Of course, to keep all these far-left absurdities in check, you can always rely on the equally absurd Fox News, who halfway through their phobic 'Muslims under every bed' style reporting (presumably to replace the 'Reds' now that Russia has embraced capitalism) had a counter-terrorism 'expert' claim that the entire population of Birmingham was Muslim. And as the absurdities reached fever pitch, I suppose it was only a matter of time before Russell Brand joined the fray with his own inane comment, claiming that Muslims in general were no more responsible for the actions of the Charlie Hebdo killers than Christians were responsible for the actions of Bush and Blair.
Again, of course not. But unfortunately by drawing that comparison, Brand appears to be buying into the jihadist auto-response that one action (the war in Iraq) leads to or indeed justifies the other. And that is very dangerous ground indeed, because then by extension it can be seen as condoning such retaliations. And if we then include Gaza in that same 'extended blame' melting pot, we can more readily understand why terrorist number 3, when he'd run out of religious cartoonists to target, entered a Jewish supermarket to take hostages, and why Jews in Paris have felt increasingly unsafe this past year.
Of course, blaming Jews or the West at large for atrocities against Muslims is pure folly, since as J.K. Rowling correctly pointed out in her tweet to Murdoch, Muslims themselves are responsible for killing eight times more of their fellow Muslims than the West. In Israel's case that fraction is even smaller. In the last few years in Syria alone three times as many Muslims have been killed than in all conflicts with Israel since 1948, including two major wars, without considering the Sudan, the Iran-Iraq war, Lebanon and Libya. So if today's budding jihadist was to select targets based on culpability for the majority of Muslim deaths, why aren't they targeting hilal rather than kosher stores?
A somewhat simplistic derivation, but no more simplistic than the causes behind this selectively skewed blame-laying, which seems to have much of its roots in today's increasing sound-bite culture. Highly complex conflicts are quickly stripped to the bone so that the reader doesn't have to waste time deciding which faction is deserving of their recrimination or loathing, with all the necessary damning sound-bites pre-packaged (in case they might, God forbid, just want to be given the facts and make up their own minds) – killing innocent civilians/children, stealing land/oil, war crimes, occupation - so that when repeated they fit neatly into twitter or message board comments.
Both Iraq and Israel-Palestine are highly complex conflicts with many factors and counterbalances, yet time and again we see them boiled down into these simplistic and often demonizing sound-bites. Now let's get this straight from the start, I was no fan of the Iraq war, felt it was reckless and foolhardy; the weapons inspectors should have been left to do their job, and even taking on board the second stage aim of ridding Iraq of a brutal dictator, Saddam Hussein, and providing them with a more benign democracy was totally short-sighted: democracy was never going to be adopted either kindly or easily by a Sunni minority of 30% who'd been running the nation the past forty years. Unfortunately, the nation's entire political and security structure of army and police also rested with them, so when it was dismantled and attempts made to replace it with a more Shia based structure, chaos prevailed and the two sides have been fighting over the resulting power vacuum ever since, with coalition forces struggling to bring calm to this chaos and get things back on track towards the originally intended stable democracy. Both the Russians and French, both with more experience of the region, warned this would happen, but the coalition didn't listen.
So all of this I hold against the coalition over Iraq, but that's a far stretch from claiming that they purposely went into the country with the aims of warmongering and killing innocent Muslims – yet that is the simplistic sound-bite often levelled at them. In fact the vast majority of Iraqis, some 80-85%, have been killed as a result of the aforementioned Sunni-Shia infighting, the very thing which has constantly thwarted Bush and Blair's 'imposed democracy' intentions. Indeed, if we cast our minds back to the early days of the invasion, there was a 'quiet after the (shock and awe) storm' period in which we saw Iraqis rejoicing to be rid of Saddam and his brutal regime, and there was much hope in that brief period of better things to come; then unfortunately the insurgency started and the clouds darkened again.
The most that could therefore be laid at Bush and Blair's door is that they were shortsighted and irresponsible in launching a campaign that might lead to this chaos and bloodshed – but purposeful warmongers intent on attacking innocent Muslim civilians? No. Yet this is the sound-bite which has been bandied about, to such a degree that now Russell Brand finds it perfectly OK to compare them to the Charlie Hebdo killers in drawing parallels between Christian and Muslim culpability at large. Further, he doesn't feel he even needs to offer any explanation, that sound-bite of Bush and Blair 'the warmongers and killers of innocent Muslims' has been spun round the globe so many times by Islamists and left-wing sympathizers on social media that now it's accepted. A given.
The same is true with Israel, with simplistic and often misleading and false sound-bites abounding: 'They stole our land', which strives to ignore the 1948 partition or the fact that Jews were actively buying land in Palestine from the 1920s and that now most moderate Palestinians (and Israelis) accept a 'green line' solution. 'Apartheid', when this term is usually used to delineate internal divides and inequality, yet there is no such divide for Israel's 1.6 million mostly Muslim Arabs, 21% of the population – three times the proportion in France – where they enjoy equal Israeli privileges, including joining the police, judiciary and Knesset. And where there are divides and barriers from Palestinian territory, these are purely to deter suicide attacks, in the first 5 years of the new millennium as many as three a month; before this the barriers did not exist. 'Occupation', when there hasn't been a regular Israeli military presence in Gaza for over ten years and the Palestinian Authority have policed the West Bank for the same period (the IDF presence there is minimal and primarily at security checkpoints).
And finally 'Purposely targeting and killing our children.' For a whole week during the last Gaza assault, political editor of the Huffington Post, Mehdi Hasan, ran articles claiming that the rising death toll comprised 'mainly children'. When the final UN stats came in, that figure was 25% of the total (under 18s). Still high, but a far cry from 'mainly', and considering that Gaza's under 18 population is 48%, this tended to support Israel's claim that they were 'exercising caution'. If they had been firing indiscriminately, let alone the ridiculous claim of 'purposely targeting', it would have been far closer to that 48%. And while it is true that 'mostly civilians' were killed, final stats showed that the militant/civilian ratio was something like 1 to 2.8, whereas in similar guerilla style wars where fighters are merged with the civilian population, such as Bosnia and Iraq, UN and coalition forces have only managed ratios of 1 to 4; so again this tended to lean towards some due caution.
That means no less condemnation over Gaza. That is inherent in the disproportion of Palestinian to Israeli lives lost, however besieged and nerve-frazzled Israelis might have felt after years of rocket attacks. Certainly 'disproportion of attack' will be at the heart of Abbass's upcoming complaint to the ICC; he won't be presenting wildly overcooked claims that Israel purposely targets Palestinian civilians and children.
So why do these simplistic and often false sound-bites abound? I think the main reason is that in today's increasing sound-bite leaning culture, these serve those who wish to take a stance one side or the other on a conflict particularly well. They can read a couple of short, sharp demonizing sound-bites which will make up their minds which side to support and allow them to start waving the flag and beating the drum for that side – often by repeating those same demonizing sound-bites – without having to read the full background of that conflict or attempt to take a balanced stance by taking into account both sides. Certainly, if you said to any budding jihadist, 'now sit down and read fully about this conflict, taking into account both sides, then when you're happy go and shoot those cartoonists and lay siege to a Jewish supermarket' – no action would ever take place. No jihadist in their right mind (if that's not a contradiction in terms) would ever take lives, let alone risk their own, on the basis of such muddied, unclear arguments with so many counter-balancing factors. For them those 'battle cry' sound-bites are desperately needed – 'they're insulting our prophet, killing our children' – to spur them into any sort of action.
I recall a while ago commenting that the far left and extreme supporters were responsible for as many lives lost as any other party. Why? Because with these simplistic demonizing sound-bites constantly repeated – and the growth of social media to reach billions has helped fuel that – extremists feel duly emboldened by the righteousness of their cause and the grievances against them and are spurred into action once again, with then more rockets fired and tunnels built, which inevitably after a few years brings a response with more lives lost and more recrimination, and the whole cycle continues again.
With the aforementioned growth of social media and the fact that now anyone can have a voice and vent an opinion, that was perhaps inevitable. But it is still disturbing to view the sheer volume of people who ardently take one side or the other over a conflict without troubling to study the facts on both sides; there is so often a side-taking nature to it, akin to the 'for-life' adherence usually reserved for football supporters.
But we should expect better from journalists and those in the public eye such as Russell Brand and Mehdi Hasan, to give us a more balanced and even-sided view of any conflict, then let us make up our own minds. Not merely repeat the same trite, one-sided, force-feeding sound-bites we can read from any idiot on a message board. After all, that's what they're paid for – or at least that used to be the case when more balanced journalism held sway and journalists were trained to present the full facts of any situation, devoid of simplistic and often demonizing sound-bites to prod readers in one direction or the other.
This week we saw free speech come under threat, and the response to that was indeed heartwarming, with over 3 million taking to the streets. But it seems to me that more balanced and even-handed journalism has come under threat these past few years, but in such a slow-drip manner – without the radical event of gunmen storming a magazine office – that perhaps we haven't even noticed.