When the ‘Real Question’ is Not a Real Question

I was at a wedding yesterday. On my table I was the only non-musician/actor to be found and this allowed me to embrace topics of conversation I’m often denied. Things were going fine until somebody decided that the Syria vote was a worthy subject with which to wrestle. I stayed clear for as long as possible but was scuppered when I heard the cheap statement of conspiracy: “of course we all know why they voted ‘yes’, it’s because of the arms manufacturers.”

It was the nodding from all that heard it that did it for me. Well used to be the only right-winger within a social group, I trod lightly. I ever-so-humbly explained that some had better reasons for wishing to attack Islamic State and that actually an extension of strikes across the border wasn’t a great change in the scheme of things. Just when I thought I had handled all the objections, and had successfully produced a table full of neo-cons, came what has now become the standard last line of defense.

“The real question is how we stop those funding them and supplying them with weapons”


Compared with some of the other showstopping zingers I heard, such as “ultimately it is all about inequality”, this is almost reasonable, there is something to it. With no money and no arms an organisation such as Islamic State lacks a great deal of its capability. However, when I tried to address it in detail I discovered that the question is not being seriously asked.

When people speak of the supplying and funding of Islamic State they aren’t actually seeking a solution. They are in fact shifting the blame onto ‘us’ via low conspiracism.

On the funding part, I tried to explain how the group is self-funding and has been for a long time and this was scoffed at. The word just behind their lips and waiting to get out was “Saudi Arabia”. They are, just about, our allies and therefore something we are wholly responsible for. We being “The West”. And everyone just seems to know that they are the puppet-masters of Islamic State. By the way, when you hear “Saudi Arabia” you should count yourself lucky, the really far-out ones are inevitably waiting to say “Israel” or “the CIA”.

Regarding the weapons, I spoke of what the Iraqi army had left over, the huge numbers in the region after the Iran/Iraq war, however, as soon as I mentioned the US made weapons from Iraqi police and army, that was enough. It was back to being our fault once again.

Corbyn is a big fan of this question, acting on it is his grand alternative to the more kinetic options us warmongers entertain. Apparently for Corbyn, all warfare can be avoided if you skip straight to the peace talks and if you stop the funding and the weapons. For some reason though airstrikes on their oil trade or air support of Kurdish forces taking over oil fields simply do not count. Efforts to make Corbyn declare exactly who he has in mind have been, unfortunately, rarely made.

Not just yesterday, but in general over the last few months, I’ve come to realise that people are not actually interested in how Islamic State are armed or funded. The suggestion that it is important is enough for them because to do so is to play a bit of Motte and Bailey with the idea that ultimately it is all down to us.

It is not a call to action, nor an alternative to the action proposed by political opponents, it is a call for inaction. It is a half-arsed and half-uttered smear on ourselves and a fine example of the sophistication-via-masochism so many seem so hooked on at the moment. It sounds pro-active, sensible, and considered, but on examination it is no such thing.

As with any Motte and Bailey argument a demand for clarity is essential. When you hear it made the response should always be to push the person making it to explain who they actually believe is funding and supplying Islamic State. If they claim ignorance you must then ask why they have cause to doubt the answers you provide. Answers will not come. But at the moment this dog-whistle to self-haters and conspiracy hounds is allowing too many to get away with too much.

This is what I learned yesterday, that and that I should probably be barred from social situations.


9 thoughts on “When the ‘Real Question’ is Not a Real Question

  1. I think the wedding guests have a point, about arms & Saudi.. We buy Saudi oil, we let them park the petrodollars in our capitals, we sell them luxury goods, they employ our engineers. We sell them weapons to help them dominate at home. The petrodollars are thus in part repatriated. Many palms are greased along the way and much moral hazard accumulated. We then have to turn a blind eye to their use of their dollars to proselytize.
    There’s a disconnect between their luxury and their devoutness, between our short-term and long-term outlook. & of course withiin ‘we’ and ‘they’ are a mix of people with different priorities and motivations. But, given that we’re not yet collectivist and don’t intend to take reponsibility for our co-citizens doing business with Saudi, & anyway don’t intend to shiver all the winter, & are collecting the dividends of that trade, what are we going to do? Probably mumble some platitudes and keep doing the music and acting, like your freinds. I hope it’s Bach and Shakespeare.
    Even if they got it wrong, they’re as close to the truth as makes no difference compared to the CIA-dun-it end. Just have 10 minutes in the comments section of Muslim youtube.


  2. The important thing to understand is that what Chomsky/Fisk/Pilger etc. are ultimately peddling is a Garden Of Eden myth in which the USA/The West play the role of the snake. The underlying idea is that without meddling Western “imperialism”, the rest of the world will automatically return to its natural state – an idyll of peace, harmony and equality.

    The reason this idea has such potency is because it has deep, but unconscious, religious roots. It is tapping into the latent Christian concept of “the fall”. This is what needs to be exposed – we are being re-presented with an atavistic cultural myth in a disguised form.


  3. Good article, Mr Paxton.

    And I agree with both you and Vince about Chomsky, Pilger and co and Original Sin. This archetype – a superstitious attachment, really – is the foundation of modern far left thinking. Most of these people have long since stopped believing in God, but they have never stopped believing in the Devil (as incarnated in the USA/UK/Israel).


    1. What tosh. The assumption that your nation should/ does have the power to decide how another is run. Is ridiculous. More ridiculous still, is that you believe trillions of dollars is being spent to keep you safe. As opposed to being spent to further enrich the rich. Believe what you like. Don’t expect the rest of us to buy it


      1. I think you were better playing footie for Wales than trying to provide some form of political insight online.


  4. The old original sin concept is strong in lefty circles. Whether it is the sin of the imperialism of yesteryear, slavery and racism or that ‘invisible knapsack’ of white privilege we supposedly all carry around today. Not only does Western power represent the talking snake, our ‘invisible knapsack’ requires atonement, confession and the requirement to proselytize to others so that they to might see that invisible sin; confess and atone.

    One can be at once the self flagellating sinner and the enlightened missionary all at the same time as ultimately being a victim and heroic opponent of the imperialist talking snake which ultimately pitched us ‘privileged’ whiteys against our oppressed morally superior cousins of colour.


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