Tag Archives: war on terror

British Troops withdraw from Afghanistan

Monday the 27th October 2014.  At last the day the last British troops have left Afghanistan.

I have repeatedly voiced my opposition to our involvement in the conflicts in the region.  In my view our involvement has been counterproductive.  We have seen young men across the Middle East and even at home become more radicalised.  Arguably the region is less stable than when we began and it is thought by many that we are less safe at home than before the invasion.

It has been conceded that the Taliban are still in control of large areas of the country, Afghanistan now exports more heroine now than it did in 2001.  The conflict has cost a huge amount in both lives and money.

It has always been my view that the invasion of Afghanistan was illegal and immoral.  It is estimated that at least 20,000 Afghan civilians have died during the conflict and I would dearly love to see both Tony Blair and George W. Bush stand trial for war crimes.

Having said all of that I salute every member of our armed services who served in that region.  I salute the 453 British Service personnel who paid the ultimate price.  I salute the thousands of armed forces personnel who have been wounded and maimed and I salute the families of our service personnel who have had to come to terms with loved ones serving in the region.

I salute the bravery, sacrifice and fortitude of each and every person affected by this conflict.

At the going down of the sun and in the morning, we will remember them!!

The UK needs more radicals! Here is why?

On Wednesday 22nd October 2014 I was watching the BBC evening news when my heart hit the floor.  The Reason?    The leader of the UK’s labour party Ed Miliband had made a speech in which he promised that he will introduce an immigration reform bill within a month of winning the next election that offers “clear, credible and concrete” measures to deal with the ‘concerns of voters’

Miliband said Labour’s policy would strengthen our borders, restricting recruitment from abroad and ensuring immigrants could speak a good standard of English.  He went on to say that he did not want the UK to withdraw from the European Union but that he did want additional restrictions placed on EU migrants into Britain.  So why should I be concerned about this?

This ‘policy initiative’ by Miliband is his response to tough talking by the Conservative party and by (UKIP) the United Kingdom Independence Party and, sadly, it marks yet another lurch to the right by the supposedly ‘socialist’ Labour Party.  This is just the latest move to the right in a seemingly inexorable shift to the right over the past 35 years.  Between the end of World War 2 and Margaret Thatchers rise to power in 1979 successive UK governments of all parties were strongly rooted in a Social Democratic mixed economy model.  Universal health care, Nationalisation of monopolies, social welfare and social housing.  These policies helped the UK to its post war recovery and to the longest period of stable economic growth in our history.  Even conservative Prime Ministers during this period were to the left of the political centre.

When Thatcher came to power she set about ‘rolling back the state’ and even went so far as to claim that ‘There is no such thing as society’.  Thatchers Neoliberal economic model was strongly resisted by the unions but she set about destroying the power of the unions by breaking strikes, restricting the rights of assembly by pickets and, because she had such a huge majority, she was able to pass legislation banning ‘closed shops’, and restricting the influence of the unions.  This brought the unions to their knees and enabled Thatcher to set about dismantling the huge traditional industries that hitherto had provided full employment in the UK.  These industries were unsurprisingly the bedrock of labour support and based primarily in the industrial heartlands of the North of England, Wales and Scotland.  One by one the great British industries of mining, shipbuilding, steel, car making, textiles and manufacturing were broken up in favour of what Thatcher described as a ‘service economy’.  This model was adopted by the USA in 1981 when Thatchers great friend Reagan came to power.

Unfortunately for the Labour party this came at a time when the party tore itself apart with political infighting which made it virtually unelectable.  As a result ‘Thatcherism, aided by the right wing and ‘Murdoch’ press empires had 18 years to become embedded into the national psyche.

In order to challenge the Conservative party in the 1997 election (after 18 years of conservative rule) ‘New Labour’ was born under the leadership of Tony Blair.  To challenge the Conservatives,  New Labour adopted the economic policies of the Conservatives, a position unthinkable a few years before and far to the right of any UK Government before 1979.

Lets reflect for a moment on ‘Socialism’.  It is generally agreed that Socialism is a social and economic system characterised by social ownership of the means of production and co-operative management of the economy.  “Social ownership” may refer to cooperative enterprises, common ownership, state ownership, citizen ownership of equity, or any combination of these.  The ‘New Labour’ model failed to meet any of these criteria.  Instead their economic policies continued an inexorable move to the right.  To give just a few examples they:

  • Failed to renationalise the rail industry despite an election manifesto pledge to do so.
  • Deregulating the financial sector and abandoning state control of the Bank of England.  These policies were undoubtably responsible for the numerous misselling, rate fixing and toxic debt scandals that lead to the 2008 financial collapse.
  • refusal to renationalise or even regulate the power and water utilities
  • Use of private Finance Initiatives for public sector building schemes that allowed private investors to lock public sector industries into hugely expensive projects that gave no ownership or security of tenure at the end of the contract.  This has built up an estimated £250 billion ‘black hole’ in the future public purse.
  • Refusal to build new public sector housing and continuing to sell off the public housing stock at discounts of up to 80%
  • The introduction of privatisation into the health and education sectors.
  • Failing to tackle tax dodging by the Super rich and by multi-national corporations.

These are just a few of the policies that would have been unthinkable even by Conservative Governments prior to 1979.  Ed Miliband defeated his brother David in a closely fought leadership election in 2010 after Gordon Browns resignation in the wake of failing to win the 2010 election.  Ironically it was the union block vote that carried him to victory in that leadership race.  Ironic because he almost immediately set about further restricting the power of the unions to influence Labour Party policy.

Since Miliband became leader of the labour party he has been smeared by the right who pushed stories about his fathers marxist past into the press in an effort to undermine his ‘credibility’.  Despite the fact that the majority of the British public want to see the rail network and the energy companies renationalised and the vast majority of Labour voters want to see the NHS, the railways, the Royal Mail and the utilities companies renationlised and run as not-for-profit public services.  Despite these facts Miliband has repeatedly ruled out any denationalisation instead saying that he will ‘cap the energy companies’ for a period of time if he wins next years election.  Miliband has even failed to condemn the Conservative ‘workfare’ scheme that forces the long term unemployed into mandatory unpaid labour.  At one time we would have called this slavery.

So where does this leave the UK?  Well the two main parties are clearly far to the right of centre and  the Liberal Democrats, whilst more moderate, are still slightly to the right of centre.   Unfortunately for the Liberal Democrats entering into coalition with the Conservatives has done them irreparable harm.   their support has evaporated and in most of the recent by-elections they have been pushed into fourth place behind the two main parties and UKIP.

Worryingly UKIP has just won its first parliamentary seat and came frighteningly close to a second in what had hitherto been a safe Labour seat in Heywood and Middleton.  Whilst the Labour vote held up the support for other parties switched to UKIP who came within 600 votes of taking the seat.  Unsurprisingly these results have terrified both the main parties with a general election just 7 months away.  In the weeks since those elections we have seen the anti-immigration rhetoric ramped up by both the main parties.

Prime Minister David Cameron continues to state that he will win reforms from the EU before a referendum on Britains membership in 2017.  Our news media continues to feed us a diet of anti-EU rhetoric.  Stories that blame the EU for the Human Rights Act for our inability to expel terrorist suspects and asylum seekers from the UK.  There is an inexorable growth in the numbers of asylum seekers housed for years in ‘detention centres’ whilst their case is processed.  Increases in immigration are falsely blamed on asylum seekers who are often fleeing persecution in their Countries of origin often as a result of unrest caused by our interventions in those countries.  The reality of course is that the numbers seeking asylum in the UK is minuscule when compared with the 100’s of millions of EU citizens who are entitled to live and work in the UK should they so desire.  Of course in true Conservative style Cameron also announced that anyone who has over £5 million in the bank can move to the UK and be fast tracked for a British passport.  As always one rule for the rich and one for the poor.

So whilst UKIP has a stated aim to take the UK out of the EU and have the most right wing views on immigration it seems that the main parties are so worried about UKIP splitting their vote in marginal seats that they are falling over themselves to come up with ‘populist’ policies that are more extreme than those of the extremists.  This has the net effect of moving the UK political establishment still further to the right.

The rightward shift is further illustrated by the continued mess that is UK & US foreign policy in the Middle East.  During the 1960’s and 70’s there was mass immigration into the UK from the Middle East, India, Pakistan and Bangladesh.  Since the first Gulf war in 1990 there has been a dramatic increase in Islamaphobia.  This has increased dramatically and perhaps unsurprisingly since the commencement of the ‘War on Terror’ in the wake of the horrific attacks on 9/11.  Since then Western policy has been engaged in a futile exercise to distinguish between ‘good Muslims’ and ‘bad Muslims’.  By this I mean that the USA lead coalition has waged war in the Middle East to either directly or indirectly overthrow regimes ‘we’ do not like.  I posted a tongue in cheek article from the ‘stop the war coalition’ explaining this a while back.  It is well worth the read if you haven’t seen it.

Sadly in both the USA and the UK Welfare is being cut back, the poor are becoming poorer whilst the rich get richer.  It seems that whilst we cannot afford to look after the most vulnerable in our societies we can afford the weapons to kill many thousands of innocent people in the Middle East.  It is estimated that the cost of the war on terror (dependant on which measure is used) to the USA is likely to be around $6 Trillion or around 1/3 of the US national debt.  The cost to the UK to date is more difficult to quantify but it is estimated that around £40 Billion has been spent in Afghanistan.  This at a time when support for public services are being cut and when PM Cameron has reportedly done a multi Billion pound behind the scenes deal with President Obama for a replacement for trident so that the UK can maintain an ‘independent nuclear deterrent.

It is estimated that the cost to the UK economy of tax avoidance by the super rich and by Multi-National Corporations runs to some £120 Billion a year.  If all of that tax was collected it would put the UK into a budget surplus and allow us to pay down the national debt that now stands at around £1400 Billion.  Rather than tackle tax avoidance we choose to  demonise the needy labelling them social security scroungers and so on.  The Government lead us to believe that the work shy are a huge drain on the public purse.  What they do not tell you is that around 50% of the welfare bill is spent on old age pensions only 3% is spent on jobseekers allowance and a further 2% on Employment support allowance.  The majority of the remainder goes in disability and benefits for low paid working people.

It was interesting to see that just yesterday the UK Office for National Statistics reported that economic growth in the UK is running at 0.7%.  This despite the fact that we are constantly being told what a great job the current Government have done in ‘fixing’ the economy is 0.3% lower than it was when the Government took office in 2010.  The Chancellor, George Osborne, has massively increased the National Debt, borrowing more money in 4 years than every Labour chancellor in history combined.

So where does this leave us.  There can be no doubt, given the global financial collapse in 2008, that Thatchers Neo Liberal economic model is just as much a failure as totalitarian communism was in Eastern Europe.  In my view it takes us to a position where we desperately need the UK to be more radical.  We need a radical left of centre political party who will do some or all of the following:

  • Recognise that the UK is no longer a global superpower, we must stop trying to act like one by taking a colonial attitude towards the Middle East and Africa.  We must stop aligning ourselves with the USA and acting like the worlds policeman (or the school bully).
  • We should scrap trident and forget about replacing it
  • We should aggressively pursue those who fail to pay their taxes
  • If necessary we should either nationalise or more strictly regulate essential services to ensure that people receive a good service at a fair price.
  • We must make determined moves to reduce our reliance on fossil fuels
  • We must make a concerted effort to develop and utilise alternate energy sources
  • We should abolish the unelected ‘House of Lords’.
  • We should reduce the influence of Multi National corporations in our political system by stopping our elected representatives holding directorships in those same companies
  • More power should be devolved away from Westminster to Scotland, Wales, N. Ireland and the English regions.
  • We must implement a form of Government that works to the benefit of all of the citizens of the UK.  A move away from Government by the rich for the rich is essential.
  • There must be less political interference in policing.  We are seeing examples at present of where legitimate public process is being quashed by the police on the orders of the Home Secretary.
  • mechanisms should be put in place to ensure that our members of parliament vote according to the wishes of the people they represent rather than according to how the party whips tell them to vote.
  • measures must be put in place to reduce or eliminate the costs of University Education to help improve social mobility.

I could continue to write thousands more words on these subjects but I am sure you have the idea by now.  In short the UK needs a new radicalisation of its political system, a move back to a form of democracy that better represents the interests of the many rather than the few.  We need a balanced mixed economy, we need to stop the seemingly inexorable shift to the right wing of the political spectrum.

Ottowa – Another tragedy

Todays Daily prompt is a free write for 10 minutes so here goes.

For the past 24 hours my news feed and television screen have been filled with comments on the awful tragedy that took place in Ottawa Canada yesterday.  The murder of Nathan Cirillo, the second such killing in a couple of days is as senseless as it is futile.  It is yet another tragedy, for Corporal Cirillo’s family, for his unit, for Ottawa, for Canada and of course for every right thinking person on the face of this planet.

Once again this atrocity seems to have been carried out by a so called Muslim extremist.  It does seem that, at least in the media, every act of this sort seems to have been committed by someone who is a radicalised Muslim terrorist.  Whether the media coverage given to these atrocities is an accurate reflection of the facts or not is in many ways immaterial.  What we are constantly fed via our media is the concept that radical Islam is a threat to our way of life and a threat to world peace.

Now I don’t for one second try to play down the tragedy of Cirrilo’s murder, but I wonder how many murders were committed in New York, Washington or Los Angele’s yesterday?  What I do know is that none were reported in the UK media.  It seems that the murder of one soldier by a Muslim extremist is much more newsworthy.  Of course the fact that the gunman entered the Canadian parliament building and was shot dead by the Sgt-at Arms and that elements of the story were captured on video does add considerable drama to the whole thing as does the fact that Ottawa is by-and-large a very peaceful city.

I do wonder if much of the reporting of this and similar incidents isn’t secretly welcomed by the politicians because it allows them to more easily justify their actions in the Middle east.  Canada’s Prime Minister Mr harper was quick to get himself on television to state:

“We will not be intimidated. Canada will never be intimidated”.  “In fact, this will lead us to strengthen our resolve and redouble our efforts… to take all necessary steps to identify and counter threats and keep Canada safe.”

Mr Harper stressed that the perpetrators “will have no safe haven” in Canada.  , but admitted the attacks showed that the country was “not immune to terrorist attacks”.

It seems to me that I have heard those (almost) exact words from the last two american Presidents and the last 3 UK Prime Ministers on numerous occasions over the last decade or so.  The fact remains that terrorists seem to be able to carry out their attacks all too easily and that western policy in the Middle East serves only to further radicalise the people of that region and worryingly this radicalisation seems to be spreading increasingly to our own populations.

Something has to change.  I am neither clever enough nor influential enough to say what needs to change, but things cannot be allowed to continue as they are.

As a final comment spare a thought for the friends and family of Nathan Cirillo and for every family touched by senseless slaughter in the ‘War against terror”

Yes it’s true, the United States really is the greatest country in the world – but in what? – Stop the War Coalition

Wow, I just came across this article and thought it worth sharing.  I think it throws up some really interesting issues.  Check it out and let me know what you think. Yes it’s true, the United States really is the greatest country in the world – but in what? – Stop the War Coalition.

AMERICAN politicians are fond of telling their audiences that the United States is the greatest country in the world. Is there any evidence for this claim?

Well, yes. When it comes to violence and preparations for violence, the United States is, indeed, No. 1.

In 2013, according to a report by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, the U.S. government accounted for 37 percent of world military expenditures, putting it far ahead of all other nations. (The two closest competitors, China and Russia, accounted for 11 percent and 5 percent respectively.)

From 2004 to 2013, the United States was also the No. 1 weapons exporter in the world. Moreover, given the U.S. government’s almost continuous series of wars and acts of military intervention since 1941, it seems likely that it surpasses all rivals when it comes to international violence.

This record is paralleled on the domestic front, where the United States has more guns and gun-related deaths than any other country.

study released in late 2013 reported that the United States had 88 guns for every 100 people, and 40 gun-related deaths for every 400,000 people―the most of any of the 27 economically developed countries surveyed. By contrast, in Britain there were 6 guns per 100 people and 1 gun-related death per 400,000 people.

Yet, in a great many other areas, the United States is not No. 1 at all.

Take education.

In late 2013, the Program for International Student Assessment released a report on how 15-year old students from 65 nations performed on its tests. The report showed that U.S. students ranked 17th in reading and 21st in math. An international survey a bit earlier that year by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development found that the ranking was slightly worse for American adults. In 2014, Pearson, a multinational educational services company, placed the United States 20th in the world in “educational attainment”―well behind Poland and the Slovak Republic.

American healthcare and health fare even worse.

In a 2014 study of healthcare (including infant mortality, healthy life expectancy, and mortality from preventable conditions) in 11 advanced industrial countries, the Commonwealth Fund concluded that the United States ranked last among them. According to the World Health Organization, the U.S. healthcare system ranks 30th in the world.

Other studies reach somewhat different conclusions, but all are very unflattering to the United States, as are studies of American health. The United States, for example, has one of the world’s worst cancer rates (the seventh highest), and life expectancy is declining compared to other nations.

An article in the Washington Post in late 2013 reported that the United States ranked 26th among nations in life expectancy, and that the average American lifespan had fallen a year behind the international average.

What about the environment? Specialists at Yale University have developed a highly sophisticated Environmental Performance Index to examine the behavior of nations. In the area of protection of human health from environmental harm, their 2014 index placed the United States 35th in health impacts, 36th in water and sanitation, and 38th in air quality. In the other area studied―protection of ecosystems―the United States ranked 32nd in water resources, 49th in climate and energy, 86th in biodiversity and habitat, 96th in fisheries, 107th in forests, and 109th in agriculture.

These and other areas of interest are dealt with by the Social Progress Index, which was developed by Michael Porter, an eminent professor of business (and a Republican) at Harvard. According to Porter and his team, in 2014 the United States ranked 23rd in access to information and communications, 24th in nutrition and basic medical care, 31st in personal safety, 34th in water and sanitation, 39th in access to basic knowledge, 69th in ecosystem sustainability, and 70th in health and wellness.

The widespread extent of poverty, especially among children, remains a disgrace in one of the world’s wealthiest nations. A 2013 report by the United Nations Children’s Fund noted that, of the 35 economically advanced countries that had been studied, only Rumania had a higher percentage of children living in poverty than did the United States.

Of course, the United States is not locked into these dismal rankings and the sad situation they reveal about the health, education, and welfare of its citizens. It could do much better if its vast wealth, resources, and technology were employed differently than they are at present.

Ultimately, it’s a matter of priorities. When most U.S. government discretionary spending goes for war and preparations for war, it should come as no surprise that the United States emerges No. 1 among nations in its capacity for violence and falls far behind other nations in providing for the well-being of its people.

Americans might want to keep this in mind as their nation embarks upon yet another costly military crusade.

Why we are bombing Iraq & Syria

Why we’re bombing Iraq and Syria: Statement by Barack Obama and David Cameron clears up any confusion

As told to Audrey Bailey.

You may be confused about why we are bombing Iraq and Syria. So we will make ourselves very clear.

We support the Iraqi government in the fight against ISIS.

We don’t like ISIS, but ISIS has been supported by Saudi Arabia, whom we do like, and Saudi Arabia is now supporting us in bombing ISIS.

We don’t like President Assad in Syria. We support the fight against him, but not ISIS, which is also fighting against him.

We don’t like Iran, but Iran supports the Iraqi government against ISIS.

So some of our friends support our enemies and some of our enemies are our friends, and some of our enemies are fighting against our other enemies whom we want to lose, but we don’t want our enemies who are fighting our enemies to win.

If the people we want to defeat are defeated, they might be replaced by people we like even less.

And all this was started by us invading Iraq to drive out terrorists who weren’t there until we went to drive them out.

We hope you now understand.

Source:  Stop The War Coalition

The Futility of the war against ISIS

There is a fascinating piece by Patrick Cockburn in today’s Independent on Sunday newspaper which throws the situation in Iraq into sharp relief.

Cockburn explains that:

“At the start of the bombing in Syria, President Obama boasted of putting together a coalition of Sunni powers such as Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Jordan, United Arab Emirates and Bahrain to oppose Isis, but these all have different agendas to the US in which destroying IS is not the first priority.

The Sunni Arab monarchies may not like Isis, which threatens the political status quo, but, as one Iraqi observer put it, “they like the fact that Isis creates more problems for the Shia than it does for them”.

Once again this demonstrates how futile the involvement of Western forces in situation in the Middle East is.  The policy of western governments is a shambles.  our Governments seem to be incapable of understanding that there are so many agenda’s at play in the region that addressing one ‘problem’ merely reveals a different problem or agenda.

The original article is available here and it makes fascinating reading.

BBC News – UK troops training Kurdish forces in Iraq, says MoD

BBC News – UK troops training Kurdish forces in Iraq, says MoD.

So Despite the UK Governments promises that the UK will not commit ground troops to the conflict in Northern Iraq and Syria we have sent troops to ‘Train’ Kurdish forces to use heavy machine guns that have been supplied by the UK Government. Once again we are arming rebel factions to fight other rebel factions. Lets not forget that this means we are arming people who until recently were branded ‘Kurdish Separatists’.  Separatists who are rebelling against their government (no matter how distasteful that government).

In any other context they would be labelled terrorists in the same way that the Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka were ‘terrorists’. I am sure there is a name for people who keep repeating the same mistakes time and time again. Why on earth can our government not learn from it’s mistakes? It kills me that an MOD spokesman has stated that the troops sent on this mission are ‘Non Combat Army Trainers’.  Get real, they are soldiers deployed to a combat zone.

We should remember that the Kurdish forces are not a part of the Iraqi security forces.  Forces we were assured could control and look after their own affairs when western forces withdrew from Iraq in 2009. Yet more madness from western governments who seem to be at a loss on how to clear up the total mess they have created in the region.

Groundhog Day!  Madness!

The Forget-me-not – Writing 101

Todays writing 101 task is to talk about an object that we treasure.  This was an interesting challenge for me as I am not a hoarder.  Well I am not a hoarder of anything except my music collection.

I don’t have possession of a single item from my childhood, I left home not long after my 16th Birthday.  My parents put me on a boat from Belfast to Liverpool with a single bag.  From Liverpool I travelled to Plymouth to join the Royal Navy.  My parents divorced shortly afterwards and after several house moves both settled with new partners.  I spent 9 years in the Navy, married and had several house moves myself eventually settling in Dorset.  As a result everything from my childhood was lost through the years.  My younger brother even sold my collection of rare and fairly valuable LP’s.

In 1991 I became a Freemason.  Shortly afterwards my mothers partner, who was also a Freemason, gave me a small lapel pin.  A little blue forget-me-not.  Freemasons began using the flower in Germany in 1926 as a message not to forget the poor and desperate. Many other German charities were also using it at this time. In later years Masons in Nazi Germany adopted the flower as a means of recognition in place of the square and compass design. This spread across Nazi occupied Europe to avoid any danger of being singled out and persecuted. The symbol of the forget-me-not in modern Masonry has become more prevalent and today it is an interchangeable symbol with the square and compass.  Some also use the forget-me-not to remember those masons who were victimized by the Nazi’s. In English Freemasonry it is more commonly now worn to remember those that have died as a symbol that you may be gone but not forgotten.

In Newfoundland the forget-me-not was a symbol of remembrance of that nation’s war dead. This practice is still in limited use today, though Newfoundlanders have adopted the the Flanders Poppy as well.

Sadly Trevor, my mother’s partner, died from a particularly virulent cancer shortly afterwards and so my little forget-me-not became a memento of someone I was very fond of.  It is however so much more than that.  Given its symbolic origins my forget-me-not is a symbol of freedom, of resisting oppression, of distrusting authority and of my abhorance of prejudice, discrimination and inequality.  Now thats a lot of symbology from a little flower.  Let me try to explain a little more.

I have written a lot recently about my views on the illegality and futility of the so called ‘war against terror’ in the Middle East and I promised in an earlier post about the situation in Gaza that I would try to give some insight into how and why I believe that some of the people in Gaza become radicalised and carry out terrorist atrocities against the Israelis.  I grew up in Northern Ireland, a small province that was torn apart by “the Troubles’, a period of sectarian conflict that cost over 4000 lives.  The Troubles began in 1969 when I was just 9 years old.  The reasons are complex and beyond the scope of this post but if you would like to know the background there is a comprehensive summary here.  Shortly after the troubles began my family moved from Belfast to a small coastal village in County Down.  It was the sort of place where kids were safe to run free on the beaches and in the fields.  The community was almost entirely Unionist and of the Protestant religion.  There were only a couple of Roman Catholic families in the village.  You knew immediately who the Roman Catholic families were because the children went to separate schools.  This is a situation that still exists in Northern Ireland today.  Isn’t it incredible that in Britain in 2014 a social apartheid still exists, even today over half of the children in the province attend schools where over 95% of the pupils are of a single religion.  In the 1970’s it was much worse.

My first real personal exposure to the troubles came in 1974 during the Ulster Workers Council Strike.  In May of that year the strike brought the Province to a standstill, schools, offices and factories were closed by the strike.  Even the power companies closed down meaning no electricity.  Loyalist paramilitary groups setup road blocks and barricades to ensure that the strike was not broken.  My friends and I manned some of the roadblocks around our village.  At just 13 years of age we were delighted that the schools were closed and we thought manning the roadblocks was great fun.  In all honesty at that time I didn’t really understand what was going on, but there was an association with Loyalist paramilitaries.  Several of my friends and I were also in loyalist flute bands in what we saw as a celebration of loyalist and protestant culture.  Of course what we did not understand was that many of the adults involved were members of paramilitary organisations and that we had already been identified as possible recruits.  Dod we see those friendly laughing, joking men as terrorists?  Of course not, they were simply guys who were in the band, who lived down the street or who drank in the pub with my dad.  The terrorist you see isn’t necessarily a monster, they simply feel that their situation is hopeless, that no-one is listening to them and that they have to take radical action to be heard.

A sense of injustice can so easily lead to young people being radicalised and becoming involved in terrorist organisations.  Indeed many people I knew as I was growing up and even members of my family ended up in jail and some died as a result.  The economic system in Northern Ireland was dire indeed and for many the only way out was to do as I did and leave the country.  Of my peer group and classmates at school some joined the armed services or the police, others emigrated, some turned to religion and others joined paramilitary organisations and got involved in terrorist related crime.  The Northern Ireland I grew up in had the army on the street, Police stations were behind high fences, parking in town centres was almost impossible as parking was not allowed because of the fear of car bombs.  You had to pass through security checkpoints and submit to searches before you could even enter Belfast town centre.

The situation was not helped when the Westminster Government introduced internment without trial for those suspected of being involved in terrorism.  One of my Uncles spent over a year in prison.  He was never charged with any crime, he was imprisoned because he knew people who were suspected of being involved in terrorism.  He tells tales of beatings and torture by the Police and security forces.  Internment proved to be the biggest boon to recruiting that the paramilitary organisations ever had.  It is so easy to draw comparisons with the situation in the Middle East.  Whilst I do not condone terrorism in any shape or form my forget-me-not reminds me how easy it is for the marginalised to be drawn into armed struggle.

As I mentioned above I left home at age 16 and joined the Royal Navy.  After completing my basic training and my trade training I was waiting for a posting to a ship.  Whilst I was waiting my class were asked to volunteer to attend the military research facility at Porton Down to assist with research into finding a cure for the common cold.  We were offered additional pay of £10 a day and an additional two weeks leave if we volunteered for the six week trial.  This was a huge amount of money at the time, my first monthly wage after I joined the Navy was £28 after food and accommodation charges were deducted.  Thankfully I had learned early in life that if something appears too good to be true then it usually is.  It has since emerged that those who thought they were helping with research into a cure for the common cold were in fact being unwittingly subjected to the testing of chemical weapons.  My forget-me-not reminds me that you cannot trust those in authority.

I mentioned above that my mothers partner, Trevor, had died from a virulent strain of cancer.  Trevor had served as a Royal Marine and had been present when the UK carried out the testing of nuclear bombs at Christmas Island in 1962.  Those present were not given any form of protection, they were simply told to turn their backs on the explosion and to shield their eyes with their hands.  Many of the veterans present during those tests later died from cancers.  The UK Government and Ministry of defence fought tooth and nail to avoid paying compensation to those affected or their families.  You can read more information about this situation here.  My forget-me-not reminds me that Government cannot be trusted to look after those who serve their country, and of course it reminds me of the man who gave it to me.

Many of you will remember that in 1982 Argentina invaded the Falkland Islands.  The British Government sent a task force to the South Atlantic to recover the Islands and in the ensuing conflict 907 people lost their lives this included 86 Royal Navy personnel and 27 Royal Marines.  Several of the Navy personnel who died were former shipmates and friends of mine.  My forget-me-not reminds me of those who lost their lives during that conflict.

In recent years I have seen at first hand how the UK government marginalises and criminalises those who choose to live differently to the rest of society.  The root of my awareness lies in the criminalisation of those who chose to live on the road during the 1980’s and 1990’s.  The introduction of the Poll tax by Margaret Thatchers Government was seen to be so unfair by some people in our society that many people moved to of their homes and into vans, buses and trucks to avoid paying it.  As a result government passed laws making it an offence to park on land and even made it an offence to damage grass on the land they parked up on.  The media in the UK portrayed these travellers as drug crazed thugs and sparked a moral outrage across the country.  I came to realise that the people they were talking about included my little sister.

In recent years the government and the media in the UK has been on a crusade to portray those on welfare benefits as feckless scroungers.  They give the impression that huge amounts of cash is being ‘stolen’ by those who are not entitled to support.  The fact that the vast majority of welfare spending goes to old age pensioners or to the working poor seems to be immaterial.  This is merely an excuse to demonise the most needy in our society whilst taxes are cut for the richest.

The media and government continuously demonise those who seek political asylum in our country, claiming that the vast majority of immigrants into the UK are economic migrants who come here to sponge off the welfare state and the National Health Service.  The fact that the vast majority of immigrants are from EU countries and are entitled to settle and work anywhere within the European Union is conveniently ignored.  The remainder are often those who are displaced by conflict in those countries in which the western governments are waging war.  Once again the most vulnerable in society are a convenient scapegoat to cover up economic mismanagement by successive governments.  My forget-me-not reminds me that government often makes bad laws and demonises the poor and vulnerable, society is unfair and over the last 35 years the rich have got richer whilst the   poor get poorer.  It reminds me that inequality, prejudice and discrimination are rife in our society and that government sometimes make laws that reinforce that inequality.

My forget-me-not may only be 10mm across but it provides something of an anchor and I think you will agree it has quite a story to tell.  It is a treasure beyond value.

The war on Terror – What has happened to the world since 9/11

Step out the front door like a ghost into the fog

where no one notices the contrast of white on white.

And in between the moon and you the angels get a better view

of the crumbling difference between wrong and right.

Today is the 13th Anniversary of the tragic events that took place on September 11th 2001.  The anniversary of the murder of 2977 people is a cause for reflection and my thoughts today are very much with the family and friends of the victims.  I had a few moment of contemplation this morning and the memorial posts on social media kept my mind returning to one of the great tragedies of our time.

This afternoon I went off to walk my dogs before collecting my son from school.  This hour or so each afternoon is my thinking time, an opportunity to walk across heathland usually without seeing anyone, no-one to talk to and on days like today a chance to enjoy a bit of early autumn sunshine.  It also gives me a chance to listen to some music.  I am eagerly looking forward to hearing Counting Crows new album on its UK release next Monday as I will be seeing them when they hit the UK in November. I decided to listen to one of their old albums and I selected their first album ‘August and Everything After’.  The words at the beginning of this post are the first four lines of the opening track “Round Here”.  Classic lines from Adam Duritz, a songwriter who can hold his head up in any company, one of the very best.

Those lyrics were written some 10 years before 9/11 and yet both the lyric and the title of the album have a peculiar resonance with me on this sad day.  You see Duritz is a master at painting images with his lyrics and the pictures it painted for me today were of 9/11.  I shall never forget the images of firefighters and police officers emerging from the fog of dust as the towers collapsed.  I shall never forget the television pictures of those trapped above the aircraft who chose to fall to their deaths rather than face the flames.  One can only hope that the angels took their hands and comforted them as they fell.  My mind will never escape the thoughts of those trapped who, knowing the end was near, tried desperately to call loved ones, to say goodbye, to share a few final words, to snatch a crumb of comfort in their final moments.  I will forever admire the people, firefighters, police officers, paramedics and ordinary members of the public who risked their own lives to save others.

9/11 was and will forever be a massive blow to the American psyche.  This was terror on a massive scale on american streets, something that most americans never believed possible.  Understandably the nation clamoured for justice, for vengeance.  Who could ever forget the haunted look on George W. Bush’s face as he addressed the nation, as he swore vengeance, his words reflected the anger of the nation and indeed the civilised world.

Unfortunately the words “the angels get a better view of the crumbling difference between wrong and right” also resonate strongly.  It seems to me that the tactics employed by the USA and its coalition partners have failed miserably.  Now I speak as an armed forces veteran, as a retired cop who has worked through and helped plan counter terrorist operations and I speak as someone who grew up in a Northern Ireland torn apart by terrorist atrocities.

Terrorism is the weapon that the weak deploy against the strong and it is almost impossible to defeat.  It most certainly cannot be defeated by the use of military might, by missiles or by bombing.  The problem is that when military might is deployed against terrorist there are always huge numbers of innocents caught up in the conflict.  The death of innocents is the best recruiting sergeant for terrorist groups, it radicalises and it builds hatred against the strong. The Israelis action against Gaza in recent months, the mess that has emerged in Syria, Egypt, Iraq, Pakistan and elsewhere as a result of the war on terror and the arab spring are very clear examples of the failures of western foreign policy in the region.

Today I see that President Obama has authorised the use of airstrikes in Syria, something he failed to do to try to halt the slaughter of innocents by the warring factions in that countries civil war.   He now seems to be throwing support behind president Assad to enable him to battle ‘Islamic State’.  Just a few months ago Obama was arming ‘moderate Syrian rebels’ in a bid to oust Assad.  In Egypt the west supported the rebels in their bid to overthrow President Mubarak and then 12 months later supported the rebels who sought to overthrow the democratically elected “Muslim Brotherhood”.  Now please don’t misunderstand me, I am not condemning western leaders for trying to defeat terrorism.  It is undoubtably the case that policy changes according to the risk assessment at that particular time.  There are no right answers, no good options only less wrong and less bad.

The fact that western leaders seem unable to grasp is that the current policies in the region are doomed to failure.  This is a threat the like of which has never been seen.  In the past we have always known that the terrorist planned to cary out their attack but they also planned to escape and to survive.  The Radical Muslim terrorist does not think that way.  As was so cruelly demonstrated on 9/11/2001 they don’t fear losing their lives in their attacks, in fact they often seek martyrdom.  Western ‘interference’ in the region simply adds fuel to the fire, creates more martyrs and complicates the situation further still.  We can never be successful in imposing our values on societies that abhor everything we stand for and frankly I do not believe we should even try.

It seems to me that Duritz’s words were somewhat prophetic.  The difference between right and wrong has indeed crumbled and it would take all of heavens angels to sort out the mess that we in the west carry a huge burden of responsibility for creating.

My final thoughts return to those who lost their lives on 9/11 and their families, may the angels hold you in their hands and comfort your hurt on this saddest of days.