And my job in the city won't matter no more / When the network is down and my flesh is all torn... -- The Rakes.
That would explain today's Mirror super splash then. "MY LOVE FOR TERROR SUSPECT" the front page screams, with the girl declaring her lust for Don Stewart-Whyte, one of those arrested who had recently converted to Islam. With a hefty cheque bulging out of her jeans pocket, the teenager also hands over a handwritten card from Whyte, suggesting he is going down a lonely dark path. The Mirror calls it "chilling". The Sunday Mirror led on the suggestion that one of the bombers had intended to use his wife and child as decoys, even hiding explosives in milk for the baby. The dehumanisation of the suspects is one of the first steps towards assuming their obvious guilt.
Similarly, the stark warning also doesn't apply to the usual suspects in the police/security services who have been leaking to the Sun. "GUNS AT 'TERROR' HOUSE" the splash roars. The article only suggests that "firearms" have been found. They could quite easily be air guns, or blank shooting pistols, as the story doesn't elaborate any further. What sort of person has a gun in their house though? Certainly not someone innocent, obviously. The report also alleges that "£19,000" in cash has been found. The Sun doesn't seem to have learned its lesson from smearing the Koyair brothers, as it reported that £38,000 had been found at their house, without bothering to ask the family for an explanation. Their beliefs regarding bank accounts paying interest meant that they had kept it there. Whether it will turn out to be a similar story in this case we shall have to wait and see. The article goes on to say that bottles filled with explosive were also found yesterday near a bottle bank in High Wycombe, but as yet there has been no confirmation of any of the Sun's "exclusives".
Even the broadsheets aren't free from wild speculation. The Grauniad, usually more level headed, reports unquestionably the statements given by the Pakistan interior minister, Aftab Sherpao, regarding Rashid Rauf, already nicknamed the "Talibrum" by the Scum. Only later in the article does it give credence to the possibility that Rauf may have been tortured. Human Rights Watch has reported on two US citizens of Pakistani origin, arrested in the country on suspected terrorism offences, who were tortured by the security services. There seems little reason to think that Rauf would have been treated differently. The paper also reports that "suspected terrorists have mounted training exercises in some of the most popular areas of the national parks of England and Wales." Scary, no? Only later in the article comes the rather less than frightening bombshell: "The group, unaware it has been under surveillance, was not undergoing weapons or explosives training." In other words, it seems some dark people may have been camping out in the woods, who may or may not be terrorist suspects.
As yet, we still know very little about the supposed plot for mass murder on a grand scale. While as Andrew Gilligan pointed out on Newsnight on Friday, there doesn't seem to be the huge amount of off-the-record briefing going on as there was after the Forest Gate raid, the whispers to the press appear to be starting up again, if anything because there is little to show except leaks to the press for the days of searching of properties. Some reports suggest some of those arrested didn't even have passports. As the Guardian leader on Friday mentioned, the story of the boy who cried wolf ends with there actually being a wolf. Healthy scepticism should be welcomed, but we should also be careful not to dismiss everything out of hand, however convenient these plots seem to be.
Yet it was this "huge and growing threat" that John Reid scaremongered about on Sunday, despite having called for calm and solidarity amongst communities. His motive seemed purely to attack those who don't share the government's view on the threat to the country. He said "4 terror plots had been foiled since 7/7", then decided to neither confirm or deny a story most likely leaked to the Observer by his own department, which suggested there were up to 24 investigations into terror cells that were currently in operation. He also mentioned that there had been an al-Qaida plot in Birmingham in 2000, as if to prove that the threat existed before 9/11. That he neither stated whether those involved were brought to justice, in jail or now in places unknown doesn't inspire confidence that he was telling the full truth. He then wildly missed the point of the letter signed by 3 Muslim MPs, 3 peers and 38 different groups which suggested there may be a link between the country's foreign policy and how the level of threat to Britain has increased, saying "No government worth its salt would stay in power in my view, and no government worth its salt, would be supported by the British people if our foreign policy or any other aspect of policy was being dictated by terrorists."
This is the view that is becoming common currency among the right. The Sun devotes its leader to the subject, saying "once again leading Muslims are intent on excusing Muslim violence rather than condemning it". Both Michael Howard and David Davis also criticised the letter, in differing terms of strength.
This completely ignores what the letter actually says. This paragraph from it destroys the entire basis of the Sun's leader:
Attacking civilians is never justified. This message is a global one. We urge the Prime Minister to redouble his efforts to tackle terror and extremism and change our foreign policy to show the world that we value the lives of civilians wherever they live and whatever their religion.
The letter doesn't suggest that we appease fanatics who threaten mass murder. It condemns violence against civilians, and instead asks the prime minister to change foreign policy because it simply isn't working. Our position on Lebanon meant that the conflict raged on for 4 weeks, with at least 1000 killed as a result. Our hypocrisy and craven attitude towards the United States favoured policy on the Middle East was exemplified by Blair's continued standing shoulder to shoulder with America, no matter how many die in the process. The war in Iraq, supposedly a war that was meant to free the country from the tyranny of Saddam Hussein and free us from the threat posed by Saddam's weapons of mass destruction has not only destroyed that country, but also left us even more insecure, as Iraq becomes an almost safe haven for terrorists and jihadis to learn their craft. Reid's remarks also seem to forget how this war on terror started, with the attack on Afghanistan that was meant to destroy al-Qaida. If that isn't our foreign policy being shaped by terrorists, what is?
While Reid and others have been making fools of themselves, Ruth Kelly has been sent in to meet a number of Muslim leaders in London. Apart from the bizarre thinking behind Kelly being appointed to do this, what with her membership of Opus Dei somehow not making her a religious extremist, the BBC reports that the leaders were angry with the way the letter had been dismissed by ministers. You can't exactly blame them. What seems to be going on, shockingly, is the government's attempts to make the whole Muslim community responsible for the machinations of a tiny part of it. While the government is by no means going as far as Lord Stevens, ex-Knacker of the Yard, his rhetoric yesterday in the News of the Screws pretty much sums up what some think, and it's this that is the real danger:
WHEN will the Muslims of Britain stand up to be counted?
When will they declare, loud and clear, with no qualifications or quibbles about Britain's foreign policy, that Islamic terrorism is WRONG?
Most of all, when will the Muslim community in this country accept an absolute, undeniable, total truth: that Islamic terrorism is THEIR problem? THEY own it. And it is THEIR duty to face it and eradicate it.
The first thing that hits you is that it's no wonder the Met was/is institutionally racist when there's executives with this kind of mindset. Secondly, all you need to expose the fallacy of Stevens' argument is to change one word: Muslim to Catholic. Suddenly the whole set-up is laughable, and fundamentally dishonest. Nearly all Muslim groups accept that there is a tiny, tiny minority in this country which have extremist views. All of them accept that they need to do more to tackle it. Yet the government has to perform its own share of the bargain. It rejected out of hand many of the recommendations made by a panel of Muslim groups in the aftermath of the 7/7 bombings, showing in general how much faith they put in their dealings with them. That the government continuously denies that the way our foreign policy has been pursued has led to some being led into extremism who otherwise wouldn't have done is just as fundamentally dishonest as Lord Stevens rant. While the letter writers suggested a change of foreign policy, this is no way gives extremists a veto over what Britain as a nation does; rather it is reflecting on the actual views of the population in this great democracy of ours.
The other danger of Stevens' is apparent. The exact message going out to the Muslim communities should be that we do not regard every single one of them as a threat, or that it's their fault that this is happening. Instead some newspapers and commentators seem to be conjuring up an image of an enemy within, which is exactly what the extremists on both sides want. The likes of al-Qaida don't want communities to integrate and stand together; they want to divide and rule. The far-right and yes, even some on the far-left (Yvonne Ridley's stupid remarks that Muslims shouldn't co-operate with the police come to mind) would like the same thing to happen.
What becomes obvious is the government is prepared for all this to take place in order for the larger issue to once again come to the fore. Yep, their plans for 90 days detention and even more anti-terror laws. The softening up for such has already happened in the supportive Murdoch press, and despite Reid's claims he will not push legislation through on the hoof, you can bet that once Blair is back that it will be on the agenda again proper. Quite why the police and security services need even more draconian measures when Britain is already turning into a surveillance state is unclear, but the government seem absolutely determined to force it through. There's also no respite in the shape of Gordon Brown: he's fully behind the plans as well.
We should wait and see what happens. We should listen if there is any genuine new reasons why longer detention is necessary. At the moment however, such plans should be rejected just as forcefully, if not more so, then they were last year. Our handing over of liberties has so far left us both less safe and with fewer rights. The government needs to prove they geniunely have all our best interests at heart, rather than both short-term political gain for them with certain sections of the media and public.
BSSC - Messenger Shoot
Nether-World - Playing Politics with Terror