Saturday, November 11, 2006 

One man's racist, another man's freedom fighter...

Nick Griffin, leader of the British National Party, aryanised.

Nick Griffin is a cunt.

Right, that's the ad hominem attack out of the way. Nick Griffin's acquittal yesterday on charges of inciting racial hatred was the entirely right decision by the jury at Leeds Crown Court. While Griffin is a vicious, distasteful jumped-up little racist, his remarks, especially when taken in the context of his speech as a whole, were not inciting hatred, nor were they particularly even that offensive, especially when compared to the benchmark set by the vast majority of BNP supporters who post on forums such as Stormfront. His description of Islam as a wicked, vicious faith is sadly a view that is becoming mainstream, helped on its way by the constant rantings of the mad Melanie Philips' of this world. As for Britain being a "multi-racial hell hole", that is again his opinion, a completely wrong one, but one that should never be criminalised.

More offensive and gratuitous than Griffin's comments were those by his partner in crime on the night on which he was being filmed by a undercover BBC journalist. Mark Collett, a former student at Leeds University, described asylum seekers as "cockroaches", but said that he hated this country's politicians more because they let them come in. He then ended his reactionary oratory by saying "let's show these ethnics the door in 2004." Again though, while describing those seeking shelter here from torture, death and repression as "cockroaches" is the politics of the sewer, it should not be illegal, nor should it be regarded as inciting racial hatred. His closing remarks are closer to that definition, and could potentially be regarded as a call to violence, but again this would have to be comprehensively proved, which the prosecution failed to do.

I find it sickening that I actually agree with the British National Party, but they are entirely right in calling the two trials a huge waste of taxpayer's money. It was enough in the first place that the BBC exposed the BNP for what it is: a degenerate, racist party of political opportunists, ex-criminals and skinheads, that despite its slick new PR and spin is still teetering on the edge of fascism. There was no reason at all for Nick Griffin and Collett to be put on trial, potentially martyring them in the process for speaking out against the imagined "politically correct" consensus, let alone for them to be prosecuted twice. All it has achieved, as Griffin has stated, is an increase in publicity for them. Whether it's true that they've had an increase in membership and donations is more questionable, as some have been suggestingthat the party could actually be close to bankruptcy.

Even more pathetic has been the response of New Labour to the failure to convict Griffin. Seemingly ignoring the jury's decision, Lord Falconer somehow convinced himself that speaking twaddle such as this was necessary:
What is being said to young Muslim people in this country is that we as a country are anti-Islam, and we have got to demonstrate without compromising freedom that we are not."

According to Falconer then, we have to restrict free speech in order to not compromise freedom. Can he honestly believe such stupidity, or are Labour trying to make up for their own Muslim bashing of late by now changing sides once again?

Some have naturally compared Griffin's acquittal with the conviction of Mizanur Rahman, one of those who took part in the Danish cartoons protest organised by al-Ghruaba in February, who said that soldiers should be brought back from Iraq in body bags, as well as calling for terrorist attacks against Europe. The difference is, as many have been pointing out on the Comment is Free thread, that Rahman openly called for violence. Neither Griffin or Collett did that. While Rahman may have apologised, as we all know, it's incredibly easy to regret something once you've been caught. Whether he genuinely does or not is another matter. As someone also remarks, Rahman might not be a terrorist, but he is an idiot. Griffin and Collett on the other hand, are not idiots. They know exactly what they're doing, and they frame their speeches so that they don't breach any of our highly restrictive laws.

Rather than coming up with yet more new laws, Labour should realise that they are as just as much of the problem as they are the solution. Reid's bullshitting over brainwashing, the constant linking of Muslims with terrorism and the demands that Muslims as a whole denounce the terrorism committed by 4 of those who professed to follow Islam have all been constants over the last few months. This is playing purely into the BNP's hands. Their shift towards attacking Muslims, while peppering their rhetoric with SWP-type working-class solidarity is already working in some areas. If Labour is to compete with this, it has to expose their arguments as false, opportunistic and deeply unpleasant. At the moment they are failing, and their own political bankruptcy is showing. Making their speeches illegal would only increase their totally false sense of grievance, to steal a statement of Blair's.

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Scum-watch: Reverse ferret on Connaught Barracks.

You might recall that earlier this summer the Sun came up with the solution to all the government's prison overcrowding problems. In one of their typically short-sighted campaigns, designed to motivate their readership into an orgy of anger while also bashing our "politically correct" politicians, they suggested that disused Ministry of Defence bases and land could quickly be converted into open prisons. Amazingly, John Reid agreed, and set about looking into how the Connaught Barracks in Dover could quickly come on stream as an open prison.

The Sun was ecstatic. PRISON CAMP WIN FOR SUN, the headline screamed on the 20th of September:

The scheme to convert Connaught Barracks in Dover is a victory for a campaign by The Sun to use old MoD sites to ease Britain’s jails overcrowding crisis.

We highlighted 16 disused sites, some covering vast areas of land, which could be turned into prisons.

The Home Secretary is determined to push through the change, though he may face stiff opposition from local residents trying to block planning permission.
That day's leader was also rejoicing:
WHILE we’re at it, let’s offer a couple of unreserved cheers for John Reid’s plan to use an old army barracks to provide desperately needed jail space.

Officials raised hell when The Sun first suggested this idea a few weeks ago. Today it is seen as plain common sense.

It’s only a start. But at least inmates will be locked up — instead of being freed early from overcrowded prisons, a threat to all law-abiding citizens.

Alas! While to the Sun the idea seemed plain common sense, as a commenter on one of this blog's original posts on the subject said:
As a resident of Dover I am appalled at the proposal to turn the barracks into a Cat D (open) prison. The site is close to 7 schools including the MoD open school (King of Yorks), a housing estate, MoD housing for 100 Gurkhas and their families and Dover Castle. The site also contains a listed historical building - Fort Burgoyne, which the prison service will struggle to maintain.
The lack of consultation and the total disregard for local people and the planning process beggar belief.

Those in the area quickly launched their campaign in opposition to the Home Office's hastily established plans. There was a well-attended march against the Sun's scheme, in Dover's Market Square, and the local Labour MP, Gwyn Prosser, asked those sending letters to the Home Office to give them to him instead so he could take them directly to John Reid.

Mauled, Reid was left with coming up with an excuse that would appease the Sun. He decided to go with the Sun-friendly reason that there are the Gurkhas living locally, with their children being taught at a nearby school. Hence today's mournful Sun leader:
IT’S a disappointment that John Reid has scrapped plans for an open prison at a disused barracks in Dover. But The Sun understands why.

The Home Secretary has heeded local fears about prisoners being housed so close to the families of servicemen away fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan.

He’s right. Those squaddies go through enough without worrying about the safety of their wives and kids back home.

Mr Reid is as keen as we are that new jail space be found — in other old barracks or on prison ships.

Back to the drawing board, John.

What happened to plain common sense?! What about the bad lags that may now go free as a result?! Rather, as William Higham of the Prison Reform Trust says:

It seems the home secretary is discovering that concreting over the country with jails is not going to be as popular with local residents as it is in the national tabloid press.
Quite. For a newspaper that always claims to have the interests of its readers at its heart, the Sun's desire to build prisons just about anywhere shows a casual arrogance and disdain both for those readers and for the local working people it seeks to represent.

P.S. For those uncertain of what a reverse ferret is, here's a decent definition:
"Kelvin McKenzie, probably the world's greatest tabloid editor (certainly the most obnoxious), used to stalk the newsroom [of Murdoch's British paper, The Sun] urging his reporters generally to annoy the powers that be, to 'put a ferret up their trousers.' He would do this until the moment it became clear that in the course of making up stories, inventing quotes, invading people's privacy, and stepping on toes, The Sun had committed some truly hideous solecism — like running the wrong lottery numbers — when he would rush back to the newsroom shouting, 'reverse ferret!' This is the survival moment, when a tabloid changes course in a blink without any reduction in speed, volume, or moral outrage."

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Friday, November 10, 2006 

Are you scared yet?

It's in the eyes.

I'll admit it. I'm an unreconstructed class warrior. It makes me want to spit to even have to type the name Dame Eliza Manningham-Buller, the current head of the Secret Intelligence Service, better known as MI5. Not only is she a "Dame", but the double-barrelled name just puts the saliva on a cake which has, shall we say, a surprise filling.

I'll also not bother to hide my contempt for another reason. Manningham-Buller was earlier this year asked to give evidence to the parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights. She refused, without explaining why. Perhaps her excuse is, as she says at the start of her speech, "that she prefers to avoid the limelight and get on with my job." And who could possibly disagree with that? Manningham-Buller has the starring role in protecting this country from exploding jihadists, keeping us safe from the mad mullahs which the Sun and others cannot stop talking about.

Then again, maybe we should examine what this woman who wishes to avoid the limelight really thinks. Back in 2003 she made a speech to the Royal United Services Institute, where she said she fully supported the war on an abstract noun (terror),
and told the salivating audience that "renegade scientists" had given terrorists the information needed to create what are usually described as weapons of mass destruction. Three years later, and those terrorist groups which don't usually hold back from showing us just how spectacular their attacks can be, haven't managed to move on from their usual tactic of suicide bombings. Last year, this shy, retiring, limelight avoiding woman made another public utterance, informing us that we may need to give up some civil liberties in order for others not to become smears on tube-train windows. Then there was the leaked evidence from her submission to the law lords, where she made clear that she couldn't give a fig if "evidence" is obtained from detainees who have been tortured.

Have you spotted a pattern? Yes, Ms Double-Barrelled Name is a spook almost made in Tony Blair's image. War on terror supporting; scaremongering about terrorists getting hold of WMD, which was one of the justifications made for the Iraq war; thinks that civil liberties need to be curtailed in order for the threat to be reduced; and yes, rendition, torture, and probably even Guantanamo Bay are all A-OK in her book. Why else would she refuse to give evidence to a parliamentary committee investigating human rights abuses?

Just to be fair to Ms Manningham-Buller, I wondered if her speech yesterday night at the Queen Mary University of London had been perhaps influenced by her finances, despite also her being invited by Peter Hennessey. The Queen Mary University website talks of a
communication office, which seems to go out of its way to be hospitable towards journalistic requests of seemingly any nature. Unless it seems, if you're either: A. a blogger or B: asking about whether the head of MI5 was paid for her appearance, even if just for expenses. As of writing this post at 23:43, having sent the email in the early hours of this morning, I haven't so much as got a reply telling me to piss off.

There were seemingly also no questions asked of Ms Manningham-Buller afterwards, or at least if they were, there are none recorded on either the MI5 website or on the Queen Mary's. This might, just might, be down to the fact that yes, any potentially unruly students or off-message journalists weren't in the audience, as it was invitation only.
The Guardian, which splashed the lecture on its front page, seems only to have been given a copy of actual speech. Later editions of the Sun, which as we have already seen this week are determined to keep their readers as scared of terrorism as humanly possible, also jumped on the talk.

As the news bulletins and reports have repeated throughout the day,
the numbers crunched out by Buller are, on the face of it, rather frightening. According to MI5's head, there are around 200 various terrorist groups or networks which are currently operating in the United Kingdom. Of these, there about 1600 individuals who are actively engaged in either plotting or facilitating attacks, either here or abroad. She says there are nearer 30 than 5 or 10 plots of which they know about, either designed to kill members of the public or "damage" the economy, which seems rather euphemistic.

And err, that's it. Almost everything else that Buller says is pretty much what has been said by politicians of various ilks before, as well as by supposed "security specialists" who usually have their own businesses to promote when they do so and by "well-informed" journalists. She claims that five "conspiracies" since 7/7 have been stopped, as John Reid has previously stated. Again, we don't know yet know anything about those plots, whether those involved have been arrested or just disrupted, as she provides no further background about them. We also don't know whether she's including the alleged liquid explosives plot in those 5, as she doesn't say, but she would doubtless claim, as she does, that she would prejudice cases to do so. The BBC also reported that the speech was specially scheduled so that it fell between two terrorist trials.

Of the 200 groupings she mentions, it's unclear whether all are extremist Islamist groupings, as again, she doesn't infer. She just simply goes on to explain what she feels the average radicalised Muslim is influenced by/and or angry about. All these numbers though seem utterly meaningless. Britain as a country has a population of around 60 million. Of that 60 million, about 1600 are engaged, according to Buller, in frontline terrorist activity. They don't seem to be just the type that posts on jihadist message boards, or goes on the al-Ghuraba affiliates protests. They're either actively planning attacks, or involved in crimes associated with funding terrorism, such as fraud or charities which are actually fronts for terrorist groups. The thing is, Buller doesn't make clear whether these 1600 are working for terrorist cells here, or even for groups such as Hizbullah, Hamas, etc. There have been allegations made repeatedly that charities here are funding Hamas's social work, for example. We don't know whether they would be included in that 1600.

Then there's whether these 1600, are, like Dhiren Barot, fantasists with no funding and no weapons/explosives or otherwise. As Buller says later on in her speech, once she's got the juicy stuff out of the way, the soundbites for the media to devour:
Who are merely talking big, and who have real ambitions? Who have genuine aspirations to commit terrorism, but lack the know-how or materials? Who are the skilled and trained ones, who the amateurs? Where should we and the police focus our finite resources?
All of which are good questions. Yet while Barot definitely had ambitions and aspirations to commit terrorism, he lacked the know-how. He's now destined to become known as the "smoke alarm bomber". He lacked the funding, despite the police desperately telling us that they're certain it was either coming or that he had gone to Pakistan to meet "al-Qaida" leaders to deliver his botched, laughable plans. Barot was however, skilled and trained, unlike Kamel Bourgass, who had just ambitions and aspirations. Not only did Bourgass not have the materials for the "ricin" plot, he also lacked the know-how, wanting to smear a substance he didn't have onto doorknobs, when it has to pierce the skin to be effective. Let's not even mention the Forest Gate raid. Naturally, none of the above is spoken of by Buller.

As part of her conclusion, she also wants to make clear just how unbiased or otherwise her speech has been, and says:
I do not speak in this way to alarm (nor as the cynics might claim to enhance the reputation of my organisation) but to give the most frank account I can of the Al-Qaida threat to the UK. That threat is serious, is growing and will, I believe, be with us for a generation. It is a sustained campaign, not a series of isolated incidents. It aims to wear down our will to resist.
Whether the latter point is true or not is debatable, but I think she is at least being honest in saying that the threat will be with us for a generation. The main problem though is that she, like so many journalists, falls into the simplistic trap of referring to all extremist Muslim terrorism as being the "al-Qaida" threat. This not only gives too much credit to Osama bin Laden, although it's obvious that he has been exceptionally successful in spreading the Salafist millenarian ideology quickly, but it also makes people think of al-Qaida as some monolithic organisation either headed by bin Laden or al-Zahawiri, running things from Pakistan. This is complete and utter rot, and she must know it is. Even though there is some truth to the fact that al-Qaida, removed mostly from Afghanistan, is now regrouping in Pakistan, the group is still mostly in flux, and will continue to be as Musharraf looks likely to crackdown even further shortly. There is no great head group in Pakistan which orders or gives the go-ahead for attacks; what there is, at the most, is sympathetic groups over there that are helping train potential jihadists. Most however, are from Pakistan or the Middle East itself, and are going at the moment, to Iraq. Dhiren Barot had some contact with such a group, having previously fought in Kashmir. Mohammed Sidique Khan and Shehzad Tanweer went to Pakistan, possibly to visit a madrasa, but also to find someone who could teach them how to prepare their explosives. They also recorded their martyrdom videos there, with them afterwards being shipped off to where al-Qaida got hold of them.

The true nature of the current mainstream extremist Islamist ideology, as Buller must know, is that it is autonomous. Various groupings across the globe are using it mainly in struggles which are nationalist in nature, seeking to liberate territory, or to establish an Islamic state. al-Qaida's variety is a mixture of doing this while also targeting the West for its support either for the governments which are oppressing, in their belief, Muslims, and just also generally for existing and being "
kafir". This is what is now generating the cells which are appearing across the Western world. Inspired by al-Qaida and other notorious firebrand preachers or scholars, such as Sayyid Qutb, yes, but actually al-Qaida, members of al-Qaida or being directed by al-Qaida? No. Buller's speech in sections comes close to admitting this, when she refers to the "powerful narrative" of this ideology, but instead carries on blaming al-Qaida as if it's the only game in town, so to speak.

Buller does at least in sections make some decent points. She admits that foreign policy has led to the radicalising of more Muslim youth than otherwise would have been. She recognises that intelligence needs to be assessed objectively, with integrity, and sceptically, although considering the fact that she doesn't seem bothered whether intelligence comes from tortured prisoners, this might be posturing for the press. Mentioning Iraq will also probably be moot.
Her best, and naturally, the least reported part of the speech, is left for towards the end:
We also need to understand some of the differences between non-Western and Western life-styles; and not treat people with suspicion because of their religion, or indeed to confuse fundamentalism with terrorism. We must realise that there are significant differences between faiths and communities within our society, and most people, from whatever origin, condemn all acts of terror in the UK. And we must focus on those values that we all share in this country regardless of our background: Equality, Freedom, Justice and Tolerance. Many people are working for and with us to address the threat precisely for those reasons. Because all of us, whatever our ethnicity and faith, are the targets of the terrorists.
Again, Buller can be regarded as something of a hypocrite, having been involved in the "ricin" case where those accused and found not guilty have since been re-arrested, which seems to be spite rather than justice, and she seems to regard freedom as expendable when it comes to fighting terror. This shouldn't take away though from what is a decent message, often drowned out in the hysteria and sensationalism which seems to grow like a cancer out of the threat.

The main basis for the speech however, despite Buller's protestations, does seem to be to add to the scare mongering and the politicisation of the threat which has been developed by Labour as an electoral asset. Margaret Beckett
also made a speech yesterday which had a decent amount in it about terrorism, ably mocked over on BlairWatch. The Sun won't let us forget for a second that we're all the targets for extremists. The Queen's speech seems likely to introduce yet more terrorism laws, and Gordon Brown appears sold on the idea of reintroducing 90 days once he becomes PM. This is the politics of fear, and if you're not scared yet, then in their eyes there must be something wrong with you.

Update: Only 5 days late, the communications office at Queen Mary responds:

No, she was not paid.
I'm not familiar with your website and have been unable to access it. Do you have another link you could send me please?

Worth every penny, I'm sure.

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Thursday, November 09, 2006 

Stuff happens.

The eventual humbling of the Republicans was always going to lead to an outbreak of optimism and gloating among the Bush administration's opponents. It has also led to some rather hyperbolic, ludicrous commenting by usually sane writers. Simon Jenkins, who is normally soberly realistic about the chances of victory in Afghanistan, reckons that this marks the end of belligerent interventionism. Juan Cole talks of the Democratic victory as the "fourth popular revolution of the twenty-first century", somehow equating the ballot-box changeover to the weeks of camping carried out by the orange revolutionaries in Ukraine. Daily Kos says that the conservative ascendancy has come to an end.

Oh, if it were true. First though, the good news. The Democrats likely have control of both houses of congress; George Allan, the Republican senate candidate for Missouri, is expected to concede defeat shortly. Donald Rumsfeld, the architect of the Iraq war, the signer of the memorandum that led to the abuse at Abu Ghraib, the pig ignorant, arrogant, reactionary cowardly toad, is gone, booted out just days after Bush pledged his full support to him. Katherine Harris, personally involved in the removal of black voters from the electoral rolls in Florida, which led to Bush stealing the 2000 election, was defeated in her attempt to enter the senate. In South Dakota, the referendum on banning abortion in all circumstances was defeated. Missouri voted to allow stem cell research. Arizona, Colorado, Missouri, Montana, Nevada and Ohio all voted to raise the poverty-level minimum wage. The Democrats are now free to hold the Bush administration to account over how the Iraq war was justified and conducted. Nancy Pelosi, the new Democrat speaker, has also pledged to introduce a number of remarkably sane, liberal bills to congress.

The bad news does rather take the gloss off the relief that has come from the Democrats finally getting their act together, however. Bush's nomination for new defence secretary, Robert Gates, is yet another Bush Snr crony, head of the CIA between 91 and 93, involved in Iran-Contra and was more than happy to sell Saddam Hussein's Iraq such delightful weapons as cluster bombs. The only bright side is that he doesn't have the neo-con heritage which so many of the men Bush surrounded himself in his first term had. Having moved on from racism, the new bigotry in America is against gay men and women. Colorado, Idaho, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Virginia and Wisconsin all voted to ban same sex marriages, adding to the number of states which banned in it referendums in 2004. Of the Democrats elected to Congress, a frightening number are what are coyly referred to as "centrists", or as you or I would call them, hard right-wingers that are opposed to abortion, gun control and immigration. The only thing separating many of them from their Republican rivals was the fact that they were anti-war. The Democratic success is also only likely to further encourage Hillary Clinton to run for President in 2008, and if she manages to win, will mean that the world's greatest democracy will have been essentially run by two dynasties for the last 20 years. Apart from that rather disconcerting fact, Ms. Clinton is a hugely divisive figure, and in her shameless attempts to court a certain Mr Murdoch (sound familiar?) has become even more bellicose than many Republicans over Iran, as well as shifting her position on abortion. She also believes that Grand Theft Auto is a "major threat" to morality. Bless.

For the natural pessimist then, there seems little to get too excited about. Whatever the Iraq Study Group eventually reports and recommends, there is little to suggest that Bush is going to pull the troops out any time soon, meaning that the British troops won't be departing either. The Democrats, despite wearing their anti-war prospectus on their sleeves, are split over withdrawal. Rumsfeld may have gone, but Cheney remains, and as made clear by his pro-torture remarks last week, is unrestrained as ever. The secret prisons, rendition flights, and kidnappings are not going to come to an end. Guantanamo remains open, and in January will have been accepting detainees for five years. There's no reason to expect that there'll be any respite in the Iran nuclear dispute; the spectre of a surprise attack on the reactors remains. There's next to no difference between the Democrats and the Republicans over Israel-Palestine. Olmert will not be forced to the talks table, especially if Clinton takes the presidency in two years. Her support for the war crimes committed by Israel in Lebanon, killing over 1000 civilians and leaving a legacy of hundreds of thousands of unexploded cluster bomblets, marks her out as being no different to Condoleezza Rice's insultingly biased diplomacy. As Simon Tisdall reports Robert Kagan as saying, once the smoke has cleared, we will have much the same America to deal with.

All of that though is forgetting the millions of Americans who went to the polls determined to give Bush and the Republicans their first bloody nose for all the blood spilt in Iraq. As the Guardian and numerous others have already said, thank you. Within six months Blair should also be gone, and the awfulness of the first six years of the twenty-first century will hopefully slowly start to fade. Saddam may swing shortly, but his old friend Rumsfeld already has, politically at least.

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Wednesday, November 08, 2006 

Just another horrible, ugly massacre.

Scenes of the carnage caused by today's Israeli shelling of Beit Hanoun, which killed 19 Palestinians. The last image shows the aftermath of Israeli firing on unarmed Palestinian women residents of Beit Hanoun, who marched last week to a mosque where Palestinian militants were taking refuge.

It is completely impossible to describe the Israeli shell attack today on Beit Hanoun, which killed 19 Palestinians, including 9 children, as anything other than a massacre. Israel, as it always does when its soldiers kill civilians, has said that it "regrets" the "incident", and is investigating what went wrong. It's worth remembering that a previous inquiry into a similar attack, the shelling of the Gaza beach which killed 7 people, including all of Huda Ghalia's siblings, concluded that the deaths were actually caused by a Hamas land mine, even though every piece of evidence pointed to the carnage being caused either by an errant Israeli shell or by previous unexploded Israeli ordnance. While a cover-up along the same lines will be more difficult this time, it's highly unlikely any soldier will even be so much as disciplined for the latest tragedy in what is an increasingly bloody war of attrition.

As the weeks go by, it becomes more and more difficult to take any positives at all from the current situation, both in Gaza and the West Bank, as well as Israel itself. The week-long Israeli incursion into Beit Hanoun, a town of 35,000 on the border between the Strip and Israel, has resulted in the deaths of at least 50 Palestinians, some of whom were militants, but the toll also includes women, children and ambulance drivers. The Israeli justification for the incursion, the continuing firing of feeble Qassam rockets into Sderot (some have reached further inside Israel, hitting the city of Ashkelon), the majority of which either hit nothing or cause incredibly minor damage or injuries, only very rarely kill. 6 to 8 Israelis have so far been killed since the first Qassam hit Israeli territory in early 2002. 3 foreign workers and a number of Palestinians have also died as a result of their use. By the crude method of body count comparison, more died in today's shelling than have been killed in four years of Qassam firing. While the firing of such rockets is an act of simple resistance, their use is just as counter-productive and indefensible as sending suicide bombers to kill innocent Israeli civilians. While they may not kill, they are designed to terrorise, something which they amply do. Their continued usage only provides the Israelis with yet another excuse for their acts of collective punishment on the Palestinians of Gaza as a whole.

Last week's collective civil disobedience by the women of Beit Hanoun, who heeded the call of the radio to help defend suspected miltants who were seeking refuge from Israelis soldiers in a mosque, was an example of the kind of tactics that the Palestinians should employ more often. The bravery of the mass of hijab wearing women, marching towards what turned out to be the death of two of them, was one of the most humbling spectacles that has been broadcast on the news for a long time. The savagery of the Israeli response, which was to fire into the crowd of unarmed women underlined yet again the abyss that the IDF has dived into, from the moral high ground which it continues to claim that it operates from. Their justification was that armed militants were among them. While the militants in the mosque were later freed, disguised wearing spare hijabs brought by the women, there has been no evidence presented that any of the women were armed, or that militants were among them. Television pictures showed what appeared to be a young male Palestinian dressed in a hijab who had been shot, but there were no weapons to be seen.

While the use of violence by both sides leads to an impasse that renders both sides in the eyes of the world as little better than each other, the potential of civil disobedience to wring concessions from the Israelis has been little used. It has to be said that such potential protests could be foolhardy against a state which fires Hellfire missiles into the crowded, bustling streets of Gaza City, yet could Israel withstand the international condemnation which would arise from the deaths of unarmed men and women confronting Israeli soldiers when they make incursions into the Strip? At the moment the Israelis constantly hide behind the pretence of killing terrorists and stopping the Qassams from being fired, but how could it justify the summary execution of an unarmed massing of women and men which stops the soldiers and tanks from operating?

At the moment, all the Palestinians are left with is their anger and the thirst of elected politicians for revenge. Even though Israel has called a temporary halt to the shelling of Gaza while it investigates today's outrages, Hamas has responded predictably but irresponsibly by firing yet more Qassams. Any lulls in the launching of missiles should be reciprocal, however much one side is angered by what happens from one day to the next. The current mindset of Hamas, still negotiating with Fatah over attempts to bring them into the Palestinian Authority government, seems to be on the level of cutting off your nose to spite your face, calling for apparent action against America, although whether they intend their message to be taken as a call for violence or for a boycott is unclear. Ghazi Hamad, a Hamas spokesman, in a similar call to that alleged to have been made by Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, said that "this state [Israel] should cease to exist." Despite the war of words, Hamas's sort of ceasefire, known as tahdiyah, a period of calm, continues to hold. No suicide bomber from Hamas has been sent into Israel itself since August 2004, while their final suicide bombing to date was carried out at the Gush Katif checkpoint in January 2005. Islamic Jihad and the Al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigade have continued attacks, although only 2 suicide bombings have been directed against civilians in 2006.

There are apologists on all sides for the killing and maiming which continues unabated. Davide over at the Nether-World made a mild post linking the mid-term elections in the US to Israel's incursion into Beit Hanoun, and was targeted by the Israeli online pressure group for his trouble. Their purpose is to distort polls and shout down anyone who even so much as dares to speak out against the crimes committed by the Israelis. No one denies that the Palestinians are often their own worst enemy, yet Israel is by far the country most associated with state terrorism. To say so is not to deny that bloody massacres have been committed in the past by the party which now forms the Palestinian Authority, but neither does it justify the continuing boycott of the Hamas government, which is only contributing to more support for the group. Hamas has put forward plans for a ten-year ceasefire, which while not going far enough, should be a good starting point for negotiations with the West over the dropping of sanctions. The worst thing now would be a continuing of the status quo. With the bringing into the Israeli government of the openly racist Avigdor Lieberman, the Palestinians for once can stand on the moral high ground. Now would be a perfect time for genuine concessions. For our part, the British government should do as much as possible to further the cause of moderates on both sides. The return to peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians cannot come soon enough.

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Tuesday, November 07, 2006 

A short call to arms.

To any Americans reading this blog:

I know us Brits are not the best people to urge you to vote for anyone but George Bush. We failed miserably in cutting Blair down to size at the last election. The Grauniad's attempt at doing something similar in Clark County, Ohio, rather backfired. I also realise how utterly hopeless the Democrats are, how little difference they genuinely offer, with some of them even to the right of liberal Republicans. Nevertheless, a vote for the Democrats today will strike a blow against just a few of these things. In some states it might be a necessary evil. A less than resounding victory for the Democrats will mean Bush will be completely unrestrained for the last two years of his presidency, free to think only of his legacy and nothing else. You might have noticed this is the current situation in Britland, and it's not a fun place to be at the moment. A vote against Bush is a vote for a better world. Honestly.

Thanks for reading.

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Scum-watch: Stay scared.

All the opinions offered in today's Sun leader are utterly contemptible, from the argument that those who accidentally kill through dangerous or careless driving are guilty of a crime tantamount to murder, (Why say it's tantamount when it's obvious that the leader writer believes it is murder? I thought the Sun was meant to speak freely.) to the unmitigated support it gives to the DNA database (which they bizarrely call DNA tests) without bothering to consider the dangers the databases poses to the innocent citizens it campaigns for, whose information is kept whether they are ever charged with a crime or not. (Not to mention the danger of being accused of a crime you didn't commit as a result of leaving your DNA at what later becomes a crime scene.)

Let's concentrate on the main topic, which is headlined "Stay on guard":

EVERY month without a new 7/7 terror strike lulls us into dangerous false security.

Memories have faded so fast that some would rather condemn police for overkill than praise them for trying to protect us.

So the trial of terror plotter Dhiren Barot is a timely wake-up call.

Barot admits planning bombs big enough to puncture the River Thames and flood the capital’s Tube network.

His targets included mainline stations and top hotels.

And he aimed to paralyse London and New York with simultaneous nuclear dirty bombs.

Barot can’t be dismissed as a harmless fantasist.

He was trained to kill by al-Qaeda. His signed plans were found in Pakistan.

Barot’s confession saves us a long and costly trial.

But security chiefs warn there are hundreds more where he came from — and thousands willing to offer support. It is only a matter of time before some succeed.

We cannot afford to drop our guard for an instant.

The Sun tells us that Barot can't be dismissed as a harmless fantasist. Indeed, he apparently "aimed to paralyse London and New York with simultaneous nuclear dirty bombs", the leader tells us. You don't need Barot to be a fantasist when the Sun can play that role perfectly well. Where was the "nuclear" material for these bombs going to come from? Err, smoke alarms. Yes, that's right, Barot was planning to harvest americium-241, a man-made radioactive chemical, from smoke alarms for his nefarious plot. The BBC Horizon programme in 2003 ran a couple of scenarios which involved bombs containing a radiation source. It concluded that you would have to stand in the area where the bomb had been exploded for an extended amount of time, apparently without the area being quarantined and cleaned, and only then would the level of contamination lead to 1 in 7 developing cancer. Barot's plan was utterly ridiculous. It's little wonder that next to no reports are mentioning the reality of his dirty bomb idea; it falls apart with the slightest amount of scrutiny, but the "nuclear dirty bomb" message comes through loud and clear.

Also on Barot's terror shopping list was his desire to puncture the walls of a London underground tunnel, leading to water flooding in. He wrote:
" ... Imagine the chaos that would be caused if a powerful explosion were to rip through here and actually rupture the river itself," he wrote. "This would cause pandemonium, what with the explosions, flooding, drowning, etc that would occur/result."
One problem with this. Such a bomb would need to be so powerful that it would rip not just through the train carriage, but through the reinforced tunnel walls and at a point where the tube is very close indeed to the Thames. As the police have admitted, not only did Barot not have explosives, he didn't even have funding for his plans. They clarified this slightly by stating that they have also not found any of the weapons which they allege that Barot did have in his possession, which remains a rather tenuous justification to say the least.

The Sun is quite right however that he can't be dismissed as a harmless fantasist. He clearly attended terrorist training camps, although whether he was trained by "al-Qaida" in more arguable. It's alleged he was involved in mujahadein operations in Kashmir, where he wrote The Army of Madinah in Kashmir, detailing his experiences and ways in which to kill Indian soldiers. He was fully aware of counter-surveillance methods, which he used in an attempt to evade attention.

Barot though was caught, and without the need for 90 days detention. Not only that, but the police case was so compelling that he admitted to his plans for potential mass murder. Rather than the Sun using this as an example of the police getting things right for a change, it's an excuse to further scare the public of the terrorist threat. Apparently we're being lulled into a "false sense of security", only a few months after the anniversary of the 7/7 attacks, only 3 after the alleged "liquid explosives plot", and only a couple after John Reid's brainless speech advising Muslim parents to be suspicious of their children, as extremists are out to brainwash them. Instead of being concerned that between the 7th of July and now the police have killed one innocent man and injured another, we're meant to take everything they tell us about the terrorist threat at face value, even when they claim that the "liquid bombs plot" was meant to "kill on a unprecedented scale", despite scientists immediately calling into question the idea that such explosives could be mixed and detonated once on board a plane. We're meant to submit to whatever measures are necessary in order to fight this scourge. Rather than reassuring us that a man with such ominous and deadly plans is now starting a life sentence, the Sun wants us to stay scared. We can only speculate as to why.

Related post: Five Chinese Crackers - Super soaraway PROPAGANDA ARSEPAPER!

Update: I slightly misrepresented Barot's idea concerning radiation from smoke alarms. His actual plan, outlined in the prosecution's case against Barot by Edmund Lawson QC, was based on the concern caused in France when a truck carrying 900 smoke detectors crashed. Barot's plan was to use around 10,000 smoke detectors, and either set them on fire or put them on top of explosives. As Tom on BlairWatch explains:
15cm * 15cm * 4cm = volume of 900 cubic centimetres
10000 of those is 9000000 cubic cm or 9 cubic metres. So we're talking of someone spending £50,000 he didn't have piling up a stack of smoke alarms into a tower 1m square and 9m tall, then setting fire to it, in the middle of a city, without anyone noticing, releasing a total of 0.002 grams of a slightly radioactive substance which is only dangerous in gram quantities. Scared yet?

Yes. Terrified. Spy Blog also goes over the prosecution claims with a critical eye.

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Monday, November 06, 2006 

Blair's language abuse.

Of New Labour's crimes, their bastardisation and destruction of the English language is pretty well down the list, but every so often it still comes along and bites you on the ass. This is the government that talks of "stakeholders", "community action zones", "schools in special measures" and "city academies". John Prescott is deputy prime minister. The word dossier will never carry the same clout as it once did. The latest word to come under attack, this time from the prime minister himself, is "modernity."

What exactly do you think of when you hear modernity? Forget about the horrible vacuousness of post-modernism for a second, and just imagine modernity. It's a pleasant word, one which can variously elicit images of the best of society; freedom, open spaces, welcoming buildings, the finest of new technology. On the other hand, modernity can also be a faintly fascistic word, and it's in this sense which Blair uses it, whether he realises it or not. Blair's modernity, rather than being the best of a progressing society, is a fearful, vicious, ugly, deeply regressive, decaying state of affairs. In Blair's modernity, yobs are scattering glass on children's roundabouts, that man who lives at the end of the street is watching the school playground out of his window, and foreigners are scampering to enter Britain in order to defile our women and scrounge on the welfare state.

Underneath the facile exterior of Blair's cheeriness and "I'm your mate, I am!" smarmy attitude, lies a cynical, calculating politician who refuses to give up. His original clutching at straws was first properly witnessed in the run-up to the Iraq war; first we had to be fearful of Saddam's weapons of mass destruction, then it was his potential links to al-Qaida, before Blair sobbed for the citizens of the country who he was about to bomb, despite never showing any concern for them before in his whole time as an MP. He's now repeating a very similar cycle of defiance and absolutism in his attempts to convince the country that ID cards are a swell idea. All the arguments he set out today, both in a Telegraph article and at his press conference, have been gone over before and exposed as weak at best. That doesn't matter though, this is Blair we're talking about. Once he's convinced himself of the case for something, he won't rest until the country's under the same spell.

The first jab he leads with is that ID cards will make our borders more secure and help counter illegal immigration. This one is so flimsy that it's the type that can be brushed away like a fly; asylum seekers are already issued with ID cards. For those who don't go through the asylum system, the card isn't going to stop a gangmaster from paying his quarry with cash. As Henry Porter argues, those who make some money and want to trade up will get a fake ID card. Next up, this time a swing from the left, is the illusion that ID cards will somehow halt all those men who wish to do us harm by blowing themselves up. They didn't in Spain, where those who carried out the Madrid bombings had them. ID cards may even make the threat even worse; as soon as ID cards arrive they'll be a rush by the hackers and cloners to break the security, which they will. Potential terrorists then might be able to further evade the security services with their newly created false identity. It's the equivalent of Charles Clarke last week on Question Time: when an audience member made a point about the 7/7 terrorists not being identified as they went around their business, Clarke countered that actually CCTV had been instrumental in helping establish their movements. Once they were dead, that is, having taken 52 other people with them.

You know what else these little magic cards are going to do? They're only going to make crime drop even further! Yep, through the database, which the police will naturally have access to, along with numerous other pieces of information that PC Plod will be more than happy to leak to the press should you ever get in a spot of bother, they'll be able to check up even quicker on whether you are who you say you are. How this will help detection rates isn't properly explained, but that doesn't really matter. If Blair says these cards are going to be a panacea, you better believe it too.

Here then is the final argument. These cards aren't going to be an issue of civil liberties being restricted or breached, rather they're just "modernity" raising its head. There's nothing you can do about modernity, it just happens, a little like shit does. It's similar to how with next to no debate the police suddenly have the DNA and fingerprints of nearly 4 million people, 50,000 of them children, with god knows how many of that number never being charged with any crime. It's how Britain has been rated by Privacy International as being only slightly less repressive than China; they got a score of 1.3, we thrashed them with 1.5. In case you're not convinced that this modernity is a no-brainer, then Mr Blair wants to bombard you with good vibes by commissioning an "action plan", which will estimate just how great these cards will make your life in 10 years time. Whether by then we'll be able to beat China in the surveillance society stakes will doubtless not be considered.

Just to highlight the irony of Blair's claims of modernity, in the same press conference he was repeatedly questioned over Margaret Beckett's rather strong comments about Saddam being executed, with it being entirely right that he should face "Iraqi justice", which must mean that he's going to be tortured with a power drill, be snarled at by a dog and then be beaten to death by some CIA interrogators. Finally, he was forced into condemning the death penalty, then justifying himself by bringing up the brutality of Iraq under Mr Hussein, naturally as opposed to how the country is now. Death begats death, torture begats torture, modernity begats modernity. Get used to it.

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