Sky News and the ministry of fabrication of information

Posted in defence, defense, Delusional journalism, Iraq by Deputy city editor on April 1, 2008

British sailor heroically protects Iraq’s oil. (Not why we invaded.)

The descent of Sky News into an ever more ass-licking school of PR-journalism is reaffirmed with a classic of the genre entitled Royal Navy Lead Protection of Iraqi Oil.

This is a story that illustrates exactly how:

(1) Sky accepts access under conditions that are not made clear to the viewer.

(2) The story has been or may as well have been scripted in advance by one of 400 Ministry of Defence press officers.

(3) Visually exciting airtime is cynically built on the trope of Our Brave Boys and broadcast with no irony precisely at a time when the abandoned British sector of Basra has been in a state of near civil war, a new open-ended military engagement has opened in Afghanistan (Sky is broadcasting equally delusional embedded reports from there) and our hopeless prime minister is paralyzed & clueless.

Is this new? I think the science with which this orchestra is being conducted is really quite novel. What is happening is that the MoD has, after various disasters (like the embarrassing capture of Royal Marines by Iranian revolutionary guards, a spectacular PR stunt gone wrong), re-ordered its operational priorities so that successful PR is now the ONLY objective. Entire battles (Engagements”) are effectively staged for the benefit of the TV crews. Nobody ever asks where all that ammunition explodes, or shows pictures of killed Afghani children. Anything that obstructs the official narrative is ruthlessly swept away, including the coroners who puncture the official narrative.

It is not new that information is fabricated but that the entire MoD seems now seems to be turned over to this task is, surely, worthy of remark.

As one watches what is happening in Afghanistan, and Iraq, what is plain is that Sky News – and it is representative of a much-wider problem – has become essentially a broadcasting asset of the MoD. This serves everyone’s interests: cheap stories for Sky News, propaganda for the MoD, except those of the viewers, who should wonder what it might mean to “win” these conflicts, and ponder the mediatisation of armed conflict into a series of controlled images retailing approved narratives.

Panorama in Afghanistan: the BBC’s abject surrender to the censor

Posted in Afghanistan, BBC, British army, Delusional journalism, journalism, Media, Panorama, War by Deputy city editor on November 6, 2007

The BBC in Hellmand province: inadequate journalism

I am not among those who believe the BBC has recently degraded since degradation has been its default state for some time. Those who are conscientious objectors to the licence fee are nonetheless invited to review last night’s episode of the flagship BBC current affairs programme, Panorama, restored to prime time, which was last night devoted to the Great Game in Afghanistan.

You can read the Dangerous Book for Boys story on the BBC website here. The story is remote from the actuality, which Panorama censored. This censored story is of unseeable Afghan civilians whose home is bombed then invaded by the British Army, alongside doped-up allies, and subsequently further trashed, in the cause of a ridiculous and ultimately failed military operation, which far from reflecting positively on the British effort in Afghanistan, reveals it to be deeply flawed and actually insane.

This was an example of a program given over lock, stock and smoking barrel to the MoD press office. Amidst all the bang bang, most of it consisting of massive consumption of ammunition directed in no particular direction, it was a classic example of what John Birt used to call the bias against understanding. Not even a perfunctory space is given to those who might suggest that what we were seeing was something completely different to what the script was proposing. The website version attempts a tiny bit more distance. But watch the TV show for yourself. It’s on this link .

It was a filmic narrative constructed from tropes ordered by the MoD, and with inconvenient truths not even filmed, on orders of the MoD. This is why the BBC is a state broadcaster and not a public broadcaster.

The film shows a patrol of British soldiers and their dope-smoking allies from the Afghan National Army sallying forth in Hellmand province to confront the “Taliban.” The Taliban is anyone who defends themselves from this rag-tag band, it seems.

The patrol advanced in glorious formation across the Afghan Plain in a shot borrowed from David Lean. Then they get down into the more verdant area by the river where many of the compounds have been deserted by inhabitants who seem unconvinced that the British are welcome visitors.

Eventually the soldiers make contact with “Taliban” over on the edge of the settlement and call in a few bombs. Enormous explosion follows. Filmed beautifully. Not close enough. Another one. Pictures even better. The soldiers have no idea who or what they are ordering bombed. To say this is a shambles is not, however, on the Panorama agenda.

Advancing up and attacking a new compound they find Afghan women and children, hiding in the remains. The young men are obviously out in the fields, shooting at the British.

We do not see the Afghan civilians whose house has been bombed by the British because the MoD “minder” forbids the BBC crew from filming this. Nor do we ever see the minder. Nor do we see any of the considerable number of British casualties, who are suffering not from gunshots, but from heat exposure. So this is a war with unseen British casualties and unseen Afghan victims. Convenient, isn’t it? Lots of bang bang – but we miss the essential consequences of this operation. And the real director, the man from the ministry, is completely unseen. Excluding the diaster this has been for the civilians, for the British it is at best costly and pointless. More bluntly, it is utterly counter-productive. Fathers and brothers have been killed or maimed on the other side, it seems. For what? British soldiers may with consummate professionalism and bravery embark on these operations but it’s sound and fury, signifying nothing. One cannot avoid the impression that the entire operation existed only to provide pictures for Panorama.

Other bits – the staged visit of the provincial reconstruction team led by its unctuous civil servant, for example; the long scripted bits with the British officers explaining all the good they are doing; the complete cop-out on the question of poppy – were just further garbage. Panorama is no longer any kind of showcase for BBC journalism, except for its worst.

The BBC of course knows no shame in shilling for the MoD and has done so for years. The truth of the military operation on which they were embedded was that the British army were calling in air strikes on civilians and then occupied their house as a base for a prolonged military operation that ultimately was completely futile. We do not know what happened to the civilians. Although if dead, they are counted as Taliban. Faced with the demand of the British military censor not to film the victims, the BBC chose access over the truth. No matter how brave the cameraman this was nauseating but sadly typical of the BBC.

Meanwhile, what is actually happening in Afghanistan…

The Defence of the Realm Blog is also good on this.

Brown cuts & runs

Posted in Bush, defence, defense, Delusional journalism, Gordon Brown, Iran, journalism, Media, New Yorker magazine, news by Deputy city editor on October 8, 2007

The glorious British retreat from the Basra Palace – “probably the worst palace in the world”

In the New Yorker last week, Sy Hersh, a Pulitzer prize-winning journalist, reported that Britain is ready to join the United States in an attack on Iran. Or at least the Americans think so. Quoth he:

The bombing plan has had its most positive reception from the newly elected government of Britain’s Prime Minister, Gordon Brown.

Hersh is a distinguished and sometimes reliable journalist. He is to be commended for a robust approach even if his expertise evidently does not extend to the method by which Gordon Brown recently became prime minister. Unless I missed something, this did not include any kind of election.

Nevertheless, perhaps the British media might be expected to take an interest in this claim/revelation. And indeed, the story eventually made its way to page 35 of The Sunday Telegraph. Tim Shipman now quotes officials in Washington to support (up to a point) Hersh’s story:

Gordon Brown has agreed to support US air strikes against Iran if the Islamic republic orchestrates large-scale attacks by militants against British or American forces in Iraq, according to senior Pentagon officials.

But this is a somewhat different story to that of Hersh, as premier Brown’s support now seems contingent.

Whether Hersh had it right, or Shipman does, or neither, this was about the limit of British press interest in the story.

After all, there are new pictures of Princess Diana! Maddie is still missing! Plus free DVDs for every reader!

Happily, Jon Snow of Channel 4 News, a serious fellow, finally asked the prime minister about this at his news conference on Monday. Here is the exchange:


Prime Minister, you have said that you want to listen to the British people. One of the things that the British people seem to be demonstrating is no appetite for any new war related to Iraq. Yet the war drums are banging in Washington for an attack on Iran. Are you prepared to follow previous Foreign Secretary, Jack Straw, in saying that such an attack is inconceivable. And indeed are you prepared to go further and say that you would neither support nor assist any American attack on Iran?

Prime Minister:

I will follow what I have said myself only recently that we take very seriously what the Iranians are trying to do in building up their nuclear capability for nuclear weapons. This cannot go unchallenged given that it is a breach of the Non-Proliferation Treaty. If they do not co-operate with the international authorities that are examining their nuclear installations, or potential nuclear installations, that is a very big breach of international rules as well. And we believe however that this matter can be resolved by diplomatic means, by the Resolutions that have been passed by the United Nations, by sanctions if necessary, but I am not prepared to go further than that. What I am prepared to say is we take very seriously what Iran is proposing and we are prepared to use the methods that we have used in diplomatic sanctions to deal with this problem and I do not rule out anything.

Looking at this, it is rather masterfully ambiguous (even after the Downing Street editors have corrected the prime minister’s repeated confusion of Iraq and Iran as he delivered this answer). Brown firmly rules out an attack on Iran when he says “we believe that this matter can be resolved by diplomatic means… by sanctions if necessary, but I am not prepared to go further than that.” Then he technically rules the possibility back in again with: “I do not rule out anything.”

So this is a master class in saying two completely contradictory things at the same time. But here’s what I think. Hersh is wrong. And not just about the British electoral system. With citation to Sam Goldwyn, as far as any adventures in Iran are concerned, you can include Britain out.I reckon Brown, who was never an enthusiast for this war and endorsed it purely as a matter of preserving his own career, is sick of Iraq, has no stomach for a conflict with Iran, and that what we’re already watching is Gordon leading the Brits on a cut and run.

Another fascinating exchange came when the prime minister answered a question from Robin Oakley of CNN, who very reasonably asked the following:


Prime Minister you have presented yourself so far as a national leader who looks above petty party-political advantage. Why did you go to Basra to announce a withdrawal of British troops by Christmas, do it at the time of the Conservative Party Conference to take headlines off your opponents, and use somewhat phoney figures, since a quarter of those you said would be coming home had come home already. Isn’t that just the kind of Blairite spinning that you are supposed to stand against?

Prime Minister:

I think you are wrong in every respect if I may say with some respect to you. I think the facts do not merit these accusations. First of all I had to go to Iraq, to Baghdad and Basra, before I made my Statement in the House of Commons. I think the criticism of me today might have been that I had not had the chance to hear from the troops on the ground, to hear from our military commanders, to meet Prime Minister Al Maliki, to meet the Vice-President, to meet the Ministers for Finance, for Trade and for the Economy to discuss not just troop movements, but also to discuss economic reconstruction in Iraq. As far as what I said, I think you will see when I announce it in the House of Commons this afternoon that my Statement is far more comprehensive about all these things than anything that was said in Basra, and I think you will also find the statement about numbers that I made in Iraq is absolutely accurate.

This seems rather insulting to Robin Oakley! Who is correct here? Both, obviously, The prime minister is a master at counting things once, twice, or as many times as necessary. He subsequently went on to confuse matters still further with talk in the House of Commons of further troop withdrawals accompanied by “briefings” that all the boys would be home by 2008. Whereas Oakley is right that the stunt in Basra was an exercise in tortured accounting, even if Brown is too slippery ever to make the charge stick.

What 2,500 British soliders left in the “Cob” at the airport are supposed to do is left rather vague. Some have driven up to the Iran border with TV crews. Others are filmed training Iraqi soldiers. It is an army now tasked to photo opportunity.

Brown is playing a slippery game, but the troops are indeed coming out of Iraq. Even if they are going to Afghanistan, which is another disaster in the making.

A giant, transparent spin offensive is underway to pretend we have won after all in Basra, with friendly hacks like Con Coughlin of the newly pro-government Daily Telegraph filing magnificently clairvoyant copy from the airport describing the improvements since our army’s triumphant retreat advance from what the soldiers called the worst palace in the world.

Taste this:

In the British-controlled southern Iraqi city of Basra there is a palpable sense that, after four years of incessant bloodshed, a corner is being turned in the struggle to bring the city back to something approaching normality.

But there is no evidence from his copy that he was even there!

Image from Telegraph web site, two days after Coughlin ponounces peace in our time

Coughlin, who just happened to be at the Cob when Brown later dropped by to annouce the withdrawal of troops who had already left, later went on to warn that premature withdrawals could threaten the success achieved by the British. Delusional.

Insofar as the story of a British triumph is concerned, Coughlin at least reveals what he was briefed by officers following MoD-approved scripts. The line is that we have given the Iraqi people the chance to have a nice stable, rich democracy – it’s up to them. By inference, whatever goes wrong in the future is their fault, not ours. That we were responsible for launching an invasion that has seen the place smashed to bits, with probably 100,000 killed and millions displaced, is not mentioned.

Here, though, is the question for the future. We know this about Brown. He is a bit of a coward. He puts his own survival first. He’s not stupid. A man for whom cowardice, caution and prudence are core, does not and cannot like war, which is always highly unpredictable and frightening.

With Iraq off the table, is Brown really prepared to unleash the dogs of war in Afghanistan? This is a campaign that is going to see lots of people killed and a lot of money being spent as even Jock Stirrup’s ropey Eurofighters are sent into the fray to drop bombs on mud huts.

Does Brown have the stomach for this? Me – I’m not sure. And with the Tories as gung-ho on the Pathun adventure as ever, perhaps the PM has something else in mind. To win his deferred election as the man who brought all of this nonsense to an end. Methinks (hopes anyway) that this is the turning point. Think prudence.

The lioness in winter

With this triumphant image of the Queen, Annie Leibovitz has produced one of the great photographic portraits of all time.

The Queen has been astonishing us for years with her sang froid, Miss Leibovitz with her pictures.

Leibovitz’s genius is proven again and again as even a quick review of her work here will show. So here is an epic confrontation between two mythological women, whose backgrounds could not be more different. Leibovitz, self-made artist; Her Majesty, Queen by virtue of genetic and circumstantial accident. The result has exceeded the wildest expectations. It is a seductive and extraordinary portrait made under the most fascinating of circumstances.

The questions I ask are whether Miss Leibovitz’s portrait of Her Majesty may be not just her greatest picture but in the pantheon of the greatest portrait photographs ever taken? Whether this picture may be more revealing, than even could be Her Majesty nude, by Lucien Freud? And finally, is she wearing matching underwear under all that schmutter?

The circumstances of the photograph are notorious and the subject of much current media coverage (which if you are not already thoroughly bored with it, can be tasted here in a piece by Torrin Douglas). As is now known, the Queen had not long before had a little hissy fit in the corridor where – partly one suspects, showing off to the BBC crew that was filming her – she made the comment that she was getting fed up with dressing up this way.

I suspect this was a perfectly accurate summation of her actual feelings. Witty, because it is true. The Queen has been a valiant trooper for many years, sitting for portraits by artists great and usually small. So for once, she allowed herself the privilege of pique. Perhaps to be later regretted. She is, after all, 81.

Nevertheless, as it always does, duty called and she proceeded to the apartment where Miss Leibovitz waited with her crew.

One of the things that will be really fascinating about the BBC documentary in which we are to see this event, when it is aired, and if the sequences are seen in the right order, is to see what really happened when Annie met Elizabeth. (They had met previously at a reception, following which the Queen agreed to sit for the American artist.) This time Miss Leibovitz had her cameras and crew; the monarch her ceremonial robes and her crown intact. “Give me my robe, put on my crown; I have immortal longings in me.”

Miss Leibovitz has remained silent on the affair but I suspect the Queen will have been one of the most challenging of all her subjects if not the most cantankerous. With the minefield of protocol to be negotiated, even allowing for Miss Leibovitz to take advantage of the fact that she is American, the advantage was always going to be with the monarch.

Until she tells her story, and we see what the BBC has got, reconstruction of what happened depends on limited information. Nevertheless, the circumstances of the taking of the actual picture are almost as interesting as the picture itself. The result of these circumstances is rich.

This is the story of two powerful women – each in their own way dependent on image – encountering one another in frankly bizarre circumstances. Here is the one struggling to reconcile duty, grandeur and a desire to collapse into a dressing gown and a pair of slips, and the other, an artist determined to put her own stamp on the situation, to control her subject, and to produce a picture as good as the singular opportunity presented by its subject. We see two women, under pressure, with the Queen perhaps losing her cool, but Miss Leibovitz emerging the winner.

Practiced in control, almost jaded with the process of portraiture, the Queen nevertheless enters this session slightly handicapped – or flustered, perhaps. The state robes are heavy and uncomfortable. For all their weight and importance, they are ever so slightly – absurd. She is a woman who would rather be with her horses and dogs than a smart-aleck New Yorker photographer.

The Queen finally gets to the photo shoot, accompanied by a rabble of BBC cameraman, a soundman, probably a producer, maybe others knowing the BBC, plus her own footman and a lady-in-waiting. She finally gets to sit down, to see this mad-looking American woman with big hair, with her own crew of technicians and tens of thousands of pounds of apparatus, in a gilted corner of Buckingham Palace.

The Queen knows something of Miss Leibovitz from Vanity Fair, one might presume, even if she may have had to ask one of her ladies-in-waiting whether this Susan Sontag had ever been presented. Miss Leibovitz, one might presume, has some stage fright of her own. But she is strong. She likes to be in control. It is an accident that by merely politely attempting to put herself in control of her shoot, she pours salt in exactly the relevant wound.

Suggesting the Queen remove her crown (diadem, actually), seemed to reopen in the mind of the Queen the question of why she was dressed in this absurd get-up and having put it all on, she wasn’t about to start taking it off. I think most of us might say: Quite so, Ma’am. So Miss Leibovitz was (unintentionally) waving a red flag at a bull. So, this is the mis en scene for the meeting of these two.

Miss Leibovitz, who had immediately noticed the beauty of Her Majesty’s hair, may have lost the battle of the wardrobe, or the headgear, anyway, but not the war to capture the Queen offguard. Indeed, the Queen was now just a little rattled.

According to the latest and preumably accurate time sequence reported by the BBC, this is when Miss Leibovitz takes the photograph above. (Obviously, this image is much more impressive is print than in feeble low-bandwidth representation on the Internet.)

Although it might seem the Queen has taken control, by means of refusing Miss Leibovitz’s request, the exchange, and the events in the corridor of which presumably Miss Leibovitz had no knowledge, has opened a space for an entirely exceptional and revealing as well as beautiful and technically dazzling image.

Leibovitz gives us a Queen unsettled in multidimensions of time and space. She is between darkness and light, great age and crafty youth, captured in a time itself literally and metaphorically frozen. It is a photograph in layers, in three dimensions, with the third dimension being time, because this Queen also radiates from within her armour propre the time when she was not a queen but just a little girl, with no expectation of monarchy.

In this photograph, one can detect if not quite see, in the zone between and in front of the eyes, a glimpse of Lillabet the naughty girl, the child who is already conscious and slightly ashamed of her power.

The Queen has voiced what normally she keeps to herself, and knows now she would have behaved better biting her tongue. Instead she has been petulant. A show-off. And rude. She has perturbed Miss Leibovitz, she fears. Here is the Queen in conflict – the naughty girl, the considerate monarch, the woman of duty.

On the other side, there is a photographer, at the height of her powers, who is feeling the jangle of a subject who is already tricky and not cooperating, and of a photo session where she is at risk of losing control. Control, absolute control, is what lies at the soul of the power of Miss Leibovitz’s greatest work. Where she has it, and controls every pixel of the image, her work is transcendental. Where it is lacking in such exactitude, she still often manages results of great brilliance, but not in the same dimension. Here, Leibovitz has lost control (the Queen’s refusal to remove her crown) but Leibovitz has nonetheless managed to exploit her subject’s mood, to produce something we have never seen before.

The photographer is experienced – she has photographed many of the greatest personalities of her time. But The Queen of England would not have been routine for her. Slightly unsettling, I suspect, even for as tough a cookie as Miss Leibovitz.

And the result is a picture of the Queen – but also of naughty Lillabet. It is the part petulant, part defiant childishness in Her Majesty’s expression that to me is truly the startling element in Miss Leibovitz’s photograph. It is the conflict of a childish, natural, wholesome villainy and the crush of duty and responsibility, and of a monarch who is made of both.

This story of this photograph has been one in which newspapers and columnists have striven to produce the greatest howls of outrage at the perfidy of the BBC. So it goes.

In the visceral BBC bashing that followed, the media as usual missed the greatest story – which is that the result of all of this hugger mugger in the palace is the greatest picture of the Queen, one of the greatest pictures (against stiff competition) ever taken by one of our most fabulous photographers, and a candidate by any criteria for one of the great photographs of all time.

* Wackiness has been a characteristic of English royals for a long time having been introduced with the fecund Catherine of Valois, daughter of King Charles VI of France who was mad as a cat. As was the Queen’s second cousin, Lillian Bowes Lyon.

Delusional journalism (Matthew Parris edition)

“I can talk up a storm on the folly of George W. Bush or the evil that is Osama bin Laden” boasts Matthew Parris in his Saturday, July 7 column in The Times.

But Parris is volunteering for more hazardous columnising today. He is arguing that “the tide is turning against” Islamic terrorism. His evidence for this is “observation, hearsay and personal hunch.”

Parris declares: “We’re winning the battle – dare I utter the appalling cliché – of hearts and minds.”

Is it fair to describe this as delusional journalism? Are there metrics to substantiate this thesis? What sort of analysis are we dealing with here? A gnostic one contrasting the foolishness of George Bush with the evil of bin Laden. In which case, which “we” is winning? I propose the winner, insofar as Matthew is concerned, is foolishness.

Or I may misjudge him. Perhaps this is this one of these columns in which the gentle reader, guided by the observations and hunches of our fearless and cheekily revisionist columnist, finally sees through the falsity of received dogma. As the scoop of interpretation is revealed, the reader may rejoice that we are winning the war on terrorism after all. This perhaps is actually a redemptive column. The sort of thing to expect from an ernest vicar.

Yet Parris’s opinion is founded on nothing substantial at all. It exists detached completely from reality. Indeed it appears to have coincided with the most lethal car bombing so far, a siege to the death in Islamabad, the Glasgow doctors’ plot and no end whatsoever to the quotidian global horrors, albeit they have so far spared the Groucho club.

Compare Parris, purveyor of hunch, with some other journalism on offer. Because relative to the competition, Parris is writing tosh. Read the New Yorker on the poppy eradication program in Afghanistan, or Iraq Slogger, and in particular look at Le Monde Diplomatique, if you want a paradigm-shifting story about the changing nature of this thing called terror.

Reading Syed Saleem Shahzad in Le Monde Diplomatique, who has met many so-called terrorists, you are not likely to confuse his authority with that of Matthew Parris. It is in fact a contrast between two utterly different schools of journalism. One is revelatory, insightful, based on solid reporting. Parris is based on a hunch, a deadline and a fat check.

Syed’s article begins to describe the geography of a story rather than attempt to be the last word. But it is that rare thing in terrorism studies: an article with some intellectual coherence. Instead of triggering a bullshit detector, it has the smell of verissimilitude, as we say in the copy-tasting room, where we spit most of the stories out into a pot in the floor, and swallow only a few.

Syed writes of the struggles within islam itself and his story not only provides the outline of a sensible way of considering this problem, but additionally contains the uncomfortable reminder that this is not just about the comfort of Parris and his metropolitan friends. Almost all the victims of this war – or more properly, a series of armed conficts between state and non-state actors – are themselves muslims. I think this is much more interesting than Matthew’s wishful theories on hearts and minds. Compared to Parris’s theory that “we” are winning, Syed offers a different dimension of journalism, in which a complicated problem can be seen for what it is.

The on-line summary at Le Monde Diplo hardly does justice to Syed’s reporting.

Deux stratégies islamistes qui s’opposent – two opposing Islamist strategies

Al-Qaida contre les talibans – something genuinely fascinating – the old firm has broken up.

De la Somalie à l’Afghanistan, de l’Irak au Liban, en passant par la Palestine (lire « Comment le monde a enterré la Palestine »), se dessine un arc du chaos caractérisé par l’affaiblissement des Etats et le rôle croissant de groupes armés disposant d’un armement efficace (notamment roquettes et fusées) et échappant à tout contrôle centralisé. Pour les Etats-Unis, ces zones sont devenues le terrain principal de la « troisième guerre mondiale », de la « guerre contre le terrorisme ». Cette vision nourrit la stratégie de l’organisation Al-Qaida, engagée dans une lutte à mort contre « les croisés et les juifs ». Pourtant, sur le terrain, ces discours simplistes ne recouvrent pas une réalité bien plus contradictoire. En Irak, on assiste à une mobilisation d’une partie de la résistance sunnite contre les dérives d’Al-Qaida qui s’est lancée dans un sanglant combat contre les chiites, n’hésitant pas à s’en prendre à leurs lieux de culte. En Afghanistan, de violents incidents ont opposé les talibans aux combattants étrangers d’Al-Qaida, les premiers privilégiant une stratégie nationale (et la recherche d’un modus vivendi avec le pouvoir pakistanais) et les seconds appelant au renversement des régimes musulmans en place, dénoncés comme « impies ».

An arc of chaos is described by the map of Somalia to Afhagnistan, Iraq to the Lebanon, passing through Palestine. This is characterised by the weaknening of states and the growing role of armed groups outside of all effective centralised control and armed with effective weapons, notably rockets and explosives. For the United States these zones have become the principle battleground of the third world war or of the war against terrorism. This vision has in fact nourished, fed into the startegy of al-Qaida which is engaged in its own struggle to the death against christians and jews. Meanwhile on the ground, these simplistic discourses do not capture the reality which is much more conflicted. In Iraq one part of the sunni resistance is mobilising against Al-Qaida who have launched themselves in bloody fighting with the shiia… In Afghanistan there have been violent clashes between the taliban and the foreign fighters of al-Qaida, the Taliban primarily nationalists seeking a strategy including a modus vivendi with the Pakistani power next door; al-Qaida calling for the overthrow of Islamic regimes already in power which they denouce as impious.


Compared to this, Parris is not even starting to understand what he is writing about. One must mention in passing that more than 150 people were killed in one Iraqi city in terrorist attacks on the very day that Parris’s column appeared, although none of them will have been known to Parris.

In the campaign to purge delusion from the media on the subject of terrorism, one cannot help notice today’s Sunday Telegraph with its splash warning of a 15-year fight against terror. This is an intriguing new benchmark – one previously undisclosed, I believe. We have been warned that this is generational. But 15 years sound rather specific. A target!

Admiral Sir Alan West, a former first sea lord, now a war counsellor to Grodon Brown, choses a Tory paper to predict that the war on terror will take a decade and a half to win, and went on to make similar points on Sky News. So this was entirely manufactured news.

Interestingly, though, with the scoop that this is no more than three five-year plans. Fifteen years is in fact a dramatic improvement since the forecast of Sir Sherard Cowper-Coles, our man in Kabul, last month that it would take 30 years to win the instant struggle. (Apparently, the largest British embassy in the world is being built in Kabul so Cowper-Coles may just have been making the case for a longer mortgage. His embassy should be a long way out of town, in a defensible position, is my advice.)

So more happy news on the war on terror. Within a fortnight of the Brown administration taking over, the time to win has been reduced by decades, from those now obsolete estimates of Cowper-Coles, to the really rather encouraging estimate of Admiral West.

Oh, but we mustn’t call it a “war on terror”. West says of the phrase: “I hate that expression. When I first heard it – I think it came over from the states – I thought it was totally the wrong thing.”

He continues, oddly, that,”it’s not like a war in that sense at all. It demeans the value of a war and it demeans the value of a lot of things.” Demeans the nobility of war, perhaps? What does he mean? That terrorists fight dirty?

Reading Parris, West and Syed Saleem Shahzad I am not sure how we will know when we have won the war on terror – perhaps there will be no more terrorists. West is right, however, that a new approach is badly needed to tackle it. But what is this to be? Be nicer to muslims? More bombs? Poppy eradication? Information war?

The fundamental problem is one that nobody dares acknowledge. The versions of democracy and justice on offer on our side are actually pretty unconvincing. Our example is frankly not so persuasive in the battle for hearts and minds. Maybe if there were no secret prisons, no torturers, elections were decided by voters and not lawyers, seats were not for sale in parliament, corrupt arms dealers were not operating in collusion with governments, for example, the “west” could offer some rentable values to the world.

Until then, it does sound as if the answers to the problem of terror are less likely to be found in the west than within islam itself.

We are all capable of writing real nonsense from time to time. It is odd how the war on terrorism brings out the worst in many journalists as well as most politicians.


A useful Wikipedia discussion of the expression “war on terror” can be found here.

I have previously written of delusional media here, questioning Channel 4 News’s theories on muslim alienation.


Delusional journalism (Channel 4 News edition)

Posted in Delusional journalism, Media by Deputy city editor on June 5, 2007


Reporting and nothingness

Reporting and nothingness

Channel 4 News broadcasts an intriguing report revealing that a quarter of Muslims polled think the authorities were involved with staging the 7/7 London bombings and that nearly six in ten of those polled believe the government hasn’t told the whole truth about them.

Channel 4 frets that their poll has produced “a worrying picture that suggests a significant minority of British Muslims are alienated from the government and the security services.”

One wonders why Channel 4 decided to limit its poll to Muslims. There is plenty to suggest that we have not been told the full story about 7/7. Not just Muslims are bemused. It is surprising that more than four in ten Muslims apparently believe the government has told the whole truth.

I note but do not belabour that this poll was manifestly racist (or religionist, anyway) in that it was restricted only to Muslims. One cannot know Channel 4’s motive for the poll. Was it really to express astonishment that Muslims are alienated? I doubt it was deliberately to suggest that many Muslims hold crackpot views for I do not doubt that 25% of the population holds crackpot views on many things.

I am also surprised that Jon Snow did not point out, when breathlessly introducing his report last night, just why nearly 6 in 10 Muslims are anything but crackpots to believe that the government has not told the whole truth and is indeed determined that we never get to learn it.