Wednesday, 18 November 2015


I rather like Michael Rosen's summary of a particularly lamentable piece of post-Paris-massacre punditry, when LBC's Iain Dale trumped the various points raised by callers to his radio phone-in by coming back to a rhetorical question about whether "Britain"/"we" had the "stomach" to take action against ISIS.

I've no problem with people stating that the UK should/shouldn't do thing x [insert specific course of action here] to stop, or hinder, ISIS. That would be an actual argument you could engage with.

I do have a problem with content-free responses to real problems. Wondering out loud whether "we" have the stomach to confront ISIS isn't a plan. It's not even a wish-list. It's just a bit of empty-headed mouth-flapping by somebody who who hasn't got anything much to say about anything, except how "tough" and "serious" he, personally, is.*

Honestly, guys, I think we can just take "stomach" as read in most situations and cut to the whys and hows. My stomach tells me that I'd like to go to the corner shop and buy a chocolate bar. The way to resolve this situation is to come up with a workable plan, involving things like getting my backside off the sofa and putting some shoes on, rather than telling everybody in the room how seriously determined I am to face up to the confectionery deficit threat.

If you haven't got anything to say, why not just keep quiet and leave some bandwidth free for people who might contribute something approaching a point? People like Colin Freeman in the Telegraph, who's been thinking about one specific element of the problem:
So how is it then, that weapons normally associated with the most violent parts of Africa and the Middle East find their way onto Europe's streets?

The short answer is that Europe is where many of these weapons were made in the first place, courtesy of the vast arms factories that proliferated in eastern Europe during the Cold War, and whose products spilled all over the Balkans during the civil war in the 1990s.

Unlike the Soviet Bloc's other deadly armaments legacy – nuclear weapons – Kalashnikovs do not quietly crumble with age or become obsolete. They are as durable as they are user-friendly, and an Ak-47 made in 1985 will be as lethal today as it was when it was used during the war in Bosnia.

Today, it is a commonplace to hear of these weapons being for sale in black markets across Eastern Europe, where many countries are still struggling with the gangster-smuggling militias that sprung up in the wake of Communism's collapse and the Balkans civil wars.
In Albania alone, for example, it's estimated that half a million weapons were pillaged from state depots following the collapse of the government in 1997. And in the likes of Serbia and Montenegro, a tradition still prevails in many rural areas that no home is complete without a gun.
Getting rid of all of those illegal guns may be still at the wish-list rather than than the plan stage, but at least it's informed, engages with facts, defines an actual part of the problem and communicates something more than the pundit's own self-importance. That, Mr Dale (and your fellow over-communicators) is what a useful contribution looks like.

*Unless, that is, what Iain Dale is signalling is his actual intention to display an out-of-the-ordinary level of personal stomach, such as putting on a tin hat and a flak jacket to go off and fight alongside the Peshmerga. In which case:
  1. I take it all back, you're a braver man than I am, sir.
  2. Good. Luck. With. That.