Counter-narratives must be disseminated and key facts – for instance, that more Muslims have died in Pakistan as a result of Taliban actions than American drones…must be widely publicised.’ Maajid Nawaz, Quilliam
The BBC has reported extensively on the protest by the Stop The War Coalition against the opening of an airbase to operate drones from the UK.
The story was endlessly reported yesterday and was the top story most of the day giving maximum publicity and exposure to a small campaign led by a highly dubious group.
You have to ask why?
The BBC reported that maybe 200 protesters turned up.
On a petition run by STWC after 10 months there are a mere 2,500 signatures:
David Cameron: End the secrecy surrounding the use of British drones!
So what’s the big story then BBC? Why the blanket coverage and headline news?
The use of drones from the UK isn’t a big story…the RAF have been operating them from a US base in Nevada for years….their location in the UK is surely irrelevant if you object to the principle….and we have known the base was going to be opened since at least May 2011.
Who is running the protests? Essentially the hard left Socialist Workers Party along with CND and War on Want.
‘War on Want’ is ostensibly a campaigner against poverty but is highly political and is edging more and more towards ‘Muslim’ orientated issues….Palestine and withdrawing troops from Afghanistan. Its new senior campaigns officer is Rafeef Ziadeh, a co-founder of the Coalition Against Israeli Apartheid who identifies herself as a “refugee from occupied Palestine.”
Stop The War Coalition is controlled by the extreme left Socialist Worker’s Party and is famously not actually opposed to war, just wars that the West look like winning.
‘The SWP was not against the war, it was in favour in the war, it was in favour of Saddam winning the war, and it was in favour of the British losing.’
The STWC ran its anti war campaign in coalition with the Muslim Association of Britain…a Muslim Brotherhood group……
‘Very few are likely to be keen admirers of the SWP’s extreme left agenda, or indeed of Islam’s inherent conservatism. While they may have marched alongside hardline Islamic groups over Iraq, their sympathies with them are unlikely to extend to calls for an Islamic Caliphate of Great Britain.’
The Socialist Worker’s Party ran ‘sharia like’ kangaroo courts to ‘examine’ claims of rape against their own senior members, a story ignored for a long time by the BBC….
Socialist Workers Party leadership under fire over rape kangaroo court
Woman says she was asked about her sexual past branded a slut by senior party members after she accused one of rape
The BBC tells us what the protesters claim: ‘Campaigners say the switching of control of flights to the UK marks a “critical expansion in the nation’s drones programme”.
They are calling on the government to abandon the use of drones, claiming they make it easier for politicians to launch military interventions, and have increased civilian casualties.’
“I think people feel that there is something sinister and disturbing about the idea that someone can attack a foreign country thousands of miles away with, simply, the push of a button and this technology that is being introduced is giving carte blanche to governments to fight wars behind the backs of people with no public scrutiny or accountability.
Here is a BBC report from 2010 that feeds us the same line that the STWC want to create now, that these drones are robot-like killing machines operated by people who think it is a computer game and are so detached from the war that they lose all human feeling and empathy.
This is the STWC’s own take:
‘Remote-controlled mass murder begins at Britain’s first drones base’
There is a deliberate attempt by them to conflate drone use in Pakistan with that in Afghanistan:
’Though the MoD insists it operates with aircraft only in support of British troops, and only in Helmand province, the use of UAVs has been dominated by the CIA’s controversial programme to target insurgent leaders in Pakistan.
These strikes have sometimes caused civilian casualties, and have raised questions over the legality and morality of using remotely piloted systems in areas that are not conflict zones……Now is the time to ground the drones before the UK ratchets up even further remote-controlled slaughter.‘
……..But they are entirely different. In Pakistan the drones are operated by the CIA under their own mysterious rules of engagement (and it may be noted with the tacit agreement of the Pakistan government which doesn’t close off their airspace) to target individuals.
In Afghanistan the military, not the CIA, operate the drones and the rules of engagement are the same as for aircraft.
Here the BBC is playing up the campaign’s message giving it some credence, the oxygen of publicity as Maggie Thatcher might have called it:
Drones playing ‘more important role’
‘Drones have been used by the US and British military for many years, but are now fast becoming the focus for anti-war campaigners in both countries.
But it is the idea of being able to use a machine to kill other human beings from the comfort of a chair thousands of miles away, using a screen reminiscent of a video game, that has galvanised campaigners in the US and Britain against drones.
Many feel that they have been introduced with little public debate.’…
…an echo of STWC’s own propaganda:
‘Drones, controlled far away from conflict zones, ease politicians’ decisions to launch military strikes and order extra-judicial assassinations, without democratic oversight.’
But just how real is that impression of a ‘computer game’ killing machine operated by people disconnected from the battlefield, and how different is that from other weapon systems?
That is a crucial question, it is the central theme of the objections to the drones….a line that designed to be as emotive as possible, catching people’s eye whilst diverting them from reality.
The BBC needs to consider the political context of this story….just who are the campaigners and what is the underlying reason for their campaign?
The BBC needs to put the drone technology into context….it is a man sat in front of a computer screen acquiring targets and operating weapons by using that screen.
But just how different is that to any other weapon system? Is it different at all?
We know that this was a long time theme , disconnect of the crews from the killing…. famously in WWII in which bomber crews dropped bombs from thousands of feet up onto cities teeming with civilians.
But it applies to many weapon systems…tanks can fire shells for several miles, artillery for 10’s of miles, rocketry for thousands, submarines firing torpedoes or cruise missiles. The crews have no contact with the victims. In their case they can’t even see them unlike the drone pilots who can visually confirm the correct target personally.
How do manned aircraft operate over Afghanistan? In exactly the same way as the drones…the pilots acquire the target using the same type of systems as the drones, they then fire weaponry using the same systems as the drone pilot does…looking through a computer screen…and all from 20,000 feet up.
What’s the difference? None.
Here is a quotation from Alan Moorehead, a WWII journalist, in his book ‘The Desert War‘:
‘I crouched in a dugout with one of the artillery commanders while he gave his orders into the telephone to the American Long Toms a mile or two behind us. It all seemed so easy; just a few figures spoken into the telephone, then the air above us was full of tearing express trains and we grabbed our glasses to watch the hits. They fell among the high brown rocks, first with a quick yellow flash, then with a snow-white column of smoke that streamed steadily upward until it was caught by the cross wind on the mountain crest and billowed out into the grey and formless cloud…..this was killing by remote control, without the maddening stimulus of hand-to-hand fighting. One could carefully assess the targets and take aim with the same unemotional calmness of a sportsman shooting grouse on the moors.’
German artillery might answer back but the principle is the same, how other weapon systems are just as ‘remote‘ as drones…. ‘killing by remote control….no maddening stimulus….unemotional calmness.’
The other aspect to this is the motivation behind the protests…the SWP has had a long association with Islamist extremists and here it seems that such people are running a parallel campaign against the drones as part of a wider campaign:
About 60 Muslim men and women protested outside the Saudi Arabian Embassy in London and called for a Jihad to purify the land of Muslims. The activists accuse the Saudi regime of helping the West’s “crusade against Islam” by hosting US Drone bases.
The drone campaign is just one aspect of much wider campaigns against the war in Afghanistan and the ‘Global War on Terror’ as was once named, run by STWC and of course numerous Islamist groups…amongst others…..all tying in numerous strands such as Israel/Palestine, Syria, Chechnia, Iraq, Afghanistan amongst many other issues.
The BBC is giving such groups enormous publicity and credibility by giving them such extensive coverage.
Intentionally or not, and we know the BBC is inherently opposed to the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and the GWOT, they are giving a unbalanced impression of reality.
Operating drones over Afghanistan is no different to operating aircraft in technical and military terms, the rules of engagement being the same…their use in Pakistan by the CIA is a completely different issue that concerns politics and legality of the strikes there.
The BBC’s lack of clarity on the subject, the technical issues and the conflation of Pakistan with Afghanistan means that the Public cannot get a fully informed idea of the reality and is then swayed by emotive images and rhetoric much of which is actually based on the drone strikes in Pakistan.
To be fair to the BBC their defence correspondent, Caroline Wyatt, has treated the issue with a certain level of fairness…its just that she hasn’t given what is a crucial rounded picture of the technology and a context such as comparison with other weapon systems, and whilst she separates British use from the CIA’s in Pakistan she still brings in the casualty figures which she must know the reader or viewer will readily absorb and will be the one fact that stands out for them, the one that will stick in their minds whenever they think of drones…something the STWC is keen to encourage:
‘She says the “overwhelming majority” of missions the British drones are used for involve surveillance.
She says the MoD told her British drones are not being used for targeted assassinations, unlike the Predator drones used by the US in places such as Pakistan.
Estimates suggest CIA drone attacks in Pakistan killed up to 3,533 people between 2004 and 2013.….About 890 of them were civilians.’
What we don’t get are the figures for civilian casualties in Pakistan caused by the militants….50,000 civilians have been killed by the Taliban and other groups in the ‘Badlands of Pakistan’….Panorama last year tells us that…but the figure should also be on these reports about drones here and now to give context if the BBC is highlighting casualties caused by drones.
This is a political battle and the BBC has stepped right into it without much thought of the consequences…..a much more nuanced and indepth reporting is needed especially if they are going to give this story such a high profile….at the moment it seems the balance of publicity is in favour of the anti-drone campaign…but as this is tied up with militant Islamists perhaps a bit of circumspection is in order.
Here Maajid Nawaz, in the Sunday Times (pay walled) spells it out:
‘Counter-narratives must be disseminated and key facts – for instance, that more Muslims have died in Pakistan as a result of Taliban actions than American drones…must be widely publicised.’
Whilst the BBC is supposedly not a ‘propagandist’ it must be careful not to inadvertently give powerful support to jihadists and to do that it must give the fullest information possible under the obvious constraints of time and space. A counter-narrative? No, just the facts, all the facts.
Drones are not really the issue here……the Islamist attempt to close down military action against them so that they can continue their dreams of Caliphate in ‘peace’ is….
A dream reflected in Maajid Nawaz’s title of his article in the Sunday Times:
Boston, the latest triumph of a global jihad brand.