Thoughts of a fly on the bar wall

It is 50 years since I started visiting bars, since then I have sat in more bars, in more places than I want to remember. I have worked behind, cooked in, served in, and managed pubs. I have conversed and argued with painters, Pakis (Ladies and Gentleman from Pakistan if you must), parasites, Parisians, parliamentarians, peers of the realm , perverts, players, pleaders, plebs, plumbers, Poles, poofters, prime ministers and prostitutes. I have written and broadcast about far cities, elegant restaurants, bordellos and mismanaged disasters.
I have heard absolute rubbish, absurd claims, downright duplicity as well as much good sense and enormous doses of reality.
Put it all these conversations together with my last few years thinking, reading and writing about the way we live, about our governance, our mistakes and our future and you get to this blog.

Sam Worthington

Monday, 18 August 2014

Fighting fanatical Islam.

David Cameron has stated that “Isil poses a direct and deadly threat to Britain.” And that statement, I presume, means we can expect more police controls on freedoms in the UK, and more military involvement in Iraq and the Middle East. It has already been stated that anybody flying the black flag of ISIL will be arrested. Recruiting jihadists fighters in the UK is now illegal.
Many will say the Prime Minister has taken a long time to get to the ‘bleedin’ obvious,’ whilst others will say we should have nothing to do with Iraq – it is not our war. I suspect most people will be vaguely supportive.
There is little doubt we are partly responsible for this whole miserable situation. We were co-creators of the the Sykes–Picot Agreement, which arbitrarily created the modern Iraq and Syria. And of course we were party to the infamous 2nd Gulf war, which removed Saddam Hussein, and is arguably the reason for the mess that Iraq is now in. Our fingerprints are all over the crime scene – we can barely deny responsibility. And on that basis we should at least try and help – particularly those people who are being terrorized by genocide minded terrorists. It is interesting to note that the Yazidis have been living in this area for 3,000 years – they have been under many different regimes (Roman, Byzantine, Ottoman) including Muslim ones, and nobody has before demanded that they change their religion: certainly nobody else has slaughtered them because they did not support a specific religion.
An interesting article by Seam Thomas likens the ISIS to the Cambodia’s Khemer Rouge – and they were some truly illogical and evil bastards.
Cameron makes a great play on the dangers of a fanatical Islamic state so close to Europe. He sees a real danger of the Islamic State running riot through the whole of the Levant and then turning its venom on the west. It is thought there could be as many as a 1,000 UK citizens fighting in their ranks. And that raises the spectre of home grown terrorism: shades of 7/7 and worse.
Whether or not ISIS actually get round to targeting countries outside the Middle East could well depend upon how easy a ride they get in the Levant – and as nobody wants them I suspect they are going to get neither an easy ride, nor peace in any form.
Certainly I have always thought one of the biggest threats to the West would be a fanatical single Muslim state that dominates the Middle East and North Africa. But the word single suggests united and for the moment ISIS is a Sunni based regime; and the Shia’s are not going to join it without a fight. People I know, who understand the Middle East, believe that ISIS are more likely to set off a full scale conflict between the Sunnis and the Shias: dragging in Saudi Arabia on the Sunni side and Iraq on the Shia side. The whole region could explode in civil war which will take years to resolve. Thus the biggest mistake of the UK and the west would be to get dragged into fighting for one side, and in the process alienating the other side.
There is little doubt that in general western involvement in the Middle East – in recent years – has been based on opportunism and perceived fears. Oil has been the major consideration – followed by arms sales and other commercial opportunities. Then there has been the fear that Iran might get a nuclear bomb. Almost every time the west has interfered in the region it has created more problems than it solved. That started with the Sykes–Picot Agreement – following the end of the Ottoman Empire after the First World War, and then there was the creation of the state of Israel after the Second World War, the support of Shah of Iran, the second Gulf war and the doubtful support of the Arab spring – which generally speaking has made matters worse. We have tried to impose our religion – democracy – on a divided society that was totally unprepared for egalitarianism as it is neither understood nor wanted.
In a limited ways the west has opportunities to help – firstly it should try and foster a political settlement in Iraq. It appears doubtful that will happen and it will depend on the Iraq Sunnis, who are not fanatical, driving out ISIS – assuming they can. If they cannot then Iraq will split up and the Shia part will become a reduced state – one suspects it will be looked after by its neighbour; Iran.
To the north are the Kurds who have always tried to look after themselves. They clearly need support if they are to resist the Islamic State. The biggest problem to the formation of a Kurdish state has been the objections of Turkey to such an entity – there has been a prolonged terrorist campaign in Turkey by the PKK (Kurdistan Workers Party). Kurds have already taken over their part of Syria; and they have a significant population in Iran and Armenia with the largest Kurdish population being in Turkey. One suspects that Turkey may now prefer the Kurds as next door neighbours to the Islamic state. Most Kurds are also Sunni Muslims but of the Shafi school. It is in the Kurdish region that the Yazidis live, as well as many Christians. The Kurds are clearly sensible secular. Supporting the creation of proper Kurdish state, and making certain it can hold it own against the Islamic State, looks a sensible policy.
Ending the civil war in Syria would be a great help – that almost certainly will mean a reduced Syria but, if the fighting in the west can be stopped, Syria can start rebuilding and take back its refugees. The only way the war can be bought to halt is by supporting Assad – otherwise it will simple drag on. The west needs reality and pragmatism when dealing with Assad.
Jordon has been one of our oldest and loyalist allies – if the Islamic state come knocking we have a clear duty to make certain Jordon remains intact.
The creation of Israel may have been a mistake; however it is one we must live with. Israel deserves our support – it is a bulwark of dynamism and good governance in the Levant. The situation in Gaza is there because the Palestinians will not stop fighting. I have no idea what proportional response means – if somebody is trying to kill me I reserve the right to kill them first. The one thing we can rely on in the region is that if IS attack Israel: Isreal will use whatever it takes to stop them.
Cameron talked about the ‘poisonous ideology of the Islamic State.’ What he did not talk about is the fact the UK, and most of Europe, has allowed Islam to grow and flourish in Christian countries to the detriment of the core religion. It is not just a question of rooting out fanatics – it is a question of who we really are. Secular we maybe but our beliefs and customs are based on Christianity. The government needs to make it quite clear that is the position – Muslims are welcome, they can have their own church but that is as far as it goes. Anybody who wants Shia law can go to a country where Shia law is practiced, we do not want Islamic missionaries and they are not welcome.
If, as not long ago, we were all Christians we would not fear Muslim extremists. We have let the enemy in – now we need them to leave: or stop being our enemy. The only alternative is that they go: either home or into internment of some form.
Let us be honest with ourselves at least – we are paying for our mistakes. How much we pay will depend upon how soon we fully recognise those mistakes.

Monday, 7 July 2014

Lets face it - war is imminent

This is a good summary of the background to the problems in the Middle East. It is by By Joschka Fischer (Germany’s foreign minister and vice chancellor from 1998 to 2005)

This is from the UK Telegraph pointing out that this war is not just the West and the USA’s fault – it is far more fundamental than that. From this article:
……. how ridiculous is – and has always been – the claim that Islamist violence is a direct consequence of “Western foreign policy”. It is true enough that the fundamentalists object to “the Crusaders” and their military actions. But they also object to the West’s refusal to embrace sharia; to the fall of the caliphate; to the freedoms enjoyed by women and gay people in the West; to music (in the case of the Taliban); to Jews; to pluralism; to movies, television… and much, much else.

As this former General points out – this is not going away. The West now needs to gear up to the threats of Islamic extremism and, in the long term divert serious funding, to countering their activities.
…………if the Government would only realise that dealing with this kind of jihadist threat is going to be a feature of our national security arrangements for some years to come, it would ensure that the technology is available to make sure that we are always one step ahead of the terrorists, rather than always having to play catch up.

The problem for the western countries - with significant Muslim population - is not just the return of jihadist fighters who may bring a real threat of terrorism; but the fact that the jihadists are as much about the Sunni Shia split as anti-west. In Europe Muslims are seen as Muslims first and foremost and as such have been tolerated and some would say even welcomed. There is little or no comprehension of the split between the Sunni and Shias. If those differences are now exploited in the west, there could be the kind of sectarian war that bedevilled Northern Ireland: and that on the streets of Paris, Amsterdam and Leeds

The long and the short of all these articles and comments is there is war brewing in the Middle East and how ever hard we in the west pretend it is not – it is coming our way. Whether or not it is out fault is irrelevant – we cannot put the war genie back in the bottle. Islam may have been created to unite the tribes of the Levant – but, as so often happens, it has done exactly the opposite.
Whether the coming war will drag a reluctant west into open warfare, or whether it will be a prolonged and determined terrorist campaign directed against all that our modern liberal society stands for, only time will tell. But as there are few countries without a sizable Muslim population there is a good chance that one way, or another, this war, or terrorism war, is going to in involve most of the world.

If the Middle East goes up in smoke the issue of energy will quickly become critical –modern societies’ life blood is oil. A point I am sure the jihadists of ISIS have not missed – they may well have competing and intriguing options. Close down the oil supplies and force our decadent civilisation into living without the trinkets we hold so dear and they so despise; or take over the oil fields and sell the oil to enrich their new Caliphate.

Friday, 4 July 2014

The decline of the middle class – what does it mean?

The most perfect political community is one in which the middle class is in control, and outnumbers both of the other classes.

I often think about that quote by Aristotle because it makes perfect sense. By middle class he means managers and professional people who have had decent experience of life, a reasonable education and presumable have something to lose. They are going to be the voters who actually think about what they are voting for.
The rise and rise of Western Europe over the last two hundred years created a significant middle class. The so called American dream is all about creating a strong middle class – people who owned their own home and felt comfortable in any society.
We look at our politics today and see some very strange things going on – there appears to be a disconnect between reality and policy. Politicians are only interested in getting re-elected and how they do does not seem to matter. As De Tocqueville forecast parliaments are bribing the people with their own money. On top of that political correctness has tried to take many fundamental issues off the table – immigration being the number one. A strong middle class would see and understand the issues and would not put up with what is happening by voting against it. To an extent the middle class have always been important as they were the swing voters – for a long time in the UK the left (Labour) and right (Conservative) just about cancelled each other out so the undecided or floating voters were critical and they were largely middle class – or aspiring middle class.
Globalisation, and more importantly digitalisation, has fundamentally changed many aspects of our lives. The mobile phone and the internet have focused power upwards – there is now no need to have a manager who can make a decision because the head office is a simple call away. Twenty years ago to get a bank loan meant talking to a person – now it is down to a computer and a credit score. More and more jobs that were junior and middle management responsibility have been taken away by communication and computerisation. For the first time for a long time the middle class is shrinking. Add to this massive immigration and the whole voter mix is swinging; and giving power to the poorer less educated voters. No doubt many will feel that is not all bad – but the whole idea of democracy is that people understand what they are voting for.
To an extent what is happening in Thailand could be a sign of what is ahead for the west. The empowerment of the Thai poor majority has led to corruption and the resentment of the middle classes who live in and around the capital. The middle classes begrudge having to pay for the poor particularly when they believe much of that money is wasted, or goes in corruption.
Now in the west there is growing resentment among the middle classes who see vast sums of what they see as their money, going into goods and services for people they believe either do not work or are immigrants. That resentment has been seen in recent European elections where UKIP in the UK and The National front in France – among others - did very well. But it seems extremely unlikely that either will actually win an election – they will be a noisy and significant minority. But unlike, in an immature democracy like Thailand, they will not be able to change things.
If the middle class lose power and the politicians continue to pander to the people who can elect them – and given the system that is totally understandable – financial responsibility goes out of the window. Taxes on the middle class will go up and up breeding more resentment.
Needless to say the answer is to tax the rich and the big corporations but both are mobile enough to run away when it comes to excessive taxation. The middle class have always bourn the highest relative burden of taxation simple because they were the ones who could not get away.
A rising middle class meant that there was a belief – maybe false – that sooner or later Aritotle’s ideal political community would come to pass – a falling middle class removes hope of a genuinely responsible and all inclusive government.
The argument for democracy is that it empowers people and defuses insurrection because people have the power of the vote. But if the middle class has no more power than a minority tribe in an ex-colony, and are similarly abused and used, something will have to give.