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Opinion

Afghanistan collapse illustrates failed doctrine of interventionism

“Never fight a land war in Asia”. A prophetic quote, attributed to military figures throughout history such as Bernard Montgomery and Douglas MacArthur, and popularized in the 1987 movie The Princess Bride by the Scillian criminal Vizzini; “You’ve fell victim to one of the classic blunders! The most famous is never get involved in a land war in Asia”. 

This oracular quote has been further exemplified by events in Afghanistan in the last 10 days. After the full withdrawal of US troops from the country by the Biden administration in June, the Taliban, an Islamist movement and military organization, swept through the country, seizing the first provincial capital on 6 August, and seizing the capital, Kabul, within nine days. A 20-year military operation, globally coordinated, at the cost of billions of dollars, collapsed in the blink of an eye (in terms of the wide, sweeping nature of historical chronology). 

The Taliban began planning a nationwide offensive in May, coinciding with the US departure, and made their first moves on 9 July, laying the groundwork for the capture of Kabul, the final piece of the jigsaw. Taliban fighters captured land surrounding the western city of Herat, home to over 500,000, before completely surrounding the city within three days.

By 23 July, government, US-backed forces reclaimed land in the centre of the country, but between 5-11 August the Taliban had squeezed the city of Kandahar from the east and west, and made movements towards the city of Mazar-i-Sharif. 

The 13-15 August were the crucial days – huge swathes of northern and central land were easily seized by Taliban fighters, before Kabul was conquered fully by 16 August. Taliban fighters encircled the city, proclaiming a transfer of power would be peaceful and orderly. Fighting and looting soon broke out in the city, and the Taliban arrived not as invaders, but as policemen, to restore order as official statesmen.

It was revealed President Ashraf Ghani had fled to neighboring Tajikistan – with the country rapidly falling into lawlessness and anarchy. Taliban leader Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar subsequently declared himself President of the ‘Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan’ – a partially recognized state between 1996 and 2001 before the US-led invasion. 

The images of Afghani’s desperately clinging to a departing US Air Force jet are harrowing. The UN Refugee Agency estimates over 2,500,000 refugees have fled the country – this is an accumulative figure from over two decades of intermittent fighting. The Taliban appear poised to reinstate their governance of the nation in the late 1990s – a repressive, theocratic state based on ‘Sharia’ law – with little to no rights afforded to women and religious minorities.

This has prompted a crisis for the Afghani people, with hundreds of thousands fleeing their homes with only the clothes on their backs, and in a geopolitical sense for American and European leaders. How will the Taliban interact with NATO, what will their relationship be like with Iran and China, could fighting spill over into neighboring Pakistan? It is a worrying and highly disconcerting situation. 

These events provoke many damning questions. Was the US war in Afghanistan pointless? Is the country really doomed? Can any campaign of military interventionism be successful? 

Firstly, let’s look at the immense cost of the ‘War on Terror’. According to estimates from the Costs of War Project at Brown University, the US has spent over $2trillion in Afghanistan alone. This includes direct funding of over $800billion towards the invasion and fighting itself, plus an additional $83billion towards training the Afghan army. Brown University has also predicted this war debt will rise to an astonishing $6.5trillion by 2050 – equating to a cost of roughly $20,000 for every US citizen.

The loss of life has been huge too. The US lost 2,448 servicemen as of April 2021, as well as almost 4,000 civilian contractors. In terms of Afghan costs, more than 66,000 military and police personnel have lost their lives since 2001. In addition to this, 47,245 civilians have died in the country, as well as 51,191 Taliban (and other opposition) fighters. 

Was this really all for nothing? On the face of it, this 20 year campaign appears to be in vain – the country has collapsed in a matter of weeks, the Taliban turning back the clock to 2000 with relative ease, to the horror and bewilderment of the international community. 

However, it is worth noting certain interests have benefitted from the War in Afghanistan. Lockheed Martin, a US-based arms and defense company, have seen their profits and revenue consistently increase since this was first measured in 2005.

In 2005, the company’s total annual revenue amounted to $37.21billion. By 2012, this figure rose to $47.18billion, as US troop presence in the country rose in the same time from 19,000 to 76,000. By 2020, Lockheed Martin’s revenue rose to an all-time high of $65.39billion – the company is evidently benefiting financially from America’s military involvement in Afghanistan and other war-torn countries by selling equipment via lucrative contracts. 

The ‘military-industrial complex’ is a term that has been bandied about throughout history – outgoing President Dwight D. Eisenhower warned of the threats of such a complex in his farewell address: “we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military–industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists, and will persist.” Surely now this disastrous rise of misplaced power has reared its ugly head, to the cost of the Afghan people and thousands of US (and other nations) soldiers. 

Lockheed Martin also spends considerable sums of money “lobbying” – endorsing political candidates and funding campaigns to continue and increase their embeddedness in the political process. After spending just over $7,000,000 in 2001 on all lobbying-related activities, this sum grew to nearly $15,000,000 in 2008.

Despite decreasing to $13,000,000 in 2020, this is still a gargantuan amount directly channeled into promoting political candidates that have no interest in fully ending the War on Terror, and instead seek to continue the military operations due to purely financial interests.

This brings me to the next point; the bipartisanship of the Afghan War. Republican, Democract, it doesn’t really matter, the vested interests at the heart of the American executive process remain firmly submerged underneath the surface, churning out troops into Afghanistan, selling more military equipment, until the original goal of interventionism is almost forgotten and unknown. 

President Obama was elected as a fairly ‘dovish’ President in terms of military interventionism. He pledged to close Guantanamo Bay (which didn’t happen), refused to engage Gaddafi’s government in Libya militarily (he sent NATO bombers in instead), and pledged to end the US involvement in Afghanistan. Instead, troop levels in the country rose rapidly – from 30,000 in 2008 to 110,000 in 2011. Republicans and Democrats claim to vary on foreign policy and military interventionism – in reality, the aforementioned vested interests ensure this is merely an illusion. 

Perhaps it is also worth musing upon the inevitability of history to repeat itself – in the words of philosopher George Santayana, “those who do not learn history are doomed to repeat it”. In 1919, after the Emirate of Afghanistan invaded British India, British troops were deployed to the country to assist their Indian allies.

Despite outnumbering Afghan forces and possessing far greater military equipment, the British troops ran into various problems in their battles with the Afghans, under the command of Amanullah Khan. The 5,000 mile distance to London created a considerable delay in communications, and British troops severely struggled with the tough terrain, which the Afghans were accustomed to. After just 3 months and 2 days, the British Empire signed the Treaty of Rawalpindi, recognising Afghan independence, after a loss of 236 men, and a further 1,500 injuries. A diplomat of the era, Sir Hamilton Grant, described the affair as “the most meaningless, crazy and unnecessary war in history”.

It would be interesting to know what Grant thinks of the events of the last month in Afghanistan. Interventionism as a doctrine promotes freedom – freedom from oppression and totalitarianism, giving help and assistance to civilians in countries across the world unable to dislodge their dictatorial governments.

In reality, interventionism is nearly always futile. Billions are spent, lives are lost, progress is reverted, all in the blink of an eye. At the same time, the vested interests and lobbyist culture in America ensures the sliding doors continue to open and close, regardless of who is President, and regardless of what lessons history tries in vain to teach us.

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LRC Opinion

UK Traveller Community Facing Sustained Discrimination

In an era of multiculturalism and diversity in the UK, underscored by the recent government commissioned race report, and celebrated by Black History month in October and LGBT history month in February, one ethnic group has been sidelined and marginalized in society in recent decades.

The traveller community have faced persistent discrimination and predujice, measured in a range of factors. This has been further highlighted in the news cycle by two particular stories – Labour MP’s Charlotte Nichols recent party leaflet, and the implications of the new police powers bill.

But first, some background. It is estimated roughly 300,000 travellers live in the UK, including significant communities in the London boroughs of Harrow and Brent, some dating back to the 1850s. Under the Equality Act of 2010, travellers are considered a “protected characteristic”, forbidding discrimination based on ethnic origin, among other factors. 

Despite this, prejudice against travellers is commonplace in modern day Britain. A 2017 YouGov poll, published by advocacy group The Traveller Movement, exposed various negative and discriminatory societal views held against the community. Only a third (34%) of respondents (the wider public) consider travellers to be an ‘ethnic group’.

Only 41% would be happy for their child having a “playdate” at the home of a traveller friend, whilst 42% would be unhappy with a close-relative having a long-term relationship with a traveller.  Shockingly, 13% believe pubs should ban travellers from entry.

The same report, titled “The Last Acceptable Form of Racism?”, also summarized that 70% of travellers faced discrimination regarding education, 49% regarding employment, and 30% regarding healthcare. 55% had been refused services due to their ethnicity, whilst 77% had experienced hate speech or a hate crime. 76% had hid their ethnicity at some point to avoid further discrimination. 

This report is not wholly groundbreaking and instead reinforces long-held research evidencing pervasive attitudes of an anti-traveller culture. Nine out of ten children have suffered racial abuse. A 2004 report found the group were castigated as “unsightly, dirty, or unhygienic”. After 15-year-old traveller Jonny Delaney was attacked and killed in 2003, the judge refused to rule the killing as “racially motivated”.

In March, a whistleblower at holiday firm Pontins revealed a company “blacklist” of “undesirable guests” with mainly Irish surnames, investigated by the Equality and Human Rights Commission. Such practices were part of the company policy.

As mentioned, this discrimination has entered the news cycle in both a sharp and developing sense. Primarily, this occurred after a slip-up by Labour’s Charlotte Nichols, MP for Warrington North since 2019. Last week, Nichols was pictured with an official party leaflet in her constituency, detailing various policy aims. 

One of the bullet points listed “dealing with traveller incursions”. Incursions is defined by the Oxford Dictionary as “an invasion or attack, especially a sudden or brief one”. This language is clearly problematic and ostracizes travellers as a threatening and harmful group.

Nichols was criticized on social media, including by Green Party co-leader Jonathan Bartley as “vile and obviously racist”, demanding an  “apology and appropriate disciplinary action”. Nichols quickly offered an “unreserved apology” whilst Labour, typically portrayed as the party for diversity, promised to destroy the leaflets. Nichols said she was unaware of the “problematic definition” of the language used, but anyhow, it was a shocking PR move and a total blunder. 

Compounded to this, the various socioeconomic implications of the new police powers bill, a ’mammoth’ piece of legislation already embroiled in controversy and outrage, have damning effects for travellers. The bill includes a clause giving the police powers to seize vehicles, which could potentially encompass homes, and issue £2,500 fines, or 3 months imprisonment, for the offence of trespass. 

Trespass has traditionally been a civil offence in the UK, so this legal change has severe impacts for travellers across the country. A report by Friends, Families and Travellers concluded the bill “compounds inequalities”, “disproportionately affects minority ethnic groups”, and blamed a lack of space for travellers originally, slashed by the Conservatives, for the issues in the first place. 

Spokesperson Abbie Kirkby said “the cruelty is unfathomable, nobody should be imprisoned for the crime of having nowhere to go”.

In a society supposedly intent on rightfully celebrating and embracing multi-ethnicity and diversity, this is a serious shortfall. Two things would have to occur to swell this tide of discrimination.

Firstly, political parties must be better educated and regulated on party material containing language that is directly discriminatory to a group protected under the Equalities Act.

Secondly, provisions of the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill must be revised to protect the traveller community as an ethnic group, with greater consultation and dialogue. In this current culture and environment, whether either of these is feasible or attainable is another question entirely. 

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INTERVIEWS

Boris Johnson Is A Fucking Cunt: Exclusive Interview

The Christmas number one has become a long-standing tradition in the music industry and has infiltrated wider British culture – first formatted in 1952, it has been claimed by legendary artists such as Elvis Presley, The Beatles, Queen and Michael Jackson throughout the decades. 

Winners of The X Factor have also typically enjoyed success in this festive race – particularly between 2005 and 2010. Listeners keenly tune in on Christmas Eve to discover the winner of the tightly-contested race – with fan classics competing with newer tracks, unexpected outsiders, and talent show winners. 

2020 was very different. The coronavirus pandemic has greatly altered the practices of the music industry – artists are no longer able to tour or perform live to earn an income, and are more reliant on social media to promote and distribute their music. 

Fans have become used to tuning into YouTube to watch their favourite artists perform – the roles of Facebook and Twitter have become far more central too. 

A Guardian report in November, quoting figures from UK Music, predicted a loss of £3billion to the music industry across the year – the same report also estimated an 85% slump in the live music sector, with job losses of up to 170,000.

Furthermore, the public mood was not one of traditional festive cheer and jubilance. The public are frustrated and stressed, bored and fearful, uninspired and exasperated. 

According to YouGov, whilst 72% of the public believed the government was handling the pandemic “very” or “somewhat” well on 27th March, 11 days after the first national lockdown was imposed,  this figure effectively halved to 37% on January 19 this year. In mid-September, this figure was meandering around a low of 30%.

Feelings of “frustration” increased from 35% in March 2020 to 46% in January this year, a similar trend was evident in feelings of “happiness” – falling from 50% to 34% in the same period. “Boredom” also nearly doubled from 21% to 40%. 

With his political style of constant U-turns, cronyism, and delaying decision-making until it is almost always too late, Boris Johnson has been the subject of a huge amount of this public dissatisfaction. Whilst 55% of the public believed he was “competent” in April 2020, this figure fell to 34% this month. Almost exactly contrarily, views of “incompetence” increased from 31% to 52% in the same period. 

Also, whilst 28% of the public believed Boris was “indecisive” in April 2020, this increased to 69% this month, whilst those believing he was acting “decisively” fell from 58% to 21% in the same timeframe. 

Amongst this backdrop of public malaise and anguish, and unprecedented changes to the way consumers interact with artists and consume music, The Kunts rereleased “Boris Johnson Is A Fucking Cunt” from their July album “Kunts Punk In Your Face” on 10th December.

Credit: xsnoize.com

Just 81 seconds, and containing only 8 words repeated in a catchy hook, the song reached 5th in the Official UK Charts at Christmas, and was the 20th best selling single of 2020. 

As of right now, the song has been streamed on Spotify nearly 7,500,000 times, has spawned several remixes featuring other high-profile public figures, and was endorsed by Black Mirror creator Charlie Brooker. 

With zero TV or radio coverage, and without the help from a promotion company or record label, the song represented a howl of pain from the public and a desire to spin the usually light-hearted Christmas race to a vote of no confidence in Boris, especially after the late-notice cancelling of Christmas household mixing provisions, and the introduction of Tier 4 restrictions across the south. 

The song has also come to represent the strength of people power and collective action in the post-COVID music industry, capitalizing off the pure contagion of a social media campaign to propel the song into the top 5. In the words of the Kunt himself,  ‘the whole campaign cost a tenner’.

I spoke to the man behind the act (who made it clear he wanted to be referred to as ‘Kunt’) about the history of the track, promoting the song, and his wider views on the political state of Britain in 2020. 

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Before entering the musical world, Kunt spent several years working for his local council, “putting some tiles around a sink, fixing a broken toilet in a youth centre”, and it was these mundane tasks that “generated the (song) ideas and gave the ideas a chance to percolate” 

“I’d go home, work on the song, then the following day when you’re back working and doing things, the ideas come through like that. I’d normally get a melody, or an idea of the topic of the song, and then go and write the music on the computer, and record it from there”.

When asked whether his experiences working for the council has shaped his own politics at all, Kunt gave a mixed response. One huge issue for him was the bureaucracy and level of waste in local government. 

“I could see there were lots of ineffective people, something that shocked me was the amount of waste. One of the worst wastes of money was if you needed a lightbulb changing, you had to call in the contractors. The contractors charge £60 of taxpayers money just for some bloke to come in, change a lightbulb, have a cup of tea, and go again”.

“The council had money leaking out of it left, right and centre, and you’d see them spend £1,000s on equipment that they didn’t really want or need, just so they didn’t get their budget cut for the next year”.

“When you think of all the money that’s gone down the drain on red-tape and bureaucracy, that could’ve been channeled into having a proper health service”.

Kunt admits there is no easy fix to this issue: “No-one is prepared to go to ‘year zero’. People are scared of change. It’s like the people who were employed by Michael Jackson. They know something wrong’s going on, but they’re worried about their jobs so they keep quiet and no-one says anything”. 

In July last year, The Kunts released That’s Why I Voted Brexit, from their 10-track EP Kunts Punk In Your Face, which Kunt revealed was originally entitled That’s Why I Voted UKIP. This marked the band’s first foray into music with a clear political spin, as opposed to previous crude and light-hearted tunes such as Fucksticks and Use My Arsehole as a Cunt that built the bands following over several decades. 

“It was just about the ridiculousness of looking at people with foreign cultures and being scared of things that are different. I think a lot of the reason we left the EU was to do with fear of anything different. People are scared, I don’t even know what they’re scared of. I even had friends talking about ‘taking back control’, that slogan Cummings made up, and I thought ‘fuck, it’s actually worked!”

As a band with only two songs entering the top 70, in 2010 and 2011, Kunt was hugely surprised by the popularity of the song, both in terms of the charts, and wider public reception.

“As someone who’s been making music for 30 years with no success, I was surprised. I was really fucking surprised”. 

“A mate of mine, Jon Morter, who was behind the Rage Against the Machine campaign to go up against the X Factor 10 years ago, he sent me a message saying ‘Fucking hell mate, nice one!”

“I said ‘maybe we’ll just give it a go’, and release it in the run-up to Christmas. The week before, it was quite quiet, and I thought ‘I’m not really sure anything is gonna happen’. The minute I went with the release, my fans went really proactive and started spreading it – it was like COVID in that every person had a good R number, and it spread from there”

“It was completely people power. There was no promotion budget, no record label, no promotional company, it was just me, in lockdown, doing it from the shed at the end of my garden. I was so short of time, working the social media, doing 14 hour days just to keep up”.

“When Boris cancelled Christmas halfway through the week, I thought ‘fucking hell, he’s doing my promo for me!”

However, the Kunt’s sentiments regarding Boris and what he represents are not new at all. 

“I thought Boris was a fucking cunt a long time ago, a long time before the lockdowns, and a long time before he cancelled Christmas”.

In fact, Kunt draws certain parallels between his own musical act and Boris’ political style. 

“This is my whole live act – if you can deliver quite offensive, hard-hitting things, but you can do it in the style of a kids presenter, people get on board with it and take it as a joke. I think Boris has made a whole career out of that – he looks ridiculous, he acts like a buffoon, but actually, he’s got really sinister undertones”.

“I actually think the guy’s a psychopath and a compulsive liar, and someone who isn’t actually in control of what comes out of his mouth, and then he just bats it away, and he gets away with it”.

When asked whether or not Boris has in fact made any correct decisions throughout the course of the pandemic, the Kunt struggled. “I feel like he always seems to get it wrong somehow. I just don’t know how he does it, he’s like a fucking magician, he waves his hand, and everyone has forgotten about it”. 

“We’ve got the 3rd worst per capita death rate in the world. I don’t know how much worse he could’ve done. I never really considered this to be a political song, I just presumed everyone would think he’s a fucking clown”.

In fact, it hasn’t just been Boris who has been subject to The Kunts musical wrath. Throughout last month, the band released various remixes – targeting figures such as Xi Jinping, Matt ‘Wankcock’ Hancock, Prince Andrew and Donald Trump.

“I thought calling Xi Jinping was a ‘fucking cunt’ was justified because he’s a fascist dictator. Prince Andrew is a dodgy, sweaty cunt as well”.

There was also a Jimmy Saville remix (The BBC Turn A Blind Eye To It Mix), and I asked the Kunt about his views regarding the BBC. The Beeb did not play the song at all throughout the promotional campaign, despite the band releasing a ‘clean’ version – with expletives replaced by “sausage roll”.

“Throughout the whole campaign, the BBC didn’t mention it once. It got mentioned in the chart rundown, there was a clean version they could’ve played, but there was clearly some directive at the BBC to blackout on it, because it was too uncomfortable to deal with”.

“The BBC produces a lot of good content, but I don’t know why we have to fund it now. Also the idea that they’re completely politically neutral, I just don’t buy it. I just think it’s an institution for a bygone era, and it needs breaking up and sorting out. I’m not saying I’ve got the answer to it, I’m just some bloke that makes songs in his shed”. 

Kunt also took aim at Facebook and Twitter, which were central in his promotional campaign and granting the band a platform to spread and distribute their music. 

“I miss the days of MySpace, the internet was more naive then. When people wanted to become a fan of your music, there were no algorithms in place to stop the people that wanted to connect with you being able to do so”.

“It was a much more free arena to express yourself. For example, when I was doing the Boris Johnson song, I had lots of people tell me they were serving Twitter bans just for posting in the name of the song, because of hate speech.”

“If you call your friend a ‘cunt’, it’s not something of great offence, it’s a term of endearment and could be used for 100 different reasons, but the social media platforms can’t pick up the nuances of conversation, and things kind of get shut down”

“I feel monetization has been a real killer of creativity and has stopped some things that were really good finding an audience. I’m so old and out-of-date I’ve not even worked out why TikTok is a thing, what the appeal of it is, I haven’t really got my head around it.”

In terms of the future, Kunt hopes to return to his older style of music, and feels he has somewhat exhausted the political avenue. 

“I wasn’t really interested in politics for a long time, it’s only really been in the last few years that politics has interested me, I’m very late to the party.”

“It was fun to do for a while, but I can see it becoming quite wearing. I’m not saying I’m going to give up the political spin, because once you’ve had your eyes open to how rotten the whole system is, you’ve got to do something. But I think the next lot of stuff will be a return to the old Kunts”.

Furthermore, Kunt admitted the promotional campaign for the song became quite draining. 

“I don’t like promoting things. My favourite thing is to sit here at the computer, fiddling around with songs, and making albums. When it comes to promoting them, you always feel like you’re selling a bit of yourself”

“When people are fed up with it, they’re fed up with you, so I don’t want to be that bloke because that’s not what I’m about, I’m about making songs that make me laugh and hopefully make a few other people laugh as well.”

Kunt has spent this lockdown performing a live show every Saturday, recording a song everyday, and watching Cobra Kai. “As someone firmly stuck in the 80s, it’s fucking great to see this bloke who’s also stuck in the 80s and an even more flawed character than me. Love it.”

At the end our conversation, Kunt warned me “not to stitch him up” with this article. I really enjoyed speaking to the man behind the song – a valuable insight into the promotional campaigns behind viral hits, and a microcosm of the public political mood over Christmas.