Saturday, September 08, 2007 

Bin Laden fetishism.

Out of all the well-known figures to make reference to your work, one of them you perhaps wouldn't choose to do so would have to be Osama bin Laden. In a previous video he made reference to Robert Fisk, who he said he regarded as impartial, having previously been interviewed by him. This time round he mentions Noam Chomsky, who perhaps won't see the same boost in sales as when Hugo Chavez praised his work, and Michael Scheuer, a former CIA agent and ex-head of the search for bin Laden himself, author of a couple of excellent books on how the current approach to the so-called "war on terror" is failing.

Then again, if there was any sense or justice it wouldn't make any difference. Bin Laden is a complete irrelevance, and has been since the failure to capture him in late 2001 in Afghanistan. His latest lecture to America (PDF), focusing on the evils of capitalism, and urging the world to convert to Islam, isn't exactly going to change minds. The only real significance of the video is that despite all the rumours, he is most certainly still alive (if he was dead he'd have been instantly hailed as a martyr by a group not afraid to admit when its "heroes" are killed), and in tune as always with world politics and international developments, despite supposedly being a fugitive with a massive bounty on his head. Embarrassing as this is to the Bush administration, it makes very little difference either to the international jihadist movement, or indeed to almost anything else.

Bin Laden's only real remaining purpose is as the figurehead and inspiration of that movement. While Ayman al-Zawahiri, the spiritual leader of al-Qaida and also most probably the real leader due to bin Laden's evident failure to get any new messages or video released since January 2006 up until now has released half a dozen videos this year, he lacks the charisma and romance associated with the Saudi-born 50-year-old. While Zawahiri is respected, his moniker of the Doctor says it all: his coldness, rather than his theological background makes him a far lesser potential leader of men.

In any case, the very fact that bin Laden has failed to release a steady stream of messages has meant that his own star has somewhat faded. While most jihadists are focused on the insurgency in Iraq and elsewhere, his distance from that conflict, and indeed, the failure to address it, kept up in this newest message by only stating that the war will continue, has done little to engage those less interested in bombastic propaganda against America and more fascinated by what he has to say to them. In fact, the failure of al-Qaida in Iraq to gain mass support in that country is surely the biggest signifier of his own inability to influence things there. Yesterday saw the establishment of another coalition of jihadist/resistance Sunni groups, the "Front for Jihad and Change", the most notable groups within the front being the 1920 Revolution Brigades and Jaish al-Rashideen. The "Islamic State of Iraq", while responsible for the vast majority of suicide bombings and for some of the most spectacular attacks, relies heavily on foreign fighters, especially as the "martyrs" themselves. It's also now highly rumoured that the supposed Iraqi "emir" of the group, Omar al-Baghdadi, is one and the same as Abu Ayyub al-Masri, the successor to al-Zarqawi as the leader of al-Qaida in Iraq, an Egyptian protege of al-Zahawiri, undermining the supposed Iraqi base to the group. With three different coalitions of resistance groups now operating, two of them increasingly opposed to the self-proclaimed "Islamic State", the possibility of an Algerian style conflict between them looms ever larger.

Bin Laden's bloody legacy was assured as soon as that first plane hit the twin towers on the 11th of September. His awakening and spreading of the message of extremist, militant Salafist Islam has probably succeeded beyond his wildest dreams, but even so, it has not the slightest hope of ever achieving its self-proclaimed goals, liberating Jerusalem and eventually establishing a caliphate. If he was to die tomorrow, it would make no difference whatsoever either to the conflict in Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia or to the possibility of further attacks here or in America. He's served whatever purpose he had; it's now time to stop treating him as if he has any control whatsoever over anything.

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Still failing to get the balance right.

Witnessing the current rush to defend the McCanns by the vast majority of the British media, it's hard not to think of just how daft they're going to look if they move from being suspects to being charged. The previous biggest reverse ferret in history was the death of Diana; this could yet far surpass it.

From the very beginning, the coverage of the disappearance of Madeleine McCann, at first highly manipulative, the equivalent of emotional pornography when there was very little that anyone in this country could do to help, has struck almost entirely the wrong note consistently. The lack of desire to examine any alternative theories, the attacks on the German radio journalist who dared to ask one of the first difficult questions directly of the couple, all of it has been so utterly craven and so completely untypical of this countries' tabloid media. The one supposed saving grace of the tabloid culture is its indefatigability; it is unrestrained, unafraid to think the unthinkable, and uses all of its critical muster, often for ill. Numerous previous cases have shown how it loves to think the very worst: see Colin Stagg, smeared, libeled, pursued and attacked for years until he was finally cleared of all involvement in the murder of Rachel Nickell; Maxine Carr, smeared and attacked for lying for the man she both loved and was in fear of, forced to be given a new identity because of the hate that the tabloids, especially the Sun threw at her; and a paedophile whose former garden was dug up last year after a tip-off, with the Sun screaming about a new "house of horrors", a reference to the bodies buried on the property of Fred and Rosemary West, only for the entire story to completely disappear and never be mentioned again after no human remains were discovered.

All of this has been thrown out of the window when it's come to the McCanns. The unwillingness to think any ill of them whatsoever, and now to treat the Portuguese decision to make both Gerry and Kate suspects as evidence of a plot to fit them up because of the police's own incompetence suggests that many journalists have completely lost the faculty to report the story with any modicum of independence. It's ever so slightly reminiscent of the case of Louise Woodward, also a Brit abroad, who was almost universally held by the tabloids to be innocent, regardless of the merits of the defense or prosecution case.

To call it strange would be by no means overplaying the atmosphere currently prevailing. The mood of the close to six past years in the new age of terror has been to presume guilt until innocence has been proved, as the attitude towards the Kamal family showed. With the McCanns it's been the absolute opposite. It'd be a welcome development if this was shown to all those suspected of crime, but somehow I can't imagine it'll spread. As with everything, there has to be a balance, and it's been as sorely missing as ever.

I have no idea whether the McCanns have anything to do with the disappearance of Madeleine, but to completely discount the possibility, especially in line with the forensic evidence, examined not by the Portuguese police remember but by the Forensic Science Service in this country would be foolhardy, considering the complete lack of any other suspects apart from Robert Murat, himself the victim of heavy speculation to begin with. The so-called feral beasts, when made to decide between a middle-class British couple and a foreign police force, have already made their choice.

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Friday, September 07, 2007 

"Hate on the state" and "hardline takeovers".

After a slight hiatus, the past week has seen something of a renewed desire to try to make mountains out of molehills. First up, Newsnight on Wednesday dwelled heavily on a report (PDF) from the Centre of Social Cohesion, itself an off-shoot of the right-wing thinktank Civitas, which discovered that libraries tend to have books in them. Yeah, I was surprised as well: I'd assumed that they'd been abolished a few years back in favour of filling the buildings with DVDs, CDs, computers plugged into the internet and coffee shops.

To be serious for a second, the most eye-catching part of the report was that they'd found two books by Abu Hamza and one by Sheikh Abdullah al-Faisal in Tower Hamlets' Islamic collection. Both men are currently serving time for incitement to murder. Let's get the condemnation out of the way: it ought to be obvious to anyone that books by those two perhaps shouldn't be on the shelves, as likely as they are to cause gratuitous offense, and at the very least they should perhaps be kept back and only loaned out on specific request. Where, however, do you draw the line? Throughout the discussion, politicians and commentators alike couldn't get enough references and comparions to Mein Kampf in, yet we have no problems with that remaining on the library shelves. One of my more optimistic sixth-form history teachers even suggested at one point that we read it. I think we declined her kind offer.

The rest of the report mainly dealt with the fact that the Tower Hamlets council's Islamic collection (the report itself also deals with what it found on the shelves of Waltham Forest and Birmingham council's collection) also had 11 copies of Sayid Qutb's Milestones, a well-known radical text which has influenced jihadists as well as the Muslim Brotherhood which Qutb belonged to, and also books by Muhammad ibn Abdul Wahhab and Muhammad Jamil Zino, which contained such charming theoretical questions and answers as:

"Is it allowed to support and love disbelievers?" he asks. The answer is simply "no".

Well, there go my chances of copping off with an niqab-wearing babe.

The problem is, as Douglas Murray, co-author of the report admits on his blog posting responding to the council's responses, many of the writings are historic and scholarly works. One of the first places to go to understand the jihadi mindset is to read Qutb, who famously went to America in the late 40s, had a woman come on to him and recoiled like a teenager caught looking at pornography by his mother. It's one thing discarding "Women who deserve to go to hell", curiously written by the armless Hamza, quite another to then start accusing libraries of providing "Hate on the State" by stocking Qutb. Incidentally, in case some of you were wondering, Murray is indeed the same Murray who has recently popped up on Question Time and been roundly disliked for having all the personality and charm of a randy rhino, and he has his own humourous literary creation, Neoconseservatism: Why We Need It, filling up remainder buckets as you read this.

To be clear, it's not as though Murray and his cohorts are advocating removing such books from the shelves altogether, just that they need to be balanced with more liberal scholarly interpretations of Islam, which is a decent aim. It does however seem something of a cheap shot, being purely used to bash the liberal consensus with. It's not as if books/speeches by all the above are not freely available online: Qutb's Wikipedia page links directly to Milestones, provided by err, an anti-Islamist website. It's also well known, despite constant attempts to suggest otherwise, that the vast majority of radicalisation is not currently occurring either in mosques or universities, but online, through personal research or meeting like-minds. It's that we have to quickly learn how to tackle, not keep watch on who's taking out semi-coherent rants by bearded fanatics.

Today's story in the Times is broadly similar, except ever so slightly more hysterical:

Hardline takeover of British mosques

Almost half of Britain’s mosques are under the control of a hardline Islamic sect whose leading preacher loathes Western values and has called on Muslims to “shed blood” for Allah, an investigation by The Times has found.

Riyadh ul Haq, who supports armed jihad and preaches contempt for Jews, Christians and Hindus, is in line to become the spiritual leader of the Deobandi sect in Britain. The ultra-conservative movement, which gave birth to the Taleban in Afghanistan, now runs more than 600 of Britain’s 1,350 mosques, according to a police report seen by The Times.

Ignore the bit about hardline takeover of British mosques; it's bollocks. The Deobandi "sect" has long been popular in this country, and saying it gave birth to the Taliban, while strictly true, is similar to suggesting that the co-operative movement gave birth to Stalinism.

Rather what the Times has uncovered is that Riyadh ul Haq, now predicted to become the spiritual leader of the Deobandis in the UK by becoming the head of the influential Bury seminary, has made a series of speeches which vary from the idiotic (calling New York "Jew York") to those similar to the remarks featured in the Dispatches documentary Undercover Mosque (“Allah has warned us in the Koran, do not befriend the kuffar [unbelievers], do not align yourselves with the kuffar”). Unlike the Channel 4 documentary, the Times has avoided the accusation of selectively quoting or taking the remarks out of context, publishing 5 of the speeches in full.

It appears then that ul Haq is, to quote one of David T from Harry's Place's comments on CiF:

- preaching the nastiest racism about jews and calling for god to punish jews.

- praising the Taliban

- telling muslims not to be friends with, or behave in any way like, non-muslims

Which does pretty much sum it up. It is also highly disconcerting that this man, with such views once he's out of earshot or sight of "non-Muslims", is apparently about to take over as the spiritual leader of the Deobandis in this country. His views need to be condemned, ridiculed and contradicted, as does those at least of two of his students, also quoted making similar comments.

Let's not give into a fantasy however that this is what is being preached in all 600 of those mosques every Friday. The Times does attempt to cover its bases by including interviews with two other graduates of the Bury seminary who repudiate ul-Haq's speeches, saying in the original article that "It is not suggested that all British Muslims who worship at Deobandi mosques subscribe to the isolationist message preached by Mr ul Haq" and in a second article going out of its way to be as reasonable as possible, mentioning that "in one talk, Mr ul Haq tells British Muslims that he is 'not suggesting that we should rise here - I'm sure we are all sensible enough to know that" and "we will not endanger the life of any innocent person" but at its core this is still a piece designed to cause not just concern, but anger, dismay and fear at what is potentially being preached throughout the country. It comes at a time when, as Sunny writes today on Pickled Politics, ever more disparate but liberal brown voices are making themselves heard, and when the government itself admits that it hasn't been listening widely and broadly enough. The last thing we need is to get back into the cycle from last year where for a time there seemed to be a free for all in in attacking Muslims as a whole.

This is not to underestimate the seriousness that the views of a minority can pose. This though is an example of how a well-sourced, balanced article quickly gets turned on its head, containing none of the caveats of the original:

Hate sect runs 600 mosques

NEARLY half of Britain’s mosques are run by an Islamic sect that orders followers to “shed blood” for Allah, it emerged last night.

A probe by The Times revealed more than 600 out of 1,350 mosques are controlled by the extremist Deobandi sect, which helped create the Taliban in Afghanistan.

One of the movement’s most senior clerics is British-born Riyadh Ul Haq, a hardline preacher once quizzed by cops over a fatal shooting in Leicester in 2003. He has branded New York “Jew York” in sermons and has also warned followers they should distance themselves from the “kuffar” (non-believers).

In another sermon, about Israel, Ul Haq warned: “We will consider it an honour and a privilege to shed blood.”

And so on. Where is this rewriting of the original from? From within the same building.

We have to be better at countering this than just issuing damp apologetics, as both Ajmal Masroor and Inayat Bunglawala do on CiF. We have to ask why we don't already know about how such views are being preached at such a high level. We can't pretend it isn't there, or that it will go away. What we can do is found out why this isn't such common knowledge, and move on from there into countering such a message. At the same time, we have to remember, that this is the view of 99%, as elucidated by Sheikh Ibrahim Mogra:

I don’t see why my creator would want me not to live in peace and harmony with my non-Muslim neighbours. This is a country which allows me to be a Muslim and which gives us so many freedoms. My Government has done some things that I’m not proud of, but a lot more that I am very proud of. I would not wish to live anywhere else.

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Compare and contrast.

Sometimes, all you have to do is contrast two articles:

SYDNEY, Australia -- President Bush had a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day at the Sydney Opera House.

He'd only reached the third sentence of Friday's speech to business leaders, on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum, when he committed his first gaffe.

"Thank you for being such a fine host for the OPEC summit," Bush said to Australian Prime Minister John Howard.

Oops. That would be APEC, the annual meeting of leaders from 21 Pacific Rim nations, not OPEC, the cartel of 12 major oil producers.

Bush quickly corrected himself. "APEC summit," he said forcefully, joking that Howard had invited him to the OPEC summit next year (for the record, an impossibility, since neither Australia nor the U.S. are OPEC members).

The president's next goof went uncorrected - by him anyway. Talking about Howard's visit to Iraq last year to thank his country's soldiers serving there, Bush called them "Austrian troops."

That one was fixed for him. Though tapes of the speech clearly show Bush saying "Austrian," the official text released by the White House switched it to "Australian."

Then, speech done, Bush confidently headed out - the wrong way.

He strode away from the lectern on a path that would have sent him over a steep drop. Howard and others redirected the president to center stage, where there were steps leading down to the floor of the theater.

The medics had 20 minutes’ warning. A soldier badly wounded by a roadside bomb was coming in. It was only after the helicopter landed at the 28th Combat Support Hospital inside Baghdad’s green zone that they realised quite how badly.

As they cut away his blood-sodden bandages in the trauma ward they found that all four limbs had either been severed or were attached by little more than skin. He had 70 per cent burns to what was left of his body.

They worked frantically to keep him alive. All his remaining limbs were amputated except for the top of one arm. Within hours he was air-borne again – this time bound for Germany and an onward flight to the Brooke Army Medical Centre in Texas.

There, some time soon, he will wake to realise that life as he knew it is over.

While President Bush will still have a lifetime of gaffes to make.

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Thursday, September 06, 2007 

Let sunshine (and volunteering) win the day.

Err, so anyway, where was I?

In just how many different ways can you write that David Cameron is an idiot? Each new idea he presents is somehow spectacularly worse than the last: let's have a debate between the three party leaders before an election to see just how little difference there is between the three of them! Give police the power to stop and search whoever the hell they like! Hand out £20 a week to middle-class families who'll vote for us whatever happens, but it isn't a bribe, oh no! Destroy the Human Rights Act, the hated legacy of err, Winston Churchill!

After getting it in the neck from Michael Ancram earlier in the week, what then would be a policy that would instantly cause all the usual right-wing types to do the equivalent of dropping their panties and throwing them at Dave's lovable cheeky pink face? How many times do we hear it? Bring back national service!

And so it was done. Well, sort of. Dave's policy isn't for all 16-year-olds to get suited and booted, strap on a backpack and learn how to fix a bayonet on a sandbag, although that might conceivably make up a whole week of the six that he's declared that they should all willing give up for the love of their country, but they will be heavily encouraged to do "voluntary" work and spend at least two weeks away from home. After all, what better way to encourage our youngsters to love their glorious country than make them walk up a bloody great hill with other people they don't know and will probably loathe on sight?

Presenting his plans to that august organ of good taste, sanity and fair play, the Sun, Cameron admits that his plans haven't been costed, but after all, it'll pay for itself! Just think:

But he insists it will SAVE the nation money by slashing the numbers of kids turning into yobs. Crime will fall and many of the nation’s costly social problems will be reduced, he says.

Right, let's get this straight. After 11 years of school, education, association with your peers and citizenship classes, what's really going to stop our errant, feckless youth from knifing each other, getting together in gangs with stupid names like the "Burger Bar Boyz" and congregating on street corners being a general nuisance is a voluntary scheme with a sort of bribe, half going to the organisation worked for and half to the charity of choice of the teenager at the end of it. All that's required is to ship them off to a third world country, see some real suffering, get them to sing the national anthem and pledge allegiance to our clearly not undemocratic monarch, and those about to turn to yobbery will instead see the error of their ways, start reading the Daily Telegraph and take a vow of chastity. Problem sorted.

There just might be a few chinks in the armour of this plan. Cameron admits it's uncosted; how much is such an ambitious scheme, potentially involving the around 150,000 kids turning 16 every year going to work out at? A lot, that's for sure. Then there's the obvious other flaw: what's the point if it isn't going to be compulsory? As others have spent the rest of the day pointing out, the vast majority of schools already offer similar schemes such as the Duke of Edinburgh award, while there are already other voluntary volunteering schemes, including ones set up by this very government. For those who haven't succeeded or have struggled, there's the Prince's Trust. Aren't the Tories meant to be big on the voluntary and private sector sorting things out rather than the state, or is that the point, with this being farmed out to those very organisations?

This doesn't just smack of not being properly thought through, it's completely and utterly threadbare. It doesn't take into account the main failure of the Duke of Edinburgh scheme: that it's mainly the middle class kids, already in the Scouts or similar that take part while all the rest sit it out, either because of lack of money or because they don't much fancy doing something that doesn't count for hardly anything unless you bother going for the gold award, which requires a ridiculous amount of work. The Duke of Edinburgh scheme at the least usually takes place during term time, while this is meant to happen during the summer, just after the teenagers have gone through probably the most stressful time of their lives. They're not going to be interested in traipsing through the countryside or helping old ladies across roads, they're going to want to relax and wait for their GCSE results in relative peace.

Which also brings us to the something else overlooked. 16-year-olds, relatively free, tend to think about two things: getting drunk and getting laid. What better way to bring together those two things than by taking them away from home for two weeks? The teenage version of Big Brother for once painted a fairly accurate picture of life when two of the housemates got it on far more eagerly than they tend to in the adult version. You can just imagine the tabloid headlines if things predictably get a little out of control at one of these camps.

Seeing as we're currently pretending to be in the spirit of seeking consensus, listening to everyone's views and then deciding policy on the basis of that, perhaps it would be a good idea to actually ask some teenagers what they'd like to do or what they think of Mr Cameron's plans. The response might be all too illuminating. Amazingly, the Sun's leader writer has also decided that not all young people are so bad after all:

But hang on — not all youngsters are tearaways looking for someone to mug. The vast majority are decent, considerate and appalled by bad behaviour.

Really? What tabloid reader would have thought that? The paper then unwittingly demolishes the whole policy accidentally:

The Boy Scouts offered this sort of community training for more than half a century.

The Duke of Edinburgh scheme and Outward Bound courses have been amazingly successful.

What then is the point if it isn't compulsory?

The answer came there none.

Related post:
Bob Piper - The good old days are gone

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Anyone got a Schilling?

Stop! You can't link to that!

There's very little quite like the joy on returning home of an evening to find that you've been legally threatened in your absence. Last year this involved an injunction from the "dangerously deceitful, ruthless, exploitative and corrupt" Mr Mahzer Mahmood, courtesy of his lawyers, Farrer and Co. Imagine my excitement on finding the following in my inbox, this time from Schillings, acting on behalf of a certain Alisher Usmanov (you'll have to click to enlarge:)

Update: letter removed, not because I feel the need to bow to Schillings request that it be taken down or have to, but because I see no reason to prolong this pointless little affair.

I'm not the first to receive the delightful threats from Schillings on behalf of their client, nor probably the last: Julian Bond, owner of the UK blog aggregator also had Schillings on the phone telling him to remove Murray's post. His site had reproduced it verbatim: my original post, now edited to remove Craig's "false, indefensible and grossly defamatory" comments, only linked to Craig's while using his title as the hyperlink. It now only links to Craig's post. Having emailed Tim at Bloggerheads, it seems that Schillings have also now contacted Craig himself.

Schillings themselves aren't exactly very bright: here they are having apparently mailed/faxed a letter out to Dreamhost, based in the good old land of the free, and they're citing a legal precedent set in this country in order to threaten them. Good job Schillings; unless Mr Usmanov intends to sue Dreamhost in this country, I don't think you're going to get very far.

In any case, I've phoned up Schillings, discovered that those responsible for Mr Usmanov have left the office, and talked to the apparent work experience kid, who will relate my edits to the "false, indefensible and grossly defamatory" post to his superiors. There are however just a few other points to make:

1. Considering I currently have to my name somewhere in the region of £150.00 and no collateral whatsoever, neither Schillings nor Mr Usmanov if they pursued their action would get very rich off me.

2. That going after bloggers simply linking to a post because your big baby of a client has thrown his rattle out of the pram has to make you one of the most insufferable, sycophantic, brown-nosing little toadies on the face of the planet. Oh, I forgot, "you're only doing your job".

3. I would like to refer Schillings, although not their client, as he seems the kind who might be offended, to the precedent set by Arkell vs Pressdram, or indeed, to any of the legal responses from the Pirate Bay, such as this one. Thank you.

Update: Craig's original post has been temporarily removed pending legal advice.

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Wednesday, September 05, 2007 

Cascading immigrants from the Express, pontificating pop singers in the Sun.

It's not difficult to become a "scholar" of the Daily Express. The front pages have at most 5 themes, to be exchanged and trotted out as and when is necessary. Firstly, the weather, that hardy perennial; next house prices; then Princess Diana, or the new Diana, whichever currently missing/dead young girl/woman, at the moment Madeleine McCann; immigration or asylum, and finally, whichever latest crime/insult/outrage/abduction Muslims/the Polish/aliens have been deemed to have committed.

Today, after most likely wearing out every possible lead on the people's Madeleine, and probably still smarting from the call for Diana to be finally laid to rest, it's time to pick on another dead horse: migrant skivers flooding into our green and pleasant land from France.

THOUSANDS of illegal immigrants were last night queueing to sneak into Britain – and officials in France are preparing to help them on their way, the Daily Express can reveal.

Ah yes, the perfidious French, always wanting to do one over on les
ros bifs.

French politicians are plotting to build a new Sangatte-style camp in the port of Cherbourg in north-west France.

Last night riot police were placed on stand-by as scores of refugees headed to a squalid shanty town in hills overlooking the docks.

For French politicians, read one French politician, the mayor of Cherbourg, who has called for proper facilities to be established, and not anywhere near the actual port, as the article admits further on in, but somewhere it would be easier to control what those at the camp were doing. Naturally, we're provided with quotes from the usual suspects:

Sir Andrew Green, of the think-tank MigrationWatch, told the Daily Express: “This looks like another Sangatte on the horizon.

“We will not tackle this problem until Britain ceases to be a soft touch.

“But yet again there is no reason why these people do not claim asylum in France.”

Shadow Home Secretary David Davis said: “Some years ago David Blunkett promised the British ­people that he had reached a solution to this problem.

“Now we are finding out just how short-lived that solution was, and we are likely to see ever more Sangatte-style camps established.

All of which might be slightly familiar to the few remaining readers of the Express. Last month the paper printed an article almost exactly the same, except scaremongering about the possibility of people traffickers' operating from Cherbourg. It too featured, you guessed it, rent-a-quotes from "Sir" Andrew Green and David Davis:

Shadow Home Secretary David Davis said: “The Government has long since lost control of our borders. It is no good increasing security measures at one port, then leaving gaps elsewhere along our borders.

Sir Andrew Green, of pressure group MigrationWatch UK, said: “The Government has made a great deal of the new precautions it has put in place on the Calais to Dover route. It was only a matter of time before people- smugglers sought to try a different route. This looks like evidence that they have done so.”

If at first you don't succeed, you might as well try again, slightly altering the article, consulting the same people and then submitting the article to the savouring editor. The journalist responsible in this case is Nick Fagge.

In fact, the horror of a new Sangatte has been a recurring theme in the Express. Back on the 14th of April the Express screamed about the creation of a "new Sangatte", this time back in Calais, only for that to come to nothing, but not before the Express shouted about "ANOTHER FRENCH BETRAYAL." In June, in an report written by none other than Nick Fagge, it claimed to have obtained the blueprints for "Sangatte 2", a facility soon to open which it compares to the Big Brother house, while the article features quotes from "Sir" Andrew Green and the Tories' immigration spokesman, Damian Green. The centre was said to be open within weeks; it appears to be yet to do so.

A quick recap then: immigrants haven't found a new way into Britain; politicians aren't plotting to help them on their way, rather they're trying to deal with the numbers of refugees; and David Davis and Andrew Green are still repetitive, brain-addled morons.

Meanwhile, over at the Sun, (somewhat via
Tim) things aren't going much better. After lambasting her hacks for failing to get an interview with Pete Doherty, Rebekah Wade seems to have been ordered by Murdoch to keep the Scum's headline sales above the 3 million mark whatever the cost, leading to the price in the south east and London being slashed to 20 pence, and street vendors being recruited and ordered out onto the streets themselves. According to the Grauniad, this is all down to the London freesheets, especially the Metro. That must really hurt; have you ever actually picked up a copy of the Metro? There's about as much news in each copy as there is on the back of a fag packet, usually badly written and presented, but alongside all the usual celebrity tosh that fills up the pages of the Mail/Scum etc. When you can't compete with that, it really may be time to pack it all in.

Fortunately, the Scum lets those of us who wouldn't touch its actual pages without gloves on read it, warts and all, online. Where else could you read such delightful stories about Facebook without obvious disclaimers about the Sun's own interest in social-networking sites due to News Corporation's ownership of MySpace?
PRIVACY fears have been raised after Facebook opened up its membership database to other web search engines.

At present, Facebook members can only be found by other members by searching on the website's homepage.

But the company has begun to send out messages to members to say that non-members, using engines such as Google and Yahoo, will soon be able to find their names and profile pictures.

The move is likely to worry some members who choose Facebook for its privacy protections.

A year ago, the site was embroiled in a privacy storm among students over changes that exposed users' postings to their friends.

And controversy surrounded the site recently after it was revealed that potential employers and universities could use Facebook to look at candidates.

Well, quite. Just one single, small point to make: MySpace is already wide open to anyone who wants to search it, both from its own site, without membership, and from other search engines. While the article mentions all the foibles associated with Facebook,
it doesn't deign to note the fact that MurdochSpace was found to have 29,000 registered sex offenders with profiles, only a few months after all of them were meant to have been deleted. Indeed, the Sun has never reported the fact, although virtually every other newspaper did.

Next up, we're informed of the political views of one of the members of Girls Aloud, that well-known social commentating pop group:

Speaking to The Sun as part of a series of exclusive interviews to mark Girls Aloud’s big comeback, Nicola says: “I can’t believe what happened to that little boy.

“I’ve got an 11-year-old brother and it just makes my blood go cold thinking about it.

"It could have been anywhere, in any city. I’m disgusted by it and just pray they can catch whoever did it.

“And I blame TONY BLAIR and GORDON BROWN. We don’t have tough enough laws — the people that did this to Rhys need to be locked up.

“They are bound to have committed other crimes but no one can do anything about it because the laws aren’t in place to get them put away.

"We should lock up more people. I know the prisons are full, just build more!

“Young criminals now think they can get away with committing crimes. I can’t believe the state of this country.

“I can understand some people are in a vicious circle, coming from a difficult background, but they don’t have to become criminals.

“You have got to look at the parents too — how are they bringing up their children?”

Breathtaking common sense! This is what we need, not Jacqui Smith, but Nicola Roberts as the home secretary! In fact, the Sun has kindly provided a comparison between the two, asking readers would they'd vote for. It's easy to see why Rebekah Wade is attracted to Ms Roberts' political viewpoints: they're both gorgeous pouting redheads, not afraid to say what they think, and although Roberts hasn't smacked anyone yet, like band-mate Cheryl Cole was previously alleged to have done, she probably has a stinging right hook to boot.

She's also got business nous to put alongside the musical achievements:

Nicola says: “I feel much more settled and confident now. I’m spending my money on houses rather than wasting it on silly things.

"When I was first in the band I didn’t even know what the word mortgage meant.”

Of course, if Roberts had said the complete opposite of the above,
that she felt like a thin majority of the public that prison doesn't work and that it's not the fault of the politicians who have already put into place over 3,000 new criminal offences since they came to power, the Sun would have doubtlessly printed it up and ran highly approving comments on a young woman who was politically aware. Still, you can always rely on the comments to bring some levity to the situation:

shes the ugly 1 frm the sexiest band in the world, but i'd still do her.

The Scum's leader also approves of what one commentator refers to as Ms Roberts' enormous political acumen, experience and insight:

As Girls Aloud’s Nicola Roberts declares, there’s an easy solution to prison overcrowding: build more jails.

It’s come to something when a pop singer speaks more sense on tackling crime than the Government.

If only they'd thought of it before!

Someone kill me.

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The usual Mercury nonsense.

Is anyone really that surprised that the Mercury judges picked a relative outsider for this year's prize? It's not as if they haven't made a habit of it in the past; picking M People in 1994 against Parklife and more than decent albums by both the Prodigy and Pulp; Roni Size's drum and bass excursion in 1997 against OK Computer; Talvin Singh in 1999; Ms Dynamite in 2002 instead of the Coral's top 10 of the decade debut, as well as Doves' finest album and the Electric Soft Parade's exhilarating Holes in the Wall; and then Antony and the Johnsons two years ago. Last year's selection of the Arctic Monkeys was safe and disappointing, especially considering how their follow-up this year is so much better in all departments, and when it was up against entries from Guillemots, Hot Chip and Thom Yorke.

All of which is to be a little unfair to the Klaxons. They have never been "new rave", which was a term dreamt up by the NME to summarise a number of bands that had emerged that had taken to using synths and whom unlike other recent indie groups didn't sneer at "dance music" in general. Only really Atlantis to Interzone, Magick and the (poor) cover of Grace's Not Over Yet have been influenced by "rave". The real "new rave" movement is being lead by Justice, Digitalism and Simian Mobile Disco (James Ford, half of SMD, did incidentally produce Myths of the Near Future, but he also twiddled the knobs on Favourite Worst Nightmare) and arguably, bands like CSS and New Young Pony Club, who owe much more to dance music than the Klaxons ever have.

Much chortling
has been going on over the Grauniad's rather mean review which gave Myths one star, especially considering that it's a solid debut, led by the brilliant singles. It's just that the other tracks are more than a little dull; most of the remixes have been far better. If effort alone was the deciding factor, then Maps' We Can Create, created in James Chapman's Northampton bedroom would have been the run-away winner, a thrillingly melodic trip through shoegaze, noise and My Bloody Valentine-ism. Other worthy candidates should have been Bat for Lashes, which was the favourite with the bookmakers, the Arctics for coming up with a far superior record to their debut within a year and the Young Knives, whose album I, err, previously described thusly:

Never forgetting that wit and humour have just as much of a place in music as they have in everything else, the Knives' debut is filled with the sort of infectious melodies and riffing that the Libertines followers have utterly missed. The singles, The Decision, She's Attracted To and Here Comes The Rumour Mill are joined by the insanely catchy chorus of Mystic Energy, the slow-burning In The Pink and the ode to dead towns that is Loughborough Suicide. That they're great live too is simply a bonus.

A nomination for ¡Forward, Russia!'s self-financed debut, Give Me A Wall wouldn't have gone amiss either, although we can at least be glad that the insanely overrated Ms Winehouse and yet another awful band riding the Libertines' shirt-tails, the View, didn't win.

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She's back!

Via Korova, one of the leading lights of British journalism has returned from a month long sabbatical, and how we've missed her:

When David Cameron first started to reposition the Tories as the party of spliff-friendly hoodie huggers whose hearts bled green and gay...

Melanie, please don't leave us for so long again.

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Iraqi employees campaign update.

The latest news, courtesy of Dan Hardie and Justin on the Iraqi employees campaign:

If you haven’t already written to your MP, please do so: outline what’s happening and why we should be concerned, ask them to contact the relevant Ministries (particularly the Home Office but also the Ministry of Defence and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office) and also invite them to the meeting. Talking points for both letters are here. Any blogger who has participated in this campaign is invited as is any blogreader who successfully invites their MP. Just email Dan Hardie at and an invitation will be heading your way.

Stress to MPs that mainstream print and TV journalists will be present: that is the kind of thing that tends, for some reason, to attract them. And stress that this is the first blog-based campaign in the UK. This is how politics is going, and they need to see what it looks like.

Dan spoke to an ex-Royal Engineer yesterday who told him of an Iraqi employee murdered since this campaign began. Now that the British contingent has withdrawn to Basra Airport, we can probably expect more power-drilling, cigarette-burning and shooting of Iraqi employees. These people are dying right now. The pressure needs to be maintained on MPs and the various ministries involved.

Hope to see you on October 9.

I won't be going, but if you haven't contacted your MP, especially if they haven't responded yet, please think about doing so.

In the interests of presenting the other side of the argument, as Neil Clark did so wonderfully when he demanded that these "quislings be kept out", we have Shotgun, currently involved in a battle royale with John Hirst, eloquently elucidating his feelings on the matter here, here and here.

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Tuesday, September 04, 2007 

About as new as Thatcherism.

Isn't it wonderful, after weeks of next to no political news, to finally get right back into the thick of things, the start of a new season, and all that goes with it?

Well, err, no. Mainly because this feels partially like a phony election war, and also because it all seems so familiar. Today's Times poll showing that Labour's lead has been pegged back to a single point almost certainly rules out any slight inclination Brown had of going to the polls this year, but it sure hasn't stopped both the parties from bringing out all their "new" policies and fighting like ferrets in a sack. Take Cameron's letter to Brown, asking him to reconsider the possibility of a debate between the three leaders, an empty piece of spin if ever there was one, an attempt of sorts to try to flush out his plans over an early election, when he knows full well that whatever Brown's response is that they'll use it against him.

Not that Brown himself exactly acquitted himself any better yesterday in his gambit on a "new politics" and gaining a political consensus. If the idea of citzens' juries gives you deja vu, it's probably because they've almost been around as long as Brown's designs on 10 Downing Street were. Call it a sexed up Big Conversation, the last laughable attempt at consulting the public, only this time it's under Comrade Brown's new spirit of togetherness and end to sniping. It doesn't exactly inspire confidence that the first of these juries' is going to be on children and violent imagery, one of those emotive topics which for decades has been a battleground between the "moral majority" and those of us who don't like being told what we can and can't watch in order to protect the kids. Similar events on crime and how neighbourhoods respond to it, as well on the NHS will probably be better and more informed debates, but whether they'll actually achieve anything or lead to any direct policy changes is doubtful.

At least he can be glad he's having a much easier time of it still than Cameron. Quite why Michael Ancram chose today to launch his own personal vision of what it is to be a Conservative and what the Tories should be doing isn't clear, but it does little other than prompt comment on how the noisy right-wing of the party is still deeply uncomfortable with Cameron's leadership. Flicking through Ancram's 30 page mini-manifesto (PDF), a piece of self-aggrandisment infected with narcissism if there ever was one (says a blogger) it's actually surprising how much of it isn't really that bad; sure, there's plenty of blanket denunciations of "the Left" and how we've ruined everything that Conservatives hold dear, but his sections on freedom (apart from the regulation one) only empathise just how far New Labour has moved from the traditional Tory view of civil liberties, a move followed by Cameron. All of the rights he mentions, apart from privacy, are protected under the ECHR and the HRA, both of which Cameron wants to rip up. Ancram naturally doesn't mention the HRA, but perhaps he ought to have a word with Cameron about the idiocy of his proposal for a "British" bill of rights. He's inevitably wrong on immigration, the monarchy and he lets the cat out of the bag on a referendum on the EU treaty: the first step towards leaving the union altogether. Over time, I've moved onto agreeing with Keith Vaz's view: let's have a referendum, not just on the treaty, but on staying a member altogether, as that's what nearly all those who want a no vote actually want.

Out of all of Cameron's policy review groups, the latest to report, the Public Services Improvement Policy Group comes across as the most dunderheaded of the lot. Just as everyone has realised that we're facing a crisis in council housing stock, thanks directly to how they haven't been replaced after being sold off, the Tories are proposing to make it even easier to buy, giving state aid out to those who wouldn't otherwise afford it. It might earn a few more votes, but completely ignores the bigger picture; typically of the stupid party, some might say. On education, as well as holding back those who fail to reach the expected key stage level 4 at 11, which they clearly haven't thought through, as it would hugely increase class sizes just as they say they want smaller schools, not to mention stigmatise and embitter those who'll be labelled failures and be separated from their friends, they also want to abolish AS levels, which actually help lighten the exam burden at 18, as well as let those not sure what they want to study post-16 drop a subject they don't particularly like half-way through. The alternative to holding children back is obvious: more remedial classes, and additional help outside of school, not make them do it all over again. The group does at least suggest consulting on raising the age at which you can buy cigarettes from 16, a measure taken by Labour without even the slightest hint of any debate. If we're going to start raising age limits, we ought to at least have an equilibrium on them: you can consent to sex at 16, but not drink alcohol, vote, access pornography and shortly you won't be able to smoke. It all makes perfect sense.

The so-called "new politics" then. The more things seem to change, the more they stay the same.

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"Heroes" without a cause.

The other side of heroism: Davey Graham injured after being shot in the abdomen during a "Taliban" ambush.

Last month, the Grauniad ran a couple of amusing columns by David Marsh, the editor of the style guide, on the various complaints that come into the readers' editor on the over or wrong usage of words. Top of the list
came iconic and ironic, but I'm sure that it'd be easy to add numerous others to that list. As pointed out in the comments, Private Eye until recently had a box every issue titled the "neophiliacs", which listed every usage of the tired "thing" is the new "thing", and has now taken to highlighting the horrible abuse of the word "solutions", invariably by business trying to make their banal and boring services sound just ever so slightly more exciting.

Hero is certainly a description that could be added to that list of abused words. Just what makes someone a hero? Watching Match of the Day, whenever a footballer who's just moved clubs scores his debut goal, the commentator invariably remarks on how he's become the fans' newest hero. We tend to apply it across the board, especially to public servants, whether they be police officers, firemen, nurses (although they're more usually referred to as angels) or soldiers. It also usually gets taken out of its box when someone dies, usually in tragic circumstances, whether they be Garry Newlove, the father who confronted teenagers vandalising the digger he'd hired and who died after being attacked,
described by the Sun as a "have-a-go" hero, when all he was doing was what most ordinary people would have done, or Mitchell Henderson, a 13-year-old who killed himself after having his iPod stolen, subsequently referred to as "an hero" on the tributes to him on MySpace, which has fast become an internet meme used to describe anyone who commits suicide.

The line between being a hero and an idiot is one of those thin ones which is difficult to quantify. Today's Sun, trying its best to snatch victory for "Our Boys" from the jaws of general indifference, has perhaps come up with the best description of how close the line goes between the two, relating the story of a single-minded soldier:

Their courage was typified by rifleman Ben Sawyer, aged just 19.

A bullet smashed into his right hand during a rooftop firefight, ripping through tendons and bones.

But the stubborn soldier refused morphine because he was determined to stay standing shoulder to shoulder with his pals. And in the end medics had to strap him to a stretcher to stop him fighting.

The courage of the teenager, who has a young child, did not end there. He was flown home so surgeons could repair his shattered hand. But he kept pestering doctors and nurses to let him go back to Iraq — so eagerly they feared for his sanity and sent him to see a psychiatrist.

He has just returned to Basra after being declared fit for duty.

And he told The Sun: “They thought I was a head case but I just wanted to do my job. If my mates are still stuck in the thick of it, I want to be here helping them."

For those of us more interested in staying alive than in sacrificing life for no discernible rhyme or reason, especially when we've been brought up on a literary diet of Catch-22, Slaughterhouse Five and the war poets, all of which express the futility, madness and paranoia associated with armed conflict, it's difficult to assess where Ben Sawyer lies on the craziness/hero paradigm.

It's easy to be cynical, especially when you were opposed to the war from the beginning about the achievements and actions of the British troops, but the individual accounts of astonishing courage related in the Scum's article, withstanding Sawyer's apparent selflessness bordering on insanity are mostly reminiscent of tales passed down into military folklore. The 30 soldiers using cooking oil to lubricate their rifles will remind anyone who's read Antony Beevor's account of the battle of Stalingrad of the trapped or surrounded Soviet troops who often had to resort to using their own urine to do the same to their guns.

Even so, this is still a report bordering on the delusional, descending on occasion into empty adulation of an armed force which didn't always manage to live up to the sentiments expressed in Tim Collins' speech before the beginning of the conflict. For the army (or Tom Newton Dunn, the Scum's defence editor) to pretend that it was their offensives against the Mahdi army that forced it into negotiations is laughable: more that the British forces had to go cap in hand begging that their exit from the city go ahead without more violence aimed against them when at their most vulnerable. Dunn seems to have fallen victim to willful myopia when describing how Basra was quiet yesterday, not willing to make the connection that the exit of British troops just might have had something to do with it. If the figures quoted in the article on the number of roadside bombs are also accurate, it seems also to acquit Iran of major involvement in supplying most of the devices: if the "daisy-chain" armaments supplied are as deadly as the media have hyped up they are, either the militias weren't using them, instead relying on the other improvised devices which often cause little to no damage when targeted against American vehicles, as countless insurgent videos testify, or they're just as hopeless as most of the others are.

To bring this post full circle, it seems that whoever wrote today's Sun leader could do with learning how not to abuse words that they obviously don't understand:

Or the introduction of draconian human rights laws without consultation.

Answers on a postcard as to how "human rights laws" could possibly ever be described as draconian. Perhaps the Sun really ought to stick to treating its readers like idiots with words no longer than a couple of syllables; it seems they find them difficult to get to grips with as well.

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Monday, September 03, 2007 

Imperial bodybags.

The contrast, to repeat a cliche, could not really be more stark. Just as the commander in chief himself flies into Iraq, giving every jihadi and insurgent a day of priapism, prompting them to spend the rest of the day watching the sky, just in case the plane with him on board comes into view, "Our Boys" finally come to the end of their own long potential suicide mission, leaving behind a population which had long abandoned its grudging admiration for their role in removing Saddam, instead replaced by a distaste which threatened to descend into a visceral loathing.

If you want to go into "victory or defeat" territory, it may come down to which newspaper you read. The Scum's account of the handing over of Basra palace to the Iraqis could have been written by a faceless MoD spin doctor, a report so at odds with reality that Mike Power rightly suggests it could have come from a parallel universe. In this bizarro world Basra, select soldiers are quoted as having achieved so much, and the Mahdi army halted their attacks because:

It is thought months of fighting tenacious British troops showed the rebels they would never win military victory.

Nothing to do then with the release of around 30 Iraqi prisoners, or indeed al-Sadr's call to his supporters/fighters for a six-month ceasefire.

Then again, if you read the Daily Mail, it seems this was a humiliating disaster, with the Iraqis overjoyed at the departure of the hated occupier. The Mail's stance on the Iraq war has always been confusing: supporting it only to quickly change tact once it became something to beat Blair with, in the best traditions of the newspaper's opportunistic and sniping nature.

Back here in the real world, the retreat, for it almost certainly is one, is not just militarily and politically logical, but also the only realistic option. The soldiers on the ground not given a sheen of Sun gloss have long known that Basra was a lost cause, where they were in fact only making the security situation worse, putting the population of the city under threat for no good reason, which was more than half the reason why the initial relaxed attitude towards the British forces quickly dissipated. Regardless of what some of us think about the continuing war in Afghanistan, the army itself still believes that is achieving something there, rather than just hanging around for the purpose of giving support to a failed American foreign policy.

It would be wrong to pretend though that our motives or our actions in Basra have been always been either altruistic or above reproach. It's easy to forget that we should have never been there in the first place, and while we have a number for the amount of servicemen who have died, we have no way of knowing how many Iraqis have died as a direct result of British army action. Abu Ghraib may not have happened in the south, but the death of Baha Mousa, which has never been acceptably resolved, along with the abuse of other prisoners were a serious of shaming incidents brushed as much under the carpet as possible.

Much of the debate will be based around whether this could have occurred under Blair, and whether this is the start to a quicker, faster than expected withdrawal, and the answers to that appear to be no and yes, or at least with the latter you would hope so. While you sympathise with the idea that the training of the Iraqi forces should continue, the remaining reasons for staying more than another day are less than convincing. We'll never know how many lives on both sides have been lost for little to no fathomable reason, but the one thing we should all agree on now is that not a single drop more should be spilled, and that means taking those Iraqis employed by the army in any capacity, potentially the target of insurgents, back with us.

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One nil...

Update: slight changes made in response to legal threat from Alisher Usmanov's lawyers, Schillings.

I always thought it was vaguely appropriate that one of Russia's robber barons, Roman Abramovich, had taken over Chelsea, that most middle class constituency in the whole country. Quite what the asparagus munching, bruschetta lovers of Islington would make of Alisher Usmanov, described in strident terms by Craig Murray here, is another matter. As an Arsenal fan, I'd much rather that we finish 4th every season than become the next club to be taken over by the latest foreign businessman flush with cash made from allegedly dubious sources.

It's quite true that football's always been a corrupt game, as one of our previous managers showed. It's quite another for football clubs to become the latest playthings for the disgustingly rich, plowing money into them simply because they can, or as you suspect with the Glazer family's takeover of Manchester United, to in the end make even more. There was a good reason why in the cases of both United and Wimbledon, now the horrid MK Dons, that the fans rightly felt their clubs had been taken from them, just the latest machinations of global capitalism, to be bought, sold and used like an exceptionally successful whore.

It's always come down to how hungry the fans are for success: Thaksin Shinawatra's takeover of Manchester City was welcomed purely because of how wretched City's recent history has been, no matter how corrupt or deadly his business dealings or crackdowns on drug trafficking were while he was Thailand's prime minister. As for Arsenal, although the last couple of seasons have been more challenging than previously, almost purely because of the money being pumped into both Man Utd, Chelsea and now Liverpool, we're the only club able to boast about going a whole Premiership season without losing a game. Our football is still majestic, the beautiful game as it ought to be played, even if we concentrate more on looking pretty than shooting at times. We have success, more is likely to come, as long as we keep Mr Wenger; what more do we want?

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