In the anarchic television comedy series, The Young Ones, Rik Mayall’s student rebel character would constantly berate anyone who upset him as a “fascist”. This would always get a huge laugh.
Shadow Foreign Secretary, Hilary Benn, in what the Tory press and the Blairite faction of the Labour Party described as a career-defining statesman-like speech, denounced Islamic State (ISIS) as “fascists” during the parliamentary debate on bombing Syria. He received cheers and applause. But when considered in the cold light of day, Benn’s assertion is just as absurd as Rik Mayall’s was and far more disingenuous.
ISIS, whom Benn insists on renaming as “Daesh”, dutifully following the Cameron script, has been carrying out mass rapes, public beheadings, burning prisoners alive, and eradicating what it sees as “pagan” cultures such as the destruction of the ancient monuments of Palmyra. Such vile atrocities are rightly denounced as “fascistic”, but ISIS does not constitute an immediate threat to world peace and civilisation as Hitler’s Germany did in the 1930s.
The comparison just does not stand up to close scrutiny. In reality, Benn’s emotive speech was calculated emotional blackmail and a cynical abuse of historical fact.
As has been widely documented by experienced correspondents such as Robert Fisk and Patrick Cockburn, ISIS has been incubated by the West and its regional Sunni allies in the Middle East as a means of supporting a sectarian war against the Shia population.
The group has been freely permitted to flourish for years with volunteers, funds and supplies given free access across the Turkish border to the ISIS stronghold in Raqqa.
NATO powers led by the US have sought to use ISIS as a tool to gain strategic advantage over Russia in Syria, just as they supported the mujahideen in Afghanistan against the Soviet Union in the 1970s.
Furthermore, ISIS is not at all unique as there are many jihadi terrorist groups such as the Al Nusra Front which are as equally unpleasant. Benn chose to ignore the threat posed by these groups, presumably because they are currently being rebranded as “moderate rebels” and have the backing of the UK’s regional allies.
While lauding the courage of the Kurds in resisting ISIS “on the ground”, Benn studiously avoided mentioning that those doing most of the serious fighting are led by the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) which was banned as a terrorist organisation by western governments after intense lobbying by Turkey.
Hilary Benn’s argument that ISIS poses a threat like the Nazis simply falls apart once it is admitted that there are similar threats from a diverse range of jihadi terrorist groups that cannot be dealt with by bombing from the air.
He deliberately ignored all these inconvenient truths in making his case for bombing Syria.
Benn even invoked the name of those who joined the International Brigade to fight Franco in Spain describing them as “socialists”, as many indeed were. Many were also Communists, which Benn somehow failed to mention.
The difference between Hilary Benn and the late Rik Mayall is that the latter was very funny and often made astute political remarks.
Hilary Benn seems to have no sense of humour at all. His understanding of history however is simply laughable.
To make the case for war on the basis of phoney historical parallels and half-truths besmirches the memory of all those who fought fascism. It is a quite disgusting exercise. A statesman? Don’t make me laugh!
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This post was written by David Morgan