Monday, February 16, 2015 

Still an aberration, not a pattern.

The weekend's attacks in Copenhagen bear the hallmarks not of a fresh assault by jihadis trained overseas so much as those of copycats.  The distinction is important, regardless of the end result being the murder of two people, with the attacker, unofficially named as Omar El-Hussein, clearly wanting to kill as many as possible at the cafe hosting the free speech event, including Lars Vilks, the Swedish cartoonist responsible for one of the caricatures of Muhammad printed by Jyllands-Posten in 2005.

From what has so far been written about El-Hussein, a 22-year-old born in Denmark with Palestinian heritage, he appears to have been a petty criminal likely to have been radicalised, or perhaps merely preyed upon in prison.  Released just two weeks ago, he doesn't seem to have travelled outside of Europe, nor does he appear to have attempted to contact the media as the Charlie Hebdo attackers and Amédy Coulibaly did.  The Kouachi brothers were calm and resolute in the way they carried out their massacre, whereas El-Hussein seems to have "sprayed and prayed".  There has also so far been no claim of responsibility, nor was there a claim from El-Hussein himself to anyone who might have been listening that he was attacking on behalf of any particular group.

This doesn't of course mean that El-Hussein wasn't by proxy acting for either say, al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, which has particular reasons for attacking Denmark, or Islamic State, but it would surprise massively if he wasn't first and foremost carrying out deeds suggested by those he developed links with in prison.  That he apparently became known to the Danish intelligence services due to his spell of incarceration is a further indication of this.  It's not an impossibility he was acting of his own volition, perhaps on just the suggestion of carrying out an attack and he improvised, influenced by the attacks in France, but the slight period of time between his release and his actions would seem to rule out his being a true "lone wolf".  All the same, if this was a planned attack, in the sense of targeting Vilks, it wasn't planned to anywhere near the extent the Charlie Hebdo massacre was, nor was it implemented with the same ruthlessness.  The real constant is the targeting after the "main" assault of Jews, the singling out of a visible community purely down to religious and racial hatred, as well as to incite further terror.

Most of the comment has then concentrated on this continued threat to Jewish communities, rather than on freedom of expression once again coming under attack.  Some of this reticence could also, you have to suspect, be due to the release of audio from the cafe, with Inna Shevchenko, a representative of the Femen protest group making a point rendered all the more powerful by what follows.  “It’s about freedom of speech, but. The key word here is 'but’.  Why do we still continue to say but when we...”  Then gunshots ring out.

There were more than a few people saying but just over a month ago, or words to that effect.   Just this weekend Will Self was repeating how in his view satire is meant to "comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable".  Self doesn't need any lectures on how the likes of Hogarth were equally at home targeting the powerful as they were the drinkers of Gin Lane, just as so many other satirists and writers have turned their pencils and inks against those both worthy and in the view of the Selfs, unworthy of mockery.  My own view of satire has always been the best sort is uncomfortable to everyone, both the target and those viewing it, precisely because as much as satire needs at times to be obvious, wounding to the pompous, it also needs to challenge those who think themselves different.

Another way to do the equivalent of saying but is to bring in false comparisons and other equivocations.  Not since the murder last week of three young students, all Muslims, in North Carolina has there been the slightest piece of evidence produced to suggest they were killed because of their faith, rather than being yet more victims of a violent man with easy access to firearms.  This hasn't stopped those with axes to grind from ignoring the actual people who lived alongside the victims and their killer, who said they were all scared of him and that he complained habitually about his neighbours, especially when his Facebook page was filled with a screed against religion.  You don't however expect the Guardian editorial to draw a link, as much as you do the secretary general of the Muslim Council of Britain.  Claiming the North Carolina murders were an attack on freedom is completely absurd, yet such it seems is the continued nervousness of admitting a tiny minority of those calling themselves Muslims are prepared to kill in "defence" of their religion without wringing hands and saying yes, but you know, a lot of people are equally hate-filled.

Just as absurd is Binyamin Netanayhu once again in the wake of the attack on the Copenhagen synagogue doing the equivalent of saying "Israel is so bracing".  I thought for a moment about then adding something about wiping the blood off his hands, but (yes, that word) to so much as include blood and an Israeli leader in the same sentence is to be antisemitic in the view of some.  You could if you so wished calculate the number of Jews killed across Europe in acts of racial hatred over the past few years with the number of Jews killed in attacks in Israel, it's just there is no comparison so there's not much point.  As Keith Kahn-Harris exceptionally puts it, those who would murder Jews do not make distinctions between them, and the calls from Israeli politicians, designed as they are to appeal to a domestic audience with elections in the offing do precisely that, intended to or otherwise.

All the same, it's worth asking exactly what else EU leaders should have done to further protect Jewish citizens, after Rabbi Menachem Margolin said not enough had been.  Two attacks, despite Netanayhu's comments, is still an aberration rather than a pattern.  When you have so many claiming it's only a matter of time before something happens along the same lines in other European capitals, the obvious danger is of self-fulfilling prophecy, of inspiring further copyists, of overreaction and diluting other freedoms taken for granted, more so than we already have that of expression.  Seeing patterns where there isn't one yet is to fall into their trap, just as it is to condemn while saying but. 

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Monday, January 12, 2015 

Charlie sets the example.

It's always reassuring to see just how quickly unity and resistance can be appropriated by the very people who want nothing of the sort.  Call me a negative Nancy, but it's one thing for people to spontaneously come together in silent protest and remembrance, as they did on Wednesday night, and something remarkably different when the state itself then urges everyone to do so.  Martin Rowson's cartoon in the Graun points out how the murdered Charlie Hebdo journalists would have seen the irony in politicians who refuse to endorse freedom of speech being invited to march alongside their fellow leaders, and when it comes to Benjamin Netanyahu and Mahmoud Abbas joining the parade, who can't talk to each other but will take part in any opportunity for self-promotion, the bad taste left in the mouth has lingered ever since.

Admittedly, Netanyahu hardly couldn't go considering the racist targeting by Amédy Coulibaly of a kosher supermarket, yet it still didn't feel quite right how the Israel/Palestine conflict, regardless of your personal views on it, without doubt exacerbates tensions in a way little else does.  And let's not pretend Israeli politicians of any stripe have recently attempted to calm such feelings: we only have to recall Netanahyu's response to the murders of three Israeli teenagers, when he called for "God to avenge their blood", to realise it's not just non-state actors that invoke religion when they want to.  There have been criticisms of some of the language used by politicians in the aftermath of the Paris attacks, with questioning even of describing the attacks as "barbaric" considering the word's origins, but European leaders have been moderate in the extreme compared to the rhetoric casually thrown back and forth elsewhere.  The cynical response of the Israeli government to those murders led directly to last summer's Gaza conflict, which in turn sparked the horrified news reports about the rise of anti-semitism in Europe.  Nothing of course justifies racism in any form, but when the Israeli government ostensibly collapsed on the very issue of legislation that would have defined Israel as a Jewish state, those same politicians know the game they are playing.

This said, it would be difficult not to be moved by the size of the crowds on the streets of France yesterday.  One wonders however if this was precisely because all real semblance of meaning had already been stripped from "Je suis Charlie", the marches being little more than a indication that life would carry on as before, as though it wouldn't have done anyway.  You could also if you wanted characterise it as a very French reaction to an attack on France rather than one on "freedom of speech" or "universal values"; demonstrating, marching is in the French national character, going all the way back to 1789, passing 1968 right up to the present day.  It just doesn't seem like something that would ever be repeated here, perhaps you can snidely comment because there isn't any such thing as a British national character, and even if there were it certainly wouldn't involve taking to the streets.

Moreover, for all the angry responses to the Charlie Hebdo attack, including from myself, justified as they were, it should once again bring home just how weak those who have set themselves against the West are.  We can agonise over the alienation, and the sense of dispossession some in marginalised communities feel against the countries they were often born in or which gave them sanctuary, and yet it ought to bring home just how small in the number those who feel this way really are.  Compared to those previously attracted to fascism or communism, neither of which are really comparable to jihadism beyond the utopian, or in practice dystopian ideals at their ideological core, it's indicative of just how easy it is to overhype the threat.  To those in Nigeria, let alone in Syria or Iraq, the last few days seen from the outside must have seemed the epitome of Western solipsism.

As I wrote following the release of the ISC report into the murder of Lee Rigby, we've apparently moved past the point where the threat is spectacular mass casualty bomb attacks to one where it's one or two armed men against the full weight of the state.  One armed man carrying out a spree killing in a heavily populated area is almost impossible to prevent.  In France on Friday we're told 80,000 police officers were mobilised, and Coulibaly still managed to launch his deadly assault on somewhere which made for an obvious target.  All three men were also known to the authorities, as were Rigby's killers.  Rather than this being a failure, as much as it is, it also shows how total security is an impossibility.  If someone is motivated enough, they will act, and they can't always be stopped.

This doesn't though stop the authorities from saying if only they had this power, if they only could do this, we'd all be that much safer.  Andrew Parker's speech on Thursday was coincidental rather than taking advantage, but it was no doubt further weaponised after Wednesday's events.  The cynics amongst us might note how it was the head of GCHQ who first denounced internet companies as effectively being hand in glove with terrorists, with his theme fully approved by the ISC in their Rigby report afterwards, no doubt completely unconnected events.  Now in the aftermath of Parker's sermonising, the same old faces and newer ones with their eyes on a greater prize solemnly agree on how essential it is the intelligence agencies get the ability to do whatever the hell they like, which is without hyperbole what they're demanding.

It doesn't seem to occur that it's the very openness of our society that makes us stronger, not as some would have it, more susceptible.  The sight of military personnel outside Jewish schools, while understandable and probably justified as those connected with the killers are sought, is exactly the sort of change those behind the attack seek.  Something meant to reassure nearly always has the exact opposite effect.  It's a small thing also, but it felt distinctly odd on Friday hearing journalists talk about the killing of the three behind the separate attacks being the "best possible outcome"; surely the best outcome would have been to deny them the martyrdom they sought and to bring them before a court, although that was probably impossible in the case of the Kouachi brothers coming out shooting.  Charlie Hebdo itself provides the example we ought to follow: that of continuing as before while remembering.

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Thursday, January 08, 2015 

Solidarity is meaningless unless we embrace freedom.

Trust Matt in the Telegraph to come up with one of the saddest, most poignant cartoon tributes to his slain French colleagues.  "Be careful, they might have pens."  With its echoes of a cartoon from Charlie Hebdo which featured a crying Muhammad, distraught at being followed by murderous idiots, it ought to make the minority still criticising the paper and its use of bad taste humour think again.  It didn't care who it offended, and increasingly that seems a quality to be prized rather than critiqued, however much it will be abused by the witless and those seeking controversy for its own sake.

As was predictable, many are falling into the trap set if not by the murderers themselves, who are unlikely to have given any wider thought to how their actions would be reacted to, then by the ideologues who inspire such attacks.  Yesterday's massacre was not an act of war, but it was meant to give that exact impression.  Jihadists know they cannot possibly win in a a straight fight against nearly any even semi-developed state: Islamic State, for its triumphs, is no nearer controlling either Syria or Iraq than it was prior to Western intervention.  Their main aim is to engender the exact response we saw to 9/11 in Afghanistan and Iraq: draw the West in, wear them down, kill as many soldiers and military contractors as possible, while creating such insecurity that beleaguered communities look to them for protection.

The same principle lies behind symbolic attacks like yesterday's, although none previously have been so professional, so merciless.  We look at the obscene irony of extremists killing people for criticising extremists for killing people, and the first conclusion, a more than reasonable one, is to declare it a war on freedom.  The reality is "they" don't hate us for our freedoms, not least because without those exact freedoms they could not operate as they do, they hate what is against them.  The very nature of takfiri jihadism, as epitomised by Islamic State, is that ideology is secondary to doing whatever they like because they can, as all those who believe power comes directly from the barrel of a gun do.  You'll search in vain for even the most opaque justification for enslaving women in the same way as IS has in the Qu'ran or the hadiths, and IS itself has only about one real Islamic scholar providing justification for their actions, with the other leading jihadist clerics, as shown by their attempts to save the life of Peter Kassig, continuing to oppose what they helped to spawn.

Just as when the predecessor to Islamic State twice attacked the Samarra mosque in Iraq, knowing full well it would intensify the conflict between Sunni and Shia, the ultimate aim of such assaults as well as instilling fear is to tear communities apart, emphasise the differences, to make everyone retreat back into what they know.  Unfortunately for them, the reality is French and British society are both far stronger than the far-right and the extremists believe, as demonstrated by how beyond the outpouring of grief over the murder of Lee Rigby, which saw war memorials across the country festooned with messages and tributes, there was no rise in support for the EDL despite their best efforts, with the result being the all but collapse of the movement.  There will always be knuckledraggers who respond to such attacks by defacing mosques or worst, as there have been in France, yet the true spirit of the nation was shown by the impromptu vigils of last night.  The same goes for the likes of Nigel Farage, with his comments on multiculturalism, as though despite the problems of integration this can all be linked back to "fifth columns" of enemies within, rather than a variant of totalitarian ideology we've fought against before.

Describing jihadism in such terms is undoubtedly to give it a dignity it doesn't deserve.  Stalin joked about how many divisions the Pope had, and you could ask the same of the self-proclaimed caliph.  The threat I wrote about yesterday doesn't come from such weaklings, from such a pitiful belief system, but from how we so easily forget democracy as we know it is such a recent development.  Universal suffrage is not even two centuries old, and despite Fukuyama declaring the End of History so pompously, the West's values having triumphed, the harsher reality is the nation soon to be the world's biggest economy gives no indication of moving towards one person one vote as we recognise it.  Russia under Putin is a democracy in name only, popular support for the president aside, and whereas free speech in the United States is protected by the constitution, in Europe about the best guarantor of liberty is the European Convention on Human Rights, the same one so loathed by the Tories and UKIP.

Combined with how there is no real love for true freedom of speech in this country, having just experienced an entire year that seemed to be nothing other than people taking offence both for the sake of it and to push their own agendas, where making extremely bad jokes on social media can see you fired within hours, or indeed imprisoned, and the picture is not quite as rosy as we'd like to believe.  Solidarity with Charlie Hebdo will not mean anything if we continue to self-censor, as we have, if we go on hounding those who go beyond what we deem "acceptable" rather than just criticising them, if we don't protect our freedoms in the face not of an Islamist assault but of that from securocrats and politicians who say they can deliver safety.  Already tonight MI5 is whinging about its capabilities, losing no time in taking advantage before the initial shock wears off.

A repeat of yesterday's massacre is unlikely.  The mistakes of the past and the now most certainly will be.

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Wednesday, January 07, 2015 

Je suis Charlie.

Cowardly is one of the words universally reached for to describe terrorist outrages.  In many instances, its use doesn't properly convey how while the use of violence against the defenceless can never be justified, someone willing to sacrifice their life for their cause, regardless of how vile that cause may be, can not truly be described as cowardly.  Stupid and self-defeating yes, cowardly no, in the same way there's often an extremely fine line between bravery and being foolhardy.

What is without a doubt cowardly is running someone over and then attempting to decapitate them as they lie unconscious.  What is not is then running at armed police with the intention of being killed, the police to their credit in that instance not giving them their lusted after "martyrdom". 

The absolute definition of cowardly, by comparison, were the actions carried out today in Paris against the journalists of Charlie Hebdo.  With apparent knowledge of when the satirical paper's editorial meeting was being held, 2 men armed with assault rifles massacred 10 people whose only weapons were words, drawings, and ideas.  They were targeted in offices from where there was no easy escape, desks and furniture offering the merest protection.  Then, just to emphasise their brutality, their lack of pity, one of the masked individuals executed an apparently unarmed, already stricken police officer before the group made their getaway.

Everything about the attack suggests this was the work of men with a certain amount of military training, not the "lone wolves" or "self-starters" much warned about.  From the weapons used, the way they were determined to make their escape rather than die in the process, to how the assault was planned somewhat and probably even rehearsed, it points towards funding or at the very least tenuous backing from a foreign jihadist group.  While thoughts immediately turned to Islamic State, or men possibly having returned from Syria, the claim from a witness that one of the attackers said they were from al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula makes just as much sense.  All of AQAP's previous attempts to attack the West have involved bombs, and all have either failed or been foiled.  By switching to a guerilla style assault, and against the softest of targets, the chances of another failure were drastically reduced.

The only question then remaining is why specifically go after Charlie Hebdo, "insulting" of the prophet aside, rather than a Mumbai-style attack or a reprise of something like the Taliban attack on the school in Peshawar.  One explanation is Islamic State's brutality and takfirism has succeeded in revolting the Muslim world in a way al-Qaida itself never managed.  Many Sunnis may see the Syrian conflict mainly through the prism of sectarianism, but few look to Islamic State as the best alternative to Assad, even while supporting groups whose ideology is much the same.  Killing those who dared to satirise Muhammad is more defensible than an indiscriminate attack, and it also reannounces AQAP as the only real challenger to IS as the standbearer of the banner of global jihad.

One thing the attackers and their backers will have barely thought about is the consequences.  They have no interest in freedom of thought, of speech, how the only possible response is an outpouring of rage, sadness and defiance at how in the 21st century people are still being targeted, killed for criticising and mocking organised religion.  They care nothing for how their actions only underline the sheer poverty of their unquestionable doctrine, how unutterably weak their prophet and God must be if they can't take being caricatured.  The most powerful entity in all creation, who gave us the power of free will, and yet neither he nor his messenger are to be depicted as anything other than benevolent, peace be upon them.  If they considered it at all, they probably counted on it resulting in the exact soldiarity that has occurred, which will see the cartoons they killed over republished and spread wider than before.

Much will be wrote and already has been written about what the reaction should be, and then those all too familiar axes will be ground, about how all Muslims should condemn the attack without reservation, at how we have much the same extremists in our midst.  It comes at the precise moment when the far-right is on the march, literally in Germany, and as the National Front polls higher than ever in France itself.  The murderers of course have no concern for their co-religionists and the wave of hostility that always follows such outrages, at the same time as they justify their actions in the name of defending the honour of the Ummah.  One reaction that probably won't be noted but deserves to be is how those nations that have done to so much to spread extremist interpretations of Islam will condemn the attack, then carry on just as before, executing "sorcerers", enforcing blasphemy laws and funding "moderate" armed groups of their choosing.

Regular readers will know I'm not one for jumping on bandwagons, for echoing hashtag sentiments.   Tonight though I too am Charlie.  The aphorism that the pen is mightier than the sword is not always true, but what history suggests is the pen triumphs in the end.  The challenge today is to ensure that carries on.

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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, 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, October 21, 2013 

Coming over here, bombing our mosques...

Back in the febrile environment of the days after the failed 21/7 attacks of 2005, the Daily Express ran a headline which has stayed lodged in my memory.  "BOMBERS ARE ALL SPONGEING (sic) ASYLUM SEEKERS" it screamed, while underneath the legend ran: "Britain gave them refuge and now all they want to do is repay us with death".  Quite apart from how the Express decided to prejudge the trial of the men, it was just about as inflammatory a statement on a 21st century front page as can be imagined.  Not long after, with the rest of the tabloids also in full panic mode, Tony Blair declared that the "rules of the game are changing", and the tone was set for the next five years of foiled plots, parliamentary battles and repeated fearmongering.

Tomorrow, I can't help but suspect the Express won't be splashing on the conviction of Pavlo Lapshyn, who pleaded guilty today to the murder of Mohammed Saleem, as well as conspiracy to cause explosions, having planted bombs outside 3 mosques.  Lapshyn had been here in the UK for just 5 days before he stabbed Saleem to death, out of what he told police was a purely racist motivation.  He was caught only thanks to old fashioned detective work, albeit using modern technology, as officers identified him using CCTV footage, then took his picture round local businesses, until he was finally identified as the work experience student recently arrived from Ukraine, living in a flat at the back of the software firm he had won a placement with.  Inside they found further unfinished devices, making clear that had he not been apprehended, Lapshyn's one man campaign against Muslims would have continued, and possibly resulted in further fatalities.

That no one was injured or killed by his bombs was by luck rather than judgement.  Each device had been more powerful than the one before, and it was only due to prayers starting later at the Tipton mosque during Ramadan that the congregation hadn't been caught in the blast.  Packed with nails and other shrapnel, it made clear the bomber's intentions were deadly serious.  Coming in the aftermath of the murder of Drummer Lee Rigby, the police have found no evidence Lapshyn was acting out of a sense of vengeance, or that he had any interest in far-right politics in this country.  It seems, simply, that his hatred for non-whites had reached such a peak that he wanted, like others before him, to foment racial conflict.  His move to England gave him the opportunity to act on his beliefs.

There was comment at the time, including from the police themselves, about the apparent lack of interest from the wider media in the series of attacks.  West Midlands' deputy chief constable David Thompson pondered whether there would have been more coverage of their appeals for information if it had been another faith being targeted during their main festival season.  One suspects that rather than it being purely down to attitudes towards Muslims, the biggest contributing factor was the attacks had all taken place outside London, such is the bias towards the capital when it comes down to it, both in terms of interest (amongst journalists themselves) and resources.  It should also be noted however that both the Daily Mail and Telegraph felt the need to question the claims of Tell Mama, a charity that measures attacks on Muslims, after it reported a large increase in such incidents after the murder of Lee Rigby, including on mosques.  Lovely as it would be to think that we've reached a point where every potential terrorist incident isn't reacted to by the entirety of the media descending on an area for a week, on this occasion it was more down to a combination of indifference, the scale of what had happened, and where it had took place.

Thankfully, the lack of wide coverage was probably beneficial.  Almost no one knew who Lapshyn was, and the very few who did failed to recognise him due to the poor quality of the initial CCTV footage released.  Had he been aware there was a massive search on for him, he may well have attempted to leave the country; instead, he felt safe enough to carry on as he had done since he arrived.  What we didn't know previously was despite politicians keeping an extremely low profile during the search, the home secretary had been suitably exercised to contact the West Midlands force, while MI5 was also involved.

As much as the case gives pause for thought over the the way all involved approached it, as well as how it has since been reacted to, it also reinforces a few things we already knew.  First, and regardless of where the perpetrator is from, far-right terrorism remains a threat, and it's one which the media has repeatedly ignored or minimised, whereas it has willfully exaggerated that from jihadists, impugning the Muslim community in the process.  Secondly, just as those who become Islamic extremists tend to sup from the same sources, so too do those on the far-right: the Turner Diaries is the far less intellectually stimulating version of a lecture from Anwar al-Awlaki, let alone Sayid Qutb's Milestones.  Lastly, it further suggests that the threat from "self-starters", regardless of their ideology, is increasing, while that from major, large cell, easier to foil plotters continues to decrease.  The security services and police can't stop those who don't share their plans or aren't loose with their tongues.  Tempora and Prism aren't useless, but the privacy trade-offs when they might be fighting yesterday's battles are far too great.  Some recognition that Muslims are just as much targets as everyone else wouldn't go amiss either.

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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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Wednesday, May 22, 2013 


Let's get something straight.  The murder in Woolwich this afternoon was not a terrorist attack.  If it was, then there are somewhere in the region of 500 terrorist incidents a year in this country, more if you include assaults that are intended to kill but fail to do so.  It doesn't matter that reports suggest a serving soldier is the victim, although that is yet to be confirmed, that the killers shouted "allahu akbar" as they were attacking him, or that they gave justifications to camera afterwards which more than imply this was an assault influenced by jihadist ideology, first and foremost this was a murder and it will be treated as any other until the men are convicted.

Treating it as a terrorist attack and not simply as a serious crime is precisely what these two men wanted.  I have no qualms about describing attacks that aim to kill on a wide scale as terrorist, as the Boston bombings clearly were once what had happened became clear, or the previous failed attacks in this country were, however inept.  This was something quite different.  Neither of the men were interested in killing or even attacking anyone else, as they could have done had they so wished.  All they seemingly wanted to do after they were finished was to be filmed, photographed, and then once the police arrived, hopefully killed and presumably "martyred", although suicide by cop would be a far better description of their intentions.

Nor was everyone who witnessed what happened panicked or terrified. Some stopped to remonstrate with the men; others tried to resuscitate their victim while they looked on. Some will undoubtedly be deeply affected by what they saw, and if it does turn out to be a soldier who was murdered, it almost certainly will cause concern that this might not be a one-off, or it might inspire copycats. What it most certainly won't achieve is any change in government policy, if that was the aim. If the hundreds of deaths in Afghanistan haven't made our politicians think twice about our deployment there, then this certainly won't.

The fear among some in the aftermath of 9/11 was that it could have been just the first of a wave of spectacular attacks against the West. While there have been a number of attempts made since, several of which have been successful and killed large numbers of people, there has been no repeat of the events of that day. Instead, what jihadists have increasingly been reduced to is primitive measures that match their primitive ideology: crude pressure cooker bombs, or attacks such as the one today. Where once groups of men conspired, now the threat, such as it is, often comes from so-called "lone wolves". More difficult to prevent, but the threat from one or two is less in the terms of damage they can do than that of a larger, better organised cell.

If anything, more fear and worry will have been caused through the truly unnecessary screening by ITV of the footage of one of the men holding two large knives in his blood soaked hands, pretentiously and contemptibly justifying his crime, than through hearing of the act itself.  In what other circumstances would a broadcaster consider it justifiable to show the immediate, graphic aftermath of an "ordinary" murder?  It's irresponsible enough when broadcasters have in the past screened videos shot by spree killers justifying themselves, let alone when the person in this instance has the blood of his victim on his hands as he does so.  Yes, it's almost certain that the person who sent in the video to ITV would have uploaded it somewhere online himself had ITV chosen not to use it or just used the audio, but that isn't anything approaching a justification.

Equally ridiculous has been the language used by politicians who ought to know better.  No, this was not an attack on everyone in the UK, as Theresa May said; this was targeted, not indiscriminate, even if the target turns out not to be a soldier although that remains the assumption.  The army doesn't represent us as a whole any more than our politicians do.  We also really don't need the "blitz spirit" rhetoric that comes so easily, as was hurled from David Cameron's mouth.  Yes, we have had incidents similar to this before, the vast majority of which were far more serious than this one, but no, our "indomitable British spirit" has nothing to do with the fact that we'll carry on with our lives as normal.

Besides, we don't seem to have any problem with actual acts of terrorism when they're carried out by those we've allied ourselves with.  For all the talk from William Hague and the Foreign Office about "strengthening moderates" and "saving lives" in Syria, we don't have the slightest idea whatsoever about how the aid we've supplied the rebels with is being used, while it's clear that we would dearly love to be arming them (and quite probably are through back channels) at the first possible opportunity.  It's not just the likes of the al-Nusra front that have committed atrocities and carried out car bombings, as was brought home by the gruesome footage posted online last week, the vast majority of the rebels are Islamists, some of whom who are just as eager as the regime to carry out sectarian attacks.  At the same time as we denounce and fight against jihadists at home and most places abroad, we effectively enable them in the places where it suits us, not caring about the possibility of blow back in its most literal sense.

What we desperately don't need is another round of what's happened in the aftermath of attacks previously, especially when this shouldn't be treated as a terrorist incident in the first place.  These men represented only themselves, not a community, not a religion, nothing.  It was just them.  There will obviously be reviews to see whether they were known to police or the security services, but this was the sort of attack that could be carried out with next to no planning, almost on the spur of the moment.  If there isn't any evidence of more to come, then the threat level shouldn't be raised only to be then lowered again within a week.  We also don't need any new measures or laws, not the "snoopers' charter", not an extension to detention without charge, not more armed police.  Nor do we need hysteria, which even the Graun seems to have fallen into.  Let's prosecute these men to the full extent of the law, ensure the murdered man's family and friends are taken care of, and not treat this as anything other than a despicable crime.

And pigs might fly.

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Wednesday, April 24, 2013 

Abu who? Never heard of him.

At times, it's an utter joy (read: torment) to see how politics works. Normally the idea behind briefing the media that you're thinking of doing something popular with your backbenchers and the right-wing press, regardless of how reprehensible it is, is that when you don't you've left it long enough that they're let down gently. When instead you dash their hopes within a matter of hours, it tends to ever so slightly agitate them.

You also might have thought that someone unlucky enough to be bestowed with the name Reckless might be used to unfunny gags being made about it. Not our Mark though, who reacted to Theresa May suggesting that to break the law as he suggested would be, err, reckless, by raising a point of order and then going on TV to continue to complain.

Plenty of politicians you see have a blind spot when it comes to everyone's favourite heavily bearded fanatical cleric, the mysterious Mr Abu Qatada. Not for these heirs of Thatcher such piffling things as the rule of law, which she and her cabinet often invoked when it came to the miners, although they rather overlooked it when the police took to kicking the shit out of them. No, we should put Mr Qatada straight on a plane, or failing that temporarily withdraw from the European Convention on Human Rights so we won't face any repercussions should we do so.

There isn't of course even the slightest possibility of the Tories doing so, not least because the Liberal Democrats would never go along with it.  It's also completely and utterly ridiculous: the only way to temporarily withdraw from the ECHR is by arguing that there is a severe and direct threat to the very life of the nation, which is exactly what the law lords decided there wasn't when they ruled that Labour's detention without charge of foreign terror suspects was unlawful. Can you imagine the government seriously arguing before even the lowest court in the land that one man is that dangerous?

Quite why the Tories swung so far from one point to the other in such a short space of time is unclear, unless there were still negotiations going on with Jordan right up until May's statement after PMQ's. It doesn't help that as much as you'd like to welcome the continuing attempts to ensure Qatada doesn't face a trial where the main evidence against him was almost certainly obtained through torture, the new treaty still doesn't look as though it's water tight. As Labour have pointed out, it doesn't seem on the surface as though it requires Jordan to actually change the code of criminal procedure SIAC ruled had to be altered for them to be satisfied torture evidence wouldn't be used. After all, the previous changes to the laws in the kingdom were meant to have solved the problem originally. They didn't.

To be fair to May, and as pointed out umpteen times previously, the real damage was done when ministers under Labour decided that Qatada was better off out of sight and out of mind than prosecuted and imprisoned for his preaching here.  The evidence against him in Jordan, including that apparently obtained through torture, is flimsy at best.  This doesn't however excuse either May or her department for crowing last year that Qatada was as good as gone, especially when even the slightest glance at their claims suggested they were being extremely optimistic if not outright disingenuous.  It seems a pretty safe bet that Qatada will still be here come the next election, and that augurs well for what's likely to become a fight between the parties over whether we should repeal the Human Rights Act, a debate simply guaranteed to be conducted in a fact-based and civil manner.  Can't wait, can you?

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Tuesday, November 13, 2012 

Yet another post on Abu Qatada.

Well, who could have predicted thatAbu Qatada winning his latest appeal against deportation to Jordan?  This has never happened before!  Oh, except it hasTwice, in fact.  And when even a keyboard monkey like me with no real legal knowledge whatsoever could pick holes in Theresa May's trumping of how this time Qatada really was as good as on a plane, it suggests both she and her predecessors have been receiving incredibly bad advice for quite some time.

The judgment by the Special Immigration Appeals Commission (PDF) is essentially a rehash of the ECHR's decision earlier in the year, that Qatada doesn't personally face the prospect of mistreatment or torture, but he does face the prospect of a trial where the main evidence against him is confessions from men who almost certainly were tortured.  Regardless of the change to the Jordanian constitution to explicitly prohibit the use of evidence obtained via torture, Mr Justice Mitting and his team reached the conclusion that, based on expert evidence from Jordanians who gave written and in person testimony, the statements that incriminate Qatada may well be used against him, and that the burden of proof is likely to fall on the witnesses to prove they were tortured, rather than for the prosecution to prove that they weren't.  As the torture happened over a decade ago and the Jordanian courts previously rejected the notion that torture took place, the likelihood of them being able to do so, even in front of three civilian court judges, is dubious in the extreme.  Barring a further change to the Jordanian code of criminal procedure or a definitive ruling from one of two courts on the ambiguities in the code, Qatada is staying here.

Unless that is May manages to convince the Court of Appeal that SIAC is being unreasonable in its demands of the Jordanians, something that seems highly unlikely considering SIAC has come to effectively the same conclusion as the ECHR did.  In the meantime, ol' bird nest face is free for 8 hours a day, if your definition of free is being tagged, followed by security officers the moment you step out of your front door and being denied access to pretty much everything that makes life pleasurable.

If all this seems a bit much for someone whose motivations have often seemed opaque, then SIAC also obtained new information on the nature of the evidence against Qatada.  To say some of it is thin is an understatement: all that links Qatada to the "Reform and Challenge" case is that one of the defendants says he suggested the targets and then congratulated him afterwards; in addition, three of the defendants had copies of a book by Qatada.

The evidence against him for the Millennium plot isn't much thicker: Qatada gave one of the defendants money, although not ostensibly towards the plot, gifting him 800 Jordanian dinars with which he bought a computer, while the defendant admitted discussing the "issue of jihad" with Qatada, although not specifically about any plot.  Another defendant claimed Qatada had given a further $5,000 to the same man, while the money he had been promised to marry the first defendant's sister never arrived.  Otherwise, the evidence again amounts to possession of books by Qatada, and the discovery of messages between the two men.  SIAC additionally comments on this that "[T]he record of the evidence produced at the trial does not clearly support the prosecutor’s case", although it's presumed that in the case file there will be statements from investigators that will.

All is likely to depend on whether the Jordanians are prepared to move further, or whether a case comes before either court that irons out the disagreement between the experts consulted by the commission.  SIAC accepted that the Jordanians had moved significantly from their initial position, and also noted their awareness of how this was a potential opportunity for them to show they were capable of trying a man notorious internationally with scrupulous fairness.  If SIAC was making its decision on that basis alone, as indeed had the ECHR, Qatada would be long gone.

In a different world, this entire case might be seen as showing the best of the British state.  Despite the contempt often shown towards the Human Rights Act and the ECHR by politicians from both main parties, successive governments have abided by the decisions made in line with it, refusing to countenance ignoring the rule of law in this specific case, and have gone so far as to push Jordan towards making genuine judicial reforms.  Pushing any authoritarian state in the direction of respecting basic human rights is something to be proud of, regardless of the circumstances.

Unfortunately, we're stuck with this world, and it's one where judges are traduced by tabloid newspapers for doing their job.  By all means criticise the judiciary if they get basic decisions wrong, or apply the wrong tests when they sentence someone, but not when they've delivered a judgment as in-depth and cogently argued as Mitting has.  

The real responsibility for this 7-year-long slog lies with the last government.  The decision to simply get rid of Qatada rather than attempt to prosecute him has never been explained adequately: we don't know whether there simply isn't enough evidence against him, whether the evidence is mainly phone intercepts, whether his involvement with MI5 goes too deep, whether it was made impossible by the rendering of Bisher al-Rawi who reported on Qatada to MI5, or whether deportation was felt to be the easiest option.  Where this government has failed has been to fall into the same trap as the previous one, of boasting to the media that the deportation is all but done and dusted, only to find it still hasn't got its legal arguments in order.

One suspects that Qatada will eventually get sent to Jordan, if only down to how successive governments have backed themselves into a corner.  Should further changes to the Jordanian law not be forthcoming, then Qatada's bail restrictions will have to be either loosened or dropped entirely.  The only other option is to impose a TPIM, and they can only last for two years.  Even at this late stage there's still time for a potential prosecution to be looked at, however embarrassing that might be either for the previous government or the security services.  It can't be any worse than the prospect of someone built up to be Osama bin Laden's right-hand man in Europe mooching free around London.

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Tuesday, September 18, 2012 

The point of no return.

Have we at long last reached the point of no return on Afghanistan? It's a question worth asking, not because of the decision made by the Americans to put an immediate stop to joint patrols and training in the country as a result of the ever increasing number of "green on blue" attacks, or to put it in English, Afghans in uniform we're meant to be handing control over to killing their trainers, but due to how at long last a substantial number of our own MPs have been prepared to say what was previously confined only to comment pieces. Yesterday Denis MacShane, Paul Flynn, David Winnick and John Redwood all called either for a withdrawal from the country by Christmas, or as soon as humanly possible after that. While the latter three have been making similar arguments for some time, Denis MacShane is most certainly not one of the usual suspects, and was among the strongest supporters and then defenders of the Iraq war. Indeed, he was previously a supporter of the Henry Jackson Society, a think-tank that has long supported the (forced) democratisation of the Middle East.

This isn't to ignore the fact that during yesterday's debate there were just as many MPs pushing the same old unbelievably out of date argument that our presence in Afghanistan is in some way protecting our national security, or that alternatively to leave now would somehow mean all those who have given their lives would have done so in vain, but it's clearly progress of a sort. Certainly, if that incessantly repeated two word answer given to the question of why we are still in the country has always been a nonsense, it never sounded quite as hollow as it did when Philip Hammond stated it yet again on Newsnight yesterday. How can our mission possibly be about national security when al-Qaida was cleared out of Afghanistan years ago, as even Hammond himself has admitted? As John Baron asked yesterday of the defence secretary, either our continuing presence is about nation building and the training up of Afghan forces, a mission which he himself said we shouldn't be putting lives at risk for, or it isn't. If it isn't about that, then we're expending blood and treasure for seemingly little other reason than our continuing obsession with riding on the coattails of America, a decision made for reasons of prestige rather than pragmatism.

The sad fact is that our contribution to America's post 9/11 wars are increasingly resented rather than welcomed. US commanders have long been dismissive about our role in Helmand, and the US military in general now tends to regard our unwarranted boasting and pride as exactly that, unwarranted. They've never really cared whether or not decisions made at the top have been relayed to all of their allies swiftly, yet it's surely come to something when our defence secretary, completely unaware of the change in strategy made we're told on Sunday stood up in parliament and told everyone that nothing had been altered. Recalled to the Commons today to alter his comments, Hammond was left claiming that in fact everything was just as it had been, only that now we would have to apply to the Americans for permission to carry on joint patrols below company level. Last week in an interview with the Graun Hammond was claiming that we could draw down our forces quicker, despite the "green on blue" "problems" as the work had been progressing so swimmingly; now they can't even go out together without asking the Americans first.

According to Richard Norton-Taylor, the military has long wanted to get out of Afghanistan and it's been the politicians holding them back. Alternatively, according to MacShane, the problem has been the "unelected military-Ministry of Defence nexus" which has been in control of policy. The reality is that both the military and the politicians have wanted to stay in Afghanistan; it was after all the military which while desperate to get out of Iraq wanted to do more in Helmand, and John "without a single shot" Reid was happy to oblige. Nothing has changed since then, regardless of the coming to power of the coalition. What else explains the second deployment of "Harry Wales" to the country, other than an attempt on behalf of the MoD to conjure up some good news and easily sellable propaganda? Harry's at relatively little risk in an Apache, but clearly you can never be too careful, as reports of Harry's bundling to a safe place in Camp Bastion when the Taliban carried out their most devastating attack in terms of destroyed equipment and buildings of the entire war on the base testifies. Hammond didn't even deny this was the case last night, merely that such treatment was given to all "VIPs" when at the camp. Not many VIPs are actually serving soldiers though, are they? Either Harry's a squaddie like all the rest and therefore should face the same risks as them, or he's the equivalent of a regimental goat. That the MoD can't decide which it is speaks volumes.

Clearly then, something has to break. Not a single politician can possibly claim with a straight face that our remaining in Afghanistan is achieving anything. It isn't improving our relationship with the United States, it isn't stopping al-Qaida from returning as al-Qaida central has effectively ceased to exist, it's helping to prop up a hideously corrupt government that is widely loathed by Afghans themselves, and those we're training are so mistrustful and bitter at how we see them that they're prepared to kill us, as not every recruit who's turned their gun on foreign forces can possibly be a Taliban infiltrator. If anything, the only thing we're providing is continuing target practice for the Taliban, and while they might not be as strong as they were in previous years, they're clearly capable of the odd spectacular assault when they feel like it. What we should be doing now is pushing ever more fiercely for some kind of accord between the Karzai government and the sections of the Taliban prepared to negotiate, even if that means making really unpleasant decisions about the carving out of autonomous regions within the country. Afghanistan has been at war now since 1978; just as the Russians admitted defeat, so must we.

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