Monday, March 23, 2009

Dirty Wars

This week the UK government launched its new counterterrorism strategy, called Contest Two, though it was leaked weeks ago to the BBC who covered the story in their programme 'Muslim First, British Second'. The central policy is to target those Muslims, called 'conservatives', who speak out against democracy or homosexuality, or in favour of misogyny and so on. A central aspect to this strategy is the question of how the four homegrown suicide bombers of 7/7 were motivated to commit acts of mass murder, as noted in the opening paragraph of the BBC article above. The fact that the government's narrative cannot even plausibly explain how the four alleged suicide bombers got to London is totally ignored. Perhaps the press were intimidated by the policy of targeting anyone who disagrees with what the government define as 'British values'. After all, one of the targeted groups are those who fail to speak out against the killing of coalition soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan, the implication being one not only has to accept democracy, capitalism, a specific sexual spectrum and an extremely limited notion of gender equality, but also the paradigm that is the 'war on terror'.

The BBC Panorama show is a textbook example of how disinformation is used to justify a government agenda, as well as why the policies employed by the government fail to confront the very real associations between our defence institutions and militant Islamic fundamentalists, and hence fail to confront what actually poses a risk to national security. The show's presenter, Richard Watson, essentially tells the same story in this BBC article.

First up 'we haven't had a major terrorist attack since July 7th 2005'. How easy it is to ignore the fact that accounts of what happened vary tremendously and not even dedicated researchers have come up with a comprehensive version, let alone the police or the Home Office. The show goes on to cite the case of Nicky Reilly, who was sentenced to life imprisonment in January 2009. While the show notes that Reilly had a low IQ, and Aspergers Syndrome, and that his apparent terrorist attack was a total failure, injuring him as he prepared a bomb in a restaurant toilet in Exeter, it fails to discuss the nature of the bomb. Kerosene, caustic soda and nails is not a particular potent combination in bomb-making terms, as it contains no explosive material. Such a combination could theoretically be fatal, but given one-third of the bomb only caused relatively minor injuries to Reilly himself this indicates this wasn't designed or built by a 'professional' terrorist. Nonetheless, the BBC show and much of the press coverage say that Reilly must have been influenced and radicalised by some local Al Qaeda member. However, no one seems to have a clue who this person might be, so whether they were indeed a militant fundamentalist or something else, a provocateur for example, is anyone's guess.

The show then goes on to spend a few minutes with Watson pouring congratulation on himself and trying to build up his credentials with images of him at meetings of Muslim 'extremists' and 'conservatives'. Eventually, he is confronted by a man who'd evidently seen some of Watson's prior shows on the same subject who denounces the BBC man as an 'enemy of Islam', a 'liar and a fabricator'. Watson responds saying this is 'total paranoia' and that 'we report the facts'. As we've already seen, the case of Nicky Reilly is treated by Watson (and many others) in a partial manner that without evidence attributes responsibility to Islam and Muslims.

Watson shows similar partiality and bias in his depiction of Omar Bakri. Entirely focussing on Bakri's role as a fundamentalist preacher the show ignores that Al-Muhajiroun, the organisation Bakri was deeply involved with, was itself a tool of recruitment by western intelligence services for mujahideen to fight in the dirty wars in the Balkans. Similarly, no mention is made of Bakri's longstanding association with MI5. Lies of omission, perhaps, but lies nonetheless and therefore far from credible journalism. Likewise, when discussing the lack of trust Muslims have for British institutions the show includes an interview with a man who doesn't believe that Khan, Tanweer, Lindsey and Hussain were responsible for 7/7, to which Watson incredulously responds 'come on'. If the Panorama man was willing to do even the slightest earnest research he'd discover that the case against Khan et al. is extremely slim and circumstantial. This is the entire BBC show, which continues in this misleading vein to its conclusion.

The policy itself is a nonsense. One aspect of it was discussed in a BBC article titled 'Thousands getting terror training'. The title is ironic as it cleverly implies that thousands of terrorists are getting trained when in fact it refers to 60,000 UK workers who have or will receive training which, in the BBC's words, will make them '
able to deal with an incident'. Presumably the remaining 60 million or so citizens of the UK will just have to make do without. As noted by shadow Home Secretary Chris Grayling, the training is a voluntary 3-hour seminar, which is less than half the length of a cycling proficiency course. Though it's probably fair to point out that you're more likely to die on the roads than you are in a terrorist attack, so maybe this is an indication that the government finally realises the disproportionate attention paid to the threat of terrorist attack.

Maybe not, since the newly updated and enhanced Contest Two strategy was announced with a declaration that, as ever, we're facing an increasing risk of terrorist attack. The International Herald Tribune, CNN, Al Jazeera and others ran stories headlining the growing risk. In particular the press discussed the threat of a dirty bomb, something that has lapsed in coverage in the last couple of years in favour of ludicrous plots about making liquid chemical explosives in airliner toilets. As covered in The Power of Nightmares, the threat from a radiological dirty bomb is minimal.

The reformed dirty bomb threat shows at least some awareness of this, in that they're now talking about a chemical or biological attack. The Contest Two strategy says:

"Changing technology and the theft and smuggling of chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear and explosive (CBRNE) materials make this aspiration more realistic than it may have been in the recent past." - Skynews
When asked about whether this sort of attack was now more likely, Home Secretary Jacqui Smith offered a perplexing response.
"There is the potential, given the international situation, what we believe to be the aspirations of some international terrorists, that it could be." - Jacqui Smith, Skynews
There is the potential that it could be? Not just the ambiguous 'it could be', but even more speculative, 'there is the potential... that it could be'. Top marks to Jacqui Smith for the most meaningless opinion on the terrorist threat that I've read in months. It's almost insulting to (sic) hardoworking advertisers to call this a PR campaign but needless to say it's no coincidence that the same day the govt. rolls out a 'new' anti-terrorism strategy that the news is full of stories about the threat of a dirty bomb. However, Jacqui did stop to praise the work done in the war so far, saying 200 people had been 'brought to justice' for 'terrorism related offences.' As previously discussed on this blog, those 200 people were far from hardened terrorists committed to devilish conspiracies, but largely consist of dreamers, incompetents and the outright innocent. Still, it helps make it look like there's a need for what they want to do. In a truly bizarre footnote to this PR, Richard Watson's article on his own Panorama programme would claim:
Judging by the number of terrorist plots under investigation by MI5 - more than 200 - there is no shortage of young Muslims who are learning to view Britain with hatred. - BBC
There's no way in hell the government is monitoring 200 terrorist plots, even its own figures (apparently unaffected by imprisoning terrorists or by the rising threat) consistently repeat the numbers of 2000 people, 200 networks and 30 plots. That Watson is either too stupid or ignorant to be able to distinguish between a network and a plot, or is knowingly confusing the two, should disqualify him from being paid for his opinion on such issues. Alas, the BBC is likewise either so incompetently run that people like Watson continue to peddle their crap or is actively involved in precisely these sorts of deceptions that make people like Watson useful.

The flagship aspect of this policy is that the enemy in this war is redefined not only as terrorists and those who speak or write in favour of violence but those who don't believe in particular versions of sexual and gender equality, or don't recognise the authority of the police and state. I invite you to recall George HW Bush's words at the Jerusalem Conference of '79:
"Lest we blunt our own devotion to individual freedom, we must not close our eyes to the existence of terror in any form anywhere in the world, for such tolerance makes us vulnerable to the cancer of international terrorism by weakening our confidence and our resolve...

...Above all, as free men, we must assiduously cultivate the habit of fierce and merciless resentment towards all those who disrupt public tranquility; this habit will make us safe and keep us free." - Bush, International Terrorism
'Terror in any form' now includes not believing in the right of homosexuals to live, love and marry according to their desires, according to the Home Office. However, consider that California, with its long-established gay communities and generally progressive politics only allowed gay marriage without a court order in 2005, and that the vote was 21-15, hardly a glowing endorsement of the policy. Indeed, since 1996 the Defence of Marriage Act has been in force in the USA, which prevents federal treatment of same-sex marriages as valid. The conclusion implied by all this is that the enemy now includes the federal govt. of the USA.

Also implied by this policy is that targets will also include essentially anarchist groups like the Socialist Party of Great Britain, who oppose the state, including the police and armed forces and therefore the rule of law in its most naked form, at least so long as it continues to 'serve the monopoly of the capitalist class'. Likewise, those demanding culpability for any of the 30+ cases of British police officers fatally shooting people in the last couple of decades, who have so far seen not a single prosecution, could be seen as refusing to respect the rule of law. There is the odd exception, as recently shown in the remarkable case of the Cardiff Three when 13 police officers were charged with perverting the course of justice. However, trying to hold the police to account remains very difficult, and this sort of government strategy will only make it more so.

There has also been considerable criticism from those most likely to be targeted, ordinary Muslims. The Muslim Council of Britain and the Islamic Human Rights Commission have both warned that it will be counterproductive to the stated aim of producing community cohesion.
MCB expressed serious alarm that the government may be in “danger of adopting misguided notions of extremism as dictated by xenophobic commentators who profit from creating a hostile atmosphere from which bigots of all shades can draw.”

“A definition of ‘extremism’ that would classify the overwhelming majority of loyal and law abiding British citizens as extremists would be of no value in our common fight against terrorism,” the umbrella organisation warned after over 200 prominent Muslim civic and religious leaders held a meeting in Birmingham last Saturday...

...Contest-2 cannot be viewed in isolation but is just the latest chapter in a trend of creating, promoting and funding Muslim institutions which will promote the government’s version of acceptable Islam, under the guise of community cohesion, said IHRC chair Massoud Shadjareh. -
It seems that for all the freedom, multiculturalism and diversity we're fighting to protect, it's only the freedom and diversity defined by the state that will be supported, everything else will be opposed. You don't have to actually do anything to manifest your views, just holding the opinion that, for example, homosexuality is immoral is enough to get you targeted by 'community led intelligence efforts'. If someone tries to petrol bomb a gay bar or throw paint at lesbians then it is entirely consistent with laws common to most countries that they be treated as criminals and punished proportionally. But if they merely hold derogatory opinions about people, maybe wave the odd placard or publish the odd article then they're actually just claiming a right that is meant to be one of the foundations of this country - the right to hold opinions and express them, regardless of if they are informed, valid, or true.

The critical thing missing from this new counter-terrorist strategy, not that I for one moment thought it would actually be included, is the confrontation of the ongoing policy of making use of Islamic militants to further the imperial aims of the Anglo-American axis of evil. One of the more recent examples is that the group whose training camps were allegedly visited by members of the liquid bomb plot conspiracy, Jundullah, has been a US proxy in the Middle East, running raids across the border in Iran since 2005. This sponsorship of such militant groups in the Middle East extends to hundreds of millions of dollars. Following a bombing in Iran in February 2007, several members of Jundullah were arrested.
IRNA quoted an unnamed "responsible official" late Friday as saying that one of those arrested on charges of involvement in Wednesday's bombing, identified as Nasrollah Shanbe Zehi, has confessed that the attacks were part of alleged U.S. plans to provoke ethnic and religious violence in Iran. - CBS
While this policy continues any efforts to discourage radicalisation through community cohesion, or to train everyday shopkeepers in what to do if they hear a bomb go off is, frankly, pissing in the wind. Naturally, government policy isn't actually aimed at putting an end to terrorism because it's such a useful brand, as well as such a useful instrument to destabilise target countries. Plus it's big money, one figure widely quoted in the announcement of the new policy/increasing threat from dirty bombs is that by 2011 the government will be spending £3.5 billion a year on counterterrorism. To help put that in perspective, the total revenue of the English football Premiership this season is estimated by Deloitte Consulting to be in excess of $3.6 billion, which makes fighting terror bigger business than getting your salary from Roman Abramovich's overdraft.

(Government propaganda follows)