So I’m in a bar, speaking to this friend of mine, who we’ll call Bill.
Bill’s a defence lawyer in Glasgow, deals with shoplifters, sticky-fingered junkies and pavement boxers, that kind of thing. He’s telling me about Mr S, who he’s just finished defending against a charge of fraudulent benefits claims.
“Mr S is in his fifties”, Bill says. “He’s an engineer, worked in the same factory since he was nineteen. Two years ago, boom, firm goes into administration and lays off the entire workforce. Suddenly, it’s unemployment. Mr S gets Jobseeker’s Allowance, but it’s a shitty way to live. He’s still trying to pay off his mortgage, two kids to look after, and nobody anywhere wants to hire a fifty-four year old engineer…”
“Sucks to be him” I say.
“Sure does. So one day, Mr S shows up at the Job Centre. The guy behind the desk says, we’ve been looking at your case, and you’ve claimed six hundred and fifty quid that you aren’t entitled to”.
“Over two years?” I ask, doing a quick calculation. “My God, he’s been ripping us all off for more than six quid a week”.
Bill nods. “Yeah, the guy’s a regular Ronnie Biggs. So Mr S says it was an accident, that he ticked the wrong box, says the form was long and confusing”.
“Did you believe him?” I ask, thinking back to my own fortnight on the dole. I had to fill in a form the size of a novella and I got the princely sum of eight quid, and no job offers… And that was in 1999, the salad days by comparison.
“Hell,” Bill says, “The sheriff believed him, not that it did him any good. I’ve seen those forms. You need a degree in fucking advanced mathematics to work those things out. Mr S is all like I’ve worked for every penny I’ve ever earned and I’ve never stolen nothing from anyone and all that shit”.
“Is it true?”.
“Who knows? Who cares? Not me, not the clerks, especially not the sheriff. Intentional, unintentional, it’s all the same. So anyway, the DWP are having this big crackdown on benefit cheats, and they’re not interested in Mr S’s offer to pay them back. Pay them with what, the money they’re giving him?”
“We couldn’t have that”.
“No, heaven forfend. Doesn’t matter whether he meant it, doesn’t matter whether he ripped off five hundred quid or fifty thousand. Here he is sitting in a room with a sheriff, some lawyers and a pack of twitchy junkies and wham, conviction, there you go. Guy never had a chance of getting off with it, really”.
“Bad luck for Mr S”, I say. “I hope he gets a job soon. Imagine having to go back to the Jobcentre to grovel for change to the same guys that poled you up the backside like that”.
“Well, if he was struggling to get a job before, he sure isn’t going to find it any easier now that he’s got a criminal conviction for dishonesty. You have to declare that to potential employers, you know”.
I whistled. “Man, that’s harsh. Does the government know this kind of thing is going on?”
Bill gave me a funny look, like I’d asked where babies come from. “Mate, I told you – the government is pushing this crackdown so hard it’s a wonder their arms don’t burst out of their sockets”.
I gave that some thought. “I wonder what Iain Duncan Smith thinks about folk like Mr S”, I said.
“Hell, I bet he stays up all night long worrying about those motherfuckers”, Bill said, draining his pint. “I bet their plight just breaks his heart”.
“Iain Duncan Smith has a heart?”
“I fucking hope so, or there’ll be nothing for the vampire hunters to drive a wooden stake through… Same again?”
I finished my pint. “Of course,” I said.
What do we bicker about, when we bicker about terrorism? More or less everything except terrorism, is my suspicion.
Here are a few of my observations about the responses I’ve seen to the bloodcurdling horror in Woolwich, starting with
1) When a guy who has just beheaded a man while shouting about Allah is shown explaining that he did it because of violence perpetrated by British soldiers in “Our lands”, it’s probably okay to call him a Jihadist or an Islamist terrorist-wannabe.
You’d think this would be uncontroversial, given that beheading-while-shouting-about-God is one of the Jihadi’s favourite pastimes, and that publicly justifying yourself with standard Jihadi boo-hoo can reasonably be described as “Jihadist behaviour”.
I expect it’s possible that these arseholes were crazy* wannabe-Glorious Warriors of God, but we all know that the sole requirement for being a Jihadi is saying that you are one. That is, after all, the whole point of Al-Qaeda and its offshoots – anyone can join in, by declaring that you want to do so.
There are times when a man bloodily decapitates another in the street while shouting Jihadist slogans. At moments like this, a rush to judgement is probably justifiable. If anything, it’s reasons to doubt Jihadomentalist reasoning that may need backing up in this scenario.
2) While it’s certainly true that 99.99% of Muslims are not bloodthirsty Jihadi arseholes, it is also necessary to point out that a sufficiently worrying number are.
It’s great to see how many people are at pains to note that most Muslims are no happier with psycho-murderers than any section of the the UK’s populace.
Nonetheless, I do have to point out that Jihadi arseholes are a conspicuous and alarming problem whose ability to sow hatred and discord is wildly disproportionate to their meagre numbers, and that this has to be discussed with clear eyes and no illusions.
Going apeshit every time anybody mentions the supremacist Islamist theories popular among most who commit these very specific murderous acts isn’t helping the situation, and is probably helping those who want to inflame it.
Yes, there are “media narratives” and people looking to exploit this or that, but neither I nor the public at large are much worried that “the media” are going to set off nailbombs in our cities.
3) When lots of criminals keep telling you their crimes were motivated by (x), then their crimes are more likely to have been motivated by (x) than by whatever theory you have just pulled out of your arse.
We’ve seen this one before – some twatty little gimp stands up in court and says that yes, he committed acts of terrorism because yes, he’s a Soldier of God in a war that encompasses Afghanistan, Iraq and Pakistan.
I’m aware that Islamism didn’t spring into being fully-formed from nowhere; I’m also aware that it barely needs grievances to justify whatever destruction it wants to commit. I’m also aware that it won’t go away if we would only tickle its ears and give it a saucer of milk.
But when folk insist on continuing to kill themselves and other people and then justifying it by calling it revenge for this or that disastrous foreign policy catastrofuck, they probably mean that they’re angry enough about our foreign policy to kill and die over it.
This is one of the great unsayables, for much of this country’s pundit class. To note it is to attract accusations that you’re saying that you deserve to be killed, and so on. Sadly for fannies of this ilk, this issue is totally impervious to our feelings about it.
Or, in shorter form – just because a man’s statements are highly inconvenient for your personal foreign policy preferences, doesn’t mean they aren’t true.
A longer version of this piece is here.
Oh no, the liberal-left has gone berserk again!
We’re talking about Nick Cohen, of course, so it’s worth recalling that for him, “the liberal-left” is “going berserk” roughly 99% of their waking lives, and that when he says “berserk” he usually means something like saying rude things about Sarah Palin or thinking that having massive wars with everyone is a silly idea.
To go berserk then is basically to disagree with Nick about something. Now, we’re “berserk” because some percentage of us agree with proposals for press regulation, a stance which strikes Nick as a kind of parade of suburban Mussolinis crushing human freedom.
You’d be forgiven for missing the freedom aspect of course, since a skim-reading would leave you with the impression that the topic is “My God those liberals are bastards and I hate them all, the verminous wankers that they are”, as opposed to a Tom Paine-esque defence of liberty.
Sharp-eyed readers will spot that the bodycount from all of these berserkers is zero, while many of Nick’s own pet projects are now buried under a sky-scraping pile of skulls. We might question whether somebody who has a long record of hemming-and-hawing and reluctantly-concluding on the issue of torture might have a bit of a cheek to accuse anyone else of enabling oppression, but likely to no avail.
I’m agnostic on Leveson. I think it’s entirely right and just that the press should be held accountable for their behaviour, but I’m not convinced that these proposals are the right way to go about achieving that. These proposals may in fact be terrible idiocy, and Nick may well be correct to oppose them.
But let’s just observe how odd it is that most of the hacks I’ve seen really shitting their legs off with rage over press regulation are the type who are prone to making sweeping generalisations about the inherent villainy of entire demographics.
I mean, I’m not saying it’s impossible that Nick is particularly offended by encroachments on human freedom. It’s not the kind of thing that usually bugs him, since he’s been entirely on-board with just about every major bit of loony Star Chamber legislation aimed at “protecting the public from terrorism” of the last decade, and an enthusiastic booster of pretty much unlimited, omni-directional war whenever the option has presented itself.
Maybe Nick is trying to alert us to our voluntary adoption of our own disenfranchisement. I’d say it’s also at least possible that Nick is chewing the cushions because press regulation might make it more difficult to call people pro-genocide dictator-fellaters and so on without then getting publicly reamed by the regulator for disseminating bullshit.
And you can probably imagine why somebody like Nick would find that an alarming prospect.
There was a jaw-dropping editorial in the Times yesterday, haunted by spectre of democratic accountability looming over our Afghanistan mission, that could’ve been churned out at any point in the last hundred years.
The Taleban hope that each new killing of a Nato soldier will be the straw that breaks the back of the resolve of America, Britain and their Isaf partners to linger in Afghanistan a minute longer than the 2014 deadline they have already set. Who knows? – the Taleban wonder – it may even spur them to pick up their skirts and run away even sooner if pressed to do so by restive electorates at home.
Imagine, restive electorates, possibly pressing their governments over an eleven-year long war!
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Why the media focus on race in the “child grooming” trial?, Sunny want to know.
Evidence as presented by Ceops suggests that this kind of crime is more prevalent among Asian men, but you seldom hear angry demands that, say, alcohol-related violence be referred to as a white man’s pastime. Up here in Scotland, I’d be surprised if ethnic minorities account for even one percent of violent and/or sexual offences.
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You have to admire the grand strategy on the Tories. If I was committed to producing an economy that can’t even come close to employing everyone who needs work, I’d encourage young people to take up careers in crime too.
Put simply, firing everyone you possibly can and forcing them to compete for scarce jobs while cracking down on unemployment benefits is a masterstroke, if your aim is to crush all hope out of your opponents’ electoral base and empower your own.
So their new workfare wheeze is a devastating victory.
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We appear to have now reached the stage where many of these internet moralists are issuing denunciations for opposing a military intervention that no serious political figure is even suggesting.
A stench of unreality and grandstanding hangs over this entire scenario.
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Picture the scene: It’s early June 2004, and I’m on holiday in Massachusetts, the heartland of Democratic America. The skies are blue and flags are flying. Even in this bluest-of-blue states, you’d never know that the United States is currently embroiled in its largest, most violent war since Vietnam.
The news channels are talking about Ronald Reagan 24/7, in preparation for the old fraud’s funeral. Over and over. I have no idea what’s happening on the screen or why.
In an internet cafe, the BBC News webpage describes car bombs and death in Iraq and how Attorney General John Ashcroft has denied government involvement in military torture programmes. The BBC correspondent Frank Gardner has just been shot and crippled in Saudi Arabia, and his cameraman Simon Cumber killed.
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Well, well. I’m hardly the first to note the irony that a vague and nebulous concept – “markets” – has unseated the Italian Prime Minister, a feat that innumerable opposition politicians, crusading journalists, police and prosecutors couldn’t achieve after years of hard work.
Funny, that a general air of international unease and an outbreak of unlovely, nasty thoughts about interrupted cashflows have brought Berlusconi crashing down out of the sky, while his epic reign of misrule, corruption and venality was like a big, fat baggie of high-grade fairy dust for world finance.
What lessons can we draw from this, do we think?
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Forced by circumstances to invade and occupy Afghanistan; driven beyond their will to invade and occupy Iraq by the urgent threat of imminent destruction; compelled by humanitarian necessity to destroy large tracts of Libya; pressured into hammering holy hell out of Pakistan, Lebanon, Somalia, Yemen…
…it’s time to make plans for a massive assault on Iran just in case, you know, they back us into a corner. If, like, we’re forced to do it, with sorrow in our hearts and a tear in our collective eye.
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