Operation Humblebrag: Never In The Field Of Armchair Conflict Have So Many, Owed So Little, To So Few.
It was a time of chaos, and ruin. A time of fear. A new and deadly foe had emerged, seemingly from nowhere. In actuality, from a cul-de-sac in west Sussex. Mahd I’Sissy – a former graduate student from the polytechnic of Westham Villa, and charismatic sandwich artist, had assembled a fighting force like no other – a group of men, with weapons.
Guided by their most sacred tome – The Idiot’s Guide To Islam (second edition) – Cyst’Isis was born, around a poker table: the one form of decadence they didn’t despise (along with the consumption of hard liquor). Railing against the dissoluteness of modern Britain – they were determined to establish a fundamentalist caliphate, called Little Islamistan, and live according to strict Halam principles; rejecting decadent Western imperialism and cultural degradation, through disallowing any foodstuff which wasn’t deemed kosher by their religion – not least of all, Mini Cheddars.
They plotted to undermine the British way of life by inserting typographical errors into foodstuff packaging, precipitating the eventual breakdown of society in its entirety, as one supermarket checkout after another failed to scan items correctly, and promptly malfunctioned. While people stood frozen in queues, they would then be surrounded by Cyst’Isis Jihadists, who had secreted explosive devices in their underwear – triggering them in a synchronized sacrifice of genitalia; thus avenging themselves upon a society they had grown to despise.
The very breakdown of civilisation seemed imminent. The black flag of Cyst’Isis had been raised. At first, only in its members bedrooms; but deploying the internet to its fullest potential, the imagery was soon beamed into the houses of friends, co-workers, and well-wishers – along with its inscription: ”Britain are not perfect’.
But all was not lost.
Cometh the hour, cometh the War Mice – a cracked-team of cyberwar veterans, specially assembled to defeat terrorism, by Britain’s most decorated military hero – and if his CV was anything to go by, recipient of 3 Pulitzer prizes: Field Marshal Duncan Smith. Perspiring heavily, Field Marshal Smith took to a podium, and scoured the men assembled before him, with the demeanor of a proud, atheist grandfather at a nativity play. He gave the roll-call:
Douglas Murray: a master of hastily assembled expertise, recruited for his off the cuff knowledge of Islamism-ism, and author of the best-selling book: ‘101 Ways to Stimulate the G-Hadi Spot’.
Oliver Kamm: a former cook and veteran aboard the notorious Swift Boat; who had misunderstood the purpose of battle-cruising, and – having said hello to one too many sailors – been reassigned for reasons of discretion.
Alex Massie: a broken man, on the mend – having believed cricket to be a type of fertility ritual, Massie had suffered a particularly unfortunate ‘leg before wicket’ injury; and now sought to regain his honour – and his manhood – on the battlefields of cyberspace.
Dan Hodges: a fully qualified first-aider, whose risk-averse approach to heroism was such stuff as dreams are made on; and who – solely due to his own efforts – had risen to the rank of private, as fast as the average person would attain the rank of corporal.
Simon Schama: the unit’s chaplain, who had been struck mute by a mysterious trauma. His fellow War Mice had spent weeks trying to discover the cause of Schama’s silence, in hopes of making the improved circumstance permanent. Alas, in vain. Despite regaining his voice, Schama was still perfectly willing to say nothing, and do it, as the occasion arose.
Jacob Rees-Mogg: who had spent a life-time specialising in the Douglas Haig approach to class warfare; and had now turned his inimitable skills to confronting terrorism.
John Rentoul: an immodest man, with much to be modest about – willing to do anything in his power to support military efforts, short of enlisting.
and finally Colonel Nick Cohen, who had seen it all, and done it twice – stray apostrophes, misused semi-colons, random words with all their letters capitalised – during his many tours of duty, in the battlefields of cyberspace.
These, then, were they – them: the War Mice. Disciplined beyond fault, trained to make unerring decisions in the heat of an internet flame-war; armed only with mobile armchairs and laptop computers – or in Massie’s case, a notepad and a packet of crayons.
Clearing his throat, Field Marshal Smith began to cough. Once the paroxysm had ended, he began his itinerary:
‘Men: today is a good to die. Naturally, I won’t be going with you on this mission, for reasons which I won’t go into at present. However, there are times – certain circumstances, if you will – when necessity compels the decent among us to step forward as one. I know this only too well – I once single-handedly rescued an entire battle-fleet, which had got into something of a rum scrape, simply because I believed I could. It was how I earned this medal on my left handkerchief pocket, in fact; while the one above it was awarded for boundless bravery, in an office setting, while seated. But I digress.
We all know why we are here today. Gentlemen, the moral alarm clock is ticking. As we speak Cyst’Isis have begun to establish their Man-cave of Little Islamistan – and to that end, have captured a small internet cafe called Hari’s Place, located on the border between Birmingham and Baghdad. Whether using the so-called internet to promote anti-Western messages, such as the belief that our political system is decadent and corrupt, or crossing the arctic on a special snow-bicycle – in order to sneak into Britain through the backdoor via Greenland – Cyst’Isis has no borders. These people are criminal masterminds, who will stop at nothing to destroy our way of life.
The world must unite against Cyst’Isis, so that we can cure ourselves of this scourge, once and for all. I am not afraid to say that, in my opinion, terrorism really is quite wrong; and – about it – something must be done. To defeat them, however, we must learn to think like them. Know your enemy, I say: this I’Sissy chap who leads the beggars is a breezy sort of blighter, and a thoroughly indecent sort of squire; with no concept of etiquette or good manners. The enemies of freedom are as indefatigable as they are unprincipled – but so are we. They didn’t learn to adopt our peaceful ways the first time we bombed them; perhaps the second time will teach them that violence doesn’t solve problems. No doubt naysayers would suggest that the last 14 years of employing this strategy has only made matters worse – but that is simply the glass half-empty point of view.
I believe that we have a responsibility – nay, duty – to act without considering the consequences. Only cowards think things through. Thinking is weakness – especially in the face of danger. Cyst’Isis are determined to destroy our country’s proudest tradition – namely, the taking of afternoon tea and crumpets – by having sundry gentlemen’s how’s-your-fathers exploding all around you, which really would be quite frightful. But we will not be cowed into a silent surrender, nor a not-going-about-of-one’s-business. If we concede a single sausage to the terrorists, then they have already won; and terrorism will not ruin breakfast – not on my watch.
It may endanger elevenses – but the most important meal of the day will be safe. We will have sharia law for breakfast – and if it all turns harum-scarum, we can simply give them a good stern talking to; or else frown at them from afar. And with that, gentlemen – I wish you well on your mission. I assure you, that you will be home before the first month of Christmas has ended. I dare say the mission is all but accomplished, as is’. The War Mice cheered as one; and as Smith dusted his epaulettes, they departed.
Unfortunately, it had all gone awry from the moment of departure. Rentoul had reluctantly informed the rest of his men that, unfortunately, he wouldn’t be able to join them on this mission, as it seemed he might be coming down with a cold. The sneezing could potentially be heard by Jihadist operatives specially trained in hearing, and might endanger the entire operation – so he had gallantly withdrawn, with the other men’s welfare in mind. Murray had lamentably tripped-over, and consequently suffered a dose of gout. The remaining War Mice were on their own.
Bad went to worse, however, as the hot air balloon carrying them to their destination had drifted off course – leaving them stranded 30 meters from the Hari’s Place internet cafe. Upon landing, Rees-Mogg had sought a public convenience, and become separated from the other War Mice; bravely surrendering at the first opportunity. The remaining men hunkered-down in a ditch – drawing straws over who should ask one of the numerous passers-by for directions to the building in front of them; before deciding unanimously that as no self-respecting man would ever do such a thing, nor should they.
‘So near, and yet so far’ Cohen mused. Massie, holding a stick in his hand, stretched out towards the building ‘only another 29 meters to go’ he winced, leaning forward, before finally over-reaching his balance, and falling face down in the dirt. ‘It’s hopeless,’ cried Schama; ‘utterly, utterly hopeless’. ‘This is everyone else’s fault except ours’ added Hodges. ‘Shall I have another go with the stick?’ Massie enquired. It met with a stony silence. Though his courage was unbreakable, even in the most adverse circumstances, Cohen began to have doubts. He knew that the resolve of the others might weaken, if not break at any second. It would fall to him to provide leadership. So, he sat pensively, and listened to the other men talk.
‘If you ask me, somebody ought to do something about this terrorism lark – it’s not on, it isn’t, blowing things up’ Massie demurred. Murmurs of agreement followed. ‘And I’ll tell you another thing,’ he continued; ‘if these Cyst’Isis fellows were really smart, right, instead of using names which are a bit of a giveaway, like ‘Jihadi Jim’, they would use pseudonyms – like, you know, ‘non-Jihadi Jim, or something’. ‘That’s right’ rejoined Hodges. ‘The terrorists are evil – more than that we do not need to know’. ‘I reckon I could fight off 10, 12, maybe 15 Jihadists – easy,’ Kamm proclaimed.
Schama was more considered: ‘They don’t like it up ’em, you know. They really don’t’. Massie agreed ‘It seems to me, right, I mean, what I’m saying is, like, what I think is, you know, like, I mean…’ Listening in, Cohen nursed his temples. Schama took the ensuing moment of silence to unfurl a flag he had been keeping folded up in his jacket sleeve; hoisting it on an umbrella spoke beside him. It fluttered in the evening breeze – the words ‘Dulce Et Decorum Est Pro Patria Mori’ clearly visible, despite the descending darkness. ‘What does that mean?’ Hodges enquired. Schama drew himself up to his full height, his patriotism throbbing vigorously, before giving a salute and crying ‘It’s time to kick arse!’ The War Mice cheered. ‘Quiet!’ hissed Cohen. ‘For all we know, Cyst-Isis operatives are patrolling this area. Besides, it’s late – you men get some sleep; I will stand sentry. The fate of us all depends upon my constant vigil’.
Meanwhile, as Colonel Cohen kept watch, so did the Jihadist captor of Jacob Rees-Mogg. Had Rees-Mogg’s hands been free, he would barely have hesitated to add another name to his list of enemies – just underneath the previously penciled-in references to women, and acne. Bound, though not gagged, Rees-Mogg looked the fellow up and down. The jihadist stood before him – tall, glowering, and naked. ‘We must be willing to do whatever it takes to stop them’ he thought, adjusting his pince-nez. Remembering his training, he knelt down, and thought of England.
The War Mice were awoken at the first light of dawn, by the sound of Cohen’s raised voice. He had hold of a young foreign-looking sort of man by the collar. Possibly a local, who had unwittingly walked straight into the War Mice’s camp, while emptying the bins of the restaurant they were unknowingly stationed behind. An interrogation was underway. ‘Do you condemn terrorism?’ demanded Cohen. ‘What? Yes – of course!’ the man cried. ‘It’s all very well condemning it,’ Cohen continued, ‘but will you denounce it?’. ‘Yes!’ the man cried again. Cohen’s voice softened. ‘What would you do about it then, you latte-sipping appeaser?’ he asked. ‘I don’t know – I don’t know what’s going on – I don’t know nothing about no terrorism’ the man replied. Cohen was impassive: ‘A likely tale. Just whose side are you on?’ ‘No one’s – I wasn’t doing nothing’ the man cried out, despairingly.
There was a moment of silence. ‘But evil triumphs when good men do nothing’ Cohen rejoined, looking into the man’s eyes. ‘So we can’t just do nothing, can we? That would be immoral’. The man shrugged. ‘I suppose not’ he murmured. ‘We have to do something. Right?’ Cohen asked. The man nodded vigorously. ‘Putting lipstick on pigs is doing something, isn’t it? ‘ Again, the man nodded, this time with a touch of uncertainty. ‘So,’ Cohen mused, ‘the only way we can defeat the terrorists is by rounding up a herd of Gloucestershire old spots, putting some lipstick upon them, and then…’. ‘Yes! Yes! Anything!’ the man cried. Cohen released his collar. He had succeeded – he had gained a new convert to the cause, and to his way of thinking. He reached into his pocket, to retrieve his stick of Brazen Harlot No. 1…but it was too late. The War Mice were surrounded.
‘Put that down!’ a Jihadist barked; his underwear ticking ominously. ‘I don’t want to know what you were doing with it – just put it down on the ground!’. Appraising the situation, Cohen did as he was told. He put the lipstick down. Biding his time, he stood silently as the Jihadists destroyed the War Mice’s laptops and mobile armchairs, one by one. ‘This is everyone else’s fault except ours’ Hodges whispered. Kamm agreed. Schama stayed silent. Massie slept on.
And so it was, the War Mice were face to face with Mahd I’Sissy, along with his Cyst’Isis, at last. The men were tied up, Rees-Mogg now among them; guarded by armed and glowering Jihadists. ‘The tide is turning against them’ Hodges suggested, wincing as the rope around his wrists began to smart. ‘Victory is imminent’ Kamm mumbled through his gag. ‘The mission has failed’ Cohen murmured despondently. ‘It is over’. Schama adjusted his posture, for cramp. Massie stirred.
I’Sissy was stood atop an upturned soapbox – a diminutive man, with conjunctivitis in one eye; and a copy of The Koran for Dummies held in front of him. He waited for silence, and then began:
‘Behold the unbelievers – ‘What in the kermit’s crumpets is going on?’ they ask. Well, let me explain – today we begin to establish a fundamentalist shebang, run on strictly non-decadent principles. As Allah’s text-messenger on earth would type, the best way to a caliphate is through its stomach: what I’m talking about here is vittles for the puritanically peckish. Little Islamistan will be run on strict Sharia whats-its: accordingly, therefore, the true Believer must only drink milk from a river, and never eat any root vegetable which has come into contact with soil, or been harvested using a bow and arrow. A truly Halam cucumber sandwich should consist of one breadstick and no cucumbers. Making a cup of tea is Halam, but drinking it is not. Coffee is acceptable, so long as it has no warmth; and ice cream is okay-ish, but you should err on the side of caution, by never consuming any until it has stopped being cold. Allah is indecisive on the point’.
The War Mice were uneasy. ‘He doesn’t sound like a criminal mastermind to me – I think he sounds a bit silly, actually’ murmured Schama. ‘Thinking is for traitors’ growled Cohen. ‘Even I’Sissy knows that – and look at how his followers hang on his every word’. It was true – in between adjusting the explosives secreted in their underwear, for reasons of comfort, their gaze never left the man on the soapbox before them. I’Sissy finished with a flourish: ‘If our Caliphate means owt, it is the right to avoid eating nowt what you don’t like’. Cohen found himself in agreement. Perhaps he had been too quick to judge the man. In a blood-chilling tone, the I’Sissies began to chant in unity: ‘Sod Mini Cheddars! Sod Mini Cheddars! Sod Mini Cheddars!. ‘Down with pork scratchings!’ cried one, to rousing, unanimous cheers. ‘This is a rum to-do, and no fooling’ Schama murmured. The remaining War Mice concurred, silently.
But suddenly, the room fell quiet. A woman, her Hijab only just noticeable above the crowd, was stood next to to the Jihadist leader, her arms folded morosely. She began to speak: ‘So this is where you are. I sent you out for milk – that was three hours ago’. I’Sissy glanced down at his Cyst’Isis. ‘Not in front of the men, love’ he whispered. ‘Don’t ‘not in front of the men, love’ me’ his wife snapped. ‘What is going on?’ I’Sissy thought a moment. ‘Nothing’. His wife was unimpressed. ‘I see. Nothing, is it? It’s that caliphate nonsense again’. I’Sissy hurried down from his soapbox, and drew his wife aside: ‘No. No it isn’t’. ‘So what is it then?’ she inquired. ‘Nothing. It’s Allah’s will at work’. ‘Allah’s will! This is because I wouldn’t let you impose Sharia in the house, isn’t it?’. I’Sissy stayed silent.
His wife surveyed the room, glancing at the Jihadists and their captive War Mice, before turning to I’Sissy again: ‘The problem with you Mahd-i, is that you think you’re someone special because you blurt out a few quotes from a book you haven’t even read – and succeed in getting half a dozen silly sods to follow you around, calling for the destruction of the junk-food industry; and so a lot of equally daft sorts think you’re a dangerous mastermind. But it’s not true, is it? Anyone with sense can see that it’s all a particularly seamy kind of pantomime act; and when they look at you, they don’t think ‘there goes Mahd I’Sissy – he might be an evil genius, but by gum he commands our respect’. No, what they’re doing is laughing inwardly, at how anyone could possibly think destroying Mini Cheddars will make the world a better place; let alone trying to achieve it with exploding underwear. And you keep mithering on about decadence and unbelievers – but who is it that really insists on inflating this type of cobblers with importance? Who is it that has beliefs so fragile they feel the need to rid the world of biscuits, or Worcester sauce as it was last time, or – Allah forbid – twiglets, as a test of faith?’.
Cyst’Isis and the War Mice looked on. A Jihadist stepped forward to intervene, but stopped dead in his tracks when the woman frowned at him. The woman continued undeterred: ‘Don’t get me wrong, the people you’re trying to wind-up are just as bad, with their huffing and puffing about ‘the moral and familial rearmament of Europe’; who think that the best way to make a gesture of solidarity against the rogue use of underwear, which you and your followers have pioneered, is to forego it wholesale. You can tell who goes along with their daftness, as soon as the weather turns wintry – they’re the ones who walk with a light gait, wincing all the while; maundering on about ‘no more yobs in their kids’ school’, and ‘no housing association tenants on their street’. Two sides of the same coin – both waving your tribal flags, when they were made by the exact same company, anyway. Now stop being silly, the lot of you. And did you even get the milk?’ ‘No, dear’ I’Sissy replied; exeunting forthwith.
The War Mice stayed silent for a while, thinking this over. Their jihadist guards looked at them – an awkward moment of silence passed. No one was willing to speak first.
Suddenly the internet cafe door was flung open, and Field Marshal Duncan Smith burst in – several gleaming new medals pinned to his trouser pockets: ‘Good news!’ he cried ‘The Prime Minister has decided Cyst’Isis are on our side now! They’re freedom fighters again! Medals for all!’. Cheers erupted. Colonel Cohen smiled. Somehow, this seemed right. It was time to put a different shade of lipstick on the pigs. He reached for his stick of Brazen Harlot No. 1. His mission accomplished.