3 December 2006

Whose War on Whose Terror? Reclaiming Our Rights

Yesterday, I was fortunate to have been one of the opening plenary speakers at the 'Reclaiming Our Rights' conference at the Human Rights and Social Justice Institute at the London Metropolitan University, organized mainly by the Campaign Against Criminalising Communities (CAMPACC). It was an excellent conference bringing together some of the leading dissident organizations involved in political activism against the anti-terror laws. Speakers included people like Craig Murray, former British Ambassador to Uzbekistan; Mark Thomas, political comedian and journalist; Gareth Pierce, leading human rights lawyer; Brian Haw, the permanent Parliament Square protestor; among many others.

Due to a glitch in the schedule, I ended up as the opening speaker. Below is the text on which I based my presentation:

Whose War on Whose Terror?

In the name of security -- that is in the name of defending our security, the security of you and me, the British public -- the government has systematically erected a vast legal apparatus of social control, which in both principle and practice violates our most cherished and hard-won human rights and civil liberties.

State Totalization

Ironically, the government has quite cynically used the law, to violate the very rule of law itself. The overarching direction of the anti terror and civil contingency laws is simple:

1) broadening the scope of activity of the police and intelligence agencies and their ability to not only monitor individuals in both their public and private lives; but also proliferating the array of instruments and pretexts available to them to take punitive action, be it through indefinite detention; obtaining convictions using so-called ‘secret’ evidence whose validity cannot be impartially assessed; deportation; the appropriation of private property, at will, in conditions deemed by the government to constitute civil emergencies, etc.

2) Simultaneously, the anti terror laws narrow down who has the prerogative in implementing these legal instruments in practice, firmly away from publicly-verifiable scrutiny and accountability: They centralize the role of the state itself in administering and executing the decisions which justify implementing such practices, by reducing the pretext to vague and unspecified conditions such as "suspicion", and many other such categories that can be applied by the state, at will, again without public scrutiny and accountability.

In summary, the legal apparatus that has been established in the post-9/11 period, and whose stranglehold has dramatically intensified since 7/7, grants to the state the power to do almost anything it likes against the British public in the name of security. The provisions of this legal apparatus are now so vague, and so totally devoid of external oversight, that within the new legal order of the "War on Terror" it is almost, virtually impossible to challenge state policies, if they come packaged under the title of "security."

Indeed, it is now possible for the government to proscribe any political organisation and imprison or deport any person, British or non-British who 1) expresses, has expressed or will express a political opinion different from the government’s position concerning a violent conflict anywhere in the world; and 2), who associates with anybody or anything, or moreover participates in any activity, that the government deems to be objectionable on the basis of its own self-prescribed interpretations of the new laws. It is now possible to declare unlimited legal power in the case of any sort of social unrest regarding which a Minister declares he is "satisfied" that it constitutes an emergency [Civil Contingencies Act]. It is now possible for the state to involve itself in almost unlimited, unrestricted electronic surveillance [Regulation of Investigator Powers Act]. And so on and so forth.

So far, we have seen an escalating stream of cases illustrating the state’s real objectives in enacting such laws. Summary powers have been and are being used on peaceful protestors. The state has fought with the Law Lords in attempts to send asylum seekers back to countries like Zimbabwe, in the face of direct evidence of the probability of their being tortured or abused. The state has locked up people portrayed as high profile terrorists in Belmarsh for 4 years without even bothering to question them. The number and nature of these cases is so huge that lawyers are struggling to keep up. But clearly, the actual scope of state power now extends far beyond these cases. If anything then, we are seeing not only the state’s unabashed attempt to arrogate to itself even further powers of unhindered, unaccountable social control; we will continue to see the state grow increasingly arrogant in its application of the existing legal apparatus.

What we are therefore seeing today, then, is not the enactment of law to protect us. On the contrary, at face value, the state is manipulating and abusing the process of law in order to systematically erode, deface and ultimately eliminate the rule of law entirely. And in its place, what is being established is the ability of the state to consolidate policies of social control, to control and intervene in the life of the public at will, with impunity, and without accountability. For now, we can call this process, a process of totalization.

But what is happening is, obviously, not exclusive to Britain, although one might suggest in certain issues Britain is leading the way. What is happening represents a disconcerting phenomenon that cuts across the liberal democracies of the United States, Britain and Western Europe. In all these liberal democracies, similar types of anti terror legislation have been, and are being, actively pursued and enacted by Western states. In other words, these two essential processes which we described above in application to Britain -- the broadening of the scope of the state’s arsenal of social control policies; and the narrowing of the decision-making base in determining the implementation of such policies to a centralized executive incubated from external oversight -- are also occurring in all the major Western liberal democracies.

This has an absolutely critical implication -- it means that the phenomenon of state totalization in the UK cannot be accurately or properly understood in isolation. It has to be understood as a phenomenon that is intimately, intrinsically connected to parallel processes of state totalization continuing and intensifying across the Western world, processes which began in the post-Cold War period, and are now accelerating exponentially post-9/11.

But in turn, if we are to understand this new Western pandemic of state totalization, we must attempt to situate it in the wider social relations within which these totalizing Western states subsist. I have identified three relevant aspects of these social relations.

1. Criminalization of Target Communities

With the burgeoning growth of the new anti terror legal apparatus, we have seen the simultaneous, indeed integrally connected phenomenon of the state’s attempt to increasingly identify and criminalize target communities. The criminalization of these communities is associated with the escalation of activities of police state repression, justified under the mantle of security, and also accompanies the escalation of racial hatred and socio-cultural division.
In Britain, the last few months has seen a litany of escalating hysteria premised on the perception of Islam and Muslims as some sort of grave existential and ideological threat to the national security and national identity of Britain -- a veritable fifth column. Jack Straw, the Leader of the House of Commons, and former Foreign and Home Secretary, tell us that Muslim women who cover the face with a veil or niqab make community relations "more difficult." And this is because, he says, concealing the face is "a visible statement of separation and difference."

We then had Home Secretary John Reid's admonition to Muslim parents in East London that they ought to watch out for "tell-tale" signs of their children becoming terrorist extremists. Dr. Reid qualified his statements in the Sun: "I appeal to you (the Muslim community) to look for changes in your teenage sons -- odd hours, dropping out of school or college, strange new friends."

Recently, the conservative political commentator Ian Dale has reported that Sir Ian Blair, Metropolitian Police Commissioner, in a closed meeting said that he knew there would be another terrorist attack on Britain, and that when it happens, there will be a need to consider mass "internment."

These sorts of attempts to gain political capital by fomenting religious suspicion and hostility are intensifying across the EU.

In France, Islamophobia has been a staple of French politics for years, with parties of the mainstream right and left backing the ban of the hijab in public schools for the last several years. A year ago, the heavily Muslim immigrant suburbs of Paris erupted in riots after two youth died while being chased by police. In early November, 72 Muslim airport staff, mostly baggage handlers, were barred from Paris’ main airport on the grounds they posed a security threat. The decision, backed by French Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy, was taken months after the publication of a book by Phillipe de Villiers, a politician of the far-right party Movement for France who will stand in next year’s presidential elections, which talks about Muslim "infiltration" of French airports.

In Germany eight out of sixteen states (that’s roughly half the country) have voted to ban the hijab in public schools. A study by the German Center for Turkish Studies at Essen University found that in parliamentary debates between 2000 and 2004, politicians increasingly drew connections between Islam and terrorism, and made comments putting Muslims in Germany under general suspicion as a security threat, rather than calling for religious tolerance.

In Belgium, the far-right Velaams Belang nearly captured control of the Antwerp city government in mid-October on an openly Islamophobic platform, winning 33.5 percent of the vote, compared to 35 percent assembled by a Socialist coalition.

In the Netherlands, this past November the government decided to enforce a total ban on women wearing burqas and face veils in public, on the pretext that they endanger "public order, security and the protection of citizens". The decision was announced only days ahead of elections which the ruling centre-right party won, as expected.

These are just a few examples of a phenomenon spreading across the USA and Europe. As the 2005 report of the International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights (IHF) on ‘Intolerance and Discrimination against Muslims in the EU’ has documented, attacks on Muslims in western Europe have increased dramatically. Across western Europe, such attacks have accompanied an unprecedented escalation in:

"... widespread negative attitudes toward Muslims; unbalanced and stereotypical media reports portraying Muslims as 'alien' to EU societies and as 'an enemy within'; verbal and physical attacks on Muslims and Muslim institutions and property; discrimination against Muslims in employment and other areas; aggressive political rhetoric used by right-populist parties to target Muslims;and security and immigration measures contributing to public perceptions of Muslims as a 'fifth column'."

Thus, according to Glyn Ford, a British member of the European Parliament, "Europe is in danger of seeing its extreme-right parties move into the mainstream. Islamophobia has become the prejudice of the day, but the threat from the extreme right is real and it is found across the European Union."

But one needs to go further than this. It’s not merely that the far right is growing increasingly mainstream -- the political mainstream itself is moving in the direction of the far right. We are seeing a disturbing convergence of political ideology and methodology amongst Western states on issues of race, religion and terrorism. The identification and criminalization of target communities, increasingly Muslim communities, across the Western world, is both a cause and an effect of the anti-terror laws. The reduction of Muslim communities to the status of "threat" legitimizes the state’s enactment of increasingly draconian anti-terror laws. Simultaneously, Muslims are the principal, though by no means the exclusive, victims of the same laws (numerous other communities have been victims of these laws, e.g. Kurds, Tamils etc.) The process of ideologically separating these communities, in this case particularly the Muslim community, off from their own societies, by portraying them as incompatible with Western societies by the very practice of their faith, is crucial to the state’s attempts to consolidate and expand its powers of social control.

2. International Criminalization: Theatres of War; Theatres of Terror

The accelerated consolidation of domestic state power is correlated with the projection of state-military power in the international system, beyond the borders of the state itself. In the post-9/11 period, we have seen the opening of new theatres of war in Central Asia and the Middle East, involving predominantly Muslim countries, namely Afghanistan, Iraq, and Lebanon. And if Seymour Hersh’s reporting in the New Yorker is anything to go by, then we know that the Anglo-American allies are currently actively planning a war on Iran, which by the latest publicly available information has been postponed until next year. In other words, the criminalization of Muslim communities within Western states correlates directly with the intensification of Western conflict with predominantly Muslim populations abroad.

The opening of these multiple theatres of war has gone hand-in-hand with a string of regional military deployments beyond Afghanistan and Iraq, in areas of vital geopolitical interest on every inhabited continent. According to the Defense Department's annual "Base Structure Report" for fiscal year 2003, which itemizes foreign and domestic U.S. military real estate, the Pentagon currently owns or rents 702 overseas bases in about 130 countries. These include military installations in areas of the "new" Europe -- Romania, Poland, and Bulgaria; in Asia -- Pakistan (where we already have four bases), India, Australia, Singapore, Malaysia, the Philippines, and even Vietnam; in North Africa -- Morocco, Tunisia, and especially Algeria; and in West Africa -- Senegal, Ghana, Mali, and Sierra Leone (even though it has been torn by civil war since 1991). And so and so forth.

This massive US military expansion, in which Britain actively participates by way of both military and diplomatic contribution, has occurred under the mantle of fighting the post-9/11 "War on Terror", in other words, in the name of our security. Military expansionism has in turn accompanied the institutionalization of criminal practices by the very state, military and security agencies themselves including:

1. The unilateral launching of war in violation of international law and in contempt of the United Nations.

2. The deliberate killing of hundreds and thousands of civilians through indiscriminate aerial bombardment against civilian infrastructure.

3. Extraordinary rendition, or in other words, the illegal imprisonment, trafficking and torture of thousands of people who remain innocent before the law.

4. The establishment of secret detention centres, which perhaps should be recognized for what they are -- concentration camps -- where such people remain incarcerated and tortured for years.

5. The formation of alliances with tyrannical regimes which engage in serious human rights abuses.

6. Illegal financial relationships with corporations and other financial donors; in the US, for example, military officials have testified that the Bush administration has shown improper favouritism in awarding military contracts to Halliburton, Dick Cheney’s former company. In the UK, we see the New Labour regime engulfed in the cash-for-peerages scandal. Much of this, and more, has been pursued within the parameters of sustaining Western security in the framework of the "War on Terror". But security for what and against whom?

3. International Terrorism

Amidst the construction and expansion of this massive global architecture of military repression, Western states have systematically perpetuated military, financial and intelligence ties to the very terrorist networks that are supposed to be the primary targets of the "War on Terror", in every major strategic region, the Balkans, Central Asia, the Middle East, the Asia-Pacific, and North Africa.

This process commenced in earnest no sooner than the end of the Cold War. As one CIA analyst told Swiss TV journalist Richard Labeviere, chief editor at Radio France International (as recorded in his book Dollars for Terror):
"The policy of guiding the evolution of Islam and of helping them against our adversaries worked marvellously well in Afghanistan against the Red Army. The same doctrines can still be used to destabilize what remains of Russian power, and especially to counter the Chinese influence in Central Asia."

US military intelligence planners saw remarkable potential for the bin Laden doctrine of Islamist destabilization to counter US rivals in Eastern Europe, the Balkans, and Central Asia.
And this is precisely what happened, is happening even now. Today, we barely have time to look at one of these regions, and we will begin with the Balkans.

In 1993, al-Qaeda operatives reportedly bombed the World Trade Center. From 1992 to 1995, the Pentagon, with British complicity, flew thousands of al-Qaeda mujahideen from Central Asia into Europe, to fight alongside Bosnian Muslims against the Serbs. The mujahideen were "accompanied by US Special Forces equipped with high-tech communications equipment," according to intelligence sources. Bin Laden’s mercenaries were used as shock troops by the Pentagon "to coordinate and support Bosnian Muslim offensives."

The west was supposed to be involved on humanitarian grounds -- but the truth is that mujahideen aggravated ethnic conflict. A horrified western public quickly approved NATO involvement, guaranteeing a US military presence on Russia’s doorstep.

The pattern extends to Kosovo, where ethnic violence broke out between Albanians and Serbs. Again, NATO had supposedly intervened on humanitarian grounds on behalf of Kosovan Albanians in March 1999. But as with Bosnia, the West escalated violence, again, using al-Qaeda.
In 1998, the KLA was listed by the State Department as a "terrorist organization", financed by bin Laden. US, Albanian and Macedonian intelligence reports prove that KLA fighters train in al-Qaeda camps in Afghanistan and Albania, and sponsor border crossings into Kosovo from Albania, of hundreds of al-Qaeda mujahideen from Bosnia, Chechnya and Afghanistan. Ralf Mutschke, Assistant Director of Interpol’s Criminal Intelligence Directorate, said that one KLA commander was an emissary of bin Laden himself, sent to lead "an elite KLA unit during the Kosovo conflict".

Despite this, British SAS and American Delta Force instructors were training KLA fighters as early as 1996. The CIA supplied military assistance up to and during the 1999 bombing campaign, including military training manuals and field advice, under the cover of OSCE ceasefire monitors.

In the same period, al-Qaeda pulled off the 1998 US embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania. One of the conspirators, former US Army Sergeant Ali Mohamed, was a close associate of bin Laden’s own right-hand man, Ayman al-Zawahiri -- the man who has claimed al-Qaeda responsibility for the London bombings. According to Yossef Bodansky, Director of the Congressional Task Force on Terrorism and Unconventional Warfare, a CIA emissary identified only as "al-Amriki" (the American) approached al-Zawahiri in the first half of November 1997, offering him $50 million if he ensured that al-Qaeda protected US interests in the Balkans.
European intelligence sources confirm that NATO has continued to supply arms to the al-Qaeda sponsored Albanian guerrillas in their conflict with Macedonia, long after 9/11.

So why the Balkans? Gen. Sir Mike Jackson, then commander of NATO troops in the region, summed it up nicely in 1999: "We will certainly stay here for a long time in order to guarantee the safety of the energy corridors which cross Macedonia." The General was talking about the Trans-Balkan pipeline passing through Bulgaria, Macedonia and Albania, planned to be the main route to the west for Central Asian oil and gas.

NATO is thus playing the role of regional security firm for Anglo-American corporate energy interests; and al-Qaeda mujahideen are its willing salesmen.

The Security Matrix

The real direction of the "War on Terror", in other words, has never been to fight terrorism, but is on the contrary designed to facilitate imperial expansion into regions of vital geostrategic significance. The urgency of this initiative is linked to the increasing fragility of the global system. Numerous government and official documents, as well as independent academic studies, confirm that the global system is currently plagued by multiple, escalating crises on both a national and international scale. Without going into detail, the system is plunging into an unprecedented decline on the following fronts:

1. Energy: a growing consensus amongst oil industry experts, as well as the assessments contained in internal government documents (such as from Dick Cheney’s Energy Task Force; or from the UK Dept of Trade & Industry), suggest that global oil production has peaked and is already moving into decline, resulting in increasing energy shortages and culminating in a full-blown crisis within the next few decades.

2. Climate change: the Pentagon has already produced studies to consider the ramifications of rapid climate change, acknowledging that such change occurring within the next few decades, could fatally destabilize existing political and economic structures involving escalating conflicts over resources in an unpredictable environment.

3. Economic crisis: Gabriel Kolko, professor emeritus at York University, concluded in late July this year that: "All the factors which make for crashes – excessive leveraging, rising interest rates, etc. – exist... Contradictions now wrack the world’s financial system, and a growing consensus now exists between those who endorse it and those, [who oppose it]. If we are to believe the institutions and personalities who have been in the forefront of the defense of capitalism, and we should, it may very well be on the verge of serious crises." Leading financial analysts in Washington, New York and London estimate a serious crisis in the banking system as early as 2008.

4. Political crisis: popular participation in electoral politics across the Western world has declined to unprecedented lows -- that is, governments are increasingly elected by a minority of the actual population, a sign of the growing gulf between Western states and their own domestic support-base that is supposed to legitimize their existence. Projected trends suggest that this situation is only worsening as people become increasingly disillusioned with two or three party systems that appear to offer little in the way of meaningful policy alternatives.

The official narrative of the "War on Terror" thus carefully conceals the reality of Western state policy, which is designed not to protect human security, but rather to protect the security of vested interests tied into a global system that is crumbling under its own weight. Western state consolidation both domestically and internationally is driven, fundamentally, in response to these growing, global systemic crises. The attempts to totalize state power by criminalizing communities, particularly Muslim communities, are conjoined to the attempts to expand Western power into predominantly Muslim regions of vital geostrategic interest, a process which has, surprisingly, been aided and abetted by the selective sponsorship of Islamist terrorist networks.

Therefore, to truly re-claim our rights, we need to interrogate and expose precisely these multi-causal, system-wide geopolitical dynamics driving Western states to adopt increasingly draconian policies of social control. We have to direct our attention not merely to the methods of the Machine, but to its very operational structure.

[END]

International Terrorism: The Secret History Since 1945

Well, it's good to be back online again. And lots has happened since my last post. A few weeks ago I did a talk in Maida Vale, which has been received with some interest in certain circles. Here's a brief description of the talk as advertised by the venue, Islamic Centre England:

"Nafeez will give an introduction into the covert intelligence operations, economic intrigues and rampant political corruption that have dominated Western 'national security' policies since the end of the Second World War. Using newly declassified secret government files and other reliable documentation, Nafeez will reveal the official deceit that justified Anglo-American imperial expansion during the Cold War, post-Cold War and post-9/11 periods. He will lay bare the dynamics behind historical and current US and British militarism, its overarching goals, and the escalating political, economic and ecological crises generated by the current global imperial system."

The talk was recorded in full, including the Q & A session, by the London Sound Posse, and is available online here.

Paul Stott from the parapolitical journal, Notes from the Borderland, who attended the talk has put up a short summary and review, which i paste below for your ease:

===
November 12, 2006

I went to see Nafeez Mosaddeq Ahmed speak in Maida Vale this evening, discussing war, terrorism and international relations. Ahmed is best known for three books he has published in very short succesion about the "war on terror' and more recently for his book on the 7 July bombings.

The Good Old Days?

Ahmed started from the position that the war on terror is a continuation of an Anglo-American imperialism that has been going on for some time, with Britain accepting the role of "junior partner" at the start of the Cold War. To Ahmed the Bush/Blair partnership is not unique, but historically consistent. Secondly the Cold War saw the "Communist threat" justifying American expansion into all corners of the globe - Ahmed argues this threat was not only greatly overstated, but that internal government documents indicate that by and large both the British and the Americans were far more concerned about "ultra-nationalist" movements. As for terrorism, the Gladio (stay behind) networks in Europe after World War II indicate the clear involvement of the US in terrorism, often in the name of left-wing organisations.

Friend or Foe?

With the Cold War ending, the US was faced with both new opportunities, and new challenges. Ahmed argues that America still sees its rival in several significant oil-producing areas as Russia, whilst in the long term China is its principal fear. Given this he feels it essential to look at areas where American interests overlap with those of Islamist groups such as Al-Qaeda. Ahmed sees clear evidence of this in different parts of the world - the Caucases, the Balkans, North Africa and Chechnya were cited. Indeed Dutch intelligence reports from Bosnia (where Dutch troops are accused of failing to prevent a major massacre by the Serbs) indicate the Americans severly de-stabilised the area by bringing ex-Mujahideen fighters into the region.

Although there is not a lot of good published material in English on developments in Algeria, Ahmed cited Robert Fisk on the dirty tricks in the war between Western intelligence agencies, the Algerian state and Islamists. This has included bombings on the French Metro which appear to have been conducted by groups after they had been thoroughly penetrated by the French intelligence services.

Summing Up

In conclusion Ahmed sees two major roles for Al-Qaeda - they justify the militarisation of western societies, and they justify Western intervention in parts of the world that are rich in natural resources. As these resources become increasingly under threat, such struggles will become more important, not less. Pessimistically he sees the world approaching the end of a particular epoch, the American epoch, and one that will get very unpleasant. Ahmed called for the development of new values, and new thinking that rejects capitalism and respects the environment. As a Muslim, he believes this should have a spiritual dimension.

From The Floor

At talks like this making an intervention is a rather inexact science. However the size of the audience required brevity, and one of the three activists from the 9/11 Truth Movement rather struggled with this concept. Ahmed was critical of the general conduct of the Britan and Ireland 9/11 Truth Movement, who appear less relevant and more closed in their thinking than similar groups in the States. The central point is perhaps this - 9/11 showed the world as it is, rather than being some sort of Year Zero for a new world order. Another intervention came from Shane Collins of Lambeth Green Party who talked of the need to introduce "carbon quotas" which could be bought and sold by individuals. As that appears to suggest that the very wealthy such as Roman Abramovich are going to be able to do a lot more than me in this future green world - count me out!

Personally I was deeply impressed by Ahmed's grasp of history and his use of sources. If I have a criticism of his talk it is that he actually repeated a mistake I have seen from the 9/11 Truth campaigners - he talked of America and Britain, but not of Iran, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, all "players" with dishonourable intentions of their own. Indeed Iran has looked to greatly increase its influence in the Muslim world in the past decade - from Sudan, to the Lebanon and most recently to Iraq. Imperialism can come in all colours, and in small packages as well as large.

20 October 2006

Apologies

I want to apologise for the increasingly long gaps between posting. I'm back at university now, teaching and researching, and spend most of my time commuting back and forth between Brighton and London. I'm also amassing a backlog of hugely significant activist projects, none of which I seem to have sufficient time to throw my energies into. Too much is happening at once. The global system is in overload, and crises are converging. North Korea toting its nukes; impending war with Iran; the carve-up of Iraq; the peak not only of global oil, but even global agricultural production and the imminence of energy and food shortages; contingency plans for the "internment" of Muslims and dissidents in the US and UK; the list goes on. Trying to keep up with and expose the extent of the mess we're in, as a society, as a system, is starting to take its toll on me; in particular, my wife and kids are suffering as a result. I'll be taking some time out from these projects for a while to sort my life out, get my head back into gear.

Will be back soon.

11 October 2006

Source Reveals CIA Electro-Shock Torture in Secret Detention Camps

"The electro shocks are administered without warning. This process is called 'loosening up'. When the person is screaming constantly between the shocks, the interrogators start talking to him in Arabic"
Memo by former British Army Officer Peter Wright, Recording Testimony of US Army Officer John Peirce, US Army Airfield Coleman Barracks, Mannheim, Germany


The Death of Democracy. CIA-style.

It's here folks. And it's official.

The final nail in the coffin comes with the instituting of the Military Commissions Act 2006, yet another draconian piece of anti-terrorism legislation that grants the US government almost absolute jurisdiction to act as judge, jury and executioner in the "War on Terror".

It's safe to say that, thanks to this and previous legislative attempts to consolidate unchecked state-power, the US Constitution and the Bill of Rights have been well and truly chain-saw massacred, by a "national security" bureaucracy intent on protecting its already stupendous ability to do exactly what it likes, regardless of the rule of law, democracy, or any of the other values and principles that are supposed to have been the prizes of western civilization.

This new Act demolishes habeas corpus, the basic element of due process, not only for non-US citizens, but also for anyone categorized as an "enemy combatant" -- as defined by none other than Mr. President. Does he have to give a reason or justification for such categorization? Does he have to supply any evidence for the decision? Is there any mechanism for assessing the strength of this evidence?

No.

It's unilateral. All Mr. President has to do is a sign a piece of paper claiming that the prospective detainee has "purposefully and materially supported hostilities against the United States." This vacuous phrase means that anyone could be detained for the rest of their life, simply for contributing or participating in a group that Mr. President doesn't like; or even for simply criticizing the US government.

And worse still, unnoticed by many, this is the first piece of legislation that allows for US citizens to be defined as "unlawful enemy combatants", on the basis of which they can be detained with their civil and human rights severely curtailed.

Once detained, the Act deprives the detainee of all rights derived from the Geneva Convention. Civilians who have nothing to do with war can still be tried by a military commission rather than a normal civil court. There is no time-limit on the length of the trial, which could theoretically continue for until the detainee dies. The Act permits the use of classified intelligence evidence, and evidence extracted through torture. Evidence that the detainee is not necessarily allowed to even see or properly challenge. The Act also immunizes government officials for past war crimes.

Although the CIA practice of extraordinary rendition and torture has come under increasing scrutiny, the Military Commissions Act has now made it officially legal. Thousands of non-American innocent people have been abducted, trafficked across Europe and the Middle East, and then indefinitely detained for months and years, interrogated and tortured in secret prison centres, without charge. Even repeated decisions by the US Supreme Court condemned the practice, ordering the White House to put the detainees on trial or release them.

Britain is complicit, as is western Europe in general. The Council of Europe named the UK as among 14 countries assisting the CIA in the illegal rendition programme. So western civilization as we know it has been long engaged in the demolition of democratic principles enshrined in the will of the people governed by the rule of law. But the United States has led the way in stamping its seal of approval on the whole process. Neither Britain, nor Europe, is in any moral position to criticize the Act's legalization of practices categorized as flagrantly illegal under international law, as they, too, have been deeply involved.

New evidence from credible witnesses provides shocking new information about the scale of torture that the CIA, working secretly with various UK and European state authorities, has been involved in. A memo from a former British Army officer Peter Wright, who is currently head of one of the biggest scientific research organisations in Germany, recounts evidence from an American military police officer, John Peirce, stationed at the US Army Airfield Colman Barracks in Mannheim. According to the Wright memo, which is considered credible by Amnesty International Berlin, Peirce witnessed the torture of no less than three individuals by US Army and CIA officers. Below are excerpts from the document:

"... the 3 individuals were kept lying on their backs on a Standard US Army issue metal bed frame without a Mattress, all 3 of them were fitted to this bed with hand cuffs and foot cuffs so that they were in principle immobile. This condition had been [in place] for weeks which is easy to prove due to the very deep wounds due to pressure. The normal Toilet activates of a human being were also not allowed; they simply did this fixed to the bed and when the smell appeared US Army Inmates have to hose down the people with a fire hose and clean up.

The US Army has apparently selected this site due to the fact that a Detention site already exists and also due to the Airstrip also on site to allow ease of transport. The PFC [John Peirce] then went on to inform me of a more disgusting act that he has observed personally. The US Army fly in on regular occasions of 3 people 2 men one woman who are dressed not in uniform. It is common knowledge that they are from the CIA amongst the soldiers on base. They come to interrogate the 3 still chained to their beds by using electro-shocks by connecting one electrode to the bed frame and the other to a piece of copper wire wrapped around the Genitals, they bring with them each time a Device to allow this to be done.

First of all no questions are asked. The electro shocks are administered without warning. This process is called 'loosening up'. When the person is screaming constantly between the shocks, the interrogators start talking to him in Arabic, and the other detainees when they hear the screaming clap their hands and make other gestures and comments as they know also of what is happening. When the interrogators leave the Guard room, personnel have learned that to keep the men quiet they replace the professional electro-shock device with a field telephone. All 3 are wired-up to 3 field telephones in the Guard room office and if someone moans or cries they crank up the field telephone to give him a jolt of electricity to make him shut up. It is even a fun game to allow anyone who is willing to give a donation to a Serviceman’s widows organization, to crank the handle."

The US Army officer, John Peirce, who originally provided this information to Peter Wright has now disappeared, and efforts are underway in Germany to track him down.

The Wright memo is consistent with separate findings of evidence suggesting that German territory and airspace are being used for the rendition and torture of US prisoners. However, this is the first time that the kinds of interrogation methods being used by the CIA have been exposed in such detail, in particular the use of electro-shock torture.

This episode reveals the appalling depths to which western security services have sunk in the name of fighting the "War on Terror", and the extent to which western states hold the rule of law in contempt, when it comes to the pursuit and protection of vested interests.

Communities Secretary Ruth Kelly this morning talked about "non-negotiable" British values, such as respect for the law. But while government ministers preach to the public, and to the Muslim community, about the dangers of extremism and terrorism, western intelligence agencies have been busy terrorising and torturing thousands of innocent people in the name of defending our "security."

Islamic Feminism Resources

I'm posting some links here for those interested in reading up about Islamic feminist theory, and that will be it from me on this topic:

Islam and Feminism
An introductory survey.

Veiled4Allah
Discussions and comments on calls to ban all forms of the veil, from a Muslim women who wears the head-scarf. Focuses on basic issues of civil liberties.

Women in a Qur'anic Society
A summary article by a respected female Muslim academic discussing Islam, gender, and women in society.

Spiritual Role of Women in Islam
Essay on spiritual-ontological gender equality issues based on the Qur'an.

Women's Political Rights in Islam
Looks at Muslim history, as well as Islamic legal texts and sources, to discern the role of women as political subjects.

Legal Rights of Women in Islam
Attempts to correct the misconceptions about the idea that women are systematically marginalized or repressed by Islamic law.

The Fear of Hijab
One Muslim woman's attempt to understand why widespread western cultural revulsion at the phenomenon of women covering their heads with a piece of cloth.

The Veil and Sacred Space
A highly creative exploration of the meaning of the veil by a non-Muslim female academic.

Women in Islam, Judaism & Christianity
An intriguing comparative analysis of the what Islamic, Jewish and Christian religious texts say about women.

And an article on the head-scarf that might be of interest...

"Why do I Wear the Hijab?"

By Sultana Yusuf (a 17-year old Toronto high school student)

Published in Toronto Star: Young People Press.

A while back, a couple of girls in Montreal were kicked out of school for dressing like I do. It seems strange that a little piece of cloth would make for such controversy. Perhaps the fear is that I am harbouring an Uzi underneath it.

Of course, the issue at hand is more than a mere piece of cloth. I am a Muslim woman who, like millions of other Muslim women across the globe, chooses to wear the hijab. And the concept of the hijab, contrary to popular opinion, is actually one of the most fundamental aspects of female empowerment When I cover myself, I make it virtually impossible for people to judge me according to the way I look.

I cannot be categorised because of my attractiveness or lack thereof. Compare this to life in today's society: We are constantly sizing one another up on the basis of our clothing, jewelry, hair and makeup. What kind of depth can there be in a world like this?

Yes, I have a body, a physical manifestation upon this Earth. But it is the vessel of an intelligent mind and a strong spirit. It is not for the beholder to leer at or to use in advertisements to sell everything from beer to cars. Because of the superficiality of the world in which we live, external appearances are so stressed that the value of the individual counts for almost nothing. It is a myth that women in today's society are liberated. What kind of freedom can there be when a woman cannot walk down the street without every aspect of her physical self being 'checked out' When I wear the hijab I feel safe from all of this. I can be rest assured that no one is looking at me and making assumptions about my character from the length of my skirt. There is a barrier between me and those who would exploit me. I am first and foremost a human being, and not vulnerable because of my sexuality. One of the saddest truths of our time is the question of the beauty myth and female self-image. Reading popular teenage magazines, you can instantly find out what kind of body image is 'in' or 'out'. And if you have the 'wrong' body type, well, then, you're just going to have to change it, aren't you After all, there is no way that you can be overweight and still be beautiful.

Look at any advertisement. Is a woman being used to sell the product? How old is she? How attractive is she? What is she wearing more often than not? That woman will be no older than her early 20s, taller, slimmer and more attractive than average, dressed in skimpy clothing. Why do we allow ourselves to be manipulated like this? Whether the '90s woman wishes to believe it or not, she is being forced into a mould.

She is being coerced into selling herself, into compromising herself. This is why we have 13-year-old girls sticking their fingers down their throats and overweight adolescents hanging themselves. When people ask me if I feel oppressed, I can honestly say no. I made this decision out of my own free will. I like the fact that I am taking control of the way other people perceive me. I enjoy the fact that I don't give anyone anything to look at and that I have released myself from the bondage of the swinging pendulum of the fashion industry and other institutions that exploit females. My body is my own business. Nobody can tell me how I should look or whether or not I am beautiful. I know that there is more to me than that. I am also able to say no comfortably when people ask me if I feel as though my sexuality is being repressed. I have taken control of my sexuality.

I am thankful I will never have to suffer the fate of trying to lose/ gain weight or trying to find the exact lipstick shade that will go with my skin colour. I have made choices about what my priorities are and these are not among them. So next time you see me, don't look at me sympathetically. I am not under duress or a male-worshipping female captive from those barbarous Arabic deserts. I've been liberated.

9 October 2006

To Veil or Not to Veil: Is that the Question?

Many British Muslim women wear the head-scarf, or hijab. Some British Muslim women also wear the veil, or niqab, to cover their faces. These latter in particular are the type that make Jack Straw feel "uncomfortable".

Because he can't see their faces. And it, well, poses a really "visible reminder of our differences".

In addition was Straw's other important point: that veiling is a "statement of separation and difference"; and that it actually is responsible for the creation of parallel Muslim and non-Muslim communities. By putting his words carefully, Straw thus carefully prised open a whole new debate about the niqab/veil, a debate in which it is now perfectly politically correct to demand that Muslim women who wear the veil be forced to take it off.

So here we have yet another white, middle-class male trying to tell a bunch of women how they should live their lives, in particular how they should dress. The logic is the same as those Muslims who believe that forcing women to adhere to some sort of dress-code is justifiable. Both demands are on the same moral scale, and attempt to cut out the very subject of the debate, Muslim women themselves.

I was therefore quite heartened on Friday midday when I got a call from the newsdesk at the Independent on Sunday, who wanted to find a way of talking to Muslim women who wear the veil. I put them in touch with a friend of my wife, Sarah Hussain, who started wearing the veil several years ago as a matter of choice. I also advised them to contact the Muslim Public Affairs Committee, and Arzu Merali, who wears the head-scarf, and who is research director at the Islamic Human Rights Commission.

On p. 16-17 of the newspaper yesterday, they quoted, very briefly, the views of Sarah, Arzu, and an MPAC spokeswoman Catherine Hossain. I reproduce some excerpts here, so you can get an idea of what Muslim women themselves have to say about this issue (something it seems the rest of the media and others demanding that women stop veiling have little interest in):

Sarah Hussein, a student from Acton, West London, wears a full veil or niqab...: "The last two years have been a nightmare. I have had had abuse thrown at me so many times. When I was growing up I didn't wear a veil and then I made a spiritual decision to wear one -- I have experienced people's reaction to me when I was wearing the veil and when I wasn't, so I know this abuse is because I wear a veil. It is usually from white men in groups and it is when I am alone or with my family. They never say anything when my husband is there. I know it would be easier for me if I didn't wear my veil, but I shouldn't be dictated to as to who I am. I am not doing anything wrong, I am interacting with society and studying society."

Read these words carefully. It's all very well pontificating about the evil and oppression of a veiled woman, assuming that we know all there is to know about why a young modern Muslim woman might choose to wear it. But perhaps we should stop and think. Perhaps the gut-instinct, the cultural revulsion, the feeling "uncomfortable", is nothing more than the simplistic prejudice of seeing someone do things differently, in a way that one cannot understand. The task then is not necessarily to engage in a form of "liberal imperialism", commanding Muslim women to break free, throw off their veils, or ELSE! Perhaps the task is to build bridges of mutual cultural understanding.

Catherine Hossain is a nursery teacher and spokesperson for Ilford MPAC. She wears the hijab: "[Jack Straw] is creating a storm in a tea cup by saying some very 'headline-grabbing' things. I don't think it is far from the truth to say that it is for his own gain -- to become deputy prime minister... Talking about women taking off their veils is not going to help. It suggests that men are more integrated than women when there is no evidence for this."

Arzu Merali, co-author of a recent study into the Muslim community's reaction to veils and headscarfs: "Mr. Straw's abuse of power should not dictate to these women what they should wear. These women go to his surgery and are vulnerable and I suspect that they remove their veil because they feel they have to -- he is a powerful person. There is a perception that Muslim women are pushed around by Muslim men, but what Jack Straw is doing is no better than that. He is a bully."

However, the Independent on Sunday had these "Muslim views" at the bottom of a double-page spread that was taken up largely by a lengthy comment by Joan Smith in which she described how she "loathese the niqab and the burqa" as worn in Iraq and Afghanistan, and finds them "equally offensive on my local high street."

But Smith seems a little out of her depth. I have no doubt that in Iraq and Afghanistan, many Muslim women are forced to veil their face. But there are important caveats. The first is that, in predominantly Shi'ite Iraq especially, it is certainly not mainstream or traditional to wear the full niqab or veil (i.e. facial covering). Some women may choose to wear it. Others may indeed be forced. But the idea that the majority wear the niqab, and are forced to do so, is simply wrong.

However, there is undoubtedly a growing danger of women being forced to wear the head-scarf -- please note, that this practice of wearing a head-covering is also often referred to as "the veil" also, so the term "veil" needs to be properly defined depending on the circumstances. Look at US-occupied Iraq. The BBC reports that "UN officials in Baghdad say they are very concerned that religious extremists are intimidating women and girls into wearing the veil. In particular, some radical clerics have demanded that women -- even Christians -- wear the veil." (The veil referred to here, by the way, refers to the head, not the face). Similarly, The Guardian noted that the US-appointed governing council in Iraq, along with the dominant religious parties including those that now dominate the government, are responsible for climate in which Muslims girls "are being forced to wear the veil again."

And the same thing is indeed happening in US-occupied Afghanistan too. Violence against women there is not only as endemic as it was under the Taliban, it is explicitly condoned and actively facilitated by the Northern Alliance war-lord regime, with ministry officials policing women to ensure they comply with yet another national official dress-code.

I would like you to consider what was happening in 2003, as documented by Human Rights Watch, in western Herat, under the rule of Northern Alliance governor Ismail Khan. Khan was described by the Economist as "The west's favourite warlord", and "As good as it gets." The Economist goes on to praise Khan for promoting "open government" and other such "peaceful and enlightened" social programmes.

Perhaps Khan forgot the meaning of "peaceful and enlightened" when he was involved in what the 2003 annual Human Rights Watch report describes as follows:

"In western Herat, governor Ismail Khan ordered a number of announcements on television and radio about proper Islamic conduct, including instructions for all females to dress in Islamic clothes (taken to mean the burqa or chadori) and not to associate with men in public, and for men to refrain from wearing western clothes. Ismail Khan's troops began harassing women not dressed in the burqa or chadori--a more restrictive version of the hijab worn in neighboring Iran. Herat's police also began arresting unrelated men and women seen together; in several cases, men were taken to Herat's jail and beaten by police troops; women and girls were taken to a hospital, where police ordered doctors to perform forced medical checks to determine if the women and girls had had recent sexual intercourse."

A regional aberration? If only... HRW continues to look at what was going on the Afghan capital, where the president Hamid Karzai himself --an ex-UNOCAL consultant- resides:

"In Kabul, during the loya jirga, several conservative strongmen intimidated delegates, suggesting that if they spoke on Islamic issues or the Koran, they would 'face the consequences'. Sima Simar, a member of the first interim government, was accused of blasphemy, and told to appear in a court to face the charges (later dropped). Through 2002, there were reports of police forces storming wedding parties, insisting that playing music was 'illegal,' and arresting and sometimes beating musicians. Reconstituted Vice and Virtue squads patrolled Kabul, intimidating women without burqas and men wearing Western clothes."

[Incidentally governor Khan only became considered a problem when he "defied the central government and refused to hand over to Kabul most of the tax and customs revenue."]

In both societies, we have two US-backed governments which advocate a specific dress-code for women, to be policed as part of a theocratic social order. Smith is absolutely right to note these cases of systematic state-endorsed violence against women, and the manner in which certain configurations of power here actively justify the legal and physical control of female appearance. It's a shame that she misses out the all-important backdrop.

Note the backdrop: Both configurations of power include, at their helm, the forces of our Anglo-American "liberators", who are purportedly spreading forth democratization across the Muslim world. In the name of "democracy", we're still going around financing fundamentalists because, really, our leaders are not hugely interested in democracy, nor the human rights that our military interventionism consistently obliterates worldwide. They are far more interested in the more important matters of geostrategic and economic interests, particularly in terms of securing access and control over the world's most lucrative supplies of fast-dwindling hydrocarbon (oil, gas, etc.) energies.

The need for that access also explains why the US government, for instance, was happy to provide military and financial sponsorship to the Taliban from 1994 through to 2000, as confirmed in the Congressional testimony of people like Hon. Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, former White House Special Assistant to Ronald Reagan. As one jubilant US diplomat remarked rather jubilantly:"The Taliban will probably develop like the Saudis did. There will be Aramco, pipelines, an emir, no parliament and lots of Sharia law. We can live with that." Forget whether the Afghans wanted to live with that. That never was, and never has been, the point. The point is protecting UNOCAL, and related vested interests. And clearly still is.

There is, thus, a huge contrast between the decisions and plight of Muslim women in Iraq and Afghanistan, and those here in the USA, UK, or Western Europe. It is condescending and ignorant to attempt to group together Muslim women from these disparate regions into a single homogenous mass who can be defined and encapsulated under the same diagnosis. The fact is that the majority of those Muslim women in the west who wear some form of the veil (with or without facial covering, the vast majority do without), do so because they have made an informed choice to do so. Those who've taken the time to talk to Muslim women about this, rather than pontificate in an ivory tower, have by and large made great progress in bridging the subjective cultural divide. For instance, Mary Walker, who was a producer for the BBC2 series "Living Islam", drastically changed her views of the veil after talking to Muslims in 19 different countries:

"Just as to us the veil represents Muslim oppression, to them miniskirts and plunging necklines represent oppression. They said that men are cheating women in the West. They let us believe we're liberated but enslave us to the male gaze. However much I insist on the right to choose what I wear, I cannot deny that the choice is often dictated by what will make my body more attractive to men. Women cannot separate their identity from their appearance and so we remain trapped in the traditional feminine world, where the rules are written by men.

By choosing to wear the veil, these women were making a conscious decision to define their role in society and their relationship with men. That relationship appeard to be based more on exchange and mutual respect (a respect that was often lacking in the personal relationships I saw in the West), than the master/servant scenario I had anticipated. The Veil to them signified visual confirmation of their religious commitment, in which men and women were united, and for Zeenah and Fatima an even stronger commitment to a political ideal.

So were my notions of oppression in the form of the veil disqualified? If my definition of equality was free will then I could no longer define that oppression as a symptom of Islam. The women had all excercised their right to choose. To some extent, they were freer than me -- I had less control over my destiny. I could no longer point at them and say they were oppressed and I was not. My life was influenced by male approval as theirs -- but the element of choice had been taken out of mine. Their situations and their arguments had, after all, served to highlight shortcomings in my view of my own liberty."

It is this sort of self-reflection and analysis, as well as the previous deep-political critique, that was unfortunately completely missing from Joan Smith's Independent on Sunday piece. When Smith finally got round to the subject of Muslim women veiling in the UK, her comment was, typically, to portray the convictions and perceptions of Muslim women themselves as utterly irrelevant, and not worth any consideration at all:

"Muslim women in this country may be telling the truth when they say they are covering their hair and faces out of choice, but that doesn't mean they haven't been influenced by relatives and male clerics."

In one sentence, she dismisses the free decisions of millions of Muslim women as not even worth the freedom required to make them. These people must be oppressed! They must be coerced! The implication is that Muslim women are incapable of making their own choices and decisions, incapable of rational reflection, suffering from some sort of deep-seated inferiority, stupidity and/or vulnerability inherent to their peculiar Muslim psyche, requiring people like Jack Straw to stand up, take charge, and pressurize such women to change their backward ways. And immense socio-political pressure it is, whether or not it has been a legally-codified.

And of course, there is the wider issue of the alleged linkage between veiling and failed community relations between Muslims and non-Muslims. The fact remains that it is quite absurd to suggest that the phenomenon of parallel communities and so on has anything whatsoever to do with the fact that some women cover their faces. Straw's statement to this effect is a pathetic deflection away from policies of institutionalized racism and social segregation routinely deployed by local authorities under both the Tories and New Labour, including during Straw's tenure as Home Secretary.

Want to know why British Muslim Asians in areas like Blackburn and Bradford are separated off into impoverished ghettoised communities? Well, I wrote about this as a researcher at the Islamic Human Rights Commission, when I was doing a report on the Oldham riots. We found that institutional racism condoned by Oldham Borough Council was at the root of the underlying causative processes behind the rioting. Unemployment was twice as high for blacks and Asians, compared to whites. In particular, at 38 per cent, the unemployment rate for people of Pakistani and Bangladeshi ethnic origin is nearly five times that of white people. Housing conditions are also grim. Thirteen per cent of Oldham’s housing stock is “statutorily unfit for human habitation and a further 28% are in serious disrepair”. Areas with houses in such condition are predominantly inhabited by Pakistanis and Bangladeshis. Here is a relevant quote from my IHRC report (also available here) on the direct role of the local authority in manufacturing and consolidating these ethnically-defined parallel communities:

According to the Campaign Against Racism and Fascism (CARF) this state of affairs is rooted in “a whole history of racism and social exclusion.” CARF reports that in 1993, Oldham Borough Council was found to have been operating “an unlawful segregation policy in its housing allocation”. The policy effectively “ghettoised Asians onto a rundown estate, while whites were given homes in a more desirable area.” The legacy of this policy, which has gone on for decades, has continued to this day, exacerbating an informal type of apartheid between the white and Asian communities. In 1990, Oldham Council attempted to cover-up a council housing allocation report it had commissioned which exposed a “staggering catalogue of discrimination.” The report found that Asians “spent longer on waiting lists, were more likely to be offered lower quality housing, and were segregated on specific estates around the town centre.” A Commission for Racial Equality (CRE) investigation into private housing conducted in the same year similarly revealed that at least two estate agents were “redlining­ the practice of confining different racial groups to their own areas.” Other problems include the fact that the Council has no race relations or quality officer; similarly, the local racial equality council was shut down two years ago.

Straw wants to blame Muslim women for the results of the racist and discriminatory social, economic, and housing policies of local authorities overseen by his own government, when it is such women who remain the principal victims of such policies. What a bitter irony indeed.

So if you're interested in genuinely tackling "Muslim ghettos" and parallel communities, you could start by writing to Home Secretary John Reid and asking what he's doing to reverse the deliberate entrenchment of "informal apartheid" between white and Asian communities dotted around the country, by corrupt local authorities.

And if you're rightly concerned about the rampant repression of women in Iraq and Afghanistan and Saudi Arabia, you could start by writing to the Foreign Office and asking them to stop financing and supporting unpopular, tyrannical regimes throughout the Middle East.

And if you still think that covering the face is a danger to community relations, don't pontificate: prove it. I don't think compromising on yet more civil liberties at home is the way forward.

7 October 2006

The Muslim Problem

Muslims, it seems, are a problem. No, I should rephrase that. Muslims, it seems, are perhaps the problem of our times. Or at least one might be forgiven for believing that after the last few weeks and months. We've just had Jack Straw, the Leader of the House of Commons, and former Foreign and Home Secretary, tell us that Muslim women who cover the face with a veil or niqab make community relations "more difficult." And this is because, he says, concealing the face is "a visible statement of separation and difference."

So what is Straw saying? He's not just saying that he finds it "uncomfortable" to talk to a Muslim woman whose face he can't see. He's saying that the fact that some Muslim women choose to cover their face is a direct cause of communal tension, and a confirmation from Muslim women themselves that they indeed are different, and do not wish to engage in society.

Straw later went on to elaborate that he'd rather those Muslim women who wear the veil simply don't do so at all.

Straw's little outburst comes hot on the heels of a series of remarks, observations and political maneuverings consistently pointing at the various problems that Muslim pose to British, and western, society. In August, we had the 'liquid bomb' plot which both former and active military and intelligence experts have found to be either impossible or barely existing.

President Bush took the opportunity provided by the scare to declare that: “The recent arrests that our fellow citizens are now learning about are a stark reminder that this nation is at war with Islamic fascists who will use any means to destroy those of us who love freedom, to hurt our nation.”

The same phrase, a phrase he had never used before, he had also used that month to describe Israel's conflict with Lebanon. A conflict in which the preponderance of casualties was amongst Lebanese Muslims (as well as Christians).

And here in the UK, politicians, police and commentators described how the 'liquid bomb' plot proved that the threat came from British Muslims who, without any clear reason, without any obvious profile, from any social background even including a university education and a handsome employment, spontaneously decided to become suicide killers. By implications, we have a significant British Muslim problem. A problem of British Muslims spontaneously converting into Islamic fascists.

We then had Home Secretary John Reid's admonition to Muslim parents in East London that they ought to watch out for "tell-tale" signs of their childen undergoing this spontaneous profile-devoid, inexplicable process of conversion. What are these "tell-tale" signs? Rather than pointing, for instance, to the dangerous activities of notorious, entrenched, and proscribed extremist networks with terrorist connections like al-Muhajiroun and its successor groups, Saved Sect and al-Ghuraabah (and now al-Sabiqoon al-Awwaloon), Dr. Reid qualified his statements in an article in that most credible of tabloids, the Sun: "I appeal to you (the Muslim community) to look for changes in your teenage sons -- odd hours, dropping out of school or college, strange new friends."

**cough**splutter**

Sorry excuse me, it's just that this sounds a lot like me when I was, erm, busy failing my A-Levels at seventeen years old. Maybe I was spontaneously turning into an Islamic fascist but didn't realise? Maybe I should turn myself in?

Around the same time, the Pope decided to pipe in with a speech in which he quoted a Byzantine Emperor saying: "Show me just what Mohammed brought that was new, and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached." Some have suggested that angry Muslims took the quotation completely out of context, but an inspection of the rest of his text shows this not to be the case. The Pope, unfortunately, used the citation uncritically, and in support of his wider theological argument (a very questionable one at that) about the fundamental difference in Christian and Islamic views of the rationality of God's actions.

It took the Israeli military veteran and peace activist Uri Avnery, a self-described Jewish atheist, to take the Pope to task as follows:

"Every honest Jew who knows the history of his people cannot but feel a deep sense of gratitude to Islam, which has protected the Jews for fifty generations, while the Christian world persecuted the Jews and tried many times "by the sword" to get them to abandon their faith.

The story about 'spreading the faith by the sword' is an evil legend, one of the myths that grew up in Europe during the great wars against the Muslims--the reconquista of Spain by the Christians, the Crusades and the repulsion of the Turks, who almost conquered Vienna. I suspect that the German Pope, too, honestly believes in these fables. That means that the leader of the Catholic world, who is a Christian theologian in his own right, did not make the effort to study the history of other religions.


Why did he utter these words in public? And why now?

There is no escape from viewing them against the background of the new Crusade of Bush and his evangelist supporters, with his slogans of 'Islamofascism' and the 'Global War on Terrorism'--when 'terrorism' has become a synonym for Muslims."

More recently, Tory Party leader and Prime Minister-wannabe David Cameron declared his brave plans to break up Muslim ghettos in British cities. That's right folks, Muslim ghettos: another big problem that Muslims pose to Britain, encapsulated in the phenomenon of (in Cameron's words): "Immigrant families who only ever meet people with the same country of origin. We need to find ways to avoid this."

Without even attempting to offer serious policy options to deal with the institutional discrimination and massive social deprivation behind the creation of "Muslim ghettos", Cameron suggested instead that "Islamic schools should in future admit a quarter of their pupils from other faiths", as if Islamic schools are actually a significant part of the problem. He didn't pause to wonder whether any Muslim schools in the UK had ever officially banned or prevented non-Muslims from attending (certainly not to my knowledge), or whether indeed non-Muslims might even be vaguely interested in attending a Muslim faith school, enough to fulfil his quota.

So Straw's remarks should not by any means be viewed in isolation. They are part of an inexorably growing western trend of problematizing Muslims, a phenomenon that is conjoined to concerted practices of western-backed imperial violence against largely (though not exclusively) Muslim populations in Iraq, Afghanistan, the Occupied Territories, Lebanon and elsewhere, practices which are fast converging on an impending imperial onslaught against Iran. The casualty figures in dead and seriously injured from these extant military interventions is more than several million, mostly Muslim, civilians. Such processes actively facilitated by our governments in the Middle East and Central Asia cannot be compartmentalized away from processes of problematization of Muslim communities at home, where in the UK for example more than a thousand Muslims have been indefinitely detained under the Terrorism Act, out of which only half a dozen have been convicted. These external and internal processes are products of the same system, the same imperial social configurations.

As the 2005 report of the International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights (IHF) on ‘Intolerance and Discrimination against Muslims in the EU’ has documented, attacks on Muslims in western Europe have increased dramatically. Across western Europe, such attacks have accompanied an unprecedented escalation in

"... widespread negative attitudes toward Muslims; unbalanced and stereotypical media reports portraying Muslims as 'alien' to EU societies and as 'an enemy within'; verbal and physical attacks on Muslims and Muslim institutions and property; discrimination against Muslims in employment and other areas; aggressive political rhetoric used by right-populist parties to target Muslims;and security and immigration measures contributing to public perceptions of Muslims as a 'fifth column'."

One of the most authoritative studies of discrimination against Muslims in Britain was undertaken recently by the Islamic Human Rights Commission (IHRC) in London, where I used to work as a researcher years ago. The IHRC survey has been described by the leading peer-reviewed Analyses of Social Issues and Public Policy, as providing “rich information from a large sample [whose research findings] are unparalleled in their focus and detail on a subject that has largely been overlooked and understudied.” The findings are rather shocking: overall, about 80 per cent of respondents reported experiences of discrimination because they were Muslim. In the face of this, the widespread feelings of discontent and victimization amongst Muslims is not only understandable, they are to some extent a perfectly rational reaction to an extremely disturbing national and international trend of hostility towards Muslims, expressed in forms of cultural, political and economic violence.

German social scientist Dr. Wolfram Richter, a professor of economics at the University of Dortmund, expressed his resulting concern as follows: “I am afraid we have not learned from our history. My main fear is that what we did to Jews we may now do to Muslims. The next holocaust would be against Muslims.” What we have been seeing over the past few months is the tail-end of a process that has continued since 9/11; a concerted political and cultural campaign the effect of which has been to portray Muslims as a dangerous, unpredictable group of 'others' who pose a problem to western civilization -- a problem that requires a "solution"; perhaps even a "final solution", if Dr. Richter's well-researched fears might suggest. It would be easy to dismiss Dr. Richter's comment as merely a groundless exaggeration. And while it may indeed be exaggerated, it is, unfortunately, not groundless.

3 October 2006

Australian journalist cites my 'liquid bomb' story

Antony Loewenstein, an Australian journalist and author of the bestselling book, My Israel Question (Melbourne University), has done a short incisive piece citing my liquid bomb plot critique on a leading online Australian newsmagazine, provocatively titled "Was the Heathrow 'terror plot' a political concoction?". The piece also links to Loewenstein's review of my book, The War on Truth: 9/11, Disinformation and the Anatomy of Terrorism.

30 September 2006

Pakistan and the Terror Nexus

Poor old General Musharraf. His PR trip trying to rehabilitate the image of Pakistan around the world appears to have been slightly scuppered by the leak of the now widely-reported UK Defence Academy paper. Notwithstanding the predictable chorus of denial from the corridors of power, namely, from those who for all intents and purposes stand accused (at the current time Musharraf, Blair, Bush, etc.), the leaked report is entirely consistent with a wealth of evidence in the public record.

The leaked report, authored by a British intelligence official with a military background, is based on interviews with Pakistani Army officers and academics. BBC News has flagged-up one of the most important sections of the document, which says:

"The Army's dual role in combating terrorism and at the same time promoting the MMA and so indirectly supporting the Taliban (through the ISI) is coming under closer and closer international scrutiny. Pakistan is not currently stable but on the edge of chaos.

[The West has] turned a blind eye towards existing instability and the indirect protection of Al Qaeda and promotion of terrorism.

Indirectly Pakistan (through the ISI) has been supporting terrorism and extremism - whether in London on 7/7 or in Afghanistan or Iraq.

The US/UK cannot begin to turn the tide until they identify the real enemies from attacking ideas tactically - and seek to put in place a more just vision. This will require Pakistan to move away from Army rule and for the ISI to be dismantled and more significantly something to be put in its place.

Musharraf knows that time is running out for him..."

The instrumental role that Pakistan's Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) has played in formenting international terrorism is well-documented. This paper from an MoD-run think-tank shows clearly that senior intelligence officials are privately so concerned about this problem, that they are leaking the material at this time precisely to counter Musharraf's latest round of PR exercises in the USA and elsewhere.

In The War on Freedom (2002), The War on Truth (2005), and The London Bombings (2006), I've described in somed detail Pakistan's role in supplying military, intelligence and logistical support to terrorist networks linked to 9/11, 7/7, and even Iraq. What's most disturbing about it, is that this is hardly a ground-breaking revelation. On pages 102-3 of The London Bombings, I quote from two US Defence Intelligence Agency documents dated from two weeks after 9/11, which I had obtained after their declassification in September 2003.

Five years ago, these intelligence reports had noted how "bin Laden’s Al Qaeda network was able to expand under the safe sanctuary extended by Taliban following Pakistan directives." Bin Laden’s camp, for example, located on the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan, "was built by Pakistani contractors, funded by Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) Directorate." The Taliban regime "was created, imposed and recognised by Pakistan in pursuit of its own interests’, and under its jurisdiction, al-Qaeda was "able to grow unmolested inside Afghanistan."

But what about after 9/11? The Pentagon agency continues:

"Pakistan’s goals are simple, the continuance of the policy they have always demonstrated regarding Afghanistan... In Islamabad, they have tried to ignore or bury the evidence for some time. It must be a deeply troubling period for General [Musharraf] in Pakistan, who is asked to help hunt down the culprits that he helped to establish and supported. Not to support the US invites trouble and to assist the US to their aims also presents problems to Pakistan. The quandary leaves the Pakistanis confused as to how they might be absolved without permanently shattering their regional aspirations or their Government."

Five years later, it seems that little has changed. So what's been the response from the British and American governments? Instead of taking the drastic action advised by the Defence Academy report -- such as investigating and even dismantling the Pakistani ISI -- Blair and Bush, following in the footsteps of their predecessors, continue not only to actively attempt to conceal the ISI's criminal complicity from public understanding, but worse still also to escalate the provision of financial, military and intelligence support to the ISI. The record is almost absurd, with Musharraf rounding up thousands of militants one day, and then releasing them without charge the next, meanwhile continuining to provide covert financial and military assistance.

There's a lot of history here that needs to be recalled to grasp the significance of this. Such as the oft-ignored fact that former ISI Director, Gen. Mahmoud Ahmad, had ordered al-Qaeda finance chief Ahmed Omar Sheikh Saeed to wire at least $100,000 to chief 9/11 hijacker Mohammed Atta prior to the terrorist attacks on the WTC and Pentagon. This is one of those awkward, deeply uncomfortable stories that the mainstream tried to ignore, revealed at first by Indian intelligence officers cited in the Times of India (who obviously have the motive to dish the dirt on their Pakistani neighbours), but subsequently confirmed repeatedly by American (e.g. Wall Street Journal) and even Pakistani government and intelligence officials (e.g. Dawn). Extensive documentation and analysis is in The War on Truth. I can repost some of my analysis on that episode later on perhaps, if people really want me to (although I'd much prefer you go get a copy of the book, hint hint); but in the meantime you can get an online glimpse of some the relevant data and issues from Paul Thompson's timeline here.

The thrust of the matter is that neither al-Qaeda veteran Sheikh Saeed -- a British Muslim by the way -- nor Gen. Mahmoud Ahmad been indicted or even remotely officially investigated for their complicity in the financial organization of the 9/11 attacks. Former Labour Minister Michael Meacher MP pointed out the huge and dangerous ramifications of the Pakistani connection in a Guardian piece published just over a year before 7/7. "It is extraordinary", he observes, "that neither Ahmed nor Sheikh have been charged and brought to trial on this count [of financing 9/11]. Why not?"

Ironically, Musharraf has provided an inkling of an answer to this question recently, in the wake of the Defence Academy leak, apparently in an attempt to launch his own PR counter-offensive by leaking confidential and embarrasing information available to the ISI. The Gulf Times reports one of the particularly interesting, and damning tid-bits from Musharraf's new book In the Line of Fire:

"Pakistan President General Pervez Musharraf has disclosed that Omar Sheikh, who kidnapped and murdered American journalist Daniel Pearl and is now facing death penalty, was actually the British secret Agency MI6’s agent and had executed certain missions on their behest before coming to Pakistan and visiting Afghanistan to meet Osama and Mullah Omar.

... General Musharraf has written in his book that while Omar Sheikh was at the London School of Economics (LSE), he was recruited by the British intelligence agency MI6, which persuaded him to take an active part in demonstrations against Serbian aggression in Bosnia and even sent him to Kosovo to join the jihad. At some point, he probably became a rogue or double agent.

The local media is discussing the possibility that Omar would use evidence from President Musharraf’s memoirs to save himself from the hangman."

There are those who might doubt the word of Musharraf, and who can blame them? But in fact I documented Omar Sheikh Saeed's simultaneous intelligence connections to the CIA, ISI and MI6 in The War on Truth and The London Bombings. Details have come forth from an intriguing combination of American, British and Pakistani government sources.

Readers of my 7/7 work will begin to see an unnervingly familiar pattern here. As I explained on "Generation 7/7", a Channel 4 learning documentary that has been aired several times since the 7/7 anniversary (including last week), the suspected 7/7 mastermind al-Qaeda fixer Haroon Rashid Aswat is also an MI6 double agent according to American intelligence officials. When former Justice Department prosecutor John Loftus came on Fox News last year and revealed the extent to which MI6 had been protecting Aswat from our own police services and the CIA, the official story shifted suddenly and inexplicably. Police spokesmen, who had previously described in detail the telephone records of Aswat's extensive conversations with alleged chief London bomber Mohammed Sidique Khan, summarily denied that Aswat had any connection at all to 7/7. The shift in reporting happened precisely to conceal the embarrassing revelation that the failure to apprehend Aswat, was due to the active obstruction of attempts to apprehend him, by our very own MI6.

As Michael Meacher MP also noted, the subject of Musharraf's revelations -- Ahmed Omar Sheikh Saeed -- may well have also been connected to the planning of the 7/7 atrocities. He notes "reports from Pakistan" suggesting "that Sheikh continues to be active from jail, keeping in touch with friends and followers in Britain." Although this is hardly surprising, given Sheikh's incestuous relationship with Pakistani military-intelligence, it is utterly disturbing. Why do our governments continue to refuse to investigate this issue?

26 September 2006

Biting Mangos... and Bullets: from Bradford to Bangladesh -- a Tribute to my Uncle

Over the weekend, I had travelled down to join a panel of media experts and film-makers at the annual "Bite the Mango" Bradford Film Festival at the National Museum of Photography, Film and Television. Our panel hosted two seminars at the Festival, the first on 'Faith in Film', and the other on 'Representation of Muslims in Media'. I was invited at the last minute in a frantic telephone call from one of the coordinators of the festival, and drove down with my family on Friday so that I could arrive comfortably in time for the Saturday morning workshops.

Among the issues I discussed in the Q & A sessions was Home Secretary John Reid's face-off with self-styled "radical cleric" Abu Izzadeen, where Reid took it upon himself to warn Muslim parents to watch out for "signs" of their children turning into dangerous extremists. Izzadeen's heckling diatribe in response, was followed by more heckling diatribe from Anjem Choudray. Reid pointed at the conduct of these two imbeciles as proof of his point.

In reality, the very fact that Izzadeen and Choudray are free to run around heckling a British Minister is precisely the evidence that disproves Reid's Islamophobic attempt to pin responsibility for terrorist-extremism on Muslim parents.

Both these individuals are notorious extremists affiliated to the proscribed al-Muhajiroun network linked to al-Qaeda and chaired by Omar Bakri Mohammed, a network re-named as the Saved Sect and then Al-Ghurabaa. Despite apparent proscription, the group's key members and activities operate intact, quite unhindered. To date, the government refuses to arrest and prosecute these individuals in spite of their repeated violations of British law, including incitement to violence, racial hatred and terrorism, and in particular despite their open admission of engaging in terrorist-training with confessed intent to target Britain.

Consider Izadeen's statement a week after 9/11 cited on p. 77 of my book, The London Bombings: "There are a sizeable number of Moslems undergoing military training in the UK... If America decides to bomb Afghanistan, then we'll wake up. If they're going to attack Afghanistan then what's my duty? It's going to be a new chapter." The day after, his colleague Zahir Khan told an al-Muhajiroun meeting in Birmingham that: "If Britain helped attack Afghanistan, it would be allowable for Moslems to attack military targets in Britain."

A Sunday Times investigation recorded Izzadeen's declaration to a group of teenagers on 2nd July 2005, that it was imperative for Muslims to “instil terror into the hearts of the kuffar”, and indeed that: “I am a terrorist. As a Muslim of course I am a terrorist.” Claiming to have engaged in military training in Pakistan, he said he did not want to go to Allah while sleeping in his bed “like an old woman”. Instead: “I want to be blown into pieces with my hands in one place and my feet in another.” That was five days before the 7/7 atrocities.

Six months before the London terror strikes, Izzadeen's mentor, Omar Bakri, had delivered a fatawa over the internet urging British Muslims to join a global al-Qaeda jihad. He explicitly described Britain as a legitimate target, condoned the killing of civilians, and condemned the British government's deployment of anti-terrorist legislation -- which had been used not long before to arrest Bakri's close associate Abu Hamza, whose trial was scheduled for 7th July 2005.
But the British government wasn't interested in investigating Bakri. Instead they allowed him to travel to Lebanon, upon which they debarred him from returning to the UK, and thus ensured that he is permanently outside British jurisdiction. Meanwhile, Bakri himself -- who continues to indoctrinate and guide a small circle of extremist fixers in the UK -- boasts that he is regularly called in for questioning about terror-related issues by the Lebanese on behalf of the British government -- a matter on which the Foreign Office has "no comment".

And of course, Reid wouldn't want us to consider the role of MI6 in the mid-1990s in actively using Omar Bakri, Abu Hamza and suspected 7/7 mastermind Haroon Rashid Aswat to recruit British Muslims to go fight in Kosovo, as reported by multiple American and French intelligence sources cited in the New Criminologist, and elsewhere. Reid's reluctance to take serious, meaningful legal action against Bakri's boys, like Izadeen and Choudray, does not square with his eagerness to blame Muslim parents for the same failure.

That was the thrust of my observations on this televised debacle at the film festival.

We got back from Bradford on Sunday evening. I had forgotten my mobile at home, and had a backlog of messages, one from my Dad, so I called him back. He had very bad news.

My uncle in Bangladesh had been shot on Saturday morning while I was speaking on my panel in Bradford. A nationally-respected professor of political science at Dhaka University, Dr. Aftab Ahmed, had been attacked in his own home on the university premises by unidentified gun-men, who had pushed their way into the apartment and shot him four times at close range in the upper body, in the presence of his wife (my aunt) and 9-year old disabled daughter (my cousin).
This evening, at around 8 pm, my Dad called to let me know that my uncle passed away earlier this morning. He had been recently demoted from a government-appointed post as Vice-Chancellor at Bangladesh's National University. In that position, he had tackled entrenched issues of political corruption and bribery, the legacy of the previous Allawi League government, when hundreds of university staff had been systematically recruited solely for their political support of the govt, as opposed to their merits as teachers. In a politically explosive and unpopular move, he had fired all staff recruited on the basis of corruption and moved to revitalize academic standards in university recruitment.

This wasn't the first time my uncle had made enemies. He was well-known as a Marxist dissident, and had often been imprisoned by previous governments for his loud opposition and participation in demonstrations and strikes. In 1995, he co-authored a powerful critique of the lack of accountability Bangladesh's purportedly democratic institutions, warning of "the intransigent attitude of the bureaucracy" and highlighting "the lack of willingness and ability ofMPs to seriously enquire into government policies and operations."

In another notorious episode, my uncle had made a few off-hand televised remarks suggesting the Bangladeshi national anthem be amended for a new time, and to give new impetus to the people. He was harshly criticized by hardline nationalists in a concerted campaign that almost lost him his job. But such things never bothered him.

My uncle was a courageous academic who stuck by his principles, and spoke what he believed. For unswervingly doing what he was convinced was just, he was murdered in a brutal assassination, unprecedented in the history of Bangladesh. As the world turns and the newsbites chatter, I pray for uncle's soul, and hope that his legacy of political activism on behalf of freedom and, always, against oppression and corruption, will be carried forward in Bangladesh, this beleaguered icon of Third World devastation from which I am descended. To those out there who believe, please pray with me.

East Timor, Genocide and Humanitarian Hubris

I've just had an article printed in Entelequia: revista interdisciplinar (no. 2, 2006), a peer-reviewed Spanish interdisciplinary social science journal published by the University of Malaga, on our "humanitarian" policy in East Timor over the last few decades, including the UN intervention of the late 1990s.

Although Australia's military intervention in East Timor in May 2006 raised obvious questions about western humanitarian motives, those of us familiar with the documented record of western interventionism in the region would not be surprised. My Entelequia piece is titled "Humanitarian Intervention in East Timor: A Critical Appraisal", and offers a historically-grounded critique of the idea that what we did in East Timor is "humanitarian" in any meaningful sense of the term. On the contrary, East Timor was the genocidal outcome of imperial logic at its finest.

After exploring a few of the theoretical issues in defining "humanitarian intervention", I apply the theory to the realities of what happened in East Timor in the context of our relations with Indonesia. It's a grim story of how Britain, the United States and Australia aided and abetted acts of genocide against the Timorese people, all the way until the 1999 UN intervention. The willingness of western power to deploy itself in the slaughter of hundreds and thousands of innocent civilians, all in the service of corporate-strategic interests, should not be forgotten. The ability to do so while deploying the mainstream media to effectively generate exactly the opposite simulacra of events, is also hugely instructive.

Our leaders are quite used to portraying imperial genocide as an act of the highest humanitarian benevolence, an institutionalized political habit that betrays the disturbing dark side of western civilization. This global imperial system, which routinely engages in state-terrorism to protect and perpetuate its own operation, is on no moral high ground.

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