Category Archives: Terrorism

Manchester and now London: ‘Prevent’ faces its ultimate indictment

Theresa May tries to shore up a shaky electoral campaign by exploiting the inevitable ‘Islamist ideology’. Her claim that there had been “far too much tolerance of extremism” in the U.K. was an obvious direct attack on the Labour leader during a supposed suspension of election campaigning. Given this, it is worth remembering that the two attacks are actually happening on her watch, both as acting Prime Minister and long-standing Home Secretary.

The Prevent Programme, which she helped launch, was actually founded on the post Iraq War drive of the US, through the concerted campaign of the German Marshall Fund of the United States in Europe (GMFUS), to shift the causal arrow of terrorism from its foreign policy in the Middle East onto ‘Islamic ideology’.

Britain under David Cameron as Prime Minister along with Theresa May was the most receptive of the European nations to this idea. Prevent was launched by Cameron in his 2011 speech at the Munich Security Conference (organised under the aegis of GMFUS) designed to profile non-violent extremists in the political space (i.e. critics of government policy) as potential violent extremists, despite authorities on the subject deeming the link logically absurd.

To hear Theresa May posturing days before the vote, one would have thought that Prevent had at least been a mild success. In fact, it has failed miserably and turned the Muslim community of Britain into the ‘enemy within’. If May does become Britain’s next Prime Minister,  she should be advised to follow more evidence-based counter-terrorism strategies.  Counter-terrorism Intelligence specialist Richard Barrett warns that May’s new policy could easily make things much worse. ‘The prime minister must be careful, he says, not to equate terrorism with Islamist extremism.

The attempt by British tabloids and Tory ministers to stymie criticism of UK foreign policy, especially in Libya, by saying that it implicitly lends succour to terrorists is inane and insane. As Paul Rogers has written’… the links between the attack and the ongoing war in Iraq and Syria must be made. That Britain is still at war after fifteen years suggests that some rethinking is required.’

Furthermore, the suspicious circumstances under which ‘national security’ was recently invoked to stop the trial of the murderer of PC Yvonne Fletcher in front of the Libyan Embassy in St James’ Square in 1984, brings up a different but important point. If the default position of the Westminster foreign policy community is to be uncritical, then such steps will only suffer the worst possible interpretation in the public’s mind. A national security necessary immediately becomes a cover-up. Openness and criticism as the default position actually serves everybody including the security establishment.

 

Even its staunchest advocates can see that Prevent is a busted flush

Samayya Afzal writes

The problems with Prevent don’t lie with public perception or resources – they lie within the strategy and the implementation. In 11 years, successive governments weren’t able to convince the public that this strategy works, indeed one poll said 96 percent of the British public believe it is not working, yet historically Quilliam’s support never wavered.

This makes all the more intriguing a recent article in the Times of Israel by Quilliam’s chairman Maajid Nawaz, in which he suddenly appears to advocate reform of Prevent. He has also gone on radio calling the new policy adopted by the Liberal Democrats – his own political party – “a more sensible approach”.

This would be welcome news, were it not that the policy is the complete opposite of what Nawaz has long advocated.

Indeed, Quilliam has long belittled legitimate grievances with the Prevent strategy, whereas the recent policy change demonstrates that the Liberal Democrats have taken seriously and addressed each criticism of Prevent, calling “to scrap Prevent in its entirety” and highlighting the need for any strategy to be based on evidence, transparency and engagement.

Read full article here

Highlighting Western Victims While Ignoring Victims of Western Violence

Glenn Greenwald writes

FOR DAYS NOW, American cable news has broadcast non-stop coverage of the horrific attack in Brussels. Viewers repeatedly heard from witnesses and from the wounded. Video was shown in a loop of the terror and panic when the bombs exploded. Networks dispatched their TV stars to Brussels, where they remain. NPR profiled the lives of several of the airport victims. CNN showed a moving interview with a wounded, bandage-wrapped Mormon American teenager speaking from his Belgium hospital bed.

All of that is how it should be: That’s news. And it’s important to understand on a visceral level the human cost from this type of violence. But that’s also the same reason it’s so unjustifiable, and so propagandistic, that this type of coverage is accorded only to Western victims of violence, but almost never to the non-Western victims of the West’s own violence.

A little more than a week ago, as Mohammed Ali Kalfood reported in The Intercept, “Fighter jets from a Saudi-led [U.S. and U.K.-supported] coalition bombed a market in Mastaba, in Yemen’s northern province of Hajjah. The latest count indicates that about 120 people were killed, including more than 20 children, and 80 were wounded in the strikes.” Kalfood interviewed 21-year-old Yemeni Khaled Hassan Mohammadi, who said, “We saw airstrikes on a market last Ramadan, not far from here, but this attack was the deadliest.” Over the past several years, the U.S. has launched hideous civilian-slaughtering strikes in Yemen, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Syria, Somalia, Libya, and Iraq. Last July, The Intercept published a photo essay by Alex Potter of Yemeni victims of one of 2015’s deadliest Saudi-led, U.S.- and U.K.-armed strikes.

You’ll almost never hear any of those victims’ names on CNN, NPR, or most other large U.S. media outlets. No famous American TV correspondents will be sent to the places where those people have their lives ended by the bombs of the U.S. and its allies. At most, you’ll hear small, clinical news stories briefly and coldly describing what happened — usually accompanied by a justifying claim from U.S. officials, uncritically conveyed, about why the bombing was noble — but, even in those rare cases where such attacks are covered at all, everything will be avoided that would cause you to have any visceral or emotional connection to the victims. You’ll never know anything about them — not even their names, let alone hear about their extinguished life aspirations or hear from their grieving survivors — and will therefore have no ability to feel anything for them. As a result, their existence will barely register.

That’s by design. It’s because U.S. media outlets love to dramatize and endlessly highlight Western victims of violence, while rendering almost completely invisible the victims of their own side’s violence.

Perhaps you think there are good — or at least understandable — reasons to explain this discrepancy in coverage. Maybe you believe humans naturally pay more attention to, and empathize more with, the suffering of those they regard as more similar to them. Or you may want to argue that victims in cities commonly visited by American elites (Paris, Brussels, London, Madrid) are somehow more newsworthy than those in places rarely visited (Mastaba, in Yemen’s northern province of Hajjah). Or perhaps you’re sympathetic to the claim that it’s easier for CNN or NBC News to send on-air correspondents to glittery Western European capitals than to Waziristan or Kunduz. Undoubtedly, many believe that the West’s violence is morally superior because it only kills civilians by accident and not on purpose.

But regardless of the rationale for this media discrepancy, the distortive impact is the same: By endlessly focusing on and dramatizing Western victims of violence while ignoring the victims of the West’s own violence, the impression is continually bolstered that only They, but not We, engage in violence that kills innocent people. We are always the victims and never the perpetrators (and thus Good and Blameless); They are only the perpetrators and never the victims (and thus Villainous and Culpable). In April 2003, Ashleigh Banfield, then a rising war-correspondent star at MSNBC, returned from Iraq, gave a speech critiquing the one-sided, embedded U.S. media coverage of the war, and was shortly thereafter demoted and then fired. This is part of what she said:

That said, what didn’t you see? You didn’t see where those bullets landed. You didn’t see what happened when the mortar landed. A puff of smoke is not what a mortar looks like when it explodes, believe me. There are horrors that were completely left out of this war. … It was a glorious, wonderful picture that had a lot of people watching and a lot of advertisers excited about cable news. But it wasn’t journalism, because I’m not so sure that we in America are hesitant to do this again, to fight another war, because it looked like a glorious and courageous and so successful, terrific endeavor, and we got rid of horrible leader: We got rid of a dictator, we got rid of a monster, but we didn’t see what it took to do that. …

I think there were a lot of dissenting voices before this war about the horrors of war, but I’m very concerned about this three-week TV show and how it may have changed people’s opinions. It was very sanitized. … War is ugly and it’s dangerous, and in this world, the way we are discussed on the Arab street, it feeds and fuels their hatred and their desire to kill themselves to take out Americans.

In other words, the death, carnage, and destruction the U.S. invasion was causing was generating huge amounts of anti-American hatred and a desire to bring violence to Americans, even if meant sacrificing lives to accomplish that. But the U.S. media never showed any of that, so Americans had no idea it existed, and were thus incapable of understanding why people were eager to do violence to Americans. They therefore assumed that it must be because they are primitive or inherently hateful or driven by some inscrutable religious fervor.

That’s because the U.S. media, by showing only one side of the conflict, by presenting only the nationalistic viewpoint, propagandized — deceived — American viewers by making them more ignorant rather than more enlightened. As a result, when the trains of London and Madrid were attacked in 2004 and 2005 as retaliation for those countries’ participation in the invasion of Iraq, that causal connection (which even British intelligence acknowledged) was virtually never discussed because Western media outlets ensured it was unknown. The same was true of attempted attacks on the U.S.: in Times Square, the New York City subway system, an airliner over Detroit, all motivated by rage over Western violence. In the absence of any media discussion of those victims and motives, these attacks were simply denounced as senseless, indiscriminate slaughter without any cause, and people were thus deprived of the ability to understand why they happened.

That’s exactly what’s happening still. Because I was traveling in the U.S. this week, I was subjected to literally dozens of hours of cable and network news coverage of the Brussels attacks. The most minute angles of the attack were dissected. But there was not one moment devoted to the question of why Belgium — and the U.S., France, and Russia before it — were targeted by ISIS (as opposed to a whole slew of non-Muslim, democratic countries around the world that ISIS doesn’t target), even though ISIS explicitly stated the reason and it is, in any event, self-evident: because those countries have been bombing ISIS in Syria and Iraq and these bombings were intended as retaliation and vengeance. Nor was there any discussion of why ISIS seems to have little trouble attracting support among some in Western countries: As even a Rumsfeld-commissioned study found in 2004, it is in large part because of widespread anger among Muslims over ongoing Western violence and interference in that part of the world.

The point, as always, isn’t justification: It is always morally unjustified to deliberately target civilians with violence (see the update here on that point). Nor does it prove that the bombing of ISIS in Iraq and Syria is unjustified or should cease. The point, instead, is that the war framework in which much of this violence takes place — one side that declares itself at war and uses violence as part of that war is inevitably attacked by the other side that it targets — is completely suppressed by one-sided media coverage that prefers a self-flattering, tribalistic cartoon narrative.

The ultimate media taboo is self-examination: the question of whether there are actions we take that exacerbate the problem we say we are trying to resolve. Such a process would not dilute the evil of ISIS’s civilian-targeting violence, but it would enable a more honest and complete understanding of the role Western governments’ policies play and the inevitable costs they entail. Perhaps those costs are worth enduring, but that question can only be rationally answered if the costs are openly discussed.

But whatever else is true, if we are constantly bombarded with images and stories and dramatic narratives highlighting our own side’s victims, while the victims of our side’s violence are rendered invisible, it’s only natural that large numbers of us will conclude that only They, but not We, are committing civilian-killing violence. That’s a really pleasing thing to believe, no matter how false it is. Having media outlets perpetrate self-pleasing and tribal-affirming — but utterly false — narratives is the very definition of propaganda. And that’s what largely drives Western media coverage of these terrorist attacks every time they occur in the West.

Read on

https://theintercept.com/2016/03/25/highlighting-western-victims-while-ignoring-victims-of-western-violence/

 

Why are polling booths a threat to western city streets?

Ken Macdonald writes

Of all the things the government might wish to encourage around the world, now more than ever, democracy and its accompanying dignities should be high on the list. And certainly there was praise in Downing Street when four years ago, amid jubilation and a stunningly high turnout, the Arab spring brought free and fair elections to Egypt. This was a distant cry from the present-day horrors of Islamic State and its visitations of violence across borders: surely the polling booths were no threat to western city streets.

The Muslim Brotherhood-inspired government that followed this festival of voting showed its inexperience and did too little to build broader support, particularly with liberals. Yet it easily avoided the criminal abuses of power and violence that have characterised military dictatorship in Egypt since Gamal Abdel Nasser – and it had the considerable merit of being elected, in a region where that was a remarkable distinction. So it was no surprise that senior members of the ruling Freedom and Justice party were lauded guests in London, even visiting Chequers to break bread with David Cameron in his country home.
UAE told UK: crack down on Muslim Brotherhood or lose arms deals
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It wasn’t to last. The silence characterising London’s and Washington’s response to the military destruction of Egypt’s democracy in 2013 may have smelt more of complicity than disapproval, but worse was to follow. The prime minister was not only disinclined to speak up for his former dinner guests in their time of need; he was about to turn on them himself.

Any examination of the thuggish new military government could wait. Executions, mass shootings and show trials were put to one side as Cameron ordered a hostile UK government review into the Muslim Brotherhood’s activities in Britain, just months after tanks had forced its elected government from office. Egyptian generals, saved only by state immunity from being prosecuted for crimes against humanity, might be honoured guests in London, but the deposed ministers of an overthrown democracy were not.

British policymakers, it seems, were not in the mood to indulge these inexperienced, even inept, new democrats. And we may be sure that other, less tenderly minded players in the region noticed.

Any lingering puzzlement at the prime minister’s behaviour was emphatically dispelled when the Guardian recently revealed documents exposing the price tag likely to have attached to any alternative British policy that stood for democracy or failed to demonise victims of the military violence that destroyed it.

These documents made clear that suggestions from its detractors that the Muslim Brotherhood review was just a cynical device to ingratiate Downing Street with nervous allies in the Gulf weren’t just paranoia, as the government repeatedly claimed. In fact, the truth was cruder: principles, the sheikhs had made clear, would cost money.
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Senior UAE figures explicitly threatened that, unless the British turned decisively against the Muslim Brotherhood during its period in government billions of pounds worth of arms deals would be lost. And, as Paddy Ashdown told the BBC yesterday, it took just a phone call from the Saudis to persuade the prime minister to launch his review “almost off the top of his head”.

It would be naive to dispute that an argument exists for Britain’s arms industry, as an export asset, to be protected and sustained. Morality and international comity are not always easy companions and our alliances in the Gulf have real strategic value. But in allowing himself to be bundled into quite such an ugly corner Cameron may have confused the wider national interest with the passing satisfaction of bank transfers. He may have passed too much control over our Middle East policy to despots addicted to cruelty.

Certainly, in the light of the unspeakable horrors in Paris, for Britain to have selected for special treatment and condemnation the only mass political movement in the Arab world to have sought legitimacy through suffrage seems a singularly tragic error.
PM should order inquiry into funding of jihadism, Paddy Ashdown says
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In making it, the prime minister may have rubbed up against parts of the British state possessed of much finer instincts than his own. Sir John Jenkins, the former UK ambassador to Saudi Arabia, who led the review, is not so supine in the face of oil-rich tantrums. He has reportedly declined to find that the Muslim Brotherhood represents a serious security threat in the UK at least – and he will not be bullied into tempering his view.

Most probably it is this unwelcome conclusion that has caused repeated postponements to a prime ministerial announcement railing against Islamists in our midst, so keenly anticipated by securocrats, to follow hard on the review. Instead, having foolishly agreed to humour Britain’s friends in the Gulf by traducing participants in a democratic experiment that the oil kingdoms were certainly right to fear, Cameron may now be reluctant to announce substantial measures against the Muslim Brotherhood for fear of provoking their lawyers into bringing a judicial review to force the publication of a report whose unhelpful conclusions he would prefer to keep hidden.

It would be damning irony indeed if the prime minister’s sole achievement in this demeaning affair was to give Whitehall a lesson in the emptiness of appeasement

 

see

 

http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/nov/25/cameron-gulf-foreign-policy-muslim-brotherhood

The intensification of the war against ISIS may be inevitable, but it is still a mistake

Paul Rogers writes

The United Nations Security Council voted in favour of Resolution 2249 on 20 November. The France-sponsored document calls all nations to act to prevent and suppress violent actions of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). It does not authorise the use of force, nor does it invoke the right to self-defence enshrined in Article 7. But it provides a strong argument for those supporting a far more intense war against ISIS.

The UN news centre reports:

“The [UNSC] this evening called on all countries that can do so to take the war on terrorism to Islamic State-controlled territory in Syria and Iraq and destroy its safe haven, warning that the group intends to mount further terror attacks like those that devastated Paris and Beirut last week.”

Russia backed the resolution in part because its military actions in Syria have propelled the country to a more central international position. If its intervention expresses Vladimir Putin’s aim to restore Russia’s status as a great power, support for the resolution also reflects awareness of the Islamist challenge in Russia itself. The Chinese signed up out of concern over instability in the Gulf, the source of so much of their oil and gas, but also with their own Uyghur challenge in mind.

The practical outcome will be a concentration of the air war and wider use of special forces.  Russia has substantially expanded its air forces in Syria, France is once again deploying its aircraft-carrier to the region, and Britain’s prime minister David Cameron may now get his parliamentary vote to bomb Syria.

But as the war escalates, three ominous elements present a cause for real concern.

The first is that the war against ISIS in Iraq and especially Syria is becoming ever more a western war, with Russia included in what can relentlessly be publicised by ISIS to great effect as a “crusader onslaught” on Islam (see “The Paris atrocity and after“, 14 November 2015. All four Middle East states previously involved in airstrikes in Syria – Jordan, Beirut, Saudi Arabia and the UAE – have withdrawn. Even if they can be persuaded to mount renewed attacks, these will be little more than symbolic. In any case, the view from ISIS is that such states are the willing lackeys of the crusaders.

The second is whether the heightening of military operations against ISIS, now clearly aimed at its complete physical destruction, can be remotely successful. The experience of the fifteenth-month air war is a caution here. As of 13 November, the United States-led Operation Inherent Resolve had seen attacks on 16,075 targets including 4,517 buildings and 4,942 fighting positions. Pentagon figures report that the strikes have killed 20,000 ISIS supporters, up from the 15,000 reported in July. On this basis, the 20,000-30,000 ISIS fighters that were reportedly facing the coalition a year ago should have been torn apart, yet that figure remains unchanged.

Perhaps most notable of all, the estimate of a year ago of 15,000 people going to join ISIS from eighty other countries has now been increased to 30,000 from 100 countries. In short, the persistent refrain from ISIS of being the defender against the crusaders is proving uncomfortably effective (see “Syria, another ‘all-American’ war“, 12 November 2015).

Moreover, destroying ISIS in Syria and Iraq will not be possible without ground troops, which is just what ISIS wants. And even if such destruction were possible, what would come next?  Would it involve long-term western occupation of Iraq and Syria, and what effect would that produce? Would the war then extend to air and ground operations against ISIS in Libya and Yemen, and far more troops going back to Afghanistan?  What about the al-Qaida groups across the Sahel, including those responsible for the attack on 20 November in Mali’s capital, Bamako?

The third element is the need for a more far-sighted view. This series of columns started immediately after 9/11 and has now run for over fourteen years, with most of the emphasis on trying to analyse the unfolding “war on terror”.  If there has been one underlying concern, expressed as each of the major confrontations has evolved, it has been the persistent and dangerous reliance on the “control paradigm” and its consequences (see “The global paradigm: seeing it whole“, 1 May 2014).

The attack on Afghanistan three months after 9/11 dispersed al-Qaida and led to the Taliban melting away. The prospect for the country looked superficially bright, yet fourteen years later the war there is once again intensifying. The rapid military success against the Saddam Hussein regime in Iraq was celebrated by George W Bush’s “mission accomplished” speech on 1 May 2003, yet US troops stayed another eight years  before leaving behind a rapidly evolving ISIS (see “Iraq war and ISIS; the connection“, 29 October 2015). The intervention in Libya in 2011, which had a semblance of UN approval, saw Gaddafi’s lynching and the regime’s overthrow, yet four years later Libya is a collapsed state. The cascading of arms and ideas down across the Sahel has resulted in yet more conflict, as exemplified by the Bamako operation.

An enhanced war against ISIS may be the inevitable, and indeed fully understandable, response to the appalling events in Paris a week ago. Sadly, though, that does not make it any less of a mistake. That is especially so when other paths could be taken that will do much more to prevent ISIS gaining further strength and may even end up undermining it.

https://www.opendemocracy.net/paul-rogers/united-nations-vs-isil-new-phase