The Invention of Monsters: Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya

Johnny Gaunt, March 2016.

 For centuries we have invented monsters: the thing in the woods; the troll beneath the bridge; the witch in the old house.


Inventions of the Monsters – Salvador Dali, 1937


Inventing monsters has often served an extremely useful purpose: it allowed people to transfer the most horrific elements of society and project them elsewhere, like pumping sewage into the sea. This transference had a satisfying by-product of creating unity and consensus amongst the communities and societies which the monster was ‘victimising’; the good people could stand bravely together in the face of the external evil. This consensus of minds could then justify, with any alternative thinking effectively marginalised, acts of incredible cruelty: the execution or banishment of the physically or mentally disabled; the persecution of non-conformists; the burning of innocent women, men and children; the slaughter of our wild animals.

A third effect would often occur during these terrible punishments. The public torture of the monster, with stones, the noose, the stocks or fire, created an immediate and deep cleansing of these crimes from the consciousness of the people. Guilt would be replaced by righteousness.

In time, as our societies developed and changed, most of these monsters drifted into mythology or filtered down into fairy-tale and horror stories. And there, many of us perhaps thought they stayed; but our perception of the past, future and the present are demarcated only by time, which simultaneously links them together. The invention of the monster never really went away, and today its story-tellers sit in positions of great power.


The individuals mentioned below are undoubtedly very unpleasant people. Certainly not the kind you would rush home to meet mother. But evil is a concept often branded onto people (usually by the press and authorities) without any real thought to how wickedness and brutality in human beings occur.

When my children were born, I remember having thoughts such as, “I hope they will be healthy,” or, “I hope they will be bright and inquisitive.” What I don’t remember thinking is, “I hope they won’t turn out evil.” Our long and continuing history of misunderstanding first mental health and then genetics has served only to confuse this madness all the more. Modern research has shown that environmental factors are far more influential in human behavioural development than any genetic predisposition. It is more a case of extremely similar genetic seeds, cultivated within different environments, combining to create an individual personality. It’s also important to realise that there is never a finished article; more, human beings are in permanent development, always capable of changing and responding to the world around them.

Today’s monsters (at least from the Western perspective), are often the leaders of nations that appear to share a few distinct commonalities. In more cases than not their countries sit on resource rich land, or happen to be in geo-politically desirable positions. They are often authoritarian, but nonetheless rule over cohesive, sometimes socially progressive societies. Most adhere to a vague socialist ideology, offering free education and health care. But, the most monstrous common trait amongst contemporary monsters is the pursuit of independent home and foreign policies. This can lead to audacious ideas of considering their own nations first, avoiding external debt and being non-subservient to Western demands.


Looking at the decades before Saddam Hussein’s invasion and occupation of Kuwait, it becomes apparent that when to tell the story is just as significant and the story itself. During much of Saddam’s oppression of his people (and even during his use of chemicals weapons on civilians), he continued to covertly receive arms from the US and the UK governments. Ironically, this aid included materials that would lead to his eventual downfall as they constituted part of the evidence for the now infamous weapons of mass destruction. This is important as by accepting this aid, Saddam unknowingly gave the West its future pretext to destroy Iraq.

Literally days before his invasion of Kuwait in 1990, the US sent diplomats to Baghdad to talk to Saddam about the build up of tensions between Iraq and its neighbour. The US ambassador to Iraq, April Glespie, gave Saddam an official statement on the US position in regards to the high numbers of Iraqi troops massing on the Kuwaiti border. There’s been much written about the ‘advice’ Glepsie gave to the Saddam administration, which lacked anything direct and only repeated the textbook diplomatic message of the “US has a policy of non-involvement in Arab-Arab border issues”.

Within the context of the Iraq-Iran war (1980-1988) which had ended only 2 years earlier, and where US aid and weapons had secretly flooded into Iraqi hands in order to hurt Iran, it’s not difficult to see how Saddam may have misconstrued Glespie’s message as simply another official line, below which the true message can be inferred. However, this was bad judgement, as the Bush (Snr) administration were done with the Iraqi regime and its belligerent leader. The meeting with Glespie seems to be the extent of direct US diplomatic negotiations with Iraq prior to the air campaign (which would drop over 88,000 tons of bombs), and with diplomacy exhausted the need for war quickly became a non-debatable ‘fact’. The invasion of Kuwait took place less than a week later (Aug 2nd, 1990) and with immediate effect the media cross-hair locked on to its new monster: The Butcher of Baghdad.


April Glespie meeting Saddam Hussein, 1990

The devastation the bombs and missiles brought to the people of Iraq were followed by thirteen years of severe sanctions. These sanctions, though not widely discussed in the media, were so severe that a similar number of Iraqi children died each month during the thirteen year imposition as all the people who died in the 9/11 attacks. The sanctions were so effective that by the time the second invasion began on 21st March 2003, there was barely any civilian society left to destroy, and the new bombs fell on an already decimated people, tearing down what remained of the Iraqi infrastructure.

Western media remained virtually silent about the sanctions imposed on Iraq, and the untold death and misery they were causing its innocent people. However, from the outset of the build up for public support to re-invade the country in 2003, it once again found its voice to disseminate the monster story; his brutality and indifference toward using outlawed chemical weapons (given to him by the West). The mythical WMDs became major headlines as the public were told a mixture of lies and truths designed to agitate the ancient monster hate emotions and support a war that had far reaching and violent repercussions.


Osama Bin Laden had also been a former beneficiary of Western generosity. During the prolonged struggle of the Afghan people against the Soviet invasion in 1979, Bin Laden was routinely aided by the US (and the Saudis amongst others) both financially and with arms. An interesting perspective is highlighted by Noam Chomsky in many of his lectures: the demands of both Osama Bin Laden and George W. Bush were very similar; Bin Laden wanted Western imperialism banished from Arab lands, and the US administration wanted Islam banished, but in this case from the world.


Osama Bin Laden, 1980s, during the Afghan-Russian war

Prior to the 7/11 attacks in New York, the political opponents of the Taliban in Afghanistan welcomed the added pressure from the West to bring down the regime. But they envisaged change through the Afghan people’s uprising and the overthrow of the Taliban by internal political means, but it became increasingly clear that this was a road the US and allies were less enthusiastic about going down.

Abdul Haq was a prominent opposition voice and was highly respected throughout the Middle East and Western states. The ‘Lion of Kabul’, as he was affectionately named, was gifted with rare abilities to unite the diverse political groups that had been separated for many years along ethnic and regional lines, towards common goals which benefited the people and the nation of Afghanistan and ousted the Taliban. Indeed, he was for some time a UN Peace Mediator. A renowned warrior who bravely fought against the Soviet invasion, losing a foot on a landmine in the action, Haq became a central contact for the CIA, and considered a friend to the US. By the late 1990s, Haq was very close to forming a united front, which included almost all of the previously internally fighting groups, to stand against the decreasing popularity of the Taliban. However, once the the twin towers in New York fell, the idea of a Western backed Afghani led uprising, fell with them.


Adul Haq, around 1999

However, this didn’t stop Haq, who had by this point fallen from favour with the CIA. US ally, Pakistan, were concerned about the unification of Afghans, and what that would mean to their own internal politics. There were reports of information being leaked from the ISI (Pakistan’s intelligence agency) to the Taliban when Haq re-entered Afghanistan from Pakistan in 2001. Further criticism mounted when the Taliban captured Haq and no Western aided attempt to rescue him was made. Abdul Haq was tortured and hanged by his captors a few days later.

What is hugely important about this story is that although the prominent facts were reported in the press, it was never discussed as a possible alternative to warfare. What remained fixed on the television and print news was the face of Osama Bin Laden, the cave-dwelling monster. Haq’s potential solution, and just how advanced it was, was largely ignored by the western media. Instead, they thrust forward military force as the one and only option.


The destruction of Libya, under the pretence of actioning a no-fly-zone, was an opportunity to open up the land’s resources whilst simultaneously doing away with a major thorn in the side of western governments. Although Colonel Gaddafi allowed international private companies to pump and sell the rich deposits of Libyan oil, he was never the reliable economic partner preferred by the US and the dominant nations of the EU. In fact, many reports suggest Gaddafi was intent on creating an African single currency, backed by gold and known as the gold dinar. This would have had serious  implications on the economies of the US and the EU.


Muammar Gaddafi, around 2005

There is no denying Gaddafi’s dictatorship, the corruption of his office and the ‘disappearances’ of his critics, but this needs to be balanced off against what Libya has become since its liberation, and against certain lesser discussed facts: Libya was a stable and cohesive society, boasting free education, free health care (the best in North Africa and most of the middle east), free electricity and 0% interest on loans from the national bank. Homelessness had been all but wiped out, and literacy stood at 90%. All this was in stark contrast to life in Libya for the two decades before Gaddafi’s rise to power, when literacy was at 10%, people were denied access to fresh water and most people’s idea of a home was a tin shack or a cave.

Of course, a section of society were rightly pressing for democracy in Libya, and to an end of Gaddafi’s regime. The so-called Arab Spring gave a platform to some of these voices, although the demonstrations were quickly hijacked by armed, extremist militias. The Colonel’s troops handled the uprising in brutal fashion. This led to much criticism in the Western press, which showed little of the armed militias (by this point referred to as ‘rebels’) but plenty of Gaddafi’s troops responding. This culminated in UN resolutions for NATO to enforce a no-fly-zone. Within days of the intervention, the number of deaths increased ten-fold.

Gaddafi’s tendency towards cronyism and family involvement in the state was always going to lead to a tricky hand over of power whenever he decided he’d had enough. His sons became embroiled in several years of political manoeuvring amongst themselves to optimise their positions, with the British educated Saif al-Islam Gaddafi looking favourite to to take over. Saif, a very complex person as you might expect being the privileged son of a dictator, was arrogant, patronising and corrupt, but he had carried the hopes of many Libyans of introducing reforms that would start the process of making the nation more democratic. But NATOs bombs left that hope in tatters. Saif was captured whilst trying to escape the invasion, and is believed to be held by the Zintan militia in the west of Libya, although he hasn’t been seen since 2014.


Benghazi, Libya, 2015

The country remains completely unstable, and now exists in three major ‘ruling’ divisions within Libya. To the east, in Tobruk is the former internationally recognised government, the House of Representatives (HoR). In Tripoli is the moderately Islamic government of the General National Congress (GNC). Between the two northern centres is Sirte (the birthplace of Gadaffi) which has become an IS stronghold. Until recently, when the western talk of another intervention in Libya became rife, the eastern HoR had been seen as the legitimate power in Libya by overseas nations and the UN. However, when both the HoR and the GNC in Tripoli declined the idea of further foreign military intervention, another governmental body was created by the UN, the Government of National Accord (GNA) which supersedes both other governments and is now the officially recognised ruling power outside of Libya. Within it, it is ignored. Of course, the GNA, originating from the UN with US and EU support, is pro- foreign intervention, and so neatly sidesteps the objections of both the HoR and the GNC, along with the majority of Libyans.

During the uprising, high ranking members of the Libyan military were rumoured to be asking for foreign tutelage on how best to handle Gaddafi’s weakening grip of power; work, you might think, cut out for the UN. But instead of diplomatic support, the West, under UN humanitarian cover, delivered a brutal lesson on military destruction and the perversion of international law.

The west cheered as images of Gaddafi being sodomised with a kitchen knife appeared on YouTube, and his bloodied face was printed onto every major newspaper in Europe and the US. Another monster done away with, another country in ruin, a new monster was needed. It didn’t take long to find one:

Bashar al-Assad.


“Silence by media; war by media.” J. Pilger.


Turkish Delight: Full of Eastern Lies

Turkish Delight

Turkey has long been a country with an edgy side, but from the outset of the Arab Spring in 2011, Turkey’s behaviour has become increasingly concerning. Under a burgeoning return to authoritarian policy coinciding with the start of the regional uprising, Recep Tayyip Erdogan has represented NATO’s commitment to ‘freedom and democracy’, much the same as Tyson Fury represents the gentleman’s game. With the ugliness on show.

When the Soviet Union collapsed in 1989, many thought/hoped that NATO (at the time a disused WWII relic) would be dissolved and forgotten about. Instead, the organisation was picked up by the US, given a good dusting off and a huge increase in budget. NATO has always been a mechanism for the US military to feature strongly in Europe, and the war in Yugoslavia served as a useful vehicle to seriously increase its foothold. Many former members of the Warsaw Pact moved away from the crumbling Soviet system and within a decade were allied into NATO’s embrace. But since the disappearance of the Soviet counterweight, NATO’s existence has added to the world’s disharmony and conflict, more than it has kept the peace.


NATO Summit, 1949

Since its formation in 1949, the persistent public justification for NATO’s existence had been to deal with the Soviet military and ideological threat. Despite the decisive battles of Moscow and Stalingrad occurring less than a decade before (both pivotal moments in the defeat of the Nazis), Western governments had lost none of their repulsion by the word ‘communism’. To make matters even more perplexing, West Germany, half of the nation who’s twisting towards fascism and unwarranted aggression led to the war in the first place, was controversially allowed to join NATO in 1955, only a decade after the final defeat of the Nazis. Turkey had become a NATO member three years earlier, along with Greece. The pair would create major internal tension when Turkey invaded Cyprus in 1974, under the code name Operation Attila, and forced the ‘Green Line’ that still divides the island to this day.

As a member state of NATO, an organisation which describes itself as ‘promoting democratic values’ and being ‘committed to the peaceful resolution of disputes’, Erdogan’s Turkey appears to be on a totally different trajectory, yet continues to milk every last drop of privilege and protection that being a member brings. The president has made his regional aspirations clear, and remember, Turkey’s gains are NATO’s gains. But these are risky tactics, never more so than right now, with neighbouring Syria on fire and much of the world’s nations, including Syria’s government, seemingly fanning the flames.

In the last 5 years Turkey’s name has appeared in the headlines for increasinly sinister reasons. The forced closure of news media houses, and the arrest of many journalists has led to international criticism. Some of the journalists are facing years of imprisonment for producing ‘terrorist propaganda’ or the far more despotic sounding charge of ‘insulting the president’. One of these media professionals is Can Dundar, the editor of Cumhuriyet, a Turkish daily that opposes the present government. He is currently under arrest for publishing a video on the Cumhuriyet website, showing Turkish government vehicles crossing the Syrian border, the trucks ladened with weapons concealed below a thin layer of aid, heading for the so called Syrian ‘rebels’.

The New York Times published several articles in 2012, confirming that the CIA were moving arms through an obliging Turkey and into Syria to support the many ‘rebel’ groups fighting Basher Assad’s Syrian army. The video only confirmed it. But despite the denials in the White House and Downing Street, these ‘rebels’ have never been the moderates David Cameron used to lever opinion about the UK’s bombing of ISIS in Syria. In reality (and some early research is starting to show this) the majority of these fighters are Islamic extremists, many of them members of al Nusra, the Syrian arm of the Taliban and al Qaeda. Yes, those that were responsible for 9/11, are now – unintentionally or otherwise – being supported by the US.

Turkey’s support of Islamic extremists fighting in Syria appears to be far-reaching. Uighur extremists from the Xinjiang region of China are allegedly being assisted by Turkish authorities to make the journey to Syria to support the other extremists already fighting Assad. The Chinese Intelligence are getting very annoyed with Erdogan’s meddling in China’s own terrorist issues in Xinjiang, which may lead to future deterioration between the two nation’s relationship. And of course, whilst these imports have featured highly on Erdogan’s list of priorities, another kind of export has been proving to be both controversial and lucrative to the President and his immediate family.

According to reports, Turkey has been using its ports and land borders to off-load oil pumped from ISIS controlled fields in Iraq and Syria, then sold on to disappear within the market. Complex networks that include MIT (Turkish Intelligence), the Turkish Army and even the shipping company of which Erdogan’s son-in-law owns a third, have been reported to be intrinsically involved in the duplicitous smuggling and selling of Islamic State oil.

Turkey’s shooting down of the Russian jet in November last year, because it had entered into Turkish airspace for 17 seconds, sent reverberations much further than Hatay. Under Article 5 of the Nato Treaty, an attack on one of the member states will be considered an attack on all the member states. In other words, had Russia retaliated to the strike, all Hell would have broken loose.


How much is Turkey’s strategic value worth? World War III? Or could it be what really needs to be reconsidered is a 67 year old treaty, whose principles can dangerously backfire when the majority of its members don’t apply them themselves.

Under Ergodan’s leadership the tension between the government and the Turkish Kurds has intensified to the point where yet another civil war seems extremely likely. The official number of Kurds living in Turkey is vague, as the Turkish administration has not allowed a consensus to record accurate figures, but there are estimates ranging from 15% – 30% of the population. The bombing that took place in Suruç last July became the catalyst for a step up in violence, with the PKK (Kurdistan Workers’ Party) taking responsibility for the later killing of two Turkish policemen in a ‘revenge’ attack for the bombing. This handed Erdogan the license he needed to go after the PKK in Turkey, but it seems this has transformed into an out-and-out offensive, where all Kurdish people are seen as PKK militants, whether living within Turkey, or without. Once more, the White House and the UK government seem quite content to watch these events occur, without comment.


Cizre, Turkey. Sept, 2015

You will be annihilated in those houses, those buildings, those ditches which you have dug,” Erdogan said…


He was talking about the Kurdish militants to a crowd of his supporters at a rally last month. Some towns like Cizre and Silopi at the border of Iraq have had curfew orders placed on them, which have intensified into blockades around some Kurdish neighbourhoods. The Kurdish reaction has been to increase the intensity of its resistance. Some media have reported that around 10,000 regime police and troops are involved in the fighting, along with the persistent heavy shelling from government tanks.

In the shadow of the attrocities happening each day in Syria, there is genuine concern that crimes taking place in Turkey will go unnoticed. Erdogan’s Turkey has transformed itself, with frightening speed, from a country that was seen as making great social strides forward less than a decade ago, to something far more resembling the Turkey of the Cold War period; when it had the permission of the West to behave however it liked.

Once Upon a Time in Arabia

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, as David Cameron begrudgingly explained in a recent interview with Jon Snow, has managed to nose itself into a unique global position — an ally, a friend and the centre of Middle Eastern intelligence for the West. However, how many people understand just how such a nation arrived at this crucial niche? Especially when you consider the persistent reports of human rights abuses from within the kingdom — public beheadings, amputation and floggings for such terrible crimes as ‘fornication’ or ‘witchcraft’ — and from without, with the US backed bombing campaign of Yemen and the ruthless oppression of the democratic Bahrain uprising in 2011.

And yet at the same time, there has been plenty of other news about the UK’s overt (and covert) relationship with the regime: billions of dollars in arms deals; royal visits with the British monarchy; corrupt voting schemes between the two nations in order to bolster Saudi’s position within the UN Human Rights Council. Derision has rightly fallen on the UK government for enhancing a state that beheads its citizens for practicing sorcery, onto the global stage for human rights.

But why? Why do we have this cosy set up? Yes, there is the obvious lure of oil, but the Saudis don’t have exclusive access to the black stuff, with other oily nations seemingly ignored or even viewed as enemies (look to Venezuela). So why do our decision-makers bend over backwards to accommodate this brutal dictatorship?
In the 1740s, the geographical area we now know as Saudi Arabia was more or less a plateau for warring Bedouin tribes. Ibn Saud, the ancestor of the modern Saudi family, was just one of many desert leaders, raiding other tribes and vying for geographical supremacy. But a 1741 encounter with an exiled cleric named Adl al-Wahhab, forged a partnership that would alter the fate of the whole Middle East.

1740 arabia

Map of Arabia, 1740

Al-Wahhab was not your everyday Muslim. He saw the 18th century understanding of Islam that surrounded him as a regressive, backwards step towards polytheism, or as he called it, Jahiliyyah — referring to the indigenous nomads of the Nejd, who still lived a pre-Islamic life, and were commonly considered barbarians.

The cleric saw everything that had been added to Islam from around 950-1000 AD, as a false path that needed to be reversed and its religious doctrines abolished. Al-Wahhab’s interpretation also warned anyone who showed the slightest resistance to his teachings, or who failed to follow them to the letter, that this proved them to be non-Muslim. And according to Wahhabi laws, you should convert or be slaughtered. The importance of this shouldn’t be underestimated; it was to have major repercussions…

Adl al-Wahhab was, I suppose, just one in a very long line of religious fanatics, but Ibn Saud saw something much more in his extreme preaching, something he realised could lend him an edge over the other tribes of the region and potentially offer him the opportunity to seize the peninsula.

The traditional raids of neighbouring tribal villages was, until Adl al-Wahhab’s affiliation with the House of Saud, done for wealth and conquest. But now, with the fanatical cleric under Ibn Saud’s wing, the raids became Islamic crusades, leading to thousands of violent executions in neighbouring territory.

Word of the bloody raids soon spread and before long Ibn Saud and al-Wahhab’s brutal reputation was striking fear into villages and cities throughout Arabia. They soon acquired much of the peninsula, giving the populations they conquered a simple choice: convert to Wahhabism or die. Reports of the massacres of thousands, such as at Karbala in 1801, instilled yet more fear into surrounding settlements, including the holy cities of Mecca and Medina, both of which capitulated under the panic and fear created by Ibn Saud and al-Wahhab, with little or no resistance.

These were the salad days of Wahhabism. The glory days, that are taught as such in Saudi schools to this today. Alas, for them at least, they didn’t last long.

The first quarter of the 19th century saw the Saud-Wahhab forces annihilated; first by the Egyptians, and then again by the Turks. Their people however, held out together in the desert, and importantly, so did their Wahhabi culture.

For the next 100 years the Ottoman Empire hung over the peninsula, whilst the Sauds fought battle after battle with neighbouring tribes, once again vying for dominance. The years of persistent battle eventually caught up with them, when in 1891 they were finally defeated, with the Saud family escaping to exile in Kuwait.


Around 10 years later, Abd-al Aziz, the then House of Saud leader, came out of exile determined to reclaim the peninsula. In doing so, he used much the same tactics as his historical ancestors, Ibn Saud and al-Wahhab, namely fear under the banner of jihad. But there were two other important aspects to Aziz’s strategy that can’t be overlooked: the Ikhwan project, and the support of the British.

A major part of Abd-al Aziz’s strategy for reclaiming the peninsula, was to extend Wahhabism, through radical teaching, into the surrounding Bedouin tribes. The traditional tribesmen were considered theological ‘blank slates’ by the House of Saud; primitive and unenlightened, the Jahiliyyah were opened up to Wahhabi conversion by Saudi clerics with the zeal of Christian missionaries in Africa.

The Ikhwan were used to attack tribes and other Houses whom resisted, and once again as with the first Wahhabi uprising, their particularly vicious habits of cutting the throats and beheading non-convertors began to spread fear throughout Arabia.

From 1913 until the late 1920s, the Ikhwan was Abd-al Aziz’s army. They won conquest after conquest, claiming the land and feeding the militia with more Wahhabi conversions, whilst similarly feeding the fear which gripped the land with more mayhem and killing.

The British Government began courting Abd-al Aziz when it became increasingly clear, with each victory he gained, he would emerge as ruler of a vast portion of Arabia. The British rulers had much to protect in the vicinity, with the Sykes-Picot Agreement being discussed at the same time. Aziz knew he needed the British in order to authenticate the nation, and therefore to embed Wahhabism into the Kingdom.

In 1915, whilst the eyes of the world were on the Dardanelles, France and Belgium, Ibn Saud signed the Darin Treaty, where he agreed to become part of the British protectorate.


One of the main problems with having a huge army of religious fanatics, is they can be hard to bring to heel. It had been positively encouraged to raid any non-Wahhabi settlements prior to the treaty, but when the Ikwhan made attacks on other British protectorate (namely Transjordan), the British was forced to have stern words with Abd-al Aziz. Even before the treaty was signed, a movement within the Ikwhan had formed, one that was unhappy with Abd-al Aziz and, as they saw it, his personal neglect of Wahhabi customs. They were angered by his sudden tolerance of the people who, until recently, were deemed heretics. The signing of the Darin Treaty and Abd-al Aziz’s growing acceptance of Western modernity (cars, telephones and machine guns were being introduced) was felt to be in direct conflict with the Wahhabi doctrine, which rejected non-traditional ways of life and would never agree to become subordinate to an imperial power.

By the late 1920s, and after gaining both Hejaz and Nedj, Abd-al Aziz was finding the rift within the Ikwhan a concern that could no longer be ignored. The splinter movement had grown far beyond a splinter, and had intensified their jihadi attacks on Transjordan, Iraq and Kuwait. The self proclaimed King of Hejaz and Nedj, knew that something had to be done.

It came to a head at the Battle of Sabille in 1930, where Abd-al Aziz seized his opportunity. The Ikwhan rejected modern weapons, and were helplessly decimated by the machine gun fire (supplied by the British) of Abd-al Aziz’ remaining army. They were cut to pieces by the onslaught, in what was also a warning to anyone else who challenged the King’s rule. What remained of the Ikwhan was absorbed by what would eventually become The Royal Saudi Landforce. In 1932 the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia was born, and just six years later prospectors struck jackpot amounts of oil within the kingdom.


The Ikwhan has drawn two more recent imitators. The first came in 1979, when Islamic purists, revolting against the modernisation of the Saudi state, laid siege the Grand Mosque in Mecca. They saw themselves as ‘true’ Wahhabi, whilst the state had allowed itself to become corrupted with modern ideas, such as educating women. They also wanted to ban TVs, start hating the West again and to kick out any non-Muslims living in the kingdom. The siege lasted just over two weeks, when the Saudi Army got the religious clearance to storm the mosque. Both sides took heavy casualties but eventually the insurgents were tear-gassed out of the mosque, and either killed or captured.

The vast majority of the insurgents were executed, but at the trial of the group leaders, the ulama (the religious most senior clerics and scholars that bore much influence in court) showed great leniency, despite the many laws, both Islamic and state, they had defiled.

The truth was the ulama majority agreed with most of the extremists’ ideology. In fact, the supreme response to the siege by the Saudi state was to hand more power to the ulama, which in turn issued stricter Islamic code upon society. So the second Ikwhan may have lost the battle, but it could be argued they won the war.


The second incarnation of the Ikwhan needs no introduction. IS (or ISIS) are extremists whose clever use of the internet, cold-blooded brutality and military proficiency has catapulted them into the centre of global affairs.

Isis fighters, pictured on a militant website verified by AP.

The conditions created by the West’s war-sanctions-war policy in Iraq since 1991, left the country utterly broken, and a fertile breeding ground for extremism. John Pilger recently wrote, “Like Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge, ISIS are the mutations of a western state terror dispensed by a venal imperial elite undeterred by the consequences of actions taken at great remove in distance and culture.” I’d like to add another aspect to distance and culture: time.

The British were well aware of the Wahhabi culture within Saudi Arabia throughout their early relationship. Indeed, one of their officials even converted. Yet, seemingly, at no time did it ever occur to anyone – or if it did, they failed to voice it above a whisper – to be concerned about supporting the regressive and violent culture of Wahhabism. Even a rudimentary sociological examination would have shown in flashing-red-neon the obvious self destructive seed lying at its heart, that would grow intertwined with the success of the state. One can only assume that they chose to turn a myopic eye.

We continue to ignore most of the atrocities committed by Saudi Arabia, the bombing of Yemen, the cruelty to its own people, its funding of Wahhabi extremists all over the world, in exchange for — according to David Cameron — Middle Eastern intelligence on terrorist threats. Seeing as how almost all the funding and arming of terrorism comes from within the kingdom, I guess they are in a good position to give accurate advice.

We Should be Working 15 Hour Weeks… but I’ll take 25.


“So, we are working harder and longer than ever, and although there’s an abundance of wealth out there, less and less of it is being paid in real wages.”

Imagine having lots of spare time. Now there’s a thought! Maybe it’s slipped from memory, but we’ve all had periods of our lives that came with enough free time to encourage us to develop in individual and sometimes eccentric ways; some learn to play the guitar or cook, others work their way through the classics of literature, or go travelling. Some people appear to do very little with their spare time; but physical inactivity shouldn’t be misunderstood; still waters run deep, or so they say.

These periods normally occur before the social pressure of getting a steady job, an extortionate mortgage and building a little family really begin to squeeze.  Of course, a full-time job these days comes with a UK average week of over 39 hours to go with it, which has the knock on effect of sending your spare time into outer space for about forty-five years.

But let’s just imagine we could have both: spare time to indulge our natures and the same standard of living. If you were working 20-25 hours a week with your current full-time pay, you would have time and energy to really enjoy the family, maybe get involved with the community or see old friends. There’s usually something people want to do but don’t have the time: learn a new language, write, paint, play a particular sport, complete a course on feminism… the list is endless. Trying to do any of these things and work almost 40 hours a week reminds me of the Woody Allen line, “I took a course on speed-reading and now I’ve read War and Peace. It’s about Russia.” What we are talking about is having the time to develop who you really are, instead of allowing ourselves to be defined by the means with which we exchange our labour for money.

John Maynard Keynes

John Maynard Keynes

This was part of how John Maynard Keynes saw our society unfolding, back in 1930. He thought that with our living standards set to rise like never before, we would be able to own or access the necessary material things of life and therefore have a greatly reduced reason to work. Consumerism, as we know it today, was just a hatching plan in 1930. Edward Bernays had a year before staged the famous ladies smoking their ‘torches of freedom‘ and with it the concept of Public Relations and advertising (as a means to influence) was born.

A few years ago, Larry Elliott in The Guardian suggested that the reason Keynes’ prediction of such a reduced working week had failed to materialise, was down to ‘our desire’ to work harder in order to keep up with our wealthier neighbours. There may be a tiny element of truth in this, but I think there is a whole bunch of other things being tactically ignored.


I think first of all we have to look at wages. Real wages have been generally falling for nearly 30 years in the UK. That’s why two generations ago it was common for an average family to live on one breadwinner’s wage. Then we came to our parents’ generation, the baby boom, who found a full-time job now needed supplementing, usually with the other parent taking on part-time work. Our generation has normalised the idea of both parents going out to work full-time; you have to question if the social movement of workplace gender equality has been a victory for campaigners, or if it was politically allowed to increase government revenue in taxes and obfuscate the shrinking of real wages.

An average family starting out today (even with both parents in work), will have by comparison with their grandparents, shocking levels of debt.

Real wages, 1964-2012 (Office for National Statistics)

Real wages, 1964-2012 (Office for National Statistics)

The above graph shows how wages have compared to inflation. You can see how the ECG of the boom and bust years is replaced in the early 1980s by the spidery scrawl of a dying villain. These are the neoliberal years; the adoption by Margaret Thatcher’s Conservative Party of the economic theories of Milton Friedman et al., which are still held deeply in the bosom of the current Tory government. But it was also embraced by New Labour, spearheaded by Tony Blair in 1997. Jeremy Corbyn’s recent election as leader of the Labour Party, has created a schism within the organisation, as Blairites repel the principles of peace, justice and democracy from the new leader. From 1988 onwards, the graph tracks a serrated, quarter-century journey, mostly downhill. We are looking at an obvious decline, culminating in the death spasms of the recent financial crash.

GDP per capita, by contrast, has risen almost without fail, year after year… until the crash in 2008, but it has now surpassed the pre-crash level, indicating the recovery that we are always hearing lots about, but seeing very little.

UK GDP per capita, 1964-2014 (ONS)

UK GDP per capita, 1964-2014 (ONS)


So although we are working hard and long hours, and the obvious fact that there’s an abundance of wealth out there, less and less of it is being paid in real wages.

The very notion of a tax haven summons up images of sun-drenched remote islands, palm trees, anchored yachts and cocktails. But this stereotype has benefited those who take advantage of the reality. The truth is, Britain itself is a tax haven, with corporate and business tax breaks and avoidance schemes orchestrated from the City of London. At the Treasury Select Committee this year, George Osborne proudly stated that Britain has “one of the lowest corporate tax rates in the western world”.

When CEOs such as Sir Martin Sorrell of WPP, who has a salary of £30million, earn 780 times more than their average employees, you begin to see how the huge gap between the top earners and everyone else has distorted the general equality that Keynes must have assumed was going to be a continuous aspect of social progression. That the present corporate world seems comfortable with the notion that one CEO can be as valuable as 780 employees, displays its lack of social conscience, not only in regards to employment level, but in the perpetuation of increasing global inequality.

I think the real reason Keynes’ vision failed to materialise has more to do with the advent of advertising and mass consumerism. Can he be blamed for failing to anticipate the uptake, through the ballooning influence of barely regulated or taxed financial institutions and corporations, of neoliberalism in almost all western governments, and their subsequent handing over of power (and mind-blowing wealth) to the banking and corporate world?

Heroes of Neoliberalism

Heroes of Neoliberalism


Click to access dcp171776_368928.pdf

Simple Stories of the Insanely Complicated

drone blog picture

“Exactitude is not the truth.”
— Henri Matisse

It’s very tempting to divide life into forces of good and forces of evil. It’s easier to make sense of a world if there are just two fundamental human types: good people and bad. My little girl is 5, and will often ask me when we are watching a film, “Is he a goody, dad? Or a baddy?”

In this fairytale world, the forces of good and bad are wrestling it out through eternity, in a never-ending cycle of precarious victories for the side of the angels. Our need for simple stories to explain the human chaos in the world has even begun to alter how we look at our history; re-examining World War II, and all it’s associated horrors, as a shining example of a narrative that at least made sense. Or, as John Pilger recently put it,

“As Barack Obama ignites his seventh war against the Muslim world since he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, the orchestrated hysteria and lies make one almost nostalgic for Kissinger’s murderous honesty.”

Western leaders have in recent decades responded to the people’s demand for the truth by inventing simple stories of good and evil to justify their own malefic actions. By doing this, these tales become moral fictions of righteousness prevailing over wickedness; but today, the ramified reality behind this simplified pretence is beginning to tear through the thin fabric of lies, exposing, to anyone who cares to look, the mad, brutal and inhuman truth of modern global politics.


I wonder which simple story best articulates an American president, representing the most powerful, rich and armed democratic nation on earth, settling down each Tuesday morning in his presidential chair, sipping coffee and signing off the weekly ‘kill list‘?

This list of names is the combined US and UK intelligence of the geographical whereabouts of various Taliban and al-Qaeda militants. Commonly these locations are in the Federally Administrated Tribal Areas (FATA) of North Pakistan, the stateless Somalia, Yemen and, never to be missed out, Iraq and Afghanistan. These countries are not officially at war with the US, but that equates to very little when placed over today’s reinterpreted and extended definitions of international conflict. These militants, who may or may not have committed a crime, will usually become the targets of Unmanned Aircraft Systems, otherwise known as drones. Flown by remote control from air bases hundreds or thousands of miles away, these lethal toys have become tools for the West to extend the parameters of what’s acceptable in warfare.

And the simple narrative to justify this ‘execution’ by another name? A well used warmonger’s contradiction: defence.

Self-defence, actually. By tracking down and killing men the Obama administration think are senior members of Taliban or al Qaeda groups, and who might, now or in the future, be possibly thinking about plotting a terrorist act on US citizens or soil (and who might not), then you are acting in self-defence, by making a terrorist attack on the US less likely. Nuking the rest of the planet would have a very similar effect.

Here’s a map of Pakistan:


In 2003, US and UK intelligence led NATO into already war-torn Afghanistan, and the increased fighting forced thousands of people, including Taliban members, to spill out into the north-westerly corner of Pakistan, called Waziristan. Afghanistan has been a battleground for long periods of its recent history: British India used it to absorb any “radical” ideology emanating from Russia throughout the 19th and the first half of the 20th century. Then in the 1970s, a series of coups drew out the Soviet Union, who invaded in 1979 and stayed there for almost a decade, fighting a brutal proxy-war with the US, who was pouring money and weapons into any organisation that claimed to be Afghan rebels resisting the Soviets. This includes funding an early al-Qaeda.

Pakistan is now home to some 2.7 million Afghan refugees, some registered, but most are illegal. The militarisation of North Waziristan has led to the displacement of 350,000 people, desperately trying to escape the violence of both the Taliban and the US attacks.

This is an excellent interactive archive, which really helps illustrate the increase in drone strikes since 2004, please have a quick look:


Barack Obama has courageously defended US soil (I refuse to use the term ‘homeland’) by authorising over 460 drone strikes, more than any other world leader or former US president. The US military and CIA have on occasion even neglected to communicate with allied nations before launching attacks. It seems to me that the people being targeted can’t reasonably be considered “consistently in the role of conflict”, contravening the international laws set down in the Geneva Convention.

The intelligence that ‘justifies’ a drone strike has often been appallingly inaccurate.  This has lead to the sickening murder of hundreds of innocent civilians, like the convoy of cars that was hit as they made their way to a wedding or a grandmother playing with her two grandchildren on their farmland, and countless other silent tragedies.


drone plane

There is something about the nature of this windowless, metallic vehicle that leaves you cold. They fly slowly, are rigged with camera’s and listening devices, and of course, carry air-to-ground Hellcat missiles. They are quiet and can hover over their targets for hours if necessary before firing, sending back footage to bases in Afghanistan and Las Vegas, Nevada. These bases are also where the pilot remotely flies the drone, and it is this long-distance and risk-free advantage that has compounded the immorality of the program.

According to The Bureau of Investigative Journalism (TBIJ), strikes in Pakistan alone between 2004 — 2015 number 413 (362 authorised by Obama), and have killed up to 3,492 people. Of these killings, the TBIJ estimated 1,167 were civilians, including 207 children. The CIA and the US military have an insider term for this innocent loss of lives, they call it bug-splat.

Political language may well be a stranger to the truth, but it does tell us a lot about national perspectives. The majority of civilian deaths are denied by the US military and the CIA, despite evidence from witnesses and journalists on the ground, and do not stop Obama’s administration from using terms like ‘surgical strikes’ and ‘precision targeting’ to blind-side the US public.

“Nearly for the past year, there hasn’t been a single collateral death, because of the exceptional proficiency, [and] precision of the capabilities that we’ve been able to develop,” said John Brennan, the CIA agent overseeing its covert drone operations. He was giving a public lecture on counter-terrorism at Johns Hopkins University, in June 2011 and his statement, to say the least, was contentious. Between June 10th, 2010 and June 8th, 2011, TBIJ reported drone strikes in Waziristan numbering over 120. Their investigations reported up to 196 civilian killings for this time period, including the murders of 16 children.



Seemingly everything comes back to language. Tall stories, misinformation and the necessary ability to transform your wicked deeds – through pseudo-technological sound bites, into bright, shining paradigms of progression – are modern political essentials.

“Where foreign governments cannot or will not effectively stop terrorism in their territory, the primary alternative to targeted lethal action would be the use of conventional military options. As I’ve already said, even small special operations carry enormous risks. Conventional air-power or missiles are far less precise than drones, and are likely to cause more civilian casualties and more local outrage. And invasions of these territories lead us to be viewed as occupying armies, unleash a torrent of unintended consequences, are difficult to contain, result in large numbers of civilian casualties and ultimately empower those who thrive on violent conflict.”

Obama in his ‘Terrorism speech‘ of May 2013, comes at us from a skewed perspective; not as the leader of a country participating in the war of terrorism, but as the body defining its very rules. Technology is advancing faster than international law can be adapted, and in the dangerous space this creates, new archetypes can be set. Stuff you would’ve expected to happen in covert CIA programs, are now played out in broad daylight and are hailed as breakthrough policies that will ‘save’ lives.

“…and ultimately empower those who thrive on violent conflict.” This is clearly aimed at IS (or ISIS), but it could be equally true of another group that augmented and strengthened under US military interventions. The ragged followers of Saloth Sar numbered about 4,000 when the US began their bombing campaign of Cambodia. Three years later, when the Generals were satisfied that the whole country was levelled beyond recognition, that number had swollen to an army of 200,000. Both leader and army renamed themselves Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge.

Cambodian genocide


In the UK we don’t bother too much with the fairytale stuff. Here instead, is the continuation of a more traditional method of public misinformation — lies, cover-ups and secretion. The MoD’s role in the drone program is rarely discussed as far as mainstream media are concerned, however, it’s pretty obvious that they are up to their necks in complicity.

Of the 500+ drones now held by the MoD, only around 10 Reapers are armed. British drones have been used predominantly to collect data surveillance intelligence, or at least that is the official line; but in such a secretive and distant campaign, who really knows how much action the Reapers have seen. But even if we stick with the ‘intelligence gathering’ story, by handing that intelligence to the CIA or US military, then the UK government becomes 100% complicit in the ongoing murders/executions/killings, as it is quite obvious what the intelligence is going to be used for.

According to Drone Wars UK, in the five years from 2007 to 2012, Britain spent over £2billion on the purchase and maintenance of its drones. In the meantime, the cuts to UK essential services continue to be torn out of the country in the name of ‘debt recovery’. I guess when you spend that kind of money, you really don’t want to see your new play things gathering dust in a hanger somewhere, like a fleet of classic cars. No, you’d need to use them to justify the price-tag, but at the same time you don’t want too many people knowing that you are using them. Here’s a question to parliament regarding the current usage of RAF drones. Please note the geographical location given for the whereabouts of the UK drones as, “in the Middle East”. That narrows that down, then.


Of course, big corporations couldn’t help but get in on the action. British Telecom (a national treasure in the UK!), agreed a 5 year, £23million contract with the US government to make and sell advanced fibre-optic cable (about 30x faster than their Infinity broadband cables) to the US military, specifically for use in the drone program. BT responded by saying the cable is for general purpose, and see no issue with their deal. But Reprieve, the human rights organisation, has accused BT of “wilful ignorance”, and has demanded that they end their contract with the US Government.


Despite the rather obvious benefit of being absent from the strike site, it seems that drone pilots do not escape the most commonly overlooked of war injuries: mental trauma. Depression, anxiety, PTSD, alcoholism and drug addiction are the most prevalent syndromes returning soldiers in the US and UK suffer from. Initial indicators from the psychological testing of drone pilots seems to show a strikingly similar pattern.

This problem was compounded by a lack of suitable or enthusiastic pilots, forcing the US military to make changes in its career pathways. Pilots who have found themselves on the drone program have also suffered from a burgeoning stigma within the Air force of being “not real pilots”, or that they are simply “jumped up video gamers’. The number of flights pilots are ordered to make intensified to its peak at the end of last year, pushing the pilots to work 16+ hours shifts, sometimes 6 days a week.

Here’s a rather odd music video I found on the TBIJ website and offers us a tiny glance into the world of a drone pilot. It’s written by the pilots ‘singing’, and you can definitely tell. The dynamic is one of men that have been too long in the company of other men. It’s sort of a protest song, with the pilots explaining through the medium of ‘rap’ how they much preferred to kill by firing missiles at people from a jet, the old fashioned way, rather than this boring drone flying. I think we are supposed to feel sorry for them. Perhaps you do, and maybe for different reasons.

Would you believe, some people living under the persistent threat of a drone strike might even agree with Top Gun 1 & 2, feat. Top Gun 3, there. That is to say, some civilians have actually been reported to say that they would prefer their village to face an air strike from an F16 jet, because at least “the attack ends”.

How must it feel, and what must it do to your psychology, to be under the persistent threat of these glinting, metallic hunters high above? The answer is thankfully beyond me, as it is beyond everyone who lives in the US and in the UK. Our leaders would tell us that the reason we cannot fully sympathise with this kind of fear, is precisely because of their successes in the War on Terror.

Another simple story. It might even be one you believe? Why not? We have to believe in some things. I assume you are comfortable with the price other less fortunate, but no less important, people are forced to pay for our freedom?

The Great British Truncheon (part 1)


“I have no particular love for the idealised ‘worker’, but when I see an actual flesh-and-blood worker in conflict with his natural enemy, the policeman, I do not have to ask which side I am on.”

George Orwell, Homage to Catalonia

Growing up in the North of England during the 1970s and 80s seemed a fairly normal existence to me. Playing street-football in the evenings, watching T.I.S.W.A.S on Saturday mornings, and getting through the fights and scrapes of school was a pretty standard week. But behind all of that, a shift was spreading through the psyche of Britain. It emanated from Westminster, where the government was force-marching the country on a long journey right-ward. Songs of ‘personal freedom’, ‘personal wealth’, and ‘privatisation’ were perpetually sung by its leaders, and these catchy individualist tunes were beginning to lodge in the minds of much of the nation.

The council estate in Rotherham where I lived from a baby until 15, was populated with straight-laced, working-class people, tasked mainly with the gruelling labour of cutting coal from the earth, forging steel in the furnaces of British Steel and looking after their family the best they could. There was little crime that I can recall, so a police car parked on the street was rare. Yet the vast majority of these families were almost by nature distrustful of the police, referring to them in bad-news tones. We kids copied and did the same. I still do until I check myself. I don’t think this is unusual of working class communities. I think it’s older than the hills.

Today it’s easy to forget that each of the rights we now take for granted, has had to be fought and won, usually by the working classes, through protest and organised confrontation. British history is spilling over with the blood of up-risers, and at such flashpoints, since the mid 1800s at least, it has been the police who stands protector to the ruling classes, and therefore the opposer of any urgent demand for change from the masses.

In 2012, the South Yorkshire police referred itself to the IPCC (Independent Police Complaints Commission – the body served with investigating complaints brought against the police). It did so in light of the investigative work of a local BBC journalist (click here to watch the documentary) and The Guardian. The charges are some of the worst possible for a police force to have levelled at it and include assault, perverting the course of justice and perjury. The criminal evidence unearthed (that the current South Yorkshire police force must feel substantial enough to effectively ‘turn itself in’) dates back over 30 years to the miner’s strike; specifically, one day in that strike.

On the 18th June 1984, a quiet northern village between Rotherham and Sheffield became the backdrop for the outpouring of violence that must, it seems, accompany any political ‘regime change’.

The strike was in its third month, and had started to gain some positive momentum from national and local papers, as well as increasing public support. Even so, a number of men going to the picket that day found it unusual that the police allowed so many miners to gather together without turning any away. The mass picketing at the coking plant had been going on for four weeks, and police had always tried to break up the number of pickets getting to the site by stopping cars, making arrests and even building road-blocks. But on this day, the police even escorted coaches full of miners off the M1, through the shimmering farmland, to the coking plant at Orgreave.

In South Yorkshire, industry and agriculture mingle together at their edges in acres of beautiful wasteland, meadows of wildflowers and stones. This was predominantly the terrain at Orgreave, the land cut across with winding country roads, and the the flow of the River Rother, towards the Don. As the gates opened to allow in the first truck carrying coal, some of the miner’s, as was routine, jeered and pushed at the police line in a halfhearted attempt to break through the police line and get to the truck. But on that hot day, instead of simply pushing the men back to the picket line as before, the police went berserk.

Within the police squads were British Army soldiers dressed in police uniform, minus the officers’ number badge. These soldiers had no policing training. They had no idea how to even make an arrest. As the violence increased, more and more police/army arrived at the site and were immediately sent into the fray.

orgreave truncheon

Wherever the miners ran, police lay in wait for them, usually on horseback, but sometimes with dogs. Men unaware of the police attack and walking back to the picket with cups of tea were suddenly ambushed by police with truncheons. Near the coking plant, a few lines of workers tried to rally, but were swallowed up by riot police and again the swinging truncheons. Throughout the day, the violence escalated, with with the police continuing it barrage of brutality. Some miners threw what looked like stones, which incurred yet more police battery raids.
By the end of it, men of both ‘sides’ needed medical care. Some miners had suffered broken limbs. The police figures had more officers reported hurt than miners. Ninety-five men were arrested that day, all charged with riot.

Why did this happened? Why did a police force, having sworn an oath to uphold human rights and maintain the peace, on that day throw it under the hooves of its police horses and the boots of its riot police? Well, as always, there’s a bigger picture.

In 1977 the UK police force was having serious problems recruiting and maintaining officers. The Labour government had commissioned a review that concluded the force required a 45% pay rise. Labour and the police force had parted ways when the force had been denied a union and the right to strike in 1919, so there wasn’t a great deal of solidarity between them. Instead of implementing the 45% fully, the government decided to phase in an agreed amount, which didn’t really solve their recruitment problem and did nothing for police/labour relations.

But then in 1979, Margaret Thatcher came to power, and one of the first things she did was grant the police the full 45% pay award. Whatever Thatcher was, she was no fool. She knew that in order to change Britain’s direction as much as she intended, she would need the police in her pocket. Five years later, at Orgreave, she got a HUGE return on that investment.

Another thing to know is that in 1972 the miners were involved in another strike, and their success was largely due to a mass picketing campaign at another coking plant – this time at Saltley, near Birmingham. Arthur Scargill, a senior officer of the Yorkshire National Union of Miners at the time, led the rally. It was an amazing union triumph, and perhaps the last great act of workers solidarity in Britain, as thousands of men and women in factories and other workplaces in Birmingham walked out too, most of them joining the other picketing miners at Saltley. Up to 10,000 protestors gathered there by the afternoon. The police could no longer secure the trucks leaving the coking plant and the gates finally shut to the roar of the crowd.

The government was also well aware of the significance of the coking plant, and the union victory it represented, and they were not prepared to see it happen again. The Ridley Report, commissioned by Mrs Thatcher, was an instruction manual on how to break down a strike and dismantle the unity of the working man. A couple of Ridley’s suggestions stand out: “The government should if possible choose the field of battle.”; and “Train and equip a large, mobile squad of police, ready to employ riot tactics in order to uphold the law against violent picketing.”.

It was a revolution-by-proxy, for it paved the way, with the unions castrated, from a shift of a nation of ‘producers’ to ‘consumers’. The full regime change. Uniforms aside, the strike pitted working men against each other. But who could really see that then. It was the short-sharp-shock version of culture change. I hope we all feel it was worth it.

At the time of writing the IPCC has given no new updates on it’s plans to investigate the crimes of 18th June 1984.

Please watch Yvonne Vanson’s brilliant Battle for Orgreave

Wednesday, 12th November, 2014

self imposed draft jpeg

Maybe it was just me, but I never really got the ‘army’ thing.

In the infant school yard, when I was 7 or 8, gangs of lads would roam around in a growing flock chanting, “Anyone! Playinat! ArrrMee!”

I’d sort of half get involved, loitering at the edges of the crowd all busily ordering themselves into two sides. Then suddenly it was war! and everyone just went wild with air-guns (as in air-guitar) and air-grenades, accompanied by larynx snapping sounds of explosions and death gurgles. It’s a bit of a shame really that even by such a tender age I seemed to have developed an self consciousness. I couldn’t quite give myself over to pretence; not for that, at least. Not for ‘army’.

Now, I can look back on the first invasion of Iraq in 1990, and see myself, nineteen and arrogant, watching the hazy, sepia images of buildings exploding on jet targeting systems, feeling nothing but a total disconnection with what I was witnessing. My mind had no genuine understanding that what was taking place on the TV, was doing so in a reality I was part of.

Warfare has settled into every crevice of our society. It is so omnipresent, it has become generally accepted as part of the human condition; a sentiment I refute with every cell in my body. When our politicians speak about ‘progress’, have you ever asked yourself where we are progressing to? And what ever happened to processes prior to conflict? Before we get to a warring stage, shouldn’t all other manner of dealing with the problem be exhausted first? Negotiations, international economic pressure, the non-violent strategic use of the UN, etc. This, in our enlightened Age of the Terrorist, has been circumvented so often that the strike-first-think-later route to war has too become accepted as necessary. So, even in its best light, war is a state of breakdown, a localised collapse of civilisation to its most base and barbaric. A place where usually young men, under the new appellation of ‘soldiers’, are given license to kill other, similarly young, renamed and permitted to murder, human beings. When this madness occurs in the 21st century, it is viewed by a British society predominately suffering from an emotional severance with humanity, quite like my younger self. Or maybe the news and the tabloids have got to you and you’re full of nationalistic pride for our heroes, forgetting there’s a difference between patriotism and nationalism. Or, just maybe you are one of the very few who can still taste the bile-bubbling disgust of the whole atrocious thing? image

The letter on the left appeared in The Daily Mail (5th September 2014). Whether from a genuine reader or not, I think it sums up the appalling state of global geo-politics. The kids in my school yard seemed to employ a similar strategy as they shot and grenaded anything that moved: mass confusion with mass aggression.

The concern is the situation is so insane that instead of inspiring outrage with the masses, it tends to inspire humour. The chortles of a joke not fully understood. It’s difficult for even the hardiest vanguard for war to support this tangled lunacy. Unless you’re an arms dealer, that is, or have lots invested in weapons manufacture and research…

Is it possible to suggest that the constant presence of war – even in those rare seconds when the British forces aren’t involved in some kind of conflict – is enough to permanently remind human beings of their barbaric potential, a sort of perpetual dripping tap? We have war movies, war west end shows, war historians, war monuments, war games, war museums… The list goes on. It has been well and truly embedded into the very fabric of western civilisation. A sort of singular imperialism that has been allowed to creep over us through the books of our intellectuals, the mouths of the politicians, and the glory of legend; like an ever darkening shadow.

What is the sole purpose of a gun?

With the answer still fresh in your mind, ask yourself another question: is it ok to teach children how to shoot them?

In 2011, the BBC revealed that in the UK shotgun licenses had been given out to children as young as 7. With parental permission, children of 16 can join the UK forces, despite not being perceived mature enough to vote, drive a car, or watch a horror film. Some organisations, such as Forces Watch and UNICEF, see this as adopting “child soldiers”, comparing the MoD to regimes like Iran and North Korea. They have also commented on the economic wastage associated with it, detailing up to £94m of unnecessary spending. Even though soldiers need to be 18 to be deployed in operations (this has only recently been changed. Soldiers as young as 17 were deployed in both Kosovo in 1999 and the first Iraq US/UK invasion of 1991. Also, at least twenty 17 year olds are known to have fought in the second Iraq and Afghanistan invasions, The Independent, May 2014), isn’t the concept of children being trained to kill a perverse one? When we add to this that it is far more likely to be soldiers enlisted from working class or disadvantaged families that see ground battle and witness the worst horrors of war, a far more sinister, socioeconomic scenario begins to emerge.

A recent study has suggested that there is a correlation between the young age of soldiers when joining the forces, their lower social class, and the development of PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder), depression, alcoholism and drug addiction on leaving. This appears to fly in the face of the permanent MoD line that the army is an excellent career choice for school leavers. For many years the film director David Lynch has been working with some of the world’s most desperate and damaged people. His foundation, which employs a simple but extremely effective meditative technique, has managed to turn around the psychological fate of hundreds of thousands of people. This has included over 10,000 US soldiers, returning from the Middle East and suffering from an array of mental and physical health problems. Through meditation, some distance is created between the mind and the culmination of trauma. This space can then be utilised to properly process and to some degree accept the events that led to mental breakdown. It has proven to be exceptionally successful.

What if we were to spin around the fall of events? In other words, offer meditative techniques to children throughout the UK from ages 10 onwards? The schools that have been involved with The David Lynch Foundation in the US have benefitted in a remarkable number of ways, including falls in absenteeism, reduction in violence and rises in academic performance. But also, the children themselves have reported feeling more calm, centred and able to engage with their own decision making processes. After all, if we are happy to accept a slow press-ganging of our children through a complex system of cadets, funded almost entirely by the MoD, then perhaps we can arm them not only with rifles but with a mind capable of deciding for themselves if ‘protecting’ our islands through wars of choice is how they truly want to spend their childhoods.

David Cameron in 2012 stated that the way cadets are funded will be changed. At the moment £26 million is pumped into 261 different schools (three quarters of which are private) that run CCFs (Combined Cadet Forces) through their education facilities. By 2015, there will be 100 more CCFs up and running in state schools, with another 250 to follow, so that, to quote the prime minister, “new horizons” can be opened up to our children leaving comprehensives.

The funding, however, will not be increased, sharing out the £26 million between all 611 schools. This has led to many private and public schools already stating that they will be forced to close down their cadet programs. If private schools slowly retreat from CCFs, it will leave the vast amount of 16 year old cadets going on to a career as full-time soldiers coming from state comprehensives.

It’s quite easy to envision this becoming a dragnet for the MoD, where, if a child is academically under performing, the school, due to its own great stresses, may be tempted to guide that child into the cadets rather than spending more time and resources on him or her. This would then widen even further the gulf between the number of wealthy and disadvantaged entry level soldiers, and our society could find itself developing a self imposed military draft of our most deprived children.

Mine! Mine! All of it, Mine!

When you stop and consider it, don’t you think its rather ridiculous to suggest that a human being can own a piece of the earth? Or to be a bit more accurate, temporarily own a section of the earth’s crust?

I’ve added the word ‘temporary’ there as, of course, that’s just what it is. A better word is transient. We don’t live for ever. The earth isn’t a permanent feature of the universe. And perhaps the universe itself may, at some point, pack up and call it a day.

This line of talk, though, seems to make people uncomfortable. Most people don’t really like to dwell on the transient nature of their own existence. Or of the things that they have worked hard (usually) to obtain: houses, cars, savings, etc. But the truth is these things don’t really belong to us. The word ‘mortgage’ itself is quite useful at reminding us of this fact. Mort- comes from the French/Latin word for death; and -gage is an archaic word for pledge or stake. So quite simply, the house has been pledged to you until your death.

It’s seems like this vital (if bitter to swallow) area of our knowledge has been pushed so far to the back of our minds that it’s fallen in with denial – a somewhat deceitful ability that most people don’t even realise they are using. But it’s so very powerful! We, certainly in western societies, employ it every day in order to get on with our lives. When we hear about atrocities occurring in other parts of the world, denial quickly switches on. I remember sitting with someone at work a few months ago and we caught the end of a news bulletin on the radio, reporting how a school bus had run off the road into a deep gully, killing all 40+ children on board. We both stopped what we were doing until the report had finished, listening to hear where it had taken place. But what difference did geography make? Or, are some children’s lives worth more than others? When the reporter stated it had happened in Nigeria, my colleague audibly sighed with relief.


The only way we can own anything is in a transient state. Once we understand this, it isn’t nearly as scary as you might think. In fact, it’s very liberating! I recently had a car accident and broke a few bones. The paramedics sped me to hospital and I spent a night on ICU before being moved to an orthopaedic ward. Although I’m now fine, these kind of events get you thinking about how the situation could have been worse… And what that might have meant.

Your clothes are cut from you and discarded like the skin of some battered fruit. The car is a crumpled bit of tin, an old can abandoned by the side of the road. People you’ve never met before begin their routine practice of, not wanting to be too dramatic, saving your life. There’s nothing you can do to assist except remain compliant: “Take a deep breath… Wriggle your toes… Open your eyes… Lift your legs…” Since there is little to do, your thoughts naturally focus on what has happened to you and then to the people it’s going to affect: my kids and partner, parents and friends… I didn’t spend too long worrying about the car.

Something that forces us to face these sort of considerations has a useful component too. It strips away the husk and the pith surrounding us, stuff we had come to think of as part of what we are: possessions; money; debt; job. It leaves us bare, so that only the real and essential elements remain: life; family; friends… people.

Unfortunately, this feeling subsides as we recover and ‘normalise’. I would guess that the vast majority of post-trauma people return to an extremely close version of the person they were before the accident. But they will be different. The breadth of this difference will vary on the severity of the trauma and the person involved. I’d like to suggest that, assuming a full physical recovery, the more it changes you, the better.

Yes, it’s nice to have things (I’m not immune from this nor a whole host of other failings): Cars, stereos, coffee makers, microwaves, flat screen TVs (by the way, do you remember when you didn’t change your TV every five or so years? The telly I always remember from my parents house had a doily and ornaments on the top and was treated like a piece of the furniture), DVD players, iPads, wardrobes stuffed with never worn clothes (the list goes on and on). These things can offer you something practical which my help you minimally in life, but mainly these are things that symbolise our ‘success’. For example, a 20 year old car with dented and corroded body work but an excellent engine may only appeal to people who understand ‘green’ issues, or perhaps a collector of cars. It would offer the same practicality as a new car in many respects, but it wouldn’t display what we believe to be our status, so at some point the practical aspects are overtaken by the more superficial need to show off.

There’s little surprise that this is the case. I could talk to someone about this until I am blue in the face (and have!) but there is little chance that I can compete with the 24 hours a day omnipotent influences that exist in our society. These influences range from advertising and marketing, to the car parked on your neighbour’s drive. And what is more, these influences have been with us from the first day of our lives. It is an aspect of us I’d like to call inherited social knowledge. There are many more of these aspects that we take for granted or indeed assume have always been the same: democracy; the financial system; private property; money; fields full of sheep and cows (mainly sheep!); our lack of spirituality; political parties; war; famine; global poverty; oil; education; public health and many, many more. Systems we are born in to.

What something like an accident does is allow you to poke your head out above the canopy of your life. A better description might be to rent a tear in the thin veil that spreads itself out over society and breath in the truth.

I wouldn’t like everyone to have to go through the fear and pain that associates itself with a crash like mine, though. If you take any of this on board then hopefully you won’t need to. I’m asking you to look at your own life, hopefully from a platform of health, and ask yourself what is important to you? Is it people, community, solidarity, health, freedom, our children, education and knowing honestly what it is to be you, a human being? Or is it just the stuff we gather around us, so that we have to build higher fences to protect it?

Farmland is not The Countryside

I stopped the car quite suddenly and checked the mirror. The was no traffic coming in either direction; it was still pretty early. The farmland spread out all around me, gleaming brand new in the semi-frost. The top of Ffair Rhos, high at the start of the Cambrian Mountains, is a place where the usual order of mirror-signal-manoeuvre can be a little relaxed. I’d seen some sort of disturbance by the side of the road about 50 yards back. As I looked over my shoulder, I could see something moving about slowly near the fence. I reversed the car until I came up along side what it was.

A brown, leashed creature I initially took to be a dog, sat just in the field on the other side of the wire fence. It was sat in what looked like the crater of a small explosion. As it blinked mud from its eyes, I saw that its coat wasn’t brown; it was covered entirely in the mud it was sat in. It was one of those moments where you seem to swell with excitement and simultaneously sink with dread. As I watched, the badger suddenly rose onto its powerful hind legs and yanked back hard at the snare around its neck. The whole fence shook violently and the badger flipped on to her back.

More new soil was cascading down the bank and on to the road as I ran over. The badger pulled instinctively away as I drew closer, causing the fence to rattle and shake further and the wire around her neck to tighten. I felt the anger at my throat as I looked at the homemade snare deliberately fixed to the lowest section of wire fence. It was sickening. I began trying to undo the wire from the tiny tin locking plate. Each time I made any promising progress the badger would suddenly pull, tightening the lock plate again and twice slicing into my fingers. Once she moved towards my hands with her powerful front claws, snapping her jaws close to my fingers, so that I had to quickly withdraw them.

After 20 minutes or so I had eventually succeeded in releasing the locking plate. She sat for a moment. Then as she turned she realised she met no resistence from the wire. One second later, she was away.

I pushed my cold, sore hands deep into my pockets and watched the badger loping up the field. The snare still derailed from her neck. A flock of sheep glanced at her, then went back to their moronic, interminable grazing. It was incredible to see the badger beside the sheep. Despite her handicap, she looked fluid and natural; at once part of her surrondings. No longer showing any sign of panic, she used the shadow of the stone wall to disappear into a thicket of spring bramble. The sheep in contrast seemed extraordinaryily alien to the landscape, resourceless and seemingly without wit. I thought about the snare still around the badger’s neck.

“Fifty, fifty,” I muttered aloud, even though I knew her chances were slimmer than that.

I walked back to the car.




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A Search for Quality

“Farewell to the besoms of heather and bloom

Farewell to the creels and the basket

For the folks of today they would far sooner pay

For a thing that’s been made out of plastic”

Ewan McCall



There is a small 7mm ratchet spanner on the side of the desk in the department where I work. It was forgotten by an engineer that came to service some equipment a few months ago. I like to pick it up and hold it. It has a weight that gives you a pocket of confidence in your hand. It is stainless steel and shines. The switch that alternates the ratchet is a dark alloy; it reassures the thumb as it snaps left to right. The reason it feels so good to hold is because the design is ergonomic, mimicking the space around your hand. The weight balanced. The function clear. Its moving parts fluid and strong. It is a high quality tool that as you hold it, feels like a natural extension of your hand.

There is something else which makes this little ratchet special. In 2014, this kind of quality is rare.


I spoke to my friend Tom recently, a highly skilled joiner and craftsman. I’ve watched him carefully repair all our sash-box windows over the last 2 years. He showed me a tool box set aside in the back of his Transit. “These I’ve had since I started.” He opened the lid and disclosed a variety of old, but extremely well looked after hand tools. Twelve solid steel chisels with boxwood handles, their edges gleaming; hand drills with chucks still hungry and ready to bite; a claw hammer on a hickory shaft, its patina a testament to servitude. There were others buried beneath, but the back of the van was dark. “All the others,” he motioned to several other buckets filled with screwdrivers, Stanley knives, drill bits, saws, and other bits and pieces, “need replacing every couple of years.” He clunked shut the Transit’s wonky back door.


Samsung seem to have raised the bar on marketing strategy. Forgive me if there is a company that spends more on advertising, but at $14billion for 2013 I doubt anyone is even close. Samsung’s budget has increased 14 fold since 2003 taking spending in this arena to a new level. There are a cluster of other super-corporations all jostling around the $2.5 – $4billion mark. Now that someone has made a move, surely the others will follow.

Maybe 100-120 years ago, marketing and advertising behaved differently to what we see today. It saw itself more of an advising and describing role. This was mainly because as a consumer it was assumed you knew pretty much what you wanted to buy, and the advertising helped you out with the fine tuning, making sure the product came as close as possible to matching your original needs. This allowed the consumer accurate information before buying. This remains the philosophical backbone of advertising. Except these days, it doesn’t really work that way.

The nature of the economical market means that competition always gives rise to competing brands. Take for example shampoo. I have no idea how many different brands there are out there of ‘hair soap’, all probably purporting to be, usually through pseudo-science, different to their rivals. But really, although there will be some variety in quality, all shampoo does the same thing. It cleans your hair. What advertising is doing now, and spending billions to achieve it, is convincing us otherwise.

With this arrangement it would be difficult for quality to be anything other than a market novelty or so expensive as to make it an unlikely purchase for the average consumer. However, there is another, more underhand technique employed inherently into almost all the goods we buy. Its called planned obsolescence, and although economists advocates this ploy through the philosophy of Philip Kotler et al, to me it is quite obviously unethical. The basic idea is that whatever you purchase has a predetermined lifespan before becoming obsolete. Be it having to upgrade your computer’s operating software or a deliberately designed weakness in a mechanism; it all leads to the same thing: a perpetual cycle of purchasing semi-disposable or ‘faulty’ items. I don’t have to mention the Black and Decker Workmate, do I? If anyone compared the version from the 80s to the one of today, it would probably be inferior in every way.


So what’s my point? Ok, so they don’t make things like they used to. So what?

Well I think there is a point to be made here. When we hear western leaders (and by that I mean any country that has allowed itself to be governed by money) talk about ‘progress’, we have all naturally assumed that they had in mind somewhere we were progressing to. Somewhere better. I no longer think that is the case. Instead, we are tracking along on a conveyor belt of consumerism, struck senseless by a global barrage of $500billion worth of advertising. The longer we sit on this banal ride the further we move from quality and closer to a degrading of our way of life. To see human design fail us the way it currently is may have unknown effects on society as a whole. Our consumer driven, disposable culture has distanced us from quality, perhaps even lowering other baselines as it went? Surely it’s not difficult to imagine that inferior tools lead to an inferior job? Let me give you an example. The NHS in Britain has, for the last decade or so, been going through a constant process of planned obsolescence. By that I mean almost all safe and robust systems of practice have been replaced with flimsy, but cheaper, replicas. When these begin to break, they are simply replaced by an even inferior model that runs along for even less time before showing signs of strain. When these weak systems fail completely, it is staff that becomes the focus of the problem, not the blunt and broken tools they are left holding.


And what about the conveyor belt? Anyone interested in where it is carrying us? You could ask your politicians, but their answer would be the usual confused rhetoric. Instead, let me tell you: it goes nowhere, just around and around until it splutters and stops.

Here’s a better question to ask. What’s your definition of progress?