Category Archives: Media and Internet Culture

How the political correctness debate is being manufactured

silenced

 

Has political correctness gone mad?

That was the title of Trevor Phillip’s latest Channel 4 documentary which aired a few days ago. The docco contends that Brexit and Trump happened as a result of the ‘hard left’ refusing to engage in debate and using political correctness to silence opponents. And you’d be forgiven for thinking that it’s topical. That there’s suddenly a Liberal-versus-Conservative divide imported from across the Atlantic threatening to disenchant the ‘ordinary people’ who will rebel against their feminist, LGBTQ and POC oppressors by voting in a British version of Trump.

But that’s just not true.

This PC Gone Mad/Liberal Elites Oppressing The Masses trope is a myth created and endlessly cycled by the media. Just days after Has PC Gone Mad? aired, another version of this self-created debate- though at least this segment was an actual debate- was shown on BBC Newsnight. With each iteration of this myth, no new information or current event is added. Instead, the same incidents are recycled over and over- mostly Germaine Greer and Julie Bindel being no-platformed (refusal to be invited as a guest speaker to student societies or clubs) by certain student unions.

Now, student unions are not all-powerful holdfasts of the “liberal elite” (or the Establishment, for that matter). They’re, well, groups of young people elected by other young people at the same university who could be bothered to vote. They do not have “agendas” which are meaningful forces at the national level (in the case of no-platforming someone). Their compositions change with each new influx of students, making it very difficult to deploy a consistent political agenda across decades to change an entire country.  The ‘PC Gone Mad’ myth has simply borrowed from America’s over-hyping of a few incidents of students asking for trigger warnings* on course material (which have existed for decades at US and UK universities; even TV has trigger warnings before certain programmes). In any case, a union or two no-platforming a speaker does not equate to a liberal elite oppressing the masses. Governments owe their citizens and residents free speech. Universities are not governments and neither are student unions. Student unions are groups of people who can no-platform if they feel like it. no-one has an inalienable right to speak to any group of people, any more than I have the right to demand that you continue to read this.

The myth of political correctness gone mad also assumes that ‘ordinary people’ desperately crave the freedom to say sexist, racist and homophobic statements. Most of us would disagree with that assessment of ourselves and our loved ones.

And while proponents of the myth claim that we suddenly aren’t allowed to say racist, sexist or homophobic things any more, in reality these laws have been in effect for decades. The Race Relations Act came into effect in the 1970s. It wasn’t invented by the liberal elite a couple of months ago. The Channel 4 documentary used the punishments dished out to online trolls who targeted the feminist campaigner Caroline Criado-Perez  as an example of political correctness gone mad. Prosecutions for online trolling may seem new to those who’ve barely heard of the internet, but harassment has always been a crime whether it’s committed to your face, in a letter, through a third party, over the phone or indeed online. This is similar to how conspiracy, slander or extortion are actionable whether they’re committed face to face or not. Or how murder is still a crime even if you don’t kill the person face to face.

Prosecutions for online harassment did happen before Caroline Criado-Perez. They just didn’t make the national news because the victims were not famous enough (Criado-Perez was fronting a national campaign at the time). It’s not uncommon for those who profess their activism online to be the targets of abuse. It’s just that people who aren’t middle-class, who aren’t deemed respectable, who are seen as deserving of their abuse because they’re sex worker activists or queer activists or kinksters, won’t be newsworthy. Just because something isn’t on the news doesn’t mean it’s not happening. Kind of like how people are dying of cancer every day but their families’ grief won’t make the headlines, while celebrities who survive cancer do.

Trevor Phillips did raise important points: virtue-signalling can and does lead to harmful overreactions against powerless individuals, leaving systemic oppression intact. And shutting down debate is not a solution. But overall, the message of Has PC Gone Mad is not simply wrong, it’s mostly irrelevant.

The fact is, “liberal elites” and “ordinary people” are not in conflict. Brexit was not caused by harassment prosecutions or students no-platforming. It was caused by widespread ignorance of what the EU is and the benefits it offers as well as UKIP’s conflation of the unrelated issues of EU immigration, non-EU immigration, benefits ‘scrounging’, and illegal immigration. The only recent UK political clashes have been about Brexit, austerity, and so on- mostly against the Conservative government and certainly not against liberal elites. While these very real protests are sometimes played down in the news, these same news agencies are only too happy to regurgitate years-old incidents and inflate incidents which appeared in student newspapers into a fake national debate on political correctness. If a liberal versus conservative divide does ever happen, it was manufactured by the media.

 

 

*’The Coddling of the American Mind‘, which very eloquently criticises these students, is actually one of my favourite online articles due to the structure of its arguments and the important points it touches on. However, even this gem cites just a handful of very low-key, non-newsworthy incidents across the entire US. This proves that the ‘PC debate’ is an overhyping of unrelated trivial events. It’s a very well-written piece though and I’d recommend reading it.

Vote remain: how EU human, women’s and labour rights protect us from the Tories

 

While the Brexit vs Bremain debate has been- and will continue to be- argued and analysed to death, one very important issue has escaped mainstream attention: human rights. The EU’s European Court of Justice, its laws and its Charter of Fundamental Rights safeguards our human rights more than the European Court of Human Rights. What’s more, the EU’s justice is much easier to access than that available through the ECHR. A case can only be heard by the ECHR once a case has gone through all the domestic courts- which is usually costly and very time-consuming. However, EU law can be applied directly by even the lowest level domestic courts; so if an EU law would mean you’d win your case at the District Court in Glasgow, then win it you shall, and immediately.

EU law protects Britons from age, race, sex, belief, disability and sexuality discrimination (see overview of EU discrimination law here).

 

The EU Charter of Fundamental Rights further safeguards our rights to privacy, education, being fairly dealt with by the police, and practising our religion/belief amongst many others.

If Britain leaves the EU, we forfeit all of this protection, forever.

 

 

Privacy

The EU’s European Court of Justice (ECJ) has ruled that Europeans have a “right to be forgotten”- i.e. that we can request Google to take down information about us. This gives us an important right that nobody else in the world yet enjoys, and could very well open doors to employment for those of us who have been maligned on the internet.

The ECJ is also in the process of deciding whether the UK’s DRIPA (Data Retention and Investigatory Powers Act) contravenes EU human rights law. If the UK leaves the EU, in future such cases will have no legal remedy if UK courts uphold the legality of DRIPA-esque legislation, or will have to be referred to the European Court of Human Rights- which is much less likely to safeguard the rights of citizens.

 

Welfare

The EU has struck a happy medium on the contentious issue of welfare. Its rules stipulate that after three months’ residency in another EU country, any EU citizen or long-term resident can claim the same welfare benefits as a citizen of that country. However, this doesn’t mean you’ll be handing over your taxes to benefits tourists- the ECJ has recently cracked down on immigrants who exploit the system.

EU law also provides for guaranteed criminal compensation if you are the victim of a crime while travelling within the EU.

The EU’s Europe 2020 strategy aims to “eradicate child poverty, promote the active inclusion in society and the labour market of the most vulnerable groups and overcome discrimination and increase the integration of people with disabilities, ethnic minorities, immigrants and other vulnerable groups.” The EU Commission’s PROGRESS programme supports policy development work relating to employment, working conditions, gender equality, social inclusion and social protection, non-discrimination and diversity. NGOs and charities- including British ones- can apply for funding. The Citizens for Europe programme provides civil society organisations and think tanks at European level with operating grants covering part of their running costs.

Economic security encompasses unemployment and persistent poverty- things which Iain Duncan Smith, as Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, should have been concerned about. However, he and our current and previous governments caused widespread poverty, an increase in mental health problems and the creation of over 1,000 foodbanks (free food donated by the public for the hungry). The DWP recently announced it will cut benefits for people in work. Clearly economic security is not the UK’s forte.

And what about other security threats? If we’re debating Britain’s security, let’s not leave some concepts of security out of the debate. Take the concept of human security. According to the UN, human security threats include food security (hunger), and political security (political repression, human rights abuses). Although of course we have it very good in the UK compared to a lot of other places, the recent rise of the relevance of economic security, food security and the human rights abuses aspect of political security is hard to ignore.

Recently, in addition to the several suicides and deaths- including of a former soldier who died starving and penniless after missing an appointment at the Job Centre- directly caused by his policies, he was found by researchers to have caused at least 590 suicides which were not previously known. His welfare reforms are currently being investigated by the UN for breaching the human rights of disabled persons. The latest debacle, as of this week, involves a child who has had all four limbs amputated. Under Iain Duncan Smith’s reforms, the boy has been required to prove he is disabled or the family’s benefits will be taken away. Previous examples of disabled people being found “fit to work” and having their disability benefits stopped include a man with peeling bones, a man who is kept alive by a machine, and a kidney dialysis patient who has suffered 14 heart attacks. Thousands of people who were dying have been found fit to work, as have those who were already deceased when the notification was made.

The DWP’s decision to deprive people of enough money to survive (and barely enough to survive in the best scenario- £73 a week to pay bills and buy food with) will adversely impact the economy. Without enough money to buy consumer goods, there is less demand for products and so less jobs. Less jobs mean more people are unemployed and have to depend on benefits, which means the vicious cycle continues. Duncan Smith’s workfare (a mandatory six months of working for free, avoidance of which results in withdrawal of benefits for up to three years) snatches precious jobs away from the waiting jobless. Meanwhile the government shells out millions on corporate welfare (in-work benefits for employees whose employers refuse to pay them enough to survive, such as Housing Benefit and Work Tax Credit).

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Tory World Map

 

National security

Brits are now much more likely to die from a benefits sanction than they are to die from a terrorist attack. No terrorist attack in Britain has killed over 590 people. The public’s security is threatened by Iain Duncan Smith more than our security is threatened by terrorists.

Iain Duncan Smith has warned that the UK faces security threats if it doesn’t leave the EU. “This open border does not allow us to check and control people that may come and spend time,” he told the BBC on 20th February. However, a key fact which seems to have escaped Mr Duncan Smith is that the EU is obligated to protect its own borders. If Britain leaves the EU, it’ll be on its own. The UK coastline will become our frontier. Terrorists have to pass through the EU border before they get to Britain, meaning there are at least two and perhaps several (if every EU country they pass through checks them) chances to detect them. If Britain leaves the EU, the terrorists would only have to pass one border- our coast.

 

But it’s not just border control that membership of the EU has to offer. As Lucy Thomas, deputy director of Britain Stronger In Europe, told the Daily Mail: “In recent weeks we have heard from a wide range of experts with frontline experience of the fight against terrorism that Britain’s streets are safer in Europe.

Though Iain Duncan Smith may wish to ignore them, the message is clear from the head of Europol, Army chiefs and Home Secretaries past and present, that co-operating with our European allies is crucial to keeping British people safe.

The European Arrest Warrant lets us deport terrorist suspects back to their country of origin, Europol helps our police co-operate with their European counterparts, and EU data-sharing measures allow our security services to access information on threats from anywhere in Europe within minutes.”

In fact, Britain benefits from EU intelligence sharing between all member states, and from the intelligence analysis conducted by INTCEN (the EU Intelligence and Situation Centre). Intelligence is also shared through the European Police Organization (Europol), the Joint Situation Center (SitCen), the Intelligence Division of the European Union Military Staff (INTDIVEUMS), and the European Union Satellite Center (EUSC). This is done for counterterrorism purposes.

The Tories’ policies are also having a knock-on effect for national security. If a country is to be a great power, it needs a healthy economy, educated citizens who can compete in the global job marketplace and in a globalised business world, and a strong or at least adequate military. Austerity (and tuition fee rises- which  he voted for-, the destruction of higher education grants, cuts in education spending etc) will not achieve that. Children need to have enough food to learn. A hungry child or unhealthy, malnourished teen won’t be as likely to do well in school (especially as lack of nutrition can stunt growth including brain growth). They are also less likely to forgo the instant gratification of work aged 16 for two more years of school and then a four-year university stint, during which they’ll continue to be on the poverty line and dependent on the whims of university hardship funds to pay rent- and then be tens of thousands in debt at the end of it. Bottom line: health comes first. People need to be healthy to get an education. The taxpayer can throw all the money they want to at the NHS but when the problem is malnutrition there’s not much the doctors can do about it. Everything- technology, science, business, even tourism, depend on skilled people running the show and (in some cases) competing with foreign rival institutions. If we don’t have a healthy, educated, able to work populace then all of these industries and more will suffer. The military is self-explanatory; the weak can’t fight. And the same rules apply to military technology as they do to technology generally.

We won’t see these effects for a long time. If Iain Duncan Smith’s policies continue now that he is gone- as it seems they are- Britain will gradually become poorer as a nation. The talented few, born or sponsored into greatness, will leave for a more comfortable existence in more prosperous countries. Universities will slip down the rankings as fewer people apply to them and they take all comers- or perhaps they’ll retain rankings but mostly consist of international students. Without enough educated Brits, the same thing will happen to other professions which we currently see with medical professionals: they’ll consist disproportionately of immigrants because British people don’t have the qualifications. Again, this will take several years if not a few decades.

These changes will affect national security. The security services and the upper echelons of law enforcement and the armed forces need the best, not the best from among the mediocre rich kids who scraped into desperate universities.

Our own government, not the EU, is a threat to the UK’s economic, human and national security. NATO is more of a threat to our sovereignty than the EU, as we are required to go to war if another NATO state is attacked.

 

Strategy

Brexit may therefore make the UK more vulnerable to terrorism as we will lack valuable intelligence from the EU. An isolated UK dependent on the US might also be exactly what Putin wants. Brexiters can talk about NATO and the Commonwealth, but it’s, well, talk. At the very least, firm and detailed agreements should be negotiated with Commonwealth States before we leave the EU. They must be specific and binding enough (e.g. they only become void in the event a Brexit is avoided) that those States can’t just back out or water down the agreements. The downside to this is that perhaps States don’t want to waste time negotiating over a situation which might be averted; however there are many Commonwealth nations and if the benefits of trade agreements are made clear, and if the contracts are no more detailed than necessary to secure cooperation, surely a few would be interested. However, though the Commonwealth could- in theory- fulfil the needs of economic security, the relevance of Commonwealth States’ intelligence to terrorist threats against the UK is not clear.

The closest (and most obvious to the British public and the rest of the world) tie remains our ‘special relationship’ with America, which has brought us the joys of unwanted and illegal war, increased terrorism partly as a result of the aforesaid wars, and…er…

As of the time of writing there is absolutely nothing to suggest any concrete steps have been taken to ensure EU-equivalent benefits from the Commonwealth should the Brexit occur. Therefore, assuming that the Commonwealth fails to provide a viable alternative, if the UK leaves the EU it will have to get more cosy with the US to replace all of the lost economic and security benefits. Not only will this be likely to lead to increased resentment of Britain by those who already have a hatred of the west, particularly America, it will also polarise the northern hemisphere- not on a scale approaching anything like the Cold War, of course, but oddly reminiscent: As we know, US-Russia relations and US-China relations are not warm. The UK is a little different as demonstrated with the Chinese President’s visit in 2015, but that may change if the US is the UK’s only ally instead of ‘merely’ the UK’s main and most powerful ally. The UK and US will be on one side, Russia and China on the other.

Relying more heavily on the US is not a good strategic move. One of the basic rules of strategy is to give oneself as many options, as many paths toward one’s goals and as much influence as possible. In the context of the international playground this means forming multiple alliances with States (and non-State actors) who have influence in different regions, provide different economic benefits, and so on. In this way things like a wide sphere of influence and a stable supply of produce are guaranteed, because even if one ally breaks a trade agreement for an essential product, the State is not solely dependent on that ally and so its position will not be much affected. Another example would be if a State used two other States for diplomatic support about intervening in a fourth State. If one ally suddenly decided that no, they weren’t going to try to convince the UN the intervention was necessary, there is still another ally to rely on. (I’m not suggesting this is something any State should be doing, these are simply realistic examples). Throwing most of our eggs in the US basket is bad strategy.

how america sees the world.

American Government World Map

There is also economic security to consider. The Brexit backers appear to believe that if the UK leaves the EU, we will then be able- somehow- to negotiate better deals with the EU. However it is difficult to see why the EU would care about Britain when it’s no longer part of the team. It appears much more likely that the remaining EU states will simply continue to trade with each other within the parameters they voted for long ago. Even if this scheme worked, it’s not so much a Brexit as a Stomping Off In A Huff And Sulking Until They Play My Way. Or, perhaps, a Brexit-And-(re)Brentry.

 

 

Women’s Rights

The EU has been promoting gender equality since 1957. The Strategy for Equality Between Women and Men represents the European Commission’s work program on gender equality for the period 2010-2015. In 2012 the Gender Equality Directive stopped insurers using gender as a risk factor. Currently it combats violence and discrimination. The EU’s Women, Peace and Security agenda works to prevent violence against women and girls in conflict zones. The European Social Fund (ESF) has introduced a gender-mainstreaming approach and the EQUAL initiative was launched in 2000 to develop new ways of tackling discrimination and exclusion in the labour market including that which is based on gender.

The EU has also created an Institute for Gender Equality and a Fundamental Rights Agency. Winnet, a network of European Women Resource Centres was created to improve efficiency and transparency of women’s rights NGOs and therefore improve gender equality policies and tools.

Impact assessments on the effect of EU policy on women are carried out by each of the Commission’s Directorate-Generals.

 

The ECJ has previously interpreted “family life” to protect the rights of children of unmarried and lone parents to enable the children to remain living with their parents. Cases include Johnston v Ireland (1986), Eur. Ct. H.R., Ser. A, No. 112, Marckx v Belgium (1979) 2 EHRR 330:342, Berehab v Netherlands (App. 10730/84) 21 June 1988 Series A No. 138, (1989) 11 EHRR 322 S21 and Keegan v. Ireland (App.16969/90) 26 May 1994, Series A No. 290 (1994) 18 EHRR 342 S44.

The Fundamental Rights Agency devotes one of the chapters of its Annual Report on Fundamental Rights to the rights of the child. In 2009 the FRA published a report on “Developing indicators for the protection, respect and promotion of the rights of the child in the European Union.”

The Audiovisual Media Services Directive binds Member States to ensure that audiovisual media services provided by media service providers under their jurisdiction do not contain any incitement to hatred or sex discrimination.

 

The ECJ has ruled on age discrimination in employment, pensions and the retirement age.

When Belgium attempted to deny residence permits for two French nationals on the ground that they were suspected to be engaged in sex work, the ECJ ruled that as Belgium allowed its own citizens to do sex work, denying free movement to French citizens was a contravention of EU law.

More intersectional and specific forms of discrimination haven’t escaped EU notice, either. In 2007, the Monitoring and Evaluation Unit of the Employment and Training Corporation (ETC) published a study on lone mothers in poverty, which found that the mothers “experienced stigma and prejudice at the workplace and they felt as if they were looked down upon by their co-workers[14]”. The European Working Conditions Observatory concluded that “A respectful environment at work…would also help more lone mothers to enter or return to the labour market.”

The EU’s ECJ court, its Commission, its laws and its many agencies and platforms do much more to safeguard our rights than the European Court. They also pump money into impoverished areas of the UK to improve the lives of Brits in rural and deprived areas.  If Britain leaves, there will be nothing to stop the Tories doing whatever they please. We will lose the EU’s European Social Fund funding for services (including internet provision) and projects in deprived communities, and though we won’t have to give funding to the EU, it is not likely we will see a penny of the money saved. A government which is dismantling the NHS and destroying our welfare state is not suddenly going to change and pump the saved resources into welfare, education or health.. The scale and scope of the EU’s human rights protection is unique in the world. If Britain leaves the EU, we must be prepared to give up all of the EU’s human rights protections- for which we will find no replacement. 

Nigel Farage’s UKIP15 Speech (parody)

Now I don’t know what Nigel Farage said at the UKIP conference, and I don’t care. In fact we all know the kind of thing he’s bound to say. I’ll bet it went something like this:

“Britain needs to get itself back to being Britain again. Britain Britain Britain.  And I’m the guy to take you there. You all know you can trust me- me, the guy with the buffoonish grin permanently plastered over my coupon and a pint glass grafted to my hand. Me, the career politician who plays at being the average guy down the pub all you working-class plebs can relate to, despite owing my allegiance to my circle of posh Londoners. I might dress like a country boy but you can bet I wouldn’t touch a Northerner or ned Weedgie scrounger with a barge pole.

“Now what was I saying? Oh yes, me. I’m the guy who’s going to take us out of the EU. And why? Because the Brexit will solve every single problem this country has! Austerity, social mobility, privacy, tax-dodging corporations, crime, gender inequality, poverty, tuition fees- all these issues will be solved once we throw off the shackles of EU oppression! That’s why there’s no need for UKIP as a party to actually save the NHS or differ from the Conservatives on the issues of austerity, tax avoidance and unemployment. They’ll magically solve themselves! All our problems are caused by the faceless unelected pen-pushers in Brussels dictating our every move, not by successive UK governments’ policies of corruption, illegal wars, hiking tuition fees, ignoring child poverty, pissing on immigrants’ rights and constant lying. Nor is our Murdoch-controlled media to blame for demonising the most vulnerable while backing price spiking by energy corporations and hacking phones with the desperation of a teenage nerd voyeur auditioning for a job at GCHQ.

“Now I might be unelected, but I’m not like those foreigners in Brussels. I’m pure English and they’re foreign, just like those shifty Scots north of our borders. Keep ‘em out, I say. Keep the Scots out.

“Now I’m glad to see so many lovely ladies out there. It’s so adorable seeing the lasses getting interested in politics. I only wish more of you darlings would get tatts of my mug. There’s no sight more enticing than a sea of white English rose faces. Not like that angry Scottish broad- too loud. Too many ideas. Women are much more attractive when they behave themselves, aren’t they?

“Now I’m not racist but immigrants- they really are ruining this glorious motherland of ours, that our Geat, Saxon, Norse, French, Celt and Anglo ancestors fought each other- er, I mean fought for. Multiculturalism simply doesn’t work. Back in the days of Queen Elizabeth 1, we already had lots of immigrants- many of them black Muslims- crawling over our hallowed realm, and it only took them until 2015 to completely ruin everything. Even our surnames, such as Blackmore (meaning Black Moore/Muslim) and its variants, are descended from these scroungers. Could anything be more proof that immigrants do not belong here and aren’t British than the fact that we’ve had immigrants living, working and having mixed race kids here for centuries?

European immigrants were also a plague on the rolling hills of our beloved England. England England England. England. French, German, Eastern European. The freeloaders scrambled through hell and high water to scrounge off our then non-existent welfare state.

“And that’s the beauty of UKIP. We’re the thinking man’s- okay, women too- racist party. Joining the BNP or EDL or Britain First makes you look a bit of a chav, and who wants to rub shoulders with soap-dodging plebs anyway? We needed a racist party for us rich boys and I say old bean, we really have done it!

“Now some of my multiculturalist Marxist opponents may say that I’m a single issue guy, and that UKIP is a single issue party. But that’s not true. I have plenty of other ideas besides leaving the EU. Encouraging plebs to make animal sacrifice to worship the Royals for example, and enacting laws to protect our beloved English heritage. Did you know that curries are replacing our traditional English burger and fries as our national dish? And schoolgirls are increasingly adopting ISIS-style garb for PE lessons instead of those yummy short skirts that we do so like to see on 12 year olds? And that the Islamisssisification of Britain has led to the slow phasing out of the English language as children now speak in American idioms? And it’s now the law that all phone chargers have to be halal? Well, I’m going to change all that.”

Torture Report: It’s Not Just The CIA, But A Global & Structural Problem

cia hong kong uk rendition

54 countries were complicit in CIA rendition…and Hong Kong makes 55.

In the light of the Senate Committee’s Torture Report, we’re all keen to criticise the CIA. But 54 countries were involved in rendition and torture, and they all need to come clean about their involvement. The problem was global. The US may have exported torture just like the British Empire once exported its questionable values, but the States which worked with the CIA were not occupied by the US. They chose to. In the cases of UK-US rendition to Libya, the CIA’s role was actually minimal.

An outspoken Libyan dissident, Sami Al-Saadi, was forced to flee from country to country to avoid Gaddafi’s agents. He and his family were given temporary leave to remain in Britain but after a few years living in London and hiding their identities, they had to flee to China were they lived for a while. The family ended up detained in Hong Kong for immigration issues. In 2002 Tony Blair decided to make a deal with Gaddafi that Britain would get gas from Libya and Gaddafi wouldn’t develop chemical weapons. As part of this deal, the Al-Saadi family was to be renditioned to Libya. Though the CIA later decided to help by providing a plane, this was a UK plot and not a CIA-instigated rendition. The UK government wrote to Libyan officials that they had provided the intel (on the family’s location) even though they hadn’t paid for the plane, which shows they were eager to take credit for the rendition. The entire family, including children aged 4 to 12, were put on a plane in Hong Kong and flown to Libya where the entire family was imprisoned for months and their father tortured for six years. Fearing that the US would attempt a cover-up, in August 2014 the oldest daughter expressed hope that this CIA torture report would reveal the truth about her rendition. What she didn’t realise was that it wouldn’t be a US cover-up, but a UK one-the UK asked the Senate not to include references to UK agencies, so her family’s rendition was omitted from the report.

This rendition was not instigated by the CIA, but by Tony Blair. The CIA can’t be blamed as much as Britain and Hong Kong because the State which hands over the family, thereby enabling the rendition, is most culpable. That state was Hong Kong. The State which planned and negotiated the rendition is also culpable, and that was Britain. The US was complicit but they weren’t the main instigators.

According to The Guardian, terror suspect Abu Munthir was detained in Hong Kong before he and his family were renditioned to Gaddafi’s Libya in 2004, just two years after the rendition of the Al-Saadis. Hong Kong agreed to the operation, their only conditions being that the US would contribute toward plane costs and the plane would be registered in a third country. This means that, as the family were then in Hong Kong detention, it was Hong Kong who handed over the family to Libya, and not the US or UK. If Hong Kong hadn’t renditioned the family, the UK and US wouldn’t have been able to perform a rendition (at least not without first breaking the family out of the detention facility). The UK has rightly been criticised for providing logistical support and intelligence in the 2 Libyan renditions, and for routinely allowing the CIA to use British airspace and refuel while doing renditions. But Hong Kong has done exactly the same thing- it’s allowed a use of airspace and also done a handover of an entire family to Libyan agents.

The Guardian says “The Hong Kong authorities were also insisting that the Libyans offer an assurance that the family’s human rights would be respected”. That might sound good, but in reality the Hong Kong government (and ours, and the US) were turning a blind eye to the fact that they were sending someone off to be tortured. You’d have to be very gullible to take a brutal mass-murdering dictator like Gaddafi at his word. And if there’s one thing governments aren’t, it’s naive. They knew what they were doing, even if they were trying to convince themselves that Gaddafi would honour his promise, even when the family were completely in his control and no other State would know what he was doing to them.

What is of concern here is that while the US has an investigation into CIA torture and rendition, and the UK is having a police investigation over the Libya renditions, Hong Kong has yet to make any attempt to address its role in these same two Libya renditions.

So, while we need to demand the prosecution of CIA torturers and the architects of the torture program- including psychologists, politicians, soldiers and everyone who made it possible- we should be scrutinising other countries, too. Hong Kong had a starring role in both the UK renditions- in fact, without Hong Kong’s actions, there would have been no UK-Libya renditions. And seeing as both renditions were to Libya and involved the UK, that might suggest a much closer working relationship existed between Hong Kong and Libya (and/or Britain) than is currently known.

We also need to take the sole focus off the CIA and ask how much Bush and other lawmakers knew. Though the report suggests the CIA hid the extent of their torture program from everyone else in government, Bush knew something. Why should he escape jail if all the other culprits are prosecuted? He was the head of state, and it’s a standard principle for the boss to take responsibility for employee misconduct. The issue of whether government agencies can refuse the orders of a President is a complex issue, dependant on US law and CIA policy, but the question of whether being a head of state grants you immunity is not. And the same applies to Tony Blair. Without his decision to use the Al-Saadi family as collateral damage for his Deal In The Desert, MI6 wouldn’t have renditioned the family. So why are the police only investigating MI6 and letting Blair get off scot-free? Surely the main culprit shouldn’t escape justice if his accomplices (who were subject to Blair’s pressure and possibly legally obligated to do what he says) can’t?

The Torture Report is a great start, but we need to avoid focusing on the CIA’s crimes to the extent that we forget the bigger national and global crimes, and the fact that spy agencies are being led into crime by psychologists and heads of state. The Torture Report raises a lot of issues about individuals being given too much power over organisations, the trust we give to psychologists, the way civilians can influence intelligence agencies, the relationships between lawmakers and spy agencies, the power of media and activists, and the amount of scrutiny we have over our government. If we don’t want a global superpower infecting our planet with torture-as-neocolonialism, and if we don’t want business-savvy members of the public and individual politicians to lead our governments astray, then laws, policies and the structure of relationships between agencies will have to change.

This is not just a problem with the CIA. It’s a problem with the whole system of how governments operate and how influential or not the media and human rights activists are. It’s not even just an American problem. It’s a global problem. It’s a problem which includes ingroup belonging, a form of mob psychology, and similar issues. The CIA agents and US soldiers didn’t wake up one day and be like, “OK, I’m gonna get my evil on!” Some of them really thought they were doing the right thing, while others, according to media reports, were uncomfortable but felt they had to go along with it. So, despite its inhumanity, it is a very human problem.

Fake Black Friday Deals

Today was my first Black Friday. And it’s only 4:30pm and already I’m disgusted with the whole idea.

Being a spoilt lil’ bitch growing up, searching for deals was never something I had to learn. So it was only after watching South Park’s Game of Thrones saga that I first really knew about Black Friday (and got interested in Game of Thrones, and have now read all the books). The Currys-PC World TV ads yesterday were the catalyst, though. I thought it would be fun. Instead, I’ve found that many deals are fakes.

When I first headed to the PC World, Amazon and Argos sites, I didn’t know what I was looking for. A tablet or new phone sounded most practical, so I thought I’d look for that. After a frantic five minutes of comparing 4 phones over 3 sites and researching whether Windows 8.1 Phone was as good as Android, I settled on the Nokia Lumia 530. It was supposed to be £80 and was now £50- pretty good, I thought. But just as I was about to hit ‘reserve’ (there was no home delivery option) I found that O2 are selling the same phone for £50- with next day home delivery. The Argos Black Friday deal isn’t a deal at all. And if you look at the small print under the product description, it says that the phone only retailed at the higher price for a few months until November 20th. Before that it’d been cheaper. So my saving would’ve been closer to £10 or £20 than £30. With travel to Argos, my saving might be as low as £2. When I realised there was no rush to buy the phone for £50 I lost interest. Why hurry to get a new phone when you can make an informed purchase? And if the phone is only worth £50, I might think about paying a little more for a better phone, or getting a better phone at a reduced price. I also realised that £30 is nothing. It’s degrading for me to be frantically tapping keys to save the cost of a night out (including dinner and a movie). When you see that you can save, it sounds like a lot more than it actually is. That got me thinking: how much does this Black Friday race against time (and other buyers) lead to impulse buys that we wouldn’t even want under ordinary circumstances?

We're all so desperate for Black Friday deals that the Argos site has to queue visitors

We’re all so desperate for Black Friday deals that the Argos site has to queue visitors

Argos isn’t the only retailer artificially pushing up prices just to lower them for Black Friday. The Amazon Kindle Fire deals also carry small print which states that the price was previously lower, so you aren’t really saving $100. Its UK site’s XBox One deals are actually the same price as Xbox Ones in Sainsbury’s. And the deals on PC World’s site are often limited to expensive devices which are also less popular than the cheaper ones, such as top-range tablets which can’t really compete with the marketing of the much cheaper Kindle Fire. The stores are simply getting shot of overpriced, low demand stuff they can’t shift.

PC World advertises these deals as being almost free, but if you’re thinking that people on low wages or the unemployed will get a look in, think again. There are very few half-price items and even for those, you’ve still got to be prepared to part with £150 or £200- a bit pointless when there are many similar-spec devices available for similar prices to the Black Friday deals.

This is all especially sad seeing as there’s been violence over Black Friday deals, according to The Independent. The super-rich CEOs and board members must be laughing themselves silly as we fight over £20 savings- even £200 savings. If a lot of these deals are fakes, that means people are fighting and landing themselves with criminal records and community service over deals worth little or even nothing. (In fact, if I’d gone ahead with buying the phone from Argos, I’d be paying £9 more because of the cost of travel to the store). How many people have been injured and are now in a police cell over a fake deal? Even the psychological stress of tug-of-wars over laptops and appeals to store staff that another customer grabbed that phone you’d already reached for- would that have happened to me, if I’d been in the Argos store instead of online? And the stress of rushing to the shops or racing to get online fast enough.

But to get back to when I was growing up: What I wanted was a bike, a few years after I grew out of my horribly gendered little girl’s bike. I made one out of twigs and parcel tape, whittling with god knows what, because my mum said it was a criminal offence to carry a naked blade outside, and I was doing my project in the car park. I was about 10. I was to repeat this process in Technical class aged 15. Yep, despite my first love being skateboarding and being given a succession of boards which I broke by trying out increasingly extreme moves, as well as a scooter, I was hell-bent on getting that bike…until my mum suggested she buy me one when I was going on 16. I didn’t want one by then, so I said no.

That’s the thing, right there. When it was offered, I wasn’t bothered. Just like how when, at age 13, I got home from school one day and there was a Gameboy waiting for me, I was like “meh” because I hadn’t asked for one. It was stolen two years later and the following morning we went into town to get a new one- even though I hadn’t actually asked for a replacement and we weren’t even completely sure it was stolen yet. I was definitely unaware of my privelege at that age, and I’m very glad that I’m a little more aware now. Anyway, one day after school we all came out to find a toddler’s “gladiator” (two-footboard scooter) sitting on the playground. It just sat there, in its innocence, the sun glinting off its child-sized handlebars. It was obviously abandoned; trash that its owner hadn’t been considerate enough to dispose of properly. And we- teenagers- wanted it.

Yes, I’ll admit this was a rough school, and there were deprived families in its catchment areas. But a significant proportion of us had teen-toys, from PlayStations to micro-scooters. Yet, all eyes turned toward the TotBike. I went over to it, picked it up and got the hell out of there. Two people tried to grab it off me before I’d gone five hundred yards, and on the way home a couple more asked to “see it for a second”. I didn’t let go of it. They were 15 year old boys, and I was a 13 year old girl, so they didn’t resort to force. A few pupils assumed I’d stolen it, and were approving, because this was thought to be a good thing to steal. I was also stopped by a girl claiming it was her little cousin’s, but again I didn’t let go. I got the TotBike safely home. I spent days painting the thing red and black and glued stickers on it, before taking the pint-sized hotrod on its maiden drive down to the local park, where it was admired (micro-stuff was in). I may have named it Demon. Yes, I spent money pimping this abandoned, possibly stolen second-hand TotRide when I already had an adult-sized scooter and a skateboard, bought new.

What’s the point of this epic tale of how I brought Demon (or whatever I called it) safely home? Well, it’s an awful lot like Black Friday. Demon was someone’s trash, abandoned right where an army of angst-filled teens could wreck it. It wasn’t even valued enough to be sold or even given away. But because the demand was high, because stocks were limited, and because it was seen as a desirable commodity- trying to grab it was normalised. If we weren’t aware that lots of people were trying to get Black Friday deals, we might not care about getting them.

And in the stores, that’s why the fights break out. Once you’ve fought for something against all the odds, it’s yours. We are meant to keep what we kill. Defending an acquired item is an attitude common to most species. It’s in our DNA. That’s why I spent on, and valued, a TotBike I got for free- but didn’t revamp any of my skateboards. Because the fact I’d found it (or “hunted” it) and successfully carried it home (or, to my territory) and defended it from the force and trickery employed by others, meant it was mine. So we risk injury in our desperation for fake deals while the 1% earn even more. At worst, we get a criminal sentence, at best we save maybe £50.

Belle Knox, Libertarianism and the politics of freedom

First published 20/8/14 on Cliterati.

 

Photo credit: New York Post

Photo credit: New York Post

 

What pops into your mind when you think of Libertarianism? (Or Classical Liberalism, if you’re from the UK). It’s about liberty- as its name suggests. Freedom from government and moral regulation, hence its socially liberal and fiscally conservative tendencies. It’s been used to justify everything from consensual incest to legalising drugs to the Snowden leaks.

So it might seem a tad surprising that Pamela J Stubbart, a Libertarian writer and member of the Libertarian media organisation Young Voices left the organisation because they accepted‘Belle Knox’, the Duke University student, sex worker and writer.

As you’ll already know, Knox was bullied and slut shamed for her job by her classmates, the media and online trolls after a fellow student and porn consumer outed her as an adult performer.  She spoke out to her university’s paper and XOJane under another pseudonym. Her story was unexpectedly picked up by the media and she was outed by- who else?- our very own Daily Mail, pride of the British press, because deliberately exposing a then-18 year old to increased bullying and cyberbullying, as well as potential future employment discrimination, is what today’s journalism is all about.

Hailed as one of the “finest minds in Libertarian thinking”, Pamela J Stubbart spends most of her time blogging about how to tell if your cat has OCD and what people think about your Facebook photo. Stubbart describes herself as a feminist and an atheist- not exactly the kind of ideological background you’d expect from someone who won’t touch a sex worker with the proverbial ten-foot barge pole – even when said ‘pole’ is a signal pulsing along an Atlantic cable. “I’ve been told my cultural politics are delightfully screwball,” her Twitter profile boasts. Interestingly, Stubbart is an Education Officer for the Institute for Humane Studies, whose mission is “to support the achievement of a freer society by discovering and facilitating the development of talented, productive students…who share an interest in liberty”. Obviously, in Stubbart’s view this only extends to students whose career (or perhaps sexual?) choices match up with her personal tastes. Otherwise surely she should be the first to assist Belle Knox in her development, instead of publicly (as opposed to quietly) leaving Young Voices in protest over Knox’s acceptance.

Some Libertarians disagreed with Stubbart’s choice because liberty necessarily includes sexual liberty. Others felt that the Libertarian movement should be inclusive of everyone. Some agreed with Stubbart that Libertarianism doesn’t mean supporting sex workers or being pro-porn.

So, what does this tell us about Libertarianism? Is it true that supporting the legalisation of sex work (actually, sex workers campaign for decriminalisation) is “all that’s required of a libertarian,” as Stubbart tweeted? Or does being a libertarian mean more than just supporting legal change- does it mean supporting sex workers’ rights more generally, including their right to join groups, be visible, and participate in community life?

Cathy Reisenwitz is a libertarian, writer and public speaker, as well as a Young Voices editor. For her, Libertarianism and sex work aren’t mutually exclusive. “I think shaming or ostracizing sex workers comes from the same place as central planning. It’s the idea that you know what’s best for other people,” she says. “The best part about libertarianism is its humility. It’s perhaps chief insight is this: Allowing people to pursue their own self-interest makes everyone richer. The same is true whether you’re talking about money, or bodies, or bodies and money. Being libertarian means supporting the right of sex workers to work without police abuse or imprisonment, of course. But I think it also means questioning the validity of making their lives more difficult through stigma and ostracization.” 

“A very basic idea from the libertarian ideal is that people have the right to make their own decisions, and specifically that people have personal autonomy and freedom,” says  Kaelie Laochra, a sex worker activist and blogger who tweets about respecting sex workers. “So being pissed off that a sex worker is libertarian makes almost no sense in my mind.  And being angry that someone who is a sex worker is [in] a libertarian organization makes no sense.  In fact, it makes sense to me that a lot of sex workers are in fact libertarian and that the party should be one of the most supportive of sex workers because of its stress on autonomy and pride in being self employed, self sufficient and everything else I find to be very much an aspect of being a sex worker… I think, for people who actually do follow a libertarian ideal, it is pretty much within those beliefs to be a sex worker”.

International Union of Sex Workers activist and editor of the Harlots Parlour blog Douglas Fox is a libertarian and a sex worker. He’s living proof that you can be both, and for him it makes complete sense. “While respecting individual morality, those who sell sex as a job, deserve, within the libertarian community, respect and support for having made that choice, and should not be judged on prejudice, but on their worth as individuals,” he says. “Libertarianism was born from the enlightenment, from a declaration recognising the right of man not to be subordinate to the tyranny of the state, or to dogmas that judged a man’s worth on the subjective morality of prejudice and superstition. Sex workers remain the last group of workers judged not on their worth to society but on prejudices about human sexual behaviour that hypocritically control, especially, women’s sexual choices and right to consent. In a libertarian society prejudice should hold no control over a person’s right to consent to sex, or a person be judged by their choice to sell sex. An individual’s worth should be determined by rights that value the individual, not by prejudices about their labour.”

An individual’s worth. It seems that “Should being libertarian mean being pro-porn?” is the wrong question. You don’t have to be “pro porn” or “pro sex work” to refrain from ostracising someone because they work in porn.

 

Of whorephobes, slut shamers, trolls and Libertarian voices

Stubbart might think she’s taking a stand by leaving Young Voices. But her actions aren’t screwball at all (delightfully or otherwise). Instead, all Stubbart is doing is adding her Libertarian voice to the thousands of other online bullies who are calling for Belle Knox’s advocacy to be ignored and her voice to be silenced.

Think about it. Refusing to associate with someone or isolating them is recognised by UK schools as a common form of bullying which their anti-bullying policy makes unacceptable. Boycotting Israel is a moral judgement. So are many state sanctions, or refusing to play sports with apartheid South Africa back in the day. This is an attack on Belle Knox, not Young Voices, whether Stubbart admits it or not.

Whorephobia is (unsurprisingly) hard for us non-sex workers to grasp. We were raised to hate and despise sex workers. And just in case you think I’m any better, I’m not- I used to hate ‘sluts’, too, or rather the idea of them, more than most. But if we think of other marginalised groups, we can begin to grasp how sickening whorephobia is. Imagine Stubbart living in an era when it would have been socially acceptable to do so, saying “I’m leaving this organisation because I don’t want to be associated with a lesbian, and I’m worried what homophobic employers will think of me if I’m associated with someone who is attracted to members of the same sex.” Now imagine Stubbart being alive even further back and saying “I don’t want to be associated with a black woman because racist employers will discriminate me too for not being racist”.

But wait, you might be thinking, aren’t you jumping the gun here? Pamela Stubbart didn’t mean to join the bullies and slut-shamers and whorephobes! She’s just worried about ultra-conservative employers; you’re a Brit and have no idea what the job market’s like across the pond!

To that I present Exhibit A: In another blog post she writes “I definitely am not willing to claim that [slut shaming] is unequivocally bad in general. No, no, no. We do, and should want to, live in social groups where the informal enforcement of norms (as through shaming) is the primary mode of moral discipline”. It continues with “I take a really high number [of sexual experiences] as prima facie evidence that someone may have impulse control issues and/or self-esteem issues…slut shaming per se — i.e., attempting to make someone feel bad for truly excessive sexual activity — is something of a different case. It is partially morally legitimate…slut shaming is on the moral up and up in my book.”

In the interests of balanced reporting, I’ll point out that Pamela Stubbart does say “I implore you to exercise caution: as far as I can tell, slut shaming typically occurs in cases when the alleged slut is harming no one but herself (if even that). Exercise moral caution. Is this person’s sexual behavior harming anyone other than herself? If not — and you’re not a close friend or family member — then back the fuck off.”

If only she’d taken her own advice. Because ostracising someone for doing sex work is a form of slut shaming.

This isn’t an agenda of liberty. It’s allowing the oppressors to oppress. It’s taking advantage of one’s own privelege to collude with oppressors to the ultimate detriment of one’s own freedom.

What Stubbart is saying is:

It’s not OK to accept a sex worker into an organisation.

It’s not OK to be “associated”, however tenuously, with a sex worker.

And if employers discriminate against sex workers and those associated with them, that’s OK- the problem is the existence and visibility of the sex worker.

 

And why? Because if paid sex is as empowering as giving it way for free, that’ll endanger the Libertarian Revolution? Oh no. Nothing like that, no. What Stubbart- as a self-described “hookup culture survivor”, a phrase that I find offensive considering it apes the language of child abuse and rape trauma- seeks to prevent is the collapse of the sex market, or something:

“[W]hen sexual norms are too permissive, it creates mating market collective action problems” she declares. Though apparently the Pill and watching porn are A-OK, possibly because Stubbart makes use of them, but doesn’t do sex work. Stubbart also casts doubt on whether Knox consented to perform, and believes that Knox’s choice is a moral issue (albeit one she doesn’t know about enough to judge…which means she would judge it if she ever knows enough). She goes on to say “Keeping your experiments in sexual growth small and private helps to limit their potential to damage both yourself and our normative socio-sexual frameworks. I want to live in a community where people understand and respect that we are all sexual creatures, enjoy their sexuality in pro-social or at least benign ways, and limit it otherwise.” Which is surprisingly anti-freedom and moralistic for a self-confessed Libertarian atheist!

 

Hypocrisy, Or, What Doth Unacceptable Sluttiness Make?

Another concern is that Stubbart doesn’t play by her own rules. She  describes herself as “poly curious”, saying she’s read The Ethical Slut (a book on polyamory which I also read as a student).

” [W]ith a tagline like “Fall in love. Stay in love.” I may not be your target audience,” she teased another Twitter user. It seems kind of hypocritical to say ‘It’s OK for me to be poly and a Young Voices advocate, but a sex worker? NOOOO!! I QUIT!’.

It’s also very telling that Pamela J Stubbart publicly admits to using porn. So it’s okay to be the consumer but not to be the performer? Belle Knox would be out of work tomorrow if consumers like Pamela weren’t creating the demand. Oddly enough, in 2013 she tweeted “The fact that academia doesn’t want to talk about porn seriously is evidence that it really needs to talk about porn seriously.”

For all her criticism of Belle Knox not keeping sex private, Pamela Stubbart publically reminisces about her friend being the victim of a “sex toy scam” and the time she herself “added a question about period sex to OkCupid in 2011 but much to my chagrin it was never widely answered”. Other tweets include “I hope there are sex workers on LinkedIn, with all the relevant skills endorsements” and “I’m too busy having recreational sex to read all 7 pages”. That’s not exactly keeping sex private.

 

A sex worker’s right to exist in non- sex work spaces

“Libertarian sex workers, by unapologetically affirming their labour choices, challenge hypocrisy that limits women’s sexual choices and freedoms,” says Douglas Fox.

“Libertarian sex workers, especially women sex workers, affirm a woman’s ownership of their own bodies, they challenge the state’s control of women’s vaginas.”

So maybe it’s not that surprising that libertarians who eagerly challenge state regulation but who have internalised the patriarchal double standard might still baulk at the idea of sharing an organisation with a sex worker. And whether you agree or disagree with Stubbart and Knox’s choices, one thing is undebatable: whether they’re campaigning for decriminalisation of sex work, writing about their experiences, raising their children, or just existing, sex workers are stigmatised, discriminated against and ostracised. Just for doing their jobs.

Surely the pursuit of a liberty agenda should mean fighting employee discrimination? Surely it means supporting marginalised and oppressed groups as they shout to be heard, not silencing them and punishing them for becoming publically visible?

Knox’s visibility is not even a massive victory for sex workers- Belle Knox is cis, Western, middle class and highly educated. Her father is a doctor and she attended a private school. All of this means she can- to some extent- take on her critics as one of their own, and be more acceptable to the kyriarchy than a migrant, poor, uneducated, trans, disabled, substance-dependent, (fully) non-white sex worker (Knox is mixed race), or a sex worker with a history of abuse. But even a socially acceptable, possibly unrepresentative sex worker is too much for Stubbart to allow her fellow women who happen to work in the adult industry. No, they must all be stopped, every sex worker activist, no matter how unthreatening to the status quo. Even saying sex work is empowering- a simple personal statement which doesn’t call for legal change- is a rebellion that must be put down. Stubbart wants sex work to be legal and regulated. So, sex workers can exist invisibly, marginalised in the shadows as long as they keep quiet. But they can’t advocate for the legalisation of their own industry. Or even join an organisation if Stubbart joined first.

“The value of a person is not their labour but how they conduct themselves as citizens, as human beings,” Douglas Fox reminds us. “The greatest challenge for the sex worker is how to reclaim and affirm their identity. To have their work choice recognised but not define who they are.”

Kaelie Laochra says “I’m always a bit baffled when people are angry about sex workers being involved in real world organizations, or for that matter having real opinions on anything. It may go against the image people have in their heads, ready to discount anything we say, but sex workers have the right to not only have input, but be a part of things outside of sex work.”

Belle Knox wasn’t highlighting the fact that she’s a sex worker when she joined Young Voices. She was doing Libertarianism, not sex work advocacy. She thought she would be allowed to exist, to be treated equally. That trusting assumption was her mistake- a mistake so many sex workers make every day because they underestimate the cruelty of us freebies. If you’re a sex worker, freebies will always define you by your work. That needs to change.

The Media Should Continue To Promote ISIS Propaganda

As is so obviously apparent, the Islamic State (a.k.a. ISIS) is, just like many fairly young start-ups, only just beginning to experiment with PR, marketing and social media recruitment. Their first attempts to recruit Westerners have so far involved poorly shot amateur videos of such bad quality that they’re useless even when analysed. Their clumsy efforts to reach out to potential recruits in the US have been a laughing stock. The Islamic State targeted a Minnesota high school’s alumni for recruitment and yet with their best efforts, only managed to interest three of them! Another US recruit was caught by the FBI before she even made it out of the country. And when it comes to us Brits, ISIS has failed to even get as many as 600 of us to join them in their killing spree. Clearly, they’re not as dangerous as they pretend to be and shouldn’t be taken seriously as a threat.

So it’s great to see that the mainstream media is helping the Islamic State’s PR campaign. The media didn’t stop at merely assisting ISIS in their rebranding as the Islamic State by publicising their new brand name and logo (the Islamic State flag)- a gesture that was perhaps made out of necessity rather than altruism. After all, reporters have to report rebrands. The media went further.

As we all know, ISIS’ PR campaign contains more truth and facts than even the Wonga ads. We all accept, as do 100% of Muslims, that ISIS embodies the Muslim ideal and is bringing back a true-to-history caliphate to herald a new Islamic golden age for the Middle East (and eventually the world). ISIS embraces all forms of Islam and is dedicated to creating a Muslim brotherhood to destroy the west. All Muslims welcome this– but you probably knew that from reading the Daily Mail. ISIS fighters are warriors for the faith against the evil governments, minorities, anyone who opposes ISIS, and children in their street whose parents aren’t their branch of Islam.

The Western media has very kindly helped spread the Islamic State’s image of daring warriors doing heroic deeds against the odds. In articles about westerners joining ISIS, the recruits’ motivation of becoming “warriors” is rarely questioned. Al Jazeera even calls Al Qaeda “Syrian rebels”. The article goes six paragraphs before one sentence mentions that the “rebels” were an Al Qaeda Syrian chapter, almost at the end. The use of language like “warriors” (in many articles) and “rebels” evokes a romanticised image of plucky underdogs battling the oppressor.

It is of course an accurate description: warriors were tribal soldiers whose job was sacred; often initiation rites were required before taking up the responsibility of safeguarding the tribe. In non-nomadic tribes, warriors had the additional task of protecting the land and food sources which fed the community. In a time without trade, sanctions, pressure from organisations like the UN or NATO, without the ICC or even developed forms of diplomacy, weaponry, warning systems or intelligence, being a warrior was a huge responsibility. It was also a very emotionally stressful one, as you would be fighting for the lives of people you knew and were related to. The fighting was hand to hand, not from a safe distance with minimisation of risk and trauma. Warriors often received spiritual guidance and engaged in ritualised forms of warfare. As anyone can see, this all neatly parralels ISIS murdering children.

Even if we take the modern version of a warrior- a soldier- we can see how right the media is to call ISIS such. Modern soldiers have to abide by rules. If they don’t, they are tried by military courts. Hence the soldiers who beat Iraqi hotel worker Baha Mousa to death were jailed and their names publicised. Soldiers use a lot of things when they kill people. Skill- with guns/helicopters/jets/unarmed combat. They also have to have courage. Though not all soldiers are involved in these last two, military strategy and intel still shape what they do. And of course soldiers risk their lives fighting combatants who are roughly equally well trained and equipped, and who have consented to being on the front line.

In the same way, the Islamic State fighters have to be very brave and skilled indeed. Kidnapping journalists is very risky even for a trained militant, as journalists carry pens and have been known to stab kidnappers with them. Journalists also tend to use words- such as “please let me go” against ISIS fighters, and as we all know, guns and military-style training are no match for these dirty tactics. Accurately spotting signs of the existence of a house, such as a door (often the first clue) and four walls requires not just time-consuming intelligence gathering, but also rigorous analysis of the information. This analysis takes place in the Islamic State fighter’s brain while he is approximately twenty feet from the target he is investigating for signs of being a house. The next step- going into the house and killing everyone inside- is very risky for ISIS fighters. Some children make a fuss when you behead them, so a lot of courage is needed for this. At moments like these, ISIS training is invaluable.

After this gruelling use of physical strength and careful aim of the tool of choice, further fighting is often required, as other family members will often violently persist in running away. Other children may be ferociously using large pieces of furniture as shields by hiding under them. (Beds are often turned against ISIS forces in this way, sometimes with surprising speed and efficiency, allowing the child to evade the Islamic State for periods of up to as much as ten minutes). No wonder ISIS fighters take such pride in winning these victories, as they require not just the things we tend to associate with soldiers such as courage, martial arts skill and great aim, but also tactical planning.

The media should continue to promote ISIS’ image and assist in their PR strategy. If it leads to a few more recruits, there’s no harm done. The threat posed by the Islamic State is basically exaggerated by everyone from Iraqis to journalists and politicians.

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