Tuesday, February 10, 2009 

Butt out.

When it comes to Islamic extremism and eccentricity, few can quite measure up to such sane and well-balanced individuals as the likes of Omar Bakri Muhammad, the bearded, NHS-style spectacles wearing sheikh who went not denouncing pop songs is paying for his daughter's breast enlargement operation, or the even more zany David Myatt, or rather Abdul-Aziz ibn Myatt, who went from leading Combat 18, the violent far-right sect, to converting to the most radical shade of Islam and berating the "kuffar". Neither however seems to be as inwardly conflicted as Hassan Butt apparently is.

You might recall that Butt, along with Ed Husain, was one of the few who made the journey from being Islamists to becoming almost instant fixtures on our TV screens, giving their insights into how extremism could be tackled. Like Husain, Butt had been involved with Hizb-ut-Tahrir, the Islamic political party that advocates the re-establishment of the global caliphate, but was most well known for being the spokesman for Al-Muhajiroun, itself a split from Hizb-ut-Tahrir, led by the aforementioned Bakri. Butt's claims, as time went by, became ever more outlandish and potentially serious: not only did he claim that he had sent those he recruited in this country to train with al-Qaida and the Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan, but he finally also said that he had been personally involved with the bombing of the US consulate in Karachi in 2002, an attack blamed on al-Qaida. This eventually culminated in his arrest last year, and the police demanding access to the notes behind the book that Husain was working on with the journalist Shiv Malik.

Butt however, it seems, was a fantasist, a liar who loved attention who kept ratcheting up just how deeply he had been involved within the jihadist movement. With the police investigating his potential links with the Karachi bombing, as well as his claims that he was a recruiter, he admitted to them that he made most of the stories up, going so far as to fake his own injuries to give the impression that other violent extremists wanted him dead for what he was revealing to the media. Not that this was the first time that Butt had been arrested on suspicion of his involvement with terrorism: he was also picked up in 2002, 2003, 2004 and 2007, each time being released without charge, presumably for lack of evidence.

Butt's admittance that he was a liar though doesn't even begin to answer the far more interesting associated questions. It's beyond doubt both that he was Al-Muhajiroun's spokesman and that he was a radical Islamist, familiar with the ideology and willing to chew the fat with journalists far before his alliance with Malik, as an interview in Prospect magazine shortly after the 7/7 bombings but before Butt apparently renounced his jihadist outlook shows. Are his claims then to have renounced Islamism credible at all? Could this indeed have been all a front, designed to take the pressure off him while behind the scenes he continued with his involvement with the successors of Al-Muhajiroun? In court he claimed that this was not the case, and that although he had never been an active jihadist, he could indeed be accurately described as a radical. It's also true that he had relationships with at least three now convicted terrorists; apparently untrue was that he met Mohammed Siddique Khan, ringleader of 7/7, while it's unclear whether he knew the two British men who carried out the suicide bombing in Israel, although Husain in his book suggests that he had met Omar Khan Sharif through his own involvement with HuT.

Whatever the truth, Butt succeeded in duping not just Shiv Malik, but also Newsnight's Richard Watson, with the programme featuring him heavily during its own investigations into Islamic extremism in this country. He made waves over the pond too, appearing on 60 Minutes on CBS in 2006, after which a rather prescient Adrian Morgan questioned whether Butt had genuinely renounced radical Islam, saying that his stories simply didn't add up. It will doubtless also be a further embarrassment to Husain himself, who came under fire recently from those who had been up till then highly supportive, after he warned that the conflict in Gaza was radicalising youth and that the government's position was not helping. Husain had spoken of Butt going into hiding because of his new work helping to "deradicalise" youth in Manchester, while Butt himself on Newsnight had derided the idea that foreign policy had any role in terrorism, with similar articles in both the Observer and the Mail.

At its heart, Butt's is a case of someone exploiting the media for telling them what they wanted to hear: first that he was a recruiter who wanted to send young British Muslims to fight their countrymen in Afghanistan, then that he had turned his back on his old ways and that to blame foreign policy for terrorism in this country was to "do their work for them", when the real problem was Islamic theology itself. There is of course more than a little truth in that, but to ignore completely the role of foreign policy was always madness; the madness which some, such as this government and the pro-war left wanted to hear, with their ciphers in the press also delighted by it. Butt's fantasist ways shouldn't automatically discredit the likes of the Quilliam Foundation, set-up by Husain and another former HuT leader, Maajjid Nawaz, as it's clear they are also part of the solution, but it reminds us that where there's money to made and fame to be had, there will always be those prepared to embroider their stories to get to the centre of attention.

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Monday, July 02, 2007 

Pull yourselves together!

After a weekend of hyping up what in the end amounted to two men attempting to commit suicide in public via self-immolation, most of the media has thankfully gotten something of a grip. In fact, by far the most apocalyptic account of what supposedly took place was given by the man Gordon Brown's just appointed as his international security adviser. His article for the News of the Screws doesn't seem to be available online, but the New York Times has some choice parts from it:

At the same time, Mr. Brown’s newly appointed counterterrorism advisor, John Stevens, a former Scotland Yard police chief, said the attempted car bomb attacks signaled “a major escalation in the war being waged on us by Islamic terrorists.”

“It is not simply the horror of yet more attempts at mass murder that is so chilling — but the change in the psychotic thought processes behind it,” Sir John said in a column in the British Sunday tabloid The News of the World. He added, “Now it is clear a loose but deadly network of interlinked operational cells has developed.”

“Al Qaeda has imported the tactics of Baghdad and Bali onto the streets of the U.K,” he said.

If this is a war, then it's a pretty poor substitute for what the citizens of Afghanistan are currently suffering, being shot amongst by the Taliban and real remnants of al-Qaida and bombed into mass graves by the disproportionate response of the Nato forces. Let's not give what some have described as bombers with learning difficulties more credit than they deserve: these may have been attempts at mass murder, but their desire for such a number of fatalities was not only not achieved, but would never have been achieved. It's not by any means clear that there's a loose network; a loose network of moral support maybe, and as we've seen it's certainly not deadly. It's also nonsense that these are tactics taken from Baghdad and Bali: the car bomb has been around for decades, and as much as some point at how Islamic extremism breeds hatred and jealousy of places like nightclubs, it's as much down to the fact that they're soft targets where large numbers of people gather in a confined space.

It's well worth comparing Stevens' belligerence with the stance taken today in the Commons by Jacqui Smith. She seemed to take a leaf out of Ken MacDonald's book, when he argued earlier in the year that there was no such thing as a war on terrorism, rather that those involved in such plots were simply mass murderers and criminals. It's an admirable, simple argument, ignoring the twisted ideology behind it and as a result not giving it either credibility or the slightest veneer of respect. Compared to the brooding fearmongering of the gruesome twosome who were only finally deposed last week, it's a breath of fresh air, and a very welcome one. The only dampener was that Lord Carlile, it has to be said probably at the behest of the BBC, just had to raise the grim idea of raising the period of detention without charge, when so far the consensus from all parties has been to say that's for discussion at another time.

The revelation that none of those seemingly involved in the attempted bombings are British-born is welcome, although as Jason Burke argues, that's not because there aren't willing accomplices or supporters here, more that this seems to have been a sleeper cell that has been woefully funded, if at all. It isn't beyond comprehension that they all could have planned to do this of their own accord a year or two back, and for some reason known only to themselves didn't bother to do any research beyond thinking that packing some patio gas canisters into a car along with petrol and a few nails would kill people.

The amount of comment now descending upon us about the fact that at least two of the suspects are doctors, and all appear to be middle-class, well educated men from stable family backgrounds seems to have ignored almost everything we already know about those who have previously carried out such attacks and who have been attracted to suitably radical groups. Poverty itself is an incredibly poor qualifier to predicting who might become radicalised, mainly because those who are more concerned with living from day to day don't have the time to spend either researching for themselves or attending such groups. While there is concern, probably too much given to radicalisation going on on university campuses in this country, ones across the Middle East, while also having the same liberal fringes here, have a lot more influence than perhaps we've yet to admit. Many jihadis seem to share similar qualities: while there is always the hot-head fringe, equally those with the opposite personality are represented, the shy, inward and quiet, of whom you'd never suspect of having such beliefs. They are the Mohammad Siddique Khans, the teaching assistants who seem friendly, well-adjusted and normal but who inside are increasingly angry, depressed and feel inadequate. These are the ones likely to be the doctors, caring, kind and tender with their patients but still prepared to die for their ideology and turn the Hippocratic oath on its head. After all, al-Zawahiri himself has a masters degree in surgery.

Another interesting point raised has been by Hassan Butt, previously of Al-Muhajiroun, who has come out and pointed the finger squarely at the Muslim community itself for not doing enough soul-searching into its own failure to adequately condemn and challenge the radicals. The government itself has slowly realised this, through its attempts at wooing the Muslim Council of Britain, which has only blamed foreign policy and nothing else. Sunny recently challenged Bunglawala over this and didn't manage to get a proper response out of him. It's more than obvious that foreign policy has had a major effect in making Britain a target, as even government ministers have privately admitted, with the number of plots and muted attacks spiraling since the Iraq war, but the anger was always there, and it is about the decadence and hedonism of modern society, the lack of an Islamic identity, the global ummah, the clamour for Sharia and the impossible but idealistic lust for an eventual worldwide Caliphate, even if one has never existed in any form on the shores of Britain, having only ever reached as far as Spain. Butt is right that there has to be a lot more dissent within the Muslim community about how the theology itself is interpreted, but the very last thing we should do is dismiss it as "their problem" and that it's for them to sort out, as Lord Stevens has previously done. This is something we are all going to have to face up to, and it's going to be an issue for far longer than any bombing campaign will be. Rachel goes into this in a bit more detail.

On a lighter note, it's highly amusing to see the Scum's token Muslim, the Glenda in a veil Anila Baig apparently having a nervous breakdown in print, so frightened is she that she'll be the next one to be caught in the fire started by suicidal terrorists armed only with petrol. Behold:

But the fact that we don’t know where the next car bomb will be found leaves me sickened and petrified. Not for me the pleas from the Home Secretary and PM to carry on as normal.

I’m sorry, I can’t.

Well, uh, you've written this piece, haven't you? To be fair to Baig, she's more voicing the concerns of being targeted because of who she is, something which anyone unfortunate enough to have brown skin is probably feeling right now, a little insecure of how with every attack or even failure some see our own neighbours and friends as the enemy within, helped along by the breathless reporting of incompetent failures. She shouldn't be scared though, none of us should. If this is the best that "al-Qaida" can do, then this "war" is already over.

The other coping mechanism for the tabloids is to once again dredge up the blitz spirit, as the Scum's leader does, something which seems more of an insult to the tens of thousands that died in and suffered the German bombing raids than it is either necessary or appropriate. As Lewis Page, an ex-bomb disposal operator argues on the Register:

Remember, this country carried on successfully for six years with hundreds - thousands, sometimes - of tons of explosives raining down on it every night for six years, delivered by very competent Germans who often died doing that job. The civilian death toll was around 60,000 according to most sources; the equivalent of 20 9/11s, more than three for every year of the war. Civilisation was not brought down. Germany and Japan withstood even greater violence, and survived it too.

Our parents and grandparents stood that kind of punishment, not to mention four times as many military dead, and got on with life. Sad though it is to confirm the oldsters' world view, by comparison our generation - our generation's journalists, anyway - seem a bit lacking in backbone. If all we have to put up with is an occasional 7/7, that's background noise by comparison - it should merit the same sort of headlines, the same political response as motorway pileups or airline crashes.

And if all we have to deal with is clusterfucks like the one just past, it should merit the same headlines and response as my local youths; essentially none (Maybe some sort of special cop/spook taskforce with sweeping unconstitutional powers to hand out clips round the ear. Yes yes, I know, there'd be some kind of legal problem).

Move along; nothing to see here.

They're not terrorists, they're just stupid boys.

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