2016 was terrible – but not for the reasons you think

For billions of human beings, Brexit, Trump and dead celebrities are the least of their worries

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That viral Sgt Pepper’s 2016 picture that’s since had to be updated about twelve times

A year that started with the death of David Bowie and ended with Donald Trump as President Elect was never going to go down well. The ‘curse of 2016’ narrative surfaced early. Famous faces were kicking the bucket by the busload. Fascist-looking right-wing populism was on the rise. By now, as people look back on Trump, Brexit and a frankly surreal procession of celebrity deaths, talk of that ‘curse’ has hardened into a more blunt and straight to the point social media catchphrase — ‘fuck 2016’.

What it proves, more than anything, is our catastrophic insularity — our short-sightedness, our fixation with the trivial, and our profound detachment from suffering elsewhere in the world. Is it a shame some talented people have died? Yes. Is it terrible that far-right rhetoric is winning elections. Yes. Continue reading “2016 was terrible – but not for the reasons you think”

Corbyn, Oldham, Syria

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Last week parliament authorised British airstrikes against ISIS in Syria, and the Labour candidate won the Oldham West and Royton by-election. It was, unsurprisingly, a week in which the omni-tentacled neoliberal establishment was especially shameless in its attempts to spin, manipulate and mind-control its way to getting what it wanted.

The Syria vote was spun as a choice between hitting back at the culprits behind the Paris attacks, or doing nothing. Opponents of military action were painted as people who “don’t want Britain to take action”, passive to the point of cowardice – or branded as “terrorist sympathisers” by David Cameron.

The media obviously failed to substantively go into any of the arguments against – let alone question the government’s laughably flimsy case for military intervention. Continue reading “Corbyn, Oldham, Syria”

What is ISIS?

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The problem with the bomb-Syria-to-stop-ISIS-attacking-us argument is that is that the United States, the world’s greatest military superpower, has been bombing ISIS in Syria for over a year, and self-proclaimed ISIS-affiliates were still able to murder 130 people in Paris and 14 in San Bernardino.

Perhaps ISIS just needs to be bombed a bit more. But even if that is the case (which it isn’t), there’s nothing that says those bombs need to be dropped by British planes. America’s annual military budget is bigger than the ten next highest spenders combined. Britain getting involved is a bit like showing up to a party at Elton John’s house with a bottle of wine. Continue reading “What is ISIS?”

Public Opinion Is Wrong (featuring Jeremy Corbyn and Jihadi John)

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What a fucking idiot

Islamic State militant ‘Jihadi John’ has allegedly been killed in a US drone strike. Born Mohammed Emwazi in Kuwait before moving to the UK, ‘John’ became notorious after appearing in videos posted online in which Western aid workers were apparently beheaded.

While Cameron and his American counterparts trumpeted John’s death as an unmitigated triumph, Jeremy Corbyn said it was a shame he wasn’t brought in alive and put on trial. Cue a flurry of criticism accusing the Labour leader of being out of touch with public opinion.

He is, and that’s good, because public opinion is wrong about most things. A few years ago, a MORI poll found that people think benefit fraud is 34 times more costly than it actually is, that 24% of the population is Muslim when in fact it’s only 5%, and that 31% are recent immigrants when in fact it’s only 13%. It’s not surprising, because for decades an overwhelmingly corporate news media has done its best to make people woefully ill-informed, prejudiced, and irrationally quick to anger. Continue reading “Public Opinion Is Wrong (featuring Jeremy Corbyn and Jihadi John)”

Digested: The Syria Conflict In Brief

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Bashar and Asma Al-Assad

Before the events of April 2011, Bashar Al-Assad was, for a dubiously elected autocrat, reasonably popular. It’s grim to think about now, but for a time al-Assad was seen as a reformer, a softer, sharp-suited New Labour dictator. He was PR savvy and had a photogenic, Western-educated, Christian Louboutin-sporting wife. He might have been thoroughly anti-democratic, but up against the mass-murdering Saddams of the Arab world he didn’t seem quite as bad.

Bashar had grown up with no expectation of being Syrian leader and trained as a doctor. His father, Hafez al-Assad, ruled Syria for thirty years, turning the Ba’ath Party from a movement striving for socialism, nationalism, Arab unity and Arab renaissance into an oppressive pseudo-monarchy. But after the oldest Assad boy, Bassel, died unexpectedly in a car crash, his younger brother Bashar was suddenly next in line. When Assad Snr keeled over in June 2000, an election was held to decide his successor. Bashar was the only candidate and won with a blatantly-rigged 97.2% of the vote.

In power, behind the PR savvy, Assad continued what his father started – namely pillaging the economy to enrich his own family. He and his close associates are thought to own between 60-70% of Syria’s assets, and his personal fortune totals $1.5 billion. His wife, effectively his regime’s smiley PR screen, might have done work for UNICEF and campaigned against rural poverty, but she can also happily blow £270,000 on a single internet shopping spree while her husband blows people to bits. Continue reading “Digested: The Syria Conflict In Brief”

Grisly Arithmetic – Syria

A district of Khalidiya devastated by pro-Assad forces
A district of Khalidiya devastated by pro-Assad forces

This month, we turn to the protracted humanitarian horror show in Syria, worsening by the day as the ‘reformist’ al-Assad regime throws everything gun-shaped and deadly it has into wiping out a ramshackle insurgency and half the country along with it.

Since April 2011, the Syrian government has been at war with a significant portion of the people it claims to represent. For over two years, Bashar al-Assad’s Damascus-based dictatorship has used all the force at its disposal to try and put down a rag-tag popular rebellion – a rebellion that sprouted from its own brutal handling of peaceful anti-government protests. Continue reading “Grisly Arithmetic – Syria”