Monday, June 13, 2016 

The American circle of death.

The horrific massacre in the Pulse nightclub in Orlando on the surface looks like an almost exact mix of the Islamic State Paris cell attack on the Bataclan concert venue, and the San Bernardino shooting of last December.  Nothing has been uncovered as yet in the investigation to suggest that Omar Pateen had any direction whatsoever from Islamic State itself, just as nothing has been turned up in the San Bernardino investigation to link Syed Rizwan Farook and Tashfeen Malik to any terrorist group.  Both Pateen/Farook and Malik it seems "pledged allegiance" to IS or its leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi either during or immediately before their attacks, but this seems to have been almost an afterthought.  The FBI investigation into Farook and Malik suggests they had "self-radicalised" before IS had so much as emerged; their pledge was little more than an simple explainer as to their motives they knew would be quickly discovered.

In that sense, Pateen and Farook and Malik were relatively odd fish in the modern world of terrorists, spree killers and other murderous narcissists: they usually want us to know exactly why they did what they did, leaving behind videos, manifestos, etc that can swiftly be used by media organisations desperate to fill up airtime once the attack itself has either finished or been brought to an end.  It might well be that Pateen has left behind just such media which will subsequently be discovered, as there is yet to be any confirmation of whether, like Farook and Malik, he destroyed personal effects.  The belief was Farook and Malik did this to cover their tracks, yet no links to others have been found.  At this point it would be a surprise if Pateen did have accomplices: his method screams far more of the lone spree killer motivated by hate than it does of someone who has dedicated themselves to Islamic State.  The briefing since given by James Comey of Pateen claiming to have various connections with al-Qaida, Hezbollah and the Boston marathon bombers rather underlines his confusion and Billy Liar qualities.

Not that this means Pateen wasn't inspired by IS.  He seems to have taken almost as a template the Bataclan attack, and the fact he chose as a target a gay club, somewhere he knew would meet with the approval of the repressed, hateful supporters of IS, is indicative of the impact he wanted his actions to have.  If an Eagles of Death Metal gig at the Bataclan was to the IS propagandists a "profligate prostitution party", you can but imagine how they would describe the Pulse on a Saturday night.  That more than a few on the right of politics in the US have yet to come to terms with homosexuality has only added to the discomfort felt; those who like me can recall the likes of Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson blaming 9/11 on, variously, abortion, gays and liberal values in general can but reflect on how if he were still alive Falwell would be trying to comprehend Orlando without his head exploding.

In other senses, the assault on the Pulse is a grim refraction of many recent spree killings.  Pateen used both a semi-automatic assault rifle and a handgun, just as other recent mass murderers have relied on more than a single weapon, with most favouring an M16 or equivalent.  That these guns have no real practical use for hunting and are far too big to be concealed makes no odds to an industry that has poured more and more cash into variations, accessories and customisations.  That Pateen was engaged by an armed police officer providing security at the club also undermines the recent counter-argument made by pro-gun activists that more armed people means such attacks can swiftly be ended.  Unless they're really going to suggest bar and club patrons being allowed into such venues with concealed weapons, an idea so monumentally stupid you wouldn't put it past them, Orlando ought to put such notions to bed.

The fact is that America has chosen to make itself uniquely vulnerable to atrocities like Orlando, San Bernardino and Sandy Hook.  Guns can always be smuggled across borders, and pass through the hands of your average garden variety gangsters to inadvertently end up in the possession of terrorists, as we saw in Paris.  Even in this country we still have the odd Derrick Bird type figure, as tough gun laws are never going to stop those absolutely determined to do harm to their neighbours and themselves.

It's something else entirely though to have gun laws so lax that you can walk into a store, buy a weapon that was designed to be used in war, and then less than a week later kill 49 people with it.  You could argue that Pateen's interactions with the FBI, which seem down more to his being a mouth-breathing boaster than any real links to terrorist suspects should have meant he was barred from holding a licence, and yet the Republicans voted down just such restrictions.  You can argue that the problem seems unique to America, and that other countries with high gun ownership to population ratios don't have the same number of such killings, a notion I don't entirely accept but am open to.  Mark Ames, the author of Going Postal, for one says that gun control is pointless without measures to improve equality.

The choice in other words is no choice.  Hillary Clinton can call for an renewed assault weapons ban, only even if she wins she can no more force a gun-supporting house or senate into voting for one than Obama has been able to.  She could by contrast attempt to do something about inequality, only her husband accelerated the policies began by Reagan that did so much damage in the first place.  With no action on the latter, more and more people will only, as Obama put it, cling on to their guns and religion, with a little hating Muslims and supporting continued wars in the Middle East on the side.  Vicious circle doesn't even begin to cover it.

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Tuesday, March 22, 2016 

On Brussels.

One of the more remarkable things about failed suicide bombers is that after their explosives have failed to blow, they often turn out to be more than willing to talk, boast and/or plea for the mercy they would deny their victims than keep shtum, as though they've almost been born again.  The Donald's immediate response to today's outrages in Brussels has been to once again make clear how he would "do a lot more than waterboarding".  The Donald can't of course be expected to know that after his arrest last week, Salah Abdesalam freely told Belgian police that he had been planning further attacks.  Abdesalam could have been talking nonsense, but the Belgian foreign minister commented saying he feared he was telling the truth, such were the weapons found and a further network uncovered in the course of tracking down the one remaining Paris attacker still on the run.

Not that today's suicide bombings are necessarily the work of the wider cell, but the assumption obviously has to be that they are.  Whether they brought the attacks forward to the first possible opportunity or the plan was for today anyway, the immediate question is whether there are still further cell members at large, something that can hardly be ruled out considering the clearly extended networks that sheltered first Abdelhamid Abaaoud and until Friday Abdesalam.  Then and only then will attention turn to whether those responsible could have been stopped from carrying out today's carnage, such were the signs an attack was imminent.

At the moment more than a few things about the attacks fail to completely add up.  The bombers at Zaventem airport took at least one AK-47 with them, only it would seem not to use it; nor is it certain at the moment if both explosions were the work of the two men pictured, or of explosives hidden in suitcases, after one such device was found and defused later.  Was the other man seen in the CCTV picture meant to be a further bomber, or to shoot down those fleeing from the explosions?  Either way, he either seems to have gotten cold feet at the last minute, much like Abdesalam, or his explosives failed to go off.  Should we read anything into the claim of responsibility from Islamic State saying that shooting had also taken place at the airport, when there are no eyewitness reports or videos to suggest there was?  Was IS aware of the plan, as was, in detail, or is it just typical jihadi hyperbole, confusion based on misreading of news reports?

Otherwise, as terrible as this sounds, this was an almost standard attack of the kind we were meant to fear before the threat was thought to have shifted to that posed by "lone wolves".  The attackers were suicide bombers, and unlike in Paris their explosives both worked and were extremely powerful; they co-ordinated their attacks, striking one target quickly after the last; the target was public transportation; and just to add further symbolism, the attack on the train at the metro station in Maelbeek happened within eyesight of the EU commission HQ.  The train bombing was especially brutal as explosions in tight, confined spaces always are and as can be seen from the photograph from Twitter that has been circulating, censored on news sites; shredded flesh, and little else left.  Again, terrible as this sounds, today's attack has been less affecting for those of us at a distance than the Paris attacks because they seem familiar, less threatening because they didn't involve the attackers hitting one area with assault weaponry, or taking over a building where a substantial number of those stopped from leaving were killed.

How far the attacks can be truly linked to Islamic State also remains unclear.  Paris was without doubt an IS authored operation; whether this was looks far more uncertain, not least because Abdesalam would have been expected to die in those attacks.  Another immediate concern is whether the bomb maker is one and the same or is still alive, as this time their work certainly didn't partially fail.  Unless the explosives were provided from another source, then the person who concocted them will have had to be trained somewhere, and again you'd assume straight off that was either in Syria or Iraq.  Were those responsible returnees from Syria, again as you'd assume based on Paris, or part of the larger network linked to both attacks?

Why it is that Brussels has given refuge to so many jihadists is also an open question.  Jason Burke gives a number of answers, while others suggest a possible link to Belgium itself being a divided, weak state.  Is it the very cosmopolitan nature of Brussels that has helped such people to hide themselves, or is it much the same problems elsewhere that have been exacerbated by the sheer number of extremists that have came from and then in turn been attracted to Molenbeek and other Brussels suburbs?

As is apparent, tonight there are far more questions than answers.  As the War Nerd has intimated, you do dread the immediate response to such attacks, the search for scapegoats, the confirmation bias on display from so many, the very lack of response from some.  Rage as he says is the most honest place to start, but also today there has been more a weariness, a feeling that something like this was going to happen sooner rather than later in Brussels, such has been the activity there the last few months.  There doesn't seem the same level of fear and uncertainty as after Paris, because the situation isn't as comparable.  Whether that is a false reassurance or not, it makes clear IS has taken over from al-Qaida as the main inspiration/instigator behind those prepared to attack the West.  It also though further makes clear that intelligence is key when it comes to preventing these more conventional plots, something that the Brussels police and intelligence agencies have not managed to cultivate.  The hope has to be that this gives us the edge against those who wish to do us harm.  Again, whether this is a similarly clutched at straw we can but wait and see.

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Tuesday, February 09, 2016 

Even after acquittal, even after release, national security trumps all.

The continuing official secrecy surrounding the trial of Erol Incedal, as reaffirmed today by the Court of Appeal, truly boggles the mind.  Incedal, lest anyone has forgot, was charged with possessing a manual on bomb-making and planning to commit a terrorist act, only for some of the evidence to be judged by the intelligence agencies as so potentially damaging to national security that around 90% of the trial(s) had to be held in secret, or in camera.

Indeed, initially the government not only argued for the trial to be held entirely behind closed doors, it also wanted Incedal and his co-defendant Mounir Rarmoul-Bouhadjar to not so much as be identified, instead known only by initials.  This only failed after a challenge from the media, who in the same ruling were also granted access to most of the closed sessions, with "accredited journalists" invited to observe proceedings.  They are not allowed however to disclose what they heard in those sessions on pain of contempt of court, while their notebooks, taken at the end of each session, are apparently being kept at MI5's headquarters, Thames House, lest anyone less respectful of national security decides they should be placed into the public domain.

The utter absurdity of the situation is best expressed by how the Guardian reports that Incedal has since been released from prison, presumably under licence, from his 42 month sentence for possessing the 5 page manual on explosives.  Whether Incedal is under the same restrictions as both the journalists and members of the jury is not clear, or whether they might only apply until his sentence has been served in full we don't know.  Either way, the man himself is now free.  If he so wishes, he can tell anyone he feels like exactly how and why he was found not guilty of planning a terrorist attack despite the apparently incriminating evidence against him, while the journalists who sat there in the expectation of at some point being able to explain to the public why still cannot.

Almost everything about the case reeks.  The argument for why it had to be heard in secret, at least initially, was that otherwise justice would not have been able to be done.  This would at the very least imply that the case against the accused was fairly airtight, and that having to abandon it would have damaged the public interest more than denying the principles of open justice in this one instance.  Instead, as it turned out, one jury couldn't decide on the planning an attack charge while at the retrial the jury acquitted the accused.  It has not been explained whether a bug was placed in Incedal's car after he was pulled over and arrested for speeding, Incedal having made "demands" the police couldn't accommodate, as well as producing a statement they needed time to "digest", or whether he was already someone of interest to the security services.  We are none the wiser over whether Tony Blair really was a target, as an address to his home in London was found hidden in a glasses case, or if that was something else explained to the apparent satisfaction of the second jury.  The accredited journalists themselves feel used and tainted by the experience, almost to the point of being complicit in the secrecy demanded, unable to speak of anything they heard unless they fancy a spell behind bars themselves.

What is the possible danger in knowing why someone accused of terrorism was found not guilty when that person is no longer so much as in jail?  We aren't allowed to know, so we can't know.  All we are allowed to know is that the Lord Chief Justice remains "quite satisfied ... for reasons which we can only provide in a closed annex to this judgment that a departure from the principles of open justice was strictly necessary if justice was to be done".  Albeit, in this instance, justice meant the accused being acquitted.

Not that the ruling is overly deferential to the executive and others who demanded the secrecy in the first place.  It would seem the security services were not pleased with even the merest glimpses of daylight the Court of Appeal allowed to seep in, as "in the light of some of the material provided to the court" the justices feel the need to make clear that "no part of the Executive can refuse to provide the evidence required by the DPP on the basis that it perceives that it is not in the interests of national security to provide it". "Thus," they continue, "when the decision is made by the court, subject to any appeal, they must abide by that decision even if they disagree with it. If a decision is made by the prosecutor to proceed, then the Security Services and the police must provide to the prosecutor all the assistance the prosecutor requires."  You might have thought that the security services, especially ones that the court says in its experience "are conspicuous in their adherence to this principle and these duties" wouldn't need to be reminded of things like the rule of law, but so it would seem.

The court also makes clear that while public accountability cannot currently be provided by the media, it is open to the Intelligence and Security Committee to consider "any issues it considers need to be examined and for any public accountability to be achieved in that way". While this would previously have not had the government or the securocrats shaking in their shoes, the highly critical report into the draft Investigatory Powers act by the ISC under its new chairman Dominic Grieve would suggest it might finally turn into more of a watchdog than a lapdog.  Likewise, that as a coda the justices observe that previous closed judgments were apparently not available to them as reference and "this is not satisfactory", not least as "it must always be a possibility, that at a future date, disclosure will be sought at a time when it is said that there could no longer be any reason to keep the information from the public", it's as crystal as it could be that while the courts are currently persuaded by cries of "national security", they might not always be.

When there is so little to go on it's almost pointless to speculate on precisely how national security could be damaged by the public knowing why Incedal was not in this instance guilty.  You do have to suspect though that the contact Incedal had with a British man called Ahmed, apparently based in Syria, is key, not least because MI5 and MI6 rather than just one or the other were involved in the push for secrets to remain secret.  Just as it was only remembered days before Moazzam Begg was due to go on trial for terrorism charges linked to Syria that MI5 had apparently OKed his journey, so too you have to wonder if Incedal himself had links to the intelligence agencies that are not being disclosed and which he used as his justification for not being guilty.  Then again, in a case this absurd, where the rule of law has always been a secondary thought, and where only politicians, judges and spooks can be trusted with the reality, who's to say it's not something correspondingly bizarre?

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Tuesday, January 12, 2016 

A question.

Is it victim blaming, or making excuses for terrorists to argue that Istanbul has now fully "reaped the whirlwind" of its at best years of turning a blind eye to the activities of Islamic State within its borders, and at worst active connivance with the group for unbelievably short-sighted political reasons?  Who could have known that IS wouldn't be satisfied with killing merely the opponents of President Erodgan and the AKP, and would eventually turn its sights to tourists?

Considering even Kyle W. Orton, for it was he, suggested in a piece back in December that "Turkey has laid the foundations for what would be called, if it happened to Westerners, “blowback”", perhaps not.  Of course, you could also make the case that it is Turkey's very belated and still not wholly convincing crackdown on Islamic State inside the country that has prompted today's slaughter and the previous bombing on the 6th of January, and I could also be less of an arsehole about it when the bodies of the German and Peruvian nationals are not yet cold.

Forgive me though, as I've become more than a little sick of late having to read the bloviating opinions of people determined to assign positions to their opponents that they do not hold, at the same time as refusing to accept so much as the merest possibility that foreign policy could have something of a role in the threat we face from terrorists, even if it does not for an instant excuse them or make them less responsible for their actions.

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Wednesday, December 16, 2015 

Droning on about targeted assassination.

In all the excitement over the decision to bomb Islamic State in Syria, you'd be forgiven for it slipping your mind that we err, already had been.  Not only were British pilots embedded with the Americans without parliament needing to be informed, a British citizen no less was also judged to be such an immediate danger to us back here that he needed to be evaporated via drone.  Rather than let the Americans do it, as they did our good pal Mohammed Emwazi, on this occasion we did so ourselves.  Why?  The answer seems to remain along the lines of "because we could" and "fuck you, we'll bomb what we want".

For the decision behind the drone strike on Reyaad Khan (for it was he), Ruhul Amin, the other British jihadi killed in the strike, and an unknown Belgian, remains completely opaque, as evidenced by today's appearance by defence secretary Michael Fallon before the Joint Committee on Human Rights' inquiry into the apparent change in policy.  Integral to the government's case that it is entirely legal to kill whoever it feels like so long as they are judged to pose a significant enough threat is Article 51 of the UN Charter.  This talks of "armed attacks", and how nothing in the rest of the charter should impair the right of individual or collective self-defence if one occurs.

If you find it dubious that the authors of the UN Charter were thinking of armed attacks by jihadists using improvised explosive devices, or quite possibly even knives when they wrote it, rather than say the actions of another state's military, then you're probably not on the attorney general's Christmas card list.  Individual terrorist attacks, the memorandum submitted to the JCHR by the government goes on (PDF), may rise to the level of an "armed attack" if they are of sufficient gravity, as the 9/11 attacks clearly were.  In any case, the "scale and effect's of ISIL's campaign" as a whole are judged to reach the level of an armed attack against the UK.  Islamic State, you'll note, has not directly attacked the UK, even if it has threatened to do so.  Force can also be used where an "armed attack" is "imminent".  It's not clear if imminent is the same thing as "highly likely", as in a terrorist attack is highly likely, as judged by the current and all but perpetual overall threat level, but we can take a wild guess and hazard that yes, it is.  Fallon for his part told the committee "I don’t think it’s possible to have a hard and fast rule about how you define imminent".

In other words, the government considers it lawful to kill Islamic State cadres full stop.  This seemingly applies outside of Iraq and Syria also, or at least that was the impression Fallon gave, as he said there was no overall policy on targeted killing at all.  Considering David Cameron had already hinted at the potential for future drone strikes in Libya this isn't surprising, and yet it would all but confirm the wholesale adoption of the US policy on drone strikes, with Fallon refusing to address questions about any substantial difference.  This would be the same US policy that has come in for heavy criticism of late, including from no less a figure than the former head of the Defense Intelligence Agency.  Quite why we would decide to emulate it at this point isn't clear.

If indeed we have, as it remains an open question of why Khan was targeted, as the memo certainly doesn't explain any further than the government did at the time.  Khan the memo argues could have launched an attack at any time, such was the danger he posed; it's extremely odd then that not a single one of the plots it is claimed he directed would it seemed have reached the point of being launched.  The memo interestingly notes that "some were foiled", presumably the ones newspapers splashed on, including the one the Sun itself claimed to have averted.  What then was the result of the others? Did they just fall apart?  Were they abandoned?  Did those recruited to carry them out get cold feet?  Or were these "plots" of the type like the one the Sun saved us from, of the inspiring and telling sympathisers how to make pressure cooker bombs variety?  As there still doesn't seem to have been a single person arrested for terrorism offences linked to Khan, it's worth asking the question.  The memo goes on to argue that there was no other way of stopping Khan as he had no intention of leaving Syria, and yet his plots seem to have petered out all by themselves.  Of course, there is no guarantee he would have continued to fail, but this rather undermines the claim he could have ordered an attack at any time.  Certainly, there has been no evidence presented to substantiate that, or that he had risen to that sort of position in IS.

It's almost as though the fact the newspapers were reporting on these apparent threats to events and people, however lacking in reality they were, was enough on its own for Khan to be put on the "kill list".  This might seem all but moot now that we're fully joined up members of the death to IS club, but how can it not be troubling when politicians take the decision to kill one of their own citizens on evidence they refuse to expand upon, beyond vague declarations of the righteousness of doing so?  Khan was not Emwazi; his guilt was not and is not obvious.  Fallon might have bristled about how the others killed along with Khan were not innocent civilians, which is true; did they deserve to die, however?  If the policy is expanded to countries like Libya as suggested, why should we have any confidence based on what we've been told about Khan that others won't be killed alongside the target?  At the very, very least there ought to be a genuinely independent investigation and review after the fact, as the JCHR suggested. 

The smart use of drones could be the least worst option when a real, genuine threat cannot be countered in any other way.  The government has not even begun to prove that is the policy it has decided on.

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Monday, December 07, 2015 

The definition of terrorism is in the Mire.

Often after terrorist attacks you'll get the odd tiresome and incredibly wearying piece about how you're more likely to die eating a cheese salad than you are getting sprayed with bullets or having your neck sawed by some mouth-breathing goggle-eyed halfwit with an exceptionally ill grasp of their cause.  This is probably true, unless you're unfortunate enough to live in one of those places we've bombed better, it just rather misunderstands the whole risks you personally take and accept on a daily basis versus the fear of being in the wrong place at the wrong time when Abu Beavis decides to do jihad rationality scale.  If it's impossible to convince people of the inadequacies and injustices of the draconian approach to controlled substances when statistically it is more dangerous to go horse-riding than it is to take MDMA, then the same argument adjusted to terrorism is hardly going to work when it comes to the chances of getting caught up in a bombing.

In truth, there is a similar sort of grim calculus at work in America on a daily basis.  For just about enough people the 2nd amendment right to bear assault rifles, use incendiary ammunition and own your very own rocket launcher* is more important than the right not to be shot dead at your place of work or education by the latest person to decide they're mad as hell and not going to take it any more.  Every so often there is a massacre so exceptional, like that at Sandy Hook, that it seems, even if just for a moment as though something might finally be done, only for momentum to very quickly dissipate.

It does then get all the more difficult to quickly work out whether the latest incidence of mass bloodshed is a "simple" case of loser going down in a blaze of infamy, or rather An Attack on Us All by Islamic Fascists.  Indeed, Dylann Roof's racially motivated mass killing wasn't deemed terrorist, nor was the attack on a Planned Parenthood clinic a week and a half ago, even if in the case of the former it was very much politically motivated, with more than reasonable suspicions about the same with the latter.  Mass shootings in America have become an epidemic: depending on whether your prefer the collating method of the GunsAreCool group on Reddit, which counts incidents where four or more people are shot regardless of the circumstances and for this year comes to the figure of 353 so far, or the one used by Mother Jones, which has far tighter criteria and counts "only" 4, both make clear that mass shootings are occurring more often.

On quite a few levels the mass shooting in San Bernardinho by Syed Rizwan Farook and Tafsheen Malik still doesn't make a lot of sense in terms of being an outright terrorist attack by Islamic State sympathisers as opposed to a curious mixture of terrorist act and more familiar "going postal".  The killers don't seem to have given any explanation themselves as to their actions during the attack, while they destroyed or smashed up all their electronic equipment prior to carrying it out.  The terrorists and spree killers of our modern media age usually want their reasoning, however twisted or self-serving to be broadcast and disseminated as widely as possible, for us to feel their rage, their anger, their anguish, to be scared that we could be next.

It could be that as Farook and Malik left behind pipe bombs and other explosives at their home the plan was to go on and commit further attacks, possibly even returning to the house to replenish their arsenal.  Alternatively, it could be that the argument Farook has been said to have had at his workplace, the Inland Regional Center social services agency, earlier in the day made him decide at the last minute to change targets.  Malik it is claimed may have pledged allegiance or made some sort of dedication to IS just before the attack took place, but regardless of that the very involvement of a woman in a mass shooting is rare in itself, let alone for a husband and wife to apparently act as a team.

That Farook was an Illinois born US citizen and Malik a Pakistani who spent a large period of her life living in Saudi Arabia hasn't of course stopped the Republican presidential candidates stepping up their demands for not so much a single Syrian refugee to be allowed in lest they be a terrorist.  Your average American is far more likely to be caught up in a mass shooting/spree killing carried out by a white male with a legally bought weapon, an action almost indistinguishable in method and results from an attack deemed to be "terrorist" carried out by two brown people, and yet the clamour, fearmongering and the demands that something be done, not about the easy availability of firearms and ammunition designed for warfare, but instead about Islamic State abroad is the overriding discourse of the day.  Just, you might add, as it was always going to be and always seemingly will be.

Which brings us to Leytonstone underground station last Saturday night.  According to the Metropolitan police the stabbing there was a "terrorist incident".  The decision to distinguish it as such was apparently "as a result of information received at the time from people who were at the scene and subsequent investigations".  These subsequent investigations must have moved extremely quickly, as the police were describing it as a "terrorist incident" within a couple of hours.  A former counter-terrorism officer quoted by the Graun agreed with the Met's description of the incident, as "he espoused a political motive and he caused someone harm and threatened violence".

Terrorism is undoubtedly something different to each person, although I especially like the War Nerd's designation that a terrorist group is any armed faction that doesn't have an air force.  Some, like myself, will argue that the murder of Lee Rigby was not a terrorist attack, while others will vehemently disagree.  I would like to think though that most people would not declare on the basis of someone shouting "this is for Syria, my Muslim brothers" they are a terrorist by that very fact.  Anyone can "espouse a political motive" while doing any stupid fool thing; it doesn't mean they so much as believe themselves, let alone that the police or the public should take them at their word.  The Telegraph is reporting tonight that the family of Muhaydin Mire, the man charged with attempted murder over the incident, had contacted the Met with concerns over his mental health 3 weeks ago.  Whether or not it turns out that Mire was suffering from delusions when he stabbed and then we're told sawed at the neck of his victim, to treat one man with a knife as a terrorist based on his ravings is to give in to and elevate his act from the merely criminal into something that it neither deserves to be nor should be treated as such.

If the incident carries on being treated as "terrorist" however, where does that leave us?  Predictably enough, anyone on social media who cited a link between last week's Commons vote on Syria and the words of Mire was quickly called out.  Apart from Mire saying "my Muslim brothers", a line that wasn't included in most accounts until the hearing today, there was nothing to suggest any sort of sympathy for Islamic State or that he was linking his actions to Islam at all.  No one has claimed he shouted "Allahu Akbar", the most common cry of Islamic militants when they are carrying out an attack.  The house magazine of IS, Dabiq, in its latest issue encouraged lone attackers to "pledge allegiance, record a statement and carry a banner", none of which it seems Mire did, unless more is still to come out.

Who though are we to second guess the police?  If they say an incident is a terrorist one, then surely it follows that we should look at what transpired and react accordingly.  "This is for Syria," the assailant said, and what conclusion are to we draw other than he was influenced by what went on earlier in the week, influenced it would seem to the point where he decided to act?

For if his was actions were those of a terrorist, then where else do we need to look for explanation than to the obvious?  We don't need to consider whether he has mental health problems, just as we didn't in the case of Michael Adebowale.  We don't need to wonder if it might occur to an especially narcissistic criminal in the future to ascribe political motives to their crime for the extra attention it would bring despite their apparent absence, as if something looks to be politically inspired despite other evidence suggesting otherwise, that's enough.  We don't need to worry if there is something other than extreme silliness, or narcissism, again, behind social media solidarity of the #YouAintNoMuslimBruv variety, the need to make clear just how united and together we are and project our goodness to our friends, as how else should a city respond to a "terrorist incident"?  Why should we do anything other than, while blaming the perpetrator wholly for their own actions, not look at who or what inspired him to act, whether it be Islamist extremists, or politicians taking decisions of life and death?  That, surely, is the logical end point of describing his actions as "terrorist", isn't it?  Or is it just another label increasingly denuded of meaning?

*RPGs probably don't fall under the 2nd amendment.  Probably.

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Tuesday, November 24, 2015 

Our NATO allies, everybody.

There are, as you'd expect, a whole load of ways of interpreting why Turkey decided it was a fabulous idea to shoot down a Russian jet that may or may not have invaded their airspace, and most of them will have some measure of truth to them.

You could for instance start by saying that Putin's tears and rage at the action are both hysterical and hypocritical.  Maybe, just maybe if you could keep your raging war boner somewhat under control Vlad, things like this wouldn't happen.  You are after all the one apparently bombing the Turkmen, and the Turks are notoriously defensive about anyone sitting near their border, whether they be friend or foe.  Going into Turkish airspace, no matter for how brief a period is probably not a wise thing to do, especially when they made clear previously their feelings on such invasions.  Besides, there is also the little matter of MH17: the Russians might not have been personally responsible for downing the Malaysian Airlines flight, but giving Buk anti-aircraft missiles to halfwitted militants who don't or can't know the difference between a commercial flight and a Ukrainian military jet was an accident waiting to happen.  Instead of owning up and apologising, Russia has of course since denied it was their tame separatists and obstructed the investigation in every way possible.  Feel your pain we don't.

Then there's a more sympathetic to the Russians interpretation.  The Americans have said any breach of Turkish airspace was limited to seconds; the radar released by the Turks in an effort to justify their actions suggests precisely that.  If every country shot down every plane that went into their airspace without explicit permission for as much as a matter of seconds, no one would ever fly again.  The Turkish account that they supposedly repeatedly radioed the Russian plane telling it to stay out therefore doesn't tally with the evidence of the radar.  The reaction of NATO, which has essentially been to distance itself as much as it can from whichever trigger happy commander ordered the shooting down, has been to say this is a matter between the Turks and the Russians.  In other words, they're on their own on this one, even if in public they're saying Turkey has the right to defend itself from 16 second incursions.  When you bear in mind that the reaction of ourselves and most other European nations is to scramble jets to escort Russian planes if and when they decide to venture into airspace they've not received permission to and then complain about it later for the reason it's not worth the repercussions of doing otherwise, the Turks deciding to shoot one down for a breach of a matter of seconds is not going to win them many new friends.

Next there's a slightly more conspiratorial interpretation.  It is as Lindsey Hilsum has tweeted somewhat odd there just happened to be a TV crew in place to film the shot down jet hitting the ground.  It might have been sheer luck, but there are certainly good reasons to believe the rebels in the area have a hotline to their friends over the border.  They could well have informed the Turks, who apparently now believe that back in power with a majority they have little to lose, especially when they can rely on NATO to back them up.  Using the excuse of the slight breach of their airspace, making clear to Russia and Putin precisely what they think of their intervention on the side of Assad might have made something approaching sense in theory.  In practice, not so much.

Lastly, to keep this somewhat brief, there's the full on conspiratorial interpretation.  Turkey has a lot to lose if as looked possible there was an accommodation or deal between the various powers, whether it comes at the Vienna talks or more informally between the American-led coalition and Russia.  The Paris attacks have finally concentrated minds, making clear that the Western policy of letting the Sunni Gulf states + Turks fund whichever rebel groups they felt like while hoping it's not enough to actually defeat Assad cannot go on.  We can't of course lose face by admitting as much, but thankfully the Russians had already intervened to ensure Assad wouldn't fall.  Dealing directly with Assad is off the table, but the Russians with a little persuading can do that for us.  The Syrian Arab Army can then be the ground force we lack against IS, only they'll be liasing with the Russians instead.  Bearing in mind the only other ground force we can rely on, the Kurds, are also in direct conflict with the Turks, there are a myriad of reasons as to why the Turks would want this alliance of convenience to fall apart before it can so much as come together. 

That's without getting on to the relationship between Islamic State and Turkey.  Evidence has been mounting for some time on the links, but there really isn't any better than the Turkish reaction to the siege of Kobani.  It was only thanks to the Americans realising letting the border city fall as the Turks advised them to would be a propaganda victory too far and send a terrible message to about the only genuinely moderate forces in Syria that they started co-ordinating with the YPG.  Add on how the Islamic State attacks in Ankara just before the election undoubtedly helped the AKP to their majority, and not that much more needs to be added.

As said, there's something to all these interpretations.  Yes, Putin's reaction has been absurdly over-the-top, but then it's a fair bet ours wouldn't be much different if say the Iranians shot down one of our jets if it strayed into their airspace while carrying out sorties in Iraq.  His remarks on the links between Turkey and Islamic State are fairly sound also, as Erdogan has without doubt been playing the same double game in Syria as the Saudis and Qataris  have.  Indeed, if I wasn't a subscriber to the cock-up rather than conspiracy school of history until there is overwhelming evidence suggesting otherwise, then the full on conspiratorial interpretation would make the most sense.  You can't though seriously believe the Turks would do something so unbelievably stupid, not knowing whether or not NATO would back them when they know full well the game they've been playing all along.  They might well be trying their best to sabotage the Vienna talks and will be making clear the risks their allies are playing by working with the Russians, but the best explanation for this is a trigger happy commander going out on a limb in an area where nationalist passions run hot.  Turkey has way too much to lose and far too little to gain.

The other obvious conclusion from today is there are already too many nations operating in Syria or at the margins, all with competing agendas and all with grudges against each other.  There is incredibly little to be gained and much to be lost by as David Cameron heroically put it "getting to grips with the Isil menace".  Still, come Thursday the prime minister's explanation as to what distinct and unique role the British military can provide in Syria as demanded by the foreign affairs select committee should be worth a laugh.

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Monday, November 23, 2015 

How to get your war on.

If, like me, you find it fitfully amusing that every new threat regardless of its potency must always be described as the most deadly and worst since the year dot, you'll find a lot to delight you in UNSC Resolution 2249.  Passed unanimously last weekend and drafted principally by the French in the aftermath of the Paris attacks, it's an absolute classic of the genre.  It is after all one thing for a idiot politician playing to the gallery to declare Islamic State to be a bigger threat to international peace and security than Hitler/Napoleon/Genghis Khan/Black Death/the discovery of fire, and quite another for the UN Security Council to agree and declare that anyone and everyone if they feel like it can join in the fun of chucking high explosives at "an evil death cult".

As that's what 2249 does.  It really does say that Islamic State "constitutes a global and unprecedented threat to international peace and security".  Global?  Unprecedented?  Islamic State and its fighters might slaughter anyone they feel like and draw recruits from a wide variety of nations, but are they really a major threat to Japan, say, or your pick of any one of the South American nations?  Yes, they've executed hostages from China and Japan, but a threat?  

When it comes to unprecedented, on what reading of history exactly?  Are we talking since the creation of the UN or going further back?  Islamic State is a threat, certainly, but far more of one to the Middle East than anywhere else.  It was only able to expand as it has thanks to the failures of governance in Iraq and Syria; it calls itself a state and tries to operate as one but no state can last long when it has little real popular support and projects its power through violence.  It can send cells of supporters into democracies to launch attacks, and yet such tactics will bring its demise closer.  The threat might paradoxically in its death throes increase, as it loses ground and its safe havens, and the threat will likely not be extinguished entirely as another group drawing on the same ideology will rise, but Islamic State itself can be defeated.  The threat is only unprecedented if you have no knowledge whatsoever of the past, and crucially, if you want it to be such.

And politicians do want it to be so.  It's why the resolution also calls on "Member States that have the capacity to do so to take all necessary measures", the UN's traditional euphemism for military action.  Whether that precisely makes our proposed joining in with the bombing legal or not is up for debate, although for most politicians that would be more than enough.  Indeed, Cameron and friends have been declaring that action without a UN resolution would be legal as it would be in self-defence.  That's based on an extremely broad reading of what constitutes self-defence, but then state sovereignty has been in retreat for some time, or at least has for states that aren't in the free world.  If anyone is worried about the plethora of countries that are involved or have been in bombing Islamic State, which is currently in double figures and might well at some point go beyond the 20 mark, then they aren't yet.  Come on down everyone, eastern Syria is so bracing!

Syria is the ultimate conclusion of the insanity of Western foreign policy post 9/11.  Taking the worst aspects of 80s foreign policy, which was to pick on a shithole nation and either supply and arm murdering bandits, for which see Nicaragua, or bomb it/invade it, for which see Tripoli/Grenada and combining it with the liberal interventionism of the 90s, not a single country the US/UK has bombed is a better place for it.  If you want an example of when intervention does work, you could look at Mali, but as last weekend demonstrated problems remain even there.  Syria is the culmination of the initial mistake of invading Iraq, the mistakes made post-invasion, and mistakes made since the uprising against Bashar Assad.  This is not to say we are overwhelmingly responsible, as we are not.  We might have created the conditions in which a group like Islamic State could flourish, but we didn't force the Iraqi Shia to persecute the Sunnis to the point where a substantial minority if not majority would ally with IS.  We did not invent the jihadist way of thinking, even if at times we sponsored groups that subscribed to it and have had a major role in the spreading of the ideology.

Without wanting to speak for those with similar views to mine, what I suspect most of us want is recognition, however slight, that we are here in part because of those mistakes.  I don't want an apology, although others might; I want our policy going forward to be informed by those mistakes.  To an extent, some lessons have been learned, as was proved in Libya.  Rather than try and rebuild a state we smashed, we left as soon as Gaddafi was dead.  Enjoy your liberation, we're off now.  We went from one extreme to another, with predictable results when Gaddafi was the state, as the Ba'ath in Iraq was the state and Assad in Syria is also the state.

It's also true that Iraq/Afghanistan have rightly made us wary of "putting boots on the ground".  That is an undoubted positive, as it's what groups like IS want more than anything else.  What we have not learned is that a secular dictator is in some cases preferable to the chaos of what comes after.  This doesn't mean we should have supported Mubarak in Egypt for instance, or have acquiesced to the military coup which overthrew the elected Muslim Brotherhood, but that a feeble and contained Gaddafi is preferable to the civil war that has followed there.  In the face of IS and al-Nusra as well as all the other jihadist and Islamist groupings in Syria, demanding Assad leave immediately as we have been for years now has been a madness.  Yes, to an extent Assad has enabled those groups through his butchery, and there is an extremely arguable case that if we had intervened early in the uprising much of the carnage could have been avoided.  This overlooks however that it was not long before the Islamist rebels dominated the opposition, and that the cash from the Sunni Gulf states which subsequently went to those rebels would have without doubt gone to political parties instead with much the same views.  Seeing Syria as purely a civil conflict is too simplistic - it is a regional, proxy conflict.

At the same time we should take a step back and consider what would have happened had we intervened against Assad in 2013As Flying Rodent tweeted, no one seems to think it odd that a mere two years later we must now urgently target the very force that would have benefited most had we intervened.  Discount the idea we were merely going to chuck bombs at a range of targets in retaliation for the Ghouta attacks, as that made no sense then and even less now.  It would have been Libya a second time, with likely co-ordination with rebels on the ground.  Whether or not IS would have taken complete control is arguable, but a scenario where the jihadists even if fighting each other are in majority control would be the all but certain outcome.  Difficult as it is to imagine, the potential for further ethnic cleansing, even genocide and for more refugees fleeing than have already would have been massive.

Are our politicians grateful they were prevented from making that horrific mistake?  No, because they care far more about their own prestige and "our standing" in the world than such things.  Matthew d'Ancona informed us a few weeks ago of how Cameron and friends would never forgive Miliband for inadvertently stopping their march to war.  George Osborne yesterday told Andrew Marr that bombing IS is less about destroying the group and more about ourselves: "whether we want to shape the world or be shaped by the world", the chancellor claiming we had "retreated into ourselves a bit" after Iraq and the economic crash.  Buying the most useless and most expensive military aircraft ever created is about "projecting power abroad in order to defend ourselves at home".  It's no use whatsoever against non-state actors, the biggest threat we face and will continue to face according to the strategic defence review, but we must project our power in order to defend ourselves.

What the proposed war against IS comes down to in the end is our perceived standing in the world, our relationships with our allies, the vanity of politicians, and the one remaining way in which they can sell themselves to the voters.  Not bombing IS when every other major nation is just can't be allowed.  We must do something, even if it's completely negligible militarily.  We must be seen to be reliable, to not shrink into ourselves, to not be feeble, like the spineless Corbyn.  A P5 nation not involved in the struggle against "a global and unprecedented threat", one that has killed British citizens, even if not yet in Britain itself?  It's just unthinkable.  At the same time, Cameron could not possibly endure the humiliation of being defeated by the Commons for a second time on such a vote, and so it will only go ahead when the government is certain it can win, and by a sizeable majority.  It doesn't matter how bogus the arguments and justifications are for our involvement, especially the idea that by bombing IS in Syria we will reduce the threat to the UK when the opposite is more realistic, so long as they are made repeatedly and with force.

Lastly, there's the old Adam Curtis Power of Nightmares thesis.  Politicians have abandoned so much else which they used to control to either the markets or regulators.  They claim not to be able to buck the market in order to save jobs.  They can claim to have restored economic security and credibility until the next crash arrives.  What they can still do is pledge to protect us.  It doesn't matter if the wars they've fought in order to protect us have demonstrably, objectively made us less safe, as there is always a new threat more serious than the last about to come along.  It doesn't matter if they restrict civil liberties or want the ability to see our every interaction online as long as they say it's to stop terrorists in their tracks.  So long as we are acting elsewhere in order to stop the war from coming home, it doesn't matter.  It worked for over 10 years in Afghanistan.  It will undoubtedly work with Syria too.

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Thursday, November 19, 2015 

That police advice on what to do if caught up in a terrorist gun attack in full.

Developing dynamic lockdown procedures

What is dynamic lockdown?

Dynamic lockdown is the ability to quickly restrict access and egress to a site or building in response to a threat, either external or internal.  Of course, if the terrorist has got inside, then locking it down so either they can't get out or the police can't get in might not be the best idea.  Some sites due to their nature may also not be able to achieve lockdown.  In which cause you're pretty much screwed and you can probably disregard most of the rest of this note.

Why develop dynamic lockdown?

You've heard of the illusion of safety, right?

How to achieve dynamic lockdown
  • Identify all access and egress points
  • Identify how to quickly and physically secure these points.  Because your staff obviously won't be panicking and running for cover when dozens of AK-47 bullets are whizzing at them
  • Staff must be trained to act effectively and made aware of their responsibilities.  Anyone who does something stupid like play dead in the event of an attack should be fired immediately, even if they died as a result
 How to let people know what's happening
  • Public address system.  The operator should try to remain calm and not alert staff to the fact they may all be about to die
  • Dedicated "Lockdown" alarm tone.  Preferably similar to the "all clear" and "fallout" tones that would have sounded after a nuclear attack, and were practically identical.  
Training your staff
  • Train all staff using principles of "Stay Safe" (see below)
  • Resist the temptation to test staff by asking Muslim employees to grow their beards and raid the premises using toy rifles one wet day in January
How to Stay Safe

  • Seriously, fucking run.  Use some common sense though; don't run towards the men with guns
  • Insist others leave with you.  If they're gibbering at the prospect of potentially dying, try and slap them out of it.  Drag them if you have to.  You can always use them as a shield if you get spotted
  • Leave belongings behind.  That means your iPhone, your man bag and your skinny latte.  Smashing the phone of any halfwit attempting to film the proceedings is not only highly advised, it should be considered mandatory
  • If you can't RUN, as you're morbidly obese or pissing yourself at what's happening, then HIDE
  • Outside of the line of sight of the gunmen, obviously.  If you can see them, they can probably see your worthless hide
  • Be aware of your exits.  As if you and everyone around you wasn't already
  • Try not to get trapped
  • Lock / barricade yourself in.  Yes, this contradicts the above if the gunmen shoot out the lock or break down the barricade, but at least you tried, eh?
  • Everyone on social media what's happening.  Then the BBC, ITV, the press, etc
  • Phone 999.  Just to be on the safe side
Armed Police Response
  • Remain calm.  Don't worry that all your friends and colleagues may be bleeding to death, you're safe now
  • Avoid sudden movements.  The police will be just as jittery as you, only they'll be as heavily armed as the actual attackers
Officers May
  • Point guns at you
  • Grab hold of you
  • Shoot you multiple times in the head without warning.  If you're wearing a light denim jacket or are a wookie
  • Then ask you questions
You must STAY SAFE
  • What are your plans if there were an incident?  Don't think you're safe just because you live somewhere like Cockermouth, either.  Forewarned is forearmed
  • What are the local plans in the event of a tactical nuclear weapon strike?  Are you aware of the location of the local mass grave?
  • Finally, if all else fails
  • DUCK and COVER

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Tuesday, November 17, 2015 

14 years of war, and it's whose fault again?

It's a tale in essence of two deleted tweets.  On Friday night at 10, while the siege at the Bataclan was still on-going, John Rentoul of the Independent, noted Blair fan and supporter of assorted interventions sent out a message asking "Will Corbyn say France made itself a target?"  He fairly swiftly erased it, and the next morning made a fulsome apology.  Stop the War Coalition meanwhile tweeted out a link to an article it had sourced from a certain Chris Floyd, titled "Paris reaps whirlwind of western support for extremist violence in Middle East".  They too later deleted the tweet, and the article from their site. 

You can no doubt guess which of these messages was brought up in the House of Commons this afternoon.  In fact, it wasn't made reference to just the once, but three times, all by Labour MPs.  The article itself, despite being fairly standard, simplistic anti-war boilerplate does not blame France or the French in the slightest.  It makes no direct reference to France's taking part in strikes against Islamic State.  It condemns the attacks in no uncertain terms, as does the actual statement from Stop the War.

This makes no odds, for there are only two groups of people that care what the Stop the War coalition thinks about anything.  First, the Stop the War coalition; and second, those who got their war in Iraq but ended up losing the argument.  Ever since they've wasted their time pointlessly trolling the StWC, achieving precisely nothing except making themselves feel better.  The prior example to this was activists from the Syria Solidarity UK group turning up to the last StWC public meeting.  SSUK wants a "limited" UK military intervention in Syria; StWC doesn't.  Surprise, there was conflict, spun as the StWC refusing to listen to ordinary Syrians, even while the actual peace talks between the various powers involved in the war have no Syrian involvement whatsoever.

The most egregious remarks in the Commons came from Ian Austin.  In his view those suggesting that Paris had "reaped the whirlwind", or that "Britain's foreign policy has increased not diminished the threats to our own national security are not just absolving the terrorists of responsibility, but risk fuelling the sense of grievance and resentment which can develop into extremism and terrorism".  David Cameron agreed.  "We have to be very clear to those people who are at risk of being radicalised that this sort of excuse culture is wrong. It’s not only wrong for anyone to argue that Paris was brought about by Western policy. It is also very damaging for young Muslims growing up in Britain to think that any reasonable person could have this view."  This it's worth noting came after Cameron had pointedly responded to Jeremy Corbyn stating President Obama had recognised that Islamic State grew out of the Iraq war by saying "we should not seek excuses for a death cult".

At times like these it's hard not to wonder if you've gone through the looking glass.  Forget for a second about the clear attempt to frame those who so much as suggest that foreign policy might have played a role, not in the Paris attacks themselves, but in the wider threat we face as terrorist enablers.  Forget that some Labour MPs are so caught up in their hatred of Jeremy Corbyn they are willing to ignore President Obama and Tony Blair, both of whom have recognised that Islamic State owes its existence to the Iraq war.

Let's instead just focus on the idea that our foreign policy over the past 14 years has decreased the terrorist threat.  Austin was referring to the speech Corbyn was due to give on Saturday but cancelled in light of the Paris attacks, where he would have said that "For the past 14 years, Britain has been at the centre of a succession of disastrous wars that have brought devastation to large parts of the wider Middle East. They have increased, not diminished, the threats to our own national security in the process."  

Which part of that statement is incorrect?  The security services, the home secretary, the prime minister, all inform us that the threat we face from terrorism is the most serious it has ever been.  Have those wars made us safer?  For short periods they might have done, prior to Islamic State rising again, with al-Qaida struggling to stay relevant.  That is surely not the case now, when our failures in Iraq, even if we are not even close to being fully responsible, have undeniably helped Islamic State to grow.  Our policy on Syria, of hoping that by letting or encouraging the Saudis, Qataris and Emirate states to fund whichever Islamist/jihadist groups they felt like would lead to the fall of Assad has not decreased the threat.  It has increased it.

So too would joining in with the airstrikes on Islamic State increase the threat we face.  Don't though take it from me; take it from our American allies, with the defence secretary no less stating that Russia would pay the price for its intervention.  Well golly, they did, didn't they?  The Daily Beast went so far as to report that some in the US government "privately delighted in the news that Russia was made to pay".  Seeing as the prime minister and other politicians are so keen to police what are and what are not acceptable views on foreign policy, we could also remember that earlier on Friday Cameron was insisting killing Mohammad Emwazi was "a blow at the heart of Isil".  The Sun's front page, before it realised it was in appalling taste in light of what was happening but not before 20 had already been confirmed dead, had a picture of Emwazi with the headline "JIHAD IT COMING".  It's perfectly fine to say that our enemies had it coming and enjoy the schadenfreude, but when someone suggests perhaps there could be a link between our failures and terrorist attacks it's time to get out the ducking stool.

The fact is that to plenty of Labour MPs and their friends in the media, their real problem with Corbyn has always been his views on foreign policy more than anything else.  It admittedly doesn't help when he fails to explain himself clearly, whether it's in interviews or at meetings of the PLP.  It was painfully obvious however that his comments on "shoot to kill" to Laura Kuenssberg were in relation to manhunts, not in bringing an end to situations similar to those in Paris.  Plenty of his critics are happy to be wilfully obtuse so long as it's seen to damage him.  Things like how "shoot to kill" policies have gone horribly wrong in the past, or how the two murderers of Lee Rigby, who charged at the police while armed were not shot dead are unimportant.  When it comes to Corbyn's comments on the legality or alternatives to the drone strike on Emwazi, they point to how it would be impossible to have acted otherwise.  It almost certainly would have been, and yet time and again the same people make the case for military intervention without the slightest thought for the implications or to the how it should happen as opposed to the why it must right now.

If the prospect of Corbyn attending the Stop the War Christmas fundraising party really is enough to make shadow cabinet ministers consider resigning, perhaps it's time they re-examined their priorities.  How exactly did they think Corbyn was going to respond to a terrorist attack on the scale of Paris?  Did they honestly believe he would come out swinging, agreeing entirely with Dave in his "the case for action has grown stronger since Paris" claim?  Did they really think he would go all gung-ho for the sake of it, when the best thing an opposition leader can do is to urge calm and for cool heads to prevail?  Do they genuinely imagine that if Corbyn came over the military hard man that the public would be impressed by it?

Of course they don't.  The only thing John Rentoul did wrong it turns out is sending his tweet too soon.  It doesn't seem to occur to Corbyn's opponents that the reason they're stuck with him at least for now is because of their own failures.  They lost to a near pacifist hard leftist and rather than consider if there's a reason why the Labour party membership voted for such a person, they insist on carrying on regardless.  The attempt to pillory and silence anyone who thinks there might be more to attacks like the ones in Paris than they hate us and our freedoms is predictable, but also revealing of a total refusal to accept even the most basic lessons of the past 14 years.  What amazes above all however is that after those 14 years, somehow, incredibly, it's the people that have failed to stop any of those wars that are the ones accused of making excuses for and giving succour to the terrorists.

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Monday, November 16, 2015 

The inevitable Paris attacks post.

(This is long, nearly 3000 words long, and concerns the attacks in Paris.  If either of those things and the necessity to discuss unpleasant truths, such as about foreign policy trouble you, best not to read it.)

Over the weekend, I've been racking my brains, trying to find the right words to describe those who carried out the attacks in Paris on Friday night.  So many just don't seem either adequate to the task, don't seem to convey the full horror, if not of the shootings outside restaurants or the bombings outside the Stade de France, then definitely of the assault on the Bataclan and what went on inside the concert venue.  Many have gone with barbarians, but that carries many connotations with it, just as so many other adjectives do also.  Vermin, scum, filth, they all allude back to a previous time in Europe when ordinary people were described as a disease, a cancer, a bacteria, in order to dehumanise them to the point where they could be targeted, discriminated against, and ultimately, annihilated.

The jihadists of Islamic State are called many things they're not too.  Nihilistic for one, although they often seem set upon destruction for its own sake, so it's understandable.  To a certain extent they are a cult, as they certainly display cult-like traits, and yet cults tend for the most part not to be outwardly homicidal, more often suicidal.  There are exceptions, like Aum Shinrikyo, the cult that released sarin on the Tokyo underground, but they're rare.  One tweeter called them "miserable, spiteful, pious, joyless [and] boring", while Camilla Long settled on a "bunch of self-important, cunty old dads".

Cunts.  Yeah, I think that sums it up.  These people are cunts.  They are not inhuman, but they do not display the slightest sign of basic humanity.  They are oblivious to everything that contradicts their world view, living in their own solipsistic, hateful parody of the life the rest of us experience.  Despite how some of them, perhaps only a matter of a couple of years ago might have been out on a Friday night to see an act at the Bataclan or a similar venue, now they believe it is justified to slaughter people they may have once stood alongside in pursuit of an unattainable goal.  It helps of course they might consider music other than acapella singing to be haram, that men and women were mixing freely, that alcohol was being drank, that drugs will have been taken, that some would have a met a lover there, even if only for the one night, but really that's secondary.  Takfirist jihadists kill people because they can and because many of them enjoy it, especially if they're "apostates".  They target the West and Westerners especially because they hope above hope to sow discord, to inspire a military response, especially one involving Western troops, because they know this will bring further recruits to the cause.  The more alienated ordinary Muslims become as a result of such reactions, everyday discrimination, attacks on what some consider to be the ummah, the more they believe will come to accept their world view.

Let's not get onto that quite yet though.  There was something especially depraved about the assault on the Bataclan, the sheer viciousness, the murderous intent, they way the attackers went about killing so many.  Some will disagree vehemently with me on this, but there is an element of masochism about a "mere" suicide bombing, just as there is a far larger one of sadism.  Is there a certain amount of cowardice in pressing a button and dying instantly, not seeing anything of the carnage the act has caused?  Certainly, and yet at the same time it takes an amount of courage as well.  Yes, they have of course been prepared for what they've often volunteered to do, told of the "rewards", of how it helps the overall "fight", but still at the end they have to be ready to die.  The attackers except for one did kill themselves in such a way, but not before they had seen the consequences of their actions.  Not content with merely shooting down their victims, they prodded prone bodies, firing more volleys into those believed to still be alive, in the same way as their fellow fighters have done to those captured or in the wrong place at the wrong time in Syria and Iraq.  We hear of the sadistic joy at least one attacker apparently experienced through his actions, of the terror those still alive went through, expressions of love and saying goodbye that had no apparent effect on the murderers.  For all the violence we have experienced or lived through, it's extraordinarily rare for an act of such evil to happen on a street in the peaceful West.  We forget just how lucky we truly are.

Some of that luck has been down to the jihadists being far more concerned with the spectacular than the practical.  September the 11th managed to be both, taking advantage of the more relaxed attitude to security that had arisen after the chaos of the 70s when plane hijackings were close to being an epidemic.  Time after time post-9/11 plots were disrupted that involved home-made bombs, when so much can go wrong and where often so many people became involved that suspicions arose.  Al-Qaida believed as much in "propaganda by deed" as the anarchists that first came up with the notion did, thinking that the more shocking an attack the more people would be overawed by it into joining up.  They ignored the example shown time after time by single spree killers, where someone with often little more than rudimentary knowledge of firearms can kill dozens before either killing themselves or being shot dead.  If the aim is to kill as many as possible, why rely on explosives with all that can go wrong when basic training in using an automatic weapon takes a matter of hours?

The Mumbai attack showed the potential for the number of casualties, the difficulties that authorities can have in bringing an assault to an end, and still in the main the example was ignored.  Now, after a further experimentation with telling sympathisers to act on their own, to do anything, the sum of all fears might be upon us.  Obviously there are reasons to be cautious, not least when the plots the security services claim to have foiled here have continued to involve relatively primitive "pressure cooker" bombs, or the targeting of armed forces personnel or police officers, but if Islamic State really is changing tactics and encouraging the combination of the practical with the spectacular, we should be deeply concerned.

Indeed, unless the accounts change then the attacks in Paris demonstrated again the limits of bombs.  6 of the 7 known attackers apparently blew themselves up with their suicide belts/vests, and yet it seems only one bystander was killed as a result.  This again may be down to luck and a desire for the spectacular instead of practicalities: the aim seems to have been to get a group of three into the Stade de France itself, only for at least one to be stopped when he was patted down.  If the others then blew themselves up knowing they wouldn't gain entry, as seems to be the case, even worse carnage was prevented.  They seem to have tried to enter after the match had already started also, when they could had they wished detonated their bombs when the streets would have been full of people heading for the stadium.  Again, you have to suspect the aim was for the explosions to happen live on TV, with all the panic that would have caused both inside the stadium and among those watching the home.  The potential for further massive loss of life was thankfully averted.  That the bombs would also seem to have been fairly weak to go by the lack of casualties, despite the bang they produced as documented, further makes clear the difficulties of making explosives vis-a-vis using an AK-47.

Something though clearly has changed in the calculations of Islamic State.  The reason I and some others argued that IS was not that big of a threat to us back home was because it was focused on establishing and defending its "caliphate".  Those who came back from Iraq or Syria having joined it were the equivalent of "drop-outs": either those who couldn't hack being in a war zone from the start, those who developed PTSD or its equivalents, those who were persuaded by relatives to come back, your gap year jihadis, etc.  To leave IS was to be ridiculed for journeying back to the decadence of the West.  Why go back having made the modern day equivalent of the "hijrah"?

Up until Friday IS had not definitively launched an attack outside of the Arab world/Middle East.  The Hyper Cachet attacker claimed to be acting on behalf of Islamic State, but any real link remains unproven.  Likewise, the foiled by chance train gun attack is now being linked back to IS, but that was not made clear at the time.  Now, in the space of not more than a couple of months IS has attacked a peace demonstration by leftists/Kurds in Ankara, Shias in Beirut, likely the Russians through the downing of the Metrojet plane, and lastly Paris.  Paris is still unique in that it seems to have been in the main carried out by French returnees from Syria, but it's also clear that IS is turning its attention further afield.

The question is why.  Some will point towards Islamic State being threatened, and it's true that IS is finally being pushed back to an extent.  Despite the continuing claims that Russia is only hitting the "moderates" in Syria, last week the Syrian army took back an airbase that has been under siege for 2 years by IS thanks in the main to Russian airstrikes.  Palmyra is their next target, which will finally give the lie to the media narrative about the Russian intervention if/when it happens.  Given far greater coverage has been the taking back of Sinjar in northern Iraq, if you can call completely wiping Sinjar from the map after both civilians and IS had fled taking it back.  It could be that IS does believe the noose is tightening, as anyone would when all the major world powers other than the Chinese are bombing you, but the fall is not coming any time soon.  Both of the ground forces ranged against it, the SAA and the Kurds, are weak, even when getting full backing from the air.

A better explanation is that IS is just doing what it does when things have gone relatively quiet: it hits targets that either will or it believes will once again get those sympathetic to its cause back on side.  Killing leftists, Shias, Westerners, knowing what the response will be makes sense, at least to them.  Some have pointed towards an article in Islamic State's Dabiq magazine about "the grey zone", about how 9/11 made everything either black or white, and it could be this is part of some grand strategy and the Paris attack is linked back to that.  It could equally have just become arrogant, believing it's here to stay regardless of the forces ranged against it, and has dramatically overreached when it should still be focused on Syria/Iraq, and not on making its enemies who until now have been relatively content to let the stalemate continue determined to bring it to an end.

It would be lovely to think the Paris attack will concentrate Western minds on Islamic State, and the initial signs look fairly encouraging.  Sadly, there are reasons to doubt this will last, especially when so much else of the response has been as dispiriting as ever.  Hollande's speech to the two houses of parliament today, as predictable as the measures he announced were, are almost precisely the ones Islamic State would have hoped for.  If as looks likely all the other attackers are either French or European nationals, that there was a token Syrian involved who just happened to take his passport with him to be found after the fact suggests IS knew full well how that would be responded to by those who have been warning of the "threat" from refugees.  That so many have fled from their glorious reinstitution of the caliphate has irked them for a long time, the group repeatedly criticising those daring to escape their clutches.  The response from the vast majority of Europeans to the refugee crisis also undermined their propaganda about everyday, habitual discrimination.  How better to trigger a rethink than to send a lone Syrian to make his journey to France along the refugee route, ending in a suicide attack on fans watching a football match involving Germany, whose teams were among those making clear that refugees were welcome?

This is not to pretend that Europe as we know it is not under threat.  It is, just not from refugees.  If a single suicide bomber is enough to bring down the Schengen agreement, then that will be a failure on the part of politicians to defend their actions.  All the same, this is clearly not the end of Europe as we know it, let alone "how civilisations fall" as Niall Ferguson put it.  If we have learned anything from the last 14 years of war, then it surely ought to be that military action pursued on the basis of ideology or out of a sense of revenge will backfire.  Chucking bombs at Raqqa might be useful as catharsis, but it's not one that's advisable.

Likewise, that it is absurd we have 650 "armchair generals" blocking action in Syria appears so only to those "armchair generals" that have been demanding it since at least 2013, only then it was against Assad.  We shouldn't pretend that deciding not to take part in military action against IS in Syria will make us safer, as it probably won't.  Conversely however, there is every reason to believe that taking part in such action will make us even more of a target, and increase the threat.  Those who are pushing for such action should make that clear to the British public: no, we shouldn't be inhibited from intervening due to such threats, but equally the risks of doing so should be plainly stated.

Defeating Islamic State will also require us to accept some harsh home truths.  Whatever the rights or wrongs of the initial Iraq war, it had a major role in the creation of IS and its predecessor organisations.  Our decisions in Iraq have contributed at various stages to Islamic State's fortunes: the insistence on continuing the occupation, on the disbanding of the Iraqi army, the de-Ba'athification process, the attack on Fallujah, the propping up of a sectarian Shia government that led to many Sunnis who had previously fought against and opposed IS coming to support it.  Similarly, our choices in Syria, still continuing today have not helped.  Supporting the revolution to begin with was the right move: continuing to demand the immediate removal of Assad once it became clear that there were no more moderates in the armed opposition to him, or none of any note has been a disaster.  Allowing or turning a blind eye to the Sunni Gulf states arming and funding the jihadist opposition, even if they have not directly done either with IS, has been a disaster.  Islamic State is especially vile and dangerous, but to pretend the likes of al-Nusra or any of the other jihadist rebel groups or alliances are any better is foolish.  Painful as it will to be admit, Russia's intervention has made the most sense of any, regardless of its ulterior motives.  Demanding that Assad leave now without knowing who or what will replace him is not a policy.  It is a madness.

The solution, if there is one, is to continue what we're doing but more intelligently, including working with the Russians.  President Obama is right to rule out using American ground forces, as that's precisely what Islamic State needs to inspire further recruits to the cause, just as the Iraqi insurgency did.  The forces on the ground that we can support, such as the Syrian Arab Army, the Syrian Defence Forces and the Kurds in Iraq have to be strengthened.  Ceasefires if possible on an individual basis with the rebel groups in the west should be negotiated, allowing Syrian forces to turn their attention to IS in the east.  The promise to the rebels will be that once IS has been driven out of Syria as much as it can be, Assad will leave office as soon as possible, and elections will be held.  This will involve both a huge swallowing of pride on our behalf, and the utmost luck and fortune.  It almost certainly won't work, as the non-IS jihadist rebels will not accept it, nor probably will the few remaining moderates.  It is though just about the only option that will lead to IS being defeated sooner rather than later.  If not now, when we will we recognise that our alliances, our mistakes, our continuing arrogance, if not leading directly to Paris, have had a major role in the creation and success of Islamic State?

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