Syria: the two scorpions

Hmm…let me see…I want to kill someone with a chemical weapon: lead, trinitrophenol, copper and zinc! That should do it. My own chemical weapon.

Otherwise known as a…um….a bullet.

It might not be a poison gas, but it’s still made of chemicals, and it’ll still kill you. Quite possibly in a horrible prolonged way.

So why on earth is the use of only one kind of chemical weapon a “red line” for the armchair warriors of the White House and Downing St? Who really cares about the exact means of being bumped off by an evil dictator? It’s stupidity in extremis.

It wouldn’t matter if this bizarre and arbitrary distinction between good and bad kinds of weapons didn’t lead to consequences, but right now, it clearly does, and very unappetising open-ended ones at that.

You would have thought that after recent outcomes in Egypt (Sharia obsessed Muslim Brotherhood), Libya (militias and Al Qaeda v ‘government’), Tunisia (wobbly authoritarian coalition) and of course the Big Ones – uberviolent Iraq and Aghanistan – then cash-strapped Western powers might just want to sit Syria out.

Sunni meets Shia

Bizarrely, the political left are once again the most warlike.  John Kampfner was able to write a whole book, Blair’s Wars, because he had four to choose from: Kosovo, Sierra Leone, Afghanistan and Iraq. The otherwise normal and likeable Blairite Dan Hodges recently wrote an extended blog on why we should intervene in Syria. The many comments in response are actually pretty eloquent, by and large, about why we should not be doing so.

There aren’t many things that the Labour Party has got right. Single figures, undoubtedly. One of the best decisions though, is not particularly well known – that in the 1960’s PM Harold Wilson very specifically declined to get involved with the Vietnam War. The Knife happens to think that Vietnam was a noble cause, and by no means the failure that it is often alleged to be. However, Wilson was right:

“The president [Johnson] raised the question, without excessive enthusiasm, of our co-operation with him in South Vietnam, even if only on a limited – even a token – basis. I made it clear that we could not enter into any such commitments. We… would have a role to play in seeking a way to peace”

Wilson took a lot of crap for that from President Johnson, but so what? It soon blew over.

The strangest thing perhaps is: where else in life would you normally commit everything you have – wealth, health, prosperity, life – to an utterly unknowable outcome, unless you absolutely had to ? Nowhere else of course, yet that is exactly what Obama and (this week) numerous commentators are heading, despite Iraq, Aghanistan etc. Perhaps a year ago the Syrian ‘rebels’ were mostly good guys. My Syrian friends tell me that those men are now mostly dead, it’s the gangsters and the terrorists who have moved in, just like in Iraq.

Without wishing to come over like a weird hybrid of George Galloway and Nick Griffin, I would simplify it and ask an easy question: what’s in it for us?

This is nothing to do with oil. The ramifications with respect to Middle East stability of Assad surviving or not, are way too complex and unpredictable to call, despite the dazzling array of experts willing to do so. I would offer the following: the deposed dictators so far all protected the Christians, and to some extent the Jews, in their countries. Their Islamic replacements are attempting to exterminate these communities, who were there before Islam even existed. For that reason alone I would take the devil I know.

A good article in the FT today, by David Gardner, narrowly seemed to favour some sort of intervention. Gardner begins:

President Barack Obama’s decision to send unspecified “direct military support” to Syria’s rebels may have as its proximate cause the now firm US conviction that the Assad regime has used chemical weapons against them. But it will be seen across the Middle East as a choice by America to throw its weight behind a Sunni alliance against Iran-led Shia forces across the region – a conflict in which Syria is the frontline….How could it be otherwise when, after two years of dither, the White House moved on the same day as a conclave of Sunni clerics meeting in Cairo declared a jihad against what it called a “declaration of war on Islam” by “the Iranian regime, Hizbollah and its sectarian allies”?

Supporting the rebels means supporting the Sunni’s: a very high risk strategy. Gardner goes on:

There is a certain school of realism that believes it is better to let the Shia Islamists of Hizbollah and al-Qaeda sympathisers such as the rebel al-Nusra front fight it out, like scorpions in a bottle.

…and unless Parliament votes otherwise, that’s the view that the UK should hold to.


Cuba and the Great Satan

How many Communist countries are there left in the world? I suppose China is one, by a certain definition, but with a rash of Bentley dealerships and quarterly growth of 6-12%, it’s really more of a capitalist dictatorship. And it lends money to us poor capitalists, stacks of it. So I’m not including China.

There are quite a few countries with Communist parties in power to some degree, like Bolivia and Cyprus (oddly), but they’re not Communist countries as such. Vietnam and Laos fall under Chinese influence, and so they’re single party sort-of Communist states, but not that noisy about it. Which leaves everyone’s favourite bogeyman, North Korea, who even the Chinese are embarrassed about, and technically they espouse wacky variant  Juche rather than old fashioned Communism, and then there’s Cuba.

Yes, Cuba are it really. And given that their best pals internationally are Venezuela and our own Ken Livingstone, it’s no surprise that their worst enemy is the USA, right next door. Everyone knows this, Bay of Pigs etc etc.

All of this is a preamble to one of the great geopolitical mysteries of our time: if Cuba hate the Great Satan (copyright “the Iranians”) so much, why is the WORST, most EVIL manifestation of America’s alleged  global abuse of power sitting on Cuban soil at Guantanamo Bay? Not that The Knife has much of a problem with Gitmo, far from it.

The answer is that they are endearingly sticking to the terms of the 1903 Cuban-American treaty. This seems to involve an occasional rent cheque of a few thousand dollars, which is pretty cheap when you consider the cost of a holiday there, and some grumbling from the Cuban dictatorship , to a very modest degree. Amusingly, Castro apparently genuinely cashed one of these cheques, which effectively ratified the treaty, though the rest are stuffed in a desk drawer. I’m not making this up.

So, the world’s only real superpower is housing a motley collection of dodgy terrorist types in a jail on the only true, hardcore Communist country left on the planet, which happens to be their sworn enemy, and the Commies basically keep their mouths shut about it.

Pathetic. And you call yourselves revolutionaries?

Don't get your hopes up, lads..
Don’t get your hopes up, lads..

The Lib/Tal pact: the Taliban have heard of Nick Clegg.

A baffling story in the Telegraph today, which either is a further example of the underrated chucklesome sense of humour amongst Islamic terrorists, or evidence of an alarming level of Lib Dem interest by the Taliban. Or both. I quote:

“It will obviously be difficult for David Cameron to sell a deal with the Taliban when British troops are dying in Helmand. It will be equally difficult for the Taliban to sell negotiating with the so-called infidels. But a narrative is needed that is acceptable to both sides.”

Making reference to the Coalition and the political relationship between the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats, one of the Taliban members dismissed rumours of division within the Quetta Shura.

The leader responsible for military affairs, Qayum Zakir, challenged the group’s coalition from within, but only to a “tolerable extent”.

“We think of Zakir as Nick Clegg,” he said.

My personal take is that Qayim Zakir is almost certainly smarter and better informed than Cleggy, and more moderate in his political outlook than most of the Lib Dems. He could be an asset to the coalition in these difficult times.

I suppose a swap is out of the question?

Clegg akbar!

Labour stalwart wins by-election!!

Ho Ho Ho.  Labour bitten badly by one of their own.

George strikes again. The weird thing is that Labour couldn’t see it coming. The Knife has a lot of time for the vain, egotistical, anti-Israel, pro-mad muslim, self-regarding, womanising Mr Galloway.

Not because of the above qualities, though he is certainly capable of great charm too, and not because of his widely lauded appearance before senate in the USA. That was popular because of the cheap thrill it gave to trendy anti-Americanism, but it was hardly George’s finest hour. He’s always been eloquent and bold. The Knife praised George more than two years ago, for his remarkably accurate predictions before the Iraq disaster. He also reliably adds to the gaiety of the nation. Strictly heterosexually of course.

Anyway, it will be a pleasure to see Dundee’s finest back in the Commons, brazenly sucking up to some of the most militant and nasty muslims in Britain and abroad, as well as the nicer ones. As Brendan O’Neill points out, talk of a new resurgence of the hard left is rubbish, but George has certainly seized his chance:

Galloway is merely a beneficiary of the decay of politics as we knew it, which means that, far from representing a surge in radical Left-wing sentiment, his victory isn’t that different to when a member of the BNP wins a seat on a local council or some UKIP suit gets sent to Brussels. In all these cases, the vote tends to be less a positive endorsement of any clear-eyed political agenda than simply a “screw you” to the three big parties which once claimed to represent the political spectrum. Indeed, Galloway’s victory points to the further denigration of radical Left-wing politics rather than its meaningful revival. It shows how far the radical Left has been “Islamicised”, where, having utterly abandoned the allegedly feckless and thick working classes, the radical Left has become increasingly reliant upon alienated Muslim communities for support…

…probably the most worrying thing about Galloway’s victory is that it confirms the further splintering of Britain into “identities”, where people no longer conceive of themselves as belonging to a class or a political set but rather to a fixed, culturally determined “identity”. Muslims vote one way, the white working classes vote another, and so on. What is remotely positive about the demise of an old politics that was at least based on the idea of shared interests and its replacement by a new politics based on shared cultural characteristics? In going for “the Muslim vote”, just as Livingstone recently did in a speech at North London Central Mosque, Galloway actually further exposed the dearth of principle on the modern Left.

Where once the Left saw it as its mission to unite people who had more in common than they thought they did (remember “workers of the world unite”?), now it happily feeds off community disintegration and even segregation for short-term political gain. If it helps to get them into power, it seems radical Leftists don’t have a problem with the political ghettoisation of certain communities in Britain, or with the further tearing-apart of man from fellow man that is at the heart of identity politics.

Overall though, a good day for democracy. And silly Taliban-lite beards.

** Interesting view from Melanie McDonagh


Miliband Kabullshit

When The Knife began blogging  two years ago, mostly to sound off about things that were bugging me, the fetchingly illustrated second ever post was about how we should get out of Afghanistan. More followed, with evidence. More recently, I was proud to be one of the first to note that David Miliband is actually still as big a dud as his useless brother, ****wit Miliband.

Well today The Knife’s favourite blogger (at the moment anyway), Dan Hodges, neatly combines the two themes, in the light of the latest Afghan deaths and a typically idiotic response from Mili-D, a man who was for his brief tenure, comfortably the worst Foreign Secretary of the last fifty years:

I missed David Miliband’s dramatic Today programme interview this morning, where he slipped off his chair and hit his head. From the sounds of it he must have caught quite a nasty whack too. Severe concussion can do strange things, and provides the only rational explanation for Labour’s former foreign secretary to go on national radio and call for talks between the Government and the Taliban on the day the Ministry of Defence  releases the names of the six British serviceman killed by those fundamentalist psychopaths.

I doubt that your average Taliban fighter is a regular listener to John Humphrys. But I would be surprised if one or two of our troops on the ground in Helmand don’t tune in, or at least keep themselves informed of the nature of the debate accompanying their deployment. That said, I suppose it’s questionable whether a British serviceman about to go out on patrol actually gives a rat’s derriere what a politician sitting in a studio in White City thinks or says. But it can’t exactly be helpful to hear your political masters saying they think your government should be sitting down for a cosy chat with the very people who are going to spend the next few hours trying to blow your arms and legs off….

….It seems to me we have two primary obligations. They are, in order, to the British forces in the field, and the people of the country we invaded, legitimately, a decade ago. And at the moment I can’t see how our current policy fulfils our obligations to either of them.

Nor, for the life of me, can I see the benefit of sitting down with the Taliban. If we want them to stop blowing up our boys, then lets not give them any boys to blow up. Let’s get the hell out now.

Similarly, if we want them to honour their obligations under the UN charter of Human Rights, then there’s only one way we’re going to achieve that, and it’s at the point of a gun. The Taliban’s particularly nasty interpretation of Sharia law dates back a couple of millennia; they’re not going to be overturning centuries of belief after a few weeks chatting over tea  and scones with the British high commissioner.

David Miliband is wrong. We should be shooting the Taliban. Or we should be leaving them to it. But there is no point in talking to them, because we have absolutely nothing meaningful to say.

Quoted at length because it’s so good. The weird thing is, Dan Hodges is actually a fan of Mili-D.

Bizarrely, the two Milibands are now in some sort of existential Catch-22, where whenever you hear one of them sounding off, complete with tics and grimaces, you wrongly assume the other must be better.

The other Dave, and his chums in government, have been having a bad time recently, quite rightly given their invertebrate tendencies, but if this is the best their opponents can do, they can sleep easy.

We're both carrying the useless **** gene


Tarawa, after the landing

There are many better films, but the most important 10 minutes in all of cinema is here.

The great unspoken in our modern western media is the reality of violence, and especially war. Compare us with Indonesia, as one example,  where grim news ends up being widely disseminated, or even the US.  The Iraq conflict in particular has lead to a real debate on image censorship, and its downside.  Explicit violent death is not necessarily a good thing, but in its way, far more honest, a fact that Robert Fisk has dwelled on in relation to the Middle East. Fisk is interesting as not only is he an excellent reporter, he really has seen it all and met them all, and continues to do so. He is credible and authoritative.

You get the feeling that if our Tony knew what war was actually like, in detail, he might have thought twice before helping to start yet another one.

However, artists can help:  Goya in the Peninsular war, James Nachtwey in Rwanda, David Guterson’s description of Tarawa in his intriguing Tolstoy-lite Snow Falling on Cedars, or William Manchester’s brutal reminiscence, Goodbye Darkness.

Which brings us back to where I began. Spielberg in the opening sequence of an otherwise relatively ordinary film, Saving Private Ryan, nails it.

Anyone who has ever looked into the glazed eyes of a soldier dying on the battlefield will think hard before starting a war.  ~Otto Von Bismarck

Ebb Tide, by Kerr Eby

Irony fail – Afghan edition

Brought to you by those caring Taliban

Regarding the footage of US marines relieving themselves on the corpses of their enemies:

A Taliban spokesman said: ‘First they killed the Afghans with mortars, and they then urinated on their bodies. We strongly condemn this inhumane action by the wild American soldiers


The Taliban have a press officer? Presumably something like  Alastair Campbell.

And they’re concerned about inhumane actions (on dead people)?

Words fail me.

9/11 and me

This is one anniversary where I do remember exactly what I was doing – an outpatient clinic, on the Tuesday afternoon. The charge nurse kept coming through to say the plane had hit, then the second plane – at which point, like everyone else, I knew it was something big – and then, unbelievably, the towers had collapsed. I said that was impossible, she must be mistaken, but by this point the mood in the whole clinic was pretty sombre. When I got back to the ward, one patient, an American tourist was standing crying as he watched the TV.

All bad, and it was obvious that day that Afghanistan was going to get it, which I completely approved off, rightly or wrongly. By the time Iraq came around, I had a vague idea that getting rid of all the bad guys seemed desirable, but, as discussed on previous posts, I didn’t then believe a word Blair said, particularly the drivel about WMD. It still amazes me to this day that many people did.

Reading the reminiscences of Guardian readers this week, it is remarkable how many were deeply upset, not just for the loss of life, but as much for the fact that whether they would normally admit it, the world’s “good” superpower, our ultimate protector, truth be told, was being damaged.

Within a few days of course the usual pathetic anti-Americanism reared its head, most notably on the notorious BBC Question Time which followed. For a brief time though, reflexive slagging off of America seemed a luxury that even the bien-pensant class could no longer afford.  By a  few years later it was all our own  fault, naturally. It was striking how similar such views, full of middle class self-loathing, are to those expressed to me by a Libyan colleague, who’d been “turned” by the fundamentalists after a disastrous short-lived arranged marriage had wrecked his confidence. As he put it: “it was terrible what happened to those people in the towers, but they deserved it because of America’s behaviour”. The 10 year anniversary Question Time  a few days ago revealed just how entrenched this sort of  “intelligent moron” thinking is, in a free and open democracy.

Anyway, Knife reading recommendations are The Looming Tower by Lawrence Wright, for the build up to 9/11 and its immediate aftermath, and Dexter Filkins’ stupendous The Forever War, which roams through the wars that followed, and their background. Filkins’ experience is astonishing. He happened to be in New York that day, and made it to the scene:

The image I still remember is from Ground Zero the first day: I was standing in what had been a traffic intersection, except all the buildings were gone. The ruins of the World Trade Center burned and belched a few feet away. And there in the street, spread out across the watery rubble, was a human intestine.


Women trouble


Hmm….tricky one.

A few posts ago, I wrote about the issue of women in Islam, at the time that old Jack Straw was, correctly, making waves.

Part of the argument was my view, based on experience, that male British muslim youth is often raised to have a “utilitarian” view of women, leading to crass, nasty, and sadly politically incorrect sexism.

There is the other end of this spectrum, where there are numerous examples of horrific treatment of women under sharia law. There’s even a feature film about it – the climax being a stoning to death.

Now, while we applaud the downfall of middle eastern dictators come the reports of sexual assault of female journalists: Lara Logan who clearly underwent a horrific attack, and Angella Johnson, whose article is mandatory reading to get a feel for the casual brutalism of women in the muslim world, quite apart from stonings, hangings etc. The recently praised Al-Jazeera was too embarrassed to report on the Logan attack.

I don’t remember this sort of thing when the Berlin wall came down. It doesn’t automatically go with the territory of liberation from dictatorship.

It’s no surprise that some of the most dynamic opponents of militant islam are women, like Pamela Geller and Oriana Fallaci. The astonishing thing is that the barbaric treatment meted out to half of the human race attracts so little criticism from liberal/left commentators and politicians. Their obsession with the local, and with party political points scoring, coupled with an overwhelming hatred of Western Christian culture, history and mores means they  ignore this particular elephant in the room.

So, what happens next in Egypt, to the Copts, to the status of women in what is one of the most educated muslim countries, with a strong middle class, will tell us a great deal about the future of islam, and our relations with it.

If in doubt, try this…

The truth hurts……Jack Straw is right

Jack's fan club felt let down

My God!! Jack Straw is (almost) on the money.

When one of the last 20 years’ most slithery and self-serving politicians speaks up about a muslim issue unfavourably, then it must be pretty bad. Particularly as a former Home Secretary, he inevitably has had access to all sorts of information about crime in the UK, and cases that have not/did not  reach the court room. Here’s what the Human Colonoscopy (copyright Littlejohn), said:

“‘There is a specific problem which involves Pakistani heritage men… who target vulnerable young white girls.

‘We need to get the Pakistani community to think much more clearly about why this is going on and to be more open about the problems that are leading to a number of Pakistani heritage men thinking it is OK to target white girls in this way.’

‘These young men are in a western society, in any event, they act like any other young men, they’re fizzing and popping with testosterone, they want some outlet for that, but Pakistani heritage girls are off-limits and they are expected to marry a Pakistani girl from Pakistan, typically.

‘So they then seek other avenues and they see these young women, white girls who are vulnerable, some of them in care… who they think are easy meat.

‘And because they’re vulnerable they ply them with gifts, they give them drugs, and then of course they’re trapped.”

….and here’s what Martin Narey (retiring chief exec of Barnardo’s, member of the UK Government’s Child Protection Review Panel, Director General of the Prison Service (1998),  first Chief Executive of the National Offender Management Service (2004), one of three Permanent Secretaries in the Home Office and the first Commissioner for Correctional Services in England and Wales, leading the Probation Service, Prison Service and Youth Justice Board…so he should know) said:

….street grooming was “probably happening in most towns and cities’ and was not confined to the Pakistani community.

‘I certainly don’t think this is a Pakistani thing. My staff would say that there is an over-representation of people from minority ethnic groups – Afghans, people from Arabic nations – but it’s not just one nation.”

Precisely, the other groups mentioned are not all Pakistani. But they are all muslim.


This is not about race or necessarily about religion, but it is about the mix of a religion (islam) and the culture it engenders.  It might range from public stoning, beating and mutilation of women (too many examples to cite many of them  here, just Google it) to a curious phenomenon that The Knife first observed whilst at medical school.

The muslim lads, mostly Pakistani, but not exclusively so, all tended to hang around together. Very few had girlfriends, and conversation – obviously rarely fuelled by booze – would often revolve around women. The discussions would have rapidly turned Polly Toynbee and Germaine Greer to violence.

Women were routinely referred to as ‘slags’ and the like, with their main function being sexual.  Insight into female psychology was absent, and was often along the lines of  “she’s gagging for it” etc etc. The men very rarely had friendly chat with women, it just didn’t happen. When I asked a muslim friend why they all went on like this, he candidly explained that they were all expecting arranged marriages, dating was frowned upon, and because they were medics, they knew that they’d be offered physically attractive intelligent wives. They couldn’t be bothered getting to know the women as friends, and  it was all “a bit of fun”.

Porn was popular though. One of The Knife’s acquaintances worked in Quetta, Pakistan in a Red Cross hospital in the nineties. He routinely treated badly injured Taliban from Afghanistan civil conflicts. Many of them, young lads, who’d been closing down girls schools etc the week before, would head into the bazaar as soon as they could,  to catch up on hardcore porn. Once they had fully recovered, off they went on their religious mission.

My point in all this is not a blanket condemnation of islam. However, it is a valid point of criticism, and for once in his life, Jack Straw is right.

Society continually finds sexism where it doesn’t exist in any serious way, and often ends up handsomely compensating “aggrieved” complainants. Here, on the other hand, are numerous ruined and damaged young lives, unprotected because of the obsession with avoiding offending a cultural minority, something Jack has plenty of reason to be shifty about.

But as St Luke wrote:

there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.

...really...a good review??

ps. Great point by Ed West at Telegraph blogs:

they are expected to marry a Pakistani girl from Pakistan”. And why is that, then? Is it because restrictions on these fetching marriages were lifted by the Home Secretary in 1997, a certain Mr J Straw? It has been well known for many years that this practice has retarded social cohesion and led to widespread abuse, especially of young British girls who are forced to marry elderly relatives, one of the reasons Asian women have a suicide rate four times that of their white sisters.

So if some young men are not living in “western society”, it is because Labour’s immigration policy has made it easier for Pakistani village life to be transferred into late-modern, post-industrial, post-Christian European decadence, an uncomfortable combination at best.”

OK then, a bare pass for Jack after all