Monday, November 17, 2014 

Islamic State and the "glamour" of war.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Thursday, September 04, 2014 

Desperate business.

It's a strange old world.  You might have thought for instance that regardless of how the SITE Intelligence Group, formerly the SITE Institute, is a self-started organisation that presents itself as an adjunct of the security services but in fact operates as the middle man between jihadis and the media and therefore needs to get more exposure, it wouldn't have plastered its logo all over the Islamic State's "Second Message to America" video.  It might not, as was the case in the previous video, actually show the beheading of Stephen Sotloff, but it most certainly does have the terrified, close to tears Sotloff reading out the statement demanded of him, before then cutting to an image of Sotloff's prostrate body, his severed, bloodied head placed on his back.  On the opposite side of the image to SITE's logo is the Islamic State's billowing black flag.  Still, it's good for business, right?

Equally odd is the idea a media blackout helps when it comes to those abducted in Syria or elsewhere.  Until Tuesday night when our new friend Jihadi John, as we apparently have to refer to him, was seen holding the scruff of David Haines's neck, we didn't have any idea there were Brits held by IS or any of the other groups.  The government and media did; they just felt it was better for all concerned if we were left in the dark.  Even yesterday, despite the rest of the world's media being understandably exercised by another westerner threatened with an especially grisly, brutal end, our own finest were pussyfooting around naming him.

As unlike our European counterparts we refuse to pay ransoms, failing a successful rescue operation David Haines faces the same fate as both James Foley and Sotloff.  It's true this might not have been the case until recently, as we don't know whether Foley, Sotloff or Haines were abducted by groups or rebel battalions other than IS and then sold onto them, and there might have been negotiations going on with them about possible deals not involving money, but if not IS has likely held these men with the intention of using them as pawns in a potential battle of wills with the west.  Media publicity before now might have made some sort of a difference, as it clearly did when Alan Johnston was abducted in Gaza, for instance.  It's certainly difficult to think of further harm it could have caused, unless the coalition is haunted by the memory of Ken Bigley and the pressure put on Tony Blair at the time over it.

Ah.

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Tuesday, September 02, 2014 

A greater and deeper threat. Just not to us.

In a world so overflowing with bullshit, one where it's difficult to keep your head above the surface in the septic tank of life, it takes a statement the equivalent of an Olympic-sized swimming pool of cow dung to give anyone the strength to make the effort to say simply, and boldly, you're talking crap.  According to our prime minister last Friday, the threat from the Islamic State, or ISIL, as he insisted on referring to the group for some bizarre reason, despite how we haven't described the greater area of Syria as "the Levant" for a very long time (those in the region refer to IS as Daash, the acronym for Dulat al-Islam fi al-Iraq wal-Sham, i.e. ISIS) is "greater and deeper than ... we have known before."

It's never been clear when politicians talk about threats and security just how far is it we're meant to go back in looking for a comparable situation to the one we're facing now.  Are we talking black death style threat, Spanish Armada type threat, the civil war, Waterloo, Crimea, the Boers, the Kaiser, the Nazis, the Soviet Union, the IRA, Saddam Hussein, al-Qaida?  Obviously enough, the new threat is always greater and deeper than we've known before, and we're all meant to have absolutely no knowledge of history at all, or indeed a memory span beyond that of last month.  Tony Blair claimed on a number of occasions the threat from al-Qaida was beyond comparison, just as every dictator we've faced off against since Hitler is, err, worse than Hitler.  Mao might carry the distinction of (arguably) killing more of his own people than any other 20th century leader, but it's always to good ol' Adolf the glib and shameless turn.

David Cameron's press conference came after JTAC concluded the overall threat is now once again severe, despite the lack of any specific information suggesting an attack is being planned or is any more likely than it was the previous day.  This is especially curious as only a few months back new checks were put in place at airports after specific intelligence suggested bombs could be concealed in iPhones or Samsung Galaxy devices.  That didn't necessitate any wider action, and yet here we are with a hypothetical threat from Islamic State requiring a "rules of the game are changing" style intervention, urgent legislation and the general public told to be more vigilant, reporting any concerns they have to the local cop shop.


Except Cameron's rhetoric hasn't matched the measures announced.  With the removing of citizenship from those born here not possible without breaching international treaties, the government instead proposed temporarily excluding those who've gone to fight in Syria or Iraq from the UK, without explaining where they would be expected to stay or just how long such an order would remain in place.  The police might be given the power to confiscate passports from those looking to travel, while TPIMs, the coalition's replacement for control orders, could be tightened by reintroducing the relocation element.  No one relocated under a control order absconded, so correlation must equal causation, right?  Even during the debate Cameron was emphasising how it "sticks in the craw that someone can go from this country to Syria, declare jihad ... and then contemplate returning to Britain having declared their allegiance to another state".  Apart from buying into Islamic State's own sense of self-importance, he knows full well those who do return can be prosecuted under the alarmingly widely drawn powers in the Terrorism Act, as Mashudur Choudary was, despite not having fought in Syria at all.  It raises the question of why if around half of the 500 estimated to have travelled to Syria to fight have come back more haven't been prosecuted, unless that is the threat posed by these Brit mujahideen has been over-egged.

Why then such a disjunct between the message and the action?  It's not down to the concerns of the Liberal Democrats, as Labour have made it perfectly clear they're prepared to bring control orders back, and so are hardly likely to defeat the coalition, at least on this issue, for the sake of it.  Nor does breaking international treaties bother a party set to propose leaving the European Convention on Human Rights in its election manifesto.  Instead the reasoning behind it seems a strange mix of playing up the threat for all it's worth, just in case the Americans decide they would like our help in Iraq and/or taking the fight against IS into Syria, preventing a repeat of last year's fiasco, while at the same time knowing full well that for the moment at least the threat posed by IS to the country directly is fairly negligible.  Getting further involved would make the threat worse, just as our involvement in Afghanistan and Iraq did, but that irony seems lost on most involved.

With IS having followed through on its threat to kill Steven Sotolof, with the promise a hostage described as British, David Cawthorne Haines, will be murdered next, there's little reason to imagine the thinking behind all this to fail in its aim.  Despite there being no indication either ourselves or the Americans have the first idea of what to do about IS in Syria, as any suggestion of temporarily allying with Assad has been rejected, with the idea of training and arming "moderate" rebels to go after IS still being mooted, it looks as though we're heading towards another intervention without having either a plan or an idea of what the end game will be.  Destroying IS in principle is a laudatory aim; when however they have already turned to ethnic cleansing, what's the most likely outcome should they find themselves having to flee their current safe havens?  There is a great, deep threat to those trapped between IS, Assad and the other Islamist rebel forces, and we might just be about to make it even worse.

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Thursday, August 21, 2014 

The security-industrial complex triumphs yet again.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Tuesday, July 08, 2014 

Condemned to repeat.

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

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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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Wednesday, June 18, 2014 

William's last words.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Thursday, June 12, 2014 

Departing from the core of the rule of law? The ends always justify the means.

One and a half cheers for Lord Justice Gross, Mr Justice Simon and Mr Justice Burnett (PDF), who today partially ruled against the government's attempts to hold the entirety of a terrorism trial behind closed doors, aka "in camera".  Their decision makes plain the unease they feel at the application by the Crown Prosecution Service, and the initial ruling by Mr Justice Nicol, who had accepted it in full.  Indeed, they express their "grave concern" at the effect of holding such a trial in camera and keeping the defendants' identities secret, finding it difficult to "conceive of a situation where both departures from open justice will be justified".  Accordingly, the men formerly known only as AB and CD have both been named.

You can understand the judges' concerns when a quick Google turns up nothing of any substance on either Erol Incedal, formerly AB, or Mounir Rarmoul-Bouhadjar, CD.  The latter seems to have a LinkedIn profile, while Incedal doesn't have so much as that.  As well as revealing their identities of the defendants, the judges also ordered that most of the opening of the trial be held in public, including a portion of the judge's introductory remarks and a portion of the prosecution's opening statement.  Additionally, a number of "accredited journalists" will be allowed to sit in on the majority of the closed proceedings, although they will only be allowed to report something of what they witness once the trial has concluded and a further review has taken place.

If all this is meant to seem as though an attempt at compromise has been made, that's precisely what the government hopes it will be seen as.  Mr Justice Nicol rejected the idea of "accredited journalists" initially on the grounds of practicality, as the idea was proposed in the certificates signed by the secretaries of state.  It seems to be the only part of the ruling he got right: as the Graun puts it, this is an absurdity, a "kind of time-lapse justice without guarantees".  It in effect makes the (un)lucky chosen hacks complicit in the secrecy, unable to know if their account of the trial will appear or not.

We must of course recognise that four judges have now seen the evidence from the CPS and concluded that on balance it is better for justice to be attempted, even in secret, than see the prosecution not proceeded with.  The latest three say the case is "exceptional".  Perhaps it is.  There are circumstances when such secrecy certainly could be justified; the problem is we cannot make a judgement on whether in this instance it is justified when we will still know so little of the case against the men.  The only recent precedent was the case of Wang Yam, whose defence to the charge of murder was held in camera after he claimed to have some connection with the security services.  Clearly, he did have some link with them, but it didn't prevent his conviction, nor can we know what his defence was.  Yam is currently appealing to the ECHR on those very grounds.

If this departure from open justice, the "core of the rule of law" as Lord Bingham had it, seems odd in the same week as David Cameron was defining it as a fundamental British value, then it shouldn't.  The government and the security services have always made things up as they go along, will always make things up as they go along.  We can't know why they are so insistent this case has to remain secret, although we can certainly guess that it has to be either supremely embarrassing or has only reached court due to profound security service involvement.  The problem is once ministers and the agencies get into the habit of favouring secrecy over openness the ever more likely they are to resort to it again.  Justice must be seen to be done, but it must also be seen to be fair.  In this instance the case for secrecy has simply not been made, and once again the state seems to be demanding of others what it won't accept of itself.

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A (slightly) shorter John McTernan.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Wednesday, June 11, 2014 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Thursday, June 05, 2014 

The biggest scam of the modern era.

Anti-terrorism is the biggest scam of the modern era.  Never previously has such a relatively insignificant threat necessitated the spending of mountains of cash, the dilution of liberties and the casting of suspicion on an entire community.  Just as Eisenhower warned of the military-industrial complex, we now have a security-industrial complex, and unlike the military, it doesn't need an opposing state actor to justify its continual expansion, not to mention the siphoning of cash into its orifices.  Once the danger was from al-Qaida central, based in Pakistan, even as ministers maintained we were preventing terrorism on the streets of Britain by fighting it in Afghanistan; now we're told to beware of terrorists returning from Syria, who are just dying to try out what they learned battling Assad (and each other) back here.

People like Mashudur Choudhury, the desperately unlucky and desperately pathetic wannabe jihadist from Portsmouth.  He went out to Syria, quickly realised he couldn't hack it in an actual war and returned home.  Nonetheless, according to the authorities his mere travelling to Syria meant he was intervening in another country's affairs for an ideological cause, and so the jury had little option but to convict him.  Leave aside how we know for a fact that British and American special forces have been training "moderate" rebels, i.e., those who only want an Islamic state in Syria rather than want it to be the first country in a region wide caliphate, and who nonetheless often fight alongside each other, or indeed how the most extreme group, ISIS, didn't exist prior to our intervention in Iraq, and just be glad that such a dangerous individual is going to prison for a long time.

It bears repeating time and again there has not been a major, realistic jihadist plot broken up in this country this decade.  Where once al-Qaida wannabes thought big, if there's any consensus it's now on doing something, anythingThe murder of Lee Rigby was just that, a murder.  Yet we are repeatedly told the threat is as severe as ever, with it being only the Snowden revelations stopping the intelligence agencies and government from bringing forward a communications bill designed to put in statute the access to information they have already through programmes such as Tempora.

All the attempts to put the security services under some sort of real, independent supervision have been repeatedly rejected.  Indeed, when asked to rule on the lawfulness of the spurious detention of David Miranda, the public's last line of defence against the over mighty state sided entirely with the government, the judiciary agreeing journalists can never know what will or will not damage national security.

In such a climate it should come as no surprise whatsoever that the state is taking one of the most drastic steps since TWAT began.  The Crown Prosecution Service wants the entire trial of two men known only as AB and CD to be held in secret.  Why?  We don't know, and can't know.  All we're allowed to know so far is both are charged with terrorism offences and they were arrested in a high profile operation last year.  Nor would we know even this had various media groups not challenged the initial ruling of Mr Justice Nicol that the trial could go ahead behind closed doors.  About the only other piece of information we've been given is the CPS believes the case may have to be dropped if it cannot be heard in secret.

Which part of the case against the two men could possibly be so sensitive it could damage national security as a whole?  One has to suspect the reason the case must be held in secret is, as it usually is, because of the embarrassment it would otherwise cause the security services or the government, suggesting the men either had some sort of involvement with the former or they have an association with a foreign ally.  As intercept evidence is still not able to be used in court that doesn't come into consideration, and it's also dubious whether the entire case would have to be heard in secret if just one or two witnesses will only give evidence if the press are excluded and reporting restricted.

Already we've seen trials heard only by a judge and not a jury.  Last year's Justice and Security Bill established "closed material procedures" after MI5 was exposed as complicit in the torture of Binyam Mohamed, in a move designed to prevent similar revelations coming to light.  The government wants the power to strip naturalised Britons of their citizenship should they dare go and fight abroad as Choudhury wanted to.  Now, having apparently learned nothing from the Diplock system in Northern Ireland, the state wants a whole trial to take place in secret.  Chris Grayling says we should trust the judiciary.  The judiciary is as fallible and open to pressure as the rest of us, has made mistakes in the past and will do so again.

In case it needs reminding, one of the government's own definitions of extremism is "vocal or active opposition to fundamental British values, including ... the rule of law."  As the barrister for the media Anthony Hudson argued, "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."  In order to fight the extremists we must it seems act against our own fundamental values.  Such is the triumph of the securocrats and the anti-terrorists.

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Tuesday, May 27, 2014 

They say life is beautiful.

This might come across as a statement of the obvious, but I don't know what it's like to be a woman.  Being born with a penis does this to most men.  Not all, undoubtedly, just the majority of us.  I can't say I have ever experienced sexism, been discriminated against on the basis of my looks, objectified, or sexually harassed.  I don't know what it's like to have a menstrual cycle, to know that society will make far more judgements on my life choices than it will those of the average man, or how once over a certain age, it's almost as though you don't exist except as one of a handful of stereotypes.  I can empathise, sure, or at least hope to, but understand properly?  Probably not.

One thing I do know about is being a loser.  I've been a loser for a long time, going back to way before I realised I was a loser.  It comes as a shock, let me tell you.  Being a loser and not being a nice person aren't the same thing, although they are often connected.  I'd like to think I stopped being generally unpleasant once the realisation truly sunk in that I was a loser, although as one of the other associated symptoms of being a loser is low self-esteem and self-confidence, it's difficult to know for certain.

Which brings us to Elliot Rodger.  Elliot Rodger was a loser.  He wanted desperately to be an "alpha", a term used by those who ascribe somewhat to the "pick-up artist" way of thinking, describing men who are jerks but whom nonetheless seem able to have almost any woman they want.  If he was anything he was in fact an alpha loser, and this in spite of everything seeming to be in his favour.  Born into a well-off family in dear old Blighty, he moved to the richest country on the planet at a young age. Seduced by the life depicted in the film Alpha Dog, he went to college in Santa Barbara, convinced he would be entering into a world of casual sex and corresponding happiness. Instead he remained an "involuntary celibate", unable to form relationships. Rather than look inwards as to why he couldn't achieve such a lifestyle, he developed a pathological hatred of all women, convinced that in a more just world such a delightful, intelligent human being as himself would be rewarded merely for existing with sex and companionship.

Calling Rodger a misogynist doesn't really cover it. If we're to take his 140 page manifesto seriously, and having delved deeper than advisable into the similar if very different work of Anders Breivik I'd suggest treating it with caution, he seems likely to have had a severe personality disorder, quite possibly what once would have been called psychopathy, now usually referred to as antisocial personality disorder.  Some reports have suggested he may have had Asperger's syndrome, which could account for his wholesale lack of empathy, but not necessarily his off the scale narcissism.  Like other spree killers, he wanted his actions to be remembered as something more than seemingly inexplicable violence: he didn't just want revenge for the love he felt denied, he wanted women to be afraid, to fear retribution for daring to be anything other than subservient.  Whether he achieved his aim or not, he fits the description of a terrorist just as much if not more so than some of those prosecuted, as others have pointed out.

Understandably, there's been much debate about what may have influenced Rodger beyond mental ill-health.  Jessica Valenti writes he was "like most young American men, ... taught that he was entitled to sex and female attention".  Judd Apatow and Seth Rogen in turn have responded in mock outrage to being indirectly linked by the Washington Post's film critic, their films having repeatedly shown sex obsessed young men sometimes achieving their dream of landing the beautiful, smart woman, regardless of their otherwise lack of charm.  Violent films don't make people violent, but it really is the exception for a movie focusing on American college life (or the last year(s) of high school for that matter) not to depict it as at least something approaching one long party.  It's also difficult to argue with Valenti's point: you don't have to buy all the anti-porn rhetoric of campaigners as I certainly don't to worry that the easy availability of hardcore porn can encourage exactly the sort of beliefs as Rodger had.  His quite astounding sense of entitlement also seems to be key. He knew that he deserved someone equivalent to those he was denouncing seconds later as sluts.  As for the Pickup Artist scene, it might very well be a minority one, floating as much on self-loathing as it is does depicting women as objects to be conquered, but some sections of it are faintly terrifying, and I say that as someone it takes a lot to scare.

You can't therefore strip culture entirely out of the equation, just as you can't the laws which made it a formality for Rodgers to get the weaponry he used.  Laurie Penny writes movingly of the times when she could write without being trolled in the comments sections, of how she won't now be able to completely dismiss the idea of being raped and killed by those who tell her that's precisely what they intend to do.

I don't know what it's like to deal with those kind of threats.  I don't know what it's like to fear being raped, even killed.  What I do know is the vast majority of us losers, us inadequates, are a danger only to ourselves.  I don't feel entitled to sex, relationships, friendships or to anything other than the modest safety net our democracies increasingly fail to provide.  We might lapse into self-pity, just not the kind of angry, bewildered, egomaniacal self-pity Rodger felt and led him to believe the only answer was to strike out.  The world owes us nothing, and almost always the only person to blame for your predicament is yourself.  Some of us might manage to stop being losers and some of us won't.  Life isn't fair, but we can try, have to try and make it as fair as we possibly can. 

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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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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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