Saturday, 15 April 2017

5 Simple Security Tests

Whenever political leaders come forward with vital actions that must be taken for the sake of “our security”, here are 5 simple tests to gauge if they are actually concerned about anyone’s safety:

[1] Does carrying out airstrikes against a foreign country make us safer when that country is neither attacking nor posing a direct threat to us?
If the argument is that we should bomb regimes that launch military attacks against their civilians, should we not rethink when our bombs end up killing their civilians too? And if the safety of those civilians is the real objective, why do people such as Trump order airstrikes which endanger them, but deny asylum for refugees seeking sanctuary from their own government’s deadly attacks? Furthermore, airstrikes are not only far more expensive than humanitarian support, they fuel radicalisation and thus weaken our security.

[2] Should refugees from the Middle East be kept away from the West because they pose a genuine terrorist threat? Are there not real threats to our lives that require much greater attention?
Based on mortality figures, population data, and records of terrorist incidents in the US, it has been estimated that the chance of being killed by a refugee terrorist in the US is 1 in 46,192,893. By comparison, one is 260 times more likely to be struck and killed by lightning; 129,000 times more likely to be fatally shot in a non-terrorist related gun assault; and 6,900,000 times more likely to die from cancer or heart disease [Note 1]. So does it make sense for the US government to spend around $500 million to save one life through its anti-terrorism programs, but only $10,000 to save one life through cancer research? [Note 2]

[3] Must a policy banning visits by foreign nationals be supported just because it is put forward in the name of ‘security’, or should it be held back if its design has little to do with security, and more with personal business interests?
The Trump Administration has tried and tried again to block entry for people travelling to the US from Syria, Iran, Yemen, Sudan, Somalia and Yemen, even though not a single terrorist attack on US soil since the 1970s has been committed by anyone from these countries. By contrast, 15 of the 19 hijackers who carried out the 9/11 atrocities were from Saudi Arabia, with the rest from the UAE, Lebanon and Egypt, and none of these countries was included in Trump’s proposed ban – what they do have in common in addition to their terrorist connections is that, unlike the countries targeted by the ban, the Trump Organisation has business interests in them [Note 3].

[4] Should we allocate public funds in proportion to the degrees of life-threatening dangers we face, or spend large amounts on what can be most sensationally covered in the media?
We are told that Western governments are under pressure to cut public spending on health and other safety matters (such as rough-sleeping or domestic violence), but they have spent a vast amount tackling terrorism since 2001 – the US budget for this area alone accounts for over two trillion dollars. In the UK, despite repeated government claims about austerity constraints, anti-terrorism measures continue to be expanded with financial and legislative resources. According to one report, the average annual deaths from terrorism in the UK was 5 compared with over 17,000 annual deaths from accidents [Note 4]. But aren’t accidents by their very nature unpreventable? Far from it, the UK has for decades had the safest roads in Europe with its excellent road safety initiatives. But since the government started cutting the budgets for police and traffic management, road deaths have risen by 4%, the first rise since 1997 [Note 5].

[5] Should we focus our resources and public warnings on atrocities committed by those drawn to Islamic extremism, and pay less attention to the greater number of killings carried out by other extremists?
For example, in the US, in the 15 years since the 9/11 attacks, 26 people have been killed by self-proclaimed jihadists, but almost twice as many were murdered by white supremacists, antigovernment fanatics and other non-Muslim extremists [Note 6]. Does it make any sense to go along with the Trump Administration’s promise to change the government’s ‘Countering Violent Extremism’ program, and make it focus exclusively on threats from Islamic extremism, ignoring the violence and killings committed by other groups, to the extent that when a white supremacist murdered a black American in New York as part of a planned racist killing spree, Trump would not acknowledge, let alone condemn, the attack? [Note 7]

Note 1. Source:
Note 2. Source:
Note 3. Another country that is not covered by the ban is Turkey, even though the state department has warned about “an increase in anti-American rhetoric [that] has the potential to inspire independent actors to carry out acts of violence against US citizens.” Trump has several business interests in Turkey, earning him up to £6 million a year. Source:
Note 4. The only comparable cause of 5 deaths a year is being killed by stings from wasps and bees. Source:
Note 5. Source:
Note 6. Source:
Note 7. Source:

Saturday, 1 April 2017

The Art of Not Playing God

It’s a curious fact of life that those who are prone to tell others ‘not to play god’ have no problem with assuming the role of divine dictator whenever it suits them.

Perhaps they alone know the secret rationale of when godly powers may be taken up by mere mortals, and when it is forbidden. And the few blessed with eventual access to the promised land, will one day understand how seemingly absurd and arbitrary injunctions can somehow turn out to make perfect sense. Until then, who are we to question the genius behind instructions such as these:

Do not play god and withhold medical intervention to let someone exit a life of unendurable pain; but do play god and refuse to pay for a life-saving drug because, frankly, it is too expensive.

Do not play god and punish those who swindle others to enrich themselves, especially when they repent on television; but do play god and penalise those who are in love with someone of the same sex.

Do not play god and terminate a fertilised human egg even if the mother’s life would otherwise be at risk; but do play god and execute anyone a group of fallible mortals have judged to have taken someone else’s life.

Do not play god and make the rich take more responsibility for the plight of others; but do play god and tell the poor that unless they can get a job, they are to starve.

Do not play god and meddle with genetics and create new forms of organic life with no intelligence; but do play god and embark on endless advancement in the development of robots and artificial intelligence.

Do not play god and send aid to countries where the people have not sorted out their own problems; but do play god and bomb other countries if they do not sort out their problems.

It’s possible that we have not quite got the instructions stated correctly. After all, we have not been properly initiated into the art of not playing god. Maybe we should wait until we are chosen to be inducted. But when we hear voices in our heads, how do we know if that is the supreme benevolent being speaking to us, or some evil trickster or an inner delusion? Besides, would not any attempt to declare that one can absolutely tell the difference be bordering on playing god?