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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Wednesday, May 22, 2013 


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And pigs might fly.

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Tuesday, April 23, 2013 

Boston: new and old media equally awful.

There are occasions when a distinct minority within society temporarily lose all sense of perspective.  One such moment in this country was the death of Princess Diana, which rather than undermining the royal family when their slow response to the news was criticised seems if anything to have entrenched the institution further into public life.  Another was on the third night of the riots of August 2011, and I have to admit to being at least somewhat drawn in on that occasion, although I was hardly among those calling for the army to be brought in and for the police to start fragging the underclass, as supposedly more rational commentators were.

Thursday and Friday last week were without a doubt another example, even if it was less about ordinary people and instead those in the media and others who spend far too long on social media.  It can't be said that such a outbreak of crass stupidity and silliness hasn't been coming for a while; over here we had the media coverage of the Raoul Moat saga, while in the US, where the media has long had form in covering getaways and the aftermath of incidents of mass violence in the worst way possible, the more recent search for Christopher Dorner flagged up what was likely to happen next.

This said, it's still difficult to wrap your head around just how daft things ended up being. Last week was without a doubt an appalling one for the mainstream media, who on numerous occasions got the facts completely and utterly wrong.  It won't do however to lambast the "old" media while giving the "new" something approaching a pass, as the Graun does in its editorial and others effectively have.  Old and new have become inextricably linked; they feed off each other, which makes those who criticise one and praise the other or write off the old so short-sighted.

The most obvious example of imagining the internet and the supposed wisdom of crowds can solve almost everything was the thread on Reddit (although there were others elsewhere too) dedicated to finding the bombers by going meticulously through all the available pictures and video they could get hold of.  Once details began to emerge of how at least one of the bombers was wearing a hat and carrying a backpack, every person who could be found fitting the description was picked out.  In spite of this, and although they were considered, neither of the Tsarnaev brothers were felt likely to be the perpetrators.  Those that were picked out though were understandably terrified, especially when they were found on social networks, even if this also quickly meant they were disregarded as possibly responsible.  For all the claims that this makes such efforts "self-correcting", the damage either has or quite easily could have already been done.  The relatives of Sunil Tripathi, who in spite or rather because he had been missing for a month was at one point named as a suspect, had to take down the page dedicated to looking for him as it was being bombarded by comments.

This is far from the first time that "internet detectives" have mobilised efforts to find people or name those alleged to be responsible for certain actions, with Anonymous having recently targeted an innocent in the Amanda Todd case, but it is almost certainly the most notable incidence where it seems to have hampered the actual police investigation.  There isn't as yet a full account of why the images of the Tsarnaevs were released when they were and so we should wait before passing full judgement, yet there are plenty of suggestions that they were issued in part because of all the speculation.  This could have quite easily destroyed any chance of the two being taken into custody without the carnage that followed, although again it's just as possible that it did, alerting them to the fact the net was closing in; Dzhokhar was still using Twitter right up until it seems he fled.

Once the pair were being pursued, just how badly things could have gone became clear. We know all too well in this country what can happen when terrorists are deemed to be on the run and the police have been briefed that they could strike imminently; in Boston there was the added impetus that one of their own had been killed. If anything, it's a miracle more weren't injured or killed when so many armed police were marauding the streets with their fingers on the trigger. That it seems Dzhokhar spent most of the time the city was on lock down in the boat he was found in only underlines how differently things could have gone.

The media as a whole for their part didn't have a clue what was going on, although that certainly didn't stop them from suggesting they did. Apart from the odd moment where the BBC were all but making fun of the continuing lockdown and the Graun took to mocking Lindsey Graham, the lack of any insight whatsoever was what we've come to expect from live coverage for the sake of it.

Not that there's been a lot of it since either. In spite of the lengthy profiles on the pair written up on the basis of internet accounts and short interviews with friends and relatives, we don't have the slightest indication as yet why they did what they did. The elder brother clearly had an interest in the more extreme brand of Islam, but that doesn't begin to explain what motivated him to bomb those he previously only hadn't understood. As for Dzhokhar, no one seems to have a bad word to say about him, and rather than being the austere kind or openly religious, he's reported to have been a stoner.

The answer, ultimately, to why it is that America reacts differently to gun massacres than it does to attacks such as the one in Boston is that it's become inured to gun violence. It no longer shocks. It takes something on the level of Newtown when young children were the main victims to really shake people. It also allows everyone to look outside for answers and for something to blame rather than looking closer to home.  The response from old and new media alike since last Monday has done everything to encourage that, nor is it likely to get any better in spite of the merited criticism levelled at both.

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Tuesday, April 16, 2013 

Thoughts on Boston.

When it comes to terrorism, it's often difficult to get attacks such as yesterday's horrific events at the Boston marathon into perspective.  Indiscriminate attacks designed to cause fear, panic and even some to lash out at others, all in furtherance of a political aim, are always going to dominate media attention, especially when in narrow terms yesterday's bombing was the first such successful terror attack in the US since 9/11.  You have to say narrow terms as, by any measure, the numerous mass shootings that have occurred since that terrible day, while not necessarily in pursuit of a political aim (although the Fort Hood shootings and the massacre at a Sikh temple have both had such motives ascribed to them) are just as much attacks on whole communities as the Boston attack was.  They have the same end results: bereaved families, the struggle to recover from serious injuries, the mental health problems that follow for some of those caught up who were otherwise not physically harmed and ultimately the battle to both understand why and whether there is any wider meaning to be drawn from something that can initially seem meaningless.

With some exceptions, and perhaps because the number of deaths so far is 3, which is still 3 too many but seems close to miraculous given the number of people in the area and the way the bombs were constructed, the response so far has been measured.  The decision not to describe the attack as terrorism immediately was undoubtedly the right one, and the reluctance to do so even today also feels right.  Fundamentally, regardless of who or whom planted the bombs, the act remains a criminal rather than a political one.  As for who could have carried it out, it realistically could have been anyone: while it doesn't seem to fit the usual jihadi modus operandi of suicide or car bombings, the Madrid attacks were carried out using planted bombs, and it should be remembered that the recent push from ideologues has been for individuals to launch attacks on their own.  Relatively unsophisticated devices such as those used yesterday could well have been constructed by someone with no formal training relying on information gathered from the internet.

Similarly, the perpetrators could just as easily be far-right extremists, the attack coming on both Patriots' Day and Tax Day, close to the anniversaries of both the end of the Waco siege and the Oklahoma City bombing.  Indeed, Timothy McVeigh carried out his attack on the old date of Patriots' Day.  It could also be the work of someone with a similar ideology to Eric Rudolph, most infamous for the bombing at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics.  Other suspects, although less likely, could be a far left/anarchist groupscule, or a lone agitator, the most notorious American example being the Unabomber.  Wild claims on Twitter that it could be connected to the on-going tension with North Korea seem extraordinarily wide of the mark, not least when the North has never carried out any attacks against a country other than the South.

Understandable as it for there to be concern about the London marathon due to the proximity of the events, there isn't the slightest evidence that yesterday's bombing was anything other than an isolated incident.  Not only have there never previously been terrorist attacks carried out by the same perpetrators in different Western countries separated by such distance within such a short space of time, security is always going to be inevitably ratcheted up, thereby discouraging any group when the chances of being discovered are increased. Whoever planned the attack, despite having so far failed to claim responsibility, knew full well that cameras would be focused on the finish line, guaranteeing that the explosion and the moments after the blast would be recorded for maximum effect.  If they intend to repeat their success, then it's unlikely that anywhere less well covered will be chosen, thereby increasing the chances they will quickly be discovered.  Indeed, it would perhaps be more surprising if the person who planted the bombs hasn't been captured on film at some point, especially as the area had previously been swept for devices twice in the past 24 hours, necessitating the devices being left within hours of the race beginning.

This all said, the best way to respond such attacks has always been with empathy, sympathy and stoicism.  Life goes on, and always will do, which makes such references to "9/11 spirit" so thoroughly lacking in rigour, as were the ones after 7/7 which remarked on how Londoners carried on using the Tube as though nothing had happened.  Surprisingly, people have to carry on making a living, which is all the more reason to help those who have been directly affected rather than comment on how everyone manages to keep on going as though it were something remarkable.  It also ought to bring into focus how some live with the real threat of such violence on a daily basis, as others have said.  That we are either indirectly or even directly funding some of those carrying out acts we would describe as terrorism were they to hit our own cities might shock those who have been so outraged by a terrible but also inevitable (such is the history of terrorism) event.

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Thursday, December 06, 2012 

"Possessing a copy of a terrorist publication is a serious offence."

As we've learned this year, taking trolling too far can net you a prison sentence.  Indeed, even expressing your strong personal views on a controversial subject can result in a 240 hour community order, while those who actually did call for you to be killed aren't so much as arrested.

Less well known is that you can be jailed for even longer simply for having a magazine in your possession.  Last year a German national was jailed for 16 months after he was found with a digital copy of Inspire magazine, the English language house journal of al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula.  Today Ruksana Begum was jailed for a year for having two separate issues of the magazine.

Inspire is notable for that one reason: it's in English, something that the wider media picked up on.  As Thomas Hegghamer pointed out at the time, this in itself wasn't an innovation, as previous jihadi publications had been translated into English, while newsletters had previously been produced in the 90s.  More to the point, most radicalisation isn't so much linked to the written word as it is to videos, which are now often the starting point for those who find themselves attracted to Islamic extremism.  English translations of the feature-length releases from jihadi groups have been around for years.

Nor is the actual content of Inspire anything special.  Wikipedia has a run down of the all the issues released so far, and most of the articles are either by notable leaders of the assorted franchises, doing the usual jihadi wittering unlikely to have an appeal beyond the already convinced, or actively plagiarised from elsewhere.  What it does have that seems to have worried the authorities is the odd do-it-yourself piece, such as the "build a bomb in the kitchen of your mom" article in the first issue, and the "It is of your freedom to ignite a firebomb" in the latest one.  Even then these articles for the most part are highly unlikely to be of use to anyone set on becoming a lone wolf jihadi, such is the usual quality and accuracy of the advice, and it's not as though there aren't dozens of similar documents available online or even from AmazonOnly rarely has possession of these resulted in prosecutions and convictions.

While it's unclear what the German man and his friend were intending to do on their visit to this country, no such ulterior motives have been found in the cases of Begum and Mohammed Abu Hasnath, who was also sentenced to 14 months for possession of Inspire.  Begum's explanation to the court as to why she had two issues on her mobile phone's SD card, that she wanted to attempt to understand what had motivated her brothers to plot to blow up the Stock Exchange, was accepted by the judge, while the worst Hasnath got up to was some grafitti.

It's true that Inspire can certainly be said to fall under Section 58 of the Terrorism Act 2000, in that it contains information of a kind likely to be useful to those involved in acts of terrorism.  The same could be said though of a whole myriad of novels and non-fiction works, let alone old army manuals.  Such information is only ever dangerous if those in possession of it have the resources, ingenuity and motivation to use it.  Begum and Hasnath did not, yet they were sentenced to terms of imprisonment that were out of all proportion to the offence.  Amazing as it might seem, you can still find yourself behind bars in 2012 in the United Kingdom for owning a work of literature, however disreputable.

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Wednesday, April 18, 2012 

"Give them the respect they deserve."

There really doesn't seem to be any great need to make lengthy comment on the trial of Anders Breivik. One of the great myths that crime writers and films have promoted is that serial killers are interesting, when the reality is that the vast majority of them are not. They tend to lead boring lives and have banal thoughts precisely because if they didn't they'd be caught much sooner: look at Dennis Nilsen, one of the most dull of his breed, who may well have escaped justice if he hadn't run out of places to store the bodies of his victims. There is the odd exception, like a Ted Bundy (and he's more intriguing than interesting), but they are very few and far between.

In these stakes Breivik could well be the dismal of them all. Anyone who writes a 1,800 page "manifesto" (if you can call an unreadable document largely made up of newspaper articles and blog posts quoted verbatim, as researched on Wikipedia a manifesto) as a justification for mass murder is instantly trying far too hard. At least the Unabomber had something vaguely original to say, even if it was nonsensical; with Breivik it's just the views of dozens of other like-minded individuals reproduced parrot fashion. Yes, we quickly realised that you're not much of a fan of multiculturalism, and that you blame cultural Marxists for its spread. What we're really interested in is why you decided you had to act, when all those other blowhards just continue to fulminate online at the how the West is committing cultural suicide.

An answer to which we simply aren't going to get. What we will get, as the week has so far shown, are those other traits associated with serial killers: sick-inducing narcissism, as when he claimed his actions were "the most sophisticated and spectacular political attack committed in Europe since the second world war"; the most pathetic self-pity, as when he cried upon viewing his own propaganda; and impenetrable delusions, like his insistence that his ridiculous Knights Templar organisation exists, and that it tried to "distance oneself sufficiently from national socialism because it was quite blood-stained". Just ever so slightly rich when his manifesto imagined a Europe-wide civil war where those he considered to be truly traitorous would be executed.

As much as the trial was supposedly meant to provide some sort of explanation to the Norwegian people, all Breivik has done so far is repeat his deeply unimpressive thoughts as released on the day. Writing last year, Simon Baron-Cohen stated that even if Breivik was a psychopath, that didn't begin to provide a reason for how his lack of affective empathy had led him to launch his lone act of terrorism. If the true point of the hearing is to establish whether Breivik is mentally ill or not, then there seems little reason for allowing him to turn the trial into a platform for spreading his own personal ideology when that can be achieved just as well behind closed doors. Indeed, the only reason for allowing him to attempt to justify his actions when other defendants would swiftly be silenced for being in contempt of court is that only the most maladjusted could possibly find anything admirable in his meanderings. Unfortunately, those are often the quiet, boring individuals that we still know so relatively little about.

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Tuesday, April 10, 2012 

The past scratching of backs.

The one major thing that has to be kept in mind about today's ruling by the European Court of Human Rights that Abu Hamza and five others, including Babar Ahmad, can be deported to the US is that, in part, this is about previous governments on both sides of the Atlantic scratching each others backs. Our fanatical, hook-handed friend had become tabloid shorthand for how, despite everything, the government was failing to keep the public safe. It didn't matter if Hamza's actual links to terrorism were relatively minor, or his supposed powers of indoctrination were much exaggerated, he was the symbol of what was soon to be known as Londonistan. When Hamza was first detained under the 2003 Extradition Act in May 2004, it looked as though he was going to escape charges here, the Crown Prosecution Service having twice decided evidence against him was insufficient. It was only a couple of months later that finally they decided there was enough to proceed with a trial.

In any case, the charges of soliciting to murder and inciting racial hatred were not going to result in a sentence that would keep Hamza off the streets long enough to appease the papers that were demanding his deportation. The Americans stepping into the breach was therefore incredibly helpful. It also followed the pattern of the time, where the authorities massively preferred just getting rid of extremist clerics, such as the on-going attempts to deport Abu Qatada, as well the declaration that Omar Bakri Muhammad's presence was not conducive to the public good, rather than going through the frightful process of proving that they had actually committed criminal offences.

Whether Babar Ahmad was directly involved in the discussions around the extradition of Hamza or not we don't know. While it's clear that we ourselves were interested in him, as it takes quite a lot for MI5 to install a bug in your house, it also rather puts charges in doubt when the arresting officers are accused of brutality, allegations that the Met paid out over but which the officers themselves were subsequently cleared of any wrongdoing over, the jury uninformed of the damages. In any event, the CPS again decided there was insufficient evidence against Ahmad, and the US once again came to the rescue. While the charges against Hamza are fairly detailed, they're flimsy at best against Ahmad, especially on whether or not any offence was committed in the US at all; was hosted in the US, but this was when law over jurisdiction on the internet was still developing, while the other charge of Ahmad having a disc in his possession with the movement times of the US fifth fleet through the Strait of Hormuz is laughably thin.

There's also a double standard an inch thick running through the indictment over It's all well and good for the likes of Evan Kohlmann to describe it as one of the most important jihadist propaganda sites, and crucial for the building of consciousness over the insurgencies in Chechnya and Bosnia, which it was, but it's also the case that without it there now wouldn't be as many of these private security companies and experts like Kohlmann to pontificate on how dangerous those running them are or were. Ahmad doesn't deny that he himself fought in Bosnia, and was supportive of the other insurgencies going on prior to 9/11; the real issue should be whether what he was doing was a crime in this country at the time. The CPS decided there wasn't enough to put before a jury.

All this said, the ECHR was never going to block extraditions to the US, barring all five of those challenging being subject to the same treatment as say, Bradley Manning was. However ghastly the super-max prisons are, and the ECHR in its ruling seems more inclined to believe the authorities than the critics, there wasn't much chance the conditions were going to amount to inhuman or degrading treatment. The ECHR have though quite rightly adjourned their decision on Haroon Rashid Aswat until they've had further assurances on the treatment those with mental health problems receive, as Aswat is currently being held at Broadmoor. Much as you can't begrudge Ahmad going down every avenue, Hamza on the other hook won't be held at a super max as they can't deal with the fact he's an amputee, which rather brings the ECHR into disrepute. Lawyers: the ECHR needs as much help as it can get at the moment, so please don't do the work of the tabloids and Tory backbenchers for them. Thanks in advance.

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Friday, September 30, 2011 

Glenn Greenwald on the extrajudicial execution of Anwar al-Awlaki.

What's most striking about this is not that the U.S. Government has seized and exercised exactly the power the Fifth Amendment was designed to bar ("No person shall be deprived of life without due process of law"), and did so in a way that almost certainly violates core First Amendment protections (questions that will now never be decided in a court of law). What's most amazing is that its citizens will not merely refrain from objecting, but will stand and cheer the U.S. Government's new power to assassinate their fellow citizens, far from any battlefield, literally without a shred of due process from the U.S. Government. Many will celebrate the strong, decisive, Tough President's ability to eradicate the life of Anwar al-Awlaki -- including many who just so righteously condemned those Republican audience members as so terribly barbaric and crass for cheering Governor Perry's execution of scores of serial murderers and rapists -- criminals who were at least given a trial and appeals and the other trappings of due process before being killed.

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Wednesday, August 03, 2011 

The depressing adventures of Melanie Phillips, pt 95.

As Sunny is learning the hard way, getting into a fight with Melanie Phillips might be many things, but funny or enlightening it is certainly not. The best way to understand just where she comes without going through her entire oeuvre is almost certainly to read Jackie Ashley's wonderful interview with her shortly after the publication of her book Londonistan, an interview Ashley had not even written up before Phillips was emailing Alan Rusbridger complaining about how she was about to be misrepresented and "the possible inflammatory consequences" if she was. Remarkably similar to how anyone suggesting that she has "blood on her hands" will have blood on theirs if anything happens to her.

The first and most important thing to note is that Phillips doesn't do irony, doesn't do humour, doesn't do understatement. As Ashley writes, while other columnists, especially on the tabloids don't always believe what they say and then feel they have to keep going rather than back down (Richard Littlejohn, git though he is, probably falls into this category), Phillips really, and I mean really believes every single word she puts down. Her way of responding to criticism, of any sort, but especially that which suggests she's going over-the-top, is to scream and scream about being smeared, about debate being shut down and about how totalitarians of both stripes used to describe dissidents as paranoid, delusional, or worse locked them up under the pretence of madness.

What makes this all the more surprising is that she personally has no compunction about using highly similar terminology to describe both those she opposes and the world as she sees it. Hence her first response to those pointing out she was among those quoted in Anders Breivik's manifesto was titled "a wider pathology". Her latest piece on Sunny accuses him of a "weird obsession". As Aaronovitch Watch details, to her Western society has not just become morally decayed, it has lost its mind and with it the will to survive. Her latest book is called "The World Turned Upside Down", and again, it's a title without the slightest hint of irony.

The fact is that Phillips is in a bind. She could almost certainly be more of an influence or aspire to a slightly more salubrious location than the Daily Mail, having apparently been kicked off the Spectator's website for having a cavalier approach to facts, if she toned down her rhetoric slightly. Despite the leftist, dhimmi BBC being kind enough to keep hosting her on Question Time (where she mostly does indeed manage to come across as reasonable, meaning she can do it if she wants to) and the Moral Maze, the very reason why she found herself among those being quoted by Breivik at length is that regardless of the very real concerns she has raised, she does it in such a way that it means she can only be fully embraced by the hard right in America and the similar outliers we have in Europe. Yet because she so deeply believes every word she types, her blood and soul poured into it regardless of the topic, she is denied a position that could so easily be hers. This only leads her further down the same, relatively friendless path.

Despite insisting to Ashley that she does constantly ask herself whether she's wrong, the apparent lack of self-doubt combined with the absence of any humour is what makes her writing so chilling, so apocalyptic, and also so dead. Arguing with her then is all but pointless; responding to it with mockery or parody though certainly isn't. I can then only sign off with this from the latest Private Eye:

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Monday, August 01, 2011 

One rule for them...

Melanie Phillips has written another piece (this might be the only time I ever use a istyosty link) in response to her being included in Anders Breivik's 1,500 page manifesto. It's the usual Phillips attack as defence strategy, and also as usual exaggerates criticism into something much worse, with Sunny Hundal's "singling" her out among other notable writers a "smear".

Sunny himself deals well with most of it, such as how she argues we don't how know far Breivik's political views motivated his massacre, only somewhat undermined by how he uploaded the manifesto just before he went out to commit his atrocity, but there are a couple of parts which are worth a further degree of examination:

But in Breivik’s 1,500-page diatribe, I was mentioned precisely twice. The first time was a quote from an article in this newspaper about family breakdown.

The second was another article about the revelation by a former civil servant that the previous Labour government had kept the public in the dark about a covert policy of mass immigration.

What Phillips omits to mention is that Breivik later refers back to this second piece in the supposedly "hypothetical" part of the manifesto detailing what Knights Templar warriors should do to avoid detection and who they should target. Breivik describes the Mail's reporting and Phillips' article on Neather's comment piece in the Evening Standard as

add[ing] to the documentation which proves that a relatively large multiculturalist network on all levels of European politics: political activists, journalists, politicians, NGO leaders - locally, nationally and on EU level have a deliberate plan to destroy European cohesion, identity, our culture by implementing multiculturalist doctrines and allowing mass Muslim immigration (page 806).

He goes on to conclude:

The common factor between all variations of multiculturalists is that they all believe they are doing the right thing, so they all have good intentions, at least according to themselves. But this can also be said about Hitler, Stalin and Pol Pot. They were all idealists in their own twisted way. Regardless of their twisted intentions they are all mass murderers and must be treated as such.

It doesn't matter that there was of course no plot or plan to impose multiculturalism or use immigration as a weapon against the right, as Neather himself later said, criticising the Mail and the likes of Phillips for claiming this was the proof of Labour's nefarious intentions; it was however just the sort of "evidence" Breivik was looking for to confirm his prejudices. This puts his use of Phillips' arguments clearly above the dozens of other writers he liberally quoted from or mentioned, not necessarily always with approval. This is still not causation, obviously: Phillips was no more responsible for Breivik's actions than anyone else; it's not however anything approaching a smear to point this out.

As with any number of Phillips articles, she then concludes by contradicting much of what she's just wrote:

The claim that ‘blood is on my hands’ can so easily translate into someone seeking my own blood. Heaven forbid that should happen — but if it did, there would be a direct causal link with those who have whipped up this wicked firestorm.

So, err, even though the link between Breivik's words and his actions hasn't been substantiated, if someone was to now kill Phillips there would be a "direct casual link" between the murderer and those suggesting she ought to at least re-examine some of her writing. It seems then that while there will never be any link between extreme right-wing political thought on Islam and multiculturalism and violence in pursuit of the goals of that movement, anyone who has even so much as criticised Phillips should feel responsible if someone mugs her tomorrow. One rule for them and another for me doesn't even begin to cover it.

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Wednesday, July 27, 2011 

Anders Breivik: a fascist?

(This is the reply I've posted to Unity's excellent Breivik and fascism - a lesson from George Orwell. As it's long enough and I'm feeling slightly lazy I'm reposting it here, with a few slight additions and tweaks, as well as links and citations.)

Much as I agree with the vast majority of this, I think the main problem with accurately labelling Breivik is that as yet we haven't come up with a convincing catch-all term for the new far right which on the surface eschews racism but which underneath is just as virulent in its hatred of those with brown skin as the fascists and neo-Nazis we're all familiar with. Scratch beneath Breivik's anti-racist façade and you find the same old tropes, i.e. as in the way he exclusively blames "Muslims" for the crime in Oslo (page 1392 of his "manifesto"), just as the EDL and those associated with it have banged on about "Muslims" being in control of the drug trade in various cities, as if religion has anything whatsoever to do with it.

This is why I think he personally has more in common with Tim McVeigh than any previous European terror group or individual. McVeigh was a fan of the Turner Diaries and a known racist, but he was further radicalised by the Waco and Ruby Ridge sieges. Coupled with the then highly en vogue "new world order" conspiracy theories, he decided to strike back against the US federal government.

Breivik instead found his inspiration mainly from the hysterical far-right, convinced that pure Muslim demographics mean that Europe is doomed. He combined this with the utterly bizarre conspiracy theory that the Frankfurt school of Marxist social theorists have somehow managed to influence politicians of both mainstream right and left into imposing state multiculturalism and political correctness onto their people without their consent. Into the mix also came the "anti-jihadist" bloggers and other assorted right-wing figures, both American and European, Pam Geller and Geert Wilders (page 1407) to name but two, all of whom he came to believe were simply not going to achieve anything through democratic politics, so convinced of the control the "cultural Marxists" have over everything. Only he, or rather his almost certainly imaginary group, can start off the war by killing not Muslims, although he includes them in his list of "prioritised targets" (page 921), but instead hitting the multiculturalists themselves. In this he shares the "awakening" belief of many other terrorists before him, that through one spectacular act he can both raise awareness among those of like minds that they can personally do something, and also hopefully provoke the authorities into so overreacting that they make things worse, the same trap the West walked into after 9/11.

While I won't demure from the fact that his dream Europe would be a very old-fashioned totalitarian place, with the media controlled and patriarchy mandated (heh), he also proposes the on the surface completely incongruous idea of "liberal zones" (page 1168), where those who wish to live "Sex and the City" lifestyles can do so, as long as they are cut off "ideologically" from the rest of society to avoid "cultural contamination". Not many fascists would be willing to offer an apparent safe haven from their policies, especially when so many would obviously consider things to be far more pleasant there.

Apart from being a mess of contradictions then, he's a fascist of the very latest school, albeit one who unlike the EDL has fully pseudo-intellectualised his actions and gone from viewing all Muslims as being bent on world domination, even if indirectly, to killing those he believes are enabling them. The wags over at Blood and Treasure suggested, with tongue firmly in cheek, that he could be viewed as the military wing of Melanie Phillips. In my view, he's best compartmentalised as a 21st century European white nationalist, who while others talked decided to act, by murdering the "friends" of his enemies. And with that, we perhaps ought to stop considering the ravings of a lone lunatic, however much insight he might give into current far-right thinking.

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Monday, July 25, 2011 

Anders Breivik and "cultural Marxism".

When it comes to terrible, immediately unattributable terrorist attacks like the ones in Oslo on Friday, the best approach would be to take a step back before jumping to conclusions. The impossibility of doing so in the era of 24-hour-news, Twatter and everything else means that criticising those who are (mostly) being asked to do so knowing only what everyone else does, i.e. very little, isn't always entirely productive, even if Charlie Brooker does it very well.

It's certainly rather more justified when those who are in a hole then refuse to stop digging. Strangely, those associated with the Labour Uncut website seem more affected than most. Dan Hodges writes that this tragedy shouldn't be turned into a simple issue of solidarity, even after he admits it was a "targeted attack", while Tom Harris, having first pointed the finger at al-Qaida or its associates as so many others did, compounds the error. The left should not imagine that because this particular terrorist is white and indeed, killed teenage left-wingers, it absolves them from failing to acknowledge or adequately condemn jihadists.

Hodges does have a point however when he raises the comparison of Gabrielle Giffords and Jared Lee Loughner, if not with the implication that "the left" was blaming Sarah Palin and Tea Party before he'd even been charged. It was Giffords herself who said there were potential consequences to Palin putting her location in a gun sight, and it was certainly the case the political rhetoric in the US was raising to ever more ridiculous and potentially dangerous heights, even if the reaction now seems a little overblown. Loughner as it turned out did not have any associations with right-wing Republicans like Palin and Michele Bachmann or their supporters, to name but two: instead, the best explanation so far for his actions is that he was a mentally ill young man with conspiratorial tendencies, who having felt slighted by Giffords in the past decided to target her.

Anders Breivik by contrast couldn't really have been more clear in setting out the justification, such as it is, for his actions. His 1,500 page manifesto, which quotes liberally from dozens of writers, has an entire, supposedly hypothetical section titled "a declaration of pre-emptive war" (page 766 onwards). In it, his group, named hysterically the Knights Templar, which seems to consist of one Anders Breivik, offers a full pardon to the "Western European multiculturalist regimes" as long as they capitulate by 2020 to the Templar's military forces (page 785). Presuming that this pardon is quite unreasonably not accepted, he goes on to explain that all multiculturalists, whether they are "hardcore Marxist, cultural Marxist, suicidal humanist, career cynicist or [...] capitalist globalist" are essentially the same, and that the punishment for such high treason is also the same (page 806), although further on he only mentions execution as the penalty for "category A and B criminals" (page 930), while "category C traitors" can be considered legitimate targets "in larger operations where WMDs are involved". He also elucidates what the prime targets should be for a "Justiciar Knight Commander" (page 921):

Concentrate on massive and compact buildings that are vulnerable to a “single source” blast/assault. We must ensure that a maximum number of category A, B and C traitors are hit with a minimum of civilians. Specified targets fit that profile:

Prioritised targets:
- MA100 political parties - cultural Marxist/multiculturalist political parties. Prioritised targets include HQs or annual meetings of MA100 political parties

Breivik's influences for his personal ideology are writ large throughout. He most admires "Fjordman", the pseudonymous blogger who's written for a number of far-right sites, and cites numerous anti-jihadist blogs, such as Gates of Vienna, Jihad Watch, Atlas Shrugs and others. Those looking closer to home will quickly see parallels between Breivik's belief in what is essentially a conspiracy between mainstream political parties to institute political correctness, or what he calls "cultural Marxism", leading to mass Muslim immigration and eventually the disintegration of democracy and the triumph of Eurabia, and the world view of groups such as the English Defence League, with which he's alleged to have dealings with, although they've never begun to aspire to his lofty pseudo-intellectual heights. Melanie Phillips, who has long despaired of the "suicide of the West", having found herself being quoted by Breivik has quickly pointed to his scattergun approach. As her blog seems to have collapsed under the weight of the traffic her defence piece brought in, all we can currently go by is her tweet, which says the "atrocity ignites left pathology".

One story which Breivik returns to throughout his manifesto (first appears on page 365) is this comment piece by Andrew Neather, seized on by the likes of the Daily Mail and Telegraph as the "proof" of a plot by Labour to recreate Britain as a fully multicultural society, where the party would forever remain in power backed by the votes of grateful immigrants. The only problem was, as Neather later responded, there was no plot and the minister he wrote the speech for was later removed from her position. Breivik not only quotes from Phillips' comment piece which more than misrepresents Neather (page 368), he uses Neather's supposed revelation as part of his explanation as to why "political activists, journalists, politicians, NGO leaders" should be treated as "traitors" (page 806) and ultimately, executed.

As much as Breivik has appropriated or indeed, admires al-Qaida's approach, as Will McCants and Spencer Ackerman have both noted, it's fairly apparent he has most in common with Timothy McVeigh and the Unabomber, Ted Kaczynski, although even Ted, who wrote a 35,000 word essay detailing his belief system, would have blanched at the excessive detail and personal information Breivik has left in his far longer tome. McVeigh, whom Breivik refers to on a number of occasions (page 950, 967) including once in his diary on the making of the bomb, exclaiming he now understands "why Mr. McVeigh limited his manufacturing to 600kg" (page 1466), was a believer in the now almost passe conspiracy theory of the "new world order" and was so angered by the heavy-handed raids on Ruby Ridge and Waco that he decided to strike back. Breivik doesn't even have a government "atrocity" to fall back on: his simple belief that Europe will be overrun by Muslims down to a mixture of demographics, immigration and "cultural Marxism", as easily debunked as any notion of a Zionist occupied government, was fuelled by paranoid hatred from far-right bloggers and nominally mainstream writers who make a living out of such alarmism.

The Heresiarch delicately considers whether, seeing as such individuals have long denounced non-violent Islamists and even ordinary Muslims for either enabling or tolerating the jihadists, it's possible that they've done the same with Breivik:

To some extent, Melanie Phillips and the others are now getting a taste of their own medicine. They have been far too quick in the past to elide the distinction between Islamist opinions and violence, and also between Muslims in general and Islamists in particular. The spread of hardline Islam is largely a phenomenon within Muslim communities, and poses the greatest problem to other Muslims (female Muslims, gay Muslims, Ahmadi Muslims...). If "Islamophobic" writers are now being tarred with the same brush as the appalling Breivik... well, perhaps it will give them pause for thought.

Well, it might. It will almost certainly temporarily lead to some soul-searching, such as that of Mark Humphrys, who goes through Breivik's writing looking for where their opinions went their separate ways, although he seems erroneously to conclude that Breivik suddenly decided upon violence last year, when it's apparent that his manifesto by his own admission has been years in the writing. At best it could lead a toning down of the rhetoric. On the other hand, it may well embolden some: already the EDL, while denouncing the attack has suggested that it shows what could happen in this country if their petty thuggery and attempts at riling up Muslims aren't given more political attention (surely if their case for a crackdown on Muslim extremists and Sharia law isn't addressed? Ed.)

Far more plausible though, and regardless of how Breivik's ideology was nurtured and encouraged, is that he's a one-off. So much of his manifesto appears to be utter fantasy, such as the sections dedicated to the medals and ribbons of his Knights Templar organisation (page 1075) (members likely to be one, despite his claim as to there being two other cells), not to the mention the sexual proclivities of his friends and relatives (page 1171), or his time as the biggest hip-hopper in west Oslo (page 1388) that it suggests someone, despite the intelligence necessary to produce such a document, that is simply not in full touch with reality. Others would have failed or given up at various stages in the planning process. It was a mixture of pure luck and Norway being unprepared for such an assault that led to his success. While some should be at the least examining their consciences, the rest of us can be fairly secure in knowing that there are most certainly not others waiting to launch further attacks on the "cultural Marxists".

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