Tuesday, 31 May 2011

Moderate Extremists

There has been some recent coverage about the tiff in Hamas between Zahar and Meshall. The Economists reports that:
ALL is not well in the camp of Hamas, the Palestinians’ Islamist faction that rules the Gaza Strip. No sooner had its leader in exile, Khaled Meshal, declared his readiness for Mahmoud Abbas, who heads the Palestinians’ more moderate Fatah faction, to relaunch negotiations with Israel, than one of Hamas’s leaders in Gaza, Mahmoud Zahar, said Mr Abbas did not speak for the Palestinians: “Our programme is against negotiations in this way because they are a waste of time.”
It seems that Meshal forgot to send the memo around (for comprehensive overview see here, and see recent statements here, here and here). Whats more interesting is the reported motivations for Zahar's outburst. It's not a well kept secret that Hamas has to compete to make sure that its radical base does not leave. The Salafi-movement in Gaza is gaining men from Hamas who they see as abandoning their principles. Some estimates cited by the International Crisis Group, up to 60% of Salafis are former Hamas men. Thus, its not surprising that those closest to the base (including Zahar) maintain the absolutist line. (This is of course to imply that Meshal is a moderate, the movement is fundamentally a rejectionist position). 

However, there may actually be personal reasons for the recent backlash according to Palestinian sources. According to Firas Press, Hamas sources say the dispute is "due to the dispute is about the size of the representation of parties in political office."  Firas Press  also reports that the rift was caused by "reckless and personal reasons." 
The [Hamas] source explained that the President of the Political Bureau of Hamas [Meshal] rejected a few months ago to adopt a motion to print and publish a book entitled "Universal Truth of Civilizations" [written by al Zahar]. Meshaal had totally rejected that the movement financially ensured the process of publishing."
Incidentally, this is the same anti-semitic book which argues that there is no place for Jews in any civilisation. In a speech about the books, al-Zahar says that  because they "are no less strong or honorable as the peoples who expelled and uprooted them," they will also expel the Jews from Palestine. In his book he also states that 
Even if the independent Jewish entity ceases to exist, the state of special, constant animosity will not end, since the nations of eastern and western Europe as well as Arab countries lived in that kind of relationship with the Jews for many centuries prior to the establishment of the Jewish state in Palestine. 
One thing dispute does not show is any moderation in Hamas. Hamas has rejected to recognise Israel, its officials have continued to call for the complete liberation. One thing it does show however is the problem with "relative moderation." Compare Zahar - the guy who thinks Jews have no place in civilisations - to Meshal (helpfully forgetting his previous statements on suicide bombing and Israel) and what do you get? "Moderate" Hamas officials. 

Thursday, 26 May 2011

Tout comprendre, c'est tout pardonner

Bush's famous 'They hate us for our freedom' has been mocked since he first stated. I've never really liked that debate between 'is it because of us or because of what we do?' debate because its based on a false dichotomy. Absolutely, our foreign policy (by which I mean the West), has contributed to the terrorism. But, there are some things in our foreign policy that are so inherent in what we are that they are non-negotiable. 

I'm currently reading Peter Bergen's 'Longest War: The Enduring Conflict Between American and Al Qaeda' and he falls into this mistake. To illustrate, he wrote the following in a recent article

Yet, in all the tens of thousands of words uttered by bin Laden, he was strangely silent about American freedoms and values. He didn’t seem to care very much about the beliefs of the “crusaders.” His focus was invariably on U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East.
Yet, things aren't that simple. Elsewhere in the book, Peter Bergen admits that Al Qaeda seeks Taliban-style rule governments across the Middle East. Of course, our intervention could stop this but does that mean it has little to do with our values? I don't think so. Our continued assistance and our liberation of Afghanistan does encompass our foreign policy, but our decision to support a democratic government is our values at work. When Australia decided to safeguard the independence of East Timor and the elections that followed - it was a foreign policy decision but more accurately described as a just decision. In any event, I'll write another post hopefully about Al Qaeda and Western intervention but this post is specifically about the radicalisation of the 7/7 bombers. 

There is a thin line between explaining something and excusing something. If I tell you that someone has done something because of a wrong committed against him, it sanitises the action of the criminal. This encompasses the kind of nonsense that while it is wrong to blow people up, it is nonetheless 'understandable.' George Galloway being an obvious example. Its worth asking, then, when exactly did the 7/7 bombers become radicalised? Did Iraq solely cause their anger? To save time, page numbers correspond to Islamist Terrorism: British Connections which was put together by the Centre for Social Cohesion. 

Mohammed Sidique Khan (also known as 'Sid') taught handicapped children but it appears he was radicalised in the late 90s. MI5 were conducting surveillance on him long before 9/11 and Iraq in January 2001. In the summer of 2001 (again, before 9/11, obviously), he decided along with the Mike's Place bombers Omar Sharif and Asif Hanaf to recruit people to go to training camps in Afghanistan and Pakistan (p.213).  Both Khan and Tanweer went training, not in Iraq, but in Pakistan in 2004-5 with Harakat ul-Mujahideen (a group linked with the beheading of Daniel Pearl). Khan also travelled to Pakistan for training in July 2003 in Afghanistan.

Shezhad Tanweer, aside from training with Khan in 2004-5, is said to have visited Pakistan 5 times in between 2001-2005 (p.216). While in Pakistan in 2002, Tanweer worked with Tablighi Jamaat. According to the FBI, there is a link between Tabligi Jamaat and Al Qaeda but not everyone seems to agree. Tanweer visited his family in Pakistan where he made several anti-American remarks and more importantly, glorified Bin Laden. According to his family
'He said bin Laden was his hero and everything he did was right. He believed that America had made Muslims suffer all over the world. He also used to say about Kashmir that India was committing great atrocities against the Muslims. When his father in England gave him money to buy clothes he would not spend it on himself, but for buying coats for those waging the jihad in Kashmir.'
The third bomber Germaine Lindsay handed out leaflets supporting Al Qaeda in 2000-1 and spent his time in 'radical circles in Luton (p.220). In 2002, after returning from Mecca, Hassib Hussain started openly praising Al Qaeda, referring to the highjackers as 'martyrs.' According to the BBC:
Not long after his return from the pilgrimage, someone noticed he had written 'Al Qaeda - No Limits' on his religious education school book.
The simplistic Iraq-"explanation" (or excuse) of the 7/7 attacks is not full proof; the bombers clearly had a history of Islamist radicalisation, and nor were their militant activities limited to after 2003. It is clear that they agreed the ideology of Al Qaeda. 

Tuesday, 24 May 2011

Exile from Eden

I recently watched Dylan Moran's stand up show 'What it is.' In the show, he went on a rant against those who have negative nostalgia. And he said something that I think sums up the problem with nostalgia when it comes to people being nostalgic about public matters: "I have no time for nostalgia. All that rubbish, people going '£2 for a Mars bar?! I remember..' - What?! What do you remember?! Fucking slavery!"

I'm quite nostalgic, but not when it comes to politics and society. If something in the past has been a good policy, it is a good policy or a bad policy regardless of the time it was set. And, generally, I think we live in a great era of change, improvement and freedom. I have little time for Daily Mail-type rose-tinted backward looking scare mongers. Yet, its not just the right who is guilty of this baseless nostalgia:

I don't intend to fisk through the whole song but I will go through some of the claims that are made. I'm using the lyrics that are pasted in the Youtube underbar of the video (which has extra commentary from the author). To give a clear idea of who made this video; his name is Olly and he has posted several videos on youtube. He doubts that 9/11 was carried out by Al Qaeda. One of his songs says: 

If you think 911 was done by Al Qaeda,
Well you have got a lot to learn, 
And youre probably a Telegraph reader.
Yes, the only type of people who believe that a group of Islamist fundamentalists, who claimed responsibility, who have continued to attack Western targets since, carried out 9/11 are people who read the Telegraph. In the underbar of that song he states that "doesn't know" whether 9/11 was a conspiracy or not despite the song. In his 'A Call to Arm For Hippies' he also fantastically claims that Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin and Jim Morrison were assassinated -- by the CIA. In the lyrics, he also adds "fuck, not to mention JFK, Malcom X and Martin Luther King." Obviously, none of this is remotely true. 

The whole song is a glorification of the Sixties. He says that the year 2009 are "dangerous times" and the 60s were a time where "people realised they could change the world if they gave a shit." Yes, all those who have been campaiging for more freedom from the streets of Tehran to the millions who manage protest in China in the last decade are not real, apparently.

He says that 'Now its forty years later [2009 and] the sexual revolution left a fishy smell / of teenage pregnancies in council estates.' Well no, the teenage pregnancy rate in 1964 was 1.1 per 1,000 (of under 20 year olds), in 1969 it was 1.6 and in 2009 it was back down to 1.1 (ONS, Alison MacFarlane & Miranda Mugford (2000)). In America, the results are similiar;
the birth rate among American teenagers is now the lowest it has been in the 70 years since such records were kept. In 2009, 39.1 in 1,000 teenagers had a baby, down from 41.5 in 2008, a 6 percent decrease.

And while we're on the subject of the sexual revolution, its important not to overstate the case for a radical change in the 60s. According to Cutright (1972), 'Careful examination may well indicate that the extent to which young unmarried people are sexually active today [in 1972] may not have increased very much, after all.' His article also explains that the reason for the the increase in the 60s of teenage pregnancies may be explained by health status changes. He concludes that there was only 'an increase of sexual activity among young girls not intending to marry their sexual partners affecting less than 2.5 percent of either white or black teenagers since 1940... the image of an abstinent past and a promiscuous present is highly exaggerated.' This is not to deny completely a change in fact or a cultural change, but the myth, as Cutright rightly calls it, should not be used to overstate the case of a 'sexual revolution.'

Olly goes on to (approvingly) say that 'people' in the 60s 'Took the pregnancy pill, and whatever else they could get hold of.' Well, this again is just misleading. In the sixties, 19% of married couples and 9% of single women used the contraceptive pill (Waller, 2008). Currently, 25% of all women use the contraceptive pill. Incidentally, its good news that general contraceptive use is on the rise all over the world.

He also talks about drugs; he says at the end of his songs that 'politicians except Barack Obama don't inhale' (again, approvingly). It might give him a heart attack to realise that (presumably) his arch enemy George W Bush also smoked canabis, as did David Cameron

He also says that 'And we've still got war / .We've still got famine.' Except, according to Stephen Pinker 'the last decade saw the lowest number of global deaths in war since records began in 1945 and the fastest ever reduction in global income inequality.' If the current upward trends of per capita GDP continues, Matt Ridley notes 'then by the year 2050 the average citizen of Earth will be earning and spending over $30,000 a year in today’s money, roughly the same as the average American spends today' meaning that there is a 'prospect of Africans and Afghans having the disposable income of today’s Americans within the lifetime of your own children.' Thats not to deny problems with war and poverty, its to discredit trying to compare the 60s with 2009 - a time when people are better off as a whole. 

If the 9/11 denial, the 60s nostalgia didn't get you, then the sheer political ignorance that follows in his song definitely will. In his song he says that 'Now Iraq's been invaded /The Gaza strip's in Israel's grip / Even Syria's been raided.' There is no possible way I could begin to discuss Iraq and Cast Lead but for the purposes of this post, his point about Syria deserves some discussion. 

When I heard that section, I knew he was clearly talking about the 2007 Israeli strike and I thought he might have either a typical pacifist or principled objection to Israel striking Syria's nuclear reactor. And then I scrolled down and saw this: 

It's not that he has a principled position, its not that he even has a position - how can he if he doesn't even know the basic facts? There is clear evidence of Syria's nuclear reactor and that was the reason Israel attacked. It had nothing to do with terrorists on the border. 

Friday, 20 May 2011

Problematic Intelligence

The Iraq Inquiry recently published declassified documents on its website; its expected that the media should report on these things and it should be called into account when it misleads. No paper or outlet is perfect or absolutely objective but that does not mean all sense of proportion is lost. The Guardian requires to be called to account (this is not new, this is not revolutionary) and this is a perfect case in point.

One of the documents released was a letter sent from Richard Dearlove (MI6 Head 1999-2004) to the then British Ambassador to the U.S, David Manning. In their article about some of the recent declassified documents, The Guardian writes about the document:
Despite its concerns, MI6 told ministers before the invasion that toppling Saddam Hussein "remains a prize because it could give new security to oil supplies".
That sounds very sinister. MI6 here is apparently saying that the removing Saddam is "prize" because of oil supplies. Very sinister, indeed. Except, the Guardian didn't quote the full paragraph which gives a much wider reason of why removing Saddam was a good goal. The full sentence reads (.pdf):
"The removal of Saddam remains a prize because it could give new security to oil supplies; engage a powerful and secular state in the fight against Sunni extremist terror, open political horizons in the GCC states, remove a threat to Jordan/Israel, undermine the regional logic on WMD."
The assessment goes on to say:
Working for regime change could be a dynamic processof alliance building which could effect climatic change in the Arab-Israeli conflict.
So, not so sinister at all. This document is pretty interesting and it provides more documentation of MI6 belief about WMD.  Its a shame The Guardian decided to butcher a sentence which changed the context so radically.


There's no real way I can start this without sounding weird - so this is as good as its going to get. I'm a British law student from London. Feel free to comment on anything, I don't have any rules. If you ever notice something wrong, I'd be more than happy to hear why you think so. Thats enough to sustain a dialogue; I'd rather not divulge anything else because its irrelevant and I'd rather this be about substance than minor personal points.

I'm both arrogant and hopeful enough to believe that I can write something unique. But really, if nobody ends up reading this, thats okay too because I'll be using this as a place to gather my thoughts. I'm interested in a lot but I'll mainly be talking about; the Arab-Israeli conflict, the Middle East generally, liberalism and its application to literally anything.