Posts Tagged ‘Obama’

To be utterly frank, Dear Reader, we do not even pretend to fully understand the current Middle East crisis and have even less idea what to do about it. It is times like this that we are very pleased we no longer pursue politics as a career.

This map, for example, purports to show Daesh’s view of a future Caliphate. It suggests that its ambitions stretch at least as far as the historical spread of Islam. The white lines, incidentally, do not relate to modern boundaries, but to Daesh-suggested administrative boundaries, as Daesh does not recognise modern nation states.

Daesh map

Anyhow, in the search for clarity, we reproduce in full below a long but scholarly article which first appeared in New Statesman in early March this year, and then in New Republic, because to us it has the smack of good research and commonsense.

It is a trenchant and thorough re-evaluation of the by-now famous article in The Atlantic (which we were impressed by at the time, and which we believe still has value, as regards, at least, the leadership of IS) which argued that IS – or as French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius now urges us to call them, Daesh – is an eschatological “end times” cult that wants nothing more than to provoke a wholesale invasion of Syria and Iraq by the West to usher in the return of Christ and thus the end of the world.

Both articles appear well researched and credible, revealing again (as if we really need to have it reinforced) that this is a highly complex issue that does not succumb to simplistic explanations.

In any event, we urge you to read this article as well, because it goes to the motivation of people to join Daesh and it squarely argues that it is NOT an Islamic movement, and, indeed, that labelling it as such is aiding its existence and even growth. Given recent events worldwide, that analysis is more pressing than ever.

What’s more, as the leader of the “free world” this is a live issue for President Obama, in particular, who is enduring considerable criticism for his nuanced and oft-expressed view that Daesh is not an “Islamic” or “Islamic terrorist” problem. It may be that his reasons for doing so are simply too subtle for many social media readers and posters, especially those who detest Obama anyway, but if this article is credible then his attitude thus far is completely justified.

What is more important is that this is a discussion that every community in the Western world needs to have, as non-Muslim and Muslim communities seek to live peaceably together.

Whatever the precise truth of the situation we now face – and like all situations, there are layers upon layers of meaning and evidence – this article places the responsibility for the radicalisation of Muslim and recent-convert Muslim youth absolutely specifically to the aftermath of the Iraq war, and the subsequent bias and incompetence of the Shia government in Baghdad.

And it asserts – with compelling evidence from experts working in the intelligence field – that grievances in Western societies (poor housing, perceived racism, lack of opportunity, and a desire for belonging and meaning, above all) are all merely exacerbated by the echoes of 2003 and afterwards.

In effect, the article is saying that the war in Iraq never really ended, and that it is now conflated to include Syria.

We might also note that the next domino to fall, in this regard, would be Lebanon, which puts last week’s murderous bombing in Beirut into a critical context.

Please. Take the time to read this article.

UnderstandingWe believe it is an important contribution to current discussions, and should be taken into account as we examine what on earth to do next.

And if there is ever to be peace in the Middle East, we have to start somewhere.

In that regard, understanding what is going on seems a good place to start.

Article begins:

It is difficult to forget the names, or the images, of James Foley, Steven Sotloff, David Haines, Alan Henning and Peter Kassig. The barbaric beheadings between August and November 2014, in cold blood and on camera, of these five jumpsuit-clad western hostages by the self-styled Islamic State, or ISIS, provoked widespread outrage and condemnation.

Liberation newspaper journalist Didier Francois who was freed after 10 months in captivity.

Liberation newspaper journalist Didier Francois who was freed after 10 months in captivity.

However, we should also remember the name of Didier François, a French journalist who was held by ISIS in Syria for ten months before being released in April 2014. François has since given us a rare insight into life inside what the Atlantic’s Graeme Wood, in a recent report for the magazine, has called the “hermit kingdom” of ISIS, where “few have gone . . . and returned.”

And it is an insight that threatens to turn the conventional wisdom about the world’s most fearsome terrorist organisation on its head.

“There was never really discussion about texts,” the French journalist told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour last month, referring to his captors. “It was not a religious discussion. It was a political discussion.”

According to François, “It was more hammering what they were believing than teaching us about the Quran. Because it has nothing to do with the Quran.” And the former hostage revealed to a startled Amanpour: “We didn’t even have the Quran. They didn’t want even to give us a Quran.”

The rise of ISIS in Iraq and Syria has been a disaster for the public image of Islam – and a boon for the Islamophobia industry. Here, after all, is a group that calls itself Islamic State; that claims the support of Islamic texts to justify its medieval punishments, from the stoning of adulterers to the amputation of the hands of thieves; and that has a leader with a PhD in Islamic studies who declares himself to be a “caliph,” or ruler over all Muslims, and has even renamed himself in honour of the first Muslim caliph, Abu Bakr.

The consequences are, perhaps, as expected. In September 2014, a Zogby poll found that only 27 percent of Americans had a favourable view of Islam—down from 35 per cent in 2010. By February 2015, more than a quarter of Americans (27 per cent) were telling the pollsters LifeWay Research that they believed that life under ISIS rule “gives a true indication of what an Islamic society looks like.”

Yet what is much more worrying is that it isn’t just ill-informed, ignorant or bigoted members of the public who take such a view. “The reality is that the Islamic State is Islamic. Very Islamic,” wrote Wood in his widely read 10,000-word cover report (“What ISIS really wants”) in the March issue of Atlantic, in which he argued, “The religion preached by its most ardent followers derives from coherent and even learned interpretations of Islam.”

Bernard Haykel of Princeton University, the only scholar of Islam whom Wood bothered to interview, described Muslims who considered ISIS to be un-Islamic, or anti-Islamic, as “embarrassed and politically correct, with a cotton-candy view of their own religion,” and declared that the hand-choppers and throat-slitters of ISIS “have just as much legitimacy” as any other Muslims, because Islam is “what Muslims do and how they interpret their texts.”

Many other analysts across the political spectrum agree and have denounced the Obama administration for refusing, in the words of the journalist-turned-terrorism-expert Peter Bergen, to make “the connection between Islamist terrorism and ultra-fundamentalist forms of Islam.” Writing on the CNN website in February, Bergen declared, “ISIS may be a perversion of Islam, but Islamic it is.”

“Will it take the end of the world for Obama to recognise ISIS as ‘Islamic’?” screamed a headline on the Daily Beast website in the same month. “Which will come first, flying cars and vacations to Mars, or a simple acknowledgment that beliefs guide behaviour and that certain religious ideas—jihad, martyrdom, blasphemy, apostasy—reliably lead to oppression and murder?” asked Sam Harris, the neuroscientist and high priest of the “New Atheism” movement.

So, is ISIS a recognisably “Islamic” movement? Are ISIS recruits motivated by religious fervour and faith?

The Analyst

“Our exploration of the intuitive psychologist’s shortcomings must start with his general tendency to overestimate the importance of personal or dispositional factors relative to environmental influences,” wrote the American social anthropologist Lee Ross in 1977.

It was Ross who coined the phrase “fundamental attribution error”, which refers to the phenomenon in which we place excessive emphasis on internal motivations to explain the behaviour of others, in any given situation, rather than considering the relevant external factors.

SagemanNowhere is the fundamental attribution error more prevalent, suggests the forensic psychiatrist Marc Sageman, than in our navel-gazing analysis of wannabe terrorists and what does or doesn’t motivate them.

“You attribute other people’s behaviour to internal motivations but your own to circumstances. ‘They’re attacking us and therefore we have to attack them.’” Yet, he tells me, we rarely do the reverse.

Few experts have done more to try to understand the mindset of the young men and women who aspire to join the blood-drenched ranks of groups such as ISIS and Al Qaeda than Sageman. And few can match his qualifications, credentials or background. The 61-year-old, Polish-born psychiatrist and academic is a former CIA operations officer who was based in Pakistan in the late 1980s. There he worked closely with the Afghan mujahedin.

He has since advised the New York City Police Department on counterterrorism issues, testified in front of the 9/11 Commission in Washington, D.C., and, in his acclaimed works Understanding Terror Networks and Leaderless Jihad, closely analysed the biographies of several hundred terrorists.

Does he see religion as a useful analytical prism through which to view the rise of ISIS and the process by which thousands of young people arrive in Syria and Iraq, ready to fight and die for the group?

“Religion has a role but it is a role of justification,” he tells me. “It’s not why they do this [or] why young people go there.”

ISIS members, he says, are using religion to advance a political vision, rather than using politics to advance a religious vision. “To give themselves a bit more legitimacy, they use Islam as their justification. It’s not about religion, it’s about identity . . . You identify with the victims, [with] the guys being killed by your enemies.”

For converts to Islam in particular, he adds, “Identity is important to them. They have . . . invested a lot of their own efforts and identity to become this ‘Muslim’ and, because of this, identity is so important to them. They see other Muslims being slaughtered [and say], ‘I need to protect my community.’” (A recent study found that converts to Islam were involved in 31 per cent of Muslim terrorism convictions in the UK between 2001 and 2010.)

Sageman believes that it isn’t religious faith but, rather, a “sense of emotional and moral outrage” at what they see on their television screens or on YouTube that propels people from Portsmouth to Peshawar, from Berlin to Beirut, to head for war zones and to sign up for the so-called jihad. Today, he notes archly, “Orwell would be [considered as foreign fighter like] a jihadi,” referring to the writer’s involvement in the anti-fascist campaign during the Spanish civil war.

Religion, according to this view, plays a role not as a driver of behaviour but as a vehicle for outrage and, crucially, a marker of identity. Religion is important in the sense that it happens to “define your identity”, Sageman says, and not because you are “more pious than anybody else.” He invokes the political scientist Benedict Anderson’s conception of a nation state as an “imagined political community”, arguing that the “imagined community of Muslims” is what drives the terrorists, the allure of being members of – and defenders of – the ultimate “in-group.”

JJ“You don’t have the most religious folks going there,” he points out.

ISIS fighters from the west, in particular, “tend to have rediscovered Islam as teenagers, or as converts”; they are angry, or even bored, young men in search of a call to arms and a thrilling cause. The ISIS executioner Mohammed Emwazi, also known as “Jihadi John” – who was raised and educated in the UK – was described, for instance, by two British medics who met him at a Syrian hospital as “quiet but a bit of an adrenalin junkie”.

Sageman’s viewpoint should not really surprise us. Writing in his 2011 book The Black Banners: the Inside Story of 9/11 and the War Against al-Qaeda, the Lebanese-American former FBI agent Ali H Soufan, who led the bureau’s pre-9/11 investigation into Al Qaeda, observed: “When I first began interrogating AL Qaeda members, I found that while they could quote Bin Laden’s sayings by heart, I knew far more of the Quran than they did—and in fact some barely knew classical Arabic, the language of both the hadithand the Quran. An understanding of their thought process and the limits of their knowledge enabled me and my colleagues to use their claimed piousness against them.”

Three years earlier, in 2008, a classified briefing note on radicalisation, prepared by MI5’s behavioural science unit, was obtained by the Guardian.

It revealed: “Far from being religious zealots, a large number of those involved in terrorism do not practise their faith regularly. Many lack religious literacy and could . . . be regarded as religious novices.”

The MI5 analysts noted the disproportionate number of converts and the high propensity for “drug-taking, drinking alcohol and visiting prostitutes”. The newspaper claimed they concluded, “A well-established religious identity actually protects against violent radicalisation.”

As I have pointed out on these pages before, Mohammed Ahmed and Yusuf Sarwar, the two young British Muslim men from Birmingham who were convicted on terrorism charges in 2014 after travelling to fight in Syria, bought copies of Islam for Dummies and The Koran for Dummies from Amazon prior to their departure. Religious novices, indeed.

Sageman, the former CIA officer, says we have to locate terrorism and extremism in local conflicts rather than in grand or sweeping ideological narratives – the grievances and the anger come first, he argues, followed by the convenient and self-serving ideological justifications. For example, he says, the origins of ISIS as a terror group lie not in this or that Islamic book or school of thought, but in the “slaughter of Sunnis in Iraq.” He reminds me how, in April 2013, when there was a peaceful Sunni demonstration asking the Shia-led Maliki government in Baghdad to reapportion to the various provinces what the government was getting in oil revenues, Iraqi security forces shot into the crowds.

“That was the start of this [current] insurrection.”

Before that, it was the brutal, US-led occupation, under which Iraq became ground zero for suicide bombers from across the region and spurred the creation of new terrorist organisations, such as Al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI).

ISIS is the “remnant” of AQI, Sageman adds. He believes that any analysis of the group and of the ongoing violence and chaos in Iraq that doesn’t take into account the long period of war, torture, occupation and sectarian cleansing is inadequate—and a convenient way of exonerating the west of any responsibility. “Without the invasion of Iraq, [ISIS] would not exist. We created it by our presence there.”

The Spy

BarrettLike Marc Sageman, Richard Barrett has devoted his professional life to understanding terrorism, extremism and radicalization.

The silver-haired 65-year-old was the director of global counterterrorism operations for MI6, both before and after the 11 September 2001 attacks, and he subsequently led the Al Qaeda and Taliban monitoring team at the United Nations between 2004 and 2013.

Unlike Sageman, however, Barrett partly sympathises with Graeme Wood’s and Bernard Haykel’s thesis that “the Islamic State is Islamic”. He tells me that some ISIS followers “are clearly convinced they are following Allah’s will” and he insists: “We should not underestimate the extent of their belief.” However, Barrett concedes that such beliefs and views “will not be the only thing that drew them to the Islamic State”.

The former MI6 officer, who recently published a report on foreign fighters in Syria, agrees with the ex-CIA man on the key issue of what motivates young men to join—and fight for—groups such as ISIS in the first place. Rather than religious faith, it has “mostly to do with the search for identity . . . coupled with a search for belonging and purpose. The Islamic State offers all that and empowers the individual within a collective. It does not judge and accepts all with no concern about their past. This can be very appealing for people who think that they washed up on the wrong shore.”

Whether they are unemployed losers or well-educated professionals, joining ISIS offers new recruits the chance to “believe that they are special . . . that they are part of something that is new, secret and powerful.”

While Barrett doesn’t dismiss the theological angle in the way that Sageman does, he nevertheless acknowledges, “Acting in the name of Islam means that, for the ignorant at least, the groups have some legitimacy for their actions . . . They can pretend it is not just about power and money.”

LouiseThis irreligious lust for power and money is a significant and often overlooked part of the ISIS equation.

The group—often described as messianic and uncompromising—had no qualms about demanding a $200m ransom for the lives of two Japanese hostages in January; nor has it desisted from smuggling pornography into and out of Iraq, according to Louise Shelley, director of the Terrorism, Transnational Crime and Corruption Centre at George Mason University in Virginia. (Shelley has referred to Isis as a “diversified criminal operation”.)

Then there is the often-ignored alliance at the heart of ISIS between the so-called violent Islamists, led by Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, and the remnants of Saddam Hussein’s secular Ba’athist regime – an alliance that Barrett has referred to as a “marriage of convenience.” If ISIS is the apocalyptic religious cult that Wood and others believe it is, why was Baghdadi’s deputy in Iraq Abu Muslim al-Afari al-Turkmani, a former senior special forces officer in Hussein’s army? Why is Baghdadi’s number two in Syria Abu Ali al-Anbari, a former major general under Hussein? (Welthisiswhatithink note; al-Anbari was reported killed in Libya in June.) 

“The Ba’athist element was certainly very important . . . as it gave the Islamic State military and administrative capability,” Barrett says. “It also made it possible [for ISIS to] take Mosul so quickly and cause defections and surrenders from the Iraqi army. There was and continues to be a coincidence of interest between Islamic State and other anti-government Sunni groups.”

Here again, it seems, is the fundamental attribution error in play. We neglect to focus on the “interests” of groups such as ISIS and obsess over their supposedly messianic and apocalyptic “beliefs.” The “end of times” strain may be very strong in ISIS, Barrett warns, but: “The Ba’athist elements are still key in Iraq and without them the Islamic State would probably not be able to hold on to the city of Mosul.”

Baghdadi’s appointment as leader of ISIS in 2010 was orchestrated by a former Ba’athist colonel in Hussein’s army, Haji Bakr, (killed in January 2014) according to another recent study produced by Barrett, in which he noted how Bakr had “initially attracted criticism from fellow members of the group for his lack of a proper beard and lax observance of other dictates of their religious practice”. Nevertheless, pragmatism trumped ideology as Bakr’s “organisational skills . . . and network of fellow ex-Ba’athists made him a valuable resource” for ISIS.

Apparently, Baghdadi’s supposed caliphate in Iraq and Syria was less the will of God and more the will of Saddam.

The Theologian

Perhaps the most astonishing achievement of Isis has been not the sheer size of the territory it has captured, but the way in which it has united the world’s disparate (and often divided) 1.6 billion Muslims against it.

Whether Sunni or Shia, Salafi or Sufi, conservative or liberal, Muslims – and Muslim leaders – have almost unanimously condemned and denounced ISIS not merely as un-Islamic but actively anti-Islamic.

Sheikh Abdul Aziz al-Sheikh, the Saudi grand mufti.

Sheikh Abdul Aziz al-Sheikh, the Saudi grand mufti.

Consider the various statements of Muslim groups such as the Organisation of Islamic Co-operation, representing 57 countries (ISIS has “nothing to do with Islam”); the Islamic Society of North America (ISIS’ actions are “in no way representative of what Islam actually teaches”); al-Azhar University in Cairo, the most prestigious seat of learning in the Sunni Muslim world (ISIS is acting “under the guise of this holy religion . . . in an attempt to export their false Islam”); and even Saudi Arabia’s Salafist Grand Mufti, Abdul Aziz al ash-Sheikh (ISIS is “the number-one enemy of Islam”).

In September 2014, more than 120 Islamic scholars co-signed an 18-page open letter to Baghdadi, written in Arabic, containing what the Slate website’s Filipa Ioannou described as a “technical point-by-point criticism of ISIS’ actions and ideology based on the Quran and classical religious texts.”

hannityYet buffoonish right-wingers such as the Fox News host Sean Hannity continue to refer to the alleged “silence of Muslims” over the actions of ISIS and ask, “Where are the Muslim leaders?” Meanwhile, academics who should know better, such as Princeton’s Bernard Haykel, insist that the leaders of ISIS “have just as much legitimacy as anyone else.”

MuradLegitimacy, however, “comes through endorsement by religious leaders. If Sunni Islam’s leaders consider ISIS inauthentic, then that is what it is,” says Abdal Hakim Murad, who teaches Islamic studies at Cambridge University and serves as the dean of the Cambridge Muslim College, which trains imams for British mosques. The blond-haired, 54-year-old Murad is a convert and is also known as Timothy Winter (his brother is the Telegraph football writer Henry). Murad has been described by the Royal Islamic Strategic Studies Centre in Jordan as “one of the most well-respected western theologians”, whose “accomplishments place him amongst the most significant Muslims in the world”.

The religious world, whether Muslim, Jewish or Christian, is “packed with fringe and fundamentalist groups that claim the mantle of total authenticity,” Murad tells me. To accept those groups’ assertions at face value is “either naive or tendentious.”

He continues: “Just as Christianity in Bosnia 20 years ago was not properly represented by the churchgoing militias of Radovan Karadzic and just as Judaism is not represented by West Bank settlers who burn mosques, so, too, Islam is not represented by ISIS.”

Contrary to a lazy conventional wisdom which suggests that a 1,400-year-old faith with more than a billion adherents has no hierarchy, “Islam has its leadership, its universities, its muftis and its academies, which unanimously repudiate ISIS,” Murad explains. For the likes of Haykel to claim that the ISIS interpretation of Islam has “just as much legitimacy” as the mainstream view, he adds, is “unscholarly,” “incendiary” and likely to “raise prejudice and comfort the far-right political formations”.

As for ISIS’ obsession with beheadings, crucifixions, hand-chopping and the rest, Murad argues: “With regard to classical sharia punishments, the religion’s teachings in every age are determined by scholarly consensus on the meaning of the complex scriptural texts”—rather than by self-appointed “sharia councils” in the midst of conflict zones.

Many analysts have laid the blame for violent extremism among Muslims at the ideological door of Salafism, a regressive and ultra-conservative brand of Islam, which owes a great deal to the controversial teachings of an 18th-century preacher named Muhammad Ibn Abd al-Wahhab and which today tends to be behind much of the misogyny and sectarianism in the Muslim-majority world. Yet, as even Wood concedes in his Atlantic report, “Most Salafis are not jihadists and most adhere to sects that reject the Islamic State.”

Salafists tend to be apolitical, whereas groups such as ISIS are intensely political. Even the traditionalist Murad, who has little time for what he has deemed the “cult-like universe of the Salafist mindset”, agrees that the rise of extremism within the movement is a consequence, rather than a cause, of violence and conflict.

“The roots of ISIS have been located in rage against . . . the 2003 occupation of Iraq. Before that event, Salafist extremism was hardly heard of in Syria and Iraq, even though the mosques were full in those countries,” Murad says. “Angry men, often having suffered in US detention, have reached for the narrowest and most violent interpretation of their religion they can find. This is a psychological reaction, not a faithful adherence to classical Muslim norms of jurisprudence.”

In the view of this particular Muslim theologian, ISIS owes a “debt to European far-right thinking.” The group’s “imposition of a monolithic reading of the huge and hugely complex founding literature of the religion is something very new in Islamic civilisation, representing a totalitarian impulse that seems closer to European fascism than to classical Islamic norms.”

The Radical

Raised in Toronto, the son of Indian immigrant parents, Mubin Shaikh went from enjoying a hedonistic teenage lifestyle involving drugs, girls and parties to embracing a militant and “jihadist” view of the world, full of hate and anger.

CSIS and RCMP informant Mubin Shaikh at his Toronto home on February 6th, 2007. Shaikh's information led to the arrest of dozens of terror suspects in the summer of 2006.

CSIS and RCMP informant Mubin Shaikh at his Toronto home on February 6th, 2007. Shaikh’s information led to the arrest of dozens of terror suspects in the summer of 2006.

He felt as though he “had become a stranger in my own land, my own home,” Shaikh told PBS in 2007, referring to an identity crisis that helped spark his “jihadi bug.” After 11 September 2001, he wanted to fight in Afghanistan or Chechnya because: “It felt like the right thing to do.”

It is a familiar path, trodden by the likes of Dzhokhar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev, the brothers accused of bombing the Boston Marathon, as well as Chérif and Saïd Kouachi, the Charlie Hebdo attackers in Paris. (A former friend of Chérif said that the younger, pot-smoking Kouachi “couldn’t differentiate between Islam and Catholicism” before he became radicalized by “images of American soldiers humiliating Muslims at the Abu Ghraib prison”, as the New York Times put it.)

Yet Shaikh eventually relinquished his violent views after studying Sufi Islam in the Middle East and then boldly volunteered with the Canadian Security Intelligence Service to infiltrate several radical groups in Toronto.

The bald and bearded Shaikh, now aged 39 and an adviser to Canadian officials, tells me it is “preposterous” to claim that the killing of Christians and Yazidis by ISIS is rooted in Islamic scripture or doctrine. If it was, “Muslims would have been doing those sorts of things for the past 50-plus years. Yet we find no such thing.”

YAZIDIS(Wellthisiswhatithink insert: This becomes a particularly trenchant comment as a mass grave believed to contain the remains of more than 70 female members of Iraq’s Yazidi minority has been recently discovered east of Sinjar town after Kurdish forces claimed victory over Daesh militants in the area, the mayor and locals have said.

The insurgents overran the Yazidi heartland of Sinjar in north-west Iraq in August 2014, systematically killing, capturing and enslaving thousands of its inhabitants in what the United Nations has said may have constituted attempted genocide.

The mayor of Sinjar and local Yazidis who visited the site of the mass grave said last Saturday that they saw clumps of hair, bones, money and keys which they believed belonged to older women from the village of Kocho, whom the militants separated from younger women during their onslaught.)

Shaikh offers three distinct explanations for why ISIS should not be considered or treated as an “Islamic” phenomenon. First, he argues, “The claim that ISIS is ‘Islamic’ because it superficially uses Islamic sources is ridiculous, because the Islamic sources themselves say that those who do so [manifest Islam superficially] are specifically un-Islamic.”

He points to an order issued by the first and original Muslim caliph, Abu Bakr, which declared: “Neither kill a child, women [nor] the elderly . . . When you come upon those who have taken to live in monasteries, leave them alone.”

Takfiris are those who declare other Muslims to be apostates and, for Shaikh, “It is the height of incredulity to suggest that they [members of ISIS] are in fact ‘Islamic’ – an opinion shared only by ISIS and [Islamophobes] who echo their claims.”

As for Baghdadi’s supposed scholarly credentials, Shaikh jokes, “Even the devil can quote scripture.”

Second, he argues, it is dangerous to grant ISIS any kind of theological legitimacy amid efforts to formulate a coherent “countering violent extremism” (CVE) strategy in the West. “It is quite possibly a fatal blow in that regard because, essentially, it is telling Muslims to condemn that which is Islamic.” It is, he says, a “schizophrenic approach to CVE which will never succeed”.

Third, Shaikh reminds me how the former U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld often included verses from the Bible at the top of the intelligence briefings that he presented to President George W Bush. “Could we say [Iraq] was a ‘Christianity-motivated war’? How about verses of the Bible [reportedly] engraved on to rifles for use in the Afghanistan and Iraq wars?”

The former radical points out that highlighting only the role of religion in the radicalization process to the exclusion of, or above, other factors is short-sighted. “Fear, money . . . adventure, alienation and, most certainly, anger at the west for what happened in Iraq . . . [also] explain why people join [ISIS],” he tells me.

Shaikh therefore wants a counterterrorism approach focused not merely on faith or theology, but on “political, social and psychological” factors.

The Pollster

What Dalia Mogahed doesn’t know about Muslim public opinion probably isn’t worth knowing. And the former Gallup pollster and co-author, with the US academic John L Esposito, of Who Speaks for Islam? What a Billion Muslims Really Think, based on six years of research and 50,000 interviews with Muslims in more than 35 countries, says that the survey evidence is clear: the overwhelming majority of the world’s Muslims reject ISIS-style violence.

DaliaGallup polling conducted for Mogahed’s book found, for instance, that 93 per cent of Muslims condemned the terror attacks of September 11, 2001.

The 40-year-old Egyptian-American scholar tells me, “In follow-up questions, Gallup found that not a single respondent of the nearly 50,000 interviewed cited a verse from the Quran in defence of terrorism but, rather, religion was only mentioned to explain why 9/11 was immoral.”

The 7 per cent of Muslims who sympathised with the attacks on the twin towers “defended this position entirely with secular political justifications or distorted concepts of ‘reciprocity’, as in: ‘They kill our civilians. We can kill theirs.’”

It is thus empirically unsound to conflate heightened religious belief with greater support for violence. Mogahed, who became the first hijab-wearing Muslim woman to hold a position at the White House when she served on Barack Obama’s advisory council on “faith-based and neighbourhood partnerships”, says that she was “surprised” by the results, as they “flew in the face of everything we were being told and every assumption we were making in our counter-terrorism strategy.”

As for Haykel’s claim that Islam is merely “what Muslims do and how they interpret their texts”, Mogahed is scathingly dismissive. “If Islam is indeed ‘what Muslims do’, then certainly numbers should be a powerful factor dictating which Muslims we see as representing it,” she says.

“ISIS is a tiny minority whose victims are, in fact, mostly other Muslims.

“By what logic would this gang of killers, which has been universally condemned and brutalizes Muslims more than anyone else, get to represent the global [Muslim] community?”

The former White House adviser continues: “Any philosophy or ideology, from Christianity to capitalism, has normative principles and authorities that speak to those norms. Each also has deviants who distort it to meet political or other goals. If I deny the existence of Christ but call myself a Christian, I’d be wrong. If I say the state should usurp all private property and redistribute it equally among citizens but call myself a capitalist, I would be wrong. Islam is no different.”

Echoing Murad, Mogahed points out, “Islam’s authorities have loudly and unanimously declared ISIS un-Islamic.”

Because of this, “Making a claim that violates normative principles of a philosophy, as defined by those with the authority to decide, is illegitimate.”

What about Haykel’s claim that ISIS fighters are constantly quoting Quranic verses and the hadith, or traditions from the life of the Prophet, and that they “mug for their cameras and repeat their basic doctrines in formulaic fashion and they do it all the time”? Why do they do that if they don’t believe this stuff – if it isn’t sincere?

“The Quran [and] hadith according to whom?” she responds. “As interpreted by whom? As understood by whom?”

Mogahed, who served as the executive director of the Gallup Centre for Muslim Studies until 2012 and who now works for the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding (ISPU) and runs her own consulting firm based in Washington DC, argues that ISIS uses Islamic language and symbols today for the same reason as Palestinian militant groups used the language of secular Arab nationalism in the 1960s and 1970s.

“Any organisation uses the dominant social medium of its society,” she says. “Today, the dominant social currency in the Arab world is Islam. More than 90 per cent of Arab Muslims say religion is an important part of their daily life, according to Gallup research. Everyone, not just IS, speaks in Islamic language, from pro-democracy advocates to civil society groups fighting illiteracy.”

For Mogahed, therefore, “a violent reading of the Quran is not leading to political violence. Political violence is leading to a violent reading of the Quran.”

In a recent despatch from Zarqa in Jordan, birthplace of the late AQI leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and “one of the country’s most notorious hotbeds of Islamic radicalism,” Foreign Policy magazine’s David Kenner sat down with a group of young, male ISIS supporters.

“None of them appeared to be particularly religious,” Kenner noted. “Not once did the conversation turn to matters of faith, and none budged from their seats when the call to prayer sounded. They appeared driven by anger at humiliations big and small – from the police officers who treated them like criminals outside their homes to the massacres of Sunnis in Syria and Iraq – rather than by a detailed exegesis of religious texts.”

It cannot be said often enough: it isn’t the most pious or devout of Muslims who embrace terrorism, or join groups such as IS. Nor has a raft of studies and surveys uncovered any evidence of a “conveyor belt” that turns people of firm faith into purveyors of violence.

Religion plays little, if any, role in the radicalisation process, as Sageman and countless experts testify.

It is an excuse, rather than a reason. ISIS is as much the product of political repression, organised crime and a marriage of convenience with secular, power-hungry Ba’athists as it is the result of a perversion of Islamic beliefs and practices.

As for Islamic scholars, they “unanimously repudiate” ISIS, to quote Murad, while ordinary Muslims “universally condemn” Baghdadi and his bloodthirsty followers, in the words of Mogahed.

The so-called Islamic State is, therefore, “Islamic” in the way the British National Party is “British” or the Democratic People’s Republic of North Korea (DPRK) is “democratic.”

No serious analyst considers the latter two entities to be representative of either Britishness or democracy; few commentators claim that those who join the BNP do so out of a sense of patriotism and nor do they demand that all democrats publicly denounce the DPRK as undemocratic. So why the double standard in relation to the self-styled Islamic State and the religion of Islam? Why the willingness to believe the hype and rhetoric from the spin doctors and propagandists of ISIS?

We must be wary of the trap set for us by Baghdadi’s group – a trap that far too many people who should know better have frustratingly fallen for. A former U.S. State Department official who has worked on counterterrorism issues tells me how worried he is that the arguments of the Atlantic’s Wood, Haykel, Bergen and others have been gaining traction in policymaking circles in recent months. “It was disconcerting to be at [President Obama’s Countering Violent Extremism summit in February] and hear so many people discussing the [Atlantic] article while the president and others were trying to marginalise extremist claims to Islamic legitimacy.”

Mogahed is full-square behind her former boss’s decision to delink violent extremism from the Islamic faith in his public pronouncements.

“As [Obama] recently remarked, giving groups like IS religious legitimacy is handing them the ideological victory they desperately desire,” she says. This may be the most significant point of all to understand, as politicians, policymakers and security officials try (and fail) to formulate a coherent response to violent extremism in general and IS in particular.

To claim that IS is Islamic is egregiously inaccurate and empirically unsustainable, not to mention insulting to the 1.6 billion non-violent adherents of Islam across the planet.

Above all else, it is dangerous and self-defeating, as it provides Baghdadi and his minions with the propaganda prize and recruiting tool that they most crave.

Why do we not show a more graphic image to illustrate this story? Because that would be playing precisely into IS's hands.

Why do we not show a more graphic image to illustrate this story? Because that would be playing precisely into IS’s hands.

Why does the so-called Islamic State engage in such brutal and shocking practices as beheadings, not to say crucifixions and burning people alive?

Of course, the practice of beheading is invoked in the Koran, and certain Muslim States still use it to inflict the death penalty – most notably and regrettably the Western ally Saudi Arabia – but only the most extreme Islamic non-governmental militants carry it out in the modern day. Why?

Psychological warfare is a key part of the Islamic State’s military strategy

Even where outnumbered, as they were in Mosul in June, the IS fighters have used their reputation for terror to dissuade Iraqi forces from ever seeking battle.

Which poorly paid soldier wishes to risk decapitation, impalement, or amputation for the sake of a distant, crumbling government?

As strategists have noted from the Roman Empire onwards, fear is a uniquely effective weapon. Down through history, regimes and insurgents have all behaved in hideously violent manners to discourage their opponents from fighting effectively. This is one reason IS is so deliberately and theatrically brutal.

Seven-year-old Bosniak child, Nermin Divovic, lies mortally wounded in a pool of blood as unidentified American and British U.N. firefighters arrive to assist after he was shot in the head by Serbian snipers in Sarajevo Friday, November 18, 1994. The U.N. firefighters were at his side almost immediately, but the boy died outright. Serbs terrorized Sarajevo civilians and killed at least 1500 children in the besieged Bosnian capital. (Photographer: Enric Marti)

Seven-year-old Bosniak child, Nermin Divovic, lies mortally wounded in a pool of blood as unidentified American and British U.N. personnel arrive to assist after he was shot in the head by Serbian snipers in Sarajevo on November 18, 1994. The U.N. firefighters were at his side almost immediately, but the boy died outright. Serbs terrorized Sarajevo civilians and killed at least 1500 children in the besieged Bosnian capital. (Photographer: Enric Marti)

By no means is this limited to terrorist organisations, or Muslim extremists. The tactics of the indiscriminate use of snipers, wholesale slaughter of populations, systematic rape of the civilian population and more were all evident in the conflict in the “civilised” Balkans in the recent past, enacted by all sides.

It has been acknowledged that the initial Allied assault on Iraq’s capital was intended to create “Shock and Awe”, to the point of naming the assault precisely that, to deter the local population from supporting the regime and to encourage the largely poorly trained conscript army to lay down its weapons.

The atomic slaughter of hundreds of thousands of civilians at Hiroshima and Nagasaki by America was deliberately designed to force the Japanese Government to sue for peace. It was undoubtedly a “terrorist” act – designed to sow terror – but it has been long argued that the terror was justified to shorten the war and prevent a greater loss of life. That is as may be – the argument will continue forever – but it was unquestionably the most dramatic example of psychological warfare before or since in the history of mankind

Brutality is a form of deterrence

Slicing through the neck and vertebrae of a journalist or aid worker is one thing. With horrible calculation, IS understands that Western governments are, to some extent at least, dissuaded by the prospect of a British or American soldier meeting with a similar fate. It would mean not just political embarrassment, but also an unimaginable propaganda boost for the jihadist cause. Which is why, two days before declaring their caliphate, IS threatened to attack the US if they were targeted militarily. Their rhetoric presently outstrips their capabilities, as former MI6 chief Richard Dearlove has argued, but the track record of massacre and torture gives these threats, to Western audiences, added menace. Brutality is therefore also a form of deterrence, affecting both politicians and public.

Propaganda by the deed

The murderers of British soldier Lee Rigby - beheaded on the streets of London - knew exactly what they were trying to achieve.

The murderers of British soldier Lee Rigby – beheaded on the streets of London – knew exactly what they were trying to achieve.

Terrorism is a form of propaganda by the deed. And the more chilling the deed, the more impactful the propaganda. The graphic nature of beheading, the focus on the individual, and the act of bodily desecration involved all render this far more chilling than the explosion of a bomb, even where the latter’s death toll is greater.

In the UK, the killing of Trooper Lee Rigby was uniquely horrific because of the targeted, mechanical quality of the murder.

There’s little new in this approach, particularly the massacre of captives and the method of beheading for the purposes of terrorisation. The American journalist Daniel Pearl was beheaded in Pakistan in 2002, the American businessman Nick Berg in Iraq in 2004, and several others thereafter.

Does all this actually work?

It can. But there are two ways in which a strategy of brutality can backfire, as well.

The first is that it can induce your enemies to fight even harder, because surrendering is such an awful option. One academic study showed that the Wehrmacht’s policy of treating Soviet POWs brutally undercut German military effectiveness on the Eastern front. Moreover, the Soviets’ own relative brutality to Germans meant that German soldiers fought harder in Russia than in Normandy. The lesson? IS can make its enemies flee, but it would be a foolish Iraqi unit that surrendered – and the net effect is that the “Islamic State” has to fight all the harder.

The second problem is that IS says it is in the state-building game: creating “the caliphate”. It is out to conquer, not merely to annihilate. But it was precisely such excessive and indiscriminate violence that proved the downfall of IS’s precursor, al-Qaeda in Iraq. Sunni groups, armed and protected by a surge of US forces, turned on the group in the so-called Awakening, expelling it from the same Sunni-majority areas in which it’s now encamped. Although IS initially sought to restrain itself in the places it seized over the first half of this year, its record has been patchy, to put it mildly. Iraqis may be accustomed to being ruled by terror, but it doesn’t mean they like it. The conjoining of local Sunni militia (some of which have previously been in conflict with the USA) to fight IS is happening again now. The West’s attitude – especially given the extremely variable quality of the Iraqi army in contesting ground with IS – is obviously “better the Devil you know”, or, if you like, “the lesser of two evils”.

This is one of the reasons – in addition to the Islamic State’s megalomania – that the group was expelled from al-Qaeda earlier this year. As Osama bin Laden wrote in a letter, pursuing jihad “without exercising caution … would lead us to winning several battles while losing the war”. Thus the modern jihadist’s dilemma: when does a strategy of calibrated terror turn into a self-defeating orgy of violence?

One more factor, however, is especially chilling. It is that IS doesn’t really care if it wins or not, and might even be doing all it can to “lose”. It has been argued that the eschatological “end times” cult actually believes it will be defeated by a coalition of opponents on the fields of Iraq – reduced to 5,000 fighters – but in that moment Jesus Christ will return and defeat the invaders, ushering in the end of the world. Read more in this brilliantly researched article in the Atlantic at What does IS really want?

For the end times to happen, IS needs to suck in as many foreign opponents as possible, by becoming increasingly violent and threatening. But as The Atlantic article says:

… the risks of escalation are enormous. The biggest proponent of an American invasion is the Islamic State itself. The provocative videos, in which a black-hooded executioner addresses President Obama by name, are clearly made to draw America into the fight. An invasion would be a huge propaganda victory for jihadists worldwide: irrespective of whether they have given baya’a to the caliph, they all believe that the United States wants to embark on a modern-day Crusade and kill Muslims. Yet another invasion and occupation would confirm that suspicion, and bolster recruitment. Add the incompetence of our previous efforts as occupiers, and we have reason for reluctance. The rise of ISIS, after all, happened only because our previous occupation created space for Zarqawi and his followers. Who knows the consequences of another botched job?

Acknowledgement: Partly taken from an article by Shashank Joshi, Senior Research Fellow of the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) and a PhD Candidate at Harvard University in the Telegraph newspaper.

A friend challenges me to briefly discuss the difference between communism (as in, it’s a common refrain from the right that all sorts of left wing (or even mildly populist centrist) politicians are just communists, basically, and all sorts of public figures to the right of Ghengis Kahn in our political systems are just, essentially, fascists.

obama_nazi_communist_muslim_peaceWhat’s the difference, huh, pontificator?

Well, this was all started by the way the terms are used by all sides to demonise anyone the protagonists don’t like – most obviously, poor old President Obama, who seems to be one of everything depending on which angle the person doing the criticising is coming from.

So laving aside, for a moment, whether those insulting generalisations, have any meaning, and honing in on the core of the question – what is the difference between communism and fascism? – and the answer is, precious little, looking at history.

But it should immediately be said that most communists believe there has never been a communist society, and there have certainly been fascist ones, so that exemption should be acknowledged.

There is a real difference, though, even between Stalinism, state socialism, Sovietism, Maoism, (or whatever you want to call the regimes that have masqueraded under the title communist), and Fascism.

Fascism has been supported in the past because it protects the rights of the rich industrialists, and in Spain, Italy and Central America, the Roman Catholic Church, as well. (Which is why it has always been so split in half between deeply conservative opinion and “liberation” theology.) In general, fascism did a very poor job of protecting the needs of workers – as they were irrelevant to the programme, and was antithetical to any type of organised labour at all – and this was seen especially so in the rural areas of Spain and Italy, and later throughout South America. Other than in Germany, where it can be argued that materially the workers did quite well under Nazism at least for a while, but that was coming off such a low base that it hardly counts.

But at least sometimes, state socialism has historically been successful at delivering basic needs to many people. Cuba is probably the most obvious success story where literacy rates and free essential healthcare are better, for example, than in the USA.

But it must also be immediately acknowledged that any success has been through the removal of free comment, dissent and freedom of movement, and it has also been responsible for grinding poverty and even starvation, especially in Cambodia, China, Russia and North Korea, where it can further be argued that starvation was used as a shameful article of deliberate public policy.

The worst of the worst.

The worst of the worst.

There is no doubt that the worst mass murderer in history was Mao-Tse-Tung, whose crimes dwarf Hitler’s even, by a factor of at least three or four times.

Stalin was also responsible for maybe as many deaths as Hitler.

Of course, history is written by the victors, and I have heard it argued that the “industrialisation” of horror by Hitler sets him and the Nazis apart from all the other horrible people the 20th century threw up. I am not sure that’s relevant, though the images of the cattle trucks and crematoriums have seared themselves into the West’s collective consciousness, to be sure. Then again, if we had film of hundreds of thousands of those opposing Mao (and some supporting him) being machine-gunned or buried alive, we’d be just as deeply shocked by the ‘industrial scale” of that.

Dead is dead, after all.

We think what links all totalitarians (which is a better word, I think, than any of the names of specific movements) is that they essentially do not care genuinely about the rights or opinions of the governed, or they are prepared to discard them lightly, and they enact laws, and create situations, where the people governed have no recourse against the Government, whatever that Government is called. The move from a pre-fascist to a fascist state can then be accomplished virtually overnight, and often with a veneer of legality, as in Germany in 1933.

So is there any sense in which totalitarianism is still relevant to modern Western countries? Aren’t we past all that?

In our carefully-considered view, there are many in position of great power in America that have no regard for the rights of the Governed at all.

They are headed by industrialists like the Koch’s, (and there are many others), but they also include many of the multi-headed hydra-like organisations that continually denigrate the role of government per se, and lead people who are ill-educated to question the core principles of democracy.

By our observation, there is little doubt that these people are almost entirely on the right – often the far right – and they have, as a plan, the deliberate takeover of the Republicans as their stalking horses for the gutting and enfeebling of American democracy.dollar

They also flood the Democratic Party with money through more carefully concealed channels, in order to corrupt the system entirely.

Which is one reason their encroachment on the civil state rarely excites any attention from legislators.

He who pays the piper plays the tune.

TNY_electioncosts_optIn our view, until thorough finance reform is enacted, (and we don’t believe it will be), then the people cannot take back control of their republic, and that is why we believe America to be, quite genuinely, in a pre-fascist or neo-fascist state, and one that any thinking American should be utterly committed to resisting.

In short, we are deeply pessimistic about America’s future.

A final cataclysm could be triggered by the deliberate engineering of a legislative log-jam combined with a stock market collapse, very possibly based around a debt default, which would be equally engineered. Artificially creating concern about economic performance, or actually precipitating a collapse in economic performance, is a classic last-stage fascist tactic.

In our considered opinion, Democracy itself is under threat in many places in the world, but nowhere more obviously than in the United States, and we see little or no determination in America to face it, living in the bubble, as Americans so often are, of the oft-repeated nonsense that they are “the best country in the world”.

In many ways, and laudably, America is wonderful – but it is also very badly served by the continual lie that it is incapable of being improved or cannot learn form the opinions and experiences of those overseas.

fcWhere one sees it repeated parrot-fashion by an increasingly right-wing media, interpolated subtly into popular debate, into foreign news coverage, even into sports coverage, it is very easy to also see it as “Go to sleep. Go to sleeeeep. Everything’s OK, go to sleeeeeeeeeeep.”

Bread and circuses for everybody, and if you don’t think that’s enough, well, you must be an intellectual pinko Commie bastard.

And incidentally, the increased militarisation of police, and more significantly the constant excusing of excessive police force, incident by incident, is just one more very obvious precursor to fascism. The casual and growing acceptance that it is OK to harass and jail whistleblowers, or even to kill US citizens deemed to be a threat without trial, on American soil or overseas, are other indicators.

Well, Sleepers Awake! we say, before you wake up one morning and find Democracy has become little more than a sham, and your freedom to discuss it or to do anything meaningful about it has been stripped from you. We all need to understand that fascism works by taking over public institutions and making them its own, NOT by abolishing them. A semblance of Democracy is not the same thing as Democracy.

America will always have a Congress and a Senate. It will always have State Legislations. You’ll still elect the local Sheriff and Judge. That doesn’t mean they will always respond to voters, and can’t be entirely under the purview of the shadowy paymasters who really pull the strings.

You have been warned.

Further reading:


The latest utter drivel coming from the right in America is that they’re going to impeach Obama for using (well, threatening to use, anyhow, and he probably will) an Executive Order to break the (Republican organised) log-jam on Immigration.

Now, we don’t wish to comment on American immigration policy – too complicated from this distance, and we have enough problems with our own in Australia – but we sure as hell feel able to comment on the idiots who think he should be impeached.

Can you see the difference between Obama and these enthusiastic users of Executive Orders? There are two essential differences.

exec order

Yes, we think you spotted the two differences pretty quickly didn’t you?

Given the staggeringly low level of achievement of both the House of Reps and the Senate since Obama came to the Oval office, and the GOP’s deliberate and unashamed obstructionism which looks set to get even worse, we suggest that #uppittydemocratniggerwhoinsistsonfuckingdoingstuff just about explains the current impeachment push.

And just for the record, in case any of our Republican readers don’t do big three-digit figures, Obama has used Executive Orders less than any of the others except Lincoln.

Frankly, if the hard-right GOP continue to eschew any attempts to create any bipartisan agreement, then we’re hopeful that Obama just presses on and gives the Republicans the regular whacking they so richly deserve. He has been altogether far too polite and reserved with them thus far for our liking. It’s time to give these Tea-Party-led-by-the-nose numpties a lesson in Government. Which is not the same, please note, as Opposition.

In doing so, he’ll give his own party and supporters something to cheer, too. Which they need.

An exceptionally well-researched piece of work by AP and Rachel Maddow which you can read here goes even further than our irritated rant. It points our that at least three former Republican Presidents used exactly this sort of action to grant – yes, you’ve guessed it – protection to illegal immigrants living in the USA, when Congress couldn’t get it’s shit together.

Bizarre. Bring it on, we say.


Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott (L), and Australian Health Minister Peter Dutton (R) during a press conference in Sydney, Australia, 5 November 2014.


As we have pointed out before, Australia has been slow and mealy-mouthed in sending aid/health workers to try and control the Ebola outbreak at source.

Yet even now some small move has been made, as PM Abbott and Health Minister Dutton have been dragged kicking and screaming to the table, people around the world, and indeed at home, could be forgiven for being a little confused about Australia’s response to the Ebola crisis.

The government has been sending out somewhat mixed signals over what help it can offer, as is now pointed out for the world to read on the front page of the BBC website in the UK. Nice.

First, the Abbott government refused to send any official medical or military personnel to West Africa, a decision for which he was widely criticised on this blog, inside Australia, and overseas, at the same time as President Barack Obama was saying the US should be encouraging health workers to volunteer to go to the frontline.

Mr Abbott has now bowed to pressure and announced Australia will be contributing A$20m (£11m; $17m) to help fund a British Ebola response clinic being set up in Sierra Leone. However, the prime minister has been vague about who will be staffing it.

The Australian side of the operation has been contracted out to the private health provider Aspen Medical and Abbott suggested most of the staff would be recruited locally, but contradictorily health officials in Sierra Leone have said the principal thing they are lacking is qualified local doctors.

Meanwhile, the managing director of Aspen Medical, Glenn Keys, has said around 350 Australians have registered with the company to go and help.

What is clear is that the prime minister is sticking by his line that no government medical teams or military personnel will be dispatched.

Mr Abbott said the decision to contract in Aspen had been reached after Britain agreed to treat any Australians who become infected while in West Africa, something the Australian leader had said was his principal concern.

It’s now emerged though, that the European Union had already made a similar offer to treat Australian staff that Mr Abbott had rejected.


How many innocent lives could Australian workers have saved in the last few weeks? We will never know.

How many innocent lives could Australian workers have saved in the last few weeks? We will never know.


Yet the media in Australia have been perfectly silent in asking him “Why?”, and still are. Especially as the end result is Australia’s response has looked very tardy and been delayed by crucial weeks. Meanwhile the poor of West Africa continue to face death rates from Ebola of up to 90% of all those infected.

Add to that the strong criticism Australia has faced after it became the first developed country to ban the issuing of visas to anyone from Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia. The Sierra Leonean government called the move “discriminatory” and “counter-productive” suggesting it created a climate of panic.

As the BBC say, anyone who’s visited Australia will know they take a tough line on bio-security. There are strict rules about bringing in food products due to fears of bringing in disease.

But given that only a handful of people have been tested for suspected Ebola in Australia and all have tested negative, the government here risks being accused of showing a lack of compassion in the eyes of many around the world.

What is more important is that if this outbreak is not stopped AT SOURCE, and somehow transmits itself into other poor areas of the world with bad sanitation and inadequate health services – the rest of Africa, India, Pakistan, Central and Southern America, great swathes of South East Asia, even China – then we would be looking at an Armageddon scenario. In the face of which, Abbott and Dutton looked nothing more nor less like rabbits stuck in the headlights. So much for “strong leadership”, eh?

obama in churchMeanwhile, the political and media beat up worldwide on the outbreak has continued, with near hysteria levels, in the USA in particular.

A couple of weeks back we predicted that there wouldn’t be another Ebola case in the USA in the next seven days. It’s now 14 and counting.

But has the fever of commentary died down? Hardly. And why is so annoyingly obvious. The Republicans knew that by making Obama look “weak” on Ebola, by terrifying the population, in simple terms, then they would hurt the Democrats. And so they did, as seen in their “wave” of wins in the mid-terms on Tuesday just gone.

In fact, as is widely acknowledged, Obama’s response has been a small miracle of intelligent healthcare policy.

That he has not received the credit for acting smartly, promptly and effectively – not just in the USA, but in West Africa – is truly sickening.


If only he WAS going to be flying one of the jets, Abbott might not be quite so enthusiastic.

In the last couple of weeks, we have watched dismayed as Australia has become perhaps the most gung ho of all the world’s nations waiting to wade in and “stop” IS – the so-called Islamic “State”.

Let there be no mistake – we also think these appalling thugs need expunging from the world, and as soon as practicable.

But we are alarmed and worried by the enthusiasm with which the Australian government – especially Prime Minister Tony Abbott and Foreign Minister Julie Bishop – have not just fallen in lock-step with our Western allies. but have been seen to be stoking the fires of conflict with a triumphalist air that amounts to “Look at us, we’re strong leaders, and you want strong leaders, right?”

We are undoubtedly already seeing the first signs of a deeply unpopular government using the conflict to bolster its electoral fortunes – a so-called “khaki election” looms – and given that our bravura chest-beating almost certainly increases the likelihood of a terrorist attack against Australians, that’s a very risky card to play. Nevertheless, for a Prime Minister with a Government that has proven itself both tone-deaf and gaffe-laden, the conflict with IS is the gift that keeps on giving. “Hey! Let’s all stop worrying about Medicare co-payments and go BOMB something, already!”

This rhetorical style has been echoed to a lesser extent by Cameron in the UK and the Republicans in America, especially the surely past-pensionable John McCain, but much less so by a carefully-nuanced President Obama. It’s almost as if Barack phoned Tony and Dave and said “Ramp it up a bit, will ya, cobbers? We’re a bit bruised over here and I have to be a more laid back.” Surely not?

There’s no question that IS are pretty much the worst of the worst going round at the moment, but let us be absolutely clear what their murderous public tactics are designed to achieve. These are people playing a long game, who have no respect or care for their own lives or for others. They are trying to drag the democratic West, against which they have a visceral, systemic hatred, into a seemingly endless conflict in a war zone where the alliances and influences shift weekly, and where the sectarian divisions are about as deep as it is possible to find them. It’s virtually impossible to “pick winners” in this environment, because this week’s ally is last week’s mortal enemy. As even Abbott himself once presciently remarked about Syria, “it’s a choice between baddies and baddies”.

We have already seen America co-operating with Iran and Russia to attack IS – both countries currently under sanctions and blockades from the West. We have seen America calling openly for Iran to aid in the fight against IS, despite the fact that they already are, a call that has been rejected by the top Ayotollah, despite the fact that this is exactly what they are already doing.

We have moved from being a day away from air strikes against Assad in Syria (thankfully averted when it became clear that the gas attacks on the Syrian public were probably carried out by rebels, and perhaps that the White House knew that all along, and even allegedly that the rebels were deliberately encouraged to do so, under Western guidance) to now cautiously needing to support him against IS, which will lead to the partial abandonment of the non-extremist Syrian opposition, or what may be even more bizarre, the joining of Assad with his former enemies to create a newly viable Syrian state to defeat the IS and Al Nusra insurgents.

How anyone is supposed to conduct a sane rational policy in this environment is beyond us. It’s a floating, shifting miasma of shifting lines, and we see no end to it. We are reasonably sure, though, that bellicose trumpeting is the least helpful thing we can do, especially as we have no idea how that plays amongst the general public in the contested regions.

What IS knows is that in this confused environment, mistakes can and will happen. IS and their backers know that the first time a bunker buster hits a school in Mosul there will be a flood of worldwide sympathy from both within the Sunni Muslim community and without it, and there’ll be a fresh rash of recruits flooding to a simpler, less complex view of the world than that offered by democracy. The angst and confusion created by the Israeli bombardment of Gaza will be seen to be just a shadow of what’s going to happen in northern Iraq and parts of Syria. Indeed, the mistakes (and concomitant slaughter of innocent civilians) are already happening, even if they’re not being widely reported in mainstream media.

Is there any question Bishop sees this as her chance to leap Malcom Turnbull and become Abbott's obvious replacement? We think not. Mind you, if we could win wars just with her "death stare", we'd be home and hosed. She scares the hell out of us, wonder what she does to IS?

Is there any question Bishop sees this conflict – and that with Russia in the Ukraine – as her chance to leap Turnbull and become Abbott’s most obvious replacement? We think not. Mind you, if we could win wars just with her “death stare”, we’d be home and hosed. She scares the hell out of us, wonder what she does to IS?

But that’s only the half of it. We cannot deploy hundreds of Australian troops (and thousands of Americans) plus people from all parts of the globe, and not expect some of them to fall into IS hands.

If we see that the road to war has been greased by the appalling executions of journalists and aid workers, not to mention the mass slaughter of civilians, Peshmerga and Iraqi army fighters, then imagine what will happen the first time video is released of a clean-cut Aussie or Yank fighter pilot or special forces hero having his head clumsily sawn off for the camera.

The calls for “boots on the ground” would surely become irresistible, especially if a newly-bolstered Iraqi army makes no discernible progress in recapturing rebel-held areas, or in forming a more broadly based Government capable of yoiking together Sunni and Shia in a workable state.

Having failed once to pacify Iraq, there is little doubt that we are very close to being dragged into the same maelstrom again, with a side serve of Syria and for all we know Lebanon and God knows where else as as well. We do not purport to know what the answer is – although one thing we cannot understand is why the Arab states, who are at least as much at risk from IS as anyone else, especially Saudi Arabia, cannot be prevailed upon to play a much more intrinsic role – perhaps they are so aware of the powder keg many of them sit upon that they dare not risk enraging them by sending ground troops to attack the Sunni IS as 85-90% of Saudis are Sunni – but as a start we could at least begin by not looking so goddamned happy to be heading off to war again.

We are not alone in our caution, which frankly borders on despair. This excellent opinion piece by experienced Middle East hand Paul McGeogh in the Sydney Morning Herald deserves to be widely read. His neat skewering of the lack of Arab co-operation, the unseemly rush to attack and the lack of an exit strategy (yet again) is spot on, and echoes our own concerns.

war sheepIt seems to us that only those who have actually fought wars show real reluctance to engage in them again. That is rarely politicians, especially those who have spent their entirely career crawling slowly up the political ladder.

Having seen the slaughter of innocents, the gore, the messy incompleteness of most military solutions, military men are almost invariably more cautious before setting off to the trenches once more.

But politicians revel in the limelight. It’s that set jaw, that gleam in the eye, the grimly-expressed determination. Not a hint of doubt, or worry, or regret. Nothing is allowed to ruffle their seeming purposefulness.

The prelude to war always looks to us like people with their egos way out of control about to play roulette with other people’s lives, and right now, it sure as hell looks that way again.

obamaIt is easy to be cynical about our politicians, and especially about those from parties or causes which we do not support. But sometimes, events conspire to show us the human being behind the facade, the empathy of a husband and a father rather than the dignity of a President.

We could but wish we saw this side of Barack Obama a little more often.

This is an excerpt from the book, The President’s Devotional by Joshua Dubois, the former head of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships.

He’s recounting the Sunday, two days after the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School. He had gotten word the day before that the President wanted to meet with the families of the victims.

I left early to help the advance team — the hardworking folks who handle logistics for every event — set things up, and I arrived at the local high school where the meetings and memorial service would take place. We prepared seven or eight classrooms for the families of the slain children and teachers, two or three families to a classroom, placing water and tissues and snacks in each one. Honestly, we didn’t know how to prepare; it was the best we could think of.The families came in and gathered together, room by room. Many struggled to offer a weak smile when we whispered, “The president will be here soon.” A few were visibly angry — so understandable that it barely needs to be said — and were looking for someone, anyone, to blame. Mostly they sat in silence.

I went downstairs to greet President Obama when he arrived, and I provided an overview of the situation. “Two families per classroom . . . The first is  . . .  and their child was . . . The second is . . .  and their child was  . . .  We’ll tell you the rest as you go.”

The president took a deep breath and steeled himself, and went into the first classroom. And what happened next I’ll never forget.

Person after person received an engulfing hug from our commander in chief. He’d say, “Tell me about your son . . . Tell me about your daughter,” and then hold pictures of the lost beloved as their parents described favorite foods, television shows, and the sound of their laughter. For the younger siblings of those who had passed away—many of them two, three, or four years old, too young to understand it all—the president would grab them and toss them, laughing, up into the air, and then hand them a box of White House M&M’s, which were always kept close at hand. In each room, I saw his eyes water, but he did not break.

And then the entire scene would repeat — for hours. Over and over and over again, through well over a hundred relatives of the fallen, each one equally broken, wrecked by the loss. After each classroom, we would go back into those fluorescent hallways and walk through the names of the coming families, and then the president would dive back in, like a soldier returning to a tour of duty in a worthy but wearing war. We spent what felt like a lifetime in those classrooms, and every single person received the same tender treatment. The same hugs. The same looks, directly in their eyes. The same sincere offer of support and prayer.

The staff did the preparation work, but the comfort and healing were all on President Obama. I remember worrying about the toll it was taking on him. And of course, even a president’s comfort was woefully inadequate for these families in the face of this particularly unspeakable loss. But it became some small measure of love, on a weekend when evil reigned.

Edward SnowdenThe Russian lawyer of Edward Snowden said Tuesday that the fugitive US intelligence leaker has feared for his life since reading of explicit threats against him by unnamed Pentagon officials.

“There are real threats to his life out there that actually do exist,” Snowden’s lawyer Anatoly Kucherena told Russia’s state-run Vesti 24 rolling news channel.

“These statements call for physical reprisal against Edward Snowden,” Kucherena said.

The former National Security Agency contractor is wanted by US authorities on treason charges for disclosing details of a vast Washington intelligence operation that monitored millions of phone calls and emails across the world.

Snowden received temporary asylum in Russia in August – a move that infuriated the United States and was a key factor behind President Barack Obama’s decision to cancel a summit with Russia’s Vladimir Putin last year.

The 30-year-old has remained in hiding but is believed to be living in the Moscow area and learning Russian. Kucherena recently said that Snowden has also been working from home as an IT adviser for a major local website.

The Russian lawyer on Tuesday appeared to be referring to an article posted last week by the popular US online website BuzzFeed entitled “American Spies Want Edward Snowden Dead”.

The article quoted one Pentagon official as saying: “I would love to put a bullet in his head.”

“In a world where I would not be restricted from killing an American, I personally would go and kill him myself,” a current NSA analyst was further quoted as saying.

Widely considered a whistle-blowing hero by many, Kucherena said Snowden is constantly accompanied by security guards and is considering additional security measures.

“Edward is treating these as real threats to his life and wellbeing,” the Russian lawyer said. “Today, it might not be enough to have private guards.”

Kucherena added that he planned to ask US authorities to look into the publications and possibly ask the media outlets to identify their sources by name.

“We think that the US government must take note of such statements,” the lawyer said. “The people who make extremist statements do so while wearing a mask = they do not reveal their identities. We will ask for these people’s masks to come off. We must know who this NSA officer is, who issues orders about ways to eliminate Edward Snowden.”

Snowden’s legacy has been mixed in the United States.

Ironically, it has prompted Obama to announce a review of intelligence practises last week that included an end to the highly controversial monitoring of calls of leaders of allied nations – except for special cases.

The revelation that the NSA had tapped the mobile of German Chancellor Angela Merkel proved especially embarrassing for Obama due to the strength of their relationship and Germany’s importance to the United States.

Influential US publications such as The New York Times and in the UK the Guardian have added to the debate by suggesting that Snowden be either offered amnesty or a plea bargain allowing his safe return home.

The fugitive’s lawyer said Snowden was especially concerned by comments from a US Army intelligence officer that outlined a specific scenario under which the leaker could be discreetly poisoned.

The unnamed army officer told BuzzFeed that Snowden could be “poked” on his way home from buying groceries by a passerby who is actually a US agent.

Snowden “thinks nothing of it at the time (and soon) starts to feel a little woozy,” the US intelligence officer is quoted as saying.

“And the next thing you know he dies in the shower.”

Kucherena said he did not think the US Army officer’s statement was “a simply tongue-and-cheek remark for the media”.

“Such statements, of course, Edward treats as a real threat to his life because he lives a normal life and visits stores and goes outside,” Kucherena said.

(AFP and others)








Ah well, that’s all just a bit of fun.

Or is it?

Impressive, and appropriate.


Infowars is hardly a universally accepted or reliable source of rumours or news, but the assertion that Obama has been warned by ex CIA and FBI operatives that the infamous Syrian sarin attack was, indeed, carried out by rebels as a false flag attack is a new one. We’d very much like to see the story properly sourced …

We are on record as saying that we cannot understand why on earth Assad would use gas on his own people, thus ensuring Western intervention that would tip the balance in favour of the opposition.

That this was a “false flag” attack was always, of course, a possibility. And if it turns out to have been so, then external powers will rush to deny involvement. The story will be blamed on rogue elements in the Syrian opposition.

However, if Obama still proceeds to attack Syria (if talks fail to deal with the gas stockpiles, for example) and it is later shown he was warned that the intelligence he was acting upon was false – and that intelligence then is then duly shown to be false – then that will surely be the end of Obama.

Little wonder his apparent enthusiasm for a cruise missile attack on Syria seems to wane daily.

Meanwhile, we seem as far as ever from a solution to the overall crisis.


Against continuing denials by the Assad regime that they were responsible for the recent sarin gas attack, Secretary of State John Kerry says the U.N. General Assembly should move swiftly to approve a U.S.-Russia deal to eliminate Syria’s chemical weapons, saying that there is no time to argue with those who are remain unconvinced that Syrian President Bashar Assad’s government carried out a chemical attack last month.

Speaking Thursday at the State Department, Kerry didn’t mention Russian President Vladimir Putin, but his remarks were a clear attempt to rebut Putin’s statement that Russia has strong ground to believe that Syrian rebels – not Assad – were responsible for the attack.

Putin, however, says the perpetrators relied on “primitive” technology using old Soviet-made ammunition no longer in the Syrian army’s inventory.

Kerry says the U.S. believes a report by U.N. inspectors proves Assad conducted the attack. However, he also insists that the rebels do not have access to sarin, despite known evidence to the contrary. (See the third link below.)

Related articles

Deep, deep concerns about the wisdom of this course of action - the least the powers that be could do is show us the evidence.

Deep, deep concerns about the wisdom of this course of action – the least the powers that be could do is show us the evidence.

With his “red line” commitment, and the likely imminent bombing of Syria, Obama may have committed the worst blunder of what has in many ways been a Presidency mired in lost opportunities and disappointment.

When all’s said and done, it was never likely that Obama’s incumbency would reach the height of expectation generated by his first election victory.

And the economic crisis he had to deal with – and which he handled with some aplomb despite the criticism of an ornery Congress and the rabid right in America – dominated his first term.

Yet as we go along, there were also worrying signs that Obama lacks any genuine understanding of his role as a centre-left reformer on vital civil liberties issues.

He didn’t close Guantanamo as he promised to – but why? Was there ever any real doubt that Guantanamo inmates could be housed humanely and safely in America? No.

Just one of the many blight's on Obama's record as a small "d" democrat,

Just one of the many blights on Obama’s record as a small “d” democrat.

After years of incarceration, he has not released Guantanamo inmates who have been shown by any reasonable standard, including the opinion of the Administration, to be innocent of any crime. And trials of those considered guilty seem endlessly delayed.

Guilty as hell they might be, but justice delayed is justice denied, no matter who the defendant is.

He has not intervened to pardon whistleblower Bradley Manning, a principled if somewhat naive young person who many consider a hero.

He has argued it is acceptable for the Administration to kill US citizens without trial, via drone strikes, even within the USA’s borders if necessary. (You can’t even lock people up without trial, but you can execute them, apparently.)

For all his posturing, he has failed to act effectively on gun control.

He has done nothing to persuade states to drop the death penalty, nor has he intervened in cases where it is patently obvious that the soon-to-be-executed prisoner is innocent.

Troy Davis, just one of many executions against which there was serious disquiet, where Obama could have intervened, but didn't.

Troy Davis, just one of many executions against which there was serious disquiet, where Obama could have intervened, but didn’t.

He has continued – indeed, increased – drone strikes in countries nominally allied to the USA, despite their counter-productive effect on local opinion.

And now, faced with worldwide concern that we might be about to slip into a morass from which our exit is entirely uncertain, he seems determined to bomb the hell out of Damascus.

Current plans involve nearly 200 cruise missiles being dropped on the poor, benighted citizens of that beleaguered city.

(And that doesn’t count the payload of war planes that were yesterday landing at a rate of one every minute in Malta, according to one correspondent we have.)

One of our more popular t-shirts. You might check out this one, and others, at

One of our more popular t-shirts. You might check out this one, and others, at

Large scale civilian casualties will be brushed off by everyone as “sad but inevitable” except, of course, by the vast majority of the Arab and mid-East populace, already instinctive opponents of America, who will become, without doubt, angrier at the US and the West than ever, whatever they think of Assad.

Meanwhile, rumours continue to swirl unabated that the gas attack in the city was nothing to do with the regime, and could even have been an appalling accident from stocks held by rebel forces.

The US claims to have evidence of rockets being prepared with gas by the regime, but as this article argues, then why on earth not release that evidence?

We also have previous evidence that Syrian rebels have used gas themselves.

We have the persistent assertion that neo-cons have been planning to use Syria as just one more stepping stone to Mid-East hegemony, and that current alarums are just part of a long-range plan to hop into Syria on the way to Iran, as disclosed by retired general Wesley Clarke, presumably to depose the theocratic Islamic regime and grab the Iranian oilfields at the same time.

The fog generated by the secret state also makes it completely impossible to discern what was really going on when the Daily Mail first printed, then retracted as libellous (paying damages), an article about a British defence contractor revealing plans for a false flag gas attack on Syria.

So now, on the brink of war, we have the Obama government refusing to release all the facts that it is showing to members of Congress.

We can only ask “Why?”

If the case against the Assad regime stacks up, then the world – especially those in the mid East – need to know it before any action takes place. So does the UN, whether or not the Security Council can be persuaded to unanimity. (Extremely unlikely.) Because after Damascus is reduced to a smoking ruin will be too late to save the West’s credibility if it acts prematurely, or without irrefutable evidence.

And forgive us, but politicians reassuring us that the evidence is irrefutable just doesn’t cut it any more.

The continual accusation that something murky is going on will bedevil Obama unless this whole situation is conducted with total transparency. Memories of the “sexed up” dossier that led to the bloody war in Iraq (casualties 500,000 and counting) are still raw and fresh.

If he cares less about his legacy, Obama would do well to observe how Bush’s and Blair’s reputations have been forever trashed by that event. The tags “aggressors” and “war criminals” will follow them to their grave and beyond.

Why not simply release all the evidence, publicly. Why? That's what you have to tell us.

Why not simply release all the evidence, publicly. Why? That’s what you have to tell us.

As far as Wellthisiswhatithink is concerned, one piece of commonsense reasoning stands out for us above all others, fundamentally requiring an answer.

Obama had issued his red line warning. Why, in the name of all that is sensible, would Assad risk bringing down the wrath of Nato on his head by flinging chemical weapons at a relatively unimportant residential suburb, knowing full well what the response would be?

The war in Syria is a stalemate, his regime has suffered some losses but also some gains, and there is no evidence his personal grip on power was threatened. Why would this turkey vote for Christmas?

On the other hand, if a rogue Syrian officer wanted to aid the rebel cause, then what better way than to launch an attack which was guaranteed to provoke the West’s intervention, and possibly tip the scales emphatically in the rebel’s direction, something they seem unable to achieve for themselves?

As we contemplate the utter and ultimately murderous failure of diplomacy, we feel constrained to point out that the West – and all the other players like Russia – had a simple solution to the Syrian conflict available on the 23rd December 2011, while casualties were still horrific but minimal (just over 6,000), and before another civilian population had been utterly torn apart and traumatised.

Instead of standing back and doing nothing except chucking verbal rocks, Putin could be part of the solution. Nu-uh. Not so far.

Instead of standing back and doing nothing except chucking verbal rocks, Putin could be part of the solution. Nu-uh. Not so far.

We offered it in an article that explained patiently that there cannot be a solution to the Syrian crisis unless the leaders of the Baa’thist regime are offered a safe haven somewhere (either Russia or Iran, in all likelihood) and also pointed that we would need to keep the bulk of the civil administration in place even after a handover to the Syrian opposition, in order to prevent a complete breakdown in civil society as occurred in Iraq. And, of course, to prevent handing over power to the appalling al-Qaeda forces that were swarming into the conflict on the rebel side.

Now, thanks either to the complete ineptitude of Western politicians, or due to some hazy conspiracy the details of which we cannot clearly discern, we have the ultimate disaster on our hands.

One hundred thousand men, women and children who are NOT combatants are dead, and countless others injured.

Assad is weakened but has no way out.

The Opposition is in thrall to murderous savages that cut the heads off innocent people with pocket knives and shoot soldiers captured on the battlefront.

And we are about to waste hundreds of millions of dollars that we don’t have “taking out” Syrian chemical weapons stockpiles which, in reality, means taking out civilian neighbourhoods with yet more horrendous losses while the Syrian Government squirrel any WMDs they do have deep underground where they can’t be found, let alone bombed.

As the new Australian Prime minister Tony Abbott presciently remarked a few days ago, our choice in Syria is really between “baddies and baddies”.

Not exactly the brightest intellectual star in the political sky, for once Abbott's common touch pitched it about right.

Not exactly the brightest intellectual star in the political sky, for once Abbott’s common touch pitched it about right.

He was criticised for dismissing the conflict so colloquially, but frankly we think he deserves to be applauded for putting it so simply. We may well be about to intervene on behalf of one baddie, when the other baddie is at least as bad, if not worse.

And we do not refer, of course, to the principled, secular and democratic Syrian opposition that has bravely argued for regime change for a generation, but for the lunatics who would hijack their cause in the chaos.

And we are not even allowed to see the evidence for the upcoming attack. We repeat: why?

So much for democracy. So much for humanity. So much for truth and justice. Meanwhile, let’s feed the population bread and circuses – a steady diet of game shows, reality TV and talent quests, with some sport thrown in – let us anaesthetise our sensibilities to the hideous nature of what is about to happen – while the real powers behind the throne seemingly effortlessly manoeuvre public opinion in a relentless search for power, personal wealth and to justify corporate greed.

Frankly, always more of a fan of the cock-up theory of public administration (that anything that can go wrong, will go wrong) we are actually beginning to sense that the shadow state is more real than any of us beyond the wildest conspiracy theorists ever truly imagined.

And we are also so very grateful that we do not live in a country with major oil fields.

His administration decided that it was better to let gas attacks continue if they might turn the tide of the war against Iran. And even if they were discovered, the CIA wagered that international outrage and condemnation would be muted. How times change, huh?

Declassified CIA reports reveal that his administration decided that it was better to let gas attacks continue if they might turn the tide of the war against Iran. And even if they were discovered, the CIA wagered that international outrage and condemnation would be muted. How times change, huh?

Last but by no means least: how do you like the hypocrisy of flattening Syria for theoretically using chemical weapons – although we are not allowed to see the proof – that actually might well have made their way to Assad via Saddam Hussein, that were originally cheerfully supplied to him by America, to chuck at Iranian troops in the Iraq-Iran war?

That’s when Saddam was still our good ol’ buddy, remember. Before he got a bit uppity.

Those weapons – which the dictator was actively urged to use by America backed up by American supplied intelligence – killed tens of thousands – if not hundreds of thousands – of people.

But that’d be wrong, right?

Sorry, my brain hurts.

I mean, I only ask, you know, given that he’s now going to jail for thirty five years.


210px-Bradley_Manning_US_ArmyAnd if you liked knowing that your Government was shooting children on your behalf, or abusing so-called friendly Governments in diplomatic cables, or had been caught out lying to you – I mean you might not have LIKED knowing that, but you’d rather know, right? – then what have you done so far to get this whistleblower out of jail?

If you want a good overview of what Manning leaked, click here:

Remember, he’s going to jail for thirty five years because the US Government, and Governments around the world, think YOU should not know what they’re up to. Not Al Qaeda, or any other nasty. Because it’s been conceded that not one single American asset or serviceman has been harmed as a result of Wikileaks. Plenty of Government embarrassment: no danger.

No: they simply don’t want YOU to know what’s going on.

For a free society to work, for Government to be held to a decent moral standard, for us to make informed decisions about who and what we support, we NEED whistleblowers. We need Bradley Manning.

Official photographic portrait of US President...

I see his lawyers are now going to plead with Obama for a pardon. If ever Obama had a chance to show that he is not just some dyed-in-the-wool conservative like those he pretends to oppose across the aisle, this is it.

I will not be holding my breath, however, as this President shows every sign of becoming more authoritarian by the day. But we are watching, Mr President. We are watching.

Today is a very, very sad day for freedom. Today, we slipped a little further down the slope.

Speak up, world.

Related articles

I am perpetually in amazement at the comments that come out of the extreme right in America. Please note, I say the extreme right. There is still a right in America that is thoughtful, responsible, and decent. Just. I dread to think what could happen, though, were some of these utter wing-nuts to acheive real power, both in internal and external US policy.

Anyhow, before I hyper-ventilate, this article on the Rachel Maddow blog came across our desk. Un-fuc*ing-believable.


Rp. Mike Kelly. The only problem with political jokes is that they frequently get elected.

Rp. Mike Kelly. The only problem with political jokes is that they frequently get elected.

When it comes to rhetorical excesses, Rep. Mike Kelly (R-Pa.) is perhaps best known for his comments a year ago, when he said an administrative decision treating contraception access as preventive health care was comparable to 9/11 and the attack on Pearl Harbor.

Late last week, however, Kelly launched into another ugly diatribe, insisting that President Obama “divides” Americans “on race.”

The far-right congressman did not offer specific or substantive points to bolster the accusation, but added, “Listen, I’ll tell you what: It’s self-evident. I don’t know if people who aren’t reading or not watching, maybe, don’t have the same opinion, but I think it’s pretty obvious where we’re going with some of this stuff.”

I don’t know what “stuff” is disturbing Kelly, but when it comes to racial divisions, the evidence doesn’t exactly point in the president’s direction (via Perry Stein).

Hundreds of protesters wielded signs, chanted slogans and argued with each other Tuesday outside Desert Vista High School in Phoenix, while President Barack Obama spoke about housing and the economy inside. […]

Racially-charged sentiment infused the protests and split the crowd both politically and physically…. Obama foes at one point sang, “Bye Bye Black Sheep,” a derogatory reference to the president’s skin color, while protesters like Deanne Bartram raised a sign saying, “Impeach the Half-White Muslim!”

President Obama in Arizona, Tuesday

President Obama in Arizona, Tuesday

One University of Arizona student said the president:

“Needs to go back to where he came from,” adding, “I am not a racist.”

(Er … that’d be Hawaii. Ed.)

Another protestor shouted, in reference to the president:

“He’s 47 percent Negro.”

Yet another whined about Obama:

“He’s divided all the races. I hate him for that.”

Oh for heaven’s sake …

With all due respect, it's President Obama, not King Barack, Sir.

With all due respect, it’s President Obama, not King Barack, Sir.

Ridiculously hyperbolic headline? We think not.

This fascinating Wall Street Journal article – riveting, for democrats everywhere – by a leading American jurist – again points out the worrying trend in Obama’s thinking that he is the ultimate arbiter of the law, which is discardable when it interrupts his policy agenda.

This is just the latest in a long series of over-steppings: the asserted right to kill American citizens without trial when they are engaged in terrorist activity (allegedly), the continued incarceration of detainees in Guantanamo who have been cleared of any wrongdoing, (let alone the fact it js still open anyway), the public crucifixion of Bradley Manning, the current confected fury over Edward Snowden, and the more mundane examples quoted in the article.

This latest move by Obama will neither upset left or right – the left will see it as a minor issue, the right will laud the relief to business – but as the article so appositely argues, if it is allowed to go unchallenged, it sets an appalling precedent.

In short,the message is “America: wake up”.

The slide to autocracy, by no means limited to Obama, (illegal invasion of Iraq resulting in 500,000 dead, anyone?), but certainly continued by him, carries on unchecked. This might seem a trivial matter in itself, but its implications are not.

I am an avowed Obama supporter, but equally, I feel that uncritical support is essentially un-democratic. Little d, and big D.


President Obama’s decision last week to suspend the employer mandate of the Affordable Care Act may be welcome relief to businesses affected by this provision, but it raises grave concerns about his understanding of the role of the executive in our system of government.

Article II, Section 3, of the Constitution states that the president “shall take Care that the Laws be faithfully executed.” This is a duty, not a discretionary power. While the president does have substantial discretion about how to enforce a law, he has no discretion about whether to do so.

This matter—the limits of executive power—has deep historical roots. During the period of royal absolutism, English monarchs asserted a right to dispense with parliamentary statutes they disliked. King James II’s use of the prerogative was a key grievance that lead to the Glorious Revolution of 1688. The very first provision of the English Bill of Rights of 1689—the most important precursor to the U.S. Constitution—declared that “the pretended power of suspending of laws, or the execution of laws, by regal authority, without consent of parliament, is illegal.”

To make sure that American presidents could not resurrect a similar prerogative, the Framers of the Constitution made the faithful enforcement of the law a constitutional duty.

The Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, which advises the president on legal and constitutional issues, has repeatedly opined that the president may decline to enforce laws he believes are unconstitutional. But these opinions have always insisted that the president has no authority, as one such memo put it in 1990, to “refuse to enforce a statute he opposes for policy reasons.”

Attorneys general under Presidents Carter, Reagan, both Bushes and Clinton all agreed on this point. With the exception of Richard Nixon, whose refusals to spend money appropriated by Congress were struck down by the courts, no prior president has claimed the power to negate a law that is concededly constitutional.

In 1998, the Supreme Court struck down a congressional grant of line-item veto authority to the president to cancel spending items in appropriations. The reason? The only constitutional power the president has to suspend or repeal statutes is to veto a bill or propose new legislation. Writing for the court in Clinton v. City of New York, Justice John Paul Stevens noted: “There is no provision in the Constitution that authorizes the president to enact, to amend, or to repeal statutes.”

The employer mandate in the Affordable Care Act contains no provision allowing the president to suspend, delay or repeal it. Section 1513(d) states in no uncertain terms that “The amendments made by this section shall apply to months beginning after December 31, 2013.” Imagine the outcry if Mitt Romney had been elected president and simply refused to enforce the whole of ObamaCare.

This is not the first time Mr. Obama has suspended the operation of statutes by executive decree, but it is the most barefaced. In June of last year, for example, the administration stopped initiating deportation proceedings against some 800,000 illegal immigrants who came to the U.S. before age 16, lived here at least five years, and met a variety of other criteria. This was after Congress refused to enact the Dream Act, which would have allowed these individuals to stay in accordance with these conditions. Earlier in 2012, the president effectively replaced congressional requirements governing state compliance under the No Child Left Behind Act with new ones crafted by his administration.

The president defended his suspension of the immigration laws as an exercise of prosecutorial discretion. He defended his amending of No Child Left Behind as an exercise of authority in the statute to waive certain requirements. The administration has yet to offer a legal justification for last week’s suspension of the employer mandate.

Republican opponents of ObamaCare might say that the suspension of the employer mandate is such good policy that there’s no need to worry about constitutionality. But if the president can dispense with laws, and parts of laws, when he disagrees with them, the implications for constitutional government are dire.

Democrats too may acquiesce in Mr. Obama’s action, as they have his other aggressive assertions of executive power. Yet what will they say when a Republican president decides that the tax rate on capital gains is a drag on economic growth and instructs the IRS not to enforce it?
And what of immigration reform? Why bother debating the details of a compromise if future presidents will feel free to disregard those parts of the statute that they don’t like?

The courts cannot be counted on to intervene in cases like this. As the Supreme Court recently held in Hollingsworth v. Perry, the same-sex marriage case involving California’s Proposition 8, private citizens do not have standing in court to challenge the executive’s refusal to enforce laws, unless they have a personal stake in the matter.

If a president declines to enforce tax laws, immigration laws, or restrictions on spending—to name a few plausible examples—it is very likely that no one will have standing to sue.

Of all the stretches of executive power Americans have seen in the past few years, the president’s unilateral suspension of statutes may have the most disturbing long-term effects. As the Supreme Court said long ago (Kendall v. United States, 1838), allowing the president to refuse to enforce statutes passed by Congress “would be clothing the president with a power to control the legislation of congress, and paralyze the administration of justice.”

Mr. McConnell, a former judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit, is a professor of law and director of the Constitutional Law Center at Stanford Law School and a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution.

English: Slogan for the support of the persecu...

Slogan for the support of the persecuted American ex-soldier who is claimed to have leaked secret documents to WikiLeaks.

A lot of hoo-hah has been made about whether American whistle-blower Bradley Manning should have released the quantity of cables he did – and what his motivations were, and what the outcomes have been – in what became known as Cablegate or the Wikileaks scandal. I feel it is time Manning’s actions and their consequences – as he approaches 1,000 days in jail without trial, which is a direct contravention of the American constitution – be put in some sort of perspective.

First: did the documents reveal anything new or important?

While some of the revelations in the documents were previously suspected by academics or human rights advocates carefully studying these topics, the documents uncovered many details that were previously unknown.

The documents give American (and world) citizens greater insight into the reasoning behind U.S. foreign policies than they have ever been privy to before. It is one thing to suspect something is occurring, but is another thing to have it confirmed by primary sources in the government.

At the end of April 2011, The Atlantic Wire published a study in which they found that for the first four months of 2011, nearly one-half of New York Times editions cited one or more of the leaked cables in their news stories. Many facts brought forth in the documents are of great significance to those working in the fields of foreign policy and human rights advocacy.

Dead child in Iraq

The civilian dead in Iraq and elsewhere are not mere statistics. They are people. And they are innocent. Thanks to Bradley Manning, we know the American Government knows how many have died.

The leaked documents include information about the following:

1. There is an official policy to ignore torture in Iraq.
2. There is an official tally of civilian deaths in Iraq and Afghanistan.
3. Guantanamo prison has held mostly innocent people and low-level operatives.
4. The State Department authorized the theft of the UN Secretary General’s DNA.
5. The U.S. Government withheld information about the indiscriminate killing of Reuters journalists and
innocent Iraqi civilians.
6. The State Department backed corporate opposition to a Haitian minimum wage law.
7. The U.S. Government had long been faking its public support for Tunisian President Ben Ali.
8. U.S. officials were told to cover up evidence of child abuse by contractors in Afghanistan.
9. The Japanese and U.S. Governments had been warned about the seismic threat at Fukushima.
10. The Obama Administration allowed Yemen’s President to cover up a secret U.S. drone bombing
11. Known Egyptian torturers received training from the FBI in Quantico, Virginia.

I simply ask anyone who believes Bradley Manning should be in prison – which of these didn’t you want to know, or don’t think you have a right to know? Which of these are you too stupid or too irresponsible to know?

Yes, you. You personally.

Let us now consider a few of the other oft-repeated canards about Manning’s action.

Did Bradley Manning endanger lives?

To date, the government has made no allegation that any U.S. soldier, citizen, ally, or informant has been physically injured as a result of the revelations.

Many facts that the leaks brought to light about U.S military actions in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Yemen, for example, were already well known by citizens of those countries, experiencing the reality at their doorstep.

Wikileaks redaction

Wikileaks redaction of the Manning material was so thorough and responsible that to date the US Government has not claimed a single person was harmed by the secret information’s release. Manning is denied the right to enter this fact in his defence, however. Why?

The leaks merely served to inform the American people of aspects of the U.S. governments’ actions abroad that are not frequently covered by domestic mainstream news outlets.

The Iraq War Logs and the Afghan War Diary were comprised of years-old field reports written by combat troops in the midst of battle.

Names of local persons are spelled phonetically in these reports, usually with general descriptions of region or cities.

The majority of these names were redacted (removed/obscured) by WikiLeaks prior to release.

The U.S. State Department has declared that of the non-redacted names, there was not enough identifying information released on any individual to justify taking preventive action.

Meanwhile, scores of U.S. and foreign citizens continue to die on a daily basis in these occupation zones due not to Bradley Manning, but due to the controversial policies that he exposed.

But what about the quantity of material exposed by Manning? It is often asked: wasn’t he just thoroughly irresponsible?

Did Bradley Manning leak documents “indiscriminately”?

PFC Bradley Manning held a Top Secret clearance while working as an army intelligence analyst in Iraq.

Yet the vast majority of documents he is accused of leaking consisted of low-level classified documents – about half of the documents were even “unclassified”. Of those that were classified, most were simply “Confidential.”

About 11,000 documents were “Secret.” None of the released documents were “Top Secret,” the highest classification. Bradley Manning clearly had access to a much larger number of documents than what was leaked.

Disgracefully, in our opinion, President Obama encouraged the perception that Bradley Manning leaked documents indiscriminately when he declared in April, 2011 that Bradley Manning “dumped” information.

He then went on to mistakenly declare that now widely-respected Pentagon Papers whistle-blower Daniel Ellsberg was “different” than Bradley Manning because Ellsberg didn’t release information that was classified in the same way.

The fact is that Ellsberg (who is campaigning for Manning’s release) released “Top Secret” information when he gave information to The New York Times, while Manning is only accused of releasing lower-level classified information.

Daniel Ellsberg has also stated in interviews that alongside critical revelations the Pentagon Papers contained thousands of pages of information of little to no public significance. Like many other whistle-blowers, Ellsberg had to trust media organizations to do some of the sorting of an immense amount of data.

In the online chat logs between Adrian Lamo and Bradley Manning, Manning allegedly describes the documents he was later accused of leaking, along with some reasons why he felt they needed to be public:

Bradley Manning: Hypothetical question: if you had free reign over classified networks for long periods of time… say, 8-9 months… and you saw incredible things, awful things… things that belonged in the public domain, and not on some server stored in a dark room in Washington DC… what would you do?
Bradley Manning: or Guantanamo, Bagram, Bucca, Taji, VBC for that matter…
Bradley Manning: things that would have an impact on 6.7 billion people
Bradley Manning: say… a database of half a million events during the iraq war… from 2004 to 2009… with reports, date time groups, lat-lon locations, casualty figures… ? or 260,000 state department cables from embassies and consulates all over the world, explaining how the first world exploits the third, in detail, from an internal perspective?

Adrian Lamo: What sort of content?
Bradley Manning: Uhm… crazy, almost criminal political backdealings… the non-PR-versions of world events and crises… uhm… all kinds of stuff like everything from the buildup to the Iraq War during Powell, to what the actual content of “aid packages” is: for instance, PR that the US is sending aid to pakistan includes funding for water/food/clothing… that much is true, it includes that, but the other 85% of it is for F-16 fighters and munitions to aid in the Afghanistan effort, so the US can call in Pakistanis to do aerial bombing instead of Americans potentially killing civilians and creating a PR crisis
Bradley Manning: theres so much… it affects everybody on earth… everywhere there’s a US post… there’s a diplomatic scandal that will be revealed … Iceland, the Vatican, Spain, Brazil, Madagascar, if its a country, and its recognized by the US as a country, its got dirt on it

Adrian Lamo: what kind of scandal?
Bradley Manning: hundreds of them
Adrian Lamo: like what? I’m genuinely curious about details.

Bradley Manning: uhmm… the Holy See and its position on the Vatican sex scandals
Adrian Lamo: play it by ear
Bradley Manning: the broiling one in Germany
Bradley Manning: im sorry, there’s so many… its impossible for any one human to read all quarter-million… and not feel overwhelmed… and possibly desensitized

Bradley Manning: Apache Weapons Team video of 12 JUL 07 airstrike on Reuters Journos… some sketchy but fairly normal street-folk… and civilians

Bradley Manning: at first glance… it was just a bunch of guys getting shot up by a helicopter… no big deal… about two dozen more where that came from right… but something struck me as odd with the van thing… and also the fact it was being stored in a JAG officer’s directory… so i looked into it… eventually tracked down the date, and then the exact GPS co-ord… and i was like… ok, so thats what happened… cool… then i went to the regular internet… and it was still on my mind… so i typed into goog… the date, and the location… and then i see this

Adrian Lamo: what do you consider the highlights?
Bradley Manning: The Gharani airstrike videos and full report, Iraq war event log, the “Gitmo Papers”, and State Department cable database

So last, but by no means least, is what Manning did treason?

Bradley Manning fits the definition of a whistle-blower – not a traitor.


The state wants us silent, and compliant. If we do nothing to save Bradley Manning, we are as guilty of his persecution as those who are embarrassed by his honesty. Civil society will be immeasurably weakened if he is convicted.

In online discussions attributed to PFC Bradley Manning, he says that he hopes his actions will spur “discussion, debates, and reforms” and that he “want[s] people to know the truth, no matter who they are, because without information you cannot make informed decisions as a public.”

This is the classic definition of a whistle-blower (a person who tells the public about alleged dishonest or illegal activities or misconduct occurring in a government department).

Unfortunately, the government is charging PFC Bradley Manning with “knowingly [giving] intelligence to the enemy, through indirect means,” under Article 104 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice – an allegation of treason and a capital offense.

By this rationale, scores of service-person-posted blogs, photos, and videos, would now be punishable by death – simply because they are accessible on the Internet.

The charge against Bradley Manning appears to be about sending a message to other would-be whistle-blowers.

The Founding Fathers restricted the definition of treason in the U.S. Constitution to, “Treason against the United States shall consist only in levying War against them, or in adhering to their Enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort….” They did so because they wanted to prevent a repeat of Britain’s abuse of power when it was the colonial overlord of America.

The information above is mainly from, the website devoted to securing Manning’s release. In the opinion of this writer, the legal shenanigans over what Manning’s defence lawyers can and cannot say in court, the previous illegal detention of Manning in solitary confinement, the gale of misinformation and bias about his case emanating from Washington, and the inordinate amount of time he has been held without trial, all point to one thing.

Obama and the American ruling elite and their allies wish Manning persecuted because they are embarrassed by his actions, not because they genuinely believe what he did was wrong, or dangerous.

Securing Manning’s release should unite people of conscience from all sides of politics, and because what he disclosed affects the entire world, it should unite them from all countries, but especially America’s allies.

I have no doubt that in due course Bradley Manning will come to be seen as a hero for the common man, the man who rolled back to curtains of Government secrecy for no other reason other than he believed ordinary people have the right to know what is being done and said in their name. Meanwhile, he rots in jail, an intelligent, passionate, but frightened young man who sought to serve his country – and a higher purpose, too.

I am Bradley Manning. Most importantly, so are you.

Are you?

Are you?

Governments understand the role of false flag attacks. Good governments, bad governments, all kinds of governments. Is this story another example, or nonsense?

Governments understand the role of false flag attacks. Good governments, bad governments, all kinds of governments. Is this story another example, or nonsense?

I rarely pass on links to other blogs uncritically, or unchecked, especially when they come from a very definite ideological background. But this one surely deserves “the oxygen of publicity”, at the very least, so that everyone can decide whether it is true or not.

I note that the authors are no friends of the American administration – and, indeed, that they delight in conspiracy theories, often of the most ludicrous kind (in my opinion). Anti-authority, libertarian blog frequently posts stories that appear to be utter nonsense. Conspiracy theory central. Wing nut territory.

But they’re like a scatter gun. Sooner or later one of their crazy stories has to hit a target. And on some levels, certainly enough to prompt interest, this story “rings true” to me. So I recommend you click on the video story from the Infowars author and listen. Just click the link below, then click the video, and read the story under the video.

Long story short – I do believe our Governments frequently engage in “black ops” and “false flag” attacks, as the examples from history are numerous.

false-flag1If you wanted a pretext for an armed intervention in Syria, there couldn’t be a better one than the story that Assad had used chemical weapons against his own population.

The idea is purported to have been promoted from staunch American ally Qatar – if that’s true, then this is called “levels of deniability” or a “cut out”, using other countries to keep such murky matters at arm’s length from ourselves.

So is it true? I really have no idea. Would I like to know if it’s true? I sure would.

If it was true, it would make Benghazi-Gate look like the tiniest radar blip ever seen. That an American administration could countenance deliberately using a chemical weapon – or even transporting one into a conflict arena – to advance a political goal – would be unthinkable.

I think the world’s front-line media need to take this story up, and, using their investigatory resources, to determine its truth, or otherwise.

If – and I repeat, if – this story was true, it would represent the biggest foreign policy scandal in America since, perhaps, the covert bombing of Cambodia and Laos during the Vietnam war.

As you can see below, the story is flying round the extreme right, libertarian blogosphere like a blue-arsed fly chasing some rotten meat. What is needed is some serious analysis from people with real access.

So I would urge my American readers, in particular, to ask their media to make those investigations on their behalf.

Needless to say, the White House will already be aware of this report.

The simplest thing in the world would be for them to deny it. If it is deniable. It will be interesting to see what happens.

I am always being asked – usually very grumpily – why I fulminate on matters outside the borders of Australia by people who obviously believe that none of us have the right to speak truth (OK, I will concede, “our version of the truth”) to citizens of other countries.

And my stock response is, “Because I believe countries are artificial constructions, and I don’t think national boundaries should prevent the free flow of opinion, as we are all, first Citizens of the Wor4ld, not citizens of wherever we happen to live …” which always produces howls of derision from those who originally asked why I dared to say what I think, and murmurs of approval from anyone else.

And one day, recently, a very nice person in another forum where I post links to the blog – Linked In – kindly remarked that she thought I “am the bravest person posting in Linked In – I know it’s scary, but you keep raising important issues.”

I should warn you, everyone, one comment like that can keep me spouting off for a year or more.

Anyhow, here’s your real answer, Dear Reader. You just seem to be an amazingly international person … so I try and include content (or opinion) from all over the world, providing I think the content is important, or I can think of anything relevant to add to it.

How funny that orange is my favourite colour …

As I have explained many times, by far the most regular readers of my blog are Americans, who read my blog more than three times as much as my fellow Aussies.

From a country as saturated as media as it is, I consider this a great compliment, as it implies they think someone this far away has something relevant to say to them.

Either that or they’re masochists and they just love to hate me.

Whatever their reasons, I am grateful for the continual support from the good ol’ US of A. And the next biggest bunch of readers are from my old homeland in the UK, who also out poll the Aussies. This is perhaps understandable as once, deep – deep – in the last Millenium, I had something of a public profile in the Old Dart, but it is humbling and heart-warming to know that after 25 years as an Aussie they are still remotely concerned about what I think.

Either that, or my articles on sausages strike a chord.

Looking at the map, the sheer reach of blogging in the Internet age becomes clear. My words – or yours, if I have been re-blogging something – reach into almost every corner of the planet, which is something I find really quite awe-inspiring. Places I shall presumably never visit nevertheless know a little of me, virtually, at least. And whilst I recognise that the Internet can be something of a curate’s egg as far as information gathering goes – after all, how do you judge whether what you read is valid, true, biased, or … what? – it is without any doubt a remarkable step forward for the free and unsupervised dissemination of information.

Or at least, the attempted dissemination.

The Great Firewall of China has me blocked, for example. Which is quite bizarre, as I have visited China a number of times, I like the country and its people, and I wish both well as they continue their great strides onto the world stage. Or maybe I am blocked because all of WordPress is, just in case. But I think it’s me, because before my friends over there started reporting that they couldn’t read my work, fully six of them had done so. Mine was a star that shone very momentarily over the Oldest of Old Kingdoms. Hong Kong, however, can read me, and does. How curious.

I think it’s totally brilliant – totes brill as Fruit of One’s Loins would have it –  that WordPress provide one with these stats, partly out of my sheer fascination in trawling them, but also because if one covers a topic concerning, say Sri Lanka, then one can track the sudden up-tick of interest from that country as the story crawls its way from computer to computer. They also tell you what search terms most often bring people to one’s pages, and yes, Dear Reader, the top one on mine is still “tits”, and long may it be so.

(Stick tits into the search box at the top left on this site and you’ll see why.)

Interesting anomalies occur all the time. Sweden delivers about double the hits that I get from their neighbours Norway and Finland. I really am curious as to why – presumably it is a matter of population, internet access, English language skills and stuff like that. But I also wonder if it is because I post semi-regularly on the cases of Bradley Manning, the provider and founder of Wikileaks, respectively, and Assange is assuredly of interest in Sweden for various reasons.

What is also interesting is the very few countries that are not represented on the map at all, as they indicate with clarity where some of the poorest nations of the world are. Sub-saharan and central Africa especially. Or where internet access is simply impossible.

I see you there, little singular net surfing person, I see you, shakin’ dat mouse.

A whole bunch of places, although the list is getting smaller the longer the blog stays up, have recorded just one hit on the blog in the last 11 months.

One little idle, solitary flick of a finger, one man or woman, who I see in my mind’s eye, hunched over their laptop or desktop in the dark, screen glowing, hungrily gobbling up my profound thoughts on Angela Merkel, President Obama, the food we will be eating in 40 years, vaginal surgery, the mauling of the English language, the weather in Australia (and climate change generally) or – whatever.

I do hope you will drop by again, my solitary visitor from Djibouti, Lesotho, the Islamic Republic of Iran, Samoa, Togo, Aruba, Dominica, Lichtenstein, the Federated States of Micronesia, Angola, Haiti, Guadeloupe, Kyrgyzstan, the Solomon Islands, and last but by no means least, Vatican City.

Your voices need to be heard, and very often, I suspect, they need to be heard much more than mine does.

Then again, you could just be searching for tits, in which case, welcome aboard.

Post scriptum: I nearly forgot to mention that this is also my four hundred and oneth blog in a little over a year, and I could not have done it without all the feedback, positive and negative, so thanks very much! WordPress has stopped sending me little “gee up”  messages as I pass each milestone, which is a bit sad, really. They’ve obviously decided I am hooked. All gee up messages, therefore, gratefully received.

Funny thing to do because you are perfectly capable, Dear Reader, in looking round the blog yourself. But with 270 new blogs in a year that’s a lot of searching, so all the “Blogging Basics” sites say I must give you a guide that you can go look through, so here it is.

Er, nope. Never happened. Nice painting though.

Er, nope. Never happened. Nice painting though.

By far the most popular blog of the year on any one day was which garnered nearly 5,000 hits in one day (out of an annual total of more than 77,000 in 2012) when a very senior Archbishop in the Roman Catholic Church revealed what the rest of us with brains have known forever and a day anyway, which is that Genesis is true only in the sense that is is a moral fable, and not in the sense that the world was created in 7 days, or that Eve came from Adam’s rib, or that all the horrors of the world arose from munching a forbidden apple.

The really interesting thing about this story, of course, is that theologically speaking when we allow any part of the Bible text to be considered mythological then we have no argument that any other part of the Bible might not also be mythological.

Hence, just to pick a few major ones – bye bye Noah and capturing two of every living creature on the earth (including all bacteria, all 8000 species of ants, etc.), cya later Lot offering his virgin daughters to the crowd, not to mention the fact that Joshua collapsing the walls of Jericho couldn’t have happened because archaeology reveals the place was deserted when Joshua was around. Great story – good song – historical nonsense.

It seems we will just have to do what the 19th and 20th century “modernist” or “critical” theologians wanted us to do, which is read the Bible with the benefit of modern textual analysis, studying the original languages not the translations, (which, for example, can be used to argue that the Bible actually says nothing at all about gays) and taking full advantage of archaeology when we can.

The article on Adam and Eve was also the second most popular article overall of the whole year.

I think we have more to worry about than whether a Secret Serviceman did or did not employ a prostitute. Like: HIV, violence, drug addiction, social dislocation.

I think we have more to worry about than whether a Secret Serviceman did or did not employ a prostitute. Like: HIV, violence, drug addiction, social dislocation. And more.

The most popular article for the whole year was

I’d like to think this was all about my thoughtful analysis of hypocrisy in American moral values, the role of prostitution in modern society, the role of the media in drumming up salacious gossip, and the relationship between poverty and the sex trade.

However checking out my stats closely I suspect it’s just because the word prostitute is often typed into search engines, and the story duly pops up.

Similar big scores have been gathered with articles about tits, and even bum.

One would despair, were it not for the fact that I know that some people read the article seriously.

Similarly, promising to ignore injunctions and show people Princess Catherine of Wales (aka Kate Middleton) topless and then bottomless worked well to drum up passing trade, though I doubt many of the people who clicked on the links got the point of my tongue in cheek effort.

The third most popular post of the year was this “Gratuitously Offensive Politically Incorrect Joke”, which I still think is very funny, (it’s also a paraprosdokian by the way, and there are some more of them here, which is probably why I like it so much), and scores very highly with anyone searching for Angela Merkel in Google and so on, so the Bundesnachrichtendienst have probably given me the once-over, but decided I am harmless.

Snookie, Chelsea the Borgias and Big Tits was the fourth most popular article of the year, and has been in the Top Ten most popular almost every day of the year. I a eagerly awaiting the next series of the Borgias, not to mention the next series of Downton Abbey and Throne of Kings. I don’t mind crap TV, so long as it’s good quality crap. A lot of you seemed to agree with me that Jeremy Irons and the Crew give good crap. Snookie and the Crew? Not so much. I wish, actually, I had been a TV reviewer, which is, of course, one of the most sought after positions in journalism. Do we think it is too late, Dear Reader? Hell, no!

Last but by no means least – in fifth place – was what I have decided was the WINNER of Advertising F*** Up of the Year, in fact the very first of the series which proved incredibly popular with readers. To save you clicking back to last January, here it is:

The first poster is for a road safety campaign where Daddy has crashed his car and died. The one right next to it is for a notorious lap dancing club. I mean, really?

The first poster is for a road safety campaign where Daddy has crashed his car and died. The one right next to it is for a notorious lap dancing club. I mean, really? Really?

The Advertising F*** Up series were undoubtedly the most popular series of articles in the year. To access them, just type “F***” into the search box and they’ll all be listed for you. (Saves me doing it.)

I am enormously grateful for all the supporters of the Blog, all those who have commented, who have argued, who have provided elucidation, and who have laughed and loved. It is most popular in the USA, in the UK, and in my home country of Australia, and I guess that is inevitable. But in all, people in 172 countries read the blog, which I personally find quite humbling and astonishing, and the free spread of ideas and opinions must surely be the greatest boon the Internet has given the world.

I am especially proud, in the year just gone, for the work we were able to do on awareness to do with bullying, and Alzheimer’s, on clean water for the poor of the world, and on women’s rights. I am also very glad my feverish campaigning for Obama came out on the right side of history, and I hope his second term is more impressive than his first, which is often the case. Let us hope and pray for wisdom for all our political leaders, as the world is a long way from being out of the woods yet – economically, and politically.

I bitterly regret that my warnings on Syria, which predated most commentators in the world, were ignored, but I only have a very small lectern and it is a big world. And anyway, the world only listens when it wants to. Yesterday the United Nations estimated that 60,000 have died in this completely avoidable conflict thus far, and unless Assad’s Alawite regime can be persuaded to decamp to the safe haven of Iran pretty damn quickly that figure could still rise exponentially.  It was – and is – all so unnecessary, and so awfully, inexorably predictable.

I am also grateful for the opportunity to showcase my poetry and creative writing. Thank you for all the kind comments.

I am Bradley Manning. Are you?

I am Bradley Manning. Are you?

As the blog tipped over from 2011 into 2012, I was still deeply distressed by the murderous execution of Troy Davis, campaigning against which had occupied – unsuccessfully – so much of the start of the blog. This year, I have watched with increasing horror as the might of the modern American state has born down relentlessly on Bradley Manning, the well-meaning and honourable serviceman who set off the Wikileaks scandal by releasing for public gaze tens of thousands of classified snippets of information. Expect to hear a lot more about his case in the coming weeks, not least why I believe the man is a modern hero who should be feted, not crucified.

I am still Troy Davis. I am now Bradley Manning.

Happy New Year, Dear Reader.

“We can’t accept events like this as routine. Are we really prepared to say that we are powerless in the face of such carnage? That the politics are too hard? Are we prepared to say that such carnage visited on our children, year after year after year, is somehow the price of freedom?”

Amen, Mr President. It is time to begin to change.

Charlotte Bacon, 6

Daniel Barden, 7

Rachel Davino, 29

Olivia Engel, 6

Josephine Gay, 7

Ana Marquez-Greene, 6

Dylan Hockley, 6

Dawn Hochsprung, 47

Madeleine Hsu, 6

Catherine Hubbard, 6

Chase Kowalski, 7

Jesse Lewis, 6

James Mattioli, 6

Grace McDonnell, 7

Anne Marie Murphy, 52

Emilie Parker, 6

Jack Pinto, 6

Noah Pozner, 6

Caroline Previdi, 6

Jessica Rekos, 6

Avielle Richman, 6

Lauren Rousseau, 30

Mary Sherlach, 56

Victoria Soto, 27

Benjamin Wheeler, 6

Allison Wyatt, 6

hope love