Posts Tagged ‘Terrorism’

Istanbul

 

Who did you lose?

Was that your husband lying there? With half his head missing.
The one who held you in those strong arms for the first time, all those years ago.
The face which gave you a weary smile after work every evening. Sharing food.
The man you moulded yourself to, every night, and fell asleep, safely.

Who did you lose?

Was that your son, lying there?
Arms entwined with the airport trolley he was blown into.
Was he leaving to study abroad? Or just a vacation?
His first time away from home.
That crooked, shy smile you will never see again.
Look: his jeans are torn. He would have hated that.

Who did you lose?

Was that your daughter? Is that your other daughter?
You were just there to wave her off.
On her way back to her husband, and her two small children.
You never wanted her to move away.
But just yesterday she smiled at you over coffee and said “You’ll always be my Mumya. Where would I be without you?”
Always.

Who did you lose?

So sorry to broadcast your grief, but we need to touch it. Need to ask. Need to know.
Because they weren’t “41 dead”. They were your family.
Your blood, being washed away. Blood of your blood.
Cannot hold your gaze, but must. All must.
All humanity has failed you.
And next week, we will fail another, again.
Another Mother. Father. Son. Daughter.

fear

 

One of the effects of events such as the hideous massacre of innocents in Orlando, Baghdad, Nice, and elsewhere, is the repeated assault on the mood and feelings of people who are only distantly connected to the actual event.

At times like this, it is all to easy for our imaginations, driven by empathy for those hurt, driven by our simple understanding of what they went through, driven by the awareness that that could have been us, to be completely overwhelmed by the horror.

The news is inescapable. Media coverage is wall-to-wall. It regularly beats in on all of us, even those who seek to shut it out by avoiding the endlessly repeated 24 hour newscasts. An intrusive internet headline here. A radio soundbite there. A comment from a co-worker. A cri de coeur from someone standing next to you in a queue for coffee.

The global psychic effect of the accumulated evil in the world makes us all more anxious. Makes us all more inclined to despair. Our feeling of helplessness grows unabated. Our inability to stop these events from happening induces real trauma. The world is suffering from a creeping case of mass PTSD.

In our desperation, we rail against those in power, unable to understand why the great and good cannot simply flick a switch and make it right. We call for strong leaders to make a difference. And those who would be those leaders shamelessly exploit the fear and distress to bolster their stocks.

And in bed late at night, when all around is quiet and we should be peaceful and calm, we lie awake, staring at the ceiling, the insistent thoughts pressing in on us, uninvited but impossible to ignore. What if it had been my daughter in that nightclub? What if my wife had turned that corner in Paris, or Istanbul? What if we had been in a bar in Bali? Or in a coffee shop in Sydney? Is anywhere safe? Are we ever safe? Please God, we just want to be safe.

This is very far from just a higher brain musing. Psychological studies show that a continual state of mild anxiety is extremely damaging for human beings. It affects our subconscious mind, and induces irrational decision-making. It can pre-dispose people to develop more serious mental disturbances. It may well give us cancer or heart disease. And it is, quite simply, just horrible to experience.

In response, most of us busy ourselves just getting on with life, bereft of any real alternatives to just forging on. Some – a vocal few – descend into activism against the perceived purveyors of the threat (in the world’s current state, Muslims) but most people recognise that the men of violence are a minority. A kind of ‘Dunkirk spirit’ takes hold. We “soldier on”, hoping against hope that we will one day see the end of such events, and fervently hoping we are never touched by one directly, as we weep for those who have been, and will be.

And yet despite our best efforts, there is that constant drumbeat of anxiety, whipped up by the ghastly marriage of the purveyors of terror and those who are duty bound to report it, not to mention the commentary of those politicians who seek to benefit from it. It is always there, just under the surface of our lives, threatening to bubble up and overwhelm our consciousness. Even the act of subordinating it makes us more tired and fearful.

There is only one answer. And it comes from everything we know about dealing effectively with clinical anxiety disorders.

It is to acknowledge, rationally, that we are all threatened, but in a minuscule manner. To cut the threat down to a realistic size in our minds. To deliberately and with determination confront the fears we inevitably feel, and assess them with calm and commonsense, and to assign them the relevance they truly have.

Despite the apparent ubiquity of terror in the world, the chances of being on a plane that is blown out of the sky are tens of thousands to one, no matter how the pictures of wreckage, flotsam and jetsam from those who have been attacked might impinge on our minds. It is perfectly, horrifyingly simple to imagine crashing to the ground, still awake, strapped to our chair, until colliding terminally with the dark black Ukrainian earth. Yet as we view these very mental pictures that distress us so much, we simply have to say to ourselves “but tens of thousands of planes take off and land safely every day, and airlines and governments employ highly sophisticated systems to keep us safer than ever”.

Despite the images that flood our television screens from Orlando, despite the 50 dead young people and the 50 others injured, despite the bloodied souls wandering crazed down the street looking for help, in the heart rending face of the victim’s relations and their incohate horror at their loss, the fact is that there are more than 300 million people in America, and the dead represent one hundred thousandth of the population. In a queue of the entire population, the chance of you being picked out by fate to be in that massacre was over 6 million to one.

The chances of being in that nightclub in Paris, or that restaurant, or on that island in Norway, was millions to one.

Are we completely safe? No, we are not. The dead and injured are real. But we have endured worse, time and again, and survived. My mother and father were of a generation that endured the Blitz, for example. Night after night, the Nazis raised hundred pound bombs onto defenceless civilian populations. Despite the horrific casualties, the majority of the population survived. They went about their business, day after day, determined not to be cowed. Death or injury was an ever-present possibility, but so was survival, laughter, family, friends, the daily round. Stoicism replaced expectation. This too shall pass.

We do not control our environment and no amount of wishing will ever make it so. A plane can land on your house. A tyre can blow out at the speed limit on the freeway. A drunken driver can plough into you as you wait for a bus. There will be storms, tempests, wars and rumours of wars. They are all simply part of life. Media vita in morte sumus.

Fear is a liarWe will all die, one day. In the meantime, the trick is to live our lives every day as unafraid as we possibly can. To seek joy in little things. A new flower. Birdsong. The smile of a friend. A joke shared. An unexpectedly delicious meal.

To see the best in those around us, and to be grateful for the support and love they give us so freely. We have to stare into the abyss of what could be, and then step away from the edge, content in the knowledge that it is far more likely that it won’t be. We will wake up tomorrow. The world will go on. And in the time that is granted to us, strive to be the best people we can be.

Yes, we must cry hot tears for those who were less lucky than ourselves. And we must work every day to remove the hate from our societies. Patiently, slowly, imaginatively, sincerely, day after wearysome day. There is no alternative. There is no magic cure. That is life.

But life is there to be lived, without constant fear. And the day that we allow the fear to overwhelm us, we hand victory to the murderers.

Trumps wives

 

The internet’s ability to throw up genuinely funny and relevant commentary is one of the joys of living in today’s age.

Meanwhile, a petition to the UK Parliament asking that Mr Donald Trump, has now passed over 370,000 signatures, meaning that it will have to be considered, at least, for debate on the floor of the House of Commons. he has also been sacked as a business ambassador for Scotland by the First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon.

The candidate has issued a statement on the British petition to ban him from the country:

QuoteI have done so much for Scotland, including building Trump International Golf Links, Aberdeen, which has received the highest accolades, and is what many believe to be one of the greatest golf courses anywhere in the world. Additionally, I have made a significant investment in the re-development of the iconic Turnberry Resort, which will have massive ballrooms, complete room refurbishments, a new golf course and a total rebuilding of the world famous Ailsa course to the highest standards and specifications of the Royal & Ancient. If they were going to do this, they should have informed me prior to my major investment in this £200 million development, which will totally revitalise that vast region of Scotland.

Something of an un-reality show, frankly.

Something of an un-reality show, frankly.

The UK politicians should be thanking me instead of pandering to political correctness. In fact, in an article out today, many police officers in London have come forward to confirm their fears of terrorism.

I only said what needed to be said, and when I am elected no one will be tougher or smarter than me.

I will work very hard and effectively to defeat terrorism.

(Note: no British policemen has been killed by a terrorist act in the last five years.)

I have respect for the Muslim people and have great friendships with many Muslims, some of whom I do business with – but they themselves admit there is a major problem with radicalisation.

As President, I will work with Muslim representatives to determine a solution to eradicate the terrorism that has plagued the credibility of the Muslim community.

Furthermore, as the definitive front runner (with large leads in every poll) in the race to become the Republican nominee for President of the United States, and as the person leading in the polls head to head versus Hillary Clinton, my focus is to Make America Great Again!

Meanwhile, the Daily Telegraph in London reports that supposed arch anti-terrorist Trump has been mired in fresh controversy after footage emerged showing the Republican front-runner attending a Sinn Fein fundraiser in November 1995.

Mr Trump was also seen shaking hands with Gerry Adams at the function at the Essex House hotel in Manhattan.

Four months later the Provisional IRA unleashed a terror attack in London’s docklands,SouthKey_bombing_-_9.2.96 killing two people working at a newsagent and destroying a building at South Quay, just under a mile away from Canary Wharf.

This was despite the IRA having declared a “cessation of military operations” on August 31 1994.

The footage emerged with the controversy still raging over Mr Trump’s call for all Muslims to be denied entry to the US because of the terrorist threat. John Major, then British Prime Minister, was incensed that Mr Adams had been granted a visa to speak at the dinner, where guests paid $200 (£131) each to attend. At the time Mr Adams was regarded by many as an apologist for the IRA, Sinn Fein’s military wing.

Trumps upcoming visit to Israel also seems sure to cause yet further controversy, as dozens of MPs plead with Prime Minister Netanyahu to keep him out of the country. Netanyahu has also condemned Trumps attack on Muslims.

Have you had enough yet, Republican Party?

Meanwhile, as this well researched article points out, and as we have always said, Trumps current opinion poll standings may well mean nothing at all come the actual primaries.

http://www.theguardian.com/us-news/datablog/2015/dec/09/donald-trump-polls-past-elections-republican-nomination

So if not Trump, who? At this stage, we think Marco Rubio is the likely GOP pick. Telegenic, apparently not entirely mad like most of the other GOP contenders, young, and will appeal to the Latino vote. Calculations will be made that he can carry the key swing state of Florida, although recent boundary changes actually make that more difficult for the Republicans. Rubio’s ascent currently depends on a number of factors, including whether the father of four survives rumours about infidelity. The possible genesis of those allegations and rumours is discussed here. Thus far, the matter is unresolved.

There’s no doubt that fellow Floridian Jeb Bush – who has been distinctly underwhelming thus far – is taking Rubio on head on. As with the unsubstantiated affair rumours that helped derail Kevin McCarthy’s bid for speaker of the House, the mere existence of this gossip plays a role in the GOP race behind the scenes. Look at this slide from a Bush campaign presentation to donors, which was obtained by David Catanese of US News in October — and note the last bullet point in particular:

 

Politics. You gotta love it. Pass the popcorn.

 

To be utterly frank, Dear Reader, we do not even pretend to fully understand the current Middle East crisis and have even less idea what to do about it. It is times like this that we are very pleased we no longer pursue politics as a career.

This map, for example, purports to show Daesh’s view of a future Caliphate. It suggests that its ambitions stretch at least as far as the historical spread of Islam. The white lines, incidentally, do not relate to modern boundaries, but to Daesh-suggested administrative boundaries, as Daesh does not recognise modern nation states.

Daesh map

Anyhow, in the search for clarity, we reproduce in full below a long but scholarly article which first appeared in New Statesman in early March this year, and then in New Republic, because to us it has the smack of good research and commonsense.

It is a trenchant and thorough re-evaluation of the by-now famous article in The Atlantic (which we were impressed by at the time, and which we believe still has value, as regards, at least, the leadership of IS) which argued that IS – or as French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius now urges us to call them, Daesh – is an eschatological “end times” cult that wants nothing more than to provoke a wholesale invasion of Syria and Iraq by the West to usher in the return of Christ and thus the end of the world.

Both articles appear well researched and credible, revealing again (as if we really need to have it reinforced) that this is a highly complex issue that does not succumb to simplistic explanations.

In any event, we urge you to read this article as well, because it goes to the motivation of people to join Daesh and it squarely argues that it is NOT an Islamic movement, and, indeed, that labelling it as such is aiding its existence and even growth. Given recent events worldwide, that analysis is more pressing than ever.

What’s more, as the leader of the “free world” this is a live issue for President Obama, in particular, who is enduring considerable criticism for his nuanced and oft-expressed view that Daesh is not an “Islamic” or “Islamic terrorist” problem. It may be that his reasons for doing so are simply too subtle for many social media readers and posters, especially those who detest Obama anyway, but if this article is credible then his attitude thus far is completely justified.

What is more important is that this is a discussion that every community in the Western world needs to have, as non-Muslim and Muslim communities seek to live peaceably together.

Whatever the precise truth of the situation we now face – and like all situations, there are layers upon layers of meaning and evidence – this article places the responsibility for the radicalisation of Muslim and recent-convert Muslim youth absolutely specifically to the aftermath of the Iraq war, and the subsequent bias and incompetence of the Shia government in Baghdad.

And it asserts – with compelling evidence from experts working in the intelligence field – that grievances in Western societies (poor housing, perceived racism, lack of opportunity, and a desire for belonging and meaning, above all) are all merely exacerbated by the echoes of 2003 and afterwards.

In effect, the article is saying that the war in Iraq never really ended, and that it is now conflated to include Syria.

We might also note that the next domino to fall, in this regard, would be Lebanon, which puts last week’s murderous bombing in Beirut into a critical context.

Please. Take the time to read this article.

UnderstandingWe believe it is an important contribution to current discussions, and should be taken into account as we examine what on earth to do next.

And if there is ever to be peace in the Middle East, we have to start somewhere.

In that regard, understanding what is going on seems a good place to start.

Article begins:

It is difficult to forget the names, or the images, of James Foley, Steven Sotloff, David Haines, Alan Henning and Peter Kassig. The barbaric beheadings between August and November 2014, in cold blood and on camera, of these five jumpsuit-clad western hostages by the self-styled Islamic State, or ISIS, provoked widespread outrage and condemnation.

Liberation newspaper journalist Didier Francois who was freed after 10 months in captivity.

Liberation newspaper journalist Didier Francois who was freed after 10 months in captivity.

However, we should also remember the name of Didier François, a French journalist who was held by ISIS in Syria for ten months before being released in April 2014. François has since given us a rare insight into life inside what the Atlantic’s Graeme Wood, in a recent report for the magazine, has called the “hermit kingdom” of ISIS, where “few have gone . . . and returned.”

And it is an insight that threatens to turn the conventional wisdom about the world’s most fearsome terrorist organisation on its head.

“There was never really discussion about texts,” the French journalist told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour last month, referring to his captors. “It was not a religious discussion. It was a political discussion.”

According to François, “It was more hammering what they were believing than teaching us about the Quran. Because it has nothing to do with the Quran.” And the former hostage revealed to a startled Amanpour: “We didn’t even have the Quran. They didn’t want even to give us a Quran.”

The rise of ISIS in Iraq and Syria has been a disaster for the public image of Islam – and a boon for the Islamophobia industry. Here, after all, is a group that calls itself Islamic State; that claims the support of Islamic texts to justify its medieval punishments, from the stoning of adulterers to the amputation of the hands of thieves; and that has a leader with a PhD in Islamic studies who declares himself to be a “caliph,” or ruler over all Muslims, and has even renamed himself in honour of the first Muslim caliph, Abu Bakr.

The consequences are, perhaps, as expected. In September 2014, a Zogby poll found that only 27 percent of Americans had a favourable view of Islam—down from 35 per cent in 2010. By February 2015, more than a quarter of Americans (27 per cent) were telling the pollsters LifeWay Research that they believed that life under ISIS rule “gives a true indication of what an Islamic society looks like.”

Yet what is much more worrying is that it isn’t just ill-informed, ignorant or bigoted members of the public who take such a view. “The reality is that the Islamic State is Islamic. Very Islamic,” wrote Wood in his widely read 10,000-word cover report (“What ISIS really wants”) in the March issue of Atlantic, in which he argued, “The religion preached by its most ardent followers derives from coherent and even learned interpretations of Islam.”

Bernard Haykel of Princeton University, the only scholar of Islam whom Wood bothered to interview, described Muslims who considered ISIS to be un-Islamic, or anti-Islamic, as “embarrassed and politically correct, with a cotton-candy view of their own religion,” and declared that the hand-choppers and throat-slitters of ISIS “have just as much legitimacy” as any other Muslims, because Islam is “what Muslims do and how they interpret their texts.”

Many other analysts across the political spectrum agree and have denounced the Obama administration for refusing, in the words of the journalist-turned-terrorism-expert Peter Bergen, to make “the connection between Islamist terrorism and ultra-fundamentalist forms of Islam.” Writing on the CNN website in February, Bergen declared, “ISIS may be a perversion of Islam, but Islamic it is.”

“Will it take the end of the world for Obama to recognise ISIS as ‘Islamic’?” screamed a headline on the Daily Beast website in the same month. “Which will come first, flying cars and vacations to Mars, or a simple acknowledgment that beliefs guide behaviour and that certain religious ideas—jihad, martyrdom, blasphemy, apostasy—reliably lead to oppression and murder?” asked Sam Harris, the neuroscientist and high priest of the “New Atheism” movement.

So, is ISIS a recognisably “Islamic” movement? Are ISIS recruits motivated by religious fervour and faith?

The Analyst

“Our exploration of the intuitive psychologist’s shortcomings must start with his general tendency to overestimate the importance of personal or dispositional factors relative to environmental influences,” wrote the American social anthropologist Lee Ross in 1977.

It was Ross who coined the phrase “fundamental attribution error”, which refers to the phenomenon in which we place excessive emphasis on internal motivations to explain the behaviour of others, in any given situation, rather than considering the relevant external factors.

SagemanNowhere is the fundamental attribution error more prevalent, suggests the forensic psychiatrist Marc Sageman, than in our navel-gazing analysis of wannabe terrorists and what does or doesn’t motivate them.

“You attribute other people’s behaviour to internal motivations but your own to circumstances. ‘They’re attacking us and therefore we have to attack them.’” Yet, he tells me, we rarely do the reverse.

Few experts have done more to try to understand the mindset of the young men and women who aspire to join the blood-drenched ranks of groups such as ISIS and Al Qaeda than Sageman. And few can match his qualifications, credentials or background. The 61-year-old, Polish-born psychiatrist and academic is a former CIA operations officer who was based in Pakistan in the late 1980s. There he worked closely with the Afghan mujahedin.

He has since advised the New York City Police Department on counterterrorism issues, testified in front of the 9/11 Commission in Washington, D.C., and, in his acclaimed works Understanding Terror Networks and Leaderless Jihad, closely analysed the biographies of several hundred terrorists.

Does he see religion as a useful analytical prism through which to view the rise of ISIS and the process by which thousands of young people arrive in Syria and Iraq, ready to fight and die for the group?

“Religion has a role but it is a role of justification,” he tells me. “It’s not why they do this [or] why young people go there.”

ISIS members, he says, are using religion to advance a political vision, rather than using politics to advance a religious vision. “To give themselves a bit more legitimacy, they use Islam as their justification. It’s not about religion, it’s about identity . . . You identify with the victims, [with] the guys being killed by your enemies.”

For converts to Islam in particular, he adds, “Identity is important to them. They have . . . invested a lot of their own efforts and identity to become this ‘Muslim’ and, because of this, identity is so important to them. They see other Muslims being slaughtered [and say], ‘I need to protect my community.’” (A recent study found that converts to Islam were involved in 31 per cent of Muslim terrorism convictions in the UK between 2001 and 2010.)

Sageman believes that it isn’t religious faith but, rather, a “sense of emotional and moral outrage” at what they see on their television screens or on YouTube that propels people from Portsmouth to Peshawar, from Berlin to Beirut, to head for war zones and to sign up for the so-called jihad. Today, he notes archly, “Orwell would be [considered as foreign fighter like] a jihadi,” referring to the writer’s involvement in the anti-fascist campaign during the Spanish civil war.

Religion, according to this view, plays a role not as a driver of behaviour but as a vehicle for outrage and, crucially, a marker of identity. Religion is important in the sense that it happens to “define your identity”, Sageman says, and not because you are “more pious than anybody else.” He invokes the political scientist Benedict Anderson’s conception of a nation state as an “imagined political community”, arguing that the “imagined community of Muslims” is what drives the terrorists, the allure of being members of – and defenders of – the ultimate “in-group.”

JJ“You don’t have the most religious folks going there,” he points out.

ISIS fighters from the west, in particular, “tend to have rediscovered Islam as teenagers, or as converts”; they are angry, or even bored, young men in search of a call to arms and a thrilling cause. The ISIS executioner Mohammed Emwazi, also known as “Jihadi John” – who was raised and educated in the UK – was described, for instance, by two British medics who met him at a Syrian hospital as “quiet but a bit of an adrenalin junkie”.

Sageman’s viewpoint should not really surprise us. Writing in his 2011 book The Black Banners: the Inside Story of 9/11 and the War Against al-Qaeda, the Lebanese-American former FBI agent Ali H Soufan, who led the bureau’s pre-9/11 investigation into Al Qaeda, observed: “When I first began interrogating AL Qaeda members, I found that while they could quote Bin Laden’s sayings by heart, I knew far more of the Quran than they did—and in fact some barely knew classical Arabic, the language of both the hadithand the Quran. An understanding of their thought process and the limits of their knowledge enabled me and my colleagues to use their claimed piousness against them.”

Three years earlier, in 2008, a classified briefing note on radicalisation, prepared by MI5’s behavioural science unit, was obtained by the Guardian.

It revealed: “Far from being religious zealots, a large number of those involved in terrorism do not practise their faith regularly. Many lack religious literacy and could . . . be regarded as religious novices.”

The MI5 analysts noted the disproportionate number of converts and the high propensity for “drug-taking, drinking alcohol and visiting prostitutes”. The newspaper claimed they concluded, “A well-established religious identity actually protects against violent radicalisation.”

As I have pointed out on these pages before, Mohammed Ahmed and Yusuf Sarwar, the two young British Muslim men from Birmingham who were convicted on terrorism charges in 2014 after travelling to fight in Syria, bought copies of Islam for Dummies and The Koran for Dummies from Amazon prior to their departure. Religious novices, indeed.

Sageman, the former CIA officer, says we have to locate terrorism and extremism in local conflicts rather than in grand or sweeping ideological narratives – the grievances and the anger come first, he argues, followed by the convenient and self-serving ideological justifications. For example, he says, the origins of ISIS as a terror group lie not in this or that Islamic book or school of thought, but in the “slaughter of Sunnis in Iraq.” He reminds me how, in April 2013, when there was a peaceful Sunni demonstration asking the Shia-led Maliki government in Baghdad to reapportion to the various provinces what the government was getting in oil revenues, Iraqi security forces shot into the crowds.

“That was the start of this [current] insurrection.”

Before that, it was the brutal, US-led occupation, under which Iraq became ground zero for suicide bombers from across the region and spurred the creation of new terrorist organisations, such as Al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI).

ISIS is the “remnant” of AQI, Sageman adds. He believes that any analysis of the group and of the ongoing violence and chaos in Iraq that doesn’t take into account the long period of war, torture, occupation and sectarian cleansing is inadequate—and a convenient way of exonerating the west of any responsibility. “Without the invasion of Iraq, [ISIS] would not exist. We created it by our presence there.”

The Spy

BarrettLike Marc Sageman, Richard Barrett has devoted his professional life to understanding terrorism, extremism and radicalization.

The silver-haired 65-year-old was the director of global counterterrorism operations for MI6, both before and after the 11 September 2001 attacks, and he subsequently led the Al Qaeda and Taliban monitoring team at the United Nations between 2004 and 2013.

Unlike Sageman, however, Barrett partly sympathises with Graeme Wood’s and Bernard Haykel’s thesis that “the Islamic State is Islamic”. He tells me that some ISIS followers “are clearly convinced they are following Allah’s will” and he insists: “We should not underestimate the extent of their belief.” However, Barrett concedes that such beliefs and views “will not be the only thing that drew them to the Islamic State”.

The former MI6 officer, who recently published a report on foreign fighters in Syria, agrees with the ex-CIA man on the key issue of what motivates young men to join—and fight for—groups such as ISIS in the first place. Rather than religious faith, it has “mostly to do with the search for identity . . . coupled with a search for belonging and purpose. The Islamic State offers all that and empowers the individual within a collective. It does not judge and accepts all with no concern about their past. This can be very appealing for people who think that they washed up on the wrong shore.”

Whether they are unemployed losers or well-educated professionals, joining ISIS offers new recruits the chance to “believe that they are special . . . that they are part of something that is new, secret and powerful.”

While Barrett doesn’t dismiss the theological angle in the way that Sageman does, he nevertheless acknowledges, “Acting in the name of Islam means that, for the ignorant at least, the groups have some legitimacy for their actions . . . They can pretend it is not just about power and money.”

LouiseThis irreligious lust for power and money is a significant and often overlooked part of the ISIS equation.

The group—often described as messianic and uncompromising—had no qualms about demanding a $200m ransom for the lives of two Japanese hostages in January; nor has it desisted from smuggling pornography into and out of Iraq, according to Louise Shelley, director of the Terrorism, Transnational Crime and Corruption Centre at George Mason University in Virginia. (Shelley has referred to Isis as a “diversified criminal operation”.)

Then there is the often-ignored alliance at the heart of ISIS between the so-called violent Islamists, led by Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, and the remnants of Saddam Hussein’s secular Ba’athist regime – an alliance that Barrett has referred to as a “marriage of convenience.” If ISIS is the apocalyptic religious cult that Wood and others believe it is, why was Baghdadi’s deputy in Iraq Abu Muslim al-Afari al-Turkmani, a former senior special forces officer in Hussein’s army? Why is Baghdadi’s number two in Syria Abu Ali al-Anbari, a former major general under Hussein? (Welthisiswhatithink note; al-Anbari was reported killed in Libya in June.) 

“The Ba’athist element was certainly very important . . . as it gave the Islamic State military and administrative capability,” Barrett says. “It also made it possible [for ISIS to] take Mosul so quickly and cause defections and surrenders from the Iraqi army. There was and continues to be a coincidence of interest between Islamic State and other anti-government Sunni groups.”

Here again, it seems, is the fundamental attribution error in play. We neglect to focus on the “interests” of groups such as ISIS and obsess over their supposedly messianic and apocalyptic “beliefs.” The “end of times” strain may be very strong in ISIS, Barrett warns, but: “The Ba’athist elements are still key in Iraq and without them the Islamic State would probably not be able to hold on to the city of Mosul.”

Baghdadi’s appointment as leader of ISIS in 2010 was orchestrated by a former Ba’athist colonel in Hussein’s army, Haji Bakr, (killed in January 2014) according to another recent study produced by Barrett, in which he noted how Bakr had “initially attracted criticism from fellow members of the group for his lack of a proper beard and lax observance of other dictates of their religious practice”. Nevertheless, pragmatism trumped ideology as Bakr’s “organisational skills . . . and network of fellow ex-Ba’athists made him a valuable resource” for ISIS.

Apparently, Baghdadi’s supposed caliphate in Iraq and Syria was less the will of God and more the will of Saddam.

The Theologian

Perhaps the most astonishing achievement of Isis has been not the sheer size of the territory it has captured, but the way in which it has united the world’s disparate (and often divided) 1.6 billion Muslims against it.

Whether Sunni or Shia, Salafi or Sufi, conservative or liberal, Muslims – and Muslim leaders – have almost unanimously condemned and denounced ISIS not merely as un-Islamic but actively anti-Islamic.

Sheikh Abdul Aziz al-Sheikh, the Saudi grand mufti.

Sheikh Abdul Aziz al-Sheikh, the Saudi grand mufti.

Consider the various statements of Muslim groups such as the Organisation of Islamic Co-operation, representing 57 countries (ISIS has “nothing to do with Islam”); the Islamic Society of North America (ISIS’ actions are “in no way representative of what Islam actually teaches”); al-Azhar University in Cairo, the most prestigious seat of learning in the Sunni Muslim world (ISIS is acting “under the guise of this holy religion . . . in an attempt to export their false Islam”); and even Saudi Arabia’s Salafist Grand Mufti, Abdul Aziz al ash-Sheikh (ISIS is “the number-one enemy of Islam”).

In September 2014, more than 120 Islamic scholars co-signed an 18-page open letter to Baghdadi, written in Arabic, containing what the Slate website’s Filipa Ioannou described as a “technical point-by-point criticism of ISIS’ actions and ideology based on the Quran and classical religious texts.”

hannityYet buffoonish right-wingers such as the Fox News host Sean Hannity continue to refer to the alleged “silence of Muslims” over the actions of ISIS and ask, “Where are the Muslim leaders?” Meanwhile, academics who should know better, such as Princeton’s Bernard Haykel, insist that the leaders of ISIS “have just as much legitimacy as anyone else.”

MuradLegitimacy, however, “comes through endorsement by religious leaders. If Sunni Islam’s leaders consider ISIS inauthentic, then that is what it is,” says Abdal Hakim Murad, who teaches Islamic studies at Cambridge University and serves as the dean of the Cambridge Muslim College, which trains imams for British mosques. The blond-haired, 54-year-old Murad is a convert and is also known as Timothy Winter (his brother is the Telegraph football writer Henry). Murad has been described by the Royal Islamic Strategic Studies Centre in Jordan as “one of the most well-respected western theologians”, whose “accomplishments place him amongst the most significant Muslims in the world”.

The religious world, whether Muslim, Jewish or Christian, is “packed with fringe and fundamentalist groups that claim the mantle of total authenticity,” Murad tells me. To accept those groups’ assertions at face value is “either naive or tendentious.”

He continues: “Just as Christianity in Bosnia 20 years ago was not properly represented by the churchgoing militias of Radovan Karadzic and just as Judaism is not represented by West Bank settlers who burn mosques, so, too, Islam is not represented by ISIS.”

Contrary to a lazy conventional wisdom which suggests that a 1,400-year-old faith with more than a billion adherents has no hierarchy, “Islam has its leadership, its universities, its muftis and its academies, which unanimously repudiate ISIS,” Murad explains. For the likes of Haykel to claim that the ISIS interpretation of Islam has “just as much legitimacy” as the mainstream view, he adds, is “unscholarly,” “incendiary” and likely to “raise prejudice and comfort the far-right political formations”.

As for ISIS’ obsession with beheadings, crucifixions, hand-chopping and the rest, Murad argues: “With regard to classical sharia punishments, the religion’s teachings in every age are determined by scholarly consensus on the meaning of the complex scriptural texts”—rather than by self-appointed “sharia councils” in the midst of conflict zones.

Many analysts have laid the blame for violent extremism among Muslims at the ideological door of Salafism, a regressive and ultra-conservative brand of Islam, which owes a great deal to the controversial teachings of an 18th-century preacher named Muhammad Ibn Abd al-Wahhab and which today tends to be behind much of the misogyny and sectarianism in the Muslim-majority world. Yet, as even Wood concedes in his Atlantic report, “Most Salafis are not jihadists and most adhere to sects that reject the Islamic State.”

Salafists tend to be apolitical, whereas groups such as ISIS are intensely political. Even the traditionalist Murad, who has little time for what he has deemed the “cult-like universe of the Salafist mindset”, agrees that the rise of extremism within the movement is a consequence, rather than a cause, of violence and conflict.

“The roots of ISIS have been located in rage against . . . the 2003 occupation of Iraq. Before that event, Salafist extremism was hardly heard of in Syria and Iraq, even though the mosques were full in those countries,” Murad says. “Angry men, often having suffered in US detention, have reached for the narrowest and most violent interpretation of their religion they can find. This is a psychological reaction, not a faithful adherence to classical Muslim norms of jurisprudence.”

In the view of this particular Muslim theologian, ISIS owes a “debt to European far-right thinking.” The group’s “imposition of a monolithic reading of the huge and hugely complex founding literature of the religion is something very new in Islamic civilisation, representing a totalitarian impulse that seems closer to European fascism than to classical Islamic norms.”

The Radical

Raised in Toronto, the son of Indian immigrant parents, Mubin Shaikh went from enjoying a hedonistic teenage lifestyle involving drugs, girls and parties to embracing a militant and “jihadist” view of the world, full of hate and anger.

CSIS and RCMP informant Mubin Shaikh at his Toronto home on February 6th, 2007. Shaikh's information led to the arrest of dozens of terror suspects in the summer of 2006.

CSIS and RCMP informant Mubin Shaikh at his Toronto home on February 6th, 2007. Shaikh’s information led to the arrest of dozens of terror suspects in the summer of 2006.

He felt as though he “had become a stranger in my own land, my own home,” Shaikh told PBS in 2007, referring to an identity crisis that helped spark his “jihadi bug.” After 11 September 2001, he wanted to fight in Afghanistan or Chechnya because: “It felt like the right thing to do.”

It is a familiar path, trodden by the likes of Dzhokhar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev, the brothers accused of bombing the Boston Marathon, as well as Chérif and Saïd Kouachi, the Charlie Hebdo attackers in Paris. (A former friend of Chérif said that the younger, pot-smoking Kouachi “couldn’t differentiate between Islam and Catholicism” before he became radicalized by “images of American soldiers humiliating Muslims at the Abu Ghraib prison”, as the New York Times put it.)

Yet Shaikh eventually relinquished his violent views after studying Sufi Islam in the Middle East and then boldly volunteered with the Canadian Security Intelligence Service to infiltrate several radical groups in Toronto.

The bald and bearded Shaikh, now aged 39 and an adviser to Canadian officials, tells me it is “preposterous” to claim that the killing of Christians and Yazidis by ISIS is rooted in Islamic scripture or doctrine. If it was, “Muslims would have been doing those sorts of things for the past 50-plus years. Yet we find no such thing.”

YAZIDIS(Wellthisiswhatithink insert: This becomes a particularly trenchant comment as a mass grave believed to contain the remains of more than 70 female members of Iraq’s Yazidi minority has been recently discovered east of Sinjar town after Kurdish forces claimed victory over Daesh militants in the area, the mayor and locals have said.

The insurgents overran the Yazidi heartland of Sinjar in north-west Iraq in August 2014, systematically killing, capturing and enslaving thousands of its inhabitants in what the United Nations has said may have constituted attempted genocide.

The mayor of Sinjar and local Yazidis who visited the site of the mass grave said last Saturday that they saw clumps of hair, bones, money and keys which they believed belonged to older women from the village of Kocho, whom the militants separated from younger women during their onslaught.)

Shaikh offers three distinct explanations for why ISIS should not be considered or treated as an “Islamic” phenomenon. First, he argues, “The claim that ISIS is ‘Islamic’ because it superficially uses Islamic sources is ridiculous, because the Islamic sources themselves say that those who do so [manifest Islam superficially] are specifically un-Islamic.”

He points to an order issued by the first and original Muslim caliph, Abu Bakr, which declared: “Neither kill a child, women [nor] the elderly . . . When you come upon those who have taken to live in monasteries, leave them alone.”

Takfiris are those who declare other Muslims to be apostates and, for Shaikh, “It is the height of incredulity to suggest that they [members of ISIS] are in fact ‘Islamic’ – an opinion shared only by ISIS and [Islamophobes] who echo their claims.”

As for Baghdadi’s supposed scholarly credentials, Shaikh jokes, “Even the devil can quote scripture.”

Second, he argues, it is dangerous to grant ISIS any kind of theological legitimacy amid efforts to formulate a coherent “countering violent extremism” (CVE) strategy in the West. “It is quite possibly a fatal blow in that regard because, essentially, it is telling Muslims to condemn that which is Islamic.” It is, he says, a “schizophrenic approach to CVE which will never succeed”.

Third, Shaikh reminds me how the former U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld often included verses from the Bible at the top of the intelligence briefings that he presented to President George W Bush. “Could we say [Iraq] was a ‘Christianity-motivated war’? How about verses of the Bible [reportedly] engraved on to rifles for use in the Afghanistan and Iraq wars?”

The former radical points out that highlighting only the role of religion in the radicalization process to the exclusion of, or above, other factors is short-sighted. “Fear, money . . . adventure, alienation and, most certainly, anger at the west for what happened in Iraq . . . [also] explain why people join [ISIS],” he tells me.

Shaikh therefore wants a counterterrorism approach focused not merely on faith or theology, but on “political, social and psychological” factors.

The Pollster

What Dalia Mogahed doesn’t know about Muslim public opinion probably isn’t worth knowing. And the former Gallup pollster and co-author, with the US academic John L Esposito, of Who Speaks for Islam? What a Billion Muslims Really Think, based on six years of research and 50,000 interviews with Muslims in more than 35 countries, says that the survey evidence is clear: the overwhelming majority of the world’s Muslims reject ISIS-style violence.

DaliaGallup polling conducted for Mogahed’s book found, for instance, that 93 per cent of Muslims condemned the terror attacks of September 11, 2001.

The 40-year-old Egyptian-American scholar tells me, “In follow-up questions, Gallup found that not a single respondent of the nearly 50,000 interviewed cited a verse from the Quran in defence of terrorism but, rather, religion was only mentioned to explain why 9/11 was immoral.”

The 7 per cent of Muslims who sympathised with the attacks on the twin towers “defended this position entirely with secular political justifications or distorted concepts of ‘reciprocity’, as in: ‘They kill our civilians. We can kill theirs.’”

It is thus empirically unsound to conflate heightened religious belief with greater support for violence. Mogahed, who became the first hijab-wearing Muslim woman to hold a position at the White House when she served on Barack Obama’s advisory council on “faith-based and neighbourhood partnerships”, says that she was “surprised” by the results, as they “flew in the face of everything we were being told and every assumption we were making in our counter-terrorism strategy.”

As for Haykel’s claim that Islam is merely “what Muslims do and how they interpret their texts”, Mogahed is scathingly dismissive. “If Islam is indeed ‘what Muslims do’, then certainly numbers should be a powerful factor dictating which Muslims we see as representing it,” she says.

“ISIS is a tiny minority whose victims are, in fact, mostly other Muslims.

“By what logic would this gang of killers, which has been universally condemned and brutalizes Muslims more than anyone else, get to represent the global [Muslim] community?”

The former White House adviser continues: “Any philosophy or ideology, from Christianity to capitalism, has normative principles and authorities that speak to those norms. Each also has deviants who distort it to meet political or other goals. If I deny the existence of Christ but call myself a Christian, I’d be wrong. If I say the state should usurp all private property and redistribute it equally among citizens but call myself a capitalist, I would be wrong. Islam is no different.”

Echoing Murad, Mogahed points out, “Islam’s authorities have loudly and unanimously declared ISIS un-Islamic.”

Because of this, “Making a claim that violates normative principles of a philosophy, as defined by those with the authority to decide, is illegitimate.”

What about Haykel’s claim that ISIS fighters are constantly quoting Quranic verses and the hadith, or traditions from the life of the Prophet, and that they “mug for their cameras and repeat their basic doctrines in formulaic fashion and they do it all the time”? Why do they do that if they don’t believe this stuff – if it isn’t sincere?

“The Quran [and] hadith according to whom?” she responds. “As interpreted by whom? As understood by whom?”

Mogahed, who served as the executive director of the Gallup Centre for Muslim Studies until 2012 and who now works for the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding (ISPU) and runs her own consulting firm based in Washington DC, argues that ISIS uses Islamic language and symbols today for the same reason as Palestinian militant groups used the language of secular Arab nationalism in the 1960s and 1970s.

“Any organisation uses the dominant social medium of its society,” she says. “Today, the dominant social currency in the Arab world is Islam. More than 90 per cent of Arab Muslims say religion is an important part of their daily life, according to Gallup research. Everyone, not just IS, speaks in Islamic language, from pro-democracy advocates to civil society groups fighting illiteracy.”

For Mogahed, therefore, “a violent reading of the Quran is not leading to political violence. Political violence is leading to a violent reading of the Quran.”

In a recent despatch from Zarqa in Jordan, birthplace of the late AQI leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and “one of the country’s most notorious hotbeds of Islamic radicalism,” Foreign Policy magazine’s David Kenner sat down with a group of young, male ISIS supporters.

“None of them appeared to be particularly religious,” Kenner noted. “Not once did the conversation turn to matters of faith, and none budged from their seats when the call to prayer sounded. They appeared driven by anger at humiliations big and small – from the police officers who treated them like criminals outside their homes to the massacres of Sunnis in Syria and Iraq – rather than by a detailed exegesis of religious texts.”

It cannot be said often enough: it isn’t the most pious or devout of Muslims who embrace terrorism, or join groups such as IS. Nor has a raft of studies and surveys uncovered any evidence of a “conveyor belt” that turns people of firm faith into purveyors of violence.

Religion plays little, if any, role in the radicalisation process, as Sageman and countless experts testify.

It is an excuse, rather than a reason. ISIS is as much the product of political repression, organised crime and a marriage of convenience with secular, power-hungry Ba’athists as it is the result of a perversion of Islamic beliefs and practices.

As for Islamic scholars, they “unanimously repudiate” ISIS, to quote Murad, while ordinary Muslims “universally condemn” Baghdadi and his bloodthirsty followers, in the words of Mogahed.

The so-called Islamic State is, therefore, “Islamic” in the way the British National Party is “British” or the Democratic People’s Republic of North Korea (DPRK) is “democratic.”

No serious analyst considers the latter two entities to be representative of either Britishness or democracy; few commentators claim that those who join the BNP do so out of a sense of patriotism and nor do they demand that all democrats publicly denounce the DPRK as undemocratic. So why the double standard in relation to the self-styled Islamic State and the religion of Islam? Why the willingness to believe the hype and rhetoric from the spin doctors and propagandists of ISIS?

We must be wary of the trap set for us by Baghdadi’s group – a trap that far too many people who should know better have frustratingly fallen for. A former U.S. State Department official who has worked on counterterrorism issues tells me how worried he is that the arguments of the Atlantic’s Wood, Haykel, Bergen and others have been gaining traction in policymaking circles in recent months. “It was disconcerting to be at [President Obama’s Countering Violent Extremism summit in February] and hear so many people discussing the [Atlantic] article while the president and others were trying to marginalise extremist claims to Islamic legitimacy.”

Mogahed is full-square behind her former boss’s decision to delink violent extremism from the Islamic faith in his public pronouncements.

“As [Obama] recently remarked, giving groups like IS religious legitimacy is handing them the ideological victory they desperately desire,” she says. This may be the most significant point of all to understand, as politicians, policymakers and security officials try (and fail) to formulate a coherent response to violent extremism in general and IS in particular.

To claim that IS is Islamic is egregiously inaccurate and empirically unsustainable, not to mention insulting to the 1.6 billion non-violent adherents of Islam across the planet.

Above all else, it is dangerous and self-defeating, as it provides Baghdadi and his minions with the propaganda prize and recruiting tool that they most crave.

 not afraid

 

DO NOT WEEP FOR THE DEAD

Do not weep for the dead,
They do but sleep. See?

See. They float on a river of dreams,
gently rocked by ripples and currents.
Warmed by sun, cooled by zephyrs.
Do not even weep for their lost futures.
For their future is peace. And
when they awake, it will surely be to you.

Weep now for the sisters, leafing sadly through albums.
Touching a face, here and there.

Weep for the mothers, who hold their empty bellies.
Rocking with horror, a life unraveled.

Weep for the fathers, lips bitten through in inchoate rage.

Weep for the brothers, with no one left to tease.

Weep for the grandparents, dreams of second carings shattered.

Weep for the friends, struck suddenly dumb.

Weep for family celebrations with one chair always empty.

Weep for all who are
mesmerised by pictures,
strangled by sirens,
crying in bathrooms,
staring into emptiness,
fearful for the children,
losing perception,
uncomprehending,
casting this way and that,
uncertain,
picking flowers
in case it mattters.

Do not weep for the dead.
They would not wish it.
Think on them, because
you know it is true.

Weep now for the living.
The left behind.
Bind their wounds.
Listen in silence.

And weep for the world.
Wash it clean. And cleaner, still.
Make that their memorial.
And let it stand forever.

Why do we not show a more graphic image to illustrate this story? Because that would be playing precisely into IS's hands.

Why do we not show a more graphic image to illustrate this story? Because that would be playing precisely into IS’s hands.

Why does the so-called Islamic State engage in such brutal and shocking practices as beheadings, not to say crucifixions and burning people alive?

Of course, the practice of beheading is invoked in the Koran, and certain Muslim States still use it to inflict the death penalty – most notably and regrettably the Western ally Saudi Arabia – but only the most extreme Islamic non-governmental militants carry it out in the modern day. Why?

Psychological warfare is a key part of the Islamic State’s military strategy

Even where outnumbered, as they were in Mosul in June, the IS fighters have used their reputation for terror to dissuade Iraqi forces from ever seeking battle.

Which poorly paid soldier wishes to risk decapitation, impalement, or amputation for the sake of a distant, crumbling government?

As strategists have noted from the Roman Empire onwards, fear is a uniquely effective weapon. Down through history, regimes and insurgents have all behaved in hideously violent manners to discourage their opponents from fighting effectively. This is one reason IS is so deliberately and theatrically brutal.

Seven-year-old Bosniak child, Nermin Divovic, lies mortally wounded in a pool of blood as unidentified American and British U.N. firefighters arrive to assist after he was shot in the head by Serbian snipers in Sarajevo Friday, November 18, 1994. The U.N. firefighters were at his side almost immediately, but the boy died outright. Serbs terrorized Sarajevo civilians and killed at least 1500 children in the besieged Bosnian capital. (Photographer: Enric Marti)

Seven-year-old Bosniak child, Nermin Divovic, lies mortally wounded in a pool of blood as unidentified American and British U.N. personnel arrive to assist after he was shot in the head by Serbian snipers in Sarajevo on November 18, 1994. The U.N. firefighters were at his side almost immediately, but the boy died outright. Serbs terrorized Sarajevo civilians and killed at least 1500 children in the besieged Bosnian capital. (Photographer: Enric Marti)

By no means is this limited to terrorist organisations, or Muslim extremists. The tactics of the indiscriminate use of snipers, wholesale slaughter of populations, systematic rape of the civilian population and more were all evident in the conflict in the “civilised” Balkans in the recent past, enacted by all sides.

It has been acknowledged that the initial Allied assault on Iraq’s capital was intended to create “Shock and Awe”, to the point of naming the assault precisely that, to deter the local population from supporting the regime and to encourage the largely poorly trained conscript army to lay down its weapons.

The atomic slaughter of hundreds of thousands of civilians at Hiroshima and Nagasaki by America was deliberately designed to force the Japanese Government to sue for peace. It was undoubtedly a “terrorist” act – designed to sow terror – but it has been long argued that the terror was justified to shorten the war and prevent a greater loss of life. That is as may be – the argument will continue forever – but it was unquestionably the most dramatic example of psychological warfare before or since in the history of mankind

Brutality is a form of deterrence

Slicing through the neck and vertebrae of a journalist or aid worker is one thing. With horrible calculation, IS understands that Western governments are, to some extent at least, dissuaded by the prospect of a British or American soldier meeting with a similar fate. It would mean not just political embarrassment, but also an unimaginable propaganda boost for the jihadist cause. Which is why, two days before declaring their caliphate, IS threatened to attack the US if they were targeted militarily. Their rhetoric presently outstrips their capabilities, as former MI6 chief Richard Dearlove has argued, but the track record of massacre and torture gives these threats, to Western audiences, added menace. Brutality is therefore also a form of deterrence, affecting both politicians and public.

Propaganda by the deed

The murderers of British soldier Lee Rigby - beheaded on the streets of London - knew exactly what they were trying to achieve.

The murderers of British soldier Lee Rigby – beheaded on the streets of London – knew exactly what they were trying to achieve.

Terrorism is a form of propaganda by the deed. And the more chilling the deed, the more impactful the propaganda. The graphic nature of beheading, the focus on the individual, and the act of bodily desecration involved all render this far more chilling than the explosion of a bomb, even where the latter’s death toll is greater.

In the UK, the killing of Trooper Lee Rigby was uniquely horrific because of the targeted, mechanical quality of the murder.

There’s little new in this approach, particularly the massacre of captives and the method of beheading for the purposes of terrorisation. The American journalist Daniel Pearl was beheaded in Pakistan in 2002, the American businessman Nick Berg in Iraq in 2004, and several others thereafter.

Does all this actually work?

It can. But there are two ways in which a strategy of brutality can backfire, as well.

The first is that it can induce your enemies to fight even harder, because surrendering is such an awful option. One academic study showed that the Wehrmacht’s policy of treating Soviet POWs brutally undercut German military effectiveness on the Eastern front. Moreover, the Soviets’ own relative brutality to Germans meant that German soldiers fought harder in Russia than in Normandy. The lesson? IS can make its enemies flee, but it would be a foolish Iraqi unit that surrendered – and the net effect is that the “Islamic State” has to fight all the harder.

The second problem is that IS says it is in the state-building game: creating “the caliphate”. It is out to conquer, not merely to annihilate. But it was precisely such excessive and indiscriminate violence that proved the downfall of IS’s precursor, al-Qaeda in Iraq. Sunni groups, armed and protected by a surge of US forces, turned on the group in the so-called Awakening, expelling it from the same Sunni-majority areas in which it’s now encamped. Although IS initially sought to restrain itself in the places it seized over the first half of this year, its record has been patchy, to put it mildly. Iraqis may be accustomed to being ruled by terror, but it doesn’t mean they like it. The conjoining of local Sunni militia (some of which have previously been in conflict with the USA) to fight IS is happening again now. The West’s attitude – especially given the extremely variable quality of the Iraqi army in contesting ground with IS – is obviously “better the Devil you know”, or, if you like, “the lesser of two evils”.

This is one of the reasons – in addition to the Islamic State’s megalomania – that the group was expelled from al-Qaeda earlier this year. As Osama bin Laden wrote in a letter, pursuing jihad “without exercising caution … would lead us to winning several battles while losing the war”. Thus the modern jihadist’s dilemma: when does a strategy of calibrated terror turn into a self-defeating orgy of violence?

One more factor, however, is especially chilling. It is that IS doesn’t really care if it wins or not, and might even be doing all it can to “lose”. It has been argued that the eschatological “end times” cult actually believes it will be defeated by a coalition of opponents on the fields of Iraq – reduced to 5,000 fighters – but in that moment Jesus Christ will return and defeat the invaders, ushering in the end of the world. Read more in this brilliantly researched article in the Atlantic at What does IS really want?

For the end times to happen, IS needs to suck in as many foreign opponents as possible, by becoming increasingly violent and threatening. But as The Atlantic article says:

… the risks of escalation are enormous. The biggest proponent of an American invasion is the Islamic State itself. The provocative videos, in which a black-hooded executioner addresses President Obama by name, are clearly made to draw America into the fight. An invasion would be a huge propaganda victory for jihadists worldwide: irrespective of whether they have given baya’a to the caliph, they all believe that the United States wants to embark on a modern-day Crusade and kill Muslims. Yet another invasion and occupation would confirm that suspicion, and bolster recruitment. Add the incompetence of our previous efforts as occupiers, and we have reason for reluctance. The rise of ISIS, after all, happened only because our previous occupation created space for Zarqawi and his followers. Who knows the consequences of another botched job?

Acknowledgement: Partly taken from an article by Shashank Joshi, Senior Research Fellow of the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) and a PhD Candidate at Harvard University in the Telegraph newspaper.

Whenever there is a terrorist outrage, we often hear a call in the West for “Muslims to condemn the terrorists”.

This faux anger at the worldwide Muslim community (once has to wonder at the motivation for it) ignores the very obvious fact that hundreds of thousands of Muslims are actively involved in the fight against IS, (and Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula as well), and also the oft-ignored fact that opinion in the Muslim world is as diverse as in any other multi-faceted community.

One of my favourite saying is “put two Jews in a room and get three opinions.” Exactly the same could be said of Muslims. The idea that Islam is one great monolithic set of beliefs or attitudes is simply nonsensical.

The West and Islam are often shown to be in conflict, largely because of the vitriolic propaganda and appalling actions of small but effective numbers of people allied to IS, Al Qaeda and others. But the fact is that an existential conflict is actually underway for the soul of Islam throughout the Middle East and beyond and we forget that the vast majority of violence in the area is Muslim versus Muslim.

Al-Azhar University

Al-Azhar University

Anyway, it would be hard to imagine a more trenchant response from the Muslim community to the latest outrage from IS than that which we have seen from Jordan in the last 24 hours, including what seems to have been a very effective air raid against extremist positions, and then this AFP report from Cairo: Al-Azhar, Sunni Islam’s most prestigious centre of learning, has expressed outrage at the (Sunni) Islamic State group for burning to death a captive Jordanian pilot, saying its militants deserve to be killed or crucified.

Ahmed al Tayeb

Ahmed al Tayeb

After a video was released showing the caged fighter pilot, Maaz al-Kassasbeh, dying engulfed in flames, the Cairo-based authority’s head, Ahmed al-Tayib, expressed his “strong dismay at this cowardly act”.

This “requires the punishment mentioned in the Koran for these corrupt oppressors who fight against God and his prophet: killing, crucifixion or chopping of the limbs.”

“Islam forbids killing of the innocent human soul … It forbids mutilating the human soul by burning or in any other way even during wars against an enemy that attacks you,” Tayib added in a statement.

US "spy" crucified in Yemen

US “spy” crucified in Yemen

Ironically, IS itself has implemented such punishments against its own members for robbery at checkpoints or stealing funds from religious endowments in territories controlled by the group in Iraq and Syria. Jihadist group Ansar al-Shariah have also crucified “US sympathisers” in Yemen.

Despite the efforts of some to paint it otherwise, IS and other groups are regarded as deluded, mad and evil by millions of Muslims.

To say otherwise is, quite simply, to lie.

Populists, extreme right wing commentators and neo-conservatives continually seek to paint terrorism as a largely or exclusively Islamic phenomenon.

Their message of Islamophobia has been repeated many times since the George W. Bush era: their point is often simply that Islam is inherently violent, Christianity is inherently peaceful, and there is no such thing as a Christian terrorist or a white male terrorist.

But the facts simply don’t bear that out.

Far-right white male and extreme “Christians” are every bit as capable of acts of terrorism as radical Islamists, and to pretend that such terrorists don’t exist does the public a huge disservice, not to mention the hundreds of millions of Muslims who would never consider committing a terrorist act, all over the world.

When white males of the far right carry out violent attacks, media hacks, neocons and Republicans typically describe them as lone-wolf extremists rather than people who are part of terrorist networks or well-organised terrorist movements.

Lone wolf terrorists, radicalised by contact with extreme points of view, often on the internet, and attendance at training camps in remote locations – or in other words, just like the “Islamist” terrorists in France last week, in other words. Many of the terrorist attacks in the United States have been carried out by people who had long histories of networking with other terrorists. In fact, most of the terrorist activity occurring in the United States in recent years has not come from Muslims, but from a combination of radical Christianists, white supremacists and far-right militia groups.

Here are ten examples from America’s recent past:

1. Wisconsin Sikh Temple massacre, Aug. 5, 2012.

Virulent Islamophobia that has plagued post-9/11 America has not only posed a threat to Muslims, it has had deadly consequences for people of other faiths, including Sikhs.

Sikhs are not Muslims; the traditional Sikh attire, including their turbans, is different from traditional Sunni, Shiite or Sufi attire.

Sentenced to death on October 9, 2003. Re-sentenced to life in prison in 2006

Sentenced to death on October 9, 2003. Re-sentenced to life in prison in 2006

But to a moronic racist, a bearded Sikh looks like a Muslim. Only four days after 9/11, Balbir Singh Sodhi, a Sikh immigrant from India who owned a gas station in Mesa, Arizona, was murdered by Frank Silva Roque, a racist who obviously mistook him for a Muslim.

But Sodhi’s murder was not the last example of anti-Sikh violence in post-9/11 America.

On Aug. 5, 2012, white supremacist Wade Michael Page used a semi-automatic weapon to murder six people during an attack on a Sikh temple in Oak Creek, Wisconsin.

Wade Michael Page

Wade Michael Page – Page took his life by shooting himself in the head after he was shot in the stomach by a responding police officer.

Page’s connection to the white supremacist movement was well-documented: he had been a member of the neo-Nazi rock bands End Empathy and Definite Hate.

Attorney General Eric Holder – America’s “top cop” – described the attack as “an act of terrorism, an act of hatred.”

Again, it is likely Page was simply too stupid to know the difference between a Sikh and a Muslim, not that such a distinction matters.

2. The murder of Dr. George Tiller, May 31, 2009.

Imagine that a physician had been the victim of an attempted assassination by an Islamic jihadist in 1993, and received numerous death threats from al-Qaeda after that, before being murdered by an al-Qaeda member. Neocons, Fox News and the Christian Right would have had a field day, blaming everyone in sight from the President downwards.

A physician was the victim of a terrorist killing that day, but neither the terrorist nor the people who inflamed the terrorist were Muslims.

Scott Roeder - jailed for life.

Scott Roeder – jailed for life with a minimum of 50 years.

Dr. George Tiller, who was shot and killed by anti-abortion terrorist Scott Roeder on May 31, 2009, was a victim of Christian Right terrorism, not al-Qaeda.

Tiller had a long history of being targeted for violence by Christian Right terrorists.

In 1986, his clinic was firebombed. Then, in 1993, Tiller was shot five times by female Christian Right terrorist Shelly Shannon (now serving time in a federal prison) but survived that attack.

Given that Tiller had been the victim of an attempted murder and received countless death threats after that, Fox News would have done well to avoid fanning the flames of unrest. Instead, Bill O’Reilly repeatedly referred to him as “Tiller the baby killer.” When Roeder murdered Tiller, O’Reilly condemned the attack but did so in a way that was considered lukewarm at best.

Keith Olbermann called O’Reilly out and denounced him as a “facilitator for domestic terrorism” and a “blindly irresponsible man.” And Crazy for God author Frank Schaffer, who was formerly a figure on the Christian Right but has since become critical of that movement, asserted that the Christian Right’s extreme anti-abortion rhetoric “helped create the climate that made this murder likely to happen.”

Neocon Ann Coulter, meanwhile, viewed Tiller’s murder as a source of comic relief, telling O’Reilly, “I don’t really like to think of it as a murder. It was terminating Tiller in the 203rd trimester.”

Wiley Drake, vice-presidential candidate for the America’s Independent Party ticket in 2008 and the second vice president of the Southern Baptist Convention in 2006–2007, asked on his radio show, “Would you have rejoiced when Adolf Hitler died during the war? … I would have said, ‘Amen! Praise the Lord! Hallelujah! I’m glad he’s dead.’ This man, George Tiller, was far greater in his atrocities than Adolf Hitler, so I am happy; I am glad that he is dead.”

The right wing double standard when it comes to terrorism is obvious. At Fox News and AM neo-con talk radio, Islamic terrorism is a source of nonstop fear-mongering, while Christian Right terrorism gets excuses made for it.

3. Knoxville Unitarian Universalist Church shooting, July 27, 2008.

Jim David Adkisson - sentenced to life in jail without parole.

Jim David Adkisson – sentenced to life in jail without parole.

On July 27, 2008, Christian Right sympathizer Jim David Adkisson walked into the Knoxville Unitarian Universalist Church in Knoxville, Tennessee during a children’s play and began shooting people at random.

Two were killed, while seven others were injured but survived. Some 200 people were watching the performance by 25 children when Adkisson  entered the church and opened fire on the audience pulling a sawn off 12-gauge shotgun out of a guitar case and began firing. At first, people thought that the loud bangs of the gunshots were part of the play. One person was killed at the scene: Greg McKendry (60), a longtime church member and usher who deliberately stood in front of the gunman to protect others. Later that night, a 61-year-old woman, Linda Kraeger, died from wounds suffered during the attack. Others injured by the shotgun blasts include TVUUC member Tammy Sommers, and visitors John Worth, Joe Barnhart, Jack Barnhart, and Linda Chavez. Allison Lee was injured while escaping with her young children.

Adkisson said he was motivated by a hatred of liberals, Democrats and gays, and he considered neocon Bernard Goldberg’s book, 100 People Who Are Screwing Up America, his political manifesto. As he couldn’t reach his nation’s leaders he decided to murder those he saw as putting them in power.

Adkisson (who pleaded guilty to two counts of first-degree murder and is now serving life in prison without parole) was vehemently anti-abortion, but apparently committing an act of terrorism during a children’s play was good ol’ family values. While Adkisson’s act of terrorism was reported on Fox News, it didn’t get the round-the-clock coverage an act of Islamic terrorism would have garnered.

4. The murder of Dr. John Britton, July 29, 1994.

Paul Jennings Hill, Christianist terrorist

Paul Jennings Hill, Christianist terrorist

To hear some on the Christianist extreme Right tell it, there is no such thing as Christian terrorism. Tell that to the victims of the Army of God, a loose network of radical Christianists with a long history of terrorist attacks on abortion providers.

One Christian Right terrorist with ties to the Army of God was Paul Jennings Hill, who was executed by lethal injection on Sept. 3, 2003 for the murders of abortion doctor John Britton and his bodyguard James Barrett. Hill shot both of them in cold blood and expressed no remorse whatsoever; he insisted he was doing’s God’s work and has been exalted as a martyr by the Army of God.

5. The Centennial Olympic Park bombing, July 27, 1996.

Paul Jennings Hill is hardly the only Christian terrorist who has been praised by the Army of God; they have also praised Eric Rudolph, who is serving life without parole for a long list of terrorist attacks committed in the name of Christianity.

Eric Rudolph after his capture

Eric Rudolph after his capture

Rudolph is best known for carrying out the Olympic Park bombing in Atlanta during the 1996 Summer Olympics—a blast that killed innocent spectator Alice Hawthorne and wounded 111 others.

But Hawthorne wasn’t the only person Rudolph murdered: his bombing of an abortion clinic in Birmingham, Alabama in 1998 caused the death of Robert Sanderson (a Birmingham police officer and part-time security guard) and caused nurse Emily Lyons to lose an eye.

Rudolph’s other acts of Christianist terrorism include bombing the Otherwise Lounge (a lesbian bar in Atlanta) in 1997, and an abortion clinic in an Atlanta suburb in 1997.

Rudolph was no “lone wolf”: he was part of a terrorist movement that encouraged his violence. The extreme religious right in America continues to exalt Rudolph as a brave Christian who is doing God’s work.

6. The murder of Barnett Slepian by James Charles Kopp, Oct. 23, 1998.

Kopp - 25 years to life.

Kopp – 25 years to life.

Like Paul Jennings Hill, Eric Rudolph and Scott Roeder, Roman Catholic James Charles Kopp is a radical Christian terrorist who has been exalted as a hero by some.

On Oct. 23, 1998 Kopp fired a single shot into the Amherst, NY home of Barnett Slepian (a doctor who performed abortions), mortally wounding him. Slepian died an hour later.

Kopp later claimed he only meant to wound Slepian, not kill him. But Judge Michael D’Amico of Erin County, NY said that the killing was clearly premeditated and sentenced Kopp to 25 years to life.

Kopp is a suspect in other anti-abortion terrorist attacks, including the non-fatal shootings of three doctors in Canada, though it appears unlikely that Kopp will be extradited to Canada to face any charges.

7. Planned Parenthood bombing, Brookline, Massachusetts, 1994.

Salvi

John C Salvi – killed himself in prison.

Seldom has the term “Christian terrorist” been used in connection with John C. Salvi on AM talk radio or at Fox News, but it’s a term that easily applies to him.

In 1994, the radical anti-abortionist and Army of God member attacked a Planned Parenthood clinic in Brookline, Massachusetts, shooting and killing receptionists Shannon Lowney and Lee Ann Nichols and wounding several others.

Salvi was found dead in his prison cell two years later in 1996, and his death was ruled a suicide. Salvi has been exalted by some as a Christian martyr and described Lowney and Nichols not as victims of domestic terrorism, but as infidels who got what they deserved.

8. Suicide attack on IRS building in Austin, Texas, Feb. 18, 2010.

The Echelon complex after the attack

The Echelon complex after the attack

When Joseph Stack flew a plane into the Echelon office complex (where an IRS office was located), Fox News’ coverage of the incident was calm and matter-of-fact.

Republican Rep. Steve King of Iowa even seemed to find the attack amusing and joked that it could have been avoided if the federal government had followed his advice and abolished the IRS.

Joseph Stack, virulent anti-Government protestor and murderer

Joseph Stack, virulent anti-Government protestor and murderer

Nonetheless, there were two fatalities: Stack and IRS employee Vernon Hunter.

Stack left behind a rambling suicide note outlining his reasons for the attack, which included a disdain for the IRS as well as total disgust with health insurance companies and bank bailouts.

Some of the most insightful coverage of the incident came from philosopher and linguist Noam Chomsky, who said that while Stack had some legitimate grievances — millions of Americans shared his outrage over bank bailouts and the practices of health insurance companies — the way he expressed them was absolutely wrong.

9. The murder of Alan Berg, June 18, 1984.

Alan Berg, murdered for speaking his mind in public. Exactly like the journalists of Charlie Hebdo.

Alan Berg, murdered for speaking his mind in public. Exactly like the journalists of Charlie Hebdo.

Liberal Denver-based talk show host Alan Berg was a critic of white supremacists who was killed with an automatic weapon on June 18, 1984.

The killing was linked to members of the Order, a white supremacist group that had marked Berg for death. Order members David Lane (a former Ku Klux Klan member who had also been active in the neo-nazi Aryan Nations) and Bruce Pierce were both convicted in federal court on charges of racketeering, conspiracy and violating Berg’s civil rights and given what amounted to life sentences. Bruce Pierce, who was incarcerated at the Federal Correctional Complex in Union County, Pennsylvania, died of natural causes at age 56 on August 16, 2010. Lane, incarcerated at the Federal Correctional Complex in Terre Haute, Indiana, died of an epileptic seizure aged 68 on May 28, 2007.

Robert Matthews, who founded the Order, got that name from a fictional group in white supremacist William Luther Pierce’s anti-Semitic 1978 novel, The Turner Diaries — a book Timothy McVeigh enjoyed. Believed, although never proven to be, a lookout in the Alan Berg shooting, Matthews was burned to death during a standoff with federal authorities on December 8, 1984, at his home in Coupeville, Washington.

The novel’s fictional account of the destruction of a government building has been described as the inspiration for the Oklahoma City bombing of 1995. (See below.)

10. Timothy McVeigh and the Oklahoma City bombing, April 19, 1995.

Extreme right wingers and their fellow travellers grow angry and uncomfortable whenever Timothy McVeigh is cited as an example of a non-Islamic terrorist. Pointing out that a non-Muslim white male carried out an attack as vicious and deadly as the Oklahoma City bombing doesn’t fit into their narrative that only Muslims and people of colour are capable of carrying out terrorist attacks.

The face of terror. White. Christian.

The face of terror. In this case, white. And Christian.

The often claim that bringing up McVeigh’s name during a discussion of terrorism is a “red herring” that distracts us from fighting radical Islamists, but that, of course, downplays the cruel, destructive nature of the attack.

Prior to the al-Qaeda attacks of 9/11, the Oklahoma City bombing McVeigh orchestrated was the most deadly terrorist attack in U.S. history: 168 people were killed and more than 600 were injured, including nineteen children killed in the day care centre on the second floor.

When McVeigh drove a truck filled with explosives into the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building, his goal was quite simply to kill as many people as possible.

Clearly, McVeigh was not motivated by radical Islam; rather, he was motivated by an extreme hatred for the U.S. government and saw the attack as revenge for the Ruby Ridge incident of 1992 and the Waco Siege in 1993. He had white supremacist leanings as well (when he was in the U.S. Army, McVeigh was reprimanded for wearing a “white power” T-shirt he had bought at a KKK demonstration). He was also bang in line with the “low taxes, small government” movement:  indeed, McVeigh wrote letters to local newspapers complaining about taxes:

Taxes are a joke. Regardless of what a political candidate “promises,” they will increase. More taxes are always the answer to government mismanagement. They mess up. We suffer. Taxes are reaching cataclysmic levels, with no slowdown in sight. […] Is a Civil War Imminent? Do we have to shed blood to reform the current system? I hope it doesn’t come to that. But it might.

McVeigh’s biographers, Lou Michel and Dan Herbeck, quote McVeigh, with whom they spoke for 75 hours, on his attitude to the victims. His lack of remorse was chilling and sociopathic:

To these people in Oklahoma who have lost a loved one, I’m sorry but it happens every day. You’re not the first mother to lose a kid, or the first grandparent to lose a grandson or a granddaughter. It happens every day, somewhere in the world. I’m not going to go into that courtroom, curl into a fetal ball and cry just because the victims want me to do that.

McVeigh exhibited exactly the same warped desire for martyrdom that is seen in suicide bombers the world over. Of his impending execution he said:

I knew I wanted this before it happened. I knew my objective was state-assisted suicide and when it happens, it’s in your face.

Having failed to set off a popular revolution, McVeigh was executed on June 11, 2001. We believe he should have served life without parole instead, as a living reminder of the type of viciousness of which the white, organised “Christian” extreme right is capable. Terry Nichols and Michael Fortier were also convicted as conspirators in the plot. Terry Nichols was sentenced to life in prison without parole.

It should be noted that McVeigh was of above average intelligence with an IQ of 126, and psychiatrist John Smith concluded that McVeigh was “a decent person who had allowed rage to build up inside him to the point that he had lashed out in one terrible, violent act.”

Many other examples are available, even of extremists linked to “Christian” organisations who attack people who they think are Jewish and end up murdering other Christians. They are not limited to America, they occur everywhere.

This is the point. No self-respecting Christian would tolerate being tarred with the same brush as these lunatics, and nor should they. 

Similarly no self-respecting Muslim should be expected to apologise over and over again for the madness of so-called Islamic terrorism, which also, we should remember, is far more likely to be targeted at other Muslims than it is at Christians or the West. Whatever the loathsome ageing owner of Fox News thinks.

Marginalised, ignorant, warped and sociopathic individuals of all religions and none are capable of horrific violence.

As we write this article new emerges of TWO THOUSAND villages slaughtered by Boko Haram in northern Nigeria. An ethnic, anti-Western group hijacked by the proponents of extremist Islam, in fact the group is little more than a warlord-lead regional force dressed in religious clothing.

As we write news has emerged of TWO THOUSAND villages slaughtered by Boko Haram in northern Nigeria. An ethnic, anti-Western group hijacked by the proponents of extremist Islam, in fact the group is little more than a warlord-led regional force dressed in fundamentalist religious clothing. It’s resort to extreme violence has snowballed and continues unabated.

The war against terror is not against Christianity, or Islam, or any other religion for that matter.

It is against those who teach that violence is the solution to political and economic problems, whether that violence is turned inward on a community, or externally, against other communities.

VIOLENCE is the enemy.

Get that clear, and say it again and again.

Just like three million people in Paris did today.

#jesuischarlie #wearenotafraid

(With thanks to Raw Story and others)

je suis

 

No further blogs will be posted today as an act of respect for those murdered in Paris.

One of the startling thing about Western responses to current Islamic extremism is how it misunderstands the essential thrust of the problem.

We in the West are mesmerised by the ranting of so-called Islamic leaders against “the Great Satan” and threats to extend their rule over all the world.

In fact, nothing of the sort is happening. What is really happening throughout the Middle East and elsewhere is a sectarian conflict between Muslims and between ethnic groups who also happen to be Muslim.

As we mourn two dead hostages in Sydney, so Pakistan now mourns an infinitely more horrible attack from the Taliban from the tribal areas of its own country. As AFP and Yahoo report, a teenage survivor of a Taliban attack on a Pakistan school has described how he played dead after being shot in both legs by insurgents hunting down students to kill.

Red HijabThe nightmare of a terrorist attack on innocent Australians?

No. That has started already. It has been going on for years, and it will go on for years. It may never end. As long as some marginalised nutter can find a knife, a bomb or a gun, innocent people here and overseas will always be at risk.

No: what we face now is the nightmare of random abusive attacks on entirely innocent people just because of their dress, or their religion. Victims of the hysteria whipped up around IS and other groups, not least by our own government – for shame – and certainly by the media, and the Murdoch tabloid media especially.

In Melbourne last week a Muslim woman was bashed and pushed from a moving train in a vicious racist attack.

Police say the 26-year-old victim was standing near the door on an Upfield line train when a woman approached her and started making racist remarks.

The culprit then allegedly grabbed the victim by the neck and hair and repeatedly slammed her head into the wall of the carriage.

She then pushed the victim off the train as it pulled into Batman railway station, police said.

Police are hoping to speak to two men who approached the woman to offer help after the attack last Thursday.

Police do have a description of the attacker.

She has unusual light-coloured eye brows, short dark hair and a heavy build.

She was wearing baggy jeans, a puffy hooded top and runners.

The incident was captured on CCTV and police are now in the process of reviewing the footage.

We sincerely trust a severe example is made of this scum, who behaves as if 200 years of civilised decency had not produced, in Australia, a country which is uniquely racially content, even in today’s fraught climate.

We are a decent people – our country was built on immigration and always will be. Here, we do not judge people by who they are but by what they are – by the efforts they contribute to wrest a living from this challenging country. We welcome people from anywhere and everywhere.

Yes, there is naked racism in Australia. We are not naive. There is in every country on the face of the planet. But it is much less persistent or obvious than in most other places, and certainly in equivalent Western countries.

Let us make an example of this attacker – as a community, we say “no further”. Stop this insanity before it starts. Women all over the country are reporting abuse and worse as they walk the streets.

Not here. Not in our name. Not in Australia.

 

 

In a development that will shock Australians already anxious about the possibility of home-grown jihadists launching terror attacks on home soil, explosives similar to those used in the 7/7 London tube bombings and maps possibly targeting two NSW locations have been uncovered in a ­suburban home.

The media are reporting that one map ­contained the words “George St’’ and “uniform’’, believed to refer to a uniform shop on the Sydney street near Central Station.

The second map had references to “brothel’’, “bridge’’ and “grave’’, believed to be a site in Newcastle.

Australian Federal Police have joined the investigation.

Daniel Fing / Picture: Channel 9

Daniel Fing / Picture: Channel 9

Police discovered the maps while raiding property in Pullenvale, north of Brisbane, last week which was being rented by NSW man Daniel Fing, 30, who was taken into custody.

The haul of explosives included 22 litres of liquid explosive material TATP, (triacetone triperoxide peroxyacetone) which is favoured by ­terrorists for suicide attacks as it contains no nitrogen and is therefore undetectable by searches looking for nitrogen traces, and which was used in the ­London attacks because it can create a military grade explosive. Given the extreme instability of the material, the threat to the local area of accidental detonation, let alone any deliberate attempt to set off a terrorist explosion, must have been very significant.

“It’s an extreme explosive. It’s made from very common household ingredients,” explosives expert Dr James Blinco from the QUT School of Chemistry in Brisbane said.

Astonishingly – and especially given the likelihood of any old crazies and ratbags only loosely-connected to any formal terrorist group deciding to perform some unthinkable act to achieve their five minutes of infamy – the recipe for TATP is freely available on the Internet, including a YouTube video which demonstrates how to make the explosive.

We have one simple question to ask Googe, YouTube, and the rest.

Why?

Especially, as a quick Google search reveals, Mr Fing has previous, bombing a love-rivals car with the very same explosive back in 2006, a crime for which he was sentenced to four years in jail.

Surely we should be seeking to reduce the free availability of information about explosive manufacture, which no one could possibly need for legal purposes? We are normally very loathe to restrict or censor information, but this one would seem to be a no-brainer, especially in today’s troubled world.

We are also concerned about the fact that this haul seems to have been discovered by happy accident. The Brisbane Times reports that a real estate agent unwittingly stumbled across other suspicious items on Wednesday night, leading to officers discovering the explosives.

In 2011, Mr Fing survived a drive-by shooting when a gunman allegedly opened fire at his home in Belmont, NSW. The man charged with Mr Fing’s attempted murder was later found not guilty. Police have not said if they know the whereabouts of a woman who was living at the Pullenvale house with Mr Fing. He is currently facing charges dating from 2012 of wounding, assault, weapon and drug possession and is due to face a NSW court on August 27.

Sheesh.

A victim of US bombing in Iraq.

A victim of US bombing in Iraq.

We were wildly opposed to the “allied” invasion of Iraq all along.

It was blindly obvious to millions of people around the world that the West had blurred reasons for invading, that the “weapons of mass destruction” argument was almost certainly a nonsense cooked up by Neo-Con influencers in Whitehall and Washington, that oil was probably the real reason for the war (as later confirmed by Australian Foreign Minister Alistair Downer) and the net result would be to de-stabilise the country and the entire region, with hundreds of thousands of likely civilian deaths – as predicted by the Australian Defence Force Chiefs, amongst others – and thousands of Western forces deaths, too.

Do we really have the appetite for this again?

Do we really have the appetite for this again?

Indeed, we were on 3AW radio with John Howard BEFORE the invasion asking him to justify that coming loss of civilian lives.

He flatly denied it would happen. The host, populist right-winger Neil Mitchell, cut the call before we could challenge the then-Prime Minister’s staggering complacency.

No United Nations approval for the invasion was ever obtained, making Howard, Bush and Blair nothing more nor less than war criminals, in our opinion. But history, of course, is written by the victors. Even when that “victory” was won at such painful cost in terms of our own losses and those of those surrounding our invasion.

For the record, the death toll of civilians in Iraq currently stands at over 500,000. Hardly a family has not been affected.

Now, the entirely predictable southward march of the ultra-extremist ISIS has the West in a flat panic again, and with good reason.

With typical shoot from the hip macho-man thoughtlessness, today the Australian Prime Minister has already signalled that the country might join another invasion of the country. Washington is weighing up “boots on the ground” versus air-strikes, versus doing nothing like a rabbit stuck in headlights.

Perhaps Abbott should remember his unusually pertinent comment on Syria, that “it’s hard to know what to do, because it’s essentially baddies against baddies”. It’s just about the only thing he’s ever said we agreed with. Apparently, he can’t seem to get his head around the fact that Iraq is the same.

The following articles are educatory and very relevant to what the West does next.

How George Bush and Al-Maliki lost Iraq.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/fareed-zakaria-who-lost-iraq-the-iraqis-did-with-an-assist-from-george-w-bush/2014/06/12/35c5a418-f25c-11e3-914c-1fbd0614e2d4_story.html

How ‘Iraq’ was never going to be, and Al-Maliki’s failure.

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/middleeast/iraq/10896711/Iraq-crisis-Rebels-are-fighting-with-a-moral-force-that-the-army-lacks.html

The following facts are certain:

The Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) is currently the world’s most appalling extremist bunch of thugs, and must be opposed. If they were to take over Iraq it would be an utter disaster for local people, and the world. They make the Taliban and even Al-Qaeda look like mild-mannered nuisances.

 

Isis at a glance

ISIS at a glance

 

ISIS is a response to Sunnis being pushed to the margins by the Alawite-led Shia in Syria and the Shia in Iraq. Western meddling in both countries has made the situation uncountably worse.

Saddam Hussein was a brute. So is Hafez Assad. Unfortunately, we now look very much like we are replacing them with something even worse.

ISIS executes prisoners in Syria

ISIS executes prisoners in Syria

Do we know what to do? No, we don’t. We suspect the West’s response will be airstrikes on the insurgents, to uncertain effect strategically, and to the certain effect of enraging Sunni opinion yet further.

What is certain is that whatever happens next will not be a long term solution to the tensions of the Middle East, and the ongoing conflict between Sunnis and Shia in particular.

The only long-term solution will be a political one, involving mutual respect, and effective power-sharing. The recent developments in Iraq have renewed the possibility, much discussed during the war a decade ago, and a possibility that we considered made much sense at the time, that Iraq be divided into three separate regions or even nations – the mostly Shiite section, made up of Baghdad and much of the south and east bordering Iran; a Sunni area, comprised of western Iraq and parts of the north; and a Kurdish zone, also in the north and including the cities of Erbil and Kirkuk, which Saddam tried to populate with Arabs.

ISIS - well organised, well disciplined, utterly fanatical, and extremely dangerous.

ISIS – well organised, well disciplined, utterly fanatical, and extremely dangerous.

As night follows day, the fundamental drive to create such a solution will have to come from the Mid-East’s own Islamic populations.

And given their inability to resolve the issue in the last thousand plus years, we should be prepared for it to take some time yet, perhaps generations. If the population fail to create the peace, it is they that shall be mired in seemingly endless conflict, it is their children, wives, husbands, brothers, uncles, sisters and mothers who will be oppressed and slaughtered.

In the meantime, the rest of the world needs to do this:

  • stay out of ill-thought out military adventures in the region,
  • create energy independence for itself,
  • support those in the Middle East who argue for a secular, peaceful, long-term solution, not merely those who appear to be aligned with our perceived interests, and
  • STOP the flow of weaponry to the region, which merely fuels the endless conflict. (We need to remember that well over 90% of people killed in conflicts in the world are not killed by bombs, rockets or missiles, but by bullets.)

The devil is in the detail, of course, but the broad brushstrokes are clear to Blind Freddie. If all the think-tanks in the world can’t get Governments to understand, we give up.

stoning

In case anyone was wondering what the nature of the extreme Islamist groups running the “Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL)” are like, reports are emerging that they just stoned to death a young Syrian girl for membership of the Facebook social network.

The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Arabic: الدولة الاسلامية في العراق والشام‎ ad-Dawla al-Islāmiyya fi al-‘Irāq wa-sh-Shām), abbreviated as ISIS, is an armed resistance group active in Iraq and Syria. It was established in the early years of the Iraq War, and pledged allegiance to al-Qaeda in 2004, becoming known as “al-Qaeda in Iraq”. The group was composed of and supported by a variety of insurgent groups, including its predecessor organisation, the Mujahideen Shura Council, Al-QaedaJaysh al-FatiheenJund al-SahabaKatbiyan Ansar Al-Tawhid wal SunnahJeish al-Taiifa al-Mansoura, etc., and other clans whose population is of Sunni faith. It aimed to establish a caliphate in the Sunni majority populated regions of Iraq, later expanding this to include Syria.

In an unprecedented move in February 2014, al-Qaeda cut off all ties to the ISIS. The new generation of radicals appear too extreme even for what has hitherto been considered the world’s most extreme terrorist organisation.

The ISIL militants took the Syrian girl, Fatoum Al-Jassem, to Al-Reqqa religious court and the judge ruled that membership in Facebook is tantamount to adultery and sentenced her to death by stoning, the Iranian news agency FNA reported on February 12 quoting the Arabic news and opinion website Al-Rai Al-Youm.

ISIL, an Iraq-based militant group, is now fighting against Syrian government. Syria has been experiencing unrest since March 2011 with organised attacks by well-armed terrorists and militants against the Syrian army and civilians across the country.

Thousands of people have been killed since terrorist and armed groups turned protest rallies into armed clashes.

The Syrian Government – also one of the most murderous regimes anywhere in the world – blames outlaws, saboteurs, and armed terrorist groups for the deaths, stressing that the unrest is being orchestrated from abroad.

What is also certain, however, is that some of the groups fighting them make the cure look worse than the illness. How ironic, too, that the Syrian rebel forces are being armed by the West, and that many of those arms are now in the hands of groups like ISIL, which wages war against the West relentlessly in other countries.

syria-strangling

Alleged strangling of a young woman in Manbij, Aleppo

Ironically, rebel groups frequently make full use of social media including Facebook to publicise their beliefs and actions. YouTube is full of scenes of beheadings and, in one particularly tragic case allegedly involving ISIS, that came to light about two days ago, the unverified murder by strangulation with wire of a young woman who refused to agree with the prevailing philosophy of the group. We forced ourselves to watch the video out of respect to the woman concerned. If a death is not witnessed, the murderers live on with impunity.

As Syria lurches yet deeper into violence as the peace talks stumble, the West needs to choose its allies with great care, and a long view.

The image at the head of this article is a scene from the movie The Stoning of Soraya M. The movie makes horrendous viewing, but is strongly recommended, to understand how cultural influences rob innocent women in many situations of even the most basic human rights, condemning them to horrific deaths.

Infowars is an interesting website. It is frequently full of the most egregiously nonsensical conspiracy theories or libertarian ramblings. But occasionally it also reports news that others largely ignore.

The linking (see below) of Saudi Arabia to terrorist bombings in Russia, for example, attempts to strip back the veil that normally covers the murky depths of international diplomacy, and reveals, yet again, why America defends its proxy allies like Saudi Arabia despite their appalling human rights and social justice records. Is the website right? Who knows. It is becoming nigh-impossible to unpick the miasma of government behaviour worldwide. Certainly, it bears investigating.

The other thing that strikes us forcibly is the difference in worldwide reaction to these tragic events to, say, the much less destructive (though no less morally horrendous) attack on the Boston Marathon. Or, indeed, the continual litany of attacks in Iraq and elsewhere. One cannot help but draw the conclusion that the deaths of Americans (or perhaps Londoners) somehow have a higher value than the deaths of innocent civilians in other countries. And that, Dear Reader, is wrong.

Looking at the bodies of the innocent victims reminds us that terrorists (or Governments) can destroy us at will. Young girls, commuters, families. People, indeed, just like us. While men and women resort to the tactics to achieve political ends it will be, as always, the completely innocent who will pay the price.

Paul Joseph Watson
Infowars.com
December 30, 2013

Twin blasts targeting a train station and a trolley bus in the city of Volgograd which killed at least 31 people follow a threat by Saudi Arabia to attack Russia using Chechen terrorists if Moscow did not withdraw its support for President Assad in Syria.

The first attack took place at Volgograd-1 station on Sunday morning, killing 17 people. CCTV footage shows an orange blast behind the main doors of the station, smashing windows and sending debris out into the street. The prime suspect is a female suicide bomber. (Note, later reports indicate that it was a recent Muslim convert Russian male.)

The second attack occurred near a busy market in Volgograd’s Dzerzhinsky district. A bus packed with people on their morning commute was ripped apart by a suicide bomber, killing 14.

Although no group has claimed responsibility for the blasts, suspicion immediately fell on Islamists from the North Caucasus region who routinely attack soft targets in Russia.

While the media has concentrated on the threat such groups pose to February’s Winter Olympics in Sochi, no scrutiny has been given to a warning issued by Saudi Prince Bandar bin Sultan back in August when he told Vladimir Putin that Saudi Arabia would activate the Chechen terrorist groups it controls to target Russia if Moscow refused to abandon its support for Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad.

As we reported at the time, the threat was made during a closed-door meeting between Prince Bandar and Putin at the beginning of August.

According to a transcript of the comments made during the meeting by Middle Eastern news agency Al Monitor, Bandar made a series of promises and threats to Putin in return for Moscow withdrawing its support for Assad in Syria.

“I can give you a guarantee to protect the Winter Olympics next year,” Bandar allegedly stated, adding, “The Chechen groups that threaten the security of the games are controlled by us.”

Bandar made it clear that his position was supported by the US government.

This “guarantee” to stop the Chechens from attacking the Sochi Olympics was also obviously a veiled threat that if Russia did not abandon Assad, terrorist attacks would be given the green light.

Given that Russia did not abandon Assad and indeed virtually single-handedly prevented a US military strike on Syria, much to the chagrin of Saudi Arabia which is the primary supplier of anti-Assad rebel jihadists, are we to believe that the Volgograd bombings are evidence of Bandar following through on his threat?

Nazir - idiot or worse?

It is alleged that British Lord Nazir Ahmed put a £10 million (US$16 million) bounty on both President Barack Obama and former President George W. Bush Friday, according to The Express Tribune, an English language Pakistani newspaper.

Nazir, who is of Pakistani heritage and a controversial Labour Party member of the British House of Lords, (he is supposed to have been suspended from the Labour Party following these reports), supposedly made the comments while at a reception in Haripur, a Pakistani city 40 miles north of Islamabad. Nazir told the audience that he was putting the bounty out for the capture of the American leaders in response to the bounty placed on Hafiz Muhammad Saeed by the United States.

“If the U.S. can announce a reward of $10 million for the captor of Hafiz Saeed, I can announce a bounty of 10 million pounds on President Obama and his predecessor George Bush,”  Nazir reportedly said.

Hafiz Muhammad Saeed

Hafiz Muhammad Saeed (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Saeed is widely believed to be the head of the Pakistani based terrorist group Lashkar-e-Taiba, which was responsible for the 2008 attacks in Mumbai, India that killed more than 160 innocents including numerous overseas visitors to India. After the 2008 attacks, Saeed denied being connected to the terrorist group. Nevertheless, in April, the U.S. government announced a $10 million reward for information leading to his capture in connection to the attacks.

According to The Express Tribune, Nazir said the bounty on Saeed was a grave insult to all Muslims and that he would sell his house if necessary to obtain the funds necessary to pay the bounty he placed on Obama and Bush.

The Pakistani report was brought to the attention of blog The Daily Caller by the Middle East Media Research Institute.

If this report is accurate, this man is at best an out and out idiot. Someone should also consider whether or not his comments amount to something amounting to treason or lending support to terrorism.

Frightening, isn't she?

Regular readers will know I am pretty much against generalisations – “all generalisations are false” being one of my favourite aphorisms –  other than those that are supportable by the obvious empirical evidence, such as “The Republican Party have selected a bunch of vicious right wingers and idiots for people to choose from in 2012 and do not stand a snowball in hell’s chance of winning against Obama in November”.

One of the generalisations that worries me sick is the creeping fear of Muslims that plagues daily life in the West. Our leaders (whether in a political sense, or opinion formers) regularly use coded language – or not so coded – to keep us constantly on edge about the likelihood of a home-grown Muslim – whether we’re in America, Europe, or Australia – launching a terrorist attack in our backyard. It simultaneously plays to our best side – instinctive defence of family, stability, our community – and to our worst – fear of the unknown (or little known), fear of “other”, fear of those not like us.

There is no doubt that the world is in thrall to terrorism. But the numbers of cases of “home-grown” Muslims actually engaging in violence against the countries they now call home have been remarkably few, given the millions of people living next door to us who have contacts or family in the Middle East and Asian sub-continent, and who might well have reason to be aggrieved at some (not all) of our involvement in those regions.

Well now Professor Charles Kurzman, of the  Triangle Center on Terrorism and Homeland Security at the University of North Carolina, has released a report that found that radicalization among Muslim-Americans is “relatively low,” and has actually been on the decrease since 9/11.

Kurzman also points out that many of the suspects in 2011 “appeared to have been limited in competence.” In one arrest of a Muslim-American for terrorism-related charges, for example, Emerson Begolly, “a 21-year-old former white supremacist who converted to Islam and posted violent-sounding material on the Internet” was tricked by his mother into meeting with FBI agents outside of a restaurant. He then tried fight them off by biting them. In another case, on his way to attack a local Shia mosque, Roger Stockham bragged about the his plan to a bartender when he stopped in to a bar for a drink.

Kurzman notes that “The limited scale of Muslim-American terrorism in 2011 runs counter to the fears that many Americans shared in the days and months after 9/11, that domestic Muslim- American terrorism would escalate,” the report concludes. “The spike in terrorism cases in 2009 renewed these concerns, as have repeated warnings from U.S. government officials about a possible surge in homegrown Islamic terrorism. The predicted surge has not materialized.”

Blogger Emily Hauser notes that she wishes she “had a job that would justify me doing a comparative study of all the kinds of extremist violence perpetrated in this country on an annual basis. I’d like to see how, for instance, the 1 ,002 hate groups tracked by the Southern Law Poverty Center compare to extremist American Muslims (individuals or organizations).

If you’d like to know what most Muslims (American and non-) think about such extremism, I gathered some statistics and statements here (spoiler alert! They’re pretty solidly against it).

Well done again, Emily.

Judging the Ainger awards, and what it’s got to do with this story

This year I was a judge at The Ainger public speaking competition in Melbourne for teenagers. It was not a debating competition, in that the speakers had to persuade us of their point of view – rather it was designed to see who could present their case lucidly, compellingly, and convincingly, whether or not we were convinced of the merits of their argument.

The notes for contestants were very specific. Rule one read:

“Speakers must choose their own topic which should be based on fact. It should be
presented in a manner that will cause an audience to take a greater interest in a topic which
may not appeal to them. In addition to the content, the speaker should use analogies,
anecdotes and the music of the language to illustrate and enhance the delivery. The
presentation should inform, interest and entertain. Take heed of Cicero’s advice: “Oft an
argument of greater merit will be defeated by an argument of lesser merit, which is better
presented.”

It is worth noting, I think, that the winning speech (and including the heats, there were dozens of speeches on a huge variety of topics) came from a young Australian Muslim teenage girl in “Western” clothing and sans hijab who asked the audience  – who were mainly white, Anglo, middle-aged, and slightly more men than women – in a voice that was carefully modulated and barely rising above a quiet and calming tone for her entire speech, to simply look with her at some of the facts surrounding Muslims in our society.

In particular, in the four minutes alloted to her, she asked us why we were so obsessed with the issue of the burka, when less than 2% of Muslim females wordwide wear it, when it is a cultural item not a religious one, and when the figure in Western countries was way lower than that anyway.

Why, she was asking, with incredible self-control, subtlety and courtesy, did we, as democratic-minded people in free societies with great traditions of tolerance, allow ourselves to be distracted, overwhelmed or misled by caricatures and bias against her, her family, and her co-religionists. Why are we so easily led astray by the shock jocks, and those who seek to divide us, not unite us? By those who prefer simplistic sloganeering to facts. She didn’t even ask us to change our minds, just to hear her out, and pause for a moment, and think.

As we listened to her questions – so gently presented, and yet with such urgent import – I looked around the audience, and I fell to thinking about how our societies had absorbed and benefitted from the flow of immigration from so many areas over the centuries.

I grew up in Britain – a country made up almost entirely of immigrants, starting with the Romans, the Saxons and Vikings, through the Normans and hundreds of other groups and cultures, up to the West Indians, Indians and Pakistanis of the 60s and 70s, and the Eastern Europeans and Africans of today.

America wouldn’t even exist as a nation state were it not for the exhortation “Send me your poor and huddled masses”, and, indeed, because of the vast influx of Africans brought across the Atlantic by the slave trade, and Hispanic migrants from the south.

Australia is the most racially mixed country on the planet – with the possible exception of Israel, but as that is also virtually a uni-religionist state it could be considered in a different category – and also one of the safest and most peaceful, and similarly would not exist in its current form were it not for a proud tradition of accepting and integrating immigrants from all over the world, and from widely varying cultural backgrounds.

As I listened, I pondered how those previous flows of immigration had been received by the host nations. And it struck me that they had often caused a degree of tension – the clashes between the Irish and Italians in New York, the anxieties over immigration in the UK when Enoch Powell predicted “rivers of blood” flowing down the streets, the dismissive attitudes of the mainly British and Irish local stock in Australia when they were confronted by a vast influx of southern Europeans in the 50s and 60s – those “wogs” who “smelled funny” and talked incomprehensibly – or again in the 80s and 90s with concerns over the Asian-isation of this wide brown land. And how those tensions always existed, and exist, and probably always will, but how over time they always invariably seem to disappear, as we learn about the incoming culture, and come to value its distinctive contribution to our suburbs and our streets.

The wandering jew

When the Nazis began to wage war against the Jews, they used rhetoric and propaganda at first, then followed by action. On November 8, 1937 a propaganda exhibit entitled Der Ewige Jude (The Wandering Jew) opened which portrayed Jews as communists, swindlers and sex-fiends. Over 150,000 people attended the exhibit in just 3 days. Jews were frequently associated with communists and thieves. The Wandering Jew later became a notorious hate film, and associated the Jews with rats and other vermin.

And then I mused, at some length, about the Jews, and how they had been repeatedly marginalised and persecuted, and alternately embraced and celebrated, and then persecuted again, over hundreds of years. And how one of the major differences between the Jews and other immigrants was that they didn’t just believe different things, they often looked different, too, with their  yarmulkes or kippas, and some of them with funny haircuts and weird black 19th century clothes, too. And how in Europe and Russia that meant they became such an easy target for us to foist our fears on – see any propaganda materials of the time to understand how difference in appearance played a major role in whipping up fear – so that we slaughtered tens of millions of utterly innocent men, women, and children, giving away our own humanity in the process. And I say “We” deliberately, because although it was the Tsarist Cossacks and then the Stalinists and then the Nazis who actually did the deed, it was the rest of Western society – including great chunks of the political establishment, the cultural leadership, and the opinion formers – who stood by and let them do it when a timely intervention could have stopped the madness before it ran entirely out of control.

And two things occurred to me.

No, I still don’t think women should wear the burka, because I remain to be convinced that anyone truly wears it out of choice but rather through fear and cultural imposition, and I think it is demeaning to their personal freedom not to be able to wear whatever they damn well please*, and it is representative of an antiquated and patriarchal view of the family and the world that I simply do not agree with. And I also believe it is active cruelty to expect an Afghan woman to walk along the streets of Melbourne on a thirty eight degree day swathed in black heat-absorbing cloth while her husband wanders along beside her in white shorts and a t-shirt.

And also that the matter has nothing to do with Muslims in general, who in the main are far more like me than they are unlike me, who love their children, and worry about their jobs, and want to live in a decent house, and go to the footy, and contemplate art, and most of all just want to be left alone to get on as best they can, and make a contribution to the country they now live in. And that every time I forget that, I am zipping my mouth shut in a manner that could one day lead to marginalisation, or pogroms, or worse – and will certainly not lead to a rapprochement between my country and the countries Muslim migrants have come from any time soon. And that if there is not a rapprochement, that the tiny number of terrorists who make our life a misery under the cloak of radical Islam will continue to kill themselves and others, as sure as night follows day.

David Kossoff

David Kossoff

Driving home that evening, I remembered a short story told by David Kossoff, who was a popular actor and writer-philosopher when I was just a boy, and a Jew who wrote movingly for Christian audiences in his best-seller “The Book of Witnesses”, (first published 1971 and still available, and a heart-warming read for followers of both cultures), who talked on radio one day about the foolishness of one side of society instinctively mistrusting another.

As a child of Russian-Jewish emigrés to London himself, he told with gentle charm the story of a young man who was walking home one night to his hut near the Jewish outskirts of a Russian town, pushing his bicycle, when a mounted sabre-wielding Cossack thundered around the corner of the street with clearly murderous intent, and bore down on a small group of Jews huddled in fear against the wall of a nearby building.

As the Cossack raised his sabre to strike, the young man interposed himself between him and the Jews and called out “What on earth do you think you are you doing?”

Momentarily nonplussed, the Cossack looked down, and cried out “It’s all the fault of the Jews!”

The young man shook his head, and spoke quietly. “No, my friend,” he said, “It is all the fault of the bicycle riders. It is me you should kill if you are angry.”

The Cossack peered at him in confusion, and asked “Why the bicycle riders?”

The young man shyly looked up at him and smiled gently, and murmured “Why the Jews?”

Kossoff doesn’t say if the young man was Jew or Gentile, and I like to think that omission was deliberate. And as I thought back to the faces of those in the audience listening to the quiet urging of a young girl who could not understand why we didn’t trust her and her family, I realised that one thing was stamped on the face of the listeners, almost universally.

It was shame.

And as I pulled into the driveway of my very ordinary suburban house, which just happens, by sheer coincidence, to be right next door to the home of a family of Muslims of Lebanese extraction – who seem just like my family except they drink tea when we would drink wine, and look healthier for it, too –  I gave thanks to God, as I often do, for the innocent, naive honesty and passion of the young, and I made a mental promise to listen to them more intently and more respectfully, as I watch myself slide slowly but inexorably into ossified middle age, and beyond.

*This also means I accept their right to wear it, of course, if it is genuinely their choice and preference.