The Powerless People: The Role of the Intellectual in Society

“The political failure of nerve has a personal counterpart in the development of a tragic sense of life. This sense of tragedy may be experienced as a personal discovery and a personal burden, but it is also a reflex of objective circumstances. It arises fromthe fact that at the centers of public decision there are powerful men who do not themselves suffer the violent results of their own decisions.”

Denton Welch – Maiden Voyage

First-person narration.

Two quotations,

“I lay on the bolsters, trying to define to myself the flavour of the blood.” p214


“I tried to sniff the lovely, aromatic, deserted smell up into my memory.” p281

A series of encounters between the narrator and objects, people and places. These three categories are attended to in a similar manner, so that a spoon or a breeze is described with the same amount of precision as a human being. Generally, other people in the novel are regarded as unwelcome distractions from the pleasant sensations that beautiful objects transmit. It might be said that human beings are demanding in terms of time, while objects free a person from time (find an example where contemplation is interrupted).

(The differences between planned encounters and chance ones).

At the beginning of the novel, Denton breaks with the demands on his time in a radical way, by absconding while returning to his public school. During this period, he passes once again through places he’d visited in the company of his dead mother, maintaining his freedom through various acts of improvisation. Finally, having run out of money, he restores contact with his family, and his aunt makes a series of interventions that undo his independent actions, such as refunding a pound he’d borrowed from friends in Devon, redeeming the watch he’d pawned, and so on. While the motivation for this escapade leads to a discussion on his future, where a wish to attend Art School surfaces (a wish that is still being voiced at the end of the novel), reality reasserts itself completely when Denton is forced to agree to return to Repton, at least for another term. While there, he receives a letter from his father, who, having been informed of his running away from school, suggests that he accompany his brother on a trip to Shanghai at the end of the term. This constitutes another chance for a radical break with routine, this time with parental approval.

“I was no longer part of the dead old system.”

Syria round-up

Unless one is high on Captagon (The tiny pill fueling Syria’s war and turning fighters into superhuman soldiers), there’s plenty to have missed over the last week. The purpose of this post is not to persuade/convince, but to take a trip through some of the different logics that have surfaced by way of response to the Paris attacks of November 13th.

On Monday, one of the resident right-wing extremists at The Guardian, Matthew D’Ancona, made his position clear – Cameron has the authority to order airstrikes on Syria – he should – and lamented that Vladimir Putin was easier to bring on side than a group of Tory MPs that he tags as ‘isolationsts’ (a pejorative usually reserved to US political debate):

Absurdly, therefore, Cameron must still wait for the permission of the 650 armchair generals in the lower house. How murderous and how close to home does the Isis campaign have to get before he decides to ignore a parliamentary convention (one that has no legal force whatsoever) and to authorise air strikes anyway?

The problem here, besides D’Ancona’s despair at the slowness of parliamentary democracy (strangely, whenever an authoritarian measure is being advanced, a dire existential threat is posited, along with a sudden, acute shortage of time), is that there is no reason to believe that air strikes in Syria, which have already been going on for more than a year*, would do anything to deter further ISIS attacks in Europe. 

D’Ancona then switches his attention to the Labour Party, implying that Jeremy Corbyn, by failing to support the government’s plans for military action, is thus responsible in some small part for the daily atrocities meted out by ISIS. Sky News had already prepared the ground for this attack, running a blog post labelling Corbyn, ‘Jihadi Jez’ in the wake of his comments on the death by drone strike of Jihadi John. Ironically, Sky News cited ‘the changed context’ of the Paris attacks as the reason for pulling the article (Sky News takes down article which referred to Jeremy Corbyn as ‘Jihadi Jez’ following petition).

D’Ancona also takes a swipe at another pulled article, this time by Stop the War, “Paris reaps whirlwind of western support for extremist violence in Middle East”, both for its timing and its content. It’s wrong, apparently, to link Western military intervention in the Middle East, post-9/11, with the Paris attacks, because:

“What drove them was the same impulse that drove their forebears to burn The Satanic Verses a quarter century ago. It detects grievance everywhere, throughout history: from the Crusades to the loss of the caliphate in 1924, to the foundation of Israel in 1948, to the emancipation of women and gay people in the west. It bans music and comedy. It is violently theocratic. You could withdraw all western forces from the Middle East and north Africa, abolish the state of Israel, end America’s entanglement with Saudi Arabia – and the Islamists would describe this as no more than a good start.”

Again, logically, there’s a problem. The fact that Islamic violence predates the most recent invasion of Iraq does not mean that the destruction of Iraq, the break up of Libya, and the Western support for anti-Assad forces have not played a part in the rise of ISIS and, consequently, in the Paris attacks, something that even Tony Blair now admits (‘I’m sorry’: Historic moment Tony Blair FINALLY apologises for Iraq War and admits in TV interview the conflict caused the rise of ISIS).

While D’Ancona employed history in a deceptive way to make his point, arch-Zionist and purveyor of novels about ping-pong, Howard Jacobson, produced a most bizarre assault, that covered all bases, including lame jokes directed at Corbyn, a rant against Stop the War, and a personal attack on one of STW’s leading members, Sami Ramadani, and was usefully headlined, The way some talk after the Paris attacks, you’d think Muslim nations had never been imperialists themselves

Jacobson took particular exception to this tweet, even going so far as to ask his readers to stop a moment and linger over its import.

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.

The problem is, Ramadani’s tweet doesn’t do what Jacobson says it does. Ramadani does not turn the French into their own murderers, but rather asserts that the French government, through their pursuit of misguided policies in the Middle East, must share some responsibility for the attacks. Is that really such an objectionable stance? Even in a more limited way, one might attribute some responsibility to the French government on the basis of the failures of its intelligence services to thwart the attacks (How French intelligence agencies failed before the Paris attacks), a position already assumed by those wishing to ramp up the surveillance state.


For some actual history, Robert Fisk at Counterpunch is required reading:

Three nations whose history, action–and inaction–help to explain the slaughter by Isis have largely escaped attention in the near-hysterical response to the crimes against humanity in Paris: Algeria, Saudi Arabia and Syria.

The French-Algerian identity of one of the attackers demonstrates how France’s savage 1956-62 war in Algeria continues to infect today’s atrocities. The absolute refusal to contemplate Saudi Arabia’s role as a purveyor of the most extreme Wahabi-Sunni form of Islam, in which Isis believes, shows how our leaders still decline to recognise the links between the kingdom and the organisation which struck Paris. And our total unwillingness to accept that the only regular military force in constant combat with Isis is the Syrian army – which fights for the regime that France also wants to destroy – means we cannot liaise with the ruthless soldiers who are in action against Isis even more ferociously than the Kurds.

What is pointed to here is how the French response, to intensify airstrikes in Syria, takes place in lieu of history (other than a history of forgetting). Rather, the Syrian conflict, and specifically the removal of President Assad, represents an idée fixe for the Western powers, so no matter what question one asks about the attacks, the governments’ answer remains the same: attack Syria/overthrow Assad. Craig Murray also seized on the contradictions David Cameron has indulged in, noting that, “Two years ago he [Cameron] was strongly urging military action in Syria against the forces of President Assad. Now he urges military action against the enemies of President Assad.” The constant being, of course, the desire for military action and the removal of Assad.

That finding any link to Syria was paramount was evident in the authorities massive enthusiasm over the discovery of a Syrian passport, purportedly belonging to one of the Paris attackers, which was greeted with scorn and much hilarity across the Internet.


This theme, that the Paris attacks are being used by Western governments simply to bolster their existing narratives, was picked up by Trevor Timm, Paris is being used to justify agendas that had nothing to do with the attack, who notes that the attackers were neither Syrian, nor did they use encryption, nor were they refugees, yet the US government (along with the UK and France) quickly used the attacks to push for military action in Syria, along with expansion of their domestic surveillance regimes and a review of border policies (Britain to hire 2,000 new spies at MI5, MI6 and GCHQ in wake of the Paris terror attacks / Paris terror attacks show that UK should rush through new Facebook and WhatsApp spying powers, politicians say).

Timm writes:

It’s hard to overstate how disgusting it has been to watch, as proven-false rumors continue to be the basis for the entire political response, and technology ignorance and full-on xenophobia now dominate the discussion.

In addressing the West’s refusal to budge on the overthrow of Assad, despite the enormous costs incurred thus far, Tony Cartalucci assembles one of the most comprehensive pieces, West leverages Paris attacks for Syria endgame (this effort of his, There and Back Again – Your Trip Through the American Empire, is required reading), providing background on how the Western powers and a few unsavoury regional allies, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar, have provided the enormous infusion of cash, equipment, training and organizational nous required to create ISIS, fundamentally to serve as the means for breaking the Syrian state, as part of a sequence of such actions that began with the destruction of Libya.

NATO’s intervention and regime change in Libya did not avert a refugee crisis, it helped create one. NATO’s intervention and successful regime change in Libya did not make the region or the world safer, it turned the entire nation into a breeding ground for terrorist organizations with so-far unprecedented reach and operational capacity. NATO’s goals in Libya did not prevent the refugee crisis, it helped start it. And with all of this in mind, having seen this and taken full stock of Libya’s outcome, the West has nonetheless moved forward with precisely the same agenda in Syria.

In all reality, the West has no intention of bringing peace or stability to Syria. Their goal is to leave Syria as divided and destroyed as Libya, and to use the chaos and instability fostered there as a springboard for other targets of the West’s proxy warfare – most likely Iran, Russia, and targets deeper in Central Asia.

The strength of this view is that it explains a host of contradictions between the official narrative and the reality of the relationships between the Western powers and ISIS. Also, if we accept that chaos and instability are a feature, not a bug, then the intensification of military action in Syria as the immediate, natural response of Western governments is entirely understandable.

As for why the removal of Assad is so necessary, Nafeez Ahmed has completed a new piece that brings together extensive evidence of Turkey’s central role in supporting ISIS, and explains how competition for oil and gas underpin the alliances, with Russia, Iran, Syria on one side, the US, its partners, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait, Turkey, on the other. As Major Rob Taylor, an instructor at the US Army’s Command and General Staff College, Fort Leavenworth, has written in an article on pipeline politics in Syria,

“Any review of the current conflict in Syria that neglects the geopolitical economics of the region is incomplete… Viewed through a geopolitical and economic lens, the conflict in Syria is not a civil war, but the result of larger international players positioning themselves on the geopolitical chessboard in preparation for the opening of the pipeline… Assad’s pipeline decision, which could seal the natural gas advantage for the three Shi’a states, also demonstrates Russia’s links to Syrian petroleum and the region through Assad. Saudi Arabia and Qatar, as well as al-Qaeda and other groups, are maneuvering to depose Assad and capitalize on their hoped-for Sunni conquest in Damascus. By doing this, they hope to gain a share of control over the ‘new’ Syrian government, and a share in the pipeline wealth.”

Seen in such light, two things become clear. Firstly, the ‘us’ against ‘them’ of the Western powers fight against ISIS is ostensibly for public consumption. As Moazzem Begg tweeted just today:

Sometimes, this contradiction between state support (albeit secret) and the application of criminal sanctions comes blinking into the light, as in the 2015 trial of a Swedish man at the Old Bailey, which collapsed after it emerged that the UK government was supporting the same Syrian rebels the individual was being prosecuted for joining (Terror trial collapses after fears of deep embarrassment to security services).

Secondly, rather than planning for any peaceful outcome, policymakers are in this for the long haul, and efforts to reduce violent attacks on Western targets are instead focused on containment; bolstering the intelligence services to identify and thwart attacks, outlawing encryption and seeking to control public opinion, preparing for a continuous flow of refugees from the region, stripping EU citizens who join the fighting of their citizenship, and, lastly, implementing the ‘deradicalisation’ programs necessary to address the generational challenge of homegrown muslims raised within a context of perpetual Western bombings and invasions of muslim nations. If that means turning every classroom into an intelligence-gathering site, and every teacher into the eyes and ears of the state, so be it – School questioned Muslim pupil about Isis after discussion on eco-activism.

An encapsulation of the policy areas that ‘deradicalisation’ sits within is given in this piece, Europe must tighten its borders, and France must face its demons, by Rachida Dati, a French member of the European Parliament. She enumerates a set of measures which ‘transcend politics’, including:

  • an EU-wide system of recording aircraft passenger names
  • tightening borders of the Schengen area
  • online censorship to prevent spread of ‘evil narratives’ and ‘recruitment videos’, forcing internet providers to cooperate with governments or be held liable
  • segregated prison units for ‘Islamists’
  • greater cooperation on surveillance of citizens who fall under suspicion in their country of origin
  • potential confiscation of passports / withdrawal of nationality
  • financial controls

As usual, we see here the amazing flexibility of the term ‘terrorist’, so that we go from talk of the Paris attackers to, ‘citizens who fall under suspicion’ of their governments. Those two descriptions don’t strike me as at all synonymous. This abuse of the word, ‘terrorist’ has been dissected numerous times by The Intercept’s Glenn Greenwald (Refusal to Call Charleston Shootings “Terrorism” Again Shows It’s a Meaningless Propaganda Term), while the intelligence services and the police have shown themselves to operate with the view that anyone who wants to achieve any sort of social change at all, no matter the means be democratic, legal, and peaceful, is a potential ‘subversive’ in need of being neutralized- Police continued spying on Labour activists after their election as MPs.

meme 6

There’s already evidence of states such as the UK and Germany exchanging information on activists collected by undercover police, as well as using Schedule 7 stops to intimidate opponents of government policies; closer co-operation threatens to further impact not just ‘the terrorists’, but those who are working to challenge state power and state policies, be it on climate change, fossil fuels, animal rights, state surveillance, and so on. First we see activists caught in the same net as terrorists, and the next step is then to simply to brand activists as terrorists.




If we turn towards what shaped the mindset of the Paris attackers, then a good place to start is with this piece by Claire Veale at Roarmag, Paris attacks: it’s time for a more radical reaction . After identifying two common explanations for the attacks,



Subplot: The War against Jeremy Corbyn

The attacks on Stop the War are coming as part of the wider campaign to overthrow Jeremy Corbyn as Labour leader. This attack is coming from right-wing forces both inside and outside the Parliamentary Labour Party. Oliver Tickell, editor of The Ecologist, traces the genesis of this assault to Corbyn’s statement regarding Trident, (Jeremy Corbyn: I would never use nuclear weapons if I were PM), to the lack of enthusiasm shown over the drone strike that killed ‘Jihadi John’, and, finally, to the Labour leader’s doubts over the wisdom of authorizing UK military action in Syria and his reticence to unconditionally endorse a ‘shoot-to-kill’ policy on the streets of the UK.


For example, Labour List ran this piece, “We have to be taken seriously on security to get a hearing on everything else“, again referencing the Stop the War piece and lamenting that Corbyn failed to completely disassociate himself from an organization that he used to co-chair. How Corbyn, or anyone for that matter, can suddenly go from being a life-long anti-war activist to not being one, is not made immediately clear, though the author did go as far as placing words in Corbyn’s mouth, “I am proud of my involvement in Stop the War’s campaigning against the Iraq War but they have lost their moral compass and I no longer support them”.


Clearly, such a charge is only sustained if one believes that military action will decrease either the quotient of ISIS’ daily violence, and/or shorten the length of time ISIS will

He also blasts Stop the War for running an article titled, “Paris reaps whirlwind of western support for extremist violence in Middle East”.