Tuesday, November 25, 2014 

The real face of 21st century insecurity.

(This is almost 2,000 words.)

To believe in most conspiracy theories, you need also to believe in the concept of all powerful government.  9/11 couldn't possibly have been the work of 19 men armed only with boxcutters and rudimentary knowledge of flying planes, that's far too implausible.  Instead, it was an inside job, possibly involving explosives that were planted in the twin towers when they were built, possibly involving holograms that looked like planes, all in the aid of justifying war and/or wars designed to take control of more Middle Eastern oil.  Or maybe the owner of the WTC wanted the insurance money, and was so motivated by greed he felt no compunction about the lives of the people in the buildings he was going to first have planes flew into, and then demolished remotely.

Except, as anyone who pays the slightest attention will quickly realise, government is not all powerful.  The intelligence agencies, despite having incredible powers of surveillance are not all knowing, let alone an panopticon.  In fact, for the most part they're just as stupid as you or I.  They rely chiefly for many of their outlandish claims on how the vast majority of the public don't remember the last time they were told about just how massive the threat level is, not to mention how the media for the most part repeats those same claims without hesitation.  More to the point, why shouldn't they when those wishing us harm say that's precisely what they intend just before they kill their latest victims?

We are then facing perhaps the most severe level of threat ever, says Theresa May.  Since 7/7 40 major plots have been disrupted, including ones we know about, such as the liquid bombs one, as well others we might not, like a Mumbai-style massacre, which could be a reference to the on-going Erol Incedal semi-secret trial.  This is the most severe level of threat since the last most severe level of threat.  For I recall former Met commissioners telling us how the "sky was dark", such was the scale of plotting going on, former MI5 heads warning of 30 on-going plots, of 2,000 individuals associated with extremism.  To be taken in by this nonsense you need to completely forget about the IRA, and more or less, every single past agitator either inside or outside the country.  In reality, the only thing that distinguished Islamist extremists from other terrorists was they didn't issue warnings, and were prepared to kill indiscriminately.

Now even that claim doesn't properly stand up.  As the Intelligence and Security Committee's report into what did or didn't go wrong with the security services' dealings with the two men convicted of killing Lee Rigby makes clear (PDF), the most pernicious threat right now is not so much from "lone wolves", those who have no contact whatsoever with other extremists, but "self-starters" (page 80, para 232).  Self-starters are those without major links to an al-Qaida franchise or Islamic State, but who are inspired by their example and decide to do something, anything.  They will be known to other extremists, probably having appeared on the periphery of investigations carried out by the police or MI5/GCHQ, just not considered an imminent threat.  Without the support and resources available to those with direct links to an AQ franchise, they're likely to think smaller and go for something achievable rather than spectacular.  Such as killing a soldier, or perhaps beheading the first person they don't like the look of.

This raises the question of just what is and isn't terrorism.  Within hours of Lee Rigby's murder his death was being defined as a terrorist act, rather than a homicide egregiously justified by his killers as revenge for British foreign policy.  The implication seems to be all someone needs to do is shout "Allah akbar" or the equivalent for their violence to be deemed terrorist inspired.  Any other factors can then be disregarded, and lessons must be learned from the failure to prevent the attack in the first place.

In the absence of there being anything or anyone to blame, or the refusal to apportion blame where it would most obviously lie based on the evidence, something else can always be found.  When it's done in such a transparent, utterly flagrant way as it has by the ISC and the government though, it just insults everyone's intelligence.  The first part of this week has been designated as a time to highlight "the threat" and demonstrate why yet more new powers are necessary, with the ISC report at the core, despite it having been ready for publication for weeks if not months.  It's a brilliant report, in that in the style of the very best it provides documentary evidence of how incompetent MI5 and MI6 can be, taking months to process intelligence and follow it up, leaving crucial details out of reports provided to the police, removing Michael Adebolajo from his status as a subject of interest, despite his links to 5 other major investigations and so on, and then reserves its real ire for Facebook for not passing on what it considers the one key piece of intelligence the security services believe could have prevented the attack.

It does this despite openly contradicting itself.  The key intelligence not passed on by Facebook was a conversation between Michael Adebowale and an extremist with links to al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, where the former spoke of wanting to kill a soldier and received advice on how to go about doing so (page 127, para 378).  It seems fairly damning, until you consider how a similar piece of intelligence on Adebowale was used, or rather not used.  Back in 2012 GCHQ reported an unknown individual, not at that time identified as Adebowale, had been espousing "views includ[ing] references to operating as a lone wolf (or lone actor), and other general extremist remarks" (page 77, para 221).  The ISC notes at first sight this seems "striking", only for the committee to be reassured by the director general of MI5 that "those sorts of things said, and worse, on these sorts of [sites] are very common" and "[T]he vast majority of it, *** translates into no action at all". 

You can of course argue that going into the specifics of an attack is very different to vaguely talking of wanting to be a lone wolf, as does the contact with someone with links to AQAP, although at the time the intelligence agencies didn't know that was the case.  The same argument as made by Andrew Parker could though surely be applied to the exchange on Facebook; the vast majority of such talk would similarly translate into no action at all.  The real difference seems to be GCHQ obtained the first conversation, while Facebook didn't until after the murder discover the interaction between Adebowale and "Foxtrot", despite a number of Adebowale's accounts being automatically closed due to links to terrorism.  Adebowale closed the account used to contact "Foxtrot" himself.

Just then as Robert Hannigan, the new head of GCHQ used his first day in the job to describe social media companies and other tech giants as "facilitators of crime and terrorism" so today David Cameron was denouncing the likes of Facebook for providing a "safe haven" for terrorists, intentionally or not.  All this cant seems purely down to how accessing the personal data, meta or otherwise of everyone has been made harder by the shift towards greater encryption by the data companies.  Despite the efforts of GCHQ to master the internet, the ISC report claims in what seems to be the first official confirmation of the existence of Tempora, without naming it as such, in theory, "GCHQ can access around ***% of global internet traffic and approximately ***% of internet traffic entering or leaving the UK" (para 410, page 135).  James Ball suggests Edward Snowden believed GCHQ could access 20% of UK internet traffic, although as neither Adebowale or "Foxtrot" were under investigation at the time they wouldn't have known what to look for anyway.

Quite what the real aim is remains far more opaque.  As Alan Travis and others point out, what GCHQ and the government seem to be demanding is either that social media companies do their job for them, which is an impossibility; or, far more dangerously, that they let governments and their intelligence agencies do whatever they like with the data passing through the servers.  Even if we accept they have the very best of intentions, why should a US company hand over information without objection to a UK government agency and not say do the same for the Russians or Chinese when their requests would no doubt be made on the very same terms?  The argument they already do so when it comes to child exploitation is bogus, and more to the point, as we saw with the raids on Tor, disrupting paedophile networks still appears to come second to the war on drugs.

The report also downplays or accepts "national security" excuses for why MI5's attempts to recruit Adebolajo can neither be confirmed or denied (page 44, para 117).  Despite this, the ISC "investigated all aspects of MI5’s actions thoroughly, and [has] not seen any evidence of wrongdoing by MI5", so clearly any suggestion the "harassment" of Adebolajo may have contributed to his actions must similarly be dismissed.  MI6 was also wholly uninterested in Adebolajo's claims he was mistreated when arrested in Kenya (page 153, para 461), presumed to be intending to join up with al-Shabaab with Somalia, with the ISC concluding "we would have expected that all allegations of mistreatment would now be treated with the seriousness they merit" and that "whatever we now know about him as an individual does not detract from the fact that his allegations were not dealt with appropriately".  Again, any impact the alleged mistreatment could have ultimately had on Adebolajo's actions, considering the links between the UK and the anti-terrorism unit in Kenya codenamed ARCTIC, must obviously be disregarded.

As the Graun puts it, the "bleak truth is that it's possible nothing would have saved Lee Rigby from his awful fate".  Despite the government or the agencies themselves occasionally repeating the old adage that whereas they have to be lucky every time, the terrorists only have to be lucky once, protecting the public in the face of such odds remains one of the few things they continue to boast about.  It doesn't matter that governments wilfully redefine terrorism to be almost anything, raising the stakes even further, to the point where schools are deemed not to be doing enough to tackle extremism if sixth form societies have Facebook pages with links to radical preachers, still everything must be seen to be done, even if it turns out to be counter-productive or worse.  Continuously ramping up the perceived threat helps no one, and yet successive governments have done it.  When the intelligence agencies then fail, as they will, the blame has to be diverted.  If that in turn further helps the securocrats who are never satisfied with the material they have access to, so much the better, again in spite of how Tempora is useless against one determined person armed with a sharp knife.  All the technology, all our powers of surveillance, all our intelligence, brought low by men armed with a car, an unloaded gun and a few blades.  There is the true insecurity of the 21st century, and it's not the stuff conspiracy theories are made of.

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Monday, November 24, 2014 

I accuse history.

There's a part in The Builders episode of Fawlty Towers where, revolted and confused by Polly's abstract portrait of him, Basil asks what the point of it is.  "No point."  "No point?" "Well, what's the point in being alive?"  "Beats me, we're stuck with it I suppose."

And so we are.  When you've spent a good proportion of your life hating yourself, and not in the softer, disliking your background or what you're expected to be sense but the viscerally detesting who you are one, it's a question you regularly wrestle with.  Is there any meaning whatsoever to my life?  Is there meant to be?  Do I contribute anything whatsoever to wider society, or rather do I in fact only take from it?  Am I not just a complete waste of flesh with nothing to offer except a dyspeptic line in snark in a world not exactly short of it?

Everyone knows How Soon is Now, right?  Cut the archetypal self-pitying Morrissey crap out about being human and needing to be loved (and I really like Morrissey) and concentrate on the going home and wanting to die parts.  And the all your hope being gone bit.  Because to quote another John Cleese character, it's not the despair, I can take the despair.  It's the hope I can't stand.  Which is a good thing, as my hope was exhausted a really long time ago.  When you're fast closing in on a milestone age wise, or is that a millstone, and you realise your life spookily resembles what is even by the Smiths' standards one of their saddest depictions of existence, there's not really a lot of comfort to take.

Not that I want comfort mind.  I deny it to others, after all.  Anyone who isn't a congenital idiot knows if you keep poking a sore, it won't heal.  When it's a sore that affects only you, it's not the best idea in the world to do the equivalent of photograph it from every possible angle and then demand everyone share your pain.  First, they can't know how it makes you feel, second they quite rightly don't care, third it's pointless and fourth, and probably most importantly, it's unbelievably annoying.  It's your problem, no one else's, for crying out loud keep it to yourself and stop being so goddamn weird and creepy.  Not too much to ask, is it?  It really isn't.

We can't of course have a post like this and not in some way refer back to the Holy Bible, as it simply isn't possible, just as eventually everything goes back to either the Simpsons or Dawn of the Dead.  Such is the way a "cultured" mind of the 21st century works.  Why do anything when you can forget everything indeed?  Except I can't forget, as has been established over and over again.  It does permanently feel like yesterday, mind.  In a way, I can understand why those seemingly in the ascendant romanticise the past so, as you can always convince yourself there was a time of certainty, before words lost all meaning and everything was a parody of a parody of a parody.  I like to imagine fitting in somewhere at some undefined point in recent history, content with my lot, my vinyl, my radio, my newspaper, my pipe and slippers and my flatcap and so on.

It's just a mirage.  I'd still be the same inadequate regardless of the time period.  The same waste of flesh.  The same unfunny joke.  The same Urban Dictionary definition.  The same nothing when I must be everything.  Too bad I'm not even methadone pretty.

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Friday, November 21, 2014 

I know it's over.

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Thursday, November 20, 2014 

The speed of stupid.

It's hard to disagree with Chris when he writes of a turn away from politics.  Not in the sense of apathy, but in how so many appear incapable of seeing the wood for the trees.  Never has it been so possible to fully immerse yourself in politics, and yet many of those who chose to do so spend much of it squabbling at the margins.

Take just today's example:  Labour MP Emily Thornberry tweets a picture of a house in Rochester with three England flags adorning the outside.  There's also a white van in the drive.  Image from #Rochester is the message.  Almost instantly she's jumped on for her apparent blatant snobbery, veteran idiot Dan Hodges describes it as "an entire political movement defined by a single tweet", and those whom should know better like Anne Perkins are describing it as Labour's biggest mistake since Ed Miliband stabbed Myleene Klass live on TV (is this right? Ed).

Small things like how Thornberry had already tweeted a photo of a "vote Felix" sign and what ordinary voters had told her under a Tales from #Rochester hashtag obviously don't matter.  Her explanation, that she was surprised by how the flags were blocking a window entirely also makes no odds.  Clearly just a feeble effort from an Islington liberal to deny her own bigotry.  Right on cue, in calls a hopping mad Ed Miliband to reprimand Thornberry for not considering absolutely every possible way her tweet could be interpreted, and the inevitable apology is made.

Which is the key.  Being incredibly loud and not giving in works.  It's why #gamergate is still going on, despite everyone having long since forgotten what it was meant to be about.  It's why Sheffield United have now retracted their training offer to Ched Evans, Julien Blanc was refused a visa, and a real life Nathan Barley received far more attention than his alleged comedy had previously once he became the target for campaigners.  Both left and right can lead a monstering in this brave new world, where tribalism meets narcissism and threats are the most powerful currency.  Forgive me if nihilism seems ever more attractive.

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Wednesday, November 19, 2014 

Bringing out the worst.

By-elections in marginal seats always without fail bring out the absolute worst in politicians.  They know full well that in the grand scheme of things i.e., as a guide to what might happen at the general election they're meaningless, and yet still they campaign as though it's the last ballot ever.  Every Conservative MP we're told has been ordered to visit Rochester and Strood 3 times, while cabinet ministers are expected to have made the journey 5 times.  Bizarrely, no one seems to have connected this swamping of the constituency with those lovable rogues from Westminster and the continuing rise in support for UKIP.  Can you imagine just how hellacious it must be to turn one corner and see Michael Gove in all his finery, and then discover Jacob Rees-Mogg further down the road holding forth on the iniquities of EU farming subsidies?  And this has been going on for a month.

24 hours before the vote and the campaign has predictably ended in a battle over whether it's the Tories or UKIP who are going to be nastiest to migrants.  For sure, it's being conducted as though it's truly outrageous Mark Reckless could ever have suggested Poles might be repatriated should the UKIPs' vision of leaving the EU become a reality, while the UKIPs for their part are feigning contempt for Tory candidate Kelly Tolhurst's letter-cum-leaflet which nearly suggests people might not feel safe walking the mean streets of Rochester because of uncontrolled immigration, but let's not kid ourselves here.  The fight over who can move closest to shutting our borders completely without being objectively racist or invoking the old policies of the BNP/National Front has been going on for some time now, and just when you think they've gotten near as damn it, they inch ever nearer.  The "go home" vans were just the start.

Because the by-election is obviously all about immigration, see?  It's all the Tories want to discuss, it's all Labour wants to broach, and err, are the Liberal Democrats bothering to stand a candidate?  Oh, they are.  That's £500 wasted then.  It's also the only topic the media wants to cover, as they can't seem to handle the idea a by-election might be about more than just the one issue, especially when they decided beforehand it was the only thing anyone was interested in.  As Frances Coppola writes, and she's unlucky enough to live in the constituency, even the BBC's local political editor says it's the immigration, stupid, and this in a piece headlined issues beyond immigration and in which she concedes the main topic of discussion on the doorsteps is the local NHS hospital.

Other reporters point towards concerns about the Medway as well and, staggeringly, this might just be why Mark Reckless despite being far less popular than UKIP itself seems to be winning.  It's also no doubt helpful the Conservatives haven't learned anything from the Eastleigh by-election, where it was decided their candidate should try and out-UKIP the UKIPs and came third for her trouble.  Tolhurst if elected will apparently "demand something be done" immediately, although seeing as David Cameron is yet to figure out exactly how to temper free movement without angering business and coming off the worst at the European Commission it's not exactly clear what the tactic will achieve.

Then we have the never knowingly unconfused Labour party.  Last week Ed made great play of how Labour wouldn't pander to UKIP, as once you looked "[at their vision] it is not really very attractive".  This week, first up was Yvette Cooper informing the world one more time it's not racist to be concerned about immigration as she announced yet another new border force, this time complete with shiny uniforms, and then yesterday it was Rachel Reeves' turn.  Apart from the heart sinking at the very mention of the name, it's an odd sort of not pandering to all but agree with the greatest myth of them all, that it's the welfare system attracting EU migrants and not the promise of better paid work, or increasingly, a job at all.

In the name of listening to real concerns people have Labour will prevent migrants claiming out of work benefits until they've paid into the system for two years, an arbitrary period of time if there ever was one, and also stop migrants from claiming child tax credits and child benefit for children back in their home countries.  Reeves also intends to look at migrants claiming tax credits in general, as "it is far too easy for employers in Britain to undercut wages and working conditions ... knowing that the benefit system will top up their income".  The inference seems to be it's fine if Brits have their income topped up in such a way as has become the norm, rightly or wrong, while for migrants it's a subsidy too far.

Quite apart from the obvious problem of basic fairness, one the EU isn't likely to peer kindly on, it once again makes you wonder if the logical next step isn't to extend the same restrictions on JSA to everyone. Small things like how claimants are sanctioned for the slightest alleged "infraction" don't matter, nor does the false economy of reducing so many to relying on food banks, a development Labour has never condemned too loudly, presumably as it has no intention of changing the JobCentre regime.

If as expected UKIP win tomorrow it most likely won't result in the reckoning or further defections some predict.  For a start we're getting too close to next May for there to be any point in more by-elections prior to then, especially when UKIP's real aim has always been to keep the Farage bandwagon rolling on.  Second, if more defections are in the offing, delaying them until nearer the election will damage Cameron and the Conservatives that much more.  Third, it'll go some way towards confirming a pattern: as we saw in Clacton, voters who already favoured their MP aren't too bothered if they move slightly more to the right, especially when most Tory voters are sympathetic to UKIP in the first place.  There was some anger locally at Reckless's betrayal, but if anything Tory support will likely hold up thanks to tactical voting.  Lastly, the sensible will point out how by-elections are always fought on local, rather than national politics.  No doubt however the media and parties both come Friday will be crowing on how it proves immigration is set to dominate next May.

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Tuesday, November 18, 2014 

Ched Evans is an unashamed rapist. That doesn't mean he shouldn't play football again.

Amid the outrage, the group resignation of patrons from Sheffield United Community Foundation and 160,000+ signatures calling for him not to be re-signed, you'll struggle to find any summary of how and why Chedwyn (you can see why he shortens it to Ched) Evans was convicted of rape, beyond that his victim was drunk and the jury decided that while she had consented to sex with Clayton McDonald, she did not with Evans.

This isn't because it suggests Evans is, as he claims, innocent, guilty only of infidelity to his girlfriend, who has supported him throughout.  If anything, it makes him look even worse.  According to the account provided by the Court of Appeal, the facts are these.  The victim  "literally stumbled across McDonald's path" some time after 3am on the morning of the 29/30th of May 2011.  CCTV footage from before then shows her falling over in a kebab shop, and indeed, she was such the worse for wear she left her handbag behind.  The taxi driver who took McDonald and the victim to a nearby Premier Inn said the victim's "upper clothing was somewhat dishevelled".  While in the taxi McDonald texted Evans "telling him that he had 'got a bird' or words to that effect".  The night porter at the Premier Inn described the victim as "extremely drunk".

Some time after the pair were showed to the room, Evans arrived with two other male friends.  Evans persuaded the porter to give him the key card to the room as he had "booked the room for a friend who no longer needed it".  McDonald and the victim stopped having sex when he opened the door.  This is when according to Evans the victim was asked whether he "could join in" and she replied in the affirmative.  The night porter, for whatever reason checking on what was happening, heard what he thought was a couple having sex and thought no more of it.  Evans' friends meanwhile were outside the bedroom window filming the goings on until the curtains were drawn.  It doesn't seem their recording picked up the exchange Evans says there was between him and the victim.

About half an hour later Evans and McDonald left the room.  McDonald spoke to the porter before leaving the hotel, telling him to look out for the girl in room 14 as she was sick, while Evans went through a fire exit.  Both men then went back to Evans' home.  The victim woke up at 11:30am with no memory of what had gone on, and straight away went to the police.

The prosecution's case was the room at the Premier Inn was booked for the "sole purpose of procuring a girl or girls later that night".  The defence stated Evans had in fact booked it for McDonald and a friend to use to stay in.  Despite being in Rhyl all evening, it seems McDonald hadn't succeeded in meeting anyone who wanted to go back to the hotel with him until by chance a young woman he must have realised was extremely drunk approached him and asked what he was doing.  The jury in acquitting McDonald and finding Evans guilty seems likely to have decided, as the Court of Appeal puts it
 

that even if the complainant did not, in fact, consent to sexual intercourse with either of the two men, that in the light of his part in what happened -- the meeting in the street and so on -- McDonald may reasonably have believed that the complainant had consented to sexual activity with him, and at the same time concluded that the applicant [Evans] knew perfectly well that she had not consented to sexual activity with him (the applicant).

They also note the jury might have considered the different ways in which McDonald and Evans left the hotel to have been relevant.

Regardless of what you think of the behaviour of all involved, the case was as the CoA puts it, a "classic case for decision by the jury".  A different jury might well have reached a different verdict on the same evidence.  Nonetheless, all of Evans' appeals to date have failed.  It could be he is the victim of a terrible miscarriage of justice.  It could also be, and it has to be said this is my view, that both he and McDonald took despicable advantage of someone they must have known to have been incapable of truly consenting to sex.  When you then consider the further extenuating circumstances, that immediately after Evans' conviction the victim's name was being spread on Twitter and she was being denounced as a liar and worse, not to mention his wholesale lack of remorse, you can more than understand why some don't want to see Evans playing football for Sheffield United again.

Except the campaign against Evans isn't being fought on those grounds, for the good reason a person sent to prison shouldn't be stopped from returning to their job once released unless it was directly relevant to the crime, or if the conviction makes it impossible for them to resume, i.e. if they were in a position of true authority.  All the onus has instead been put on the "role model" argument, the exact same one so often snatched at by tabloids when they've uncovered a footballer having an affair or a celebrity taking drugs, having failed to prove hypocrisy.  This assumes first that anyone who plays football at a professional level can be held up as a role model, that the simple act of pulling on a football shirt elevates them above normal mortals and demands they show extra responsibility, lest anyone is naive enough to think what a player does off the pitch is just as worthy of emulation as what they do on it.  This is quite the burden to put on the shoulders of young players, whom regardless of their new found status are likely to be just as immature as their peers who aren't in the public eye.

Second, the argument seems to suggest some people can be so overawed by the status of someone they admire that any other bearing on their thinking, whether it be friends, parents or siblings can be disregarded.  There is perhaps something to Jean Hatchet stating that for Sheffield United to re-sign Evans would be to send a message that "men who commit such atrocious crimes will suffer only a small penance whilst the women they attack suffer for the rest of their lives", but Evans, whether he plays again for United or not, will forever be remembered as being convicted of rape and having caused this entire furore.  Some Sheffield United fans have responded in a way that gives credence to the claim re-signing Evans trivialises his offence, and the club while condemning the abuse meted out to Jessica Ennis-Hill could have justified its decision to allow Evans to train with the team instead of hiding behind the PFA's request far better, yet fans will nearly always defend their club when they perceive it as under attack, as we saw with Liverpool and Luis Suarez.  Sheffield United players have not worn t-shirts defending Evans for one thing.

It's also come to something when Julie Bindel, of all people, wonders if the campaigns against Dapper Laughs and Julien Deblanc aren't in danger of morphing into a censorship akin to the one her generation detested when it was led by Mary Whitehouse.  Evans is clearly a separate issue, but it does as she writes distract from dealing with the wider issue of misogyny and outdated attitudes in general in the game; when Richard Scudamore can say he wouldn't employ a rapist, but is more than happy to bully smaller clubs and remain friends with people who refer to women as "gash" then it's not as though an example is being set at the very top.  The underlying sentiment may be the right one; whether Evans and Sheffield United are the right target at the right time remains to be seen.

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Monday, November 17, 2014 

Islamic State and the "glamour" of war.

If there's one thing war most certainly isn't, it's glamorous.  Only the truly chuckleheaded try and make it look that way, most of whom are by coincidence looking for fresh recruits.  All too often accounts of soldiers, defenders, even those on the offensive, fall into adulation and hero worship, any qualms about the hideousness of what those being chronicled are doing, for the greater good or not, forgotten amid the need to create a myth.  Those defending Kobani against Islamic State for instance are without a doubt fighting a noble cause, against an enemy whose inhumanity, barbarity and bloodlust is most certainly not mythical.  They are not however uniquely heroic, the best of humanity against the worst or any other hyperbole; they're still a militia, a people's militia or not, and turning your back on any militia isn't advisable.

Islamic State is hardly likely then to document how their fighters around Kobani will be shitting in dug pits, if of course they have enough food to be able to think about shitting, desperate for water or any liquid, constantly watching the skies terrified of a drone or US warplane getting too close for comfort.  No, instead they ramp up how a tiny minority when not on the front line are housed in seized properties where it's not all that different to back home, chilling with their Muslim brothers, truly living rather than merely existing, as they would have been had they stayed in Jeddah, Tunis or err, Portsmouth.

As Shiraz Maher says, the stuff IS does make available to the world is of "exceptional quality", at least in comparison to a decade ago when IS's predecessors were uploading videos depicting much the same thing, only it appeared to have been filmed with a potato.  It's also revealing in how it mixes the utterly banal with the unbelievably narcissistic, the most vapid and disposable of Western culture appropriated to promote a creed and cause antithetical to everything Hollywood holds dear.  Under Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi's glorious caliphate, the message seems to be, even the executions will be choreographed and directed by someone with much the same talent as Michael Bay or McG.  Not for these poor bastards a bullet in the back of the head; whereas before IS eschewed all out gore, the screen fading to black as a Western hostage's neck began to be slashed, the camera on this occasion delights in the blood spilled onto sand, the vivid red deliberately set against the dull yellow for maximum impact.

It's not meant for me, of course.  This is your fate, it says to those in Syria and Iraq fighting against IS, whether it be government forces, the Kurds, Shia militias or rebel factions they might have once battled alongside.  This is what you could be doing, it says to the disaffected radically inclined Sunni youth of everywhere, whether they be psychopaths, the sexually frustrated or those with notions of doing good, all are invited and welcome.  Sure, our masked friend with the London accent is once again centre stage, promising to bring the slaughter he's about to lead to "our streets", but it's an empty threat.  After cutting the neck of the man who a second ago was kneeling before him, he then pulls his victim's head back, slow motion is deployed, and he fixes the camera with what is meant to be a stare of defiance.  All I see in those eyes is fear.  A supposed terrorist not at his most powerful but his most bestial, with the man he's just mortally wounded helpless, and still he's terrified.  The victims by contrast go to their deaths with a courage the killers are incapable of emulating.

The video also distracted, intentionally or otherwise, from how things suddenly aren't going the way of IS.  Whether al-Baghdadi was injured or not in the missile strike near Mosul, the group still hasn't taken Kobani and doesn't look as though it can.  It's also losing territory in Iraq, mainly thanks to the involvement of the aforementioned Shia militias backed by Iran, and it's not beyond the realms of possibility the Syrian government might soon win back control of Aleppo, with the obvious next target for Assad the IS capital of Raqqa.  A movement that previously looked unstoppable isn't going to attract the same numbers of recruits, especially those who aren't looking for martyrdom and instead have treated their journey to Syria as little more than a gap year.

Enter then David Cameron, who somehow confused parliaments, announcing new anti-terror legislation in Canberra rather than at Westminster.  A compromise has been reached between stripping citizenship altogether from those who go to fight and instead excluding them for two years, unless they accept they could be prosecuted, as well as subject to stringent monitoring.  Except in reality statelessness was never an option as it's illegal, and nor has it been explained whether someone who decides to wait out the two years will then be treated in the same way on return anyway, as you expect they would.  This rather ignores how the main threat comes usually from those who are stopped from travelling in the first place, as both of the recent attacks in Canada were carried out by men whose passports were confiscated, or from those chosen specifically for a plot, as the 7/7 jihadis were.  Most who head for Syria will end up dead extremely quickly, or left embittered and/or damaged by their experience rather than further radicalised.  It might seem blasé or irresponsible to let those set on jihad go to Syria, but it could be the least worst option, so long as combined with a policy of prosecution and heightened surveillance for those who do choose to come back.

Hyperbole is admittedly tempting when it comes to IS.  Their aim is to instil fear and hatred, and when you really could be next the effect is always going to be palpable.  The best way to respond here though is not to ramp up the panic or to scaremonger, it's to fight back against the narrative of their propaganda, to not give them almost pet nicknames but regard them as what they are: the lowest of the low.  They're not revolutionaries or religious fundamentalists (although they are) so much as murderers and rapists of fellow Muslims, and that is what they will remain.

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