The way some talk after the Paris attacks, you'd think Muslim nations had never been imperialists themselves

Whoever believes he knows why everything is as it is has hold of nothing. But nothing can play havoc

Howard Jacobson
Friday 20 November 2015 16:56
Rebel fighters from the Free Syrian Army taking part in military training near Aleppo, earlier this year
Rebel fighters from the Free Syrian Army taking part in military training near Aleppo, earlier this year

“Aunty Jenny, why are the horses’ eyes covered?” The questioner was a little girl my wife had taken to the Lord Mayor’s Show. “They are wearing blinkers,” my wife explained, “so that they can see straight ahead without being distracted by whatever else is happening on either side of them.”

“Like Jeremy Corbyn, you mean,” the little girl didn’t think of saying. But I thought it for her later that day while listening to Sami Ramadani address the lessons of the Paris massacres on LBC radio. Just to fill in the blanks: Sami Ramadani is an Iraqi-born senior lecturer in sociology at London Metropolitan University and a leading member of the Stop the War Coalition; the Stop the War Coalition – of which Jeremy Corbyn was chair before accepting the less influential job of leader of the Labour Party – is an organisation dedicated to peace, anti-Western Imperialism and anti-Zionism, though not necessarily in that order; and LBC is a radio station, of especial help to people who can’t sleep at night, and therefore of no use at all to Stop the War whose members sleep the deep untroubled sleep of certitude.

To make it plain where Ramadani is ethically as well as politically, let me tell you that in the immediate aftermath of the Paris atrocities, he tweeted the following: “Isis psychopathic terrorists have blood of people in #Paris on their hands. Same goes for French govt for backing terrorists in #Syria.”

Call anything to mind? That’s right, the post 9/11 “butters” informing victims, even as they were leaping from the burning towers, that they were reaping what they’d sowed. That went down so badly at the time you’d think no one would be heartless or foolhardy enough to try it again. The decencies, Mr Ramadani. Observe the decencies. First bury the dead before you start blaming them. The chance to palter with guilt and innocence will come tomorrow. Though I know tomorrow is always too late if you’re in the game of playing tit-for-tat with terror.

In fact, Ramadani’s tweet is an advance in grossness on that of the 9/11 “butters”. Their “butting” asked that we acknowledge a chain of consequences leading back from the atrocity to the wrongdoing of the West. Ramadani’s “same goes for the French govt” asks that we see no difference. Same. Linger a little on that word. Not even similar, but the same. Tweeted no doubt in righteous haste, it is a headlong elision of cause and effect, deflecting blame from the terrorists, minimising their crime, and turning the French into their own murderers.

Take a moment off from being revolted by this tweet, and note a logical flaw in it. If the French are “backing” terrorists, then how come the terrorists are butchering instead of thanking them? Shurely shome mishtake. Unless ingratitude is to be added to the list of Isis’s crimes.

Here I, and anyone else who heard Sami Ramadani on LBC, enjoy an advantage which others – excluding his students at London Metropolitan University – don’t. We lucky few were granted privileged access to the labyrinthine nature of the Grand Conspiracy Theory which, like others in Stop the War, Ramadani espouses. Complicated in the treacherous loyalties it traces, this theory is otherwise simple to describe. The imperialist West is in the wrong whoever it supports, and by this logic is to be blamed for whatever is done against those it opposes. Thus, because they don’t back Assad, the French must be assumed to support Isis no matter that they’re bombing it. And thus, by the same contortion, must Stop the War support the butcher Assad simply because America doesn’t.

Imagine being an impressionable student and hearing this. I’m beyond the age of impressionability myself, yet I listened to Ramadani spellbound. He lets loose with fearful gunfire fluency his all-encompassing narrative of alliances that are really enmities, enmities that are really alliances, and evil emanating from a single source, never pausing to think or reconsider, never surprised by a question, never wondering how night can be day or day can be night, because when you know the causes of everything, even the planets dance in terror to your bidding.

The other side of a conspiracy theory is a prelapsarian fantasy of innocence. Those who hold themselves to be aggrieved have just cause for all they do because grievance, in our time, is sacrosanct; the idea that cultures can self-generate rage is not countenanced because it spoils the story.

From Ramadani’s history lesson you would never know that Muslim nations were ever imperialists on their own account, ever brawled among themselves or made life hard for others. The bombing of synagogues in Baghdad in the early 1950s? The work of Zionists, you fools. The long campaign of terror carried out by Islamists in Syria in the 1970s and 80s, Syria’s support for Hezbollah, the Muslim Brotherhood’s uprising in Hama? All a lie because, as Ramadani told Russian television, “neither Syria nor Iraq had any terrorist organisations before the American invasion of Iraq in 2003”.

A system of thought that accepts no inconsistencies is a frightful thing. Whoever believes he knows why everything is as it is has hold of nothing. But nothing can play havoc. When we look for radicalising narratives, we must ask if Ramadani’s is one of them. To the dispossessed and embittered he provides a perfect pocket manual of blame. Simply agree that wherever America goes, you won’t, and that whatever the West believes, you shouldn’t. Just play follow my leader. Step into line, put on your blinkers, keep pace with the horse in front, and lo! the Lotos Land of absolute conviction is yours without your having ever to think a dissenting thought again. You couldn’t enjoy a simpler view of human existence if you went to Isis yourself.

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