British values and the Westminster attack

The week from the 17th to the 24th March made for an interesting seven days.

Let’s start with Wednesday the 22nd. A man who grew up with the name Adrian Russell Ajao, but is now known as Khalid Masood, and who had a history of knife attacks, went on a rampage, driving a car into pedestrians on Westminster Bridge, and then running towards the Houses of Parliament where he stabbed a policeman. He managed to injure over 50 people, and to kill four, including the policeman and an American tourist. Ajao himself was shot dead.

The incident was horrifying – but hardly unique. In 1987, Michael Ryan shot 16 people in Hungerford before killing himself. In 1996, Thomas Hamilton killed 16 children and one teacher at Dunblane Primary School before killing himself. in 2010, Derrick Bird, killed 12 people and injured 11 others before killing himself in Cumbria. In terms of death toll, the Westminster attack was not as bad as those incidents.

Two things are different about this incident. One is that politicians have spoken as if this incident is in some way was a threat to the British way of life. The other is the fact that it has been described as a “terrorist” incident.

Terrorism great and small

Which brings us to what happened on the previous day – Tuesday 21st. Martin McGuinness, a former leader of the Provisional IRA, died. The Provisional IRA killed over 1700 people during the course of the troubles in Northern Ireland, making them the most deadly “terrorist” organisation ever to operate on British soil.

But their terrorism was of a very different kind from that of Ajao. They used bombs and bullets, and they were a tightly organised body. Ajao was armed with only a knife (and a Hyundai), and he was not acting as part of an organised group. As far as we know, he acted alone. His terrorism bears no resemblance to that of the IRA. His career as a ‘terrorist’ lasted a matter of minutes. The Provisional IRA was active for almost 30 years.

One incident in Ajao’s history seems to me to be significant. According to the Independent:

“In an incident that … may have led to a sense of alienation and grievance, he was convicted in 2000 of wounding and criminal damage. After a row at the Crown and Thistle pub in Northiam, Masood, who had drunk four pints during the afternoon, slashed café owner Piers Mott with a knife, leaving him with a face wound that needed 20 stitches. It was said at the time that Masood had been one of only two black men in the village. And Alexander Taylor-Camara, Masood’s defence barrister, told Hove Crown Court: “There were racial overtones in the argument between himself and the victim. He let that get to him – unusually, because in the past he has been able to shrug off that sort of abuse.””

In short, he comes over as someone who has long felt alienated from British society – and a rather sad figure.

British values

And yet, listening to politicians talk, you would have thought that he posed a serious threat to British democracy. The Prime minister, Theresa May, is quoted as saying

“Yesterday, an act of terrorism tried to silence our democracy. But today we meet as normal, as generations have done before us and as future generations will continue to do, to deliver a simple message: we are not afraid and our resolve will never waver in the face of terrorism. And we meet here in the oldest of all parliaments because we know democracy and the values it entails will always prevail .”

Indeed, the word “values” was the word of the day among politicians. Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson said “Our values are superior, our view of the world is better and more generous and our will is stronger.” ”

Amber Rudd, the Home Secretary said “The British people will be united in working together to defeat those who would harm our shared values. Values of democracy, tolerance and the rule of law. Values symbolised by the Houses of Parliament. Values that will never be destroyed.

“We are not afraid and our resolve will never waver in the face of terrorism.”

Huh? One man with a Hyundai and a knife?   And the Prime Minister speaks of how the nation’s resolve will never waver?  The way politicians speak, one would think the Luftwaffe were flattening the country, and plucky little Britain was standing up to incredible odds. (Indeed, Andrew Neil did invoke the spirit of the Battle of Britain and speak about the Luftwaffe.)

Are these people delusional? Well, they might be. But I think the more prosaic truth is that they are politicians. Politics is about power. And, to quote Carl Trueman of Westminster Theological Seminary, “Victimhood is the currency of our current cultural politics. Victimhood is power in our current society.” Hence politicians love to use the language of victimhood, and to portray their nations as victim nations that are under attack from powerful forces. I suspect that government ministers want people to think that Ajao represented powerful forces that threaten Britain, because it strengthens their political power if people believe that.

And, of course, victimhood is also a great enabler of self-righteousness. It enables us to become experts at seeing the specks in the eyes of other people, while not noticing the logs in our own.  That was undoubtedly the case with Ajao, but it doesn’t just apply to him.

Yemen, war crimes, and British bombs

And speaking of the Luftwaffe and bombs, there was Friday 17th March.

On that day, an Apache military helicopter reportedly opened fire on a boat packed with over 140 Somali migrants off the coast of Yemen. Forty-two people were killed in the attack, according to the U.N. Refugee Agency (UNHCR). All 42 were reportedly carrying official U.N. refugee papers.

All the evidence suggests that Saudi Arabia was responsible. According to Human Rights Watch:

“All the parties to the conflict denied responsibility for the attack. Only the Saudi-led coalition has military aircraft. The Houthi-Saleh forces do not. Somalia, which supports the coalition, called on the coalition to investigate. But the coalition has repeatedly shown itself unable or unwilling to credibly investigate its own abuses.”

And Sarah Leah Whitson, their Middle East director, commented

“The coalition’s apparent firing on a boat filled with fleeing refugees is only the latest likely war crime in Yemen’s two-year-long war. Reckless disregard for the lives of civilians has reached a new level of depravity.””

And this is not the only horrifying story coming out of Yemen. While everybody knows about the Westminster attack, more than half of British people are unaware of the war in Yemen. A YouGov poll showed 49 per cent of people knew of the war there, which has killed more than 10,000 people, displaced three million more and left 14 million facing starvation.

Got that? Everybody knows about an incident in which 4 people were killed, but most people in Britain are unaware of a war going on at the moment which has killed 10,000 people.

And what is more, it is not as if the war in Yemen has nothing to do with Britain. The British Government supports the Saudi led coalition which is accused of killing hundreds of civilians – and of deliberately trying to starve rebel areas into submission.

Last year, Britain agreed weapons sales worth 3.3 billion dollars to Saudi Arabia. Some of the cluster bombs dropped in civilian areas were of British manufacture. Under pressure, the Saudis stopped using British cluster bombs and promptly replaced them with Brazilian ones, rather than giving up weapons which are known to kill and maim civilians and children decades after being dropped.

Last September, a Parliamentary report by the Committee on Arms Exports Control, which comprises 16 MPs from four parties, said it was likely British weapons had been used to violate international law.

The weight of evidence of violations of international humanitarian law by the Saudi-led coalition is now so great, that it is very difficult to continue to support Saudi Arabia.”

Theresa May rejected this conclusion, and spoke about the importance of Britain’s relationship with the government of Saudi Arabia, saying “When it comes to counter-terrorism and dealing with terrorism, it is that relationship that has helped to keep people on the streets of Britain safe.”

The following month, October, saw Parliament rejecting a motion calling for the British government to withdraw its support for Saudi Arabia’s war in Yemen.

And, then in December, when the American government announced it would stop a shipment of precision-guided munition to Saudi Arabia following what it called evidence of “systematic, endemic problems in Saudi Arabia’s targeting” (in other words, Saudi bombings of schools, hospitals, wedding parties, and funerals), Theresa May refused to follow the American decision to end bomb sales to Saudi Arabia.

Iraq – and its body count

The day after the attack that killed 42 Somali refugees, was Saturday 18th, which, (by interesting coincidence) is the 14th anniversary of something else that happened in Westminster: the vote in Parliament that Britain “should use all means necessary to ensure the disarmament of Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction”. In other words, on that day, Parliament voted to invade Iraq.  (Ironically, it turned out Parliament was mislead, and Iraq didn’t actually have weapons of mass destruction.)

As a result of this Parliamentary vote, the invasion began two days later – so Monday 20th March was also a significant anniversary. The invasion, of course, led to war, and the war led to violent death on a massive scale. The Iraq Body Count project has come up with a list of 174,000 Iraqis killed between 2003 and 2013, with between 112,000 and 123,000 of those being civilian non-combatants – a huge number compared to the four people killed in the Westminster attack.

And the Iraqi death toll keeps rising, because the invasion of Iraq led to war that continues to rage to this day. In particular, the war enabled a tiny, insignificant Salafist Islamic group to become a major power in western Iraq calling itself Islamic State – now generally known as ISIS. In 2014, ISIS had their most astonishing success: they capturing Mosul – a city of over half a million people.

In other words, what happened to Mosul in 2014 (and what is happening in Mosul today) is a direct consequence of that parliamentary vote in Westminster in March 2003 – together with US government’s decision to invade taken a few months earlier. And so yesterday’s BBC headline – concerning an American bomb attack on Mosul on the 17th March that apparently killed over 100 civilians) is a masterpiece of ironic understatement: Mosul battle: US ‘may be responsible’ for civilian deaths.” The fact is that the US and the UK, by starting off the fighting in Iraq in 2003, are unquestionably responsible – not just for the civilian deaths in the Mosul bombing, but all the civilian deaths in Iraq in the last 14 years.

Values?

Amber Rudd can talk about the “values of democracy, tolerance and the rule of law” and how these values are symbolised by the Houses of Parliament. She may think that these values are symbolised by the Houses of Parliament. But perhaps not everyone sees the Houses of Parliament that way. I would suggest that if you want to know what the Houses of Parliament really stand for, you look at the words of Christ (Matthew 7:16): “ye shall know them by their fruits.” If you look at what the Houses of Parliament actually do, and the consequences of their actions, the truth about Parliament is considerably darker than what politicians would have us believe.

And what of these great values?

Amber Rudd talks about democracy. But is democracy really an important value? If democracy means that democratically elected politicians in the US and UK democratically vote to enable war crimes in Yemen, is democracy really that wonderful a value? If democratically elected politicians in the US and the UK vote democratically to set off a war in the Middle East that will rage for decades and kill hundreds of thousands of people, is democracy something that is sacred?

Amber Rudd talks about the value of tolerance. But what exactly are we supposed to tolerate? Looking at Parliament’s record, one gets the impression that Parliament believes in tolerating repeated Saudi attacks on civilians in Yemen. Is that such a good thing?

Amber Rudd talks about the value of the rule of law. It’s a bit of a shame that the rule of law, which was bad enough in Iraq under Saddam Hussein, went out the window completely in that country when the UK and the US invaded Iraq to overthrow him.

And there was also something a little odd about the words of sympathy for the victims for the victims of the Westminster attack that came from politicians. Theresa May, in her speech, said “Our thoughts and prayers go out to all who have been affected – to the victims themselves, and their family and friends who waved their loved ones off, but will not now be welcoming them home. “

What is odd is that I cannot remember Theresa May saying anything about her thoughts and prayers going out to those affected by British (and American) policy in Yemen. What I can remember is the way she spoke about the importance of Britain’s relationship with the government of Saudi Arabia, saying “When it comes to counter-terrorism and dealing with terrorism, it is that relationship that has helped to keep people on the streets of Britain safe.”

Alas, that relationship has done nothing at all to keep people on the streets of Yemen safe. The opposite is true. It has helped make people on the streets of Yemen very unsafe.

One can talk as much as one likes about Parliament embodying values like freedom, human rights, and the rule of law. But actions speak louder than words, and the actions of Parliament in recent years show that there are other values at work in Parliament. Parliament seems to embody a national pride that verges on national self-righteousness, not to mention callous disregard for human life if the people concerned are in certain Middle Eastern countries.

How do we know that Ajao’s attack was an attack on freedom, human rights, or the rule of law? Perhaps, just perhaps, he was angry because he saw darker values at work in Parliament.

What exactly is Saudi Arabia exporting to Indonesia?

According to The Atlantic:

When Saudi Arabia’s King Salman landed in Indonesia on Wednesday, he became the first Saudi monarch to visit the world’s largest Muslim-majority country since 1970. Officials in Jakarta had hoped the visit would help them strengthen business ties and secure $25 billion in resource investments. That’s largely been a bust—as of Thursday, the kingdom has agreed to just one new deal, for a relatively paltry $1 billion.

The article then goes on:

But Saudi Arabia has, for decades, been making investments of a different sort—those aimed at influencing Indonesian culture and religion.

But I think the key sentence in the article is this:

Since 1980, Saudi Arabia has devoted millions of dollars to exporting its strict brand of Islam, Salafism, to historically tolerant and diverse Indonesia.

For some background about Saudi Arabia, see my article on the subject.  It’s not good news.

Some background about Indonesia: (courtesy of OMF):

Indonesia is home to both the largest Muslim population of any country in the world and the largest number of Christians in Southeast Asia.

Freedom of religion is guaranteed by the constitution.

. . . in the 1960s and 1970s, … tens of thousands of people joined the churches, including many from Muslim backgrounds.

There has been inter-communal fighting between Muslim and Christian groups in Maluku and Central Sulawesi. Frequently conflicts have been initiated by outside “jihad” warriors demanding that the local Muslim communities take control of mixed Christian land areas.

Indonesia, in other words, is a country with a large Muslim majority, with more Muslims than any country in the world, and yet which is committed to religious freedom, and where Christians can and do share the gospel of Jesus Christ with their Muslim neighbours.

However, one can never take such freedom for granted, and one suspects that Saudi influence is not going to do anything to encourage that freedom – or any other freedom.

OMF requests for prayer concerning religious issues include praying about:

* Fanatical Islam breeding ethnic and religious hatred.

*The president and his government as they seek to tackle these issues.

Yemen: trusting in princes, trusting in chariots, and laying down one’s life for one’s friends

In my last article on Yemen, I wrote: “Despite the death of Navy SEAL Chief Petty Officer William Owens and the destruction of a $70 million Osprey aircraft – Trump’s press secretary Sean Spicer insisted that the mission was a “successful operation by all standards.” Apparently, the raid gathered some useful intelligence. Whether that is true is anybody’s guess.”

Within two weeks, it was looking increasingly like the answer (as I suspected) is that it wasn’t true. Although White House spokesman Sean Spicer had said on February 8th that “We gathered an unbelievable amount of intelligence that will prevent the potential deaths or attacks on American soil,” and Pentagon officials have said that the raid produced “actionable intelligence,” and Donald Trump spoke in his State of the Union Address of “a highly successful raid that generated large amounts of vital intelligence that will lead to many more victories in the future against our enemies,”  the only example the military has provided turned out to be an old bomb-making video that was of no current value.

More significantly, in late February, several senior officials who spoke to NBC News said they were unaware of any.  Ten current U.S. officials across the government who have been briefed on the details of the raid told NBC News that so far, no truly significant intelligence has emerged from the haul. Retired Admiral Jim Stravidis is clearly sceptical that there is any. “When we look at evidently very little actual intelligence out, the loss of a high-performance aircraft and above all the loss of a highly trained special forces member of SEAL Team 6, I think we need to understand why this mission, why now, what happened, and what the actual output was.”

But from a moral point of view, does it matter? Because, of course, the really significant thing about the raid was the fact that it killed 25 civilians – including 9 children.  Would the killing of 25 civilians be more morally acceptable if the US gained useful intelligence as a result of the raid? And come to think of it, since when does gaining intelligence become a legitimate justification for killing 25 civilians?

What the Bible says . . .

Which brings me to my second point. Here is the full quote of what Donald Trump said about the Yemen raid in his State of the Union Address:

We are blessed to be joined tonight by Carryn Owens, the widow of a U.S. Navy Special Operator, Senior Chief William “Ryan” Owens. Ryan died as he lived: a warrior, and a hero –- battling against terrorism and securing our Nation. I just spoke to General Mattis, who reconfirmed that, and I quote, “Ryan was a part of a highly successful raid that generated large amounts of vital intelligence that will lead to many more victories in the future against our enemies.” Ryan’s legacy is etched into eternity. For as the Bible teaches us, there is no greater act of love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. Ryan laid down his life for his friends, for his country, and for our freedom –- we will never forget him.

Let us leave aside the fact that I am sceptical that the Yemen raid did anything whatever to secure the USA. Let us also leave aside the fact that I would question whether Ryan Owens, in any meaningful sense, actually died for his friends, or for his country, or for anyone’s freedom.

What I find deeply disturbing is that these words of Jesus are not just quoted out of context; they are quoted in a context that is highly inappropriate. The words of Jesus are about laying down one’s life – voluntarily allowing oneself to be killed. To quote the New Testament scholar Leon Morris, “In the context, this must refer primarily to the love of Jesus as shown in the cross. There He laid down His life on behalf of His friends.” To apply it to an armed man, involved in a raid that killed 25 civilians, including 9 children, is simply grotesque – even blasphemous. And if anyone objects that Ryan Owens did lay down his life, in that he risked his life by going into action – then it could be said of every fighter on every side in Yemen’s civil war that “they lay down their life for their friends.”

Some lives matter more than others

And as Glenn Greenwald has pointed out,

The raid in Yemen that cost Owens his life also killed 30 other people, including “many civilians,” at least nine of whom were children. None of them were mentioned by Trump in last night’s speech, let alone honored with applause and the presence of grieving relatives. That’s because they were Yemenis, not Americans; therefore, their deaths, and lives, must be ignored . . . .

This is standard fare in U.S. war propaganda: We fixate on the Americans killed, learning their names and life stories and the plight of their spouses and parents, but steadfastly ignore the innocent people the U.S. government kills, whose numbers are always far greater. There is thus a sprawling, moving monument in the center of Washington, D.C., commemorating the 58,000 U.S. soldiers who died in Vietnam, but not the (at least) 2 million Vietnamese civilians killed by that war.

Politicians and commentators condemning the Iraq War always mention the 4,000 U.S. soldiers who died but rarely mention the hundreds of thousands (at least) innocent Iraqis killed: They don’t exist, are unmentionable. After a terror attack aimed at Americans, we are deluged with media profiles and photographs of the victims, learning their life aspirations and wallowing in the grief of their families, but we almost never hear anything about any of the innocent victims killed by the United States.

Senior Chief Ryan Owens is a household name, and his wife, Carryn, is the subject of national admiration and sympathy. But the overwhelming majority of Americans do not know, and will never learn, the name of even a single foreign victim out of the many hundreds of thousands that their country has killed over the last 15 years. This imbalance plays a massive role in how Americans understand themselves, the countries their government invades and bombs, and the Endless War that is being waged.

Those words are worth reflecting on. So is the rest of what Greenwald says in his article. Do read it.

Something else the Bible says

There is one other thing that Greenwald says that I want to comment on.

” . . . it is also intended that the soldier’s nobility will be transferred to his commander in chief who is so solemnly honoring him. As demonstrated by the skyrocketing post-9/11 approval ratings for George Bush and the endless political usage Obama obtained for killing Osama bin Laden, nothing makes us rally around a president like uplifting war sentiment. . . . War makes people instinctively venerate the authority and leadership of the president who is presiding over it. That’s why . . . presidents like wars due to all the personal benefits they generate.”

In other words, to put it crudely, in speaking about Ryan Owens, Donald Trump is saying “put your trust in me.” But the Bible says: “Do not put your trust in princes, in mortal men, who cannot save.” Trusting in princes comes all too naturally. And not just in times of war. It is, however, always foolish. Politicians and rulers make great claims. People eat it up, but it is nonsense. And the more you examine it, the more obvious it becomes that it is nonsense.

And who does this prince, President Trump, put his trust in? Well, in the case of the Yemen raid, he put his trust in generals, in military men. On Fox News, he said

“This was a mission that was started before I got here. This was something they wanted to do. They came to me, they explained what they wanted to do ― the generals ― who are very respected, my generals are the most respected that we’ve had in many decades, I believe. And they lost Ryan.”

His enthusiasm for generals has been noted, as he has chosen a remarkable number of them for top White House posts. And that enthusiasm for generals seems to be related to a trust in military power in general – or, as the Bible would put it – relying on horses and trusting in chariots. Which, according to the prophet Isaiah (31:1), is not a good idea:

“Woe to those who go down to Egypt for help and rely on horses, who trust in chariots because they are many and in horsemen because they are very strong, but do not look to the Holy One of Israel or consult the LORD!”

It seems to me that the complete fiasco of the Yemen raid shows that Isaiah was right.