Tuesday, September 08, 2015 

You only live twice.

Reyaad Khan is dead.  That much seems to be certain.  Apart from being distinguished by both the Sun and Mail publishing adulatory front pages celebrating his demise, he's also joined other jihadi luminaries in having been declared passed on prematurely.  Or at least that seems to be the case if David Cameron's statement is to be taken at face value.

For according to news reports that were only remembered late last night, Khan had already been reported killed in a drone strike back in July.  This was admittedly based on unconfirmed social media accounts, with jihadi watcher Shiraz Maher quoted, but it seems rather strange that no one in the media itself recalled they had already carried stories on the death of this immediately notorious first Briton to be killed by a UK drone strike.  Maher himself seems rather unconcerned by the discrepancy, referring to government briefings and apparently accepting he must have been misled.

It certainly would be odd for the government to say they had killed someone when they hadn't, and there seems little reason to have opened themselves up to the criticism and questions over the legality of the operation if it had been a mission carried out by a US drone.  Remarkable coincidence it might be that the Sun had been demanding Islamic State be "blitzed", only for Cameron to immediately declare not one but three IS British recruits had been splattered on Syrian soil, but worth the bother of sending out ministers to defend it? Probably not, although stranger things happened.

Such differences or oddities do though invite conspiracy theories.  Most of the saner, and by saner I mean only slightly less stupid allegations around 9/11 centre on the BBC mistakenly reporting that WTC Building 7 had collapsed before it had, and truthers putting much emphasis on a fire chief saying to "pull it", by which he meant get his men out of the building, rather than err, demolish it.  The complete lack of any further information in Cameron's statement beyond Khan was a very dangerous and naughty man and therefore fully deserved to die, coupled with the difference in the dates, hardly helps.  If Khan was killed in a UK strike, but not on August 21st as the government insists, it further undermines the already slim case put forward.

Khan dying sometime in early July would presumably mean he had little real involvement in the VJ Day plot (there seems some confusion over whether VE Day or VJ Day was a target, with there being little in the way of reports of an attack to be launched on VE Day) first "revealed" by the Mail on the Sunday, and since whispered by government briefing as being part of the reason why his annihilation by air was justified.  Like the imaginary plot the Sun "foiled" to attack Armed Forces Day, this too would have involved a pressure cooker bomb, as was used against the Boston marathon.  Despite the MoS's breathless reporting, just how seriously the security services were really taking the plot is open to question: unless the source was the same as the Sun's, i.e., Juanid Hussain, apparently on the same kill list as Khan and duly obliterated days later, albeit by US drone, quite why they would allow word of a plot they were still trying to disrupt to enter the press is unclear.  Indeed, that "no arrests had been made" at the time of the Mail's story and it seems none ever were, quite how serious the plot was is anyone's guess.

More realistic is that Khan was involved in more serious plots, none of which have made the press, with the briefings pointing to those already in the public domain.  If this is the case, it baffles as to why more cannot be disclosed unless it has the potential to affect upcoming prosecutions.  Except, if these other plots have also been disrupted, that rather undermines the legal justification given, which relies upon the attack being imminent or actual, per Article 51 of the UN Charter, or "instant, overwhelming, and leaving no choice of means, and no moment for deliberation", in order to meet the Caroline test.  The decision to kill Khan and others was, we're told, itself taken at a meeting of the national security council after the election, again raising questions about just how much of an overwhelming threat was being posed if it then took until almost the end of the summer for an opportunity to arise to act on it.

Comparing the strike against Khan with the US drone strike that killed Anwar al-Awlaki, a US citizen, only further underlines how far the decision to kill Khan has taken us.  Regardless of your views on assassination by drone, al-Awlaki has been definitively linked with a number of terrorist attacks and continues to inspire plots through the lectures and writings he left behind.  He was also the de facto leader of al-Qaida in Yemen.  Khan was a 21-year-old known previously only for appearing in a propaganda video.  He may well have been directly involved in plotting attacks that could have killed dozens, if not hundreds of civilians, but that he was not an apparently senior figure within Islamic State, nor a figure known on the level of Mohammed Emwazi demands that more information be disclosed.

And that information is almost certainly not going to be.  It comes down to, as Joshua Rozenberg has said in response to David Allan Green's piece doubting the legality, whether you trust the government or not.  Releasing the policy document and legal advice on which the attack was carried out is only going to take us that slight amount further, as will asking a judge, the Intelligence and Security Committee or the independent reviewer of terrorism legislation to review the decision after the fact.

If the government wants to kill Islamic State fighters of British origin, it should say so.  It should not hide behind specious legal justifications that fall apart under the slightest scrutiny.  Moreover, it should seek the authorisation of parliament for its apparent new policy.  Failing to correct previous inaccurate reports or to set out why this person was such a threat only leads to further questions, less trust, and more cynicism.  If the real aim is to further soften public opinion in advance of another attempt at getting military action in Syria through parliament, the government should just get on with it, and the arguments both in favour and against can once again be gone over.  That the government has done everything now except do that suggests it continues to regard its case as being just as lacking as it was two years ago.

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Tuesday, July 28, 2015 

Preventing "bad boys" from becoming dead boys.

Last week's horrific suicide bombing in Suruc, near to the Turkish-Syria border, looks to have been the last straw for both the Kurds and Turkey alike.  Blamed on Islamic State, although for once the group has not claimed responsibility for the attack, the bomber, believed to have been a 20-year-old Kurd, targeted a press conference being held by the Socialist Party of the Oppressed's youth wing.  The conference had been meant to publicise a trip by some of the group's members to help in the rebuilding of Kobani, the Syrian city Islamic State failed to capture despite it at one point seeming to have been abandoned to its fate by everyone other than the Kurds themselves.

As with the civil war in Syria as a whole, conspiracy theories and grievances about the Turkish authorities' seeming connivance with jihadists fighting in Syria have long circled among the Kurds, embittered by how Ankara has continued to see them as more of a threat than Islamic State.  Whether there was any kind of collusion with the Suruc bomber, or more likely a simple failure of intelligence, the PKK, the Kurdish separatist group, responded to the bombing by killing 2 police officers.  In turn, Turkey has launched bombing raids in both Syria and Iraq, attacking both Islamic State targets and those of the Kurds who just happen to be fighting IS.  A deal between Turkey and the Americans for the use of two military bases close to the Syrian border, long previously resisted, has also been struck.  Whether this amounts to an abandonment of the Kurds in favour of more active Turkish involvement as yet remains to be seen.  It does however underline the double games being played by so many of the actors involved, almost always to the detriment of either civilians or the very few groups that have relatively clean hands.

Much comment here has predictably focused on the news that of the five men who travelled together from Portsmouth in October 2013 to fight in Syria, only Mashudur Choudhury, who returned shortly afterwards, unable to adjust to life in a war zone, remains alive.  Just how ideologically inclined the men were really were remains difficult to properly ascertain; Choudhury certainly was less a committed jihadi and more a pathetic man with delusions of religious grandeur, soon brought back down to earth by the reality.  That the rest did stay, and one at least contacted the ubiquitous researcher Shiraz Maher, telling him of the mundane duties required of a lowly fighter with the Islamic State, while still believing in the group's cause, would suggest not just a belief in defending fellow Sunni Muslims, but also in the rest of the IS system.  When you then also think of how such men would have probably delighted in the slaughter in Suruc, where a group that believes in everything Islamic State detests was cut down for wanting to help their victims, it's difficult not to reach the simple conclusion that the only good jihadi is a dead jihadi. 

Except I also can't help but see the tragedy, the utter waste of life, the contradictions contained within those five men, the "Pompey Lads", the "al-Britani Brigade Bangladeshi Bad Boys".  Identity and the search for it is rightly pinpointed as being key to understanding why some British-born Muslims have gone to fight in Syria, and yet these men didn't want to dispense with their identity, they also embraced it.  They didn't call themselves lions, or apply any other self-aggrandising Islamic labels to themselves, but identified as being from a small town, from Britain and as having Bangladeshi heritage.  The "Bad Boys" part meanwhile speaks of their immaturity, as does how apart from Choudhury, who ironically despite being the oldest was the most immature, none of the other four had any real responsibilities.  All they had was either university to come or apparent dead end jobs to exist through.  It's less surprising to learn one craved martyrdom when the only other identifier he had was as a supervisor at Primark.

What they also had was each other, and it's well known how group dynamics and peer pressure play a major role in the reinforcing of thinking that would otherwise be questioned and challenged.  What also has to be remembered is that in October 2013 the myth of a moderate opposition was still being espoused, as was support for the rebels against Assad in general.  Whether the two who were killed in the fighting for Kobani believed in that cause as fervently as the one they travelled for we don't know; what we do know is the longer someone stays, the harder it is to return, especially when they must have known that Choudhury had been prosecuted and jailed for not much more than merely going to Syria.  If the family of Muhammad Mehdi Hassan are to be believed, the youngest of the group at 19 had wanted to come home when he was killed.

Too bad, you might think, and it is hard to have any sympathy for those who fought alongside or may themselves have taken part in mass killings or the almost beyond imaginable abuse of Yazidi women.  At the same time, there has to be some way for those who have gone to Syria and either want to return or have returned to reintegrate into society.  This is in everyone's best interests: not only are returnees potentially the best weapon against the radicalisers, able to argue that the reality is far different from the propaganda, but to exclude, jail and write off only entrenches the problem.  Identifying 3-year-olds as potential terrorists, as is now happening, while either simply monitoring or prosecuting returnees is the anti-extremism of fools, guaranteed to fail.  There has to be an alternative, however much it offends in the short term.

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Monday, July 20, 2015 

The strategy remains that there is no strategy.

In his speech on extremism today (speech in full), David Cameron said "Our freedom comes from our parliamentary democracy".  He's right.  Parliament can also dilute that freedom, and has within its power the means by which to end it all together.  Parliament can only maintain freedom as long as it is challenged through protest, and held to account by the courts and the press, to name but two institutions that play such a role.

When the will of parliament is then ignored by the government of the day, as it clearly has been in the case of British servicemen embedded with allied military forces carrying out air strikes on Islamic State targets in Syria, it does rather put into perspective the Tories' continuing obsession with promoting our supposedly indivisible British values as a counterweight against Islamic extremism.  Prime ministers have of course long wielded the royal prerogative, enabling them to make war without bothering to seek the will of parliament, but it's clearly bad form to engage in semantics when there has not been just one, but two votes directly related to Syria.  The first was defeated, while the second did not come close to providing authorisation to attack Islamic State in Syria as well as Iraq.  In truth, it's likely that British special forces have long been operating in Syria, but such are the activities of the secret state: for ordinary soldiers to be taking part in military operations in the country is something else.

One of the best, or at least most inventive defences of the government's fuck you, we bomb what we want attitude came from perennial fan of liberal interventionism James Bloodworth.  Apparently those upset at parliament being ignored are "clinging to the outdated idea that Syria still exists as a state".  Bloodworth might have more of a point if the government wasn't itself clinging to that "outdated idea"; lest we forget, according to David Cameron, Islamic State is neither "Islamic nor a state".  The reality probably is that the rise of Islamic State has torn up Sykes-Picot, and that neither Syria or Iraq can return to their borders as previously recognised.  That is however the intention of all the state actors involved, with the exception of the Kurds, if anyone's counting them.  If we're going to ignore state borders because IS ignores them, it needs to be voted on.  It's not a hard concept to get your head round, unless of course you're being wilfully obtuse, something liberal interventionists can never be accused of being.

It might also be an idea to have a strategy for dealing with Islamic State that runs alongside the one for dealing with homegrown extremism, as the two things while not inextricably linkedcould just have a connection.  Launching Hellfire missiles at Toyota Land Cruisers, whether in Iraq or Syria, is not a strategy.  One such strategy worth noting was set out on Left Foot Forward (edited by Bloodworth), Kyle Orton arguing the only way forward was to commit to regime change in Syria, which would convince all the non-ISIS rebel forces just how serial we are, and therefore result in an uprising against IS in both Syria and Iraq.  This naturally wouldn't lead to the other jihadist rebels gaining power, or Syria descending even further into the abyss, just as regime change in Iraq and Libya didn't.  There are times when describing something as insane doesn't quite cut it, although in fairness to Orton he is at least proposing something other than maintaining a murderous, bloody stalemate.  It would be a murderous, bloody victory for the very forces behind the ideology of Islamic State, and result in years more of bloody insecurity in the most dangerous region in the world, but hey, you've got to start somewhere.

To give David Cameron some credit also, his anti-extremism strategy for here in the UK is not all bad by any stretch of the imagination.  If anything, it's probably the most enlightened we've had post-7/7, although that's hardly saying much.  Cameron did nonetheless get remarkably confused, if not express outright contradictions in multiple places in the speech.  He again insisted that Islamic State is not Islamic, or rather isn't true Islam, and yet at the same time it cannot be denied that err, the extremists are Muslims, and clearly do follow Islamic practices.  You realise that Cameron is trying his best to not to fall into the trap of either making this a war on Islam, or to give succour to those who try to paint all Muslims as extremists, but this really isn't working.  Islamic State is Islamic, there's no getting away from it, just as jihadists are Muslims; they follow a twisted, perverse interpretation of the Wahhabi-Salafi tradition, which is in fact a relatively modern tradition, but it's still Islam.  Islamism, or political Islam, is not inherently violent, nor is it necessarily incompatible with democracy; the Islamism of Hamas is very different from that of al-Qaida and IS despite descending from the same source.  Recognising the Islamic State is Islamic surely isn't that difficult a step, or too hard to explain.

Within a couple of paragraphs Cameron is then at it again.  It's only the extremists who divide people into good and bad Muslims he says.  Except, err, the whole basis of his strategy is to do just that, as he then says in the next line, as this new approach is designed around isolating the extremists from everyone else.  Either these extremists are Muslims or they're not; can we possibly make up our minds, please?  He then immediately goes on to lecturing broadcasters about recognising the huge power they have in shaping the debate, apparently oblivious, or rather not, to how this speech will have more effect than anything they produce.

All this distracts from the good, which is the section on why people are being attracted to the extremist cause.  You can quibble with Cameron's declaration that extremist voices overwhelm those of other Muslims, which I don't think is true at all, but his follow-up, that it's ridiculous the debate when the young have gone to join IS has turned into whether or not the security services are to blame is sound.  If anything, Cameron doesn't ask the hardest of questions: whether or not some Muslims are in fact in denial of where their interpretation of Islam can lead.  Radicalisation, as Cameron says, has to start somewhere, and for some it can be nothing more than ordinary religious observance.  This is not to say they are to blame, that their interpretation is wrong, or that Islam always lead to extremism; it does not, and all religions and political ideologies have their extremists.  There is however no getting away from how some are more susceptible than others, and the more conservative the interpretation of Islam, the higher the chances tend to be.  It's not a coincidence that converts tend to be over-represented among the extremists, for instance.

The problem then is that Cameron's proposed solutions are so woefully lacking.   There isn't really much point in once again going through why the emphasis on British values is chuckleheaded: suffice to say that when the leader of a party that has still has major problems with sexual equality, having so recently been converted to the cause, repeatedly insists that we all believe in such things and always have, the only reasonable reaction is to reach for the sick bag.  Cameron protests that the new Prevent duty for schools is not about criminalising or spying on Muslim children, and yet what else is putting that duty on both nurseries and primary schools about if not spying on Muslim children, then spying on their parents and what they might be teaching them by proxy?  It's certainly not seriously about protecting wider society from child jihadists.  He talks about the effect "passive tolerance" could have on young British Muslim girls, when if anything we've now reached the stage where those brought up here are imposing their traditions on their own children.  The "power and liberating force" of our values, and let's not pretend we haven't been debating these questions of identity for decades, don't seem to have had much effect.

Which is rather the point.  Traditions are ingrained in all our little subcultures.  Cameron boasts about the new diverse face of his party, and then within a couple of paragraphs is on to "It cannot be right, for example, that people can grow up and go to school and hardly ever come into meaningful contact with people from other backgrounds and faiths".  Well, no, it's not Dave, but then what does the rest of your cabinet of private school attending mates have to do with this?  Perhaps we finally get to where this is all leading when Dave suggests "the government needs to start asking searching questions about social housing" and also ask "how we can move away from segregated schooling in our most divided communities".  One answer might be the new lower benefit cap, which research for the Graun suggests will lead to an exodus from the south and cities in general.  Ah yes, it's all fitting into place.

The biggest hole by far in the strategy is on identity.  The Tories don't truly believe in the nonsense they're spouting about British values, but it's the only thing they can think of in a world where identity is becoming ever more fragmented.  This hardly affects just Muslims; in the face of seeming constant change it's natural to cling on to an ever more exaggerated sense of self, as we're seeing in the debate in the US over the Confederate flag.  Young people brought up in an austere religious environment see the world as it is and react in different ways: some might abandon their faith and rebel against their parents that way; others might go in entirely the opposite direction.  Identity has never been so fluid, exaggerated by mass immigration and access to wider culture unimaginable even 20 years ago.  Little wonder that some people, and I can include myself in this, don't feel like they belong anywhere.  Tackling alienation when individualism, or rather the marketed sense of individualism, is so prevalent is all but impossible.  Harping on about British values while not actually following those values, especially at the same time as preaching myths such as how this is a country "where in one or two generations people can come with nothing and rise as high as their talent allows" and that our "success is achieved not in spite of our diversity, but because of our diversity" is about as idiotic as you can get.  The strategy remains that there is no strategy.  That there probably isn't one anyway doesn't diminish that.

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Tuesday, July 07, 2015 

The banality of grief.

At times, it's interesting to note just what gets reported widely and what doesn't.  At the weekend, the BBC went fairly big on the release of a video from Islamic State apparently showing the execution of a group of Syrian soldiers in the ancient amphitheatre of Palmyra. The response from Syria's head on antiquities to a previous execution in the amphitheatre had been to stress how using "the Roman theatre to execute people proves that these people are against humanity".  I'll let you, dear reader, work through the various shades of irony contained in that short of a statement.

Reported to a far lesser extent was a video released by Islamic State at the end of last month.   This consisted of not one, not two, but three separate executions of men from the city of Mosul in Iraq, accused in the video of being spies for the government.  Attired in those orange jumpsuits that were originally meant to point to the injustice of the extrajudicial detention by the United States of alleged terrorists at Guantanamo Bay, individuals from these groups of men confessed to their "crime" on camera.  The first group were led to a car in a desert wasteland and chained together inside, unable to escape.  A masked man then fired a rocket propelled grenade at his unmissable target.  The second group were chained together inside a cage, similar to the one the Jordanian pilot was burned to death in.  This time, the cage was slowly lowered by crane into a swimming pool, as cameras underneath the water filmed the men struggling desperately for life.  The third group were led into an area of similar desert to where the first execution was carried out, and told to kneel.  Explosives were then daisy-chained around their necks.  The charges detonated, all but one of the men were decapitated, their heads flying in the direction of the camera.

Recording the committing of atrocities for both propaganda and terroristic purposes is not of course new.  Islamic extremists have been doing so since the early 90s, and Mexican drug cartels took up the practice more recently; Hitler had the prolonged, agonising execution by hanging with piano wire of some of those involved in the von Stauffenberg plot filmed.  Islamic State has however taken it to a whole new level; beheadings and shots to the back of the head have been relegated in favour of asking followers on social media for ideas on how to kill those whom have fallen into their clutches.  Whether the practice is in fact counter-productive is difficult to weigh: certainly anyone who isn't a conservative Sunni knows full well what possibly awaits them should IS continue their march in both Syria and Iraq.  It might further encourage those determined to resist to do so until the very end; alternatively, as we saw in Mosul itself, many will choose instead to flee at the first sign of an attack.

Why the Mosul video wasn't as widely reported as others we can but guess at.  There are only so many depictions of man's inhumanity to man that audiences can stomach in a short period, without either switching off in disgust or becoming desensitised to it.  Reporting of conflicts other than Israel/Palestine which we ourselves have little or no apparent stake in is often fragmentary at best, especially when budgets continue to decline and insurance premiums correspondingly increase; the war in Yemen, despite being an extension of the proxy war being fought in Syria between Saudia Arabia, Qatar and others against Iran has been practically ignored.  Massacres via Saudi airstrike like yesterday's are barely remarked upon.  Alternatively, it's also the case we long stopped caring about the people of Iraq, who have suffered through 25 years of various Western interventions, to which can be added another 10 if you include the initial support given to Saddam's war against Iran.

Today we remembered the horror of 7/7.  For me, at least, what followed cannot properly be separated from that day, and some of the statements from politicians and also members of the public smack frankly of either faulty memories or outright revisionism.  Perhaps the closest to the reality came from the then 14-year-old Emma Craig, who survived the Aldgate bomb: "Quite often people say 'It didn't break us, terrorism won't break us'. The fact is, it may not have broken London, but it did break some of us."  It's certainly nearer the truth than the fantasy vision some have conjured up or want there to be of this rainbow city, together grieving in solidarity, coming out stronger, "an international crossroads of diversity and ingenuity, tolerance and respect, challenge and opportunity."

Like it or not, fear pervaded London for quite some time, as did suspicion if not outright questioning, even loathing of ordinary Muslims going about their business.  Most of that fear was real and palpable; some of it was encouraged by a media that decided an attack had been inevitable, and by politicians who were ready to respond to it in the most inflammatory way they could.  An entirely innocent man lost his life as a result not just of the fear and paranoia the attack and then subsequent failed attack engendered, but also due to the incompetence and unaccountability of the Met, defended by all sides regardless of their failings.  Tony Blair declared the rules of the game had changed, and launched straight into trying to detain "terrorist suspects" for up to three months, amongst other reforms that diluted hard-won freedoms and liberties.  Blair's worst instincts about the threat were expanded upon by the previous government, which now requires nurseries to ensure children of pre-school age are not being radicalised.  The security services that fail, as they always have and always will to prevent attacks despite having previous knowledge of the perpetrators, continue to demand ever increasing powers while insisting that the threat is as high, if not higher than ever.

The awful truth is that ever since 9/11 the wrong targets have been chosen for the response.  Rather than confront the sources of extremist Salafi Islam in Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, something that would have required a complete change of mindset and allies, groups rather than the ideology was gone after.  You cannot destroy an ideology, but you can cut off its funding and affect how it is spread.  Little to no attempt was made to do so.  Al-Qaida has without doubt a been decimated, and poses little threat, but in doing so something worse has been established, thanks entirely to western intervention.  Islamic State owes its existence to the Iraq war, to the refusal to get tough with the Saudis over their double standards.  Hundreds of thousands of Iraqis, if not more, have died violently since 2003.  Iraq would be little more than a country of memorials if every death as a result of terrorist attack, death squads or at the hands of the occupation forces was marked in the same way as the victims of the 7/7 attacks were commemorated.  I am not, I stress, saying there is an equivalence here.  There is not.  I do not believe, as some, that 7/7 would not have happened had it not been for the Iraq war.  Foreign policy is an excuse, not a reason.  It was however an influence, and remains one.  To not recognise our foreign policy since 9/11 has been a disaster and continues to help, rather than hinder the extremists, is at this point to be wilfully blind.

It's come to something when of all people, Bob Quick, with his suggestion of letting those who want to join Islamic State do so but effectively revoke their citizenship at the same time is the person closest to talking something approaching sense.  For all the scaremongering of recent months, of an attack being a matter of time, all highly reminiscent of what came after 7/7 and the other foiled plots, few have questioned that Islamic State's real fight at the moment is not to attack the west, although it will go after soft targets such as in Tunisia, but to build on its lightning success of last year and attract supporters.  The big fear, of those who have fought in Syria returning and carrying out attacks, is exaggerated massively.  We know this because those who return, or have returned, are thought of negatively.  The caliphate is here, it's real, and the battle is to maintain it.  Returning the world of the unbelievers is a personal failure.  By contrast, not letting those who want to go do so, even as we are baffled about why anyone would want to, runs the risk of the lone attacks now so dreaded.

Perhaps my opinion has always been shaded by how 10 years ago I didn't have any friends or past acquaintances living in London.  10 years on, I most assuredly do.  Helping to prevent terrorism is everyone's responsibility.  A decade on, it's hard to see precisely what's been achieved, whether we truly are stronger as a nation, more equipped to deal with the fallout if there was another mass casualty attack.  It certainly doesn't feel like it.  Our foreign policy makes just as little, if not less sense, than it did then.  We are it seems yet again reduced to gestures, to platitudes, to asking why when the answers are within our grasp should we choose to reach for them.  But by all means, #walktogether if it means something to you.

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Tuesday, June 30, 2015 

Membership of Conservative party 'may be sign of extremism'

Education secretary Nicky Morgan has defended the government ahead of tomorrow's introduction of a legal requirement on schools to prevent extremism.

Morgan, who still looks visibly surprised to be in a position of any authority whatsoever, was combative.  "What our critics have to understand is this puts us under the same level of scrutiny as everyone else.  And let's be honest here, the Conservative party could until recently have fallen foul of our definition of what extremism is.  The mutual respect and tolerance of different faiths and beliefs? I should coco."

"Individual liberty is all well and good, but if it leads to someone saying things we now declare to be extremism of the non-violent variety then obviously we have to step in," Morgan continued.  "As for the rule of law, the law is whatever we declare it to be, and if we don't like the interpretation of one judge, well, we can always get that of another.  Nor are we safe when it comes to democracy, as we have no problem whatsoever with palling up with some of the most unpleasant governments on the face of the planet, like our good friends the Saudis, who respond to demands for freedom of thought with the sword and the whip.  Did you see there was another attack today in Yemen claimed by Isil on the Houthis?  We're hoping no one notices that we are on the same side as IS there, not to forget allied with al-Qaida's affiliate the Nusra front in Syria."

Asked whether it was the height of hypocrisy for Morgan to claim that homophobia might be a sign of extremism when she and many other Conservatives opposed gay marriage, Morgan gave a remarkably straight answer.  "Well, obviously.  But we either can't or won't do anything real that might help tackle extremism, so we decided making life even more miserable for some of the people least likely to vote for us was as good a way of any of showing we're doing something."

In other news:
Fifteen-year-old threatened with TPIM for describing teacher as "well gay"
Parents of latest IS runaway blame teachers, police, government, social media, Basil Brush, Charlotte Church, and Buzz Aldrin for her disappearance
Counter-terrorism exercise held in London, officers trained to shoot for head of nearest Brazilian
Labour party abandons policy of social democracy, as "issue is gone"

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Monday, June 29, 2015 

Terrorism and victimhood.

The family of Dr Sarandev Bhambra had a point last week.  If the murder of Lee Rigby was a terrorist attack, despite it failing to terrorise anyone other than those who wanted to be, then surely the attempted murder of Bhambra by Zackery Davies, which he claimed to be an attempt to avenge Rigby's death, was also.  Davies was almost your stereotype white supremacist: a loner who had the obligatory copy of the Turner Diaries alongside all the usual Nazi paraphernalia, that masturbatory genocidal fantasy which concludes with a suicide attack on the Pentagon, he also as now tends to be the custom admired the barbarism of Islamic State, despite the obvious contradictions.  He may though also be mentally ill, and the judge has requested psychiatric reports before he sentences him.  One of the killers of Lee Rigby, Michael Adebowale, has also since been transferred to Broadmoor for treatment, and is appealing against the length of his 45-year sentence on those grounds.

Branding the murderous actions of individuals without any links to specific terrorist groups, and in some instances even those who do have such links is to give in to precisely the self-aggrandisement and narcissism that motivated them in the first place.  Davies posing in front of swastikas and the flag of the Afrikaner Resistance Movement is of a piece with the suspected Charleston church murderer Dylann Roof burning the Star and Stripes, waving the Confederate flag and as with so many previous mass killers leaving behind a "manifesto" attempting to justify the unjustifiable.  One line, and one line only is worth dignifying: "We have no skinheads, no real KKK, no one doing anything but talking on the internet," he wrote. "Well someone has to have the bravery to take it to the real world, and I guess that has to be me."  The exact same line of thinking is now espoused by the successors to the mantle of al-Qaida, the same one grasped by Adebowale and Michael Adebolajo.

Murder/suicide rarely excites any more.  How could it when the TV news in recent years has often seemed to be one long parade of atrocities?  If you're going to go down in a blaze of ignominy, the thinking seems to be, you might as well make it look good for the 24 hour news networks.  A case in point was the first of Friday's reported terrorist attacks, the apparent attempt by Yassin Salhi to cause a major incident at the Air Products chemical factory in Saint-Quentin-Fallavier.  The French president Francois Hollande instantly branded it a terrorist incident only for the situation to become more confused once it emerged that despite beheading his boss and the use of a flag with the Islamic profession of faith on it, Salhi told the police his motivations were personal more than political.  He might have been or still be a fundamentalist, having previously been on the police's radar, but the use of jihadi iconography and methods seems the excuse rather than the reason.  Nor have foreign connections been discovered as yet, pouring scorn on the media's grasping for a link between France, Tunisia and Kuwait.

Last week at times this country seemed to have descended into a self-pitying wreck, feeling sorry for itself as all around it burned.  The strike at Calais which gave hundreds of desperate migrants a better chance than usual of stowing away for the journey across the channel once again electrified the media at large, with the same old why-oh-whying about why do they come here rather than stay on the continent rearing its head for the umpteenth time.  I waited and waited in vain for someone to point out that the numbers in Calais wanting to come to Britain are tiny compared to the over 100,000 that have made it to Europe so far this year, most of whom have either stayed in Italy or Greece or tried to get to Germany or Sweden, the two main destinations for Syrian refugees in particular.  There was however no shortage of people convinced it was all down to how generous our benefit system is, the myth that refuses to die and never will so long as broadcasters and the press either push it themselves or don't bother to challenge it.

And there right in the centre was David Cameron.  While the big boys round the EU summit table tried and failed to agree on both sharing out said number of migrants more fairly and keeping Greece in the Euro, there he was pushing his pathetic little renegotiation agenda, to much sighing and eye-rolling from everyone else.  Britain has often stood out on its own, sometimes by choice, sometimes not, but rarely has it looked so self-absorbed and obtuse as of late.

This complete lack of apparent wider awareness has manifested itself just as it has in the past in the reaction to the massacre in Sousse.  Cameron promises a "full spectrum" response to the "existentialist" threat posed by Islamic State.  No one has the slightest idea what a full spectrum response entails, and Cameron apparently doesn't know what existentialist means or otherwise he wouldn't make such an utterly ridiculous statement, but that's the least of our worries.  How much of a role Islamic State truly played in the attack doesn't really matter; that they claimed it whereas they didn't the incident in France is evidence enough they pulled the strings.  Nor does it matter that there's very little you can do to prevent one fanatic from gunning down Western tourists on the beach when north Africa has been thrown into flux by the absence of effective government in Libya.  If anything, that's it taken this long for jihadists to realise that far too much can go wrong with bombings when a trained lone attacker armed with an automatic weapon and grenades can kill just as many if not more people is proof in itself of just how non-existentialist the threat is.

The point is our foreign policy, such as it is, seems deliberately designed to increase rather than decrease the threat.  Cameron isn't wrong when he says there would be a threat regardless of whether or not we were personally involved in bombing Islamic State in Iraq.  Theresa May was almost certainly right in saying Brits weren't deliberately targeted in Sousse; westerners as a whole were.  Nor does Islamic State care one jot about the effect the massacre will have on tourism in Tunisia.  All its cadres are interested in is the number of decadent westerners slaughtered for daring to feel safe in an Arab country.  Indeed, little is more likely to excite the always priapic IS devotees than white women in bikinis lying dead in pools of blood, as potent a mixture of the paradoxical motivations of your average teenage jihadi as it's possible to imagine.

I apologise for making this argument for what seems the thousandth time, as even I'm tired of it.  IS nevertheless only exists in its current form because of Syria, and owes some of its success to our refusal to, as the Times put it when demanding that we pal up with Sisi in Egypt "work with the political order as it exists in the Arab world and not as [we] wish it to be".  Regardless of how and why, the west as a whole came to the conclusion that Assad was doomed, that it was only a matter of time before he fell or fled.  It hasn't happened.  Rather than reassess the situation four years down the line, accept that regardless of his being a chemical weapon using killer of his own people that he's not going anywhere and that his army is the only reliable force on the ground other than the Kurdish militias, we'd still rather pretend to be achieving something by attacking IS from the air even as more westerners travel to join them and others launch attacks in their name.  IS exploited the vacuum in Syria, as well as the support from both the west and the other Arab countries that flowed to the "opposition" to undermine Iraq and make its comeback there.

Here in short is just how fucked western policy in the Middle East currently is.  In Yemen we're supporting Saudi Arabia's brutal and ineffective air war against the Houthis, backed indirectly by the Iranians.  In Iraq we're in effective league with Shia militias backed by Iran against IS, which is backed by the Sunnis who prefer the brutal regime of the caliphate to the discrimination they faced under the Shia-dominated Baghdad government.  In Syria we are variously backing the remnants of the Free Syrian Army, assorted other "moderates" and the Kurdish militias against both the Assad regime and Islamic State.  In reality this means we are in alliance with the Sunni states of Saudia Arabia and Qatar, who have gone back and forth between funding and supporting outright jihadi and very slightly more moderate Islamic opposition groups, against Assad, supported by Iran and helped by Hezbollah, also backed by Iran.  Despite claims of both IS and Assad being pushed back and so on, in truth we're in pretty much the same position as this time last year.  Libya meanwhile remains in turmoil and has turned into the conduit through which the refugees from these conflicts, along also with others from Eritrea and Somalia and your common garden economic migrants are making the trip across the Mediterranean.  We don't need to reiterate what went on in Libya, do we?  Good.

Cameron is thus reduced to the platitude of a "full-spectrum response" and the ludicrous claim that a rag-tag army of nihilist throwbacks threaten our very existence because he either can't do anything or won't do anything.  Further western intervention is precisely what IS wants and the Americans failed in any case to destroy al-Qaida in Iraq when boots were on the ground.  We refuse to accept that IS is more of a threat to regional stability than Assad, and so won't ally with the only army in either Iraq or Syria that somewhat functions.  We continue to ignore how Saudi Arabia funds the mosques and preachers that spread the Wahhabi precursor to Islamic State's takfiri jihadism.  Cameron talks of the struggle of our generation when western policy up to now has either targeted individuals rather than the ideology itself and where it springs from, or has made things worse through either incompetence, as in Iraq, or by choice, as in Libya.  We are apparently to be intolerant of intolerance, only without a countervailing narrative to rival that which appeals to a distinct minority, some of whom might as Roof put it "take it to the real world".  The vast majority won't.  That won't however stop ministers from reaching to the law, further restricting free speech in the name of protecting British values.  Anything other than admit our mistakes and change course, and think of ourselves as anything other than victims.

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Saturday, June 27, 2015 


A plot by the Sun newspaper to bomb an Armed Forces Day parade in Britain has been foiled by the Islamic State, the Raqqa Guardian can reveal.

The plot, intended to target the unit of murdered soldier Lee Rigby, was disrupted after Islamic State informed the British police and security services of how the newspaper's journalists had made contact with them.

"They told us they were willing to do the work for Allah," said Abu Oo Ee Oo Ah Ah Ting Tang Walla Walla Bing Bang al-Farqu, "which tipped us off immediately.  None of our recruits talk like that, as they aren't complete imbeciles.  We realised from the start they were either a journalist, or an especially stupid spy, and so played them at their own game.  We first asked if they had access to firearms, then gave them a bunch of fake ingredients and instructions on how to make a pressure cooker bomb.  We even told them to film a martyrdom video, just to make it seem authentic.  They even believed the crap we told them about spraying the shrapnel with rat poison, for goodness sake."

A Scotland Yard spokesman said: "It is always helpful when journalists invent terrorist plots, as the Sun did in this case, as we clearly don't have enough to do already.  It also makes the public more likely to jump at their own shadow and pick on brown people with backpacks, which is exactly the kind of behaviour we think should be encouraged."

Abu Rupert al-Murdoch could not be reached for comment.

Page 3 - Today's martyrdom lovely
Page 94 - Actual Brits killed in real terrorist attack

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Wednesday, June 17, 2015 

Syrian trilogy in Yorkshire pottery.

All American trilogy, the future's dead fundamentally / It's so fucking funny, it's absurd

Did you see the statement put out by the family of Tahla Asmal, the 17-year-old who now carries the distinction of being the youngest Britisher to become a suicide bomber?  “Talha was a loving, kind, caring and affable teenager,” it begins, before going on to firmly place the blame for his decision elsewhere.  "Talha’s tender years and naivety were, it seems however, exploited by persons unknown, who, hiding behind the anonymity of the worldwide web, targeted and befriended Talha and engaged in a process of deliberate and calculated grooming of him."

Perhaps Talha was all of these things.  Perhaps his tender years and naivety were indeed exploited.  Plenty of 17-year-olds think about killing themselves, if not necessarily other people at the same time; I certainly did.  Perhaps he was targeted and befriended, even groomed, although frankly this transferral of the terminology of sexual exploitation and abuse to that of comprehensively changing someone's outlook on life as a whole in a very short space of time doesn't really cut it.

The insistence that Asmal's decision to not only go and join Islamic State, but also take part in a "martyrdom operation", as they're called by jihadists, was all down to faceless individuals on the internet does though take a knock when you learn his best friend, next-door neighbour and and fellow emigree to IS was Hassan Munshi, brother of Hammad Munshi, convicted back in 2008 at the age of 18 for possessing documents useful to terrorists.  Munshi's defence at the time was, uncannily, that he was groomed by the two older men involved in the plot.

Again, perhaps he was.  You might though have thought it would have alerted his parents, and especially his grandfather, Yakub Munshi, president of the Islamic Research Institute of Great Britain at the Markazi Mosque in Dewsbury to the potential for Hammad's younger brother to become subject to the same pressures.  Perhaps they were and it made no difference.  Surely though Asmal's family, devastated and heartbroken, must have been aware of all this.  Could it really be that not one, but two Munshis, as well as Amsal were targeted by these calculated and cunning groomers, without anyone becoming aware as to what was going on?

One thing is for sure: we seem to be stuck in the same old groove when it comes to radicalisation.  It's still about foreign policy, Islamophobia, alienation, cries one section; it's about an austere and intolerant interpretation of Islam that either doesn't condemn the likes of IS enough or is outright sympathetic to their purity says another; no, it's actually to do with identity and belonging, insists someone else.  To which the obvious response is: doesn't all of the above play a role?

To start with, you have to see what Islamic State for what it is, which is the answer to all things.  It's a fundamentally teenage organisation in every sense; just look at the old jihadi grey beards Abu Qatada and Abu ­Muhammad al-Maqdisi bemoaning how what they helped bring into being has grown into.  Who knew that if you gave religious backing to one group allowing them to kill whoever they feel like that eventually another group would used it to kill whoever they feel like?  Islamic State's response to al-Maqdisi's attempts to free the captured Jordanian pilot was the equivalent of a step-child telling their mother's new partner you're not my real dad, only with the added son of a whore insult just to rub it in.

IS then not only appeals to those who no longer accept that establishing the caliphate now is illegitimate, as al-Qaida does, to those who see it as their religious duty to fight against the kuffar, whether they be Alawites, the Shia or anyone else they don't agree with, but also to to the most base desires.  IS not only promises fighting, but fucking as well, to male and female alike, so long as the woman is perfectly happy with playing the role of the dutiful wife to someone with a potentially short life expectancy.  While you'd think this would appeal more to the recruits from other Arab countries, never underestimate the pressures on young Muslim men as well as women in the west to follow the strictures set down by their parents.

This doesn't of course begin to explain the appeal of IS to the women from Bradford, assumed to have made the journey to Syria.  It's not many happily married women with young families who would decide to up sticks to a war zone leaving their husbands behind.  Something on that level doesn't ring true.  That said, why Syria rather than attempt to stay in Saudi Arabia, unless their very brand of Islam is compatible with that of IS?  Their brother having gone to fight doesn't on its own lead to them fleeing to join him, not least taking their children with them to a place of such danger.

The entire case of the Dawoods raises those questions of belonging, identity and integration.  It also though makes clear that even among those who adhere to a highly conservative brand of Sunni Islam, the numbers who are so taken with the IS vision of life and the world that they'll join it are tiny.  When you then have the government's utterly cack-handed overreaction, first to the Trojan Horse plot, which was nothing of the sort, and where there was no evidence that unpleasant, oppressive and wrong as it was, the conservative Islamic ethos adopted by those Birmingham schools was breeding extremists, combined with the continuing stupidity of the Prevent programme, which has never prevented anything, there is the potential to push those on the edge over into doing something they otherwise wouldn't have.  Shiraz Maher is right on almost everything in his piece except for his bizarre invocation of how the colonies fought for Britain in WW1 and WW2 means instilling "British values" is the answer today.  The Conservatives don't have the slightest idea what British values are, but they do know how to make more work for schools, or indeed nurseries, lest there be any 5-year-old terrorists already being groomed for action.

The rise of IS and eclipse of al-Qaida also highlights the way the nature of the threat from terrorism is changing, and just how little recognition there has been from all concerned to that effect.  The big, major plots of the past have not entirely gone away, but have been superseded by the danger of the lone or working in pairs attacks we've seen.  More difficult as these are to prevent, they are just as likely to result in failure, or rather than indiscriminately targeting the public, they focus on the police or specific groups.  Spectacular attacks on multiple targets have fallen from favour.  With the focus on the jihad in Syria and Iraq, it also means those who do choose to fight are as likely to be disillusioned by the experience and the reality of the situation as they are enthused by it.  For all the fear about jihadis coming back from Syria to launch attacks, there has as yet not been a single returnee charged who has been found to have such designs.

Here also is the stupidity of the double game being played in Syria: rather than approach those coming back with the intention of trying to persuade others not to make the journey, the prosecutions continue regardless of the groups being fought with.  This is despite Patrick Cockburn reporting how one of the major reasons the non-IS rebels have made such advances since the turn of the year has been a influx of support for the al-Nusra Front, aka al-Qaida's official affiliate in Syria and a direct split from IS, and which Qatar is all but openly supporting.  One day, the way policy on Syria has ebbed and flowed will be rued in the same as the war on Iraq now is.  Till then, we'll hear more families make their children out to be victims without examining themselves, while the efforts to tackle what extremism there is will continue to fail.

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Thursday, June 04, 2015 

Helping jihadists in Syria while still prosecuting those who come back? No, we wouldn't do that.

Speaking as we were of the deficiencies of the Crown Prosecution Service, it would be remiss not to mention the collapse on Monday of the about to start terrorism trial of Swedish national Bherlin Gildo.  Precisely what circumstances were behind the arrest of Gildo, who was only in the country to get a connecting flight to Manila, are opaque to begin with.  Stopped at Heathrow under schedule 7 of the Terrorism Act, he was charged with attending a terrorist training camp in Syria, as well as having in his possession information likely to be useful for terrorism.  And indeed, Gildo made no attempt to deny he had been in Syria, fighting alongside the al-Nusra Front, al-Qaida's affiliate in the country.  He hardly could when like so many other jihadis he was keen on posing for the camera, including with dead bodies.

Surely then another open and shut case.  Except Gildo's defence had the bright idea of bothering to put some work in for their client, and presented evidence mainly in the form of news reports on how the intelligence agencies had been secretly training and supplying weapons to armed groups in Syria.  The government has also recogised the Syrian opposition "as the sole legitimate representative" of the Syrian people, despite how the Syrian opposition mainly consists of a tiny and ever dwindling number of so-called moderates and a complete mess of Islamists of various hues, from the more radical than Hamas variety to our pals in Islamic State.

You might then have expected the prosecution to dismiss the notion the UK government had been in any way helping out a group affiliated to al-Qaida, or even the non-moderate opposition as a whole.  If they refused to, or didn't disclose the information requested by the defence, that would be a tacit admission that we haven't the foggiest idea where the "non-lethal" materiel we do know has been provided has gone, let alone the alleged shipments of weapons, wouldn't it?  It would seem so, and yet rather than dispel such an absurd notion, the prosecution instead dropped the case.

Fairly apparent is that the arrest of Gildo was a result of dealings between the authorities and the Swedish intelligence agencies.  Gildo returned home with the apparent help of the Swedes, where there have been no prosecutions of those who have gone to fight in the country.  Whether he broke an agreement he had with them, or terminated the mutual relationship they believed to have developed, it's difficult to see precisely why he would have been stop and arrested here, various jihadist propaganda found on his laptop or not, unless it was as a favour on the part of MI5.  They clearly didn't expect Gildo to end up being represented by the ever tenacious Gareth Peirce, nor that something done for reasons we'll never know could have potentially exposed the activities of MI6 in providing support to the Syrian rebels.<

The surprise is that in none of the previous prosecutions of those who've travelled to Syria to fight was a similar defence attempted.  The vast majority have involved Islamic State, which the West has never directly backed, although our allies in the Middle East may well have done, but this wasn't the case at the trial of the Nawaz brothers.  Not only did neither of the brothers actually take part in fighting, staying only at a training camp for a month, they joined a group that became part of the Islamic Front, a jihadist but opposed to Islamic State coalition of various factions.  

Despite the Crown Prosecution Service saying the dropping of the Gildo case will have no bearing on other prosecutions relating to Syria, it surely provides the Nawaz brothers with a line of appeal: if the government cannot guarantee it is not providing support to groups like the Islamic Front, then surely their conviction is unsafe.  Considering it refused to do so in a case involving al-Nusra, which is a specifically proscribed organisation, it hardly seems likely to be able to do with Junud al-Sham.  As with policy on Syria as a whole, what an utter mess, and one entirely of our own making.

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Wednesday, April 01, 2015 

An "unprecedented intervention", and the Incedal denouement.

There are some things we are destined never to understand.  Caitlin Moran's popularity.  How Grant Shapps' resemblance to Edd the Duck isn't remarked upon more often.  Why it is so many people can dish it out but not take it when they eventually face a backlash.  And, integral to this post, that ever present election campaign set piece, the letter from business leaders to a newspaper.

When said letter happens to appear on April the 1st, you also can't help but wonder if the joke isn't on all of us.  Quite what effect an endorsement from a bunch of people the vast majority will have never heard of and never will again is supposed to have is a mystery all of its own.  Presumably the aim, at least this time, is to underline further just how wonderful the coalition's long-term plan has been and will remain, and if you don't believe us then that bloke off that TV programme says so, as does that woman off that other TV programme who is, err, also a Tory peer.

This seems to rather overlook how most people are cynical sods, who will note all 103 wealth creating heroes are not doing a lot more than agreeing they would like to pay less tax and draw their own conclusions.  As it's corporation tax they want to pay less of, the tax plenty of companies try their best not to anyway and which in turn means the shortfall has to be made up elsewhere, mainly through more people going into the higher rate income tax band, it doesn't instantly follow they'll conclude Labour are lunatics for saying they'll put it up a whole penny to support smaller businesses.

Nor has it ever been clear what the businesses themselves get out of their CEOs making such endorsements.  The letter is after all effectively a list of companies those so inclined can from now on avoid if they so wish, which is why most likely why they're attempting to have their cake and eat it, signing the letter in a personal capacity.  Thankfully the Graun has stepped in with some further details on said bosses, and so we learn alongside the Tory donors and usual suspects is one Mark Esiri, good pal of the Camerons and the person who helped coordinate the sale of Smythson, netting Glam Sam Cam a cool £430,000.  Also on the list are such non-fat cats as head of Prudential Tidjane Thiam, who earned a mere £11.4m last year, up from £5.3m in 2010, so clearly another victim of the cost of living crisis.

George Osborne is then surely right to declare the letter an "unprecedented" intervention.  Still, it's odd as Nils Pratley notes that previous Tory letter signers are notable by their absence, including such an obvious name as Lord Wolfson, a Tory peer no less.  Also curious, beyond the stupidity of releasing the letter to the Torygraph on April Fools' Day, is why they've done it this early in the campaign at all: surely it would have served the party better nearer polling day itself, as let's face it, the majority are still barely paying attention even as the nerds among us are fed up to the back teeth of the same old soundbites.  It couldn't be that failure to achieve "crossover", the point at which the Conservative lead consolidates and which Lynton Crosby said would have arrived by now, combined with a solid start by Labour on the campaign front has spooked them, could it?

Something that should spook us all is the denouement to the Erol Incedal trial.  Mr Justice Nicol has ruled the public cannot be allowed to know why it was the jury decided Incedal, despite the apparently highly incriminating evidence against him, was not in fact plotting a terrorist attack.  His defence, that he had a "reasonable excuse" as to why both he and his co-defendant had a manual containing instructions on how to make "viable" explosive device cannot be reported, and yet it was this defence that put enough doubt in the mind of two successive juries, resulting first in a retrial and then in acquittal.  For possession of the manual Incedal was sentenced to 42 months in prison, a term that seems far beyond that ordinarily passed for possession of similar documents, again without any wider explanation.

The whole situation frankly defies description.  You want to call it Kafkaesque, except the point of The Trial is K never knows what he's been arrested and charged with, whereas with Incedal we aren't allowed to know what his defence was.  Moreover, the state attempted to have the entire trial held in secret, which not even the bureaucracies of Kafka's nightmares did.  Then there's the paradoxes at work, whereby the CPS continues to claim the trial could not have been brought if more details were made public, and yet as Incedal has now been cleared the opinion of the jury was the case had never been strong enough anyway.

Mr Justice Nicol's reasoning for why the in camera sessions attended by the accredited journalists must remain secret are also, naturally, far too sensitive to be made public.  His ruling additionally makes said hacks effectively complicit in secret justice, or rather injustice, raising the question of whether if a situation like this occurs again they would go along with it a second time.  Why on earth would anyone?  Their notebooks locked away, crosswords also confiscated lest they be an attempt to smuggle out a record of what was heard, they've just wasted weeks of their time.  Indeed, it makes you wonder if that was the point, until you remember that cock up is nearly always a better explanation than conspiracy.

Precisely how national security could possibly be so drastically affected by the public knowing Incedal's defence you can't even begin to surmise.  It seems of a piece with the literal sledgehammer response to the Guardian's reporting of the Edward Snowden leaks, when the most ridiculous excuses were come up with as to why the copies of the files in London had to be destroyed.  It was utterly pointless in the sense of preventing the reporting from continuing, but it was very much pointed in the message it was sending.  Anything that might prove embarrassing to the intelligence agencies has to stepped upon, and if that means denying an innocent man the right to truly clear his name, as Incedal most certainly has been, the ends justify the means.  That the state on this occasion has so involved the fourth estate in its machinations could yet prove its downfall.

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Thursday, March 26, 2015 

Just who are the domestic extremists?

Back in the 70s, Ted Heath was not exactly complimentary about MI5's way of working. "They talked the most ridiculous nonsense, and their whole philosophy was ridiculous nonsense.  If some of them were on the tube and saw someone reading the Daily Mirror they would say - 'Get after him, that man is dangerous, we must find out where he bought it.'"  Predictably, Christopher Andrew in his official history of MI5 claimed the reality was often the government itself asking MI5 to keep tabs on MPs they had suspicions about, rather than MI5 becoming convinced various left-wingers were serving Soviet and not British interests.

By the 1990s the bad old days of MI5 and Special Branch keeping tabs on any vaguely left-wing group were meant to have passed.  When it's subsequently revealed Special Branch apparently left their files open on such notorious subversives as Harriet Harman, Jack Straw and Peter Hain, by this point all ministers in the Labour government, it does make you wonder just who they deemed to not be worthy of monitoring.  Frank Field, maybe? Gerald Kaufman?  Or were they too secretly meeting behind closed doors to plot and sing the Internationale?  Considering that Jenny Jones, the Green member of the London assembly recently discovered she was on the Met's current database of "domestic extremists" perhaps we shouldn't be that surprised.

It also brings into sharper focus the Erol Incedal debacle, the first trial to be heard in such a high degree of secrecy since the war.  Despite being found guilty of possession of a document on bomb-making, the jury at Incedal's retrial (the jury at the original trial failed to reach a verdict) was apparently convinced by his explanation as to why emails the prosecution claimed to refer to the Mumbai attacks and AK-47s were nothing of the kind and so cleared him of plotting some sort of attack.  I say apparently as this was part of the trial held in complete secret, with not even the posse of accredited hacks allowed into some of the behind closed doors sessions ordered out.  Further on the surface incriminating details have emerged as a result of the judge's summing up in the second trial - Incedal apparently met with a British jihadist known only as Ahmed on the Syrian border, who allegedly suggested carrying out an attack.  The bug planted in Incedal's car additionally picked him up praising Islamic State commanders.

Just as intriguing is how Incedal came to the attention of the police in the first place.  Arrested for speeding, the BBC reports he "made demands" the police couldn't accommodate, and they also stopped an interview so they could "digest" a written statement.  Whether it was this which prompted the police to make a thorough search of his car, finding the home address of Tony Blair on a piece of paper hidden in a glasses case we don't know, but it seems to have disquieted them enough to plant the bug in his car.  Incedal maintained at both trials he had a "reasonable excuse" for having the explosives manual, an excuse which caused the jury enough reasonable doubt for them to decide to acquit on the more serious charge.  We can't however know what the excuse was, such is the apparent impact it could have on national security.

Or at least we won't unless the judge decides tomorrow that the reporting restrictions on the sessions when the accredited hacks were allowed in but the public wasn't can now be made public.  Both the Graun and the BBC quote Sean O'Neill, the Times's crime and security editor, known to be the kind of journalist memorably described by EP Thompson as "a kind of official urinal in which ministers and intelligence and defence chiefs could stand patiently leaking", as saying there was a lot heard that should not have been secret.  Surely then we can expect the judge to throw some light on the subject?

Except the fact the security services, ministers, the CPS and the judge himself all initially felt the trial should be held entirely in secret, with Incedal and his co-defendant identified by initials, something only prevented by the media challenging Mr Justice Nicol's ruling at the Court of Appeal, more than suggests that avoiding further embarrassment is likely to be order of the day.  The QC for the media at the Court of Appeal hearing argued that "the orders made involve such a significant departure from the principle of open justice that they are inconsistent with the rule of law and democratic accountability".  As Theresa May reaffirmed on Tuesday, the rule of law is one of those British values that is non-negotiable, and to reject it is one of the definitions of extremism.  The law is though there to be changed, especially if meddling judges decide that letters from a prince preparing to be king to ministers must be revealed, as David Cameron has said.  And when the security services and police are so often a law unto themselves, the rule of law is very much what the government of the day decrees it to be.

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Monday, March 16, 2015 

On not understanding the call of duty.

Call me an old softy, but I find it difficult not to recoil from war and conflict regardless of the circumstances.  It's not that I'm a pacifist, as I fervently take the position that armed struggle is permissible when every other method of getting rid of a tyrannical government has failed.  Likewise, sometimes a country operating an openly imperialist foreign policy has to be stopped from going any further.  I'm even prepared to accept there will be occasions when countries should intervene to prevent an imminent or already under way genocide from taking place or going any further.  There haven't been any past cases where it's been shown an intervention would have succeeded, but there's always the possibility.

Flying Rodent called it his "Mark-Off-Peep-Show Shame", and yep, I've read those same books, despite thinking it's reaching the time when rather than putting up new memorials to those involved in War I and War II (as Philomena Cunk would have it) we should instead begin dialling it down.  As the inestimable rodent said, "a world in which fewer people are willing to get bayonetted to death for God and country is likely to be a nicer place to live in than one with more", and it's a sentiment I can't demur from.

It does then fairly bewilder me when those who ought to know better start rhapsodising about how everyone should get behind this particular group fighting in this particular war, nearly always because they share their political outlook, or rather, think they do.  Without doubt, as I've written before, the Kurds fighting against Islamic State in Syria are taking part in a noble cause, and when compared with almost everyone else battling in that benighted country, they are probably closest in values to "us".  They are not quite though the revolutionaries Owen Jones wants to paint them as, claiming the still-banned as a terrorist group PKK (aka the Kurdistan Workers' Party) has moved from Stalinism to "the libertarian socialism of the US theoretician Murray Bookchin".  And the three bears etc.  All the same, he's probably right that if the Kurds were fighting against our good selves rather than Islamic State, they'd be hailed universally by the left rather than just the fringes.

Looking for a new angle now the "shock" of Westerners going to battle alongside Islamic State has began to fade, attention has instead moved to those fighting against IS, with the death of Konstandinos Erik Scurfield prompting tributes from his family and others.  Last week the news broke of the death of Ivana Hoffman, leading to the eulogy from Jones, ignoring the obvious similarities between someone who posed in front of a communist flag fighting for what she believed in with those who can't pose often enough with the IS flag, also fighting for what they believe in, their war or otherwise.  Before we get into the sterility of a debate centering on moral relativism, it's apparent that despite fighting for such very different things, and that the Kurds' battle is foremost a defensive rather than an offensive one, the idealism and naivety of both sides is not unrelated if still very different.

No surprise then at the anger over the charging of Shilan Ozcelik, accused of wanting to fight against IS with the PKK rather than it being the other way round.  As the PKK is still a listed terrorist group, in law the charge might well be justified.  Whether it should be enforced, however, is a different question entirely.  As we saw last week, the Met confirming the three schoolgirls from Bethnal Green would not be charged with terrorism offences if they managed to return from Syria, and with three other teenagers released today on bail after being returned from Turkey, there still doesn't appear to be anything remotely like a coherent approach to just who is and isn't likely to be charged if they decide to come back.  This is the umpteenth time I've mentioned Mashudur Choudary, and I'm going to keep on doing so until it's explained why someone who couldn't hack it in Syria was prosecuted on his return.  The same goes for the Nawaz brothers, who trained not with Islamic State but an unrelated jihadist group, the kind some felt, like the PKK, were fighting the good fight up until recently.  We're told hundreds of Brits have gone to Syria, and yet the number of cases brought numbers in the tens, if that.  As we're also told repeatedly of what a massive security risk these people are, either there's a lot of resources being used to monitor them, or else the gap year jihadis are only going to be boring everyone to death with their stories.

The other reason for my reticence is what we know about professional soldiers, some of whom fail to adjust to civilian life, some of whom just find out they enjoy killing.  Yes, they might genuinely share the Kurds' wider aims and loathe IS, but that doesn't alter their wider motivations.  There are perfectly good reasons to be suspicious of those who decide to fight in wars that don't, or shouldn't on the surface concern them.  A better approach, from the authorities at least, would be to either prosecute everyone who goes to fight in Syria, regardless of whom they join up with; or no one, excepting those where there's evidence they took part in attacks against civilians.  A better approach from ourselves might to be admit that however much we hate what those going to fight for IS believe in, in death those left behind always make the same claims for what it was they believed they were doing.

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Tuesday, March 10, 2015 

The ladies dost protest too much.

Let's be honest.  Good as most of us are at dishing out criticism, few of us take it quite as kindly.  At least if your self-hatred is off the charts one of the, perhaps the only benefit is there's very little going to be thrown your way you haven't already thought yourself, accurate or not.

If there's one quality I can't then abide, it's how those who should know better try and make the most out of something vaguely insulting when they're not averse to the odd bit of directing their own mob.  Witness the very much non-shrinking violets around the fringes of the Scottish independence campaign pretend to be offended by yesterday's Steve Bell cartoon in the Graun, the very same people whom just 2 weeks ago were not, emphasis not trying to get a nurse sacked for appearing on Labour's campaign material.  Indeed, if she did ended up getting sacked it would be the fault of Labour's hatred of the SNP and not those complaining about an NHS worker breaching some unlikely to be well known rules on such activities.

The way politicians and their hangers-on react to criticism can at times be even more enlightening.  You might have thought a government confident in the security services would for instance have just ignored the mostly absurd rhetoric from the charity Cage about our good friend Mohammed Emwazi, which only garnered such coverage in the first place as the media was desperate to immediately know all they could about him.  When someone describes a serial murderer as a "beautiful man", apparently a shy and retiring type until he was made into a fanatical killer by the merest of interactions with MI5, it's the kind of silliness that doesn't really merit a response.

Except of course we have both a media and political establishment that can't just stand by as slander is spoken of those brave guys and gals at Thames House.  The Mail on the Saturday after Emwazi's unveiling had as many pieces on the apologists from Cage as it did alongside the obligatory profiles of the man himself.  Asim Qureshi, Cage's director, has since been given a ritual dunking by among others, Andrew Neil and Andrew Gilligan, as though anyone hadn't been tipped off by Cage's website about their combining of genuine examples of state overreach, such as the continuing imprisonment of Shaker Aamer at Guantanamo, with their general insistence that many other convicted Islamists are in fact gentle sorts.

Cage had been approached by the Washington Post during their investigation into Emwazi, hence why they were able within a matter of hours after his naming to hold a press conference attended by the salivating media.  That Qureshi and Cerie Bullivant didn't expressly condemn the man who had previously complained to them about being harassed, something that would normally be taken as read when it comes to someone filmed beheading aid workers was enough to set in motion what has occurred since.  Cage's bank accounts had previously been closed with the arrest and charging of Moazzam Begg, since released after MI5 "remembered" they hadn't raised any objection to his travelling to Syria.  The charity's other main backers, the Roddick Foundation and the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust have since put an end to their funding.

Whether they should have supported the group in the first place is a question worth asking.  It does however seem odd at this remove for the defence secretary Philip Hammond to make such a bizarre assertion as a "huge burden of responsibility also lies with those who act as apologists for them [Islamic State et al]", as he did in his speech to RUSI today.  Does it really?  You can hold Cage accountable for not being fussy over those they choose to back, but to say they have a burden of responsibility themselves is a nonsense.  Even if you take the Gilligan line that Cage have significant traction with those who forever see themselves as victims, looking either to conspiracy theories or putting the blame on a persecuting, oppressive state which operates a foreign policy that is itself a radicalising force, then it still doesn't confer responsibility on them.  They might be irresponsible yes, but that isn't the same thing by any stretch.

It's difficult not to wonder if this shooting of the messenger isn't meant precisely as distraction.  Absurd as Cage's claims are that Emwazi's interactions with MI5 turned him into the person in IS's propaganda, there are questions to be asked of the intelligence agencies, not least made clear by Hammond elsewhere in his speech.  As he put it "Not all those countries with whom we might like to share information in the interests of our national security adhere to the same high standards".  Well quite, and we never had any definitive answers over how Michael Adebolajo, one of the two men convicted of the murder of Lee Rigby, was treated while in Kenya by an anti-terrorist squad in part funded by the UK government.  We haven't been given anything close to a defence of the seeming chief tactic of MI5 when it comes to interviewing those suspected of involvement on the fringes of involvement in terrorism of trying to recruit them, nor have they offered an answer as to why it is those in the circle around Emwazi all went abroad to various places without being stopped.

Hammond's speech was all the more remarkable for just how matter of fact it was.  He mentions just what promises the coalition did keep about reform of the intelligence agencies, but for some reason forgot about the inquiry into alleged complicity in torture, cancelled in the face of new allegations concerning Libya.  Apparently intelligence has played a key role in "providing the information to check ISIL’s murderous advance", a statement so patently absurd you wonder how Hammond delivered it with a straight face.  We did everything we could to draw Russia into the rules-based international system, you know, the one where you don't invade sovereign nations on the basis of, err, faulty intelligence, or invoke the "responsibility to protect" then use it to enforce regime change.  This was in a spirit of openness, generosity and partnership, all for our good intentions to be rebuffed.  The Paris attacks are evidence of the dangers of lone wolves, despite the links the killers had to al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula and Islamic State.  GCHQ must be allowed to intercept bulk communications data, which they have been and still are.  The debate over such things cannot be allowed to continue forever, although seeing as the Cabinet Secretary told the Guardian the debate was over nearly two years ago now, Hammond seems late to the party.

MI5 is one of those organisations that can't win.  Its major successes only emerge years or decades later if at all, while the failures are immediately glaring.  Such a reality though comes with the territory.  Just as it should be taken as apparent that you aren't supportive of pin ups of the caliphate, so it should be obvious to be critical of the intelligence agencies is not to be against them completely.  One correspondingly obvious conclusion to be reached over how the angle grinder of government and media has been taken to Cage is a whole lot of people are protesting way too much.

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