at England's Sword that you might be interested in.

Posted by Sir Francis  


 

Drake's Drum

DRAKE he's in his hammock an' a thousand mile away, 
(Capten, art tha sleepin' there below?) 
Slung atween the round shot in Nombre Dios Bay, 
An' dreamin' arl the time o' Plymouth Hoe. 
Yarnder lumes the island, yarnder lie the ships, 
Wi' sailor lads a-dancin' heel-an'-toe, 
An' the shore-lights flashin', an' the night-tide dashin' 
He sees et arl so plainly as he saw et long ago. 

DRAKE he was a Devon man, an' ruled the Devon seas, 
(Capten, art tha sleepin' there below?), 
Rovin' tho' his death fell, he went wi' heart at ease, 
An' dreamin' arl the time o' Plymouth Hoe, 
"Take my drum to England, hang et by the shore, 
Strike et when your powder's runnin' low; 
If the Dons sight Devon, I'll quit the port o' Heaven, 
An' drum them up the Channel as we drummed them long ago." 

DRAKE he's in his hammock till the great Armadas come, 
(Capten, art tha sleepin' there below?), 
Slung atween the round shot, listenin' for the drum, 
An' dreamin' arl the time o' Plymouth Hoe. 
Call him on the deep sea, call him up the Sound, 
Call him when ye sail to meet the foe; 
Where the old trade's plyin' an' the old flag flyin', 
They shall find him, ware an' wakin', as they found him long ago. 

                                                                            Sir Henry Newbolt (1862-1938)

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