Category Archives: Terrorism

Terror is not a reason to suspend political campaigning

It is especially disheartening that Paul Nuttall’s most worthwhile contribution to this General Election campaign has been to refuse to cease political campaigning in the wake of Saturday’s London Bridge attack. Though occasions in which I find him even mildly impressive are rare.

But he is right that the country should not have to routinely disrupt its democratic procedure all thanks to the unfortunate and unsurprising persistence of jihadism in our society. Especially when polling day is just days away (perhaps it is me, but the whole thing seems to have gone very quickly indeed).

It is of course important that, for the sake of rebuilding broken spirits and reminding ourselves of the good in humanity, efforts to commemorate and remember those who have lost their lives are made. Sometimes, a period of reflection and deep thought is useful.

But these things can be achieved independently of the campaigning of political parties. Most of us do not leave our charity at the door even in times of intense political contestation. Politicisation of tragedies, I have noticed especially amongst my generation, tends to be met with the scorn that it deserves.

What interests me far more, however, is the modern obsession with suspending our daily activities in response to mindless terrorism. This is particularly apparent in the midst of political campaigning, arguably an innately more vulnerable time for the country as it is a more politically-sensitive and reactive period.

This, the country that dealt with the menacing embrace of the Luftwaffe, now appears to want to scurry about in useless panic, desperately cleaving to whichever platitude it can offer in order to make us feel better about ourselves. Well, without meaning to sound crass, I don’t think platitudes are helping anybody. Especially not those most affected.

So, why do we suspend political campaigning? Is it a mark of respect? I don’t see how. All we do is afford jihadists and those waiting to follow in their footsteps more airtime than they perhaps warrant. Candles, prayers, bouquets and momentary unity are more than enough. The democratic process need not suffer too.

Terrorism is, if we remember, politically motivated. It feeds off the cameras, the alarm and the inevitable changes to public policy that serve only to further slice away at British liberty. I am trying carefully not to pen the very slogans that we have all become so tired of hearing over the last couple of years.

Indeed, there is something to be said for preserving most what the terrorists crave to bring down. Even more so when it is as precious and as (often) irrecoverable as freedom itself. This is why I am suspicious of renewed support for internment of our enemies in Britain.

It was tried in Northern Ireland not too long ago and proved a powerful recruiting agent for the Irish Republican Army. It is also a fundamental violation of Habeas Corpus, perhaps the most profound symbol of freedom ever marked by the country. I think there are better responses at our disposal (I will be exploring internment at this blog soon).

And shutting down the British election certainly oughtn’t to be one either. If anything, the magnitude of the terror threat we face demands an intensifying of political campaigning, not an easing of it. The country deserves to know what our potential leaders plan to do to help the situation, especially before such a time that they have been elected.

As I sit here and think about Thursday’s election, of Manchester Arena and of London’s blood-stained streets, I find it unfathomable that combating terror has not played a more significant role along the campaign trail.

Issues like police cuts have rightly been raised, and Jeremy Corbyn has been quizzed on his opposition to renewing Trident, but that has been the extent of security discussion. I am appalled by this. It is as if our leaders have no answers or are frightened to voice them. How has such an issue escaped political discourse? I fear the country will regret the relative silence of its leaders at this General Election.

And the more we suspend party politics, presumably to appease victims who are in no way enamoured by our doing so, the louder the silence grows.

 


First impressions of soldiers on our capital’s streets

I knew that at some point I would be referring to this blog to talk about the deployment of British soldiers in London. I wanted to wait until I had spent a reasonable amount of time in the capital in order to appropriately communicate my thoughts on their presence and what it means for public policy.

Yesterday (Sunday 28th May), I got my chance. I spent what was quite a lovely, if not rain-soaked, afternoon with a female friend in and around Westminster. Originally, we had planned to go on the London Eye, but since the weather made this a little implausible, we headed for the National Gallery and dinner instead.

Before meeting, I walked to Whitechapel via Buckingham Palace Road and The Mall, having been re-routed to London Victoria by limits on Southeastern train services. I got to examine our ‘Paras’ stationed in strategic locations, most notably either side of the front face of Buckingham Palace, at gated side entrances and exits, outside Downing Street and around Westminster Palace.

I was interested in taking a look at this intriguing new development because I wanted to gauge, firstly, whether the introduction of the British Armed Forces to the streets of London would make me, a Londoner, feel safer in the city that I love, and secondly, what kind of impression it would give of Britain’s security and counter-terrorism efforts.

The answer to my first question came very quickly. It did not make me feel safer (and that is not to say that I felt particularly unsafe to begin with). Terrorism is a distant, muted fear in the back of my mind when going about my business in busy commuter and tourist hotspots, but I am usually able to effectively repress any needless overthinking or stress.

I spent some time watching every soldier I spotted. Most appeared utterly bored by the whole ordeal, as I would imagine is the overriding emotion after standing in the same spot watching people for hours on end. Others were entertaining themselves through mild conversation with accompanying police officers (it might be worth asking why we didn’t just reverse cuts and invest in more officers to begin with).

Please don’t think I am attacking individual Paras, but what struck me most was how static and distracted they seemed. They are exceptionally well trained and will, I’m sure, give their utmost to protect citizens in the likely event of more jihadism. But they certainly didn’t make me feel any safer.

If anything, the presence of troops stands as evidence of the now blatant failure of deep cuts to police budgets. This has been made exponentially worse by a sizeable increase in the UK’s population and alterations to the national terror threat level.

French troops were deployed on the streets of Paris many moons ago and we can hardly assert that incidents of terrorism are less likely to take place, if we have been paying attention to anything over the last two years. Any reasonable betting man will also conclude that more attacks are on their way, whether London is cluttered with British Army regiments or not.

Furthermore, what of Manchester? Or Birmingham? Or other major British cities otherwise excluded from the nation’s Westminster-dominated political consensus? Will they be supplemented with soldiers that make them look as vulnerable, violent and incapable of civil defence as the more corrupt corners of Africa and Eastern Europe? I hope not. There are better solutions available to us.

I do think that most of the support their mobilisation this week received was down either to tribal, instinctive support for the country’s foremost line of defence, or to the fact that most people consider soldiers to be exotic and a rare spectacle, which I think explains the craving that many have to take pictures with them and attend various community events and displays.

As a patriot, I admit to sharing in the glamorous appeal that the British Armed Forces retain. I have huge admiration for their skill and bravery. Just not for the decision to station them in predictable and already robustly defended parts of the capital.

Military presence, despite the talent and authority of the individuals on guard, has the ironic effect of making the country look a little weak; frightened into action by jihadists the government isn’t strong enough to take care of by itself.

It violates the country’s most profound value: liberty. Historical accounts tell me that we were once a free, calm country and one not easily panicked at home, but increasingly we seem troubled and unfree. I think this is worth pondering.

Deportations are in order where legally possible, prisons and mosques are in need of thorough combings in the search for radicalising forces and the long, slow path back from the perils of multiculturalism must too be forged. Soldiers, though, could well prove to be a non-answer to a very complicated problem.

And when terrorism once again meets the streets of London, perhaps even Westminster, you’ll see what I mean.


Don’t arm Britain’s police in the name of terror

After a terror atrocity, it usually takes at least a few days for rational thought to creep back into political discourse. Sometimes it can be much longer than that.

It was for this reason that I waited a little while before commenting on the horrific incident in Westminster on Wednesday afternoon. I wanted to distance myself from some of the hysteria that I feel unhelpfully attaches itself to events of this kind, especially on social media.

One of the most common post-attack and counter-terrorism suggestions from the public and members of the intelligentsia has been to arm all British police officers.

This is a policy that has been advocated for years, it doesn’t just come from the screams of statists after March 22nd. As the UK’s terror threat has heightened (somehow, a terror threat can be measured), so too have the calls for arming all officers intensified.

The trouble is that the proposal is a gimmick and not a silver bullet, is opposed by most British police officers and radically transforms the nature of the relationship between police and the public.

In 1829, Sir Robert Peel, who introduced the Metropolitan Police as Home Secretary, wrote his ‘9 principles of law enforcement’. Principle number seven will interest readers:

“The police at all times should maintain a relationship with the public that gives reality to the historic tradition that the police are the public and the public are the police; the police are the only members of the public who are paid to give full-time attention to duties which are incumbent on every citizen in the intent of the community welfare.”

Officers are citizens in uniform, not a militia that, in effect, provides the state with a monopoly of force. Policing must be carried out at the consent of the public, which it is, and not at the barrel of a gun.

I think that to arm all of Britain’s police officers is a fundamental betrayal of their purpose and the values that Robert Peel had in mind when he introduced them 187 years ago (which included a period of mass public armament, lasting until 1920).

It is no surprise to me that in a recent Metropolitan Police Federation poll[1], most officers opposed the compulsory arming of all British police officers, similar to the system that currently operates in Northern Ireland.

Of the near 11,000 police officers polled, only 26% said that they believed all Metropolitan police officers ought to be routinely armed on duty, though most reported that there should be more authorized firearms officers on the streets.

Given the trials and tribulations that follow police shootings, it is not hard to see why the majority oppose forced armament. Months of stress and lengthy investigations will take their toll on any police officer.

Difficult, too, must media coverage be to deal with. Often, a person knowingly and deliberately shot by a police officer is painted as a sympathetic figure after such an incident. Those who remember the London riots of 2011 will be fully aware of this.

Police officers do not want to have to shoot people. That is the job of soldiers or specialised units with years of training and experience. Investigations on officers who do use their firearms, no matter the circumstances, will come under incessant questioning.

This poses a huge problem for forces that increasingly have to deal with policemen and women (rightly) taking time off to ease any psychological issues that they may be having. Having relatives in the job, I have seen the physical and mental impact policing can have on those who do it.

The reality is that some officers will be far too trigger-happy and others unable to deal with the guilt and burden of having to end another person’s life. We love and idolise our police officers during times of crisis and terror, but seldom do we think about them when normality resumes.

Robert Peel visualised police officers as being men and women whom we can approach at any time, place our trust in, feel comforted by, equal to and yet at the same time revere as both a source of reasonable authority and a rallying point for the frightened and vulnerable.

Like the officers surveyed, I oppose the obligatory arming of all British police officers, and indeed oppose additional armed units, whether in busy, metropolitan areas or not. We have plenty of authorised firearms officers in Britain already.

The problem created by continually expanding upon armed units is that police forces will inevitably be sucking resources away from ordinary policing. That is to say that the more money, time and manpower diverted to armed officers, the less there will be for patrolling constables and the public will feel abandoned by a force already accused of withdrawing from the streets.

As any daily commuter into London now knows (and I reference London because it is both fertile soil for these sorts of atrocities and the jurisdiction for the officers who took part in the Met’s poll), armed officers roam the capital’s busiest regions on a daily basis.

Major train stations are crawling with them, as are landmarks and buildings of significance. Even suburban shopping centres, such as Bluewater and Lakeside, and town high streets have seen a notable increase in armed police presence in recent months.

As I walk around these sorts of places, I feel a distinct unease. This is not just thanks to the sight of assault rifles, which are designed to frighten others into obedience and drill holes in human flesh, killing mercilessly.

It is also because the very visual of watching your local neighbourhood patrolled in such a sinister manner is a telling sign that we are gradually becoming a less free society.

Take a quick look outside of Britain, and focus on what is happening in mainland Europe. France, Germany and Turkey, current experiencing problems far worse than our own, all have very heavy armed police presences.

I might argue that increasing the visibility of armed officers has perhaps encouraged terrorists. It has sent out the signal that people are afraid and need protecting, and that by engaging in these dreadful acts of violence, terrorist actions are influencing public policy, leaving a legacy of their own and appealing to the vanity of other potential attackers.

Admittedly, there are structural differences between Britain and other European countries in response to terror. Strict gun laws and the English Channel make gun smuggling and possession much more difficult for criminals in the UK.

And so I think the current Islamist threat, which I believe exists but is not anywhere near as pertinent as is often suggested by politicians who will never let a good crisis go to waste, is not comparable to problems faced in, for instance, Northern Ireland prior to police being routinely armed.

For one, and unlike problems caused by the IRA, the Islamist threat can be largely countered online, through bans and monitoring, and secondly, the nature of the radical Islamic threat is changing rapidly. I also think that Islamism is more discreet and covert than the IRA-sponsored threat faced by the UK some time ago.

But when attacks do happen, increasingly we see that vehicles are the designated weapon of choice. Cars and lorries are not easily stopped by even the most highly skilled of armed police officers.

So the latest wave of support for Britain’s unarmed police to carry anything more than tasers, which I believe (as the incident at Leytonstone tube station showed) are effective enough tools for modern police, strikes me as yet another encroachment on our liberties.

Western governments are renowned for offering us the fig leaf of security in exchange for our most prized personal freedoms. I am shocked they haven’t already started hiring the many thousands of instructors (which we don’t have and can’t afford) that will be needed in order to arm all of Britain’s police.

And as I write, I am reminded by an infamous Benjamin Franklin quote, as relevant as it has ever been.

 

 

 Notes

[1] http://metfed.org.uk/news?id=7185

 


Why defeating ISIS in Mosul is only the beginning for Iraq

The operation to liberate the ISIS stronghold of Mosul is underway, and some encouraging progress has already been made. The Iraqi military and the Peshmerga have recaptured a string of villages, including Nawaran and Khalidiya, and coalition forces are closing in on the centre of Mosul, where an intricate tunnelling network and a moat of oil tankers await them.

If all goes well, the offensive will last just a couple of months. Daesh know that they are running out of time and options in Iraq after a succession of heavy defeats. Ramadi, Baquba and Fallujah were all lost this year to strengthened Iraqi Armed Forces and huge efforts have also been made to attack IS communication through social media.

But let us not get ahead of ourselves. The battle ahead is crucial both for the future of Iraq and in the war against international terrorism, but it isn’t going to be as simple as a few territorial gains. Contingency planning must be precise in order to prevent a local backlash and conflict being waged amongst the powers engaged in the pursuit of ISIS.

It is very interesting, for example, that President Erdogan of Turkey has spent quite a bit of time in recent weeks citing the national oath; an oath which demands the restoration of both Kirkuk and Mosul to Turkish rule. Erdogan told the International Law Congress in Istanbul that it was ‘impossible to remain outside the Mosul equation’, and that “a history lies for us. If the gentlemen desire so, let them read the Misak-i Milli (National Oath) and understand what the place means to us.” A map proposed by the 1920 Ottoman oath can be seen here, clearly including large sections of Iraq: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Misak-%C4%B1_Mill%C3%AE#/media/File:Misaki_Milli.jpg

Back in 1926, Turkey and Britain (then the regional colonial power) signed the Ankara Pact, upon the advice of the League of Nations Council, which officially designated Mosul to the newly established state of Iraq. Recep Erdogan, a staunch political conservative who maintains strong domestic support, may well be developing an imperial strategy in Iraq based on his country’s historical political aspirations.

It isn’t as crazy as it may seem. Strategic and territorial Turkish-Iraqi disputes are decades old. Take the case of Bashiqa, a town located 10 miles north of Mosul. Despite strong opposition from Iraq’s government, Turkey maintains a hefty military presence at its base there, and seems more than willing to use its troops to influence the campaign to rid northern Iraq of ISIS.

One side battle, therefore, is how to prevent almost inevitable military conflict brewing between Iraq and an ambitious state of Turkey. The BBC reported just two days ago that “US Secretary of Defence Ash Carter made the point explicitly at the end of last week when, on a visit to Baghdad, he reaffirmed “the vital importance of every country operating with full respect for Iraqi sovereignty”. His words were quite obviously directed at Erdogan. (One has to wonder what the implications for Turkey’s NATO membership would be if territorial goals in Iraq were pursued with vigour over the coming months)

Another battle is more subtle and less likely to be accurately reported on after the offensive is over. Gaining the support of the local population (an objective made harder to achieve by the strategic interests of competing regional powers) is crucial to Mosul’s long-term stability. Patrick Cockburn, one of Britain’s best foreign correspondents, wrote in his book The Rise of Islamic State that ‘the fall of Mosul was the result of a popular uprising as well as military assault. The Iraqi army was detested as a foreign occupying force of Shia soldiers, regarded in Mosul as creatures of an Iranian puppet regime led by Maliki’ (then the shia Prime Minister of Iraq).

Mosul, once a content city of two million Sunni Muslims (more recent population figures are rather difficult to obtain), objected fiercely to being defended by soldiers it regarded as alien. This civil dispute became a handy smokescreen and weakness for ISIS to exploit in the original battle for Mosul in June 2014. Local residents, however wary they were of the Islamic State’s intentions for the city, accepted that as a branch of Sunni Islam they represented the lesser of two evils.

Two years on, though, and it would seem that this is no longer true. The sheer barbarism of ISIS’ regime (recent chemical attacks, the mass execution of citizens and their use as human shields acting as depressing proof of this) has left thousands desperate for liberation. But will Iraqi Armed Forces, directed by the Shia Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, be able to regain the support of the locals who helped to drive them out two years ago? Will civilians in Mosul instead look to Turkey for solace after several years of disenchantment?

Turkish foreign minister, Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu, revealed recently that his country’s plan was to create a safe haven for refugees in northern Iraq; a move that will certainly heighten Prime Minister Abadi’s sensitivities. Prime Minister Yildirim of Turkey suggested that a haven was necessary in order to protect citizens against what a called ‘a common threat’; namely, the PKK, but it would seem more likely that the policy is designed to grab a piece of the Iraqi pie and maximise influence in an oil-rich and strategically crucial part of the Middle East.

So defeating ISIS in Mosul may well be the easy part. Coordinating the removal of forces and winning over the local population whilst preserving Iraqi sovereignty in Mosul, on the other hand, could be the real battle ahead.


Russia, Iran, Syria and a whole load of hypocrisy

Some rather unsurprising developments caught my eye yesterday afternoon concerning the ongoing Syrian civil war and, in particular, the not-so-secret involvement of both Russia and Iran. Perhaps September 25th will have to go down as international hypocrisy day, as the two regional powers faced intense accusations from three western powers concerning what they called ‘war crimes’ in Syria. Three news articles in particular may interest readers at this blog:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-37468080 (accusation number 1, from an American diplomat at the UN)

http://www.itv.com/news/2016-09-25/russia-hits-back-at-boris-johnsons-syria-war-crime-slur/ (accusation number 2, this time from the United Kingdom’s new foreign secretary Al Johnson)

http://www.jpost.com/Middle-East/Iran-and-Russia-in-danger-of-becoming-war-crimes-accomplices-468663 (and finally a small contribution from French foreign minister Jean-Marc Ayrault)

I must stress right away that I do not deny and have not denied the links between Iranian and Russian action in Syria and the intensifying civil war. Iran’s funding of terrorism in Syria; the tail country of the so-called ‘Shia crescent’ has been a continued and deliberate ploy to further destabilise a now ravaged and desperate nation. Russia’s bombing campaigns are hardly secret, and it would seem that agreed ceasefires with the United States (which are crucial to the fostering of any kind of productive or peaceful settlement) have gone largely ignored in the Kremlin.

I am personally convinced that the Russians and Iranians are sensing that the Syrian military are growing in confidence. Israeli commentator Yossi Melman recently attributed the shooting down of two Israeli aircraft in the Quneitra region on the part of Assad’s government to this renewed confidence. It is not hard to imagine that, given recent successes in Damascus against both non-aligned rebels and Islamic State, Assad’s forces are beginning to feel a sense of control once more.

The Syrian military are coming off the heels of a slightly more successful summer. Notable gains were made in Aleppo, and three strategic locations were wrestled from the al-Nusra front (Syria’s Al-Qaeda affiliate) in the western province of Hama. From the perspective of Russian and Iranian foreign policy and their diplomats, this would therefore seem a bad time to adhere to any proposed plans for a ceasefire. While momentum appears to be going the way of the Russian and Iranian-backed regime, why stop now?

You can see why western powers are frustrated. It is particularly amusing to see the ‘war crimes’ line thrown out in an attempt to demonise two countries following an entirely reasonable strategic goal (though the way it has without doubt been followed has been counter-productive to peace). War crimes have become a thing in the Middle East not in recent years, but in fact many years prior to the Arab Spring. But again, the question of hypocrisy comes ringing back to me.

The United States, Britain, France and Saudi Arabia do not, contrary to their claims, have any principled objections to war crimes in Syria. If they did, then why, as Patrick Cockburn notes in his fantastically concise book ‘The rise of Islamic State’, would they have sought to play such an active role in laying down the fertile soil out of which ISIS would grow. More recently, in fact, United States-led airstrikes killed 28 civilians in a ruthless attack on al-Ghandour, a small town in the northwestern countryside of Manbij.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights – responsible for accounting for the suffering of non-combatants in the ongoing Syrian crisis – recently noted of the 28 innocents (allegedly including both women and children): “They were killed when the warplanes of the international coalition committed a massacre in the town of al-Ghandour, and the death toll is expected to rise because there are some people in critical situation.”

These points are made over and over again, but they are important. The Syrian civil war has long been a proxy for major powers to flex their military muscles in an attempt to further their own interests. How sad it is that so many young children have to pay the price for this never ending stupidity. Also stupid was the insinuation that Iran would support a ceasefire in Syria, even temporary, between the United States and Russia.

In the case of Syria, the strategic goals of Russia and the United States are in direct contravention to one another. Since Iran’s vision for Syria requires its tactical alliance with Russia to be maintained for the foreseeable future, it would appear that any longstanding ceasefire between the two major powers could threaten the political interests of Tehran in the Syrian conflict. President Rouhani said in an interview recently that to ground all planes would “benefit the terrorists 100%” as IS would be able to continue with their ‘savage killings’.

Both Iran and Russia remain adamant that Syria is stronger, at least in the short term, with Assad in power. A strong argument can be made to support this. Former CIA analyst and respected foreign policy commentator Graham Fuller has explained in the past that many Syrians (including large Sunni and minority communities) now accept that preserving Assad’s power could well be preferable to despotic alternatives. In Iraq, Sunni communities saw ISIS as a lesser of two evils, the same is not true in Syria. For Russia, it is about preserving and extending its geo-strategic influence in the region. For Iran, it is about protecting Shia communities and combating Sunni terrorism – funded and supported, in large part, by the very countries ‘seeking to establish’ a ceasefire in Syria.

The devastating effects of the Syrian civil war remain only a bloody backdrop to a posturing deadlock between major world powers. It’s about time they were pushed to the foreground.

 


Reflecting on Owen Smith’s ISIS comments

Owen Smith is quickly proving only one thing: he is not up to the top job in Britain. Nor is he making a particularly persuasive case for why he should be the man to lead Labour into the 2020 General Election. I have decided not to write in any great length about his desire to ignore June’s referendum result, focus on equality of outcome rather than equality of opportunity or his alternative Labour manifesto (that may as well be a carbon copy of Mr Corbyn’s). If I believed him to have any real chance of becoming the next leader of the Labour Party, I might divert more of my attention towards him.

I do, however, want to pick up on his ludicrous comments this week concerning Islamic State that have topped off a truly torrid few weeks of campaigning. Appearing alongside Jeremy Corbyn on Victoria Derbyshire, Mr Smith said: “I worked on the Northern Ireland peace process for three years; I was part of the UK’s negotiating team that helped bring together the loyalist paramilitaries. My view is that, ultimately, all solutions to these international crises do come about through dialogue, so eventually if we are to try to solve this all of the actors do need to be involved. But at the moment ISIL are clearly not interested in negotiating. At some point for us to resolve this, we will need to get people round the table.”

It is almost comical. As I read it, my sympathy for traditional Labour voters begins to strengthen. They were robbed of their identity by Anthony Blair as the century turned and this is what they are left with. Anybody who has ever accused Jeremy Corbyn of being unelectable may like to consider an Owen Smith premiership for just a moment. It is particularly bewildering to me that not more Labour members have noticed just how similar Mr Smith’s policies are to Jeremy Corbyn’s. To elect Owen Smith as Labour’s new leader would, in effect, mean swapping out an old-fashioned state socialist for a slightly younger state socialist with contempt for democracy and negotiating skills so impressive that even the mention of his name would be enough to de-radicalise an Islamic State fighter.

Naturally, Smith’s comments have been ridiculed by the wider public and political intelligentsia. There is no ‘getting ISIS round a table’ on offer in this conflict. But the absurdity of the suggestion is not what I wanted to get into on this blog. My interest in his comments spring from how debased our national debate is on the subject, and how soaked up many of us seem to get over the (in my view) greatly over-exaggerated threat presented by ISIS. Despite our eagerness to interfere in the running of other countries, I am constantly baffled by how easily events in the Middle East take centre stage in British political debate. Why are we so obsessed with interfering in the affairs of other parts of the world, and why do we afford a vile terror group so much publicity?

Britain undoubtedly played a role in creating the environment out of which ISIS grew. Bush and Blair’s Iraq invasion, sectarian in nature and devoid of any substantive long-term planning, laid the groundwork for brutality and division in a country that would otherwise have been happy to see the back of Saddam Hussein. In this context, I am forced to concede that Britain has links to ISIS and will, at least for the foreseeable future, remain a frontrunner in the campaign to ‘degrade and destroy ISIL’. It therefore goes without saying that a potential Prime Ministerial candidate suggesting that we sit round a table with Islamic State leaders and negotiate, with the hope of arriving at some kind of political settlement (what form would it take?), is a laughable exposing of our foreign policy incompetence in the matter.

Could you imagine Owen Smith standing up in front of a packed NATO summit and, in his thick northern accent, proclaiming to the rest of the alliance that the best way to tackle ISIS is to get round a table and to negotiate with them? He’d quickly be laughed out of the room. But this notion aside, I wonder if we have bothered to ask on whose authority we have been assigned with the responsibility of dealing with ISIL. It seems to me that every time we venture into the Middle East in some fashion (usually to satisfy the egos of our politicians) we manage to make things worse. Has anybody come up with a long-term strategy for life in the Levant once ISIS is gone? Or is that not for us to think about as long as our politicians are able to thump their chests on the world stage?

I mentioned earlier that I considered the ISIS threat to be a greatly exaggerated one. In fact, I would probably go further than this. I think ISIS is a minor irritation that looks set to be the architect of its own downfall. One day soon I may return to this blog with a piece entitled ‘Why the Islamic State was doomed to fail from the start’. It may be true to say that ISIL are the most successful terror group in human history, but that isn’t saying too much. The nature of the regime – barbaric, surrounded by enemies and over-reliant on particular mediums of propaganda and finance – meant that such a group were never going to thrive for a particularly long period of time. I dare say that we have entered the twilight period of the group’s existence. The sheer bravery of regional Kurdish fighters, combined military efforts from competing outside powers and the intransigence of the Assad government have ensured that much of the territory once marked by those infamous black flags has been returned to more moderate ownership.

In truth, ISIS have always been flattered by our incessant media coverage and spotlighting. Ordinary people do not think about them, even at railway stations or at airports (as we are supposed to) and our politicians like to appear busy in the war on terror by talking hard and over-promising. If nothing else, it is a breath of fresh air that Mr Smith has proposed a solution that differs somewhat from the usual proposals we here. Bombing campaigns aren’t quite as ludicrous on paper as the suggestion that a Labour leadership candidate can dilute extreme Islamic ideology, but they are certainly every bit as ineffective. Either way, the Labour Party would do well not to elect Owen Smith as its leader. If this is the kind of opposition that would meet Theresa May at the dispatch box, then Jeremy Corbyn may not seem so pacifistic and radical after all.


The mainstream media must lay off mental illness now, before it’s too late

I wanted to address a problem at this blog that grabbed my attention earlier this morning, concerning coverage of last night’s stabbing incident in Russell Square. Thanks to a BBC app notification, I was made vaguely aware of the attack before I went to sleep, but only decided to read more carefully into the report once details had emerged a few hours ago. I wish to express my solidarity with the family of the poor woman killed, and wish the five who were injured a speedy recovery.

I have, though, been left extremely disappointed by the immediacy with which fingers were pointed at mental health issues, and felt the need to raise my concern and explain why this is so. I haven’t the time to cite every media publication, for obvious reasons, so will use major outlets as examples.

Just after its introduction, the BBC’s news update reads:

‘Police using a Taser arrested a man of 19 who is being held under armed guard at hospital. The Met said mental health was a “significant factor” in events’.

This angle is also reported in ‘The Guardian’, which (to nobody’s surprise) leads with its involvement:

https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/live/2016/aug/04/london-stabbing-russell-square-knife-attack-live

…Daily Telegraph, who note: “Early indications suggest that mental health is a significant factor in this case and that is one major line of inquiry. But of course at this stage we should keep an open mind regarding motive and, consequently, terrorism as a motivation remains but one line of enquiry for us to explore.”

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2016/08/04/russell-square-stabbing-everything-we-know-about-the-attack-on-t/

…and Daily Mail, which reports: “Scotland Yard’s top anti-terror officer Mark Rowley gave a press conference outside Scotland Yard at 3.40am and said the 19-year-old appears to have ‘significant mental health issues’ but admitted terrorism could be a motive.”

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3722796/Woman-killed-five-people-injured-terrorist-knife-attack-central-London.html

How generous of Mr Rowley to concede that terrorism *could* be a motive in a terrorist incident. I can feel comforted this morning by the foresight of our intelligence chiefs.

I am angered by the sudden focus on mental health (though do not deny its involvement) for several reasons. It is obvious to me that ‘The Guardian’ chose to lead with Scotland Yard’s mental health angle, as would be expected of any Left-leaning, liberal publication, in order to avoid immediate anti-Islamic hysteria. The Mail and Telegraph would have no such motive.

Notice how frequently phrases such as “early indications show” crop up in these reports. How often do we hear of ‘sane’ knifeman roaming the streets of London, chopping people to pieces? Which other indications (aside from the blood spilling rampage) *suggest* that mental health issues were a major factor in last night’s stabbing spree?

By definition, terror attacks are committed by people who are not all with it. If they were, why would they take it upon themselves to commit mass (or attempted) murder?

But this is not the point. I could care less by how obvious the cause is, and I am not disappointed by the lack of emphasis on Islamism either. My annoyance at this reporting has been caused by two things.

Firstly, there is the alarming lack of consistency. If the media are intent on pointing fingers and outlining allegedly definitive causes before blood has dried, then they must be consistent about it. Quite rationally, links to Islam or Islamism are not included in premature reports, even if links are suspected, so as to reduce any stigmatisation of Muslims. I am happy for this to be the case, and think it wise to continue with such a policy.

But, as I alluded to a moment ago, we need to ask why the mainstream media display such a startling lack of consistency over the matter. If we are reluctant to engage in the stigmatisation of Muslims, then why are we not so in the case of the mentally ill? The term ‘mental illness’ (far too often used pejoratively, and seldom an expression associated with amazing achievement or ability) is wonderfully umbrella.

Savants and those with strains of autism, for example, often exhibit rare mathematical, kinaesthetic or literary genius. We never attempt to decipher between different kinds of ‘mental illness’ and nor is it fair to associate the ‘mentally ill’ with perpetrators of terrorist acts. In this, or indeed any other circumstance, quick fire reporting on suspected motives before police action or a trial have taken place would seem to me to be a mistake. In my view, media publications should avoid speculating upon motives in the aftermath of such incidents, and should instead stick to reporting on what they know to be cold, hard facts.

On a side note, a video of Nick Ferrari exploding on this very issue on his radio show exists somewhere on social media, but, alas, I cannot find it. It may be worth searching in your own time.

The second reason for my disapproval at this kind of reporting is that it could well help to undo years of good work trying to unravel exactly the sort of mental health stigmatisation that I referred to a moment ago. We have come a long way in recent years and, while we do tend to over-diagnose and perhaps still fail to understand certain conditions, for our progress to be threatened by the actions of murderous terrorists would be a huge step backwards. It is not morally correct to encircle those fighting to overcome a whole range of mental problems with those willing to kill in the name of Islam. I urge journalists to remember this.

Readers may at this point be interested to know that I suffer from a condition called bipolar disorder, also known (more sensibly) as manic depression. I suspect that quite a few people reading are familiar with depression, having experienced it themselves or seen it affect other people. Without making last night’s stabbing incident about me or people like me, I wanted to express my concern that those, like me, who experience difficulty on a regular basis could well find themselves subject to unfair prophecies or labelling. To take steps in this direction would damage our society and split tolerance asunder.

Content with protecting British Muslims from stigmatisation in the wake of terror attacks, the mainstream media has turned its attention towards ‘mental illness’. It’s far too easy, damaging and contradictory. But will anybody listen?


How not to respond to a terror attack

How sad it was to see the people of France once again fall victim to Islamic terrorism late last night. As innocent bystanders celebrated Bastille Day in the beautiful city of Nice, one drug-fueled fundamentalist decided he would use a lorry to massacre almost 100 unsuspecting citizens. I want to send my sympathies and well-wishes to the families and friends of those affected, however meaningless and insignificant they may be.

What a shame also that westerners are beginning to feel desensitised to increasingly common, though equally-horrendous attacks. It has been a truly testing eighteen months for France; a country which (along with Belgium) really seems to be struggling in the fight against radical Islam. The heartbreaking fact is that this doesn’t look like a war that will end any time soon. My fear is that we will see a lot more bloodshed and violence in the months and years to come.

Vigils, candles and hashtags are pleasant gestures, but nothing more than this. They do not constitute progression in terms of public or foreign policy, they do not tackle the core of Islamic fundamentalism, and they do not bring back those killed in acts of vile, merciless terrorism. I suspect some will be comforted by kind displays of solidarity, but most are now left wondering why they are having to occur so frequently.

We can pray for the French if we wish to, but realistically, how helpful has praying proven to be? We can express publicly our love or hatred of Islam, but how useful is this in achieving anything other than divide and intolerance? We can suggest solutions to aiding the war on terror, but Twitter doesn’t seem an appropriate platform for these solutions to be adhered to. In effect, social media has become a tool by which outrage is magnified, tensions are exploited and disunity is encouraged in the wake of despicable incidents of violence and terrorism. For this reason, I try my best to avoid being sucked into emotional cyber spasms.

In the good old days (alas, a time I was not around to see), we used to get on with life immediately after terrorism. Perhaps this was because the war generation found themselves used to bombings and devastation, or perhaps it was down to that famous British stiff upper lip (which seems to have disappeared, I might add). Nowadays, we rant and rave and sign emotionally-charged petitions calling for bans, border closures and infringements to be placed upon cherished freedoms. We need to calm down.

Only those unfortunate enough to have lost a loved one in an act of hatred have a mandate to be emotional. Since social media has brought us all closer together and made life much more interactive, we seem to take the burden of mourning upon ourselves as a means of enhancing our own social desirability. Bizarrely, it is often those closest to an attack that remain the most rational and objective in the wake of its effects, and those furthest away who resort to the kind of bigotry and fear-mongering that terrorists have come to reap the rewards of.

This does not mean Islam, or indeed sects of the Islamic community cannot be held responsible. Islamism continues to thrive in a range of European, African and Asian societies. Intensifying anti-Muslim sentiment hasn’t worked, using terror attacks to justify bombing raids hasn’t worked and simply ignoring the ongoing presence of Islamic fundamentalism clearly isn’t working either. The question is whether or not western societies can respond by upholding the values they champion; of liberty and the rule of law. The question is whether the peoples of Europe can muster the tolerance and encourage the diversity that has brought great benefits to the continent.

Preserving liberty in the face of adversity can be extraordinarily difficult, but wholly worthwhile. It is for this reason that I cannot support the deportation of domestic Muslims in France or indeed my own country, and it is for this reason that I cannot support thoughtless bans on Islamic immigration. Liberty is too precious to be discarded in such a manner. Benjamin Franklin was absolutely right when he said that those who will sacrifice liberty for security will in the end enjoy neither.

An interesting article has cropped up in the Daily Mail, for anybody interested, that has described the attacker as an ISIS fanatic who ‘took drugs and flouted every rule of Islam’. This doesn’t surprise me. Most attacks of this nature, both Muslim and non-Muslim tend to be perpetrated by deranged, drug-obsessed lunatics. I am pleased that a major publication has highlighted the link between drug taking and violence. You can read the article for yourself here: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3691019/Several-people-injured-truck-crashes-crowd-Bastille-Day-celebrations-Nice.html

Motives aside, though, I don’t claim to have the silver bullet on this. It is obvious to me that French Muslims are not as integrated as they are in other parts of the world, like Britain. It is also obvious to me that continuing to allow the influence of Saudi Arabia and fundamentalist-supporting regimes to creep into French society is dangerous. France’s ‘state of emergency’ seems set to continue for the foreseeable future. But there is an interesting prospect on the horizon.

French presidential elections take place late next year, and I’m now almost certain that Marine Le Pen is set to take office, swinging France vigorously to the Right. I don’t like Le Pen, but if such attacks are to continue in her country, then support for her presidential bid is likely only to strengthen. I’m not particularly well versed when it comes to French politics, so forgive me, but it seems to me to be plausible to suggest that Francois Hollande’s legacy will be stained by France’s apparent buckling to Islamic extremism.

We will see how the French people respond to the fight against Islamic terror as the months and years progress, and I wish the country well in its battle, but it is time for a different approach. Those of us unaffected by last night’s events in Nice may also want to consider the way we behave in light of horrendous acts of violence. After all, sickening terrorists aren’t worthy of dictating public policy. Keep the healing French in your minds, folks. It is they who matter today.


Are we not giving jihadists exactly what they want?

Watching and reading mainstream news can be incredibly frustrating at the best of times, but after certain pockets of coverage presented over the last couple of days concerning the latest of a string of unsettling ISIS propaganda videos, I felt the need to rant on here a little bit.

Just like with our fascination over ‘Jihadi John’ (we even gave him a trendy little nickname to go along with our laughably naive national attitude towards both war and extremism) and the subsequent euphoria which greeted his death, we seem to be playing right into the hands of the extremist Islamic cause.

Though the average British citizen is worried far more about domestic issues than ever he or she is the Levant, news stations and papers remain fervent in their attempts to saturate our national media with exactly the kind of radicalisation rhetoric which, absorbed by the wrong people (Muslim or not), could help sprout exactly the kind of terrorism we saw in Paris last year, on the streets of Britain.

As Patrick Cockburn right pointed out in his book ‘The Rise of Islamic State’, many jihadist media articles, videos and news stories are fraudulent and artificial, and western media seems to lap them up like a dog to a bowl. Are we sure that the content we publicise and promote is genuine? And if so, what exactly do we hope to gain by maintaining our nauseating obsession with it?

Watching the little child in this week’s unnerving video package swear allegiance to the jihadist cause was nothing I haven’t seen before. We are now, as a country, more than used to this kind of insane political defection. So why do we treat each instance as if it is in any way unique, or earth-shattering?

Britain’s media organisations will often note, during their coverage of extreme videos, that parts will be distressing to viewers, and that as a result much will be cut or filtered out. Why not, then, apply the same logic to the entire article? By relying on the exploitation of fear (which, just like sex, always sells), British media know that an audience is guaranteed, regardless of the subject matter at hand.

Surely our insatiable desire to promote and, to vulnerable or disenfranchised British Muslims, glorify the perpetrators of Middle Eastern atrocity can in part explain the actions of those willing to leave the relative peace and safety of the UK, to join up with those fighting in Syria?

Just something that crossed my mind. I hope more will consider this.