Reflections on recent events, plus the occasional fact
free rant unfiltered by rational argument.
The horrors that unfolded last week in Christchurch, New Zealand, landed live in my lap. As the attacker executed innocent men, women and children, he gave us a ringside seat by live-streaming his corrupt and cowardly act. It took a second or two for me to realise what was unfolding before my eyes. I disconnected, then deleted the link.
The man and his sick ideology cannot face enough condemnation. At its core, this was an attack on humankind and the decency that underpins civilised society. Anyone wishing to contribute to the victim's families may do so here.
Brave police officers responded with swiftness to capture the culprit before he could do further harm. That they didn’t ‘deal’ with him on the spot speaks to their professionalism and higher calling. Although, part of me wished that he’d given them the excuse to clean the gene pool of his corrupted mind. I’m not proud of that thought.
The mosque attacks played on the TV news-loop with some channels overstepping the mark. That they used his live-feed, albeit edited, was borderline voyeurism. In effect, they gave him the oxygen of publicity he sought.
The prompt intervention by armed police affirms the approach Hong Kong is adopting. Armed teams of police officers ready on-the-ground and trained to take on the ‘active shooter’. These attackers, driven by their distorted ideology of whatever flavour, will keep killing until brought down or captured. The Mumbai attacks and many other instances are examples. It’s also clear that even with the best intelligence, the self-starter terrorist may slip through the net. Plus, let’s not forget these wicked atrocities are possible with knives or other weapons. Thus, shutting off access to guns is a partial solution at best, although welcome.
Part of the driver behind the media coverage of the attack is the fact that we’ve long considered New Zealand a safe-haven. The land of long clouds, rustic scenes, at the other end of the planet. That such horrors can visit New Zealand is a stark warning to us all that nowhere is safe, which leads me to my next point.
On 27 January this year, two bombs exploded in the Cathedral of Our Lady of Mount Carmel in the Philippines. At least 20 people died, with 111 wounded, many with serious injuries. Abu Sayyaf militants are responsible. This attack hardly warranted a mention in most of the media. Likewise, in Nigeria, in recent weeks, 120 Christians were slaughtered by Fulani Muslim terrorists. Strange that I didn't see an outpouring of condemnation for these attacks.
I don’t wish to get into a number game of who killed more — that’s a blind alley — yet, the unbalanced coverage feeds a distorted narrative. That, in turn, provides ammunition for those who wish to exploit these attacks for their personal and political agendas. And that game has started.
Elements of the radical far-left have seized the opportunity to capitalise on the Christchurch attack for their purposes. They’re seeking to use the blood-shed as leverage to close access to the Internet for those they contest. On their hit list are Sam Harris, the renowned neuroscientist and Jordan Peterson, the clinical psychologist. The radical left can’t deal with their fact-based positions, so it’s best to de-platform them.
These dogmatic attitudes and intolerance to debate feed the agenda that the New Zealand attacker thrived on. For me, the issue is not religion per sei. It's any system of thought that insists one group of people are inviolably correct, whereas the other side is in the wrong. This positioning then justifies punishment. In short, the Christchurch attacker and those exploiting his work to close down their opponents are riding in the same cart.
This process, funded and coordinated, smears anyone who made adverse remarks against Islam. That includes moderate Muslims. The tactics adopted are simple, brutal and disingenuous. Find old disparaging comment on twitter or elsewhere, then conflate it by association with the attacker to give the appearance of support. Stoke the flames with a bit of fearful rhetoric, then unleash the wrath. Facebook and others will soon respond by de-platforming, in the modern equivalent of book burning.
Where does this lead? Well, it results in deranged students confronting a pregnant Chelsea Clinton to blame her for complicity in the massacre. That’s the poisoned process at work. Fanning the flames, creating more division by nurturing hate and mistrust.
Omer Aziz has done the same in his piece in the New York Times. He implies that Sam Harris and Jordan Peterson brought about the New Zealand attack. This assertion is a monstrous falsehood — but typical of how certain people exploit the situation. Yes, both Harris and Peterson are critical of Islam, as they are of other religions and dogmas. That’s allowed in rational, free-thinking, societies.
Meanwhile, looking on are many who feel marginalised. White males in depressed post-industrial towns failed by an education system that portrays them as responsible for all the world's woes. Made to feel guilty for empire building, racism and the slave trade brought about generations ago. They’re sneered at by metropolatan liberal types for daring to offer an opinion or stand their ground.
Then you have black teenagers in London. Left behind by failing family structures, in low-paid jobs and forced to arm themselves with knives for protection. Likewise, refugee kids from Pakistan and Afghanistan held in the grip of mad clerics. Told the only way is to wage war on the community that’s taken them in.
When an outrage like New Zealand occurs, all reasonable people are appalled. That up whelming of anger also applies to those who harness these incidents to their political agenda to denigrate others. All terrorism is abhorrent. Responses need balance, fairness and know no colour, race or religion. For that to happen, the ideologues need to back off and allow human dignity to shine through.
Once again, Kipling’s “poor bloody infantry” is taking the rap. Further evidence that the UK is slipping down the rabbit hole is the announcement this week about ‘Bloody Sunday’. Arising from events in January 1972, Soldier F is to face charges of murder.
Thirteen people died that day at the hands of the British Army. This pivotal event cast a long shadow over Northern Ireland and it drove many into the ranks of the terrorists. And yet, there is a distinct imbalance when it comes to accountability for what unfolded. A retired lance corporal, who is over 70 years old, is carrying the can for the politicians, the army chain of command and the terrorists.
That Soldier F acted the way he did is now a matter for the courts. Although, whether the man can get a fair trial given the circumstances is another matter. The Saville Inquiry concluded that innocent people died that day; this is irrefutable. One can only feel for the families involved. In the same way, it's also clear that the actions of the IRA terrorists contributed to events. Yet, their crimes go unresolved.
During the so-called troubles, 722 British Army and police personnel died at the hands of the terrorists. The terrorists lost 127 killed. That’s the balance of the equation. But, the vast majority of the army and police deaths have gone un-investigated. Meanwhile, known IRA killers are residing in Spain and Portugal untouched by British justice. Tony Blair provided them with ‘letters of assurance’ as part of the peace agreement. Thus their crimes are unaddressed. That Blair would offer such comfort to terrorists is no surprise. After all, his bloodstained actions brought death to thousands of innocent Iraqi civilians.
On that fateful day in 1972, a civil rights march in Londonderry was ‘policed’ by the crack troops of the 1st Battalion, The Parachute Regiment. Known as 1 Para, this unit is not skilled in the finesse of dealing with public order events. The Paras trained, and stood ready at short notice, to face the full wrath of the Warsaw Pact. Assigned to blunt an attack or go behind the lines, the Paras would take on fearsome odds and didn't expect to survive. It’s fair to say the complexities of a ‘policing’ role in such an environment was not in 1 Para’s repertoire.
They’d spent a couple of days training for public order duties by practising shield-walls and firing tear gas. Also, they drilled to conduct snatch squads. Most of the soldiers deployed to Londonderry armed with their SLR 7.62 rifle, a weapon designed to punch holes through people and masonry. The SLR is an ideal weapon for combat in open terrain but hardly suited to urban areas. Especially with ricocheting bullet and civilians present.
During the march, a confrontation developed over access to the town centre. The footage shows the soldiers under sustained attack. At first, the Paras responded with rubber bullets, water cannon and tear gas. As the violence escalated, 1 Para deployed snatch squads. After that, the sequence of events remains disputed. The Paras claimed they came under gunfire and responded. The Inquiry concluded the Paras opened fire first, although IRA terrorists did engage them later.
The first 1972 inquiry into ‘Bloody Sunday’ by Lord Chief Justice Widgery proved a whitewash as it ignored much evidence. Families of those killed pursued their cause to secure a second inquiry from Tony Blair.
The Saville Inquiry started its work in 1998 and finally published its finding in 2010. This inquiry was a no-expense spared trawl through the evidence. Some put the cost at over £200 million, a sum of money that could have funded the salary of 8,000 nurses for a year.
So how thorough was it? Consider this — the investigators located one of the SLR rifles in Beirut. The British Army sold the gun as surplus; it then passed through several hands before it landed with dodgy paramilitary types in the Middle East. The Inquiry heard from more than 900 witnesses.
In all the noise of recent days, the media continues to ignore salient facts from the Saville Inquiry. The IRA was present that day, and its active service units fired on British troops. Martin McGuinness, as second-in-command of the Londonderry IRA, was on the ground. The Inquiry concluded that McGuinness was probably armed with a Thompson submachine gun and may have fired at troops. In a bizarre finding, the Inquiry found he took no action that “provided any of the soldiers with any justification for opening fire”.
In my opinion, carrying a Thompson submachine gun to a civil rights march makes McGuinness culpable. It’s evident that the IRA was spoiling for a fight, and it used the civilians as cover. The Inquiry then flips to state the IRA did open fire, although it suggests this happened after the soldiers fired first.
If Britain had a functional media or a sensible government, we’d have a proper debate about drawing a line under this period of history. It would be an opportunity to explore do we wish to keep rerunning the past and holding people to account. After all, if Soldier F can get dragged through the courts, then why not the known IRA killers? A fair question to ask is can we spend £200 million investigating the death of Jean McConville? Likewise, can we spend £200 million to make a case against the terrorists who murdered 18 soldiers at Warren Point in 1979?
Contrast the treatment of Soldier F with that of John Downey. In 2013, Downey faced four counts of murder over the Hyde Park attack. That IRA bomb killed 11 and injured 50, including a friend of mine. At trial in January 2014, the case against Downey collapsed. He produced a 'get out of jail free' letter thanks to Tony Blair. That's right; Tony Blair gave this killer his blessing to walk away from murder. Downey is one of 187 IRA suspects who received such letters guaranteeing them immunity from prosecution. All done in secret.
Others present that day went on to greater things. Captain Mike Jackson became General Sir Mike Jackson, GCB, CBE, DSO, DL. He later commanded the British Army. Likewise, the other officers in 1 Para, some of whom disobeyed direct orders, remain untouched.
The British state has by official action, and secret means, forgiven the horrors perpetrated by the IRA. Meanwhile, the families of the victims of ‘Bloody Sunday’ are getting some form of justice. I trust that brings them a bit of peace. Can the same be said for the mothers, fathers, spouses and children of soldiers murdered by the IRA?
In the movie ‘The Dark Knight’ Batman snatches a fugitive in Hong Kong to deposit him outside Police HQ in Gotham City. I’m afraid that’s not an option in real life if you adhere to the rule of law. Although, I’m guessing it may help get us out of a current pickle. Where is Batman when you need him?
Walter De Havilland is one of the last of the colonial coppers. He served 35 years in the Hong Kong Police.