Archive for the 'terrorism' Category

We need a war on authoritarianism

It was with incredulity that I read the reports of that David Miranda, partner of the Guardian journalist who worked on the Snowden leaks, was detained by UK agents for 9 hours under anti-terrorism legislation. (In what sense is Snowden related to terrorism, anyway?)

It felt like when I was back in my teens, when the government attempted to ban books and every CND or anti-fascist march I went on (most weekends) would be surrounded by police photographing all the marchers, and every newsletter I received from the British Communist Party was mysteriously opened in transit.

The Thatcher years were dark times for real liberals – the neocons were economic “liberals” but social authoritarians (see Section 28 as an example), and I hoped that the UK was getting better when Blair came to power. Ha!

I used to switch voting between the Labour and Liberal parties, in order to ensure the Tories stayed out. Eventually, I decided I couldn’t vote Labour again while those who supported introducing ID cards were in its hierarchy. For people my age (who grew up in the 70s, just 20 years after the end of WW2), a representative of the state murmuring “papers, please” in a film was a short-cut for Soviet or Nazi state. I’ve always been proud that in the UK, if I’m lawfully going about my business, no-one has a right to ask me to prove who I am. (Of course, if I had been a young black man, the Sus law would have been my nemesis).

But now we have a government made of a coalition of the Liberal Party and the Conservatives that seems to me even more authoritarian. The Conservatives constantly bang on about “rolling back the state”, but that is a smokescreen for ideological dismantling of state benefits, of planning regulations and of redistribution of wealth. The state increasingly meddles in the lives of people in the UK, even though the government promised

We will implement a full programme of measures to reverse the substantial erosion of civil liberties and roll back state intrusion. The Coalition: our programme for government (section 3) (PDF, 475K)

Yet they want to censor the Web (probably the UK’s greatest contribution to the modern world) and set up centralised databases of who wishes to view certain types of material with no transparency or accountability, and without a Parliamentary debate. They snoop on us via information provided by the outrageous US PRISM surveillance system. People are hounded for expressing unpleasant views on social networking. They use anti-terrorism legislation to intimidate a journalist. I’m too scared to go on protests because of heavy-handed policing – Ian Tomlinson was killed by the Metropolitan Police.

I used to mock Americans who were programmed to believe their government was corrupt and intrusive. Of course, that can lead to weirdos in the mountains with huge caches of legal guns, or the absurdities of an American friend of mine who told me once that she had no moral obligation to pay any tax while bemoaning the fact that there is no NHS in the USA.

But I’m starting to feel that the Americans who are healthily suspicious of government have a point. Just as any company in a capitalist economy tends to monopoly (the imperative to maximise profit and marketshare inexorably points that way), it seems that, without proper check and balances, all government tends towards authoritarianism.

It’s obvious that in the UK we no longer have the correct checks and balances. “They” do as they please, because we – and “they” – have forgotten that they work for us, and are not our masters. This doesn’t feel as the UK should. We, the people, need to declare a war on authoritarianism.

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Heartwarming stuff

This is why I love working with Norwegians. The ultra-nationalist terrorist mass-killer Anders Behring Breivik hates the children’s song “Children of the Rainbow” that describes a “World where – every sister and every brother – shall live together – like small children of the rainbow”. So 40,000 Norwegians got together to sing it, just to annoy him.

It’s a great example. The UK and USA are intent on showing how much we value democracy and liberty by clamping down on what people can say, see, think, and clap them in prison without trial. Norwegians, conversely, reaffirm their values of tolerance and open-ness when they’re under attack.

Lyrics of Lillebjørn Nilsen’s Barn av regnbuen (Children of the Rainbow), lifted from theworld.org:

En himmel full av stjerner (A heaven full of stars)
 Blått hav så langt du ser (Blue seas as far as you can see)
 En jord der blomster gror (A world where flowers grow)
 Kan du ønske mer ? (Can you ask for more?)
 Sammen skal vi leve (We shall live together)
 hver søster og hver bror (Every sister and every brother)
 Små barn av regnbuen (Small children of the rainbow)
 og en frodig jord. (And a blossoming world.)

Noen tror det ikke nytter (Some don’t think it matters)
 Andre kaster tiden bort med prat (Others waste time with small talk)
 Noen tror at vi kan leve av (Some thing we can live on…
 plast og syntetisk mat. (…plastic and synthetic food.)
 Og noen stjeler fra de unge (And some steal from the young)
 som blir sendt ut for å sloss (who are sent off for a fight.)
 Noen stjeler fra de mange (Some steal from the masses)
 som kommer etter oss (who come after us.)

Refrain:
 Si det til alle barna! (Tell all the children)
 Og si det til hver far og mor: (And tell every father and mother)
 Ennå har vi en sjanse (That we still have a chance)
 til å dele et håp på jord. (to share hope for the world.)

On the death of Bin Laden

I’m increasingly uncomfortable with the whole sordid story.

  • If the Pakistani military didn’t know he was hiding in a garrison town for years, it’s terrifying that they have nukes as they’re way too incompetent to look after them.
  • If the Pakistani military did know he was hiding in a garrison town for years, it’s terrifying that they have nukes as they’re obviously no friend to us. They’re also a danger to neighbouring India, a democracy with 20% of the world’s population. (I had originally written “we should take their nukes off them”, but with the current fad for invading countries, it’s a dangerous thing to call for!)
  • If Bin Laden was unarmed (as the Americans say) what type of resisting arrest did he need to do to make it impossible for 20 highly-trained special forces members to incapacitate him and take him alive?
  • Where’s the evidence it was him as there are no photos and he was buried at sea? Surely the aim is to demoralise his supporters, but without proof that he’s dead it’s less effective.
  • I object to the phrase “justice is done”. The desire for revenge is an understandable emotion, but it’s a destructive one. Summary execution is not the same thing as justice; it’s murder. The triumphalism is ugly and misplaced.
  • I fear that the world is more dangerous after the murder of Bin Laden by the USA rather than safer. And I have to fly to the USA next month.

President Bush, China, and human rights

Although I lived in East Asia for four years, I never visited China. Although I’d love to see it, my conscience won’t allow me to give a penny to its corrupt and immoral leadership, particularly after my experience with Tibetan refugees in India.

So I find myself in the slightly odd position of agreeing wholeheartedly with President Bush (!) when he said yesterday,

The United States believes the people of China deserve the fundamental liberty that is the natural right of all human beings. So America stands in firm opposition to China’s detention of political dissidents and human rights advocates and religious activists…

Ultimately, only China can decide what course it will follow. America and our partners are realistic, and we’re prepared for any possibility. I’m optimistic about China’s future. Young people who grow up with the freedom to trade goods will ultimately demand the freedom to trade ideas, especially on an unrestricted Internet. Change in China will arrive on its own terms and in keeping with its own history and its own traditions. Yet change will arrive. And it will be clear for all to see that those who aspire to speak their conscience and worship their God are no threat to the future of China.

As a member of Amnesty International, I entirely support this view, and applaud his speaking out.

In entirely unrelated news, another superpower has finally tried someone whom it imprisoned for five years with no habeas corpus. The jury disregarded the ruling regime’s request for a 30 year prison sentence, instead choosing to imprison him until early next year. The judge said, “I hope the day comes when you return to your wife and your daughters and your country.”

However, the regime has said that it will not release him when his sentence is finished, but will incarcerate him indefinitely in Guantanamo Bay.

I look forward to President Bush’s similar denunciation of this violation of human rights.

Too much heaven on their minds

England is a nice place, generally. It took me a while to realise it, but I was helped to appreciate it when I came back to live here with my wife, who’d been reasonably active in the Thai democracy movement so had experienced being chased by men with M16s, friends “disappearing” and millitary dictatorship.

We tend not to do that here. Having been built up our culture over centuries by absorbing waves of immigration and different cultures, we tend towards tolerance (or, perhaps more cynically, we just hate each other in a quiet, law-abiding way). We mind our own business, which can mean that people die in their houses and nobody notices, but it also means that we don’t much care what God you pray to, as long as it stays your business. And that’s how most of us, muslim, secular, hindus, jews, whatever get along just fine.

So it’s particularly baffling that our recent terrorists have been home-grown extremist “muslims”. (I use quotes, as their brand of Islam has very little in common with that practiced by my muslim colleagues, friends and neighbours).

These guys obviously are pretty grumpy with the majority way of life in the U.K., so I’d like to suggest a way to live as they want to, without the tiresome necessity of blowing up themselves and everyone around them.

I propose that the government give them every assistance to relocate to places where liberalism, democracy and secularism are illegal, and religious zealots rule.

Take Iran, for example. There’s no nicer way for a would-be plane bomber to relax after a hard week’s plotting, than by enjoying the public hanging from a crane of a sixteen year-old mentally-disturbed girl like Atefah Sahaaleh, for “crimes against chastity” (that is, having the temerity to be repeatedly raped by a 51-year-old revolutionary guard).

Or Saudi Arabia: a fine place for a trainee terrorist to get spiritual sustenance by watching police force schoolgirls back into a burning school to their deaths, because they hadn’t put on their headscarves before trying to escape?

Or there’s that idyllic oasis of piety, Pakistan, where an ex-pat British wannabe mass-murderer can help administer religious justice by gang-raping women like Mukhtar Mai, “punished” because her 12 year old brother was seen walking with a girl from a different group.

All of these acts are completely abhorrent to 99.99% of muslims, but they illustrate the barbarity of people with too much heaven on their minds. We could equally cite the Catholic Inquisition of a couple of centuries ago, or the outlawed Hindu practice of burning widows alive. All horrible.

A modest proposal

So, let’s go further, as it’s not just extremist “muslims” who cause the trouble. There are jews who believe that killing Lebanese muslims is a religious duty. There are christians who murder abortion doctors or gay people. There are hindus who persecute muslims and christians.

Let’s get everyone, of whatever flavour of God-bothering, who believes that their religion requires them to kill, and send them to somewhere empty where sane people don’t want to go (I’m thinking of Antarctica, the Aussie Outback, nuclear test grounds, or Swindon). They can all slaughter each other to their hearts’ content, without disturbing the rest of us.

They would be more than happy, as even if they get murdered by a bigger, badder loony, they get to meet their Invisible Friends in the Sky. Meanwhile, the rest of us can continue to co-exist sensibly and peacefully, worshipping privately and getting on with our lives.

It’s a win-win situation.

Your thoughts?

July 7th: Jihad in the Qur’an

A year ago today, some loonies blew themselves up on the tube and murdered 52 people. Tony Blair has recently called for moderate muslims to confront “Islamic” extremists (who actually bear as much resemblance to Islam as the IRA do to my daughter’s Catholic schoolteachers).

Dr Louay Fatoohi is an old friend of mine. He is an Iraqi Islamic scholar and published a book called Jihad in the Qur’an: The Truth from the Source after the 2001 World Trade Centre attacks to show that in the Qur’an there is no justification for such suicide bombings. He specifically notes that there is a great deal of misunderstanding about Islam amongst ill-educated muslims, and it’s therefore unsurprising that non-muslims harbour such suspicion:

Contrary to what many believe, misunderstanding and misrepresenting Islam are not associated with non-Muslims only. People who are Muslims in name yet almost totally ignorant of their religion have been major contributors to the painting of the widespread distorted image of Islam. Under the name of Islam, some individuals and groups have adopted ideas and taken actions that have nothing to do with Islam. These non-Islamic concepts and actions then get unfairly associated with Islam. Misunderstanding of Islam and phobic reactions to this religion, thus, become an inevitable outcome…

It is no surprise, therefore, to find an Islamic concept such as “jihad” the subject of such phenomenal misunderstanding and misrepresentation…

The reality about Islam is that it is the religion for spiritual development. Islam teaches obeying and satisfying Allah, and living in peace with people, Muslim or not. It is about attaining peace in this world and in the hereafter. Nothing is further from Islam than violence and aggression. Islam is a threat only to evil as it aims to eradicate it and save humanity. We all, Muslims and non-Muslims, harbor inside us some evil which spills over and contaminates the world. Islam is the peaceful war against that evil. Islam is about every action that we take to replace the evil inside us with good and become better servants of Allah and, consequently, better human individuals and members of a human society.

About half the book is available online. It’s short, rigorously annotated but simple to read. Although the book is primarily for other muslims to read, I highly recommend it to all, particularly on this day.

Posting for posterity

I’m finding it hard writing this blog lately. It’s not that I haven’t got stuff to say. Far from it – I’ve got about 12 draft posts on the go, about screenreaders, the Ben Jonson play I’ve just been to see, Islam, and Sri Lankan rap music.

Previously, I wrote about whatever I’m thinking about at the time as a kind of catharsis. In the old days, people used to shout at passers-by in the street; these days, we blog. It keeps the peace and normal people don’t have to be harangued while they do their shopping. Nutters get their outlet, so everyone wins. I didn’t even have comments: it was a solo pleasure, like wanking.

But now I’ve got performance anxiety. To continue my wanking analogy, someone who gets pleasure from a daily tug won’t necessarily feel comfortable having a porn film crew around them recording it.
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London terrorist attacks

(11 a.m. ) It had to happen, and now it’s happened.

Let’s realise now that this isn’t about Islam. Al Queda are murderous fuckers who worship nothing but death, and they bear as much resemblance to the muslims I know as the IRA do to the teachers at my daughter’s catholic school.

News reports still coming in. Colleagues in our London office are told not to close the windows and leave the building (secondary devices, I guess).

When the mess is cleared and the dead people are counted, their loved ones consoled and their children comforted, let’s round up everyone who believes their religion requires or allows them to murder – whether they be Jews, Christians, Moslems, Sikhs or Hindus – and hang them all.

Civilisation can’t progress until that happens.

Continue reading London terrorist attacks