Question Time 26th August 2021
James Cleverly (Conservative)
Lisa Nandy (Labour)
Rory Stewart (Former diplomat and author)
Nelufar Hedayat (Broadcaster)
Mehdi Hasan (Broadcaster)
Puffins will be relieved to hear that, as the new season begins, your humble reviewer is still the oldest hacker in the seven-a-side wendyball team. As ever, there remains one more year in these old legs whose knees now have an impressive combined age of 116. But he has been transferred to Wednesdays. The good people of the blue and white half of Sheffield need not worry. They need not burn their season tickets, at least not on my account. I have been transferred from the Monday night team to the Wednesday night team and in the excitement forgot about the clash with Wednesday’s Question Time Afghanistan Special. An intelligence failure worthy of General T.A. Wellington-Tugendhat VC of the 9th Pins in Maps Afghan Lancers.
In the latitude allowed to long-suffering QT watchers and the oldest hacker in the team, and given that Farage’s GB News Pints of View is repeats while Nigel holidays, are we allowed to review QT late and via the iPlayer? I think we are.
One of the Perth and Kinross Stewarts, Roderick (Rory) James Nugent Stewart OBE FRSGS FRSL is the son of the late Brian Thomas Webster Stewart CMG, a Normandy veteran, diplomat and colonial official whose batman needed a good flogging.
Rory was educated at the Dragon School, Oxford, and Eton College before graduating from Balliol College, Oxford, taking a short commission in the Black Watch and following his father into the diplomatic corps. Along with his very pleasant but dippy wife, he also became a minor, passing acquaintance of your humble author when MP for Penrith and the Border between 2010 and 2019. During which time he described those he represented as:
People holding up their trousers with bits of twine and that sort of thing. I was in one village where a local kid was run over by a tractor. They took him to Carlisle but they couldn’t be bothered to wait at the hospital. So they put him in a darkened room for two weeks then said he was fine. But I’m not so sure he was.
One should encourage the mildly eccentric. They are entertaining, good for morale and can be gifted with creative out of the box thinking. However, there is a line to be drawn between eccentricity and being as mad as a box of frogs in a microwave oven. A line that rubber boot faced butler in a horror film Mr Stewart tiptoes along as a knife-edge.
A close family friend was a constituent. One night, on the phone, Rory happened to mention his wife was having a baby.
“Oh, congratulations Rory! How lovely. Yourself and Shoshana will make wonderful parents. Do you know if it’s a boy or a girl yet?”
“In about 15 minutes,” replied the Old Etonian, “she’s having it on the bathroom floor while I take my calls.”
An arch Remainer, Rory lost the Tory whip and his seat in 2019 and is currently pursuing a career in academia as a Senior Fellow at Jackson Institute for Global Affairs, Yale University.
On Afghanistan, questioned by a small and socially distanced audience of about 25, Mr Stewart used words such as “reckless” and “shameful” to describe the present retreat. Why leave at all he wondered? The Americans have been in South Korea for seventy years. There was only a light western military footprint in Afghanistan of about 2500 soldiers. Combat operations had finished in 2014, with few British casualties since then. Rory reminded us that he’d been there on no less than 125 occasions and had set up a charity that now employed 400 people. Biden had been reckless. This was a poor, fragile country making progress.
Rory’s charity is the Turquoise Mountain Foundation in Kabul which encourages local craft industries.
However, it’s not quite Rory’s. A 2012 Evening Standard piece informs us the charity was co-founded with Prince Charles and its directors have included Viscount Chelsea, Sir John Tulsa and the Syrian billionaire Said’s. Turquoise has been extensively funded by the US Government and the crafts produced adorn (although possibly for not much longer) the US Embassy in Kabul.
It was while volunteering there that wife-to-be Shoshana met Rory. Unfortunately at the time, Shoshana’s then husband, anthropologist Noah Coburn, was also a volunteer with Turquoise Mountain. A source informs QT Review that Master Stewart and Miss Shoshana’s tiffin provided Carry on Up the Khyber style entertainment for the locals, with Mr Coburn’s Bernard Breslow being seen kicking Mr Stewart’s Kenneth Williams around the compound.
In terms of those coming here, despite much mention of interpreters, Mr Stewart identified others such as is teachers, doctors and human rights activists. He forgot to mention people traffickers, criminals and terrorists.
James Cleverley’s (Conservative) first comments were, “Well, erm, err,” as if he’d just been thrown the headless ‘ball’ in a game of seven-a-side Afghan horseback goat ball. The TA lieutenant colonel ran us through the reasons for our initial entry into the wayward country – September 11th and stopping al-Qaida. He declared that a success. Bruce interrupted, “Exit strategy, James.” He talked over her, mentioning defeating al-Qaida again, education and emancipation.
“James, James,” interrupted Bruce who was only interested in talk of failure.
Withdrawal was a much, much harder proposition. The British had wanted a set of criteria in place before leaving, “The Americans…”
Bruce kept interrupting. In case we didn’t know what we were supposed to think about James Cleverly, the camera moved to a lady in the audience who looked as though she was going to be sick. Presumably at the thought of an Afghan next door when refugees are supposed to be in Pakistan, Iran or at a Dover bus stop.
James reminded the audience that the Doha agreement with the Taliban was a timetable rather than a set of conditions. Schemes had been set up for nationals and interpreters to leave. Bruce tried to interrupt but James talked over her as determinedly as a convoy of pick-up trucks hammering along a shiny new road to Kabul.
“…American domestic decision with a ripple effect from that,” he concluded.
Although in the TA, James had never been in Afghanistan. He was lukewarm about any enquiry beyond a glorified de-brief, but conceded the ‘mid-mission’ shift from disrupting al-Qaida to building institutions needed ‘looking at’.
Nelufar Hedayat (broadcaster), from an Afghan valley where girls have sticky-out ears dripping in gold, said the problem is we talk at Afghans rather than to them. Democracy was forced upon them she said, as though democracy was a bad thing.
Asked what she proposed instead, she talked about her family and friends, “My uncle is in Afghanistan. My auntie [pronounced arrnteeee] is a teacher at a girl’s school.”
We have left them to cope with Taliban 2.O who know how to work the propaganda scheme.
Hang on a minute. Mehdi Hasan is a broadcaster, so is Nelu. Rory Stewart is never off the telly. If the Taliban get away with propaganda whoppers, it is because the media-political bubble represented by the panel let them.
Does Afghanistan even have an appetite for democracy? Asked a gentleman in the audience.
Nelu rhymed off what the Afghans did have an appetite for; freedom, justice, fairness, equality, acceptance, all the things in this room. In the same way that Rory confuses his former constituency with 14th century Romania, Nuli confuses Afghanistan with Islington.
Miss Hedayat thought the solution was not to remove the brightest and the best. The last time this happened, she told us, “I happened.” She’d left the country she was born in and came here in 1994. She went on to tell us what a marvellous citizen she had become but spoiled the effect by adding, “I could have done all of this in Afghanistan.” Ungrateful tart.
In contradiction of Rory Stewart’s timetable for the end of combat, Nelu pointed out that 2019 was the year in which most Afghans died. Regarding refugees, she appeared to want Afghans to be evacuated and left behind simultaneously.
Litha Nandy (Labour), claimed the 2001 entry strategy had been flawed. That’s the entry strategy of her own then Labour government.
The Wigan MP made an important point. Giving a withdrawal date had been a mistake, had given the Taliban a signal and demoralised the Afghans. The Government had 18 months to prepare. A lack of preparedness meant people will be left behind and die. Lisa spoiled her comments throughout the programme by constantly spinning them against the Government in order to score points. This despite the Labour Party having the same policy throughout the conflict as the Tories.
As for the present evacuation, Fiona Bruce wondered, “Has Labour put a number on it?”
Litha replied, “No, because it depends.” Ominously for her Wigan constituents needing housing, pubic services and jobs she did suggest, “A big and generous offer.”
Bruce had been doing some research. According to Hansard, Shadow Foreign Secretary Litha had never said the word ‘Afghan’ or ‘Afghanistan’ in Parliament. Ms Nandy passed the buck to her colleague, Shadow Defence Secretary John Healy, who had.
Mehdi Hasan (broadcaster) claimed we were lied to. Lied to by the devious Taliban who agreed a deal in Doha (pronounced ‘Ha-do’ in Bidenese) then broke it? No, lied to about the necessity of an Afghan war in the first place. The Taliban had offered to surrender and hand over Bin Ladin. Had they? All prime ministers for the last 20 years had lied that we could win militarily while creating a democracy there too. We had to end this but it was ending badly. He rightly pulled Rory Stewart up on his unwise comparison with South Korea, it being a friendly not hostile territory.
No stranger to unwise comparisons himself, in a series of unpleasant public utterances, helpfully put together in this video clip, Mehdi compares non-muslims to animals and conflates homosexuals with paedophiles and “dog-lovers”. Low points in his opinion of non-Muslims include:
“those human beings who live their lives as animals, bending any rule to fulfil any desire.”
“an infirmity, as an illness, as a disease of the human mind”
“The kaffar, the disbelievers, the atheists who remain deaf and stubborn to Islam, the rational message of the Quran, they are described in the Quran as quote ‘a people of no intelligence’, Allah describes them as, not of people of no morality, not as people of no belief – people of ‘no intelligence’ – because they are incapable of the intellectual effort it requires to shake off those easy assumptions about this world, about the existence of God. In this respect, the Quran describes the atheists as “cattle”, as cattle of those who grow the crops and do not stop and wonder about this world.”
“He [Yazid, an Islamic historical figure] was a fasiq, a transgressor, a breaker of Islamic laws, a corrupt individual, a tyrant, a killer, a drunkard, a dog-lover, a music-lover, a….a homosexual, a paedophile, a sexual deviant….. someone who slept with his own mother!”
The Swindon born public schoolboy (£22,000 a year Merchant Taylors’) graduated from Christ Church, Oxford, and is currently employed as a ‘journalist’ at MSNBC in America. Besides the South Korea gaffe, Mr Hasan also contradicted Rory’s end of combat in 2014 claim, reminding us it had been superseded by collateral damage-causing air power and increased use of the Afghan National Army.
“When were you there, Rory, did you go to the families of the people we killed?” Asked a passionate Mehdi.
Mr Hasan informed us he had never been in favour of the war and was the wrong person to ask of its worth. But is that true? He does have a habit of changing his mind.
Question Time addicts will recall an episode on the 3rd October 2013. Besides Mr Hasan, the other guests were Grant Schapps, Yvette Cooper-Balls, Kirsty Williams and the Daily Mail’s Quentin Letts.
During a heated debate about Lord Rothermere’s organ, an overexcited Mehdi referred to,
“the immigrant-bashing, woman-hating, Muslim-smearing, NHS-undermining, gay bating, Daily Mail.”
The next day’s Mail was delighted to report that previously Mr Hasan had sold one of his books to the Mail on Sunday. Not only that, a wallah in the DM’s personnel department had found the following letter, signed Mehdi Hasan:
“I’m very keen to write for the Daily Mail…. I have always admired the paper’s passion, rigour, boldness and, of course, news values. I believe the Mail has a vitally important role to play in the national debate, and I admire your relentless focus on the need for integrity and morality in public life and your outspoken defence of faith, Christian culture, in the face of attacks from militant atheists and secularists… I am also attracted by the Mail’s social conservatism on issues like marriage, the family, abortion and teenage pregnancies.”
PS I am a hypocrite, he’d forgotten to add.
Back in the present episode, a loon in the audience suggested our arms should be open to whoever wants to come here from Afghanistan. He wanted to take hundreds of thousands.
A lady in the audience had served there in the military and had seen benefits as well as negatives. However, any green shoots were now dead. Those she’d served with had lost friends. She found herself questioning, embarrassed and humiliated. She insisted upon a parliamentary enquiry to apportion blame and singled out General Nick Carter who has been touring the studios wanting a Taliban government to be given a chance. General Carter should be held responsible and not allowed to slip away into the profitable defence contracting industry.
Another lady in the audience had lived in the Middle East as a child and thought the place incompatible with democracy. Amongst other wrongdoings, our presence there upended cultural and religious structures.
The final question of the evening came from Matthew Goodwin-Freeman, a Conservative Party candidate though not introduced as such. Is the UK now more likely to suffer a terror attack? All were agreed it is. Rory noted recent events to be a victory for jihadis as well as the Taliban.
An audience member told a series of unchallenged untruths. Muslim terrorism has a domestic cause. The 7/7 bombers were from Leeds. No, they weren’t. Three were Pakistani and one a West Indian. The Manchester Arena bomber was from London. No, Libya. One could add the Parsons Green terrorist was from Iraq and those at Borough Market in 2017 and London Bridge in 2019 were from Pakistan.
And there’s the rub. It doesn’t matter how many times Rory goes to Afghanistan, he will never be an Afghan. Likewise, Nuli and the refugees heading this way will always be Afghans no matter where they live. The audience member’s final comment was, “You cannot defeat an ideology by dropping bombs from 30,000 feet.” Yes, you can. Japanese Imperialism. German National Socialism.
Not once did anyone on the programme blame the warring, corrupt and duplicitous Afghans for their own miserable situation. In an echo of the original response to those previously defeated ideologies, the London bubble’s policy to both Islam and Afghanistan remains one of cringing appeasement.
© Always Worth Saying 2021
The Goodnight Vienna Audio file