Yesterday David Cameron admitted to murder. He did it loudly, in public, with self-justifications primed and a self-important look plastered across his quivering jowls. The repercussions? He faces applause from some sectors…and “scrutiny” from others. Is that all the outrage our atrophied imaginations can offer?
The metaphor of the boiling frogs has long been over used. It takes its place alongside the “smoking gun” and “ticking all the boxes” in the pantheon of phrases that declare a lack of imagination. And it is no longer apt. The unthinkable is no longer being “normalized”…it is normal. It happens every day, and we shrug it off. The frogs have been simmering for hours, they’re nearly done.
Just for a moment, let us compare the world of today to the world of fifteen years ago…
In 2000, before 9/11 and all the subsequent horror that mental trauma caused a psychotic American Empire to loose upon the world, can we even imagine that a “civilised” government would claim the power to seize people without charge? detain people indefinitely without trial? Would a watching public have stood for that? But nevertheless, that is the world we live in now.
Ten years ago would an American President blithely admitting to torture have passed off the public conciousness with so little notice? Would CIA black sites, extraordinary rendtions and all the stuff – likely worse – we don’t get to hear about be cause for a “debate” about its efficacy? Does a civilised culture ban torture, or simply worry about whether or not it works? Nevertheless, that is the world we live in now.
Five years ago anybody claiming that the Western intelligence agencies were recording the data from millions and millions of people – Were spying on civilians and foreign heads of state and practically the whole world – would have have been met with snorts of derision. “Go find your tin-foil hat!” we would have said, “they can’t do that, it’s illegal” we would have said, “You’re crazy” we would have said. But Edward Snowden is real, and he’s not crazy. And now we know – was there a revolution? Were there speeches railing against the NSA on the floor of the UN? Not even close. “It’s necessary” they said. “OK”, we said. And then the “free press” that reported the goverment’s illegal activities voluntarily smashed up their computers. Since those times Cameron’s government has handed over even greater powers to GCHQ and their brothers. We don’t want to a be spied on. We don’t want a digital panopticon keeping us all inline. But nevertheless, that’s the world we live now.
…and yesterday David Cameron admitted to murder – today he faces scrutiny. Just last week anybody accusing the government of carrying out extra-judicial executions on foreign soil would have been laughed at. Called paranoid. But here we are. Apparently there was a “legal justification”, but we’re not allowed to see it. Apparently it was done at a time and place that “minimised risk to civilians”…minimised, you understand, not removed. We still don’t know if there any civilian casualties – it doesn’t really matter. It was still murder. Apparently he was “planning attacks” and it was “self defence” – there’s plenty of evidence for this, but we’re not allowed to see that either. That’s the world we live in now.
Currently we live in a society where the government claims the right to:
- Arrest and detain any individual, indefintely, without charge or trial.
- Extradite any civilian overseas to any foreign power, even those who use torture.
- Observe and record the internet, email and phone communications of anybody in the world without warning or warrant.
- Execute, by drone strike or other means, anybody anywhere in the world – regardless of whether or not they have been convicted of a crime
Read those back to yourself – out loud if it helps. There’s a word for that kind of society, and it’s not “democratic”. It’s not “civilised”.
It’s tempting, and easy, to always view yourself as the good guy. Nobody watches a movie and thinks “Man, that villain is just like me!”. But no villains ever realise they are villains. The trick is in mental reversal, to imagine your actions as if someone had done them to you.
Russia currently stands accused of “assassinating” Alexander Litvinenko – the inquiry into his death is being held just down the road from the room where Cameron signed off on the execution of Reyaad Khan. If the story had broken that Putin or Assad or Kim Jong Un had wiped out a “security threat” by setting off a bomb on the streets of Cairo or Mexico City…how would we react? How would our press react? What if Xi Jinping ordered the execution, by drone, of a Chinese national living in Washington DC? Would we shrug it off as “neccesary” or “understandable”? We wouldn’t have time – it would be World War III.
The danger, as Orwell wrote, is in the language. The sterilization of words. Meanings are cleaned and refined and sanded down. Torture is what other people do, we use “enhanced interrogation techniques”. Propaganda is what other people do we “promote democracy”. War is what other people do we “pre-emptively defend ourselves”. Assassination is what other people do….we “carry out targeted strikes to remove threats.” When we eventually declare war on Syria, when NATO bombs start dropping on the only even remotely stable areas left in the country, they won’t be bombing raids they’ll be “humanitarian missions”.
The double-think is everywhere, practically every story in the press. Syria is fighting a civil war against zealots and insurgents, but Assad’s regime is “brutal”. Israel shelling a walled off ghetto because some kids threw stones at them…that is “self defence”. The totally bloodless referendum in Crimea is an “invasion”, but the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq were “spreading democracy”. People like Huey Long, Castro, Chavez and Putin – who redistribute wealth to the poorer sections of society – they are “corrupt”. Whilst the politicians on our side, forever breaking expenses scandals and taking jobs on the boards of banks, pharmaceutical firms and arms manufacturers – they are just trying to make the world a better place, a free place.
Now, to talk specifcally about the RAF and their new toys, the defensive perimeter has already set up, the “justifications” have been deployed. He revoked his citizenship. He joined a terrorist organisation. He declared war on Britain. I don’t know if all that’s true, but I do know it doesn’t matter. The point of a society governed by law is that there are no exceptions. If pyschopaths and murderers aren’t protected by laws, then no one is. If a terrorist can be summarily executed…then anyone can.
One can’t fall into the trap of separating oneself from ethereal “other”. You can’t sit back, comfortable in the knowledge these laws only apply to them, but never to us. First they came for the Jews and all that. Don’t pretend to yourself that they would never use these tools on you. They are making a machine that will chew us all up and spit us all out eventually. That’s the world we live in now, it’s time to engage with it.
A frog that doesn’t realise it’s boiling still dies just the same.