Thursday, August 21, 2014 

The security-industrial complex triumphs yet again.

Is there a better job going currently than being an "expert", either in security or radicalisation?  Your words are treated as gospel, regardless for instance of how many times we've been warned the sky is about to fall by these people, whether it be due to the ever more ingenious bombs created by the fanatics or by the sheer number of said fanatics just waiting to get their hands on those ingenious bombs.

Take Shiraz Maher for example, the now go to guy at the International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation and Political Violence, which smartly drops the PV bit on the end and just goes by ICSR for short.  You might remember him (although probably not) for the work he did on Islamic extremism for Policy Exchange, the think-tank behind the report exposed by Newsnight as being based on forged evidence.  Maher's studying and researching pretty much amounts to following those jihadists with either no shame or no brains on Twitter, Skyping with those he's managed to persuade to talk to him about their own personal holy war, and then talking to journalists about the threat posed and horrors committed by these otherwise fine and upstanding gentlemen.  He probably has links to the more discrete jihadis who still use forums too, although the switch to Twitter and Facebook by so many has made the whole monitoring process easier for all concerned.

In short, Maher and his ilk are essentially spooks, only not as useful.  His numerous interviews with those out in Syria and now Iraq don't tell us anything we didn't already know, or rather tell those who have gone through Maher to get their own interviews exactly what they want to hear.  According to Maher the first wave of fighters going to Syria went with the best humanitarian intentions, only becoming further radicalised once they got there.  This ties in precisely with the bogus idea of the armed uprising at the beginning being dominated by moderates pushed by the violence of the Assad regime into embracing jihadism (for an especially putrid example of how this argument is still being made, you can hardly do better than this Left Foot Forward piece, a blog transformed by James Bloodworth into one pretty much advocating war all the time, all of the time).  This isn't to say some British fighters weren't at the start somewhat naive about what they were getting themselves into, considering the reporting which often reflected that narrative, only for it to later flip 180 degrees into the equally absurd, all these people are going to come back and continue the war here territory.

Maher nonetheless pours scorn on the idea any of the British fighters could be compared to those who joined the International Brigades in the 1930s.  The "modern state simply cannot allow itself to become a launch pad for every foreign conflict" he writes, except presumably when those conflicts are ones we approve of, or indeed take part in ourselves.  It's also deeply odd how so many of the 500 or more fighters have managed to leave the country, with only the waifs and strays and clingers-on prosecuted.  What purpose for instance was served by jailing Mashudur Choudary, who came back here precisely because he realised he wasn't cut out for the jihad game?  If letting them go is the plan, and it's not necessarily a bad one, shouldn't that be made clear, or are we playing a game of double bluff?  Maher even repeats the ridiculous claim that the Islamic State is too extreme for al-Qaida, when the split between IS and AQ was about personalities and just which was the "real" al-Qaida affiliate in Syria rather than tactics, despite AQ central's concern in the past over al-Zarqawi's igniting of a sectarian war.  Syria is nothing if not a sectarian war after all.

The belligerence of foreign fighters as described by Maher is predictable.  It also hides a weakness, just as the murder of James Foley was the action of a weak actor against a stronger one.  As yet IS hasn't faced an enemy worthy of the name in Iraq, although it will once the peshmerga proper gets involved.  Its ambition could also be its undoing: fighting on two fronts is liable to spread its best fighters too thinly.  Foreign fighters can threaten attacks against the west, but it doesn't make the prospect any more realistic, although the likes of Maher and the hacks following his every pronouncement will make the most they can out of them. Having successfully got the attention of America and the world, there's only way this is going to end for IS and its pitiful "caliphate".

2 months back the spooks and securocrats were convinced the threat was not from IS but al-Nusra, with all electronic devices in air travellers' baggage needing to be charged to show they weren't the latest AQAP-designed fiendish device.  How quickly things change.  What doesn't is the spiel, the certainty this latest danger is real, will endure, and requires immediate action.  And so the security-industrial complex will continue to triumph.

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Wednesday, August 20, 2014 

Wasted your life in black and white.

Hi Time magazine hi Pulitzer prize / Tribal scars in Technicolor / Bang bang club AK47 hour

The reaction to the murder of James Foley by the Islamic State, documented in their now favoured fashion of showing the beginning of the execution before fading the image out, with the victim's head then pictured atop their prone, lifeless body, has been both all too predictable and all too revealing.  Strangely, while even IS deems the release of an unedited decapitation with a small knife in high definition too stomach turning, too brutal, too liable to make even the most bloodthirsty armchair jihadis blanch and wonder about the merits of such base, pure propaganda, few bat an eyelid as our politicians, commentators and media respond as though such a heinous act has never been committed before.  David Cameron stayed on holiday as Gaza burned, the Yazidis took to Mount Sinjar to escape IS and dozens of celebrities took the ice bucket challenge, but the filmed killing of a white, western journalist?  He had to return when such "an act of violence shocks the conscience of the entire world."

Foley's murder is of course straight out of the old al-Zarqawi bequeathed playbook.  The words, both from Foley and the butcher tasked with the killing would with minor adjustment be the exact same as those we heard 10 years ago, when if we're to believe the Americans it was Zarqawi himself wielding the blade.  Things have undoubtedly changed since then: Zarqawi made demands that were never going to be accepted, but it gave the illusion of possible escape both to the prisoner and their relatives; up till yesterday some were still insisting Foley was being held by Assad's forces, not a group like IS.  Killing Foley without any such public warning or ultimatum as "revenge" for the US strikes is of a piece with their other filmed atrocities.  Straight brutality designed to invoke fear and rage in equal measure is the default position.

It's deeper than just a terrorist group being a terrorist group though.  The propaganda of the Red Army Faction for instance, at least during the initial Baader-Meinhof period was exactly what you'd expect from the pen of a political journalist turned wannabe guerilla.  IS by contrast, while working by the model put down by jihadi groups past doesn't have the same ideological or intellectual back-up, with the vast majority of scholars whom backed al-Qaida denouncing IS and its declaring of a new caliphate.  IS can point to even less theological justification for its actions than al-Qaida, which really is saying something.  All the same, for all its amateurism, its massacre first and ask questions later mentality, it knows both how to play the media and politicians at the same time.

For PJ Crowley to say the video isn't then aimed at the United States is completely specious.  It couldn't be more aimed at the US.  As Jason Burke writes, IS might not believe in "propaganda by deed" to the same extent as bin Laden did, understandably considering how the Ummah failed to rise against their infidel rulers despite such prompting, but it is about trying to once again get the US to involve itself fully in Iraq/Syria.  The invasion and occupation of Iraq resulted in the creation of IS in the first place, for goodness sake.  Those with an old school jihadi outlook will continue to look down on the chaos and mayhem IS has caused, until that is the US widens its current strategy and starts bombing more widely than just "threatening" vehicles.  Then any such concerns will quickly be forgotten, and another wave of fighters will start flocking towards IS's black flag.  It works both ways: threaten attacks anywhere, regardless of how unlikely an IS attack outside the Middle East is, and threaten the lives of the few Americans IS can get to.  Both demand a response from the war addicts at the Pentagon and in Congress.

Then we come to how it was apparently a "multicultural London English" man who speaks and then kills Foley.  The Islamic State is smart enough to realise both how the foreign fighter angle has been overplayed, the importance of communication, and the intended horror at how a westerner could be killing another westerner in a country far away from home.  No one knows just how many young British men (and women, for that matter) have gone to join the jihadists in Syria/Iraq, but plenty are willing to guess and draw the most alarmist, scaremongering conclusions, especially if it means more government money for the anti-radicalisation industry (1 in 800 young Sunni Muslim men, shrieks James Brandon, formerly of Quilliam).  We saw with the entire Trojan Horse affair just how deeply the government has bought into the at risk of extremism narrative, regardless of the lack of evidence of any actual radicalisation, simple intolerance and vile sectarianism not being enough.  Nicky Morgan has since given a speech making clear how nurseries and pre-schools will also be monitored lest they start churning out 5-year-old jihadis, in what has to be one of the most absurd government policies since oh, David Cameron promised to make all of them family friendly.

As the War Nerd wrote a few months back, the bigger question is why relatively so few go and join the jihadis.  Perhaps one of the reasons those few have is connected to our continued, blatant double standards.  You might remember the UN used very similar language to Obama in condemning the shelling of their schools in Gaza, language of the sort our politicians would never use to condemn a fellow democracy, regardless of its actions.  The same media commentators who wonder just why it is people in Ferguson are prepared to riot over the shooting dead of a black teenager regard the murder of Foley as terrorist attack that demands a response.  The slaughter of dozens if not hundreds of Shia men at the hands of IS gets perfunctory coverage, if that, with the images and video shared on social media freely.  A white westerner killed in the most brutal fashion necessitates a crackdown, the closing of Twitter accounts, another of those Twitter "campaigns" masquerading as being about not helping IS propaganda spread when really it's about people not wanting to see something happening to "us", rather than it happening to "them".  So much as watching the video could be enough to get a knock on the door from the police, presumably once they're done with harassing the wives and friends of fighters.

The only realistic endgame to all of this involves, as the Graun is brave enough to point out, a settlement in Syria as well as reconciliation in Iraq.  The difficulty is in trying to push for that reconciliation at the same time as Iraq looks destined to break apart.  If we take the side of the Kurds over the weak Iraq military, unable to take back Tikrit, the risk is it only holds things together in the short rather than the long term.  It also likely means coming to some sort of accommodation or at the very least a short term pact with the Assad government, regardless of how anathema such a deal will be.  It additionally requires the making clear to Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Qatar that even if they haven't directly funded IS or the other jihadist groups in Syria, their encouragement and indirect funding of an almost region wide proxy war must end now.  The same message must also go to Iran and Hezbollah, but their involvement was more in response to the actions of the above than out of any real love for Assad.  This is not the time for a recital of all the old noises about a war on terror, a generational battle or why-oh-whying about British Muslims and the other failings of the past.  It's time we learned from them.

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Monday, August 18, 2014 

Our clear as mud Iraq strategy.

Living life like a comatose / Ego loaded and swallow, swallow, swallow

At times, everything seems to descend into parody.  This, for instance, has to be a piss-take, an anonymous record producer making fun of a relatively new genre, a track made with a smile, the creator certain everyone will get the joke.  It gets best new music on Pitchfork, Boomkat describes it as "exquisite ear candy ... visionary pop architecture" and even Resident Advisor approves.  If this turn of events discombobulated the producer (whom last year put out this pleasing slice of house) then he seems to have just gone with it.  After all, why not?

By the same token, David Cameron surely didn't think he'd get away with his article for the Sunday Telegraph.  He (or whichever adviser/hanger-on wrote it) writes we can't let ourselves be imprisoned by the events of 10 years ago, and he has a point.  Just because we've had a major hand in Iraq being in the mess it now is doesn't mean we shouldn't return and help Johnny Kurd push back the ethnic cleansers of the Islamic State.  Besides, we're not going to put "boots on the ground", just as we didn't in Libya.  If we so choose to bomb a few Islamic State positions, or more accurately described, vehicles, as they seem to be the main targets the Americans have chosen to obliterate thus far, we should know that doing so is all the more likely to prevent the Islamic State from becoming a threat here.  Just think what might happen if we sat this one out.  A positively medieval caliphate stretching across the Middle East, on the shores of the Mediterranean, bordering a NATO country!  A NATO country!  What could be more terrifying, more ignominious, more unacceptable?

Like the estimable Flying Rodent, I'm more than a little tired of the this-time-it-really-is-as-bad-as-we're-saying-it-is intervention argument.  Ten years ago every politician told us we were facing a generational battle against Islamic extremism, a long war, a war we might even not realise was still going on or in fact had ended.  Yesterday David Cameron said we will be fighting this "poisonous and extremist ideology" for the rest of his "political lifetime".  His political lifetime could extend all the way up till next May, but put that happy thought to one side for a moment.  Outside of the anti-jihadist monomaniacs, around the time of the Arab spring with bin Laden dead and al-Qaida central having been reduced to Ayman al-Zahawiri occasionally holding forth in his eternally pompous fashion, all those predictions seemed to have come to naught.  Why then are all the old favourites being reheated like the fried chicken in the local kebab shop?

Cameron, naturally, has the answer.  According to him what we're seeing isn't Sunni against Shia, but rather "a battle between Islam on the one hand and extremists who want to abuse Islam on the other".  This is, as Kim Howells had it on the Turner prize entrants however many years ago, cold mechanical bullshit.  The Islamic State of Iraq 5 years ago had been routed, thanks to the Awakening groups, i.e. Sunnis who had turned against ISI's brutality.  Only our friend Nouri al-Maliki didn't keep his promises to the Awakening groups, with many complaining the payments they were due were either paid late or didn't arrive at all.  Then came the uprising in Syria, which quickly descended into a sectarian proxy war.  Some of the remnants of ISI formed the al-Nusra Front, and seeing this brought funding from the rich Wahhabi takfirists in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and so on, possibly including direct from the Saudi authorities, ISI proper joined the fray.  Along with the proceeds from the oil fields they captured, ISI was suddenly swimming in wealth and gathering in a lot more fighters too.  With the Sunni Arabs in the north of Iraq once again prepared to join up with or acquiesce to the jihadis, first Fallujah fell, then Mosul did.

When Cameron then says we must work with the likes of Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey you can't help but wonder if he isn't doing this deliberately.  Those three nations have done more to help the Islamic State and its jihadi brethren than the rest of the world combined.  Saudi policy towards Syria only altered at the beginning of this year, while it's difficult to know whether Qatar's has at all.  Turkey's main role has been to keep the border open, helping refugees escape yes, but also to allow money and fighters to flow through unimpeded.  Cameron even mentions the spectre of the Islamic State taking Aleppo, which prompts the obvious question of whether we might just have backed the wrong dog in this fight.  Assad's a murderous, barbarous chemical weapon using dictator yes, but compared to the Islamic State he's a sweetheart.

What then is the plan now that the Yazidis have been helped off the mountain and the imminent threat of genocide seems to be receding?  We're going to arm the Kurds, although it's not clear which Kurds, or whether by "arm" we mean provide them with equipment rather than ammunition for their ageing Soviet-era weapons, but are we expecting the peshmerga to liberate all of the territory taken by the Islamic State, albeit with ourselves or just the Americans providing air support, or just Mosul?  If it's the former, are the Kurds then just going to hand all this Sunni dominated territory over to the Shia dominated Iraqi army once Baghdad has sorted itself out, or are they going to keep some of it in hope of a greater Kurdistan becoming inexorable at some point?  This major favour to the west isn't going to come free, that's for sure, and if anyone with the exception of the Palestinians deserves a state, it's the Kurds.  It certainly won't please either Turkey or the Iranians, though.

See, what starts out as a thoroughly decent operation to prevent abused and persecuted minorities from being slaughtered has the potential to quickly become the kind of conflict we did our best previously to prevent igniting.  Trying to justify it all by resorting to the ever more exhausted national security reasoning is contemptible.  When the best they can point to is hot-heads in east London flying an IS flag or ex-drug dealers joining a different type of war without the slightest evidence they have any intention of bringing the fight here they really have to change the record.  Indeed, getting further involved would almost certainly increase rather than decrease the threat, exactly as MI5 warned prior to 2003.  Yet here we are once again, with Michael Fallon warning our role is likely to take months rather than weeks.  Irony, as ever, is smothering everything.

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Tuesday, August 12, 2014 

The personal is more political than ever.

Don't tell me, a liberal American Jew in London, what to think about Israel, pleads Hadley FreemanWe are all Palestinians, writes Karma Nabulsi.  We broke Iraq, therefore we have a responsibility to do whatever it takes to save its people from themselves, insists Tom WatsonFeel my pain, demands Tory MP earning an amount the vast majority of us can only dream of receiving at the end of the month.  No, feel our anguish, says group of utterly deranged Israel supporters, at how those we will defend to the death are forced, literally forced by Hamas, to kill Palestinian children.

The personal is political, as feminists prior to the current generation of Twitter using crybabies had it.  Back then it meant something, and perhaps it still does.  Politics is always personal, of course.  For some, it's a crusade or it is nothing.  It's hard not to think though we've reached a peak for this, despite what it seems I'm writing about, I am in fact writing about myself style of political commentary.

Hadley Freeman doesn't really care about Israel or Gaza then, nor does she care about the Tricycle theatre asking the Jewish Film Festival to reconsider accepting money from the Israeli embassy, rather she's affronted that anyone would dare think she, a good liberal American cosmopolitan Jew might care to express her opinion about something serious for a change.  In her entire piece we don't learn what she does think, although to judge by her quoting of Roger Cohen's claim that to not hold a negative view of Israel in Britain is to be considered without a conscience, and her end summation that media coverage in America and Europe is equally skewed, just in opposite directions, we can guess.  Nor does she present any evidence anyone has told her or any other Jews what to think about Israel, but that's to be expected.

Europe's roots are showing, nonetheless.  Reports of antisemitic attacks and vandalism have spiked, as they usually do when Israel brings out the Hellfire missiles.  Racism is always racism, and it is without question protests against Israel attract their fair share of Islamists, kooks, conspiracy theorists and outright loons.  Nor is enough done by others on the marches to denounce them, or make clear they are most definitely not welcome.  Smearing "FREE GAZA" on the walls of a synagogue is as just as much an act of stupid hate as painting "EDL" or something similar on a mosque would be.  It is strange though that, unlike when hate crimes against Muslims peaked after the murder of Lee Rigby, we haven't had left-wingers claiming such reports of antisemitism have been exaggerated, as we did with the attacks on Tell Mama by the Telegraph and Mail on Sunday.  Also peculiar is the number of articles which popped up one after the other about Europe's continuing problem with antisemitism, or as it could be more accurately termed, Europe's continuing problem with racism.

Other than crying antisemitism, the other perennial is victimhood, again because of its roots in reality.  Once, the Golda Meir quote about forgiving Arabs for killing their children but not forgiving them for making Israel kill their children was poignant and reflected how Israel was surrounded by enemies. Now it can be wrongly interpreted all too easily, precisely because Palestinian life is regarded as cheap and the standard defence of every Israeli attack is they have no choice.  The advert paid for by This World, co-written by Elie Wiesel, takes the "human shield" argument, whatever its extremely limited merits and debases it completely.  We are the ones who are really suffering by having to kill children is its message. The Palestinians are responsible if they don't change their leaders; they must find "true Muslims", to represent them, Muslims acceptable to Likudniks.  Even the main suspect in the murder of the Palestinian teenager Abu Khdeir, an act committed in revenge for the kidnap and slaughter of three Israeli teens, claims to have immediately felt remorse for his crime.  Feel our pain, not theirs.

Not that we are all Palestinians has any true resonance beyond the demonstrations either.  We are not Gazans, nor would we want to be.  It's not enough to want justice for the Palestinians, the lifting of the Gaza blockade, the establishment of a viable Palestinian state with east Jerusalem as its capital, we have to be them, not just express our most earnest solidarity.  So too we must save Iraqis, at least once it's decided whom it is we should be demonstrating in favour of today.  We either have to do so because this could have been prevented had we armed the rebels in Syria, although it's not made clear which rebels we were meant to have given heavy weaponry to, or because of our involvement in the Iraq war, or because of Sykes-Picot, or because of whatever other justification can be dredged up.  Then again, according to the Sun, we can't do anything, although it isn't exactly clear what we're supposed to do about Australian jihadists taking their kids to Syria.  Perhaps we were meant to provide him with a toy AK-47 which in turn would have prevented the Islamic State from taking over the north of Iraq?

For a nation supposedly turned isolationist by the vote on Syria, our other representatives in the media are as quick as ever to want the bombers sent in, without explaining what it would achieve, whether there is any sort of plan, or if attacking IS from the air will push them back.  One has to wonder if this isn't about us rather than them.  It shouldn't therefore surprise when an MP tries the same tactic, attempting to garner sympathy as he can't afford to house his family in Westminster under the new expenses regime.  He wasn't prepared to have them live anywhere else in London, the public transport system in the capital being notoriously unreliable, and so would rather step down instead.  As one of the few people who wouldn't begrudge MPs a second home in London with the tab picked up by the taxpayer, at least within reason, Mark Simmonds hasn't really helped out his colleagues.  His wish to spend more time with his family could also have something to do with his missing the Syria vote last year, not hearing the division bell as he was discussing Rwanda with Justine Greening.

It could be in this age of Buzzfeed writers believe the only way to get readers interested is by making it personal.  It could be the cult of the self continues to grow.  It could be the only way to get anything worth doing done is to spell out why it matters to us, charity beginning at home, altruism no longer enough.  It could be we can only talk about things when they happen to celebrities, even if then most reach immediately for contemptibly puerile clichés.  At least it's talking, right?  It's that it's also limiting, closes down debate, encourages personal abuse, which in turn leads to further articles about how terrible it is to be called names in the comment section and on social networks.  What was it the original piece was about again?

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Monday, August 11, 2014 

Stop me...

Stop me if you think you've heard this one before.  An armed force is approaching a major cityAlready hundreds of thousands of people have fled in their wake.  There is a very real threat of genocide being committed.  Those on the ground are pleading for help from the outside world.  Doing nothing isn't an option.  Parliament has to be recalled.

It's all too wearily familiar, isn't it?  In fact, if you were the cynical sort, you could say that seems to be the point.  The difference is that unlike in Libya a few years back, there really is a genuine possibility of an entire community being slaughtered, the Yazidis of Iraq threatened in a way they never were during the reign of the Ba'ath party by the self-proclaimed "Islamic State".  It's difficult therefore to object at all to the steps taken by the Americans since the flight by up to 40,000 Yazidis to Mount Sinjar, of whom up to 20,000 are now thought to have managed to escape into Iraqi Kurdistan.  How much help the airstrikes and drops of aid have been is open to question - there are suggestions the food and water parachuted down hasn't survived the impact with the ground, while in the past the aid itself has proven deadly - but if it has allowed the peshmerga the breathing room to evacuate some of the refugees, all pessimism should be tempered.  The danger is not just directly from the jihadists, but also the fearsome Iraqi summer: without shelter or water, heat exhaustion can affect the young and the elderly very quickly.

This said, these strikes are not anything close to altruism.  Over the weekend US media reported on the "thousands" (later "hundreds") of Americans in Erbil, the Kurdish city that has become a mini-Dubai, except far more liberal and tolerant than the emirate beloved by the corpulent Western elite.  As Steve Coll reports in the New Yorker, the vast majority of however many Americans there really are in Erbil are there because of the oil, with a far smaller number of military operatives also in residence.  Erbil probably wasn't at imminent risk of being overrun by IS, as the peshmerga would most likely have regrouped and been quickly reinforced, as indeed they now have.  Still, it never hurts to be absolutely certain, and the plight of the Yazidis and other minorities provided an opportunity to bomb a few Islamic State vehicles in the bargain.

Quite what the US plan now is doesn't immediately present itself.  If the idea is a rerun of Libya, with the US carrying out attacks on IS targets which get too close to areas they've decided to protect while the Kurds and hopefully also the central government properly get their shit together, this could take a while.  It's clearly not a coincidence that in Baghdad today there's been a coup against Nouri al-Maliki, after the reports Maliki himself was preparing a coup.  The appointment of Haider al-Abadi as the new prime minister, instantly welcomed by the US, hardly suggests the turmoil and torpor in the Iraqi capital is going to be over any time soon.  Nor is replacing one Shia Islamist from the Dawa party with another Shia Islamist from err, the Dawa party likely to win over the disenchanted Sunnis whom have either worked with the Islamic State or done little to oppose their takeover of much of the north of Iraq.

Exactly why it is then some MPs are now chomping at the bit to get ourselves involved is a bit of a mystery.  Or rather, isn't.  Ever since the Syria vote there's been continued murmurings from those convinced the only way we can stand tall on the world stage is to support America in absolutely everything she does.  When parliament voted against intervening in Syria at that time, something David Cameron took as ruling it out for all time, it was only a matter of days before government ministers were complaining this meant the royal prerogative had gone out the window, and we would no longer be regarded as a reliable ally, much less a "full spectrum" one.  It doesn't seem to matter the US hasn't made any suggestion as yet it could do with more help, and besides, we've already taken it upon ourselves to carry out further humanitarian drops of aid.  They've even gone so far as to suggest parliament could discuss Gaza at the same time, just to make sure it appeals to those on the opposite side, devious buggers that they are.

The real difficulty is knowing how much blame to put on each state actor for the current desperate situation.  Amazing as it is, at the weekend both Hillary Clinton and John McCain were insisting if only we'd armed the Syrian rebels earlier we wouldn't now be in this mess.  The fiction that there is or was a Syrian moderate faction ready to be trained and empowered before the Islamic State and al-Nusra established themselves as the big two continues to go unchallenged.  A more than healthy dollop of blame must obviously be put on Bashar al-Assad for his murderous reaction to the original, peaceful protests which demanded reform, not revolution.  After the switch to armed struggle, the funding of the most extreme factions by Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Kuwait, some of it through private donors, some of it direct, is how IS managed to reach the point where it was able to hold not only a large area of Syria, but also launch an operation to control much of northern Iraq, having previously been reduced to a mockery of its former self.  The west either turned a blind eye to this, or in some cases, facilitated it and encouraged it with little concern for the potential consequences.  Only last year did the west suddenly realise the monster it had helped create, and even then useful idiots and apologists for the other rebels kept pushing the nonsense there was some sort of deal between Assad and IS where they didn't attack each other.  Finally, al-Maliki and his Iranian/American backers bear a grave responsibility also for his antagonising and marginalising of the Sunni population to the point where so many were prepared to align themselves with the Islamic State.

Whether if given the same shock and awe treatment as Iraq was back in 2003 IS would quickly disintegrate doesn't enter into the equation.  Even with quite possibly the most violent and potentially dangerous jihadist force the world has yet seen dismantling the Sykes-Picot agreement, the Americans aren't interested in getting involved to such a point again, entirely reasonably.  At the same time, by carrying out attacks on IS from the air they seem ready to step into the role of ostensible Iraqi air force, with all that entails for possible civilian casualties and potential further disenchantment of the Sunni population should IS eventually be pushed back.

Call me crazy, but I think it might just be best if we sat this one out.  Don't count on it though.

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Tuesday, July 08, 2014 

Condemned to repeat.

Yesterday was the 9th anniversary of the 7/7 attacks.  Survivors, relatives of the 52 people murdered by 4 British men once again paid quiet, dignified tribute at the memorial in Hyde Park.  The graffiti sprayed by an idiot truther on the memorial the night before was removed long before they arrived.

Despite making a number of attempts since, 7/7 was al-Qaida central's last "success".  While other western cities have been attacked post-2005, none of those responsible have been definitively linked back to al-Qaida in Pakistan.  Indeed, if we're to believe the documents captured in the raid on Osama bin Laden's hideout in Abbottabad, the hermit leader of the network was having doubts about the wisdom of indiscriminate, high casualty attacks, not surprising considering the damage caused to the image of al-Qaida's brand of jihad by the takfiri sectarianism of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi in Iraq.


Not for a second though has the level of threat posed by Islamic terrorists diminished, oh no.  Just because they aren't as focused as much now on simultaneous suicide attacks doesn't mean we should relax or suggest things aren't as bad. On the contrary, to do so would be truly irresponsible.  It doesn't seem to matter how increasingly ridiculous the plots we're meant to be afraid of are, or how insane the security measures imposed on air passengers have become, we can't question the people who've seen the intelligence and know best.  They have our best interests at heart.


Finally then the two other main threats to our security have melded together. Al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula's master bomb maker Ibrahim Hassan al-Asiri is feared to have passed his knowledge on to the al-Nusra front in Syria, although it's not clear whether this is in the form of devices or training. Intelligence, we're told, suggests foreign fighters returning from the battlefield may have been persuaded to take the fight to the West rather than Assad, with fiendish undetectable bombs hidden in their luggage.  This weekend the Americans started introducing checks on electronic devices, requiring airline passengers to demonstrate smartphones, tablets, etc could be powered on, with those found to have uncharged gadgets either not allowed to board or forced to leave their possessions behind.  As we simply have to follow our former colonial cousins, the same restrictions have since been put in place here.

If all this sounds eerily familiar, it might be because we've been through this just a few times before.  Al-Asiri is a master bomb maker in the sense that so far, not a single one of his devilish, ingenious devices has had the desired effect of killing infidels.  On the contrary, the only person killed by his forays into experimental chemistry has been his own brother, who died attempting to assassinate Prince Mohammed bin Nayef of Saudi Arabia.  The attempt was notable for how the bomb was supposedly hidden in Abdullah al-Asiri's rectum, although it's never been properly established whether it was implanted, shoved up there or was rather the first use of an "underwear" bomb, a tactic further refined and then used by Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, again without the desired effect.  Also intercepted were his printer bombs, while another device was given to the Saudi intelligence services by a double agent.

Since then we've had a scare approximately every six months, and each time nothing has come of it.  3 years ago almost to the day the US warned of implanted bombs, although without being able to pinpoint exactly which part of the body would house the explosives.  At the end of last year Frank Gardner, ever the willing conduit for the spooks' whispers, insisted Al-Asiri was once again refining his methods.  Now apparently we're meant to worry about smartphones, especially iPhones and Samsung Galaxy devices, handily the two most popular models on the market.  To get technical for just a second, I bothered to weigh my Galaxy S3.  The battery weighs 80 grams, while the phone with battery weighs 140.  Abdulmutallab's bomb we're told contained 80 grams of PETN, the explosive Al-Asiri's devices have used.  80 grams is almost certainly not enough to pierce a plane's fuselage, that is if the bomb successfully detonated, unlike Abdulmutallab's.  Unless these bombs are sophisticated to the point of concealing more explosive in weight than the phone would ever normally be able to without raising suspicions, the chances of one blowing a plane out of the sky are fairly low.

It isn't clear why, having upped the amount of PETN in the printer bombs to the point where they certainly would endanger a plane, Al-Asiri or those he's trained would then turn back to lesser quantities and risk the possibility of yet more failures.  Nor does this tale properly add up when it comes to what we know about al-Nusra.  Regardless of the affiliation with al-Qaida, it has shown absolutely no sign of being interested in attacks outside of Syria.  Why would it when it has a life or death struggle on its hands, against both ISIS and Assad?  Charlie Cooper of Quilliam insists we should be worried precisely because of the rivalry between ISIS and al-Qaida, with one group or the other likely to try an attack on the West respectively either to establish itself once and for all as al-Qaida's successor, or to regain the initiative.  This doesn't instantly translate into why al-Nusra would be the group chosen to carry out the legwork, when surely it ought to be al-Qaida central itself handling the fightback.  It seems more than a little convenient it all works back into the other current scare, that of Western citizens who've gone to fight with either al-Nusra or ISIS returning home and continuing the battle here.

Today saw another 2 men convicted of terrorism offences for fighting in Syria, despite there being no evidence whatsoever to suggest they posed a threat to the UK.  It also comes after, of all people, former head of MI6 Richard Dearlove gave a speech arguing the terrorist threat has been exaggerated by both politicians and the media.  As head of MI6 post 9/11 he was up to his neck in both rendition and the dissemination of intelligence on Iraq, likely to be criticised by the Chilcot inquiry.  His message is, despite what others have been insisting, the rise of ISIS (or the Islamic State, as it is now pretentiously insisting it be called in its umpteenth name change) is related to the Arab spring and the on-going proxy war between Sunni Saudi Arabia/Qatar and Shia Iran more than anything else.  Those going to fight in Syria are doing so not as a first step towards targeting the West, but due to a sense of religious duty as much an adherence to takfirist ideology.  This doesn't make them pleasant, liberal people by any stretch of the imagination, but it also hardly means they'll be coming back to bomb tube trains.

In more sensible times, Dearlove would be listened to.  These are not sensible times, as is all too apparent.  Instead it's a time when the security services' demands for more power are never-ending, and organisations such as Quilliam have to justify their existence by forever looking for fresh bogeymen.  Despite dire predictions, the sky did not fall when the threat was considered its most serious.  Nor will it now.  You can but hope that by the 10th anniversary of 7/7, we might just have finally got some perspective.

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Thursday, June 26, 2014 

Crucifixion is an easy life.

Knuckle deep within the borderline.  This may hurt a little but it's something you'll get used to.

Just this once, can we hear it for the Jordanian justice system?  Theirs is a country where freedom of speech is heavily restricted and torturers are able to operate with impunity, and yet even with such things in their favour they still couldn't manage to convict Abu Qatada on terrorism charges.

For those who've (sadly) followed the entire sorry process, this doesn't exactly come as a surprise.  With the tainted testimony from those tortured expunged, the evidence for everyone's favourite Uncle Albert lookalike (stretching it a bit here) being involved in the 1998 bombings in the country was wafer thin.  In fact, there was such a lack of almost anything incriminating against Qatada it could be said to mirror the trial of the al-Jazeera journalists in Egypt.  Jihadica (not exactly the most neutral source) reports that few if any of the witnesses called knew Qatada personally, and rarely even touched on the charges he was facing.  Going by this it seems equally unlikely he will be found guilty of involvement in the "Millennium plot", despite there being a smidgen more circumstantial evidence linking him to it, at least according to SIAC.

It bears repeating then that if it hadn't been for the courts, both here and in Strasbourg repeatedly blocking the attempts by successive governments to deport Qatada back to Jordan without receiving adequate assurances he wouldn't face "evidence" acquired as a result of mistreatment, an innocent man would now most likely be enjoying the hospitality provided at the Jordanian king's finest prison establishments.  Qatada is without doubt an utterly repellent individual, a supporter and apologist for terrorist groups, as proved by his defence of the al-Nusra Front in Syria, but just as he never faced any charges in this country, managing to stay on the right side of the law, he is not a terrorist himself.

Our determination to get rid of Qatada also leaves Jordan with the problem of what to do with him if he is indeed also found innocent of the remaining charges.  While here he was relatively limited in his ability to propagandise, with leaked interviews from prison about the only way he had of communicating with supporters.  In Jordan journalists have spoken to him at the end of court sessions, while simply being in the dock has given him the opportunity to speak out.  Not that this bothers our politicians, far more concerned with making clear there is no possibility he could return if found innocent.  Might it have been an idea to try and build a case against him back here, rather than just wash our hands of the man we gave asylum in the first place?

Don't be silly.

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Wednesday, June 18, 2014 

William's last words.

Who threw the first stone, if the stone is you?

First, thank you for all your kind words, thoughts and sentiments (including away from here).  They mean more than you can possibly know.  Perhaps in a couple of days I'll respond to them in more detail.  Forgive me for not doing that at the moment.

Second, back in the bad old days/best of days (as they honestly were, without wanting to echo Dickens) one of my favourite lines was that irony was smothering everything.  It is therefore wonderfully ironic that the exact same political backdrop we had then is still with us now.  See, just as I haven't moved forward, nor has politics.  How bitterly, hilariously fitting.  Or it could just be me.

As he almost always does, Flying Rodent has beaten me to it.  We tend to think of the Iraq war and the Gulf war as two separate conflicts when they were not.  The bombing didn't stop in 1991 and then start again in 2003.  It never stopped.  "Targets" were constantly being hit.  Sanctions that destroyed the actual economy and quality of life for the ordinary Iraqi while the Ba'athist elite continued to prosper were put in place and continuously ramped up.  Yet, for some inexplicable reason, once we had finally "finished the job" we found a society that didn't welcome the final act of "shock and awe" as the more fervent supporters of the war insisted they would.  Instead a decent number almost instantly began resisting.  Added to these were, as the War Nerd explains, jihadists just waiting for a new sanctuary after failing to gain a foothold elsewhere.  The two groups merged, and to make a much more nuanced and long story far too short and simple, we eventually ended up with ISIS.

So here we are.  Again.  11 years on, and the prime minister of Great Britain and Northern Ireland (as he must now be known, considering how keen he is on muscular promotion of our values) is standing up in the Commons and saying if we do nothing then we will have carnage on our streets.  You know, I'm tired.  Really fucking tired.  I'm especially tired of politicians telling me that only if we keep on killing people abroad will it mean safety back home.  I don't care whether those people end up getting killed with missiles fired by British jets promoting our muscular values, or by American drones with "long term, hard-headed, patient and intelligent" intentions, at this point incinerating yet more Iraqis is about as likely to have the same effect on our security as sending a dog to the moon would.

Not much more really needs saying about the mess we've got ourselves in, supporting "moderate" Sunnis against Assad in Syria (there are no secularists in Syria says the War Nerd, they're all Islamists of one shade or another) as we now try and suck up to the Iranians to help save Maliki from much the same Sunnis, finally tired of the Shia dominance of the post-war years. But, but say the Blairs and the Bloodworths, had Saddam stayed in power he would most likely have faced the same protests as elsewhere in the Arab world, and if we'd acted against Assad earlier ISIS would have never gained such a foothold. Except ISIS would almost certainly have never established itself in Iraq to start with if it hadn't been for the war, and all out military intervention in Syria has never been on the table, only "punishment" strikes for the gas attacks. And why, principally, was that? It wouldn't have been down to how Iraq and Libya were such fabulous successes, right?

I'm also really tired of the left's failure to stand up for free speech. You expect the establishment to preach the virtues of tolerance and freedom of thought at the same time as the CPS prosecutes the likes of Jake Newsome for posting an offensive but what certainly should not be a criminal message on Facebook about the murder of Ann Maguire.  What you don't expect is for some to defend the outrageous six-week prison sentence he received.  Then again, when some, and I stress some of the left seem to think the real political issue of the day is their right not to be trolled and made fun of on Twitter, perhaps it's not that surprising.  I should be Jack's total lack of surprise.

Most of all, I'd love to fall asleep, and wake up happy.  And wake up happy.

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Thursday, June 12, 2014 

A (slightly) shorter John McTernan.

Aren't the Kurds fantastic?  Shame about the Sunni and Shiites, eh?

You see, the real reason why Iraq is currently descending into the abyss is because we left too early.  We were selfish.  We should have stayed for as long as was needed, as long as it took Saddam to destroy the place.  He did it all, you see.

We have a responsibility to go back there right now and start killing more Iraqis.  Let's face it, if there's one thing we've been world class at over the past decade, it's killing Iraqis.  To be fair, we can't take all the credit.  Most of the actual smiting has been by the Iraqis themselves, we just lit the torch paper by having not a solitary fucking clue of what to do after we completely and utterly destroyed the Ba'athist state for the sheer sake of it.

As for all you cynics and stoppers, muttering under your breath about how al-Qaida didn't exist in Iraq prior to our kicking the door in, you're bloodless, amoral cowards.  You might as well say "Saddam may have been a fascist who inflicted genocide on the Kurds at the same time as we supported his war against Iran and sold him weapons", oh, sorry, got a bit confused there.  Wasn't the war about WMD? I've forgotten.

The truth is if we don't act now, we will have to act later.  We have to go back to Iraq to rescue a democracy that isn't working because the politicians won't share power.  Isn't that right, Tony?

P.S. As a very special treat, here's a shorter Owen Jones:

I have encountered no sense of vindication, no "I told you so", among veterans of the anti-war protest of 15 February 2003 in response to the events in Iraq.  That's why I'm writing this.

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Wednesday, June 11, 2014 

The taking of Mosul isn't our fault. Well, OK, partly it is.

The panic (by politicians and the media, not by the people of Mosul themselves, who know all too well what ISIS is capable of) at the seizing of Mosul by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (or al-Sham, or the Levant, or whatever you want to call them) is a little curious. After all, for a good couple of years between around 06 and 08 the then mere Islamic State of Iraq had the run of if not control of the so-called Sunni Triangle, with Mosul for a long time forming one of their strongholds.  Then though it was the Americans they were principally fighting and winning against. It was only once the Americans joined forces with the Awakening groups, formed after local tribal leaders grew tired of the brutality and fanaticism of ISI that the group was beaten back, and while never defeated, certainly brought to the brink.

Whether or not those who've taken Mosul and also now Tikrit are ISIS fighters in the true sense or a conglomeration of former jihadis including ISIS as some are suggesting, it does nonetheless signal the group's arguable usurping of al-Qaida as the world's pre-eminent jihadist organisation. This is all the more remarkable considering how earlier in the year Ayman al-Zawihiri removed ISIS's  affiliate/franchise status, following its refusal to patch up its differences with the al-Nusra front in Syria, itself originally an offshoot of... ISI.  Its success in Iraq and Syria also comes in spite of criticism from some of the most influential and respected jihadi thinkers, including Abu Qatada and Abu Muhammad al-Maqdisi, both of whom urged support for al-Nusra.

How far this is a victory for ISIS as opposed to a humiliation for Iraqi prime minister Nouri al-Maliki is as yet too early to tell.  ISIS without doubt has some battle-hardened, well-trained and deadly fighters, as is proved by their tightly edited and designed to terrify propaganda videos.  As for how many of their fighters in total have that level of experience and skill is anyone's guess, although it certainly doesn't come close to the 5,000 or so they are estimated to have in Iraq.  Something they do have both in Iraq and Syria is a constant stream of volunteers willing to become suicide bombers, regardless it seems also of whether the target, as in Syria, is their fellow jihadis.  The Iraqi forces, part out of fear, part out of lack of training and part out of lack of loyalty to a Shia-dominated government that has never tried to properly reconcile with the Sunni north since the civil war seem to have mostly melted away, leaving only a police force that soon also abandoned its posts.  Paul Mutter suggests the majority of the functioning Iraqi army is currently trying and failing to dislodge ISIS and other Sunni militias from around Fallujah, making it even less likely Mosul will be able to be retaken soon.

Indeed, as Maliki is apparently encouraging the arming of people's militias, he also seems to doubt whether it can be achieved.  The real key will be ISIS's strategy from here on out.  Where once the group was set on fomenting civil war, relying on holding just a few safe zones and then often under the hospitality of tribal groups rather than through strength, it now de facto controls swathes of both Iraq and Syria, with an even wider operational presence.  In the short-term the aim may well be to recapture some of the territory lost in Syria, with the materiel captured from the Iraqi security forces put into use against the rival rebel groupings there.  Also a major factor will be how the group intends to govern those who haven't fled their advance: promises given that they will not be looking to impose the kind of justice seen in Raqqa are wholly unlikely to convince given the group's propensity for killing first and asking questions later.

Where this leaves foreign policy in the region, or at least should is equally uncertain.  As Juan Cole writes, ISIS could not have survived without the wealthy benefactors in Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and elsewhere in the Gulf who have no qualms about the funding of murderous fanatics if it means the weakening of Iran's allies.  Correspondingly, both the United States and our good selves are now in the position of propping up and supplying a Shia-dominated government in Iraq in its fight against ISIS, while at the same time supplying "moderate" Sunni rebels in their fight against both Assad and ISIS.  We welcome the farcical election of Abdel Fatah al-Sisi in Egypt (in the words of Patrick Cockburn, he couldn't even rig the vote properly), while denouncing the farcical re-election of Assad in Syria.  We try not to mention Libya at all, while politicians who have spent the past decade telling us we've been fighting in Afghanistan to prevent terrorism here can be safe in the knowledge a group too extreme for al-Qaida now controls much of northern Iraq and a good chunk of Syria, both of which are hell of a lot closer to Europe than Afghanistan is.  And of course, we can also be happy about how ISIS didn't exist prior to the Iraq war. 

Other than that, things seem to be going pretty well.  Sleep tight.

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Wednesday, February 12, 2014 

Exaggeration and British jihadis in Syria.

Much excitement, and it has to be described as excitement at how one of our very own has succeeded in blowing himself sky high (literally, in the whole "martyrdom operation" means instant entry to paradise belief of jihadists) in Syria, going where others have previously feared to tread.  It's difficult to know exactly whether it is the intelligence agencies that are so concerned at the potential for those who have gone to Syria to fight, the majority of whom it has to be presumed have gone to join up with the jihadis, to then come back here and plot attacks, or whether it's the media exaggerating those fears in line with how Michael Adebolajo had gone to Kenya looking to join al-Shabaab before returning here.

Whichever it is, and considering how proactive Theresa May has been in removing British citizenship from those of dual nationality who've travelled to Syria the former is just as plausible, it seems a little strange that much of the coverage has been on how those who do go out are likely to be further radicalised.  The obvious historical parallel most have reached for is the Spanish civil war, which I don't think is exactly analogous for the reason that whatever Syria is, it's not a fight about ideology.  The very reason those who joined the International Brigades went to fight was they saw the war as being about putting a halt to the march of fascism across Europe.  Although not universal, many of those who went to fight in Spain returned disullisoned, most notably George Orwell.

It's difficult not to think many will experience the same in Syria, especially as the infighting among the rebel groups has intensified.  Moreover, to have made the decision to travel to Syria in the first place suggests almost all will have been what we'd describe as radical in the first place.  Again, as most seem to be ending up with either al-Nusra or ISIS, the two most hardline jihadist groups rather than with the more "moderate" FSA battalions is indicative of that.  One fact that mitigates against the potential for those who have specifically gone to Syria to fight the Assad government to return and plot is that this is the first time in a decade that a British citizen has carried out a suicide attack in a foreign country.  There have been no such examples of a Brit going to Iraq and becoming a suicide bomber, or in Afghanistan or Pakistan for that matter.  Indeed, there is only one disputed case of someone linked with a group other than al-Shabaab or al-Qaida central returning and carrying out an attack, that of Bilal Abdullah, who had at the least a tenuous connection with the aforementioned Islamic State of Iraq.

The reason for this is obvious: ISIS and other groups, including the Taliban, are far more focused on their own internal conflicts than on attacking the West, unlike al-Qaida central.  ISI did notoriously carry out an attack in Jordan, and it resulted in a backlash.  Those who are more inclined towards the belief that the whole world is a battlefield understandably gravitate towards the likes of al-Qaida, or the increasingly ambitious al-Shabaab.  This isn't a universal rule, as we know that the ringleader of the 7/7 attackers, Mohammad Sidique Khan, travelled to Pakistan with the intention of training and fighting either there or in Afghanistan, only for his plans to change.

Without wanting to say the threat is being completely overblown, you can't help but feel the only reason the the head of counter-terrorism at the CPS is saying those who do travel will be charged on their return is precisely because they are Muslims, and likely to have fought alongside those we consider to be terrorists.  Fighting for a cause you believe in is despite Sue Hemming's reading of the 2006 Terrorism Act not illegal, nor should it be.  Some of those who have gone out to Syria have done so with the very best of intentions; the majority perhaps not so much.  They don't however deserve to be stripped of their citizenship without recourse, nor treated as criminals or terrorists universally.

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Monday, July 08, 2013 

So. Ta ta then.

Abu Qatada is gone.  Not, despite the attempts at further myth making and spin from the Home Office, because he had finally ran out of legal options, but almost certainly down to him realising that even if he had appealed again and delayed his deportation for another couple of years, he was never going to be able to live free (and die hard? Ed.) in this country.  It's worth remembering that with the exception of a short period when he went "missing" after 9/11, Qatada spent the vast majority of the past decade either in Belmarsh or Long Lartin, or during the periods he was released on bail/control order, under the kind of curfew and restrictions that would rid life of pretty much all enjoyment.

Moreover, Qatada never faced a single charge in this country.  If he had appealed, it's possible he could have been charged with some sort of offence over the material allegedly found in his home when he was last arrested which breached his bail conditions, but that's now rather moot.  It might have taken 8 years for Qatada to be deported, longer if you include the time he spent detained without charge between 2002 and 2004, yet it's surely just as unacceptable that someone should spend that period of time under effective detention with charge.  Babar Ahmad suffered a similar fate, despite it being unclear at best whether he had committed any offence whatsoever under UK law.

Qatada then went of his own accord, giving at least as his public justification that he now felt assured he wouldn't face a trial in his home country where the evidence against him would be tainted by torture.  This in itself is an indictment of successive governments, rather than it is of Qatada, or an outrage that human rights laws prevented us getting rid of him at the first opportunity.  For most of that time period ministers were perfectly happy for someone, however unpleasant, dangerous or even murderous, to be deported back to an authoritarian state where torture has long been endemic and trials by the same token are unfair.  We would protest bitterly were a UK citizen subject to such abuses, or we would if it happened in a nation state we aren't friendly with, considering the prevarication over those accused of bombings in Saudia Arabia.  Just look at the campaigns, both successful and unsuccessful, to stop the deportation of the Natwest Three and Gary McKinnion, and that was to the US.

Grudgingly, successive home secretaries were forced to take the legal route.  However it came about, the end result has been for the judicial system in Jordan to be made at the very least fairer, benefiting the population there greatly as a by-product.  Rather than celebrate this as an example of soft power, of the way that diplomacy can result in reform, the government naturally has presented this triumph as exactly why we should consider scrapping the Human Rights Act and even possibly withdrawing from the European Convention on Human Rights altogether.  They can't explain why this needs to happen now, as there isn't a similar case waiting in the wings, and even if there was, it clearly wouldn't take as many years now that it's apparent that people can't be deported back to countries where the evidence against them was the product of torture.  If you want to get rid of someone in such circumstances, either the evidence has to be dropped, or they can't be sent back.  It isn't difficult.

Indeed, considering some of the wilder estimates and that it took 8 years, the reported bill to the taxpayer of £1.7m seems relatively slight.  Quite why it was deemed necessary that a private jet had to be charted for his journey back to Jordan is unclear, especially when security was so lax that Qatada was not handcuffed at any point.  Considering the way in which asylum seekers who have had their request rejected are dealt with, often travelling on commercial flights, his departure could surely have been arranged in a similar way had it been desired.  That wouldn't however have provided the pictures that politicians clearly wanted, of Qatada not quite being carted off but certainly being sent on his merry way.  Regardless of their supposed anger, it summed up what the Qatada case became: not about the rights and wrongs, but about being "tough". 

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Wednesday, May 29, 2013 

Not quite out of the woods.

Considering the potential there was for serious unrest following the murder of Lee Rigby, such was the immediate reaction to the crime on both old and social media, a week on from the tragedy it seems as though the immediate danger to community relations has passed.  This isn't to understate the number of reported attacks on either mosques or ordinary Muslims, which are clearly unacceptably high, or the vandalising of two war memorials (although it's unclear who was responsible in that instance) but further deaths, serious injuries or significant property damage have thankfully been avoided.

In a way (and bear with me here), it's perhaps helped that the key figures on both sides of the extremist divide are either completely discredited or acted like bulls at the proverbial gate.  Taking into account the long weekend, the numbers the EDL managed to mobilise at their various rallies were pretty pathetic.  The most significant, the protest on Monday outside Downing Street, probably attracted somewhere in the region of 2,000 demonstrators, if we're to account for the usual police under counting and the usual organisers' over counting.  Nor have they helped themselves through the way they set about expressing their anger while trying also to honour Rigby: in Newcastle on Saturday one of their speakers let the mask slip when he said "send the black cunts home" to cheers from the crowd, while there are more than a few shots from Monday of various protesters doing something eerily similar to a salute most closely associated with a party that came to power in Germany in the 1930s.

The EDL's biggest mistake though was to imagine that rampaging through Woolwich last Wednesday night was in any way a good idea.  It would have been one thing to hold a vigil for Rigby; it was quite another to distribute EDL branded balaclavas to a bunch of boozed up hot-heads who then did little more than confront the police who were there to provide reassurance.  Rather than drawing attention to their long-standing campaign against Islamic extremists, as they desperately try to maintain their protests are aimed at, it only made crystal clear that their intention is to incite hatred and cause fear, which is of course precisely what those they claim to be against also set out to achieve.

Which brings us, sadly, to Anjem Choudary. You could say that if he didn't exist the media would have to invent him, except they err, partially did. No one else so thoroughly unrepresentative of those he claims to speak for has been so indulged and coddled down the years, whether by the tabloids who fell every single time for his stunts, or the supposedly more serious broadcasters who kept inviting him onto panel discussions. His appearance on Channel 4 News and Newsnight last week, where he predictably refused to condemn the murder of Rigby, however badly defended by both, at least made clear how loathed he is by other Muslim leaders who have to try and deal with his brand of false consciousness.

This said, it ought to be obvious that attempting to restrict extremists such as Choudary from getting on the airwaves is counter-productive, quite apart from being unworkable. It ought to be the case that the media could exercise common sense and not invite those like him onto our screens the day after an attack, but when images of one of the suspects addressing a camera, his hands soaked in blood, is deemed acceptable then it seems we've moved beyond that.  Rather than going about things backwards, we ought to be asking just how it is that Choudary has managed to stay on the right side of the law all these years.  If he does have some kind of relationship with either the police or the security services, then surely we've now reached the point at which his use as an informant has been completely exhausted.

To try and get things in some sort of perspective, it's worth remembering that up until last week it had been almost two years since we had heard anything from the government about tackling radicalisation.  This wasn't because the problem had gone away, clearly, more that a point had been reached where it seemed as though we had something approaching a handle on it.  With the greatest of respect to BenSix, who's dedicated a number of posts to Islamist ideologues and the invitations they've had to speak on campuses and at conferences, too much can be made of students listening to radicals.  It's true that far right figures clearly wouldn't get such a free pass, and we could do with an organisation on the left that argues and organises against extremists of both stripes, but let's not worry unduly.

The situation is more that we're in transition.  Whereas a decade or more ago radicalisation primarily took place in mosques or meetings where charismatic preachers or leaders were in control, the shift has been to the internet and smaller groups that are self-reinforcing.  Those that previously went through the ranks of Hizb-ut-Tahrir or associated with al-Muhijaroun, as one of the suspects in the murder of Drummer Rigby did are increasingly the minority.  The lone wolf tendency has also probably been exaggerated, yet it's true that the influence of Anwar al-Awlaki and al-Qaida's Arabian franchise has been significant, as in the cases of the Fort Hood shooter and Roshonara Choudhry.  Even if YouTube or Facebook/Twitter were more proactive in taking down content that incites hatred or promotes terrorism, as some MPs have demanded (if we're being extremely creditable to them, considering some as well as the Daily Mail seem to imagine Google essentially is the internet), something that isn't necessarily laudable, then those looking for it would quickly find it elsewhere.  The solution has to be to get smarter, both in our arguments and further empowering those who have spent the past few years successfully challenging and counselling those who've strayed towards the extremes.

It doesn't therefore help when politicians and newspapers continue to push the line that much of the blame can be put on extremist preachers, almost always without naming those apparently responsible.  It just plays into the EDL/BNP line that mosques are hotbeds of hatred, an argument helpfully refuted when protesters were invited inside for tea and biscuits when they gathered outside the Bull Lane mosque in York.  Sadly, that approach clearly isn't going to work when it comes to the planned BNP march in Woolwich on Saturday, which intends to end outside the Lewisham Islamic Centre, which is "said to have had one of the suspected murderers amongst itscongregation".  We aren't quite out of the woods yet.

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Thursday, May 23, 2013 

Falling into their trap.

Considering the way that New Labour under Blair responded to 7/7 and then the foiled "liquid bombs" plot (John Reid was on Newsnight last night once again claiming 2,500 people would have been killed, ignoring the fact the cell had never succeeded in making such a bomb and that the experts themselves had major difficulties in doing so), the coalition's reaction to the murder yesterday of Lee Rigby has so far been relatively measured. David Cameron's statement this morning mostly struck the right tone: carry on as normal, as though we weren't going to anyway, and it was a betrayal of Islam as much as it was anything else.

He did of course repeat yesterday's bromides that this was an attack on our way of life and the UK as a whole, when it only was if you buy completely into the ridiculous sense of self-importance jihadists have.  This was no more an act of war or a warning of what could be coming than the four murders carried out by Dale Cregan were.  He killed two police officers out of the deranged belief that doing so would make him the ultimate big man in prison, where he knew he was inexorably heading; more pertinently however, he did it because he could.  The same was the case in Woolwich yesterday.  Elevating their barbarous act to something more meaningful than an unusually brutal murder is to give them respect they simply don't deserve.  They're not terrorists, they're pathetic, warped, criminal individuals with the most banal knowledge of the creed they claim to belong to.

It's not helpful then when those who claim to be on the left fall into the exact same trap as the politicians and media overwhelmingly have.  Yes, we can acknowledge the impact that foreign policy has had in radicalising some of those who have then gone on to commit violent acts themselves.  What it doesn't do is even begin to explain why someone moved from being against a war to the point at which they then reached the conclusion that killing someone only tenuously connected to that war was justifiable.  That can only be understood by looking beyond foreign policy to the influence of groups such as al-Muhijaroun, as we now know one of the men associated with, and their poisonous perversion of Islam.  This is not to deny that the terrorist threat from jihadists was increased by our involvement in Afghanistan and then Iraq; it wasn't created by it though, nor will it go away when we completely withdraw from the former country.

Just as daft was the comment from the defence secretary Philip Hammond that the murder underlines "how vulnerable we all are".  Well, no, clearly some of us are more vulnerable than others.  If he meant that it shows how quickly a life can be taken, which he almost certainly didn't, then he would have been closer to reality.  These men weren't indiscriminate, although they most certainly could have made a mistake in choosing their target, they were deliberate.  Others won't be, it's true, but then they can be more accurately categorised as terrorists.  The fact is that the threat from extremism of all stripes has been declining rather than increasing, and that threat has been repeatedly and wilfully exaggerated by both the media and politicians.

This hasn't been lost on either the BNP or the EDL.  Both are shadows of their former selves, and not even the attempted attack on an EDL rally had done much to revive a movement that seemed to be petering out.  Yesterday's murder was the perfect excuse for the EDL to do what it does best: descend on an area that wants nothing to do with them, get suitably lagered up and then ponce about shouting nonsensical slogans and generally making arses of themselves.  The threat they pose comes not so much from the marches as it does the idiots inspired by Tommy Robinson (or whatever he's calling himself these days) who then go and vandalise a mosque or abuse someone who looks vaguely like a Muslim.  Nick Griffin for his part, having run his once reasonably effective far-right organisation into the ground, has been tweeting like crazy, while an email has gone out to those on the BNP's message list which reads "once again followers of Islam have shown themselves to be a wicked and cruel enemy within".

Also taking their opportunity have been the securocrats and other hangers-on of the intelligence agencies, ever keen to advance their own interests.  Newsnight gave airtime not just to John Reid but also Lord Carlile, both of whom called for the proposed communications bill, aka the snoopers' charter, to be reintroduced, so vital was it to our safety, regardless of whether or not it would have done anything to prevent yesterday's murder.  For the moment at least it looks as though a "knee-jerk response" isn't on the cards, and it's more than slightly reassuring that rather than Carlile we have a new reviewer of terrorism legislation, David Anderson, who has wrote that terrorism law "gives excessive weight to the idea that terrorism is different, losing sight of the principle that terrorism is above all crime".

It's a message that our politicians and media could do well with taking on board.  When something so shocking is committed by someone with the intention of having the maximum possible impact, it's understandable that in the immediate aftermath they responded in the way they did.  24 hours on and we ought to be scaling things back: letting the family of Lee Rigby grieve in peace without being constantly reminded of how he was so cruelly taken from them.  If we can learn any lessons from his murder, whether in how we can potentially stop others from following a similar path to the two men, or if it could have prevented, although that seems unlikely, then we should.  The vast majority have done their part, whether it be the numerous Muslim organisations that have condemned the attack, those that have took on the EDL or BNP in their attempts to make political capital out of a murder, or those that have simply paid tribute to Rigby.  The rest could do theirs by not turning an act of savagery into exactly what those committed it wanted it to be seen as.

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