Saturday, April 15, 2006 

Oh joy: They want even more time for you to shop until you drop.

In the retail year, tomorrow is unique: Easter Sunday is the only Sunday when there is no chance of a trip to Tesco or a garden centre.

But this year could be the last guaranteed day of rest for shopworkers. The Department of Trade and Industry is considering a change in the law which prevents big stores from opening for more than six hours on a Sunday and would sweep away the ban on Easter Day trading. Opposition is mounting and battlelines are being drawn.

The campaign to extend Sunday opening hours is being co-ordinated by the lobby group Deregulate, which argues that "shoppers should be allowed to do their shopping then they want", and that ending the Sunday trading rules would fit in with the government's drive to slash red tape. "If the government is serious about de-regulation then it can scrap a piece of unnecessary legislation now", said David Ramsden, the Deregulate chairman.

Deregulate is financed by seven leading retailers together with the Horticultural Trades Association, which represents 2,500 garden centres, and Peel Holdings, owners of the 280-store Trafford Centre in Manchester. The retailers backing the group are Next, Game, Hobbycraft, Ikea, Kingfisher (B&Q), Asda and Tesco.

Lined up against them are a wide variety of interest groups, ranging from small business groups to the shopworkers' union Usdaw, the Keep Sunday Special campaign, supported by the Mothers' Union and the United Reform Church, and some 220 MPs who have signed an early day motion opposing the liberalisation of the Sunday trading laws.

On the face of it, the rules on Sunday trading are archaic, and are influenced by the church in a nation which no longer sees Sunday as a special day. What better reason then to sweep them away, and reinforce Britain's image as the true secular nation of Europe?

Then we find out who the major backers of this "Deregulate" group are. Of them, Asda and Tesco increasingly open every single one of their major stores for 24 hours. They have to shut at around 10pm on a Saturday before they can reopen at either 10 or 11 the next day, to then close at either 4 or 5. IKEA and Kingfisher operate some of the biggest eyesores in the country, the monolithic huge warehouses filled with either crap chic furniture or every item associated with DIY under the sun, which also increasingly open later and later. Only Game and Next are real high street retailers, who don't have many major-of-town stores on the much unloved industrial estates.

The only two days on which all the major retail businesses have to shut are Easter Sunday and Christmas Day. Some also shut on Boxing Day, but that's down to individual choice on their behalf. Is it not too much to ask for employees not to be in some cases ordered in to work on just two days a year? As for Sunday trading, all those who want to open when they like already open longer and longer, and in some cases have websites which don't have any such restrictions. Is it also too much to ask for them to only be allowed to open for 6 hours one day a week? It gives all the workers some additional time to spend in either leisure or with their families. This is without even going into the further effect it will have on the small businesses, which if the government predictions are anything to go by, will have ceased to exist by 2015 because of the buying power, intimidatory tactics and arrogance of the likes of Tesco and Asda. Capitalism ensares and debases us all as it is, and any further liberalisation of opening hours would just be a sop to the likes of the CBI, whose only remit is to increase profits and lobby government to crush any opposition to that ideology.

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Friday, April 14, 2006 

Random drug tests for all! Hallelujah!

Sometimes the policies of the government on education make you wonder whether there's a grand conspiracy between them and some of the "old-school" teachers, the sort who hated children and were only in the profession to pass on their bitterness and cynicism. Random drug testing in one school has apparently "worked", says everyone's favourite member of Opus Dei, Ruth Kelly. She's proposing that headteachers across the country should follow the lead of the Abbey school in Faversham, Kent.

Speaking at the NASUWT conference in Birmingham, Ms Kelly told delegates the school had seen a marked improvement in performance since the scheme started and said she would welcome other schools adopting a similar scheme.

"Drugs is ... an issue which is not going away in schools," she said. "I was looking at the evidence from the Abbey school the other day where they have tried random drug testing and found that a hugely effective way of creating peer pressure against taking drugs in school."

The Abbey school has seen GCSE exam results improve significantly after introducing random testing. The school selects 20 pupils by computer each week who then take the tests, during which they are swabbed by specially trained staff.

The samples are sent off to a laboratory where they are checked for traces of drugs such as cannabis, cocaine and ecstasy.

Yesterday Peter Walker, the headteacher who introduced the scheme, said the government's support was "very important". More than 500 pupils had been tested and only one had proved positive. "The school has had the best 18 months in its history and its best exam results," he said. Tests had given pupils a reason not to take drugs.

Err, creating peer pressure? Surely what she means is creating fear in the children that their activities outside of school would as a result be found out, that they may well be expelled for doing so, and that their parents would be informed. Drugs have never been a major issue of peer pressure in schools, in comparison to wearing the "right" clothes, or being in with the popular children. Drug use is usually confined to a tiny amount of those who have already given up on school, either in the 10th or 11th year. Most as a result are harmless, and don't interrupt the learning of those who want to be there.

Kelly also hasn't looked at possible other reasons for the increase in good GCSE results. Isn't it possible that the teaching may have improved during the years since the last group had moved up? Or, although this might be considered offensive by some, that the year group whose results have improved were possibly more intelligent than the year before?

More than anything though, isn't random testing manifestly unfair to those who are picked? Wouldn't it be fairer to test the entire year group, all at once, on an unannounced date? Also of concern is that some drugs, such as cannabis, can stay in the body for weeks after use. A teenager may have given into temptation during the school holidays, yet still be found positive for a particular drug.

And that, there, is the rub. What business is it of the school that children take drugs, as long as they are not doing so on the school premises? Taking cannabis, the most used drug among teenagers, is no longer an arrestable offence, even though it remains illegal. Surely such matters should be with the parents, not with teachers who think they know better how to bring up their children? The teenage years are meant to be those in that children experiment, discover themselves and start to figure how what to do with the rest of their lives. The imposition of such rules on those in school - CCTV in the toilets, random bag searches for weapons, uniform that removes any sense of individuality, the Academy scheme in which businesses can have their input on a significant part of the curriculum, in some places in-school police officers or security guards; all suggest that the only interest of government now in education is in turning out unquestioning automatons that can stack the shelves in Tesco, while the same old middle class parents can send their children to the private institutions or the top comprehensives which keep the proles in the same place they've always been. All of which doesn't bode well for the future, and for the government's target of eventually 50% going to university, and in getting more to stay on post-16.

How to change this? Cut the amount of exams taken, and make learning fun again, instead of just teaching the bare minimum that will result in the passing of exams. Other suggestions are very welcome.

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Thursday, April 13, 2006 

Regulatory reform bill to be cut down to size (hopefully).

Both the Financial Times and Grauniad are reporting that the government is to write new safeguards into the The Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill (aka the abolition of parliament bill), although seemingly only because the chief whip in the Lords warned that otherwise it would get defeated.

Jim Murphy, the cabinet office minister in charge of the legislation, told the Guardian yesterday that including the safeguards would make it impossible to use the law to make constitutional changes. He stressed its sole purpose was to cut red tape and insisted opponents had overhyped its implications.

Tories and Lib Dems had dubbed it the "parliamentary scrutiny (abolition) bill", arguing it was so loosely drafted it could be used to repeal or amend almost any law without the proper scrutiny or approval of MPs, even allowing constitutional changes such as the abolition of the Scottish parliament, on the basis of very brief debates in the chamber and in committee.

They feared that even if the government abided by its promise not to use it for controversial measures, future ministers might be less scrupulous.

At present the protections in the bill only prevent ministers from using it to impose or increase taxation, to create a new criminal offence carrying a sentence of more than two years, or to authorise the forcible entry of property, search and seizure, or compel people to give evidence to police or courts. They would also have to satisfy themselves that the effect of changes were "proportionate".

But Mr Murphy insisted:"It wasn't and isn't our intention to do the sort of things that to some extent have been suggested. There's been hyperbole and ridiculous claims ... This bill is about regulations; it has never been about the constitution. It's about defining the power more precisely to show what it is we seek to do."

He added: "We always said we would listen, and for the last couple of months we have been looking at drafting amendments to do two things: deliver better regulation agenda but also take the constitutional debate off the table.

"It will make it impossible, not just difficult, to do the sorts of things which some people have raised."

Mr Murphy said he also wanted the amendments, which will be tabled when the bill reaches its report stage in the Commons shortly, to ensure select committees could block contentious changes. "Let's see if we can strengthen those powers, so it is not [just] a convention that we won't override them - I think we need a statutory veto on the face of the bill," he said.

Ministers argue all governments have failed to eradicate unnecessary regulation.

Here's to hoping that the government has realised that even it can't get away with such a sweeping law. Even if it isn't used by this government personally in the way that critics have pointed out it could be, there's always the possibility that a government with even less scruples than this one, difficult as that is to imagine, could take advantage of it in the future.

As Chicken Yogurt points out however, not a single amendment critical of the proposed act was accepted during the last committee stage, and the parliamentary select committees can be stuffed with stooges or right-wing libertarian Tories who only see the regulation side of the bill and not the constitutional side. Chick Yog also points out that unless the list of bills here are made exempt from change under the bill, it's not worth the paper it's written, lest for wiping your nether regions with it. Cutting down needless legislation is one thing, make unacceptable changes to passed acts under the pretence of doing so is quite another, and the way this government has pledged to listen and then done the opposite means that any promises that such changes won't happen should not be taken at face value. Parliament may not be perfect, but it's the best thing we've got. Labour needs to learn that, and Blair's control freakery will not be easily forgotten or forgiven. The Save Parliament campaign is here.

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Self-obsessed lefties pontificate while Iraq burns.

Congratulations then to the humourless navel-gazing leftists who've put out the "Euston manifesto" (introduced here, actual manifesto is here, but Obsolete doesn't recommend reading it, unless you need a sleeping aid.). Come up with in a pub, it glosses over the fact that most of the group got it horrendously wrong over Iraq, states half a dozen principles which even the Tories and maybe UKIP wouldn't disagree with, then comes up with a number of contradictions, including mentioning how evil holocaust deniers are, then in the next sentence it talks about complete freedom of ideas. Presumably that also doesn't include the ideas of the Islamist groupings that make up some of the Stop the War coalition which they are so opposed to.

A completely pointless exercise in self-promotion, Euston should be known as useless. (Both John Kampfner and Daniel Davies provide ripostes.) The left needs to be a broad movement, not to divide and rule itself. That is when the right takes advantage, just as it did in the 80s. Thanks to Euston, we're yet another step closer towards history repeating itself. Oh, and there's the fact that hundreds of Iraqis are still being killed every week, but let's just try to forget about that.

Update: Fisking Central has some more ripostes towards it, although it has to be said many of the contributors to that site also seem very self-righteous, especially the way they're going after Lenin's Tomb.

Oh, and here's by the far the finest response that you'll read to Euston.

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Wednesday, April 12, 2006 

Israel: still killing, and leaving the blame to the "lower orders".

Away from the continuing impasse which is going on regarding Hamas forming a government and the EU and US cutting off direct aid, the situation in Gaza continues to deteriorate. Various groupings continue to launch home-made mortars, sometimes called Qassam rockets, into the towns surrounding the Gaza strip. Most don't reach their target, and those that do usually cause very little damage, yet alone injure or kill anyone. What they do is instill fear and terror into those living in the area. In response, the IDF thinks it's only fair to instill fear and terror into those who live close to those launching the rockets. Only a small difference: since Friday 15 Palestinians have died in the shell attacks.

The Israeli government said yesterday it would continue its bombardment of northern Gaza with an estimated 300 shells a day despite international criticism over the death of a young girl.

Shaul Mofaz, the defence minister who is touring Israel's borders with Gaza, said: "As long as it's not quiet here [in Israel], it won't be quiet there [in Gaza]."

Israeli forces have been firing shells close to Palestinian communities to stop militants from firing rockets at Israeli communities. The army continued to bombard the outskirts of Beit Lahiya yesterday, but Palestinian militants fired their homemade missiles from different residential areas, which they believe are safe from Israeli reprisals.

Kim Howells, the Foreign Office minister, condemned the killing of the girl, Hadeel Ghabeen, whose home in Beit Lahiya was hit by two shells on Monday, and asked the Israeli government to exercise maximum restraint.

"Israel has the right to defend itself, but any actions in the occupied territories must be proportionate and in accordance with international law. Equally, we urge the Palestinian Authority to take steps to halt all attacks launched at Israeli targets from the Gaza Strip," he said.

Ghabeen, believed to be aged between four and 12, was the 15th Palestinian to be killed in Gaza since Friday in shell and air attacks. Israel has been firing about 300 shells a day at Gaza at an estimated cost of more than £125,000 a day, according to the Israeli media.

Palestinian militants have fired about 50 missiles at Israel in the past month without causing serious injury.

And so goes on the pointlessness of the tit for tat attacks which have come to define the situation regarding the Palestinians in Gaza. Despite the withdrawal last year, Israel has not properly respected its decision to let the EU control the borders leading into Egypt, and if anything the other checkpoints into Israel have been closed more often that when the settlers were still in Gaza. This leaves the farmers of Gaza with no way to export their goods, resulting in the crops going bad while they try to get authorisation to leave Gaza. It's incredibly to easy to sit back and say that if the Palestinians who are launching the home-made rockets stopped that the restrictions would be lifted, but even when they weren't the checkpoints were more often than not closed. The claims from the Palestinians that the withdrawal of the Israeli settlers would result in Gaza turning into a ghettoised prison (even more so than it was already) seem to have become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Meanwhile, the hellfire missile attacks continue on known militant leaders, and the shells continue to land on the scorched earth.

The last week has seen the St Pancras coroner's court in London come to the conclusion that both Tom Hurndall and James Miller were unlawfully killed by Israeli soldiers. Both of the men were clearly identifable as non-combatants, one wearing the orange top of the Palestinian Solidarity Movement, the other carrying a white flag, who had already identified himself to Israeli soldiers as he had arrived in the area. In the case of Tom Hurndall, Sergeant Taysir Hayb was convicted of manslaughter and jailed for eight years, in one of the harshest sentences received by an Israeli soldier for a crime committed in Palestinian territory. He always claimed that he was instructed by his commanding officer to shoot anyone, armed or not who was a perceived "threat", and that he was a scapegoat for Israeli policy as a whole.

He may well have a point. It's worth remebering the case of a man only identified as "Captain R", who was acquitted of all charges against him, despite unloading 17 bullets into an 13-year-old Palestinian girl who made the mistake of entering a security zone where anything that moves is shot at. Despite her dropping her school bag, which might have carried a bomb, she was shot as she was running away. Captain R then moved in and "confirmed" the kill, meaning that he shot her numerous times at close range.

Palestinian witnesses said they saw the captain shoot Iman twice in the head, walk away, turn back and fire a stream of bullets into her body.

On the tape, Capt R then "clarifies" to the soldiers under his command why he killed Iman: "This is commander. Anything that's mobile, that moves in the [security] zone, even if it's a three-year-old, needs to be killed."

It seems that justice can only be delivered if the person shot is foreign, and only then with intervention by the government of the killed national. Israel did everything it could not to co-operate with the inquest into Tom Hurndall. What hope is there for the hundreds of Palestinians killed if Britons can only get to the truth with expensive inquests that are even then boycotted by Israel? Even when Hamas suggests that it is to disown suicide bombing and gradually comes round to the idea of recognising Israel, there is little to suggest that Israel will negotiate, instead intent on carving out a Palestinian state around the security wall. "Peace" it seems can only be achieved with the Palestinians in the sight of a barrel of a gun.

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Tabloid-watch: Put a gun to my head and paint the walls with my brains.

The Sun today leads on the amazing story that Chantelle, the braindead ex-topless model who won Celebrity Big Brother is to marry Preston, the equally braindead lead singer of the band The Very Ordinary Boys. It's of course impossible to write anything about this mentally challenged hair-extensioned woman without using her catchphrase which puts fear into anyone with at least two braincells left, namely "OH MY GAWD!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!". Also worthy of note is that Alan Rusbridger's daughter has weighed in on the subject over on the Comment is Free blog, which is somewhat surprisingly (or not) an editor's pick. Perhaps the Sun wasn't able to get any photos of people who had been trapped in the scaffolding collapse in Milton Keynes, despite begging for such eyewitness reports on their website.
Not to be outdone, the Mirror leads with the other story on the Sun's frontpage that Britney Spears's child has apparently cracked his skull. I wonder if the fact the newspapers seem to be running stories about her, the baby and her husband's relationship every single day has anything to do with the relationship problems they are meant to have. No, of course that couldn't be it.

It's not that yesterday was a slow news day; there was the Iranian nuclear annoucement, the Italian poll result, and the other tabloids are leading on the supposed abuse of the "Queen's" plane by Blair, which is at least slightly more newsworthy. They could even have gone for yet more Moss dross and printed the photos of Marc Quinn's new sculpture of her in various contorted positions. But no, it can be argued that Britney and Chantelle share something in common with most Mirror and Sun journalists and readers: the lack of anything upstairs.

In other tabloid news, the Sun and News of the Screws have agreed to play Wayne Rooney £100,000 for printing stories saying that he slapped his girlfriend and told her to "fuck off home", along with "prominent" apologies. As the Scum and Screws say in a statement:
"With only 58 days to the start of The World Cup The Sun and The News of The World are pleased to have reached a settlement with Wayne Rooney," the papers' said in a statement.

"We can now put this case behind us and focus on a great tournament. We wish him and the England team every success in Germany and look forward to welcoming them back with the World Cup trophy."

It's worth remembering that the Screws and Sun also have legal cases coming up involving Ashley Cole, another likely England representative, and Sven himself over his meeting with Obsolete's best friend, Mahzer Mahmood. Indeed, the Sun seems to have a prominent and sympathetic article involving Cole in today's paper, stating that he's to leave Arsenal in the summer, according to "friends". What's the betting that both of those are also settled in the coming weeks?

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Tuesday, April 11, 2006 

A certain romance.

Sometimes it's difficult to know what to write about. You could pretend to properly understand what's going on in France and Italy and write a load of crap which'll probably look like you vomited all over the page the next day, or you could just not bother. So instead, let's look at the phenomenon which is apparently the "chav bop".

Yesterday's Scum led with photos and story that Prince William had been to a party on leaving Sandhurst where they had all dressed up as "chavs". Apparently this isn't a minority pursuit. On reading the comments over at Comment is Free on John Harris's original article on the new snobbery, it seems that these parties are quite the in-thing at Oxbridge, and probably other universities. Obsolete hasn't had the privilege of attending one of these august institutions, so it can't possibly comment on what sort of thing goes through the heads of those who think it's hilarious to dress up in various gear (either as the upper class or lower class) that makes you look like a cunt for a party, but I think we can say that they think it's all a bit of fun while to the outsider it probably looks like the contempt of the privileged over those that err, aren't.

It isn't as easy to just class some television programmes and journals as being snobbish though. Harris mentions Harry Enfield and Wayne and Waynetta slob, yet the show also of course had Tim Nice But Dim and Tory Boy. Little Britain is worse, with its Vicky Pollard and Lou and Andy, but it still has the Prime Minister's adviser who is deeply in love with him. Linking Ali G in also doesn't really work; Sacha Baron Cohen has always interviewed politicians and made them look just as stupid as the character he's playing is, in that the politicians feel they have to condescend and not disagree with his outrageous statements. Tony Benn was about the only politician who didn't fall for it.

As for the journals which encourage such stereotyping, the tabloids are all in on the joke. The Sun, most likely to be read by those it calls yobs and chavs, demands endless crackdowns on "feral youths" and "anti-social behaviour". The Daily Mail, the original worrying paper about teenage white working class girls from council estates having kids just to get a house on the social is often even more condescending, as the often quoted article makes clear about women.

"pull their shoddily dyed hair back in that ultra-tight bun known as the 'council house facelift'"

The Mail is meant to be the woman's champion paper, its dedicated Femail section brings in the readers by the bucketload. Yet at the same time it is dismissive of women who have and work, "juggling" as it is often contemptly referred to. Its views are still rooted back in the age of the woman in the kitchen. Maybe this feeds into the collective self-esteem problems some women face, that they are trying to have it all their own way; witness the "yummy mummy" craze, linking that ever popular means of filling newspapers, yabbering about children, while making sure that you look fantastic and glamorous while doing it. That these "yummy mummies" seem to be doing it to mask their own fears about the future and worries is cast aside.

Living in an area which straddles wealth and relative poverty, the mingling of the two leads to the parting of the ways and different social groupings. The simple misalignment of the chav, which has come to mean the working class as a whole to some people, is completely wrong. While there are those who meet the chav way of dressing, they are the same people who are intelligent, but are at the same time fighting to gain a living wage. When they do, they tend to go and spend their gains down the pub. It's easy to sneer at such a mentality, but is it not our culture which leads to this that means they have no other release but to drown their sorrows at the weekend and try to forget that for many of them, they are in effect wage slaves for their families?

The rise of these chav bops then seems to be the typical student response in an attempt to be counter-culture. It all seems very clever to dress up as either the poor or the rich, having a good time while mocking the part of society which you dislike, while of course ignoring the larger issues. The irony is that those at university who attend such parties are likely those who are going to be thousands of pounds in debt at the end of their courses, while those they are mocking might be poor, but they're unlikely to be in as much debt, and of course the rich can pay off such debts instanteously thanks to mummy and daddy. Perhaps it's the Arctic Monkeys song which ruminates on this issue that says it best. While the rest of the album is relatively mediocre, the last song on the album almost saves it. Its ambivalence and realising that these people are humans, and to many of us former friends, if not current ones proves that there is a certain romance, whether some like it or not:

Well oh they might wear classic Reeboks
Or knackered Converse
Or tracky bottoms tucked in socks
But all of that's what the point is not
The point's that there ain't no romance around there

And there's the truth that they can't see
They'd probably like to throw a punch at me
And if you could only see them, then you would agree
Agree that there ain't no romance around there

You know, oh it's a funny thing you know
We'll tell 'em if you like
We'll tell 'em all tonight
They'll never listen
Cause their minds are made up
And course it's all okay to carry on that way

And over there there's broken bones
There's only music, so that there's new ringtones
And it don't take no Sherlock Holmes
To see it's a little different around here

Don't get me wrong, oh there's boys in bands
And kids who like to scrap with pool cues in their hands
And just cause he's had a coupla cans
He thinks it's alright to act like a dickhead

Don't you know, oh it's a funny thing you know
We'll tell em if you like
We'll tell em all tonight
They'll never listen
Cause their minds are made up
And course it's all okay to carry on that way

I said no
Oh no!
Oh you won't get me to go!
Anywhere, said anywhere
I won't go
Oh no no !

Well over there there's friends of mine
What can I say, I've known 'em for a long long time
And yeah they might overstep the line
But I just cannot get angry in the same way
Not in the same way
Not in the same way
Oh no, oh no no

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Monday, April 10, 2006 

Terrorism and intelligence, or lack there of.

Yesterday's leaked first account of what lead to the London bombings should be the final nail in the coffin of the theory that there is a big organisation called al-Qaida which has cells waiting to attack. According to a quoted Whitehall source:

The London attacks were a modest, simple affair by four seemingly normal men using the internet.'

These men weren't al-Qaida members. They weren't linked to al-Qaida. Only one of them was definitely known to the security services. There's nothing to suggest that they were influenced by radical clerics in mosques, only the suggestion that they may well have taken the idea from a visit to a madrasa in Pakistan. What it suggests is that there are men out there who are so disillusioned with life in their relative countries, disgusted by the policies of government and reviled by what they see as decadent lifestyles that are prepared to turn themselves into human bombs of their volition, with little input from the villains of the piece, the likes of Bin Laden, al-Zahawiri and Abu Hamza. Yet at the same these men seem to live normal "Western" lives. They weren't religious extremists in the way that we normal think of extremists as. This is what makes the spectre of them even more frightening.

Doubtless, they are inspired by such men and their ideologies and theories. But no longer are they those who supposedly order the attacks. Those who share these beliefs are finding each other, using the internet as a meeting place. This is of course the threat which is now being talked up, the one which means we have to hold suspects without charge for 90 days, and outlaw the "glorification" of terrorism.

Yet we have no idea of the amount of people there are who actually think this way. The rise of what is becoming known as autonomous cells with a shared but not connected ideology is the result, more than anything, of the reaction to the September the 11th attacks. We have the words of Mohammad Siddique Kham which prove that:

Your democratically elected governments continuously perpetuate atrocities against my people all over the world.

Until we feel security, you will be our targets. And until you stop the bombing, gassing, imprisonment and torture of my people we will not stop this fight.

We are at war and I am a soldier. Now you too will taste the reality of this situation.

Siddique Khan seems to have been the "brains" behind the bombing. Discounting other theories, such as that the other men were duped by Khan into believing they were running drugs, the others involved were seemingly silent. We still have little idea of why they did what they did. None were living in abject poverty, nor did they have abused childhoods or major grievances.

The report suggests that the main motivation was British foreign policy, most likely the war on Iraq. The other suggestion seems to be a desire for immortality, martyrdom and perhaps even the mythical 72 virgins which they will receive on entering paradise.

What could have been done to stop them, or what can we do to stop it happening again? Well, to state the obvious, there are no easy answers. While the government still refuses to countenance the suggestion that the Iraq war has created terrorism and not helped to prevent it, it's doubtful whether even Blair had pleaded contrition once no WMD were discovered and resigned that the attack would never have happened. Instead, we should look at how despite the amount of opposition there was to the war, that still this country entered it when it had no reason to. There was the dossiers, one after another. There was the constant changing of reasons, from WMD, to getting rid of Saddam on humanitarian grounds, to enforcing UN resolutions, right up to the whispered claim that Saddam and al-Qaida were in cahoots, which seemingly many Americans believed.

Then all of a sudden it hits you in the face. Intelligence. The claims, from the 45 minute one, to all that Powell said in his UN presentation. All of it was wrong. There are allegations that Siddique Khan was on the radar of the security services, then abandoned when a "bigger" threat came in. While the government preaches fear, the intelligence that is meant to be behind the threat is uncertain. The government is still refusing to allow phone-tap evidence to be used in the courts. Surely that has to change, as does the current climate which is accusatory of the Muslim community as a whole. We need to expand the security services and throw more money at it, yet at the same time we need to argue against those who both blame Muslims as a whole and those who say we are victimising them and in a crusade against the Islamic world. Good intelligence begins at home, and this government would do well to realise that the use of fear goes both ways. Unless they are prepared to help the Muslim community in Europe deal with the agent provocateurs within, while keeping a cool head, then the threat of more Mohammad Siddique Khans will loom even larger, and we really will have something to fear.

Related post: Blurred Borders.

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Sunday, April 09, 2006 

News of the Screws-watch: No mention of the fake sheikh.

Seeing as in the high court this week the News International lawyers claimed that Mahzer Mahmood's life was in danger if the photos of him came into the public domain, it seems somewhat strange that there is not a single mention of the incident in today's paper. There's no outraged attack on the judge for putting their star reporter in harm's way, nor is there any other reference to Galloway's publishing of his photo at all. How very odd. Maybe they're incredibly embarrassed that every single one of their arguments was refuted and demolished. No, that couldn't be it.

The Screws does however find space to print paparazzi photos of the model Sophie Anderton topless on a beach; a photo of one of the models that 50 Cent supposedly bedded on the night of his film's premiere, wearing only a transparent thong and a see-through pink top; that Coleen McLoughlin was wearing a new ring at Aintree yesterday; a photograph of Pete Doherty injecting himself with heroin; an "expose" on the website, where shock horror, married men and women are cheating on their spouses; that David James, a "top Tory" had his house exorcised after a "spirit" attacked his wife; a photograph of Peter Andre and Jordan going shopping; the second part of their serialisation of Jade Goody's (yes, the girl who stripped naked on Big Brother and is about as smart as two bricks) "sensational and shocking" autobiography, which includes the revelation that she told her plastic surgeon to give her "boobs" just like Posh's, then censors the word "tits", or rather "t**s" lest anyone be offended, despite above the headline they print a paparrazi shot of her with her fake breasts on full display on a beach; oh, and a review of Scary Movie 4 which begins with: "This one should carry a government health warning -- because it could be bad news for your pants." And all for only 85 pence!

Perhaps the News of the World should carry a government health warning that it's bad news for your intelligence.

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