Taking Flak: Labour’s toxic bid to ban anti-war protests

[DISCLAIMER: This post is personal opinion and protected free expression which in no way indicates the views of my employer. TRIGGER WARNING: Racist hate speech quoted below.]

So the latest Blue Labour scheme is apparently to make speaking ill of soldiering a hate crime.

That’s not an exaggeration of any sort, I swear. Take it from their defence shadow Jim Murphy:

“We must protect those who protect our nation.

“It is unacceptable some service people face abuse.

“This is an important part of a wider campaign to prevent discrimination against our heroes.

“They serve us, we should protect them.”

The problem with this should be obvious – obvious enough that Murphy cannot possibly see it as anything more than a calculated half-step in the dizzying tap routine of the Reactionary Radical Centre. “Let’s see, whose safety is genuinely threatened by prevailing societal attitudes? People with disabilities, people with alternative sexual and gender identities … and people who get paid to directly threaten other peoples’ safety.”

Individual soldiers can be good people in their home life; they can be seduced into joining the military through pop-culture and propaganda or be compelled by crushing poverty. They can equally renounce their role and crusade against the war machine. But while they remain in the ranks, they are knowingly serving an institution explicitly instructed to unthinkingly murder people on command. There might be careful consideration of how to avoid blame for murdering too many people, or the wrong kind of people, or in the wrong way — but no army has ever refused to invade on principle, so long as no general ever has to bear the consequences. This is why Iraq lies in ruins, Tony Blair walks free, and the only soldier in the history of the empire ever convicted of a war crime is a single lowly corporal.

That’s what cries of “baby-killer” and poppy-burning on parade are about (the poppies, remember, were meant to mark the unjustifiable cost to human life). It’s a simple expression of that fact, coupled with the righteous anger it deserves. Outlawing anti-war protest – and this includes the controversial Muslims Against Crusades as much as the more ‘respectable’ Stop The War Coalition – makes about as much sense as Labour making it a hate crime to call someone a scab for crossing a picket line — although I realise now I’m probably just giving them ideas.

But it’s especially important to point out that this is not some rarefied academic debate: Afghanistan might be a long way away, but local call-outs are also about the attitudes seen just as close to home.

Take the case of Azhar Ahmed, convicted of “sending a grossly offensive communication” last year after posting on Facebook that “all soldiers should die and go to hell”:

What about the innocent familys who have been brutally killed.

The women who have been raped. The children who have been sliced up!

Your enemy’s were the Taliban not innocent harmful familys.

The post referred to the recent deaths while on duty of several members of the Yorkshire regiment. Azhar Ahmed is himself from Yorkshire. Mainstream media only mentioned this connection in passing, and I can’t claim to read Ahmed’s mind, but it’s worth looking at the regiment’s local reputation.

Exhibit A: The 3rd Battalion’s Scott McHugh, an ardent member of the English Defence League, in December 2011 — three months before Ahmed’s inflammatory post. Note that several of those Ahmed referred to were also members of the 3rd Battalion.

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Exhibit B: The 2nd Battalion’s Simon Beech, who literally burned down a mosque while awaiting deployment in 2010.

Exhibit C: Squaddie Cavan Langfield, who joined his mates in the local English Defence League in a planned attack on a Rock Against Racism gig in 2011.

All those men have been discharged, having been outed by witnesses and watchdogs like EDL news. But many more remain in “a more or less obvious closing of ranks”, as Justice Ronald MacKinnon called it, leading to war crimes like the murder of Baha Mousa that I mentioned above. And as the chant says, no justice; no peace.

While that hatred is hushed up in pursuit of a fundamentally racist, imperialist policy, we have every right to judge the uniform.

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