Sunday, 17 July 2016

When to Kill A Dog Warden: The Rhetoric and Reasoning of Violence

I’m not a John Lennon fan.

I’m not even particularly a fan of the Beatles.

Don’t get me wrong; I recognise the importance of the Beatles in terms of popular culture and musical innovation. But they really didn’t impact my consciousness in a big way. I once described it to an irate Beatles fan- who seemed to think that I was somehow slighting the Fab Four- thus: there’s never been a time in my life where I needed to listen to the Beatles, a time when I’ve walked into the house, gone straight to the stereo, and put the Beatles on. In contrast, there have been hundreds of times I’ve done that with the Clash, Minor Threat, Bob Marley, Public Enemy, and Velvet Underground…

That said, the one Beatles song that I’ve always liked- thematically and musically- every time I hear it is ‘Revolution’.  Musically, it’s the one time that I thought the Beatles really showed some backbone; it’s recorded so ‘hot’ that it sounds loud no matter where you put your volume knob. Thematically, it was such an interesting counterpoint to much of the ‘revolutionary’ music of the time; it wasn’t a call for revolution, but a probing and questioning of those who did.

You say you want a revolution
Well, you know, we all want to change the world…

Lennon was right; in the socio-political maelstrom of the mid- to late-60s, everybody wanted change; there was a real global sense that, for many, the status quo could not hold. The Czechs in the streets of Prague, Irish Catholics in Northern Ireland, students in Mexico City, blacks in Detroit, Newark NJ, and Soweto, and a thousand other critical issues were screaming to be heard, demanding  something new, something better.

But beyond the all-encompassing- but rather amorphous term ‘revolution’- what, John wanted to know, beyond the rhetoric, were we all talking about specifically? He seems to suspect that it's all a bit hazy:

You say you got a real solution
Well, you know, we'd all love to see the plan…

So what was Lennon’s plan? He doesn’t say; he never lays out what he specifically supports. But what I find fascinating, though, is that he’s very specific about what he doesn’t support:

When you talk about destruction
Don't you know that you can count me out…

If you want money for people with minds that hate
All I can tell is, brother, you’ll have to wait…

If you go carrying pictures of Chairman Mao
You ain't going to make it with anyone anyhow…

I find it interesting that he’s doesn’t condemn this or that action, or this or that movement, but the rhetoric one step removed from it all; not those who destroy, but those who ‘talk’ about it; those who ‘want money’ for it, those ‘carrying pictures’ of ruthless dictators from a safe distance;

Those for whom violence- in the abstract, in theory- remains on the table.

Lennon seems to be poking and prodding the fashionable rebels, the political dilettantes; those thoughtlessly throwing around slogans, ideas, and images that they don’t fully understand.

The rhetoric and imagery of violence and armed struggle, and concepts like ‘… by any means necessary’ are incredibly alluring; they sound strong; they cut through theory and discussion and go straight to rock-solid commitment and action.  Let’s be blunt; they’re incredibly sexy, and can make dialogue and discussion look very homely indeed.

I got thinking about this after recently coming across a group called ‘Black Liberation Project’. They have a Facebook presence so you’re welcome to check them out for yourself.

There are a lot of positive things about the group, and I want to make clear that this piece isn’t intended as a condemnation of them or a marginalization of their actions and struggles.

But I want to use one of their statements that they posted to a Facebook group I’m a part of to think about a point.

My academic background and work experience is in post-conflict social reconciliation, so I’ve read a lot of manifestos like this one. Looking at this one broadly and philosophically, BLP seem to be trying to keep their options open, to maintain a public persona of activity and commitment. They bluntly state that the movement is not non-violent; they might feel that to declare themselves otherwise runs the risk of their cause not being taken seriously, or ‘White America’ remaining complacent to their concerns. In the struggle for liberation and social justice, they make it clear that they won’t be the ones to take anything off the table.

I’d like to explore the dangers of leaving violence- even in abstract, in theory, or simply in rhetoric- on the table.

The big problem with violence is that, when the cause in which violence becomes a tactic is a good one, a just one, even a noble one, it becomes easier and easier to rationalize. No one wants to ever admit that their use of violence might be destructive and abusive, so we instinctively rationalize our violence, figuring out how it can be put in the best possible light; how it can be categorized as self-defense; how it is proportionate, or a reasonable response to the violence used against us. Who wouldn’t argue that the cause of ‘liberation’, ‘emancipation’, or ‘justice’ is worth almost any price to attain, particularly if those against whom violence is used are trying to thwart that very noble cause?

Once violence is rationalized, it becomes easier for its proponents to dehumanize those against whom it is used. Cops, soldiers, judges, bureaucrats, and government employees are no longer individuals, but ‘part of the system’ or ‘the forces of oppression’. The fact that they very often are part of systemic oppression only makes the situation more complex… 

Once violence can be easily rationalized, and its victims dehumanized, it becomes normalized. People have been brutalized for centuries, BLM argues above; who could expect them not to reciprocate in kind? That’s normal; that’s reasonable.

Once that point is reached, the violence can be described as self-perpetuating; cyclical; ongoing.

And once violence is unleashed- particularly in asymmetric ways- it’s makes it all the harder to draw a line under a conflict and address the issues that led to the conflict in the first place, particularly if those issues involved the use of oppressive violence against a minority group or movement.

I lived and worked for many years in Northern Ireland in the aftermath of the 30-year conflict there.

Every side accorded itself the heroism of a noble cause; every side erected memorials to its fallen who gave their lives, on the one hand, ‘ar Saoirse na hEireann’ (‘for the freedom of Ireland’) or, on the other, in ‘the fight against Irish Republican terrorism.’

One such memorial is in the memory of Joseph MacManus.

On 5 February 1992, 49 year-old Eric Glass, the dog warden for Fermanagh District Council in the west of Northern Ireland, received a call to remove and destroy a Black Labrador who had bitten the niece of a local farmer.  When Glass pulled up to the farm and stopped his van, he saw two IRA guerillas running toward him, one with a handgun, the other with an AK-47 assault rifle. The report was a trap.

Glass was a part-time soldier with the Ulster Defense Regiment, the British Army’s local regiment. He had a sidearm on the passenger seat under a jacket and managed to grab it as the van was being riddled with bullets.

Glass managed to exit the van and return fire, sustaining multiple gunshot wounds, shattering his pelvis. One of the ambushers- Joseph MacManus- was killed.

Glass received a commendation.

MacManus was given a full Republican funeral, attended by thousands, full of soaring rhetoric of heroism and martyrdom, and a memorial in his honour was erected. It's inscription read: 

I Gcuimne
Oglas Soesaim MacManais
Oglaigh na hEireann 
A fuair bas ar Saoirse na hEireann

In proud and loving memory of  
Volunteer Joseph MacManus
Irish Republican Army
Maugheraboy, Sligo
Killed in Action, 5 Feb. 1992, Aged 21 Years

From my experience working, studying, and writing around the dynamics of conflict and violence, I will guarantee you this:

Once you’ve decided your cause is just, that the enemy is so extraordinary that opposing them demands the use of ‘any means necessary’, and if the conflict drags on long enough, you will- eventually- decide to murder a dog warden;

You will- eventually- conclude that a dog warden is part of the machinery of the oppressive state;

You will- eventually- describe the murder of a dog warden as a key battle in the struggle for freedom;

You will- eventually- decry those who question how the death of a dog warden brings the struggle for freedom closer to victory as pie-in-the-sky liberals, enemies of justice and freedom.

So my message to the Black Liberation Project is this: 

I believe that the American people need to fundamentally recognize and deal with the legacies of slavery and systemic racism that were embedded in this country from its earliest foundations;

I believe we need to fundamentally re-think how the US does policing, judging, and incarceration;

I believe we need to resist the status quo;

I believe that our resistance needs to be non-violent, but- and let me make this perfectly clear- I believe that our non-violence needs to be resistance...

I believe we should accept nothing less than true 
freedom, democracy, justice, independence, emancipation, and liberation.

But your statement above? Well, don't you know that you can count me out...

Monday, 4 July 2016

Trump's Immigration Policy(?): 7 Unexpected Countries He'll Need to Ban...

When we talk about ‘terrorism’, and countries that ‘support’ it, we all know what we mean…


I mean, it’s obvious, isn’t it?

US Presidential candidate Donald Trump certainly seems to think so.

Trump has consistently (for him, anyway) maintained a spectrum of rhetoric that has either called for the complete ban on Muslims from entering the US or, as he said this month:

‘suspend immigration from areas of the world when there is a proven history of terrorism against the United States, Europe or our allies, until we understand how to end these threats…
‘I don’t want people coming in — I don’t want people coming in from certain countries. I don’t want people coming in from the terror countries. You have terror countries! I don’t want them, unless they’re very, very strongly vetted.’
So, what’s a ‘terror country’, you might well ask?

‘They’re pretty well-decided’, he said. ‘All you have to do is look.’

All you have to do is look…

It’s an interesting idea, this notion that US immigration and national security policy as they are currently understood should be entirely scrapped in favour of a new system based on… ‘looking’…

So, what are we ‘looking’ for exactly?

Conventional wisdom and most US media now says that Muslims and Muslim-majority countries are the ones to ‘look’ out for. They fit the profile; they ‘look’ like terrorists; they look like people who ‘support’ terrorists.

But of course that’s nonsense. Islamist terrorism is certainly a clear and present threat at the moment, but Islam and Muslims certainly have no historic monopoly on terror.

Terror is first and foremost a tactic, used at various points by Muslim, Christian, Jewish, and Buddhist groups, as well as by Marxist and Maoist communists who eschew all religious identity, and by nationalists who may or may not use religious affiliation as an ethnic or cultural marker.

So if Trump wants to suspend immigration from areas of the world where there is a 'proven history of terrorism’, he has a lot of areas of the world- and a lot of countries- to deal with. 

I’ve decided to pick seven countries that have had significant terrorist organizations operating within them over the last 50 years; I was born in 1967, so that’s basically within my lifetime, and well within Trump's. Many of these groups have killed US citizens or targeted US interests at home and abroad, and all of them are located in countries that are close allies of- or of regional strategic importance to- the US.

Are they all as powerful or as dangerous as ISIS or Al-Qaida is currently? Of course not.

Are the base countries of these groups supporting these groups? Of course not.

But they are all countries with a ‘proven history of terrorism’… 

So using Mr. Trump’s ‘logic’ (and I use the term in the absolutely loosest manner possible), they must, by necessity, go on the list of countries we need to, well, ‘look’ at...

So here we go:


We start very close to home with America’s noble neighbors to the north, where the province of Quebec hosted the separatist FLQ (Front de libération du Québec; the ‘Quebec Liberation Front’) active between 1963 and 1970. The FLQ was responsible for over 100 violent incidents which killed eight and injured many more, including the 1969 bombing of the Monteal Stock Exchange. In 1970 the group kidnapped British Trade Commissioner James Cross and Quebec Labour Minister Pierre Laporte, Laporte subsequently being killed.

On the other end of the continent, Canada also gave us the urban guerrilla group Direct Action, sometimes called the ‘Squamish Five’ or ‘Vancouver Five’, who in the 1980s bombed and sabotaged several businesses, mining concerns, and corporate offices, financially supporting themselves with fraud and robbery.   


Stable, wealthy Western European democracies are not immune to terrorism, and Belgium makes  our list due to the actions of CCC, (Cellules Communistes Combattantes; ‘Communist Combatant Cells’), a radical communist terror group active in the mid-80s. CCC carried out a targeted bombing campaign against NATO facilities, as well as property belonging to US and other international businesses, killing two and injuring several.


Greece makes the list due to November 17, also referred to as ‘17N’ or ‘17 November Group’, an urban guerrilla group who carried out numerous assassinations and attacks against US, British, Turkish, and Greek targets. 23 people were killed in 103 attacks between 1975 and 2002.

For the record, Greece is demographically 98% Christian, and there are 1.3 million people of Greek descent in the US. Deporting them all will be a bit of a logistical headache, but... let's move on...


Another stable European democracy to lose its immigration privileges is Germany due to the far-left militant group Red Army Faction, sometimes referred to as the ‘Baader-Meinhof Group’. Active from 1970 to 1998, The RAF carried out a campaign of assassinations, robberies, bombings, kidnappings, murders, attacks on US military bases and personnel, as well as bombing the West German embassy in Stockholm and a sniper attack against the US embassy in Bonn in 1991. The group announced it dissolution in 1998; however, German police identified three RAF members as part of a group that robbed an armoured truck of 1 million Euros in January 2016, leading some analysts to suspect the group might be active again.

Germany gets an extra boost onto Trump’s prospective 'no-no' list due to the revelations from files discovered after the end of the Cold War that the RAF was actively supported by the East German security service, the ‘Stasi’, meaning that, according to Trump’s ‘logic’, a German ‘government’ actively ‘supported’ the terror group…


Staying in Europe, Italy gave us Brigate Rossi (‘Red Brigades’), a communist paramilitary group responsible for numerous assassinations, kidnappings, robberies, and acts of sabotage between 1970 and 1988.


Heading to the US’s key ally in the Pacific Rim, Japan’s ‘proven history of terrorism’ comes courtesy of the Japanese Red Army, a militant communist group active from 1971 to 2002. The JRA was responsible for several airline hijackings and hostage-takings, attacks on foreign embassies, and US military bases. Though having disbanded, the group still operates under the name ‘Movement Rentai’.

Trump has also mentioned he'd like Japan to become a nuclear power, so... Oh, never mind...


Hezbollah, a Shi'a Islamist militant organization based in Lebanon, is by any measure the most organized, best armed, and most active group on this list, significantly more powerful than the regular Lebanese military. They are also the most complex, as they exist in two distinct forms: a powerful military (and described as ‘terrorist’ by many governments) organization and a political party with several seats in Lebanon’s parliament, two cabinet positions, radio and satellite TV stations, and an extensive social services network; for all intents and purposes, Hezbollah is a state within a state.

But this list is no place for complexities, so Lebanon- a key ally of the US in the Middle East and second only to Israel in the receipt of US military aid- would need to be on our potentially-proscribed list of countries…


If ever there was a nation with a ‘proven history of terrorism’, it is Ireland. Ireland has a long history of insurgency against its more powerful neighbour Great Britain, with Irish Republican groups waging sustained armed actions against targets in Ireland and the UK for decades. The largest of these groups- the Provisional Irish Republican Army (PIRA), the Official Irish Republican Army (OIRA), and the Irish National Liberation Army (INLA), all dating to the late-60s and early-70s- have dumped arms and given up their armed struggles. But smaller groups, referred to as ‘dissidents’, remain active and committed to driving the British presence from Northern Ireland and reuniting both parts of the island.

Ireland’s social, cultural, and political ties to the US are enormous, as is US economic investment in the Irish economy, so just how to President Trump would ban its citizens from our shores, despite its history of terrorism, is anyone’s guess…

United Kingdom

Finally, and most personally problematic for Trump, would be the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. Northern Ireland, of course, has both Irish Republican and British Loyalist terror groups actively operating within its borders. It has been revealed that both Loyalist and Republican groups were both extensively infiltrated by elements of British state security and military intelligence, who shielded assets within the groups from arrest and prosecution in exchange for information. More alarming have been the revelations that rogue elements within the British military and police services  funneled weapons and support to Loyalist paramilitaries throughout the conflict. The British government has consistently refused to cooperate with these investigations and no one implicated in the collusion has ever been brought to trial.

Outside of Northern Ireland, Britain has also seen small, sporadically-active militant separatists such as the Free Wales Army and
Mudiad Amddiffyn Cymru in Wales, as well as An Gof and the Cornish National Liberation Army in Cornwall. These groups tend to destroy what they see as 'English' property and burn Union flags, as well as threaten violence against 'English' businesses and tourism.

Most potentially embarrassing for Trump might be the Scottish National Liberation Army, a very small group active from the late-70s and sporadically ever since, most famous for sending letter bombs to then-Lady Diana Spenser and Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.

Trump’s mother is from Scotland, and Trump owns a golf resort in Ayrshire…

… which brings us full circle to the fact that Trump himself, using his own absurdist logic, has familial and financial ties to a nation with a ‘proven history of terrorism’.

Whether Trump will voluntarily deport himself- and somehow prevent his own re-entry into the US- remains to be seen…