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9 July 2015

Greece and the Cuban missile crisis, prats and terrorists, the Saudis and Isis, and hot Aussies

Referendums are in fashion: let’s have one every year, preceded by a referendum on what it should be about. I am serious.

By Peter Wilby

My late mother used to say that there’s only a right and a wrong and it’s a poor fool that can’t get either. But this poor fool still doesn’t know whether he got it right or wrong on Greece. Three weeks ago, I predicted an indefinitely delayed “crunch point” – because all other scenarios spelled disaster for EU leaders and the Syriza government alike – and put my money where my mouth (or pen) was by immediately ordering my holiday euros, expecting the price to rise when the current crisis ended. I resigned myself to being wrong as Greece went over the brink but, as I write, it seems it may yet clamber back to precarious safety. It’s all very unnerving, like watching the standoff between the US and Soviet Russia over Cuba in 1962, during which I entered a cinema, I recall, wondering if anyone would be alive when I came out. The stakes are somewhat lower now, but it would be nice to have reassurance that the theory of mutually assured destruction still works.


The colour of terrorism

James and Adele Hope-Urwin, the Guardian reported, were among those on the beach at Sousse, Tunisia, when the horrific attack that killed some 30 Britons began. Explaining why they wouldn’t cut short their holiday, James said: “If it was a whole uprising or rebellion, of course we would worry more, but it’s just one prat.”

In those words lies more sense than we have heard from any British politician. It is assumed, on scant evidence, that the perpetrator of the Sousse attack, the man who beheaded his ex-employer near Lyons and the suicide bomber who killed 27 at a Kuwaiti mosque were all linked to, inspired by and possibly trained by Islamic State. David Cameron detects “an existential threat” and predicts the “struggle of our generation”. British Muslims, he instructs, must “stand up” against extremism. Schoolteachers, as if they didn’t have enough to do, must check classrooms for future terrorists.

A week before the Sousse outrage, two white British 16-year-olds were convicted of plotting to blow up Buckingham Palace and parliament. Such cases are not uncommon. In 2010, a 42-year-old white supremacist Briton, who ran “an Aryan Strike Force” that trained in Cumbria and, with his 19-year-old son, circulated bomb-making advice on the internet, was convicted of producing a chemical weapon. In 2009, a 44-year-old neo-Nazi was convicted of planning a bombing campaign. I could cite several other cases. Nothing came of them, but then, with a single exception (which resulted in the murder of Fusilier Lee Rigby), nothing has come of any similar Islamist-inspired enterprise in the UK since 2005.

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Like the Norwegian Anders Behring Breivik and the alleged perpetrator of the recent Charleston outrage (see Helen Lewis’ column), white people who plan or carry out mass murder are generally treated as ­discrete examples of disturbed behaviour. If the cases are reported at all – and they rarely get much media attention – nobody talks of existential threats or generational struggles. “White communities” are not accused (to borrow Cameron’s words about “Muslim communities”) of “quietly condoning” extremist ideology by, say, calling for less immigration or more traditional “British values”. If teachers try to root out potential racists in infants’ classes, as they are now required to root out potential jihadists, they are accused of “political correctness”.

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James Hope-Urwin made a category error. “Just one prat” are the words we use for a white killer. A brown-skinned killer is always “a terrorist”.


The Saudi caliphate

The suicide bomber in Kuwait was, it is ­reported, of Saudi nationality. If we are talking about Muslim communities “quietly condoning” extremist ideology and thereby breeding jihadists, it is hard to beat Saudi Arabia. Since Saudi rulers run their country roughly on the lines that Isis proposes to run its caliphate, and do a deal of beheading, too, it is not clear that they even disagree significantly with Isis methods. Why, then, did Cameron’s government order Whitehall flags to be flown at half-mast when the Saudi king died in January?


Referendums are chic

Last week, I proposed two referendums on the EU: first, to ask if we wanted to stay in on the present terms (which include the Social Chapter) and second, if the answer is No (though mine would be Yes), to ask if we approve reforms negotiated by Cameron. Now it is reported that Boris Johnson also wants two referendums but, in his case, so that we can reject the outcome of Cameron’s initial negotiations and send him back to Brussels to extract more concessions. For obvious reasons, I am not keen on this idea, but what the hell. Referendums are in fashion: let’s have one every year, preceded by a referendum on what it should be about. I am serious. Those who warn of the return of capital punishment or a complete ban on immigration have less faith in democracy and reasoned argument than I do.


Heat from the Ashes

After the thrilling matches against New Zealand, cricket followers feel more optimistic about the forthcoming Ashes series against Australia. I advise lower expectations. New Zealand are not Australia – and, lest you’ve forgotten, we didn’t beat them in the Test series anyway. The former England captain Michael Atherton wrote that, to the NZ captain, Brendon McCullum, “cricket is important but not the be-all and end-all”. McCullum can take that view because most New Zealanders don’t care much about cricket, rugby being their national sport. Australians care deeply about the Ashes particularly.

We can hope, however, for a long heatwave. Australia’s likely starting XI has seven players aged 33 or more; England’s has only one of that age (Ian Bell is just 33) and five players of 25 or under. How wonderful if the Australians lost because they couldn’t stand the heat of an English summer.