Tuesday 23 May 2017

We've been here before - and will again

Although music is an important part of my life - it's one of the reasons for this blog - I'm not too surprised that, until last night, I'd never heard of Ariana Grande; after all, I am not what might be called her target demographic. I can of course relate to the enthusiasm of going to a concert by a favourite performer, and for those young girls, the evening should have left them feeling good and providing them with fond memories for the rest of their lives, even if in time they had grown out of the music. With 22 dead and 59 injured, last night will certainly stay forever with those young women and children for the worst of reasons.

Like the Bataclan massacre 18 months ago in Paris, the murderers deliberately targeted people who were out enjoying themselves. I have no doubt that this evil attack was in retaliation for our actions in the Middle East. Yesterday's victims cannot be held responsible for the deaths, injuries and major political and social disruption caused by Western governments and Russia through proxy wars, invasions, and policies of regime change, but on the other hand, the civilian victims of our interventions in Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Libya, etc, aren't to blame either.

Defiant statements that terrorism will not change our way of life and our values cannot disguise the fact that we are particularly vulnerable to such terror attacks, as the IRA proved a generation ago. Nowadays it's even easier: if you have the stomach for it, just drive a car at high speed into a crowd.

The sad fact is that, unless we fundamentally alter our approach to international affairs and stop trying to be the world's police force, there will be more attacks like this, with more innocent deaths followed by more essentially similar defiant statements. We're in a vicious cycle and I see no signs that we are making any efforts to get out of it. British prime ministers love putting on their serious face and posing for the world's press next to the American president in front of the White House: Tony Blair loved it, and as we saw recently, so does Theresa May. While strutting on the world's stage and talking about taking 'difficult decisions', they can continue pretending that Britain is still a world power.

The major powers have been meddling in the Middle East for a hundred years now since the collapse of the Ottoman Empire at the end of the First World War, and the region is in about the worst mess it has ever been in as a result of all that interference. We need to recognise that we cannot do any good there, especially as nowadays you can have the most advanced, well-trained and well-equipped armed forces on the planet, only to find they are incapable of preventing a deranged individual from planting a home-made bomb or driving into a crowd. The fortune we spend on defence did nothing to protect those young concert-goers yesterday.

I can't imagine the grief that some families are suffering today, or the frantic worry of those who don't yet know what's happened to their loved ones. My thoughts are split between them and the sickening certainty that, in the predictable absence of any serious soul-searching about our role in the world, we will be going through all this again in the not too distant future.


  1. I'm not sure it can just be explained by Western policy towards the Middle East, however misguided that has been in the past and continues to be with, for example, our government's amoral support for the Saudi despots. I think what we've got to get our heads round is that in the minds of some with a particular religous viewpoint - leaving aside the complex reasons how they might have come to hold that opinion - things such as men and women going out drinking and dancing together, to pop concerts or beach resorts are immodest, shameful and a sexual sin which requires retribution, especially if they occur in a majority Muslim country. Hence the attacks in Tunisia, Paris, Nice and now Manchester. There is also probably a large element of self-repression and self-disgust at the same feelings and impulses within themselves and with their formerly not at all religious lifestyles.

  2. Your comments supplement my post rather than contradict it. The rise in religious fundamentalism can in part be attributed to a rejection of Western values and lifestyles associated with many Western-sponsored leaders in the region. Rejecting those leaders and their lifestyles went hand in hand, and religion provided an alternative identity. In some ways, the Islamic fundamentalists' approach has similarities to the "taking back our country" attitudes of certain elements in our own societies. Ultimately, far right-wing prejudices are very similar the whole world over, whether the basis be religion, misconceptions of ethnic purity or delusions of cultural homogeneity.

  3. I agree with you about the way western incursions have led to rise of Daesh in particular and Islamic fundamentalism in general, but, as time goes by, and especially after last night's atrocity, it is becoming less relevant. We cannot simply carry on saying that it's all our fault, especially since most western troops have withdrawn from Iraq and Afghanistan. ISIS/Daesh is now a viable entity of itself with a working agenda - they won't disappear if we say sorry. While there is much in what you say about western interference, what would happen in Iraq if the USA and ourselves withdrew now? The offensive against Daesh would falter and they would enjoy a resurgence. Supplying arms to the Kurds and Iraqis, carrying out airstrikes on Mosul is not ideal, but there is no alternative. If we created the mess in Iraq and Syria, then we should help clear it up.

  4. I don't think you can throw petrol on a fire and then later say: "That was a while ago - it's nothing to do with me now."

    As for helping to clear the mess up: nothing we're doing now constitutes clearing it up. There's a danger in the phrase, "We have to do something" as a justification for continuing to be involved, especially when our government has neither the will or the ability to help. From the Sykes-Picot agreement of 1916 to the present day, our intervention in the region has been prompted by our interests, not the interests of the people who live there.


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