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Police investigate at Leytonstone station after three people were stabbed on December 5: The attacker reportedly shouted “This is for Syria” (©Tolga Akmen/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

There is a convention in British journalism that whenever the House of Commons holds a long debate on a matter of war, it is said to have “risen to the occasion”. MPs are then ordinarily reported to have shown the depth, breadth and “considerable experience” of the House. But the day-long debate in December over whether British planes should join the multinational coalition against Islamic State in Syria showed no such thing. It showed a deracinated, easily distracted and strikingly fearful chamber — in other words a chamber that perfectly reflected the nation at large.

Not the least of the bad signs was how self-absorbed the House had become. Rather than debating the serious issue of international terrorism or putting British pilots in harm’s way over Syria, opposition parties repeatedly complained about a reported remark of the Prime Minister’s on the eve of the debate when he was said to have described those opposed to Britain joining air strikes against IS in Syria as “terrorist sympathisers”. Given that the Labour party is now led by two men who have spent decades supporting, honouring and hosting terrorist groups ranging from the IRA to Hamas and Hezbollah this description was not such an outrageous fiction as Labour MPs among others portrayed it to be. Nevertheless, each took it in turns to express their hurt over the nomenclature.

But even this did not exemplify the self-absorption of the House so much as its preening wordplay over what to call the enemy. Not three weeks after IS’s men had slaughtered 130 people and wounded many more in Paris, the House of Commons seemed less concerned over how to avenge our friends in France (or our own citizens slaughtered by IS months earlier on a beach in Tunisia) than they were about avoiding offence. This was personified in the form of a new and otherwise obscure Conservative MP called Rehman Chishti. In response to the rise of IS this young member has been trying to make his name by petitioning politicians, the media and especially the BBC, to call IS “Daesh”. The fact that “Daesh” simply means IS in Arabic makes it a fatuous demand. The claim that IS dislike being called Daesh because it sounds like something rude in Arabic makes it pathetic. Perhaps Chishti and Co think we can “bait” IS into submission?

So up he popped during the Prime Minister’s opening statement and was credited by Mr Cameron with persuading him that it is indeed “time to join our key ally France, the Arab League, and other members of the international community in using as frequently as possible the terminology Daesh rather than ISIL”. Equally importantly the government instructed all of its members to refer to the group by this new formulation — a formulation which had the advantage of giving everyone an instant patina of knowledge. Many needed it.

During the debate the Scottish National Party leader in Westminster, Angus Robertson (representing a grouping whose foreign policy thinking has rarely stretched beyond Berwick-upon-Tweed), struggled to demonstrate much insight, but right on cue gave way again to Chishti. He honoured Chishti’s campaign, and noted across the floor what an important intervention it was. From thenceforth almost everybody talked of “Daesh” or “ISIL-Daesh”. Some tried a vaguely Arabic accent, as though pretending they could speak Arabic. Others, aspiring to the same impression, satisfied everyone with a glottal stop. All were aware that were they to err they might not only provoke the jack-in-the-box Chishti but the ire of the whole House. Paris had burned and in response Westminster quibbled.

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July 27th, 2016
5:07 PM
Most people will believe only what they want to believe, only what it is right for them to believe. Never underestimate the human capacity for self-deception.

July 26th, 2016
4:07 PM
Why are the above comments stamped as December 21, 2015 when the piece was published in January/February 2016?

Peter from scotland
January 20th, 2016
7:01 PM
clear thinking and honesty about the most important issue of our time. It is depressing and worrying that so few in the media and government seem to see what is in front of them or distract themselves with trivia and made up stories that make them feel better. I agree about the SNP and parochialism- the issues seems too big for them.

Jonathan G
January 10th, 2016
3:01 AM
The most disgusting thing about the #illridewithyou hashtag that 'went viral' during the Sydney Seige at the Lindt cafe was that this occurred *during* the seige. This was while the hostages had to hold the Shahada flag up to the window while the maniac swung his gun around threatening them. *Perhaps* there was a good sentiment about the hashtag when used in a specific context, but I think the 'viral' spreading of it had a nasty undertone of a) the *real* victimes here are Muslims in Australia, not the people with a gun to their head; and b) Australians are on the verge of carrying out a pogrom at a moments notice. As it happened, my brother's boyfriend - a Singaporean -ethnically Arab- Muslim (yes, gay Muslims exist, but only in private) was due to come over to my family dinner the following day. I was worried about some sort of backlash and that he (and my brother) could be attacked on public transport - mainly because of his obviously Arab appearance and obvious homosexual campness. But I'm certain that the #illridewithyou did not extend to him. It's not about the protection of vulnerable people, it's more of a Twitterati demonstration of guilt, self-hatred, and a statement of one's own progressive-multiculturalism and solidarity with 'oppressed' peoples.

December 27th, 2015
6:12 PM
The problem is worse than even Murray realises. He too is prone to making apologetic statements when he's outnumbered by lefties on a TV studio couch. He also makes the mistake of banking on our intellects waking up to the kumbaya lemon the Left have sold us for decades. Political correctness has stripped us of critical faculty upon which all our prior success was based. It's not our intellects that will power a fightback to islamisation, it's our instincts that will save us.

December 27th, 2015
1:12 PM
An excellent, well reasoned article. Two things spring to mind, there are many people who hope the problem will go away if we in the west stop fighting back and declare ourselves to be terrible and admit our guilt - it won't happen, the Islamic terrorists will just carry on with their aim to destroy western culture. Second, until western governments recognise we will have to fight their beliefs at home, we will remain vulnerable to constant attacks.

Isaac Brajtman
December 26th, 2015
11:12 AM
Please send this article to all the major press in every country,then maybe THE PEOPLE will wake up. In Israel the Palestinian (Moslem) leaders encourage stabbing and crashing cars into civilians. When they are shot the press reports " a Palestinian was killed by Israeli soldiers or police", and then the statement "after he stabbed 2 or 3 civilians " Something radical needs to be done on university campuses, were young students are attracted to extreme left views and in many cases attacking those who don't agree with them It has been said that if you are not a socialist when you are 20 , you have no heart. If you are still a socialist when you are 50, you have no brain

George Layne
December 21st, 2015
7:12 PM
impeccable analysis Douglas! I was unaware that the stories regarding the woman taking off her headscarf and the security guard were fabrications. I had - as many people did - noticed the tendency for mainstream media after such atrocities to latch on to stories that show Muslim's in a good light. The fact that these stories were false shows a fanatical desperation to achieve this. I'm also glad you noticed the mass hysteria in and out of parliament regarding the airstrikes. I know a guy who said he was so appalled by the governments decision to 'bomb civilians' as he stated, that he was going to leave England! His reaction was not only over-the-top, but his analysis of the situation was completely wrong! Unfortunately, he is typical of people on the left at the moment. Keep up the good work!

December 21st, 2015
1:12 PM
Such an enlightened thinker, such a gifted writer Mr Murray is. Beautifully phrased article, such gripping and shattering structure when you read through the text, how you're just struck by one despairing fact after another, like ominous pearls on a sting crafted by an insightful Cassandra, that if it wasn't the absurd and despondent reality we are amidst, at this very moment, today, one could take Mr. Murray's talented reporting and wording for an excerpt from a tragic novel about decline and fall; the unwillingness to do anything, stand for anything; a nation, a country, a culture not defeated but dispirited; no longer capable or up for it. This goes for the rest of Europe and Western civilization as well. Look at Canada. Look at Sweden. I find it odd wanting to praise Mr Murray for his obvious talent and inexplicable appreciated voice to a great deal of people, both in writing and in speech, I find it odd wanting to do that because your mind looks for superlatives and adjectives in the box of beauty, which seems silly constructing, when in fact you've just read an article about our reality, that made one feel a Kafkaesque impotence, a speechlessness, as we all are lead - willfully or forced - on our way to dire times ahead of us.

December 21st, 2015
12:12 PM
Thanks Douglas. I first heard of you last week while listening to a podcast by Sam Harris. Great article and good point regarding the wordplay. We must watch what we say, we don't want to offend the Muslims and we certainly don't want to put them all in the same basket as the Islamic terrorists. Even though, mind you, the Islamic terrorists not only put all non-Muslims and even other Muslims in the same basket but then go about slaughtering them. But no, don't blame Muslims or Islam about that. Political correctness is a useless waste of time and actually a serious hindrance when dealing with such a miserable foe.

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