Category Archives: terrorism

Closure at last, and a significant event, but the end is still a long way away

Bin Laden's reign at the head of Al-Qaeda is at an end.
Osama bin Laden

Waking up to the news of Osama Bin Laden’s capture, and ultimate death gave a sense of relief, but also a sense that this significant landmark is only a mark in the long path to defeat terrorism. We can only wonder and hope that there is some closure now for those that have lost loved ones, friends, colleagues and family in the atrocities before, on, and after September 11th 2001, but it won’t be the end of this story. Bin Laden was a figurehead, the head of an organisation that had, for the last 15 years, been at the hub of multilateral actions against the West, and, as is often overlooked, many Muslims around the world. Seeing the events and reaction unfold today brought a rush of the blood, but not excitement. While the man behind so many deaths is now gone, it gives me no pleasure to rejoice the death of another human being.

Scenes in America have been more colourful than in the UK. It’s understandable when their operation resulted in the killing – with, tellingly, no direct assistance or involvement from the Pakistan government – and their country was so horrifically affected. I can’t imagine how those friends and relatives of those lost in the Trade Centres must have felt over the last nine years as bin Landen evaded the clutches of the allied forces, and countless American soldiers and intelligence, prolonging the agony and seeing the man responsible taunting the West with videos, messages and more attacks. Dancing and cheering in the streets – from a mostly young and sometimes well-oiled crowds – didn’t sit too comfortably with me, as I can’t bring myself to celebrate a death, however repugnant the person may be. But the US has invested so much emotionally, financially and ideologically into finding and killing Al-Qaeda’s leader that the reaction was always going to be different on the other side of the pond. Watching some of the reactions today of the bereaved to the news, and how they conducted themselves with such dignity was very moving. For them, the victory, however hollow, must bring an end in part to a harrowing period.

For Britain, it’s also a landmark. We’ve been – justifiably or not – invested into this battle ‘shoulder to shoulder’ with the United States since its beginning, and we’ve been directly affected by the spectre of Al-Qaeda, its operations and figurehead looming over the last decade. For teenagers and younger adults, they’ll struggle to remember a time before this was so. Having attended a funeral after 7/7 – something I hope I never have to go through again, let alone seeing the pain it caused to the family – it’s a relief to be at this point. But the reality is that little will change. In fact, we may see things escalate if revenge attacks are orchestrated. London will be a more tense place for a while. But we can only hope that this is the beginning of a new chapter, and that, with all the change that’s now afoot in the middle east, that Al-Qaeda’s lustre is reduced, and that their dominance ebbs in the coming years.

And predictably, even as the news surfaced, there were naysayers already debunking the news. However low governments and the military may stoop – whatever we may say, we left thousands dead in Afghanistan and Iraq – it’s hard to believe that this would be an untruth. It would be one that would dwarf the spin that so ashamedly took us to war in Iraq. The US and its allies have invested way too much time, money, resources and emotion in this claim otherwise, and there have been none of the usual denials from the terror groups that form the cabal involved. I’m a skeptic, but this is one thing that I am taking on face value. And cheeringly, Obama will have a grandstand moment to validate his presidency, giving him a boost that even grudging Republicans can’t deny him. The States are united for a short time, and great that is too.

We will be talking about this day for many years, and the main hope is that it can be a positive landmark, that we will look back at this as a turning point. But to think that cutting the head from one of the snakes in Medusa’s hair renders the rest of the beast incapacitated would be short-sighted. But at least for many, this will hopefully be some sort of closure, and draw a line under the terrible events in New York and London. It’s the least that the bereaved deserve.

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When celebration on 9/11 is not glorification

Islam is taking a¬†hammering in the US¬†press at the moment, most of all from the traditional right-wing (read: intolerant) suspects over its so-called increasing influence in America. Witness the reaction over the plans to build the ‘9/11 mosque’ (an Islamic centre to be run by an organisation that aims to build bridges between the Islamic and Western world, but why let the truth get in the way of a good polemic?) near Ground Zero in New York recently – and the battle is still ongoing – to see that Islam is under fire as much as any time since that terrible day in September 2001.

But even more worry is now placed on the Eid festival this year, which falls on or near September 11th. For Muslims this is a celebration of the end of Ramadan, a religious period of fasting that goes back to the very core of their beliefs, but there’s a real danger that certain parties in the United States will use any show of elation as Islam glorifying the attack on the Twin Towers in 2001.

With some of the reaction in the US over the decision to go ahead with the mosque two blocks from Ground Zero (a church’s “burn the Qu’ran day” and “Islam is EVIL” signs being some of the most shameful) coupled with growing Republican support, particularly from the far-right ‘Tea Party’ movement in the last year, September 11th 2010 is likely to be arguably the most tense anniversary of the terrible day since the event, but one can only hope that it can be treated with some perspective, and some understanding, a reminder that the US constitution is based on freedoms, including that of religion, and that all religions should be resepected, however unlikely that may be.

The worry is that those that seek to spread the message that Islam = Al Qaeda, and that all Muslims supported 9/11 – shocking untruths that still are too readily accepted by those that hear what they want to believe – will use this unfortunate clash to “prove” that the Islamic world and terrorists are one and the same. One can only hope that sense wins out, and this vocal minority (and it is, thankfully, whatever you feel of the US, still that) is put in its place. We are, after all, still claiming we live in a civilsed society where freedom still has value. And that, after all, should extend to everyone, not just those that we feel it should.

What did we expect?

Blair at the Chilcot inquiry
Blair at the Chilcot inquiry

Depending on what papers you read, or what radio stations you listen to and tv stations you watch, today was due to be one of the most important in the last decade of our political history. Forget Obama’s one year on, or even his election, but Friday 29th January 2010 was the day that the Chilcot inquiry would get to hear from Tony Blair, perhaps the figurehead of our Iraq ideology and the focus of bile and criticism from the anti-war lobby. Having an ex- (and previous) PM give evidence in an inquiry such as this is unprecedented, and even despite its lack of legal standing or recourse from what evidence was heard, the frenzied build up raised almost feverish hope that we would have our Frost/Nixon moment, especially in light of a recent interview with Fern Britton where he appeared to state he’d have invaded with or without proof of WMD.

In reality, of course, this was never going to be the case. Blair, whatever you say about him (and personally his political conduct before, during and since the invasion turned my opinion of him from respected – if not supported – leader to self-important and pious disappointment) was a good leader up to this juncture. One of his main strengths was being able to put his point across, and to debate and discuss, much of which went into his conduct in the run up to the Iraq invasion. He had his convictions, his beliefs, and he stuck to them rigidly. In previous circumstances this was a strength, but this time it clouded his judgement, in the face of advice from the Foreign Office, Attorney General, and criticism from his own Cabinet, not to mention a tidal wave of public opinion, he ploughed ahead, striving to retain the ‘special relationship’ with America, possibly at all costs.Typically, he slipped in a side door and away from the protesters and families of Iran casualties, an action that seemed to preface his performance during the day.

Chilcot protesters await Blair

What we know now is that we had a ‘dodgy’ dossier, a misleading document that overstated intelligence that was patchy from the JIC at best. What we had was a legal opinion from the Attorney General that right up unto the decision to go to war wasn’t convinced of a legal case for war with the existing UN Resolution 1441. And what we had was a plan for war, but no clear plan for post-invasion. There were clear questions that were needed to be asked today, for us to try and finally get some clarity and give at least the public some modicum of truth and respect on how we came to go to war, and with retrospect, what we did wrong.

What we got was another Blair masterclass in bluff and subterfuge, stating his own case, swerving questions and restating his firm belief that he was right. Ignoring whether the intelligence he was given that led him to his ‘beyond doubt’ statement wasn’t strong and if he wasn’t correct in saying what he had, he simply stated that he believed it was beyond doubt. Similarly, he stated that he believed that the case for war was sound, and that the planning for the post-war period was ok (despite multiple criticisms from many parties in the inquiry), blaming it on conditions being different to what had been planned. If regimes with WMD needed to stop using them, why did we not invade Pakistan? China? Korea? It simply isn’t consistent. So many times, his answer started with ‘let me say that….’ where he would revert to pre-prepared answers and statements about, Kosovo, 9/11, Iran, when all we wanted were answers on Iraq.

Don’t let’s get too excited here. We knew this was never going to be a career-wrecking day. Blair wouldn’t have got where he was today by being careless or carefree (he is, let’s remember) a barrister. But he’s deflected every contentious question, at times almost suggesting in the light of others’ criticisms, that there was no issue (and effectively suggesting by that, that everyone else was incorrect). Batting everything back with a stern defence, clinging to the ‘special relationship’, stating his firm beliefs in everything he stood for, and justifying his actions on this. The only chink of light coming where he admitted his interview with Fern Britton wasn’t worded sensibly, but at the same time, denying that he was wrong. He did also concede that the 45-minute claim wasn’t, with hindsight, a sensible move.

For the families sitting in the gallery, that have lost their loved ones in the conflict, this won’t be much closure. If anything, Tony Blair’s performance, while nervous and shaky in the first hour, became more sure-footed, and less revealing as the day went on. The panel made a decent effort of not letting him settle, and after early criticism during the inquiry, they’ve become more steely, but ultimately, with no real legal grounding in their group, they were never going to get one over on the former PM.

Yes, with hindsight we can look at many decisions in a different light, but much of this was being criticised at the time, and there was huge opposition evident, but today started full of hope, and ended with weary resignation. I suppose the only consolation is that, however steadfast his outward rhetoric, Blair will have to live with what happened (and is still happening) in Iraq, and there are hundreds of thousands that have lost their lives as a result of decisions he took. This, sadly, is a situation we will most likely face again in this decade. One can only hope we look back at this inquiry and at least use it to colour our actions in the future, or this will have been a pointless exercise.

A shame on our city…..

Ian Tomlinson lies dying on the pavement at teh G20 protests

The G20 summit brought with it the usual concerns – would the day be hijacked by anarchists? Would those groups wanting to ‘hang the bankers’ really do it? How would the disparate groups be kept in one place safely? Would the protests really have much resonance across the world? But many of the press before the event nervously questioned the police’s insistence that they would turn violent. Yes, there were elements in any anti-globalisation demonstration that would be bound to hijack it for their own skewed means, but the talk up to the event seemed like it was a self-fulfilling prophecy: violence would need strong-handed police, which would result in trouble, justifying their actions.

No one would’ve guessed the events of that day would turn out as they had. While violence did erupt sporadically, and the symbolic destruction of a branch of RBS (bailout money to fix the windows, how poetic, and pointless) fed the news frenzy, one tragedy appeared almost a footnote to the day’s events. Ian Tomlinson, a newspaper seller, had died of a heart attack in the early evening in the backstreets around the Bank Of England. Seemingly unconnected to events, statements from the police called it a ‘tragic accident’.

But over the last 24 hours, as eyewitness reports of the events started to tell a different story. And a video shows most of the attack as it happened, pouring cold water on the police’s version of events. The man – not even a protester, and on his way home, and came across the remnants of a police line ‘kettling’ protesters away from the Bank of England. Walking away from a line of police, hands in his pockets and quietly, he appeared to be struck, first by a baton, then pushed from behind by the same man, falling and apparently hitting his head on the pavement. Dazed, he appears to talk to the police, who do nothing to aid him, before being helped up by bystanders. Three minutes after walking away groggily, he dies on a pavement of a heart attack.

The storm that’s been played out today, with the IPCC’s enquiry mercifully having the City of London police removed from it (would we face more ‘inquiries’ the like of which have seen no policeman from the capital convicted of any violent offence against a protester in the last 50 years?) we may yet see justice for a man whose only crime was to head home, through an area he used daily, and walk away from a line of over-zealous police. It’s hardly the scandal from Genoa, but it’s the final straw in a city and country where we should pride ourselves in our democracy and our civil protectors, but we face an ever eroding set of liberties, sacrificed to the ‘war on terror’ and the police with ever-increasing reign to ‘protect’ us. We have a right to protest, and yet even that seems to be diminished now. From Stockwell to Forest Gate, I have little faith in their ability to deal with truth any more, and the skewed statements, denying any contact with Ian Tomlinson before his death, sounded like the echo of Sir Ian Blair all over again. We haven’t learnt, it seems, a single thing.

Indeed new footage uncovered by Channel 4 news tonight gives further evidence that the officer struck Tomlinson forcefully before he was pushed to the ground. And the officer who was involved has gone to the IPCC – no doubt to tell them of his provocation. There are glimpses of hope, that process can be followed, and that the police can be held accountable, but we’ve heard it many times before, only for it to ebb away in a sea of misadventure, of ‘cannot recall who was at the scene’ or ‘details have been lost’. I hope for once they can do the right thing. If the protester had struck the policeman, we all know he would be in court before his feet had touched the ground, and it’s high time the police were treated with the same ‘respect’ we are by them.

Crossing the line…. again and again

The sadness of the Israel/Gaza conflict over the last two weeks has been that, every day, there seems to be a fresh and even more disheartening episode of anguish and sadness. Every day there is fresh horror.

When the Israeli army bombed a UN shelter at a school – which it had GPS coordinates for, knowing that it was being used by the UN – killing more than 40 Palestinians (Hamas terrorists if you’d believe the propaganda, but women and children among them if you believe the hospitals) it seemed, with the fresh hope of peace talks and ceasefire, that the conflict had reached its nadir. But today, the 8th, brings even more terrible atrocities.

News that children had been found by the Red Cross, lying almost starved next to their dead mothers, with Israeli troops less than 100 metres away. The Red Cross had not been allowed in over the past week to give vital aid to those hundreds of thousands that depend solely on it to survive from day to day. Only yesterday had the ‘humanitarian corridor’ been opened by Israel (is disgracefully late action, no doubt to be hailed as a sweeping grand gesture of compassion by their own spin office), at a time when many of Gaza’s residents may be beyond hope. This episode has sadly proven this to be true. And we have no idea how many more are in the same position, lying dead in their rooms, not from bombs or shells, or attacks from ground troops, but from simple lack of food and water, prevented by an illegal and despicable blockade that’s lasted well back to 2007, but yet seems to be swept under the carpet by the apologists that support Israel.

Added to this, the UN has now suspended their aid operations after a UN marked truck was hit by an Israeli shell, killing two aid workers. What sort of country and people can see this as justified actions of war? How blinkered can we be, can the world be? How can this disgusting behaviour be accepted? It is not even the scantest form of self-defence, but yet our own government, the US, Canada, and Australia, who recognise Hamas only as terrorists, and not as any legitimate political party, continue to stay almost silent on the matter, calling only for ceasefire, not condemning the senseless acts and the continual blockade that has engulfed the area way before this war began. It’s actions that make me embarrassed and ashamed to call Labour my government. That we cannot see what is happening in front of our eyes, and see that it is inherently wrong.

It was Israel that overstepped the line on November 4th 2008, breaking the ceasefire with a raid into Gaza that killed six Hamas fighters. But this is again something that’s been conveniently papered over, like much of anything that seeks to further the Israeli cause. But for the past weeks, and in the past few days in particular, it’s made these pale into insignificance by its actions, as if it’s challenging itself to stoop lower each time. History will look back on these days as dark times, ones that we, as those that live in countries that support the Israel movement and condemn the actions of Hamas outright, should be deeply ashamed. Because people are dying in squalor and poverty, and we sit by and watch it happen.

When staying silent is the most shameful act we can use…

Gaza conflict

It doesn’t take much to see the almost minute-by-minute news from the Israeli-Palestinian conflict on our screens, airwaves, webpages this last few weeks. The fact it’s been going on for months, and in fact decades, is less reported or covered. Like with many things in our fractured planet at the moment, the emphasis is on the NOW. And now, right now, it’s a conflict that would only appear to have one side. Hamas, are the bad guys. And that is why this ‘war’ (though with the Palestinians so outnumbered and outgunned, invasion would be more appropriate) is so much an example of how this 2000s planet earth functions.

Hamas are a terrorist group, according to the UK, US, Canada and EU. To their people they are freedom fighters. And since 2006, they are the elected government of Palestine. But, if you believe the media, specifically, the BBC, Sky, ITV, CNN, Fox, NBC et al, they’re the stone-throwing, rocket-launching terrorist instigators of this entire shameful and saddening conflict. Let’s forget the almost laughably disproportionate level of attack (100s of rockets from Hamas, single figure deaths – some figures from their own troops on Israel’s side – to 10 days of aerial and now ground bombardment, 600+ dead, 1000s injured, and lack of electricity, water, food, aid and medicine) and remember that whatever happens, Israel is acting in self-defence. Let’s enjoy the news ‘blackout’ (just because you are in Israel doesn’t mean you can’t report on Palestine) that means in the UK we only see Israeli politicians and soldiers giving their ‘balanced’ accounts of the conflict (though Channel 4 must be lauded for their egalitarian stance alone from all other broadcasters here). After all, if we are fed enough of this ‘truth’ then perhaps we will one day believe it.

To a friend today who said:

As far as i can see it Isreal keep saying they will stop any offensive as soon as Hamas stop firing rockets into their country. All Hamas seem to be bothered about is telling Isreal they will be crushed and killed in Gaza and have no intention whatsoever of stopping the firing of rockets. The only way anything can get sorted out now is by Hamas giving up. As soon as they do all this will end and the world can then look at sorting whatever issues palestinians have in Gaza.

I replied:

Do you agree that the response from Israel to Hamas’ rocket attacks (which have killed only a few people) is completely disproportionate?

Do you agree with the blockade of Gaza over the last 18 months by Israel to prevent fuel, money, water, food, medical supplies and general aid (currently less than 10% of the amount needed each day gets through, if at all) thus starving the Palestinian people?

Hamas, while I agree are a terrorist/military organisation as well as (people do sometimes seem to forget) an elected government, are defending the right of the Palestinian people to live in their own country. Did you not see the map Tony posted showing how Palestine has been encroached upon by Israel in the last 60 years? Would you agree with England being gradually eroded to less than 10% of its size by another country?

Israel are happy to use Hamas’ rockets as the excuse to totally destroy Gaza’s infrastructure. While they claim they are destorying Hamas’ system of government (they see a return to the Palestinian Authority that Hamas beat in the elections as a solution) what on earth do they think will happen when there’s a ceasefire? Gaza is being systematically pounded into the ground. Once there’s a ceasefire, Israelis will be going about their daily business while 1.5m Palestinians starve. There’ll be no country left to govern by the time this is finshed.

When this was Bosnia, we called it genocide or ethnic cleansing. What’s the difference here?

This was a person not ignorant or blinkered, just representative of the general population, taking their views of what is fed to them in the media. It’s depressing that we are led so much by those channels, some of which do have agendas, but some of which, like the BBC are publicly funded and are bound by their charter to be ‘impartial’. They should have it challenged, even more so than during the Iraq war.

And while it’s true to say the blockade has made it difficult to report directly, it’s not the whole truth. The BBC does at least have two Palestinian reporters embedded in Gaza, but then they also have reporters stood on the border overlooking the Gaza strip and reporting ‘on the spot’ and pretty much saying almost nothing about the Palestinian side of the conflict. It really is an amazing piece of propaganda and spin from Israel (who set up a political spin department last year for this very sort of issue) that they will counter almost every piece of news…

“the civilians were killed as Hamas have hidden in homes while they fight” (where else do you expect them to hide?)
“we are pursuing military targets but even sometimes civilian targets are hit” (the perfect excuse – though reports from inside the hospitals say the vast majority of casualities are civilian, including women and children)

Today’s blast at the UN-controlled school was particularly shocking – remember that the UN give the Israelis GPS coordinates of all their schools/safe houses so they no where they are and they don’t target them, yet they hit 3 today, one of which resulted in 40 deaths. Israel were on the news almost as soon as it happened claiming that they were only acting in self-defence, and that the explosions “didn’t relate to the ordanance we used” (ie. that Hamas’ had their own explosives in there – a UN safe area – which caused the deaths).

That’s what gets to me the most. The total lack of balance, (Channel 4 is the only one really providing this) and then the almost complete lack of opposition anywhere within the Arab world, UK, Europe (bar France). The UN is therefore appearing weak and powerless. Another blog echoes this desperate situation perfectly.

We can only hope the ceasefire talks and news of a humanitarian corridor are valid and that we shall see an end to the bloodshed. This is genocide by any other name.

If the shoe fits….

While it’s sad that it didn’t connect with its intended target, the shoe seen around the world (possibly as it’s now called) did at least manage to unite countries, peoples, races and religions around the globe. I’m sure there can’t be another event that brought together Iraqis, Iranians, Americans, British, French, Pakitstanis, Russians and Africans alike to the same side of the fence than Muntazer al-Zaidi’s double-throw against the US President last week. Much as it pains to praise, you can’t really complain about Dubya’s ducking (after all, he did it on climate change for the last 8 years) but it’s a shame they didn’t make contact.

The shoe's near miss on George Bush

Mind you, for all the praise and support, it’s faintly depressing, and also rather familiar, that the hero was thoroughly rewarded for his efforts. Rather than a pardon, it seems he received a beating for his actions, and this is even before his 31st December trial. The charge? Insulting a foreign leader. The irony…. He gets my vote for man of the year.