tag: Terrorism

Mar 2008

Official: terrorism = Islamic terrorism

As you may have read, a small bomb exploded in New York’s Times Square early this morning. It went off in an army recruitment centre, but thankfully nobody was present at the time and there are no reports of any injuries. There seems little doubt that the bomb was planted there and detonated deliberately (i.e. there’s no suggestion that the building contained any US military hardware that may have malfunctioned and exploded).

And yet…

White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said the bombing did not appear to be an act of terrorism but the investigation was in its early stages.

I was under the impression that anonymously planting bombs in public / government buildings and then setting them off, would automatically come under the heading of “terrorism” (even if it was being done by some lone — white christian — nutter with a grudge against the government). Perhaps I’m missing something here, but the only way I can interpret the White House statement is by assuming the authorities have reason to believe that the bomber was not an Islamist extremist, and therefore not a terrorist.

Leave a comment  |  Posted in: Opinion

Dec 2007

Climate Change: A thought-experiment

First up, a cautionary note; this blog post may end up somewhere a wee bit extreme. I’d like to stress that it’s a thought-experiment and I’m certainly not proposing policy here. Thankfully my readership is small and consists almost entirely of members of the choir, so there’s little chance of misinterpretation and/or accusations of apologism for terrorism.

Secondly, let’s state an assumption. If you don’t share this assumption, then the question raised by this thought-experiment isn’t really aimed at you (though you may wish to pay attention to how others respond — not here but in general — over the next few years).

The assumption: Climate Change is a reality. The emission of large quantities of ‘greenhouse gasses’ (primarily, though not exclusively CO2) by human civilisation is resulting in a warming of the atmosphere. This warming is having a whole bunch of both predictable (melting polar ice) and unpredictable (shifting weather patterns) effects. But given just the predictable effects of atmospheric warming, we have good reason to expect significant death and destruction as a direct result.

[Note: for brevity, when capitalised, “Climate Change” specifically refers to ‘anthropogenic climate change’]

Anyway that’s the assumption. If you don’t share it, then could I ask you to perhaps hold off with your objections for a while? I’m writing a piece specifically on the subject of Climate Change Denial and I don’t want to get into it here. For this piece, we’re running with the assumption.

We’re Looking Out For The Whales

Merrick recently drew my attention to news that a Norwegian whaling vessel had been sunk by anti-whaling activists. I firmly believe that most of my readers will whisper a quiet “nice one!” when reading that story. The activists scuttled the ship while nobody was aboard, and did it in such a way that it took four hours to sink, so even if someone had been, the chances of them being in any real danger was negligible. It’s a perfect piece of non-violent direct action and I believe most people who oppose whaling would consider it quite legitimate. If I’m wrong about that then I guess it makes my views more extreme than I imagined, and it also makes the rest of this blog post entirely irrelevant. Sorry about that.

It goes without saying that I’m using a specific definition of “non-violent” action here. Clearly there’s a definition of the word “violent” that includes property damage. But I’m appealing to that a long-established principle within political activism that presumes ‘the tools of tyranny’ to be fair game. And yes, there are those who argue that “the police force” or “the army” or “management” are actually ‘tools of tyranny’, but as I understand it and use it here, non-violent political action includes a clear prohibition on interpersonal violence; “no action aimed at (or that has a significant likelihood of) causing physical harm to people”.

So yeah, assuming I’m not wrong, and most people see the anti-whaling action as legitimate, it raises an awkward question for me. Give it some thought, always bearing in mind the following three items:

  1. the unprecedented death and destruction that will result should we be insufficiently aggressive in tackling the threat of Climate Change;
  2. the outcome of the Ploughshares Legal Case, where peace activists wrecked a military aircraft built by BAe for the Indonesian airforce, but were acquitted in a British court when they successfully argued they were “preventing a greater crime”;
  3. the anti-whaling action mentioned above, where property destruction was achieved without endangering people, and which I contest most readers will feel is legitimate (on whatever “gut level” personal morality works).

The question is actually pretty obvious isn’t it? Context is everything, and by placing next to one another those three mildly controversial points, I pose a highly controversial dilemma. Specifically: are civil airliners, when grounded for maintenance (read, and take seriously, my previous point regarding non-violent direct action), entirely legitimate targets for acts of sabotage? And I’m talking here about legally legitimate as well as ethically. Combine items 1 and 2, above.

The Irish government, for instance, claims to accept the findings of the IPCC. However, the policies being implemented by our new greener government don’t even begin to reflect this. The same can be said of almost every government.

So if I can demonstrate (by the government’s own words) that Climate Change is a massive threat. If I can prove beyond question that current policies do not address the threat. Then if I show up at an aircraft maintenance facility and damage a 737 beyond repair, have I not done something both ethically and legally acceptable? Better yet, what if I and 5000 of my friends show up and wreck the entire facility? How can the destruction of commercial aircraft not be seen as direct action against Climate Change… as an attempt to prevent a greater crime?

Now, my suspicion is that while almost all of you were with me on the whaling ship thing, that I may have lost a few with the mass assault on the assets of the airline industry. It seems strangely less reasonable when it’s something familiar to us, something part of our lives, even though it may objectively be doing more damage. So it’s with some trepidation that I propose my real question…

Why stop with the planes… what about parked cars?

13 comments  |  Posted in: Opinion

Jun 2006

Thoughts on the report of a massacre

I was watching the TV news last night. From the Middle East came yet another horror story to chill the blood of anyone with an ounce of empathy or compassion. On the BBC website the story is headlined, Hamas militants vow to end truce. The wording of the headline angers me, although the events reported anger me far more.

There’s a trend among right wing mouthbreathers to insist that the BBC has a significant bias against Israel when discussing the Israeli / Palestinian situation. This trend is perhaps exemplified by Biased BBC but by no means confined to them (anyone citing Melanie Phillips as an authority rather than a cautionary example clearly isn’t receiving the medication they require).

I doubt, for instance, that the next deplorable act of Palestinian terrorism will be reported beneath the headline “Israeli army vows new airstrikes”. I suspect, rather, that the headline will quite rightly call attention to the innocent children murdered. So why is a report – the primary content of which is the murder of a Palestinian family by the Israeli military – headlined by a threat of violence from Palestinians?

Hamas news clipping

Perhaps there’s another story somewhere on the BBC site beneath the headline “Israeli military shells Palestinian children”, but if so it’s well hidden. Unlike the one on the site front page.

I’m also somewhat irate about the use of the phrase “apparent Israeli shelling”. I understand of course, that so soon after a chaotic event such as this, there can be no official confirmation of the causes. No investigations have been carried out, no forensic teams have reported their findings from the scene. But within minutes of a suicide bombing, the word “apparent” is dropped from reports. Certainly long before the Israeli government gives its official reaction.

This is because it is obviously a suicide bombing. Eye witnesses confirm it, and the aftermath tells its own story. Is there a tacit assumption that Palestinian eye witnesses just aren’t as reliable as their Israeli counterparts? Is there any reason at all to believe that the Palestinians killed had set up a makeshift bomb-factory on the beach (I’ll bet the sand plays merry hell with the microswitches) and they were a victim of their own murderous intentions? Any evidence that the eye-witnesses who talk about an incoming shell are deliberately covering up the truth?

Certainly the television news made it clear that there was some confusion as to whether the shell came from a naval gunship a few miles offshore, or whether it was army artillery to blame, but there seems no doubt that it was a shell from the Israeli military. It appears that…

For many months, the Israelis have regularly shelled open areas such as fields and orchards in an effort to prevent Palestinian militants using them to fire their home-made missile into crudely made missiles into nearby Israeli territory.

I wonder what the life-expectancy of Palestinian fruit farmers is? (And yes, I know that BBC quote is awful copywriting / editing)

Statistically speaking that’s a policy guaranteed – over a long enough timescale – to result in events like yesterday’s massacre. Whether it’s faulty mechanical equipment or human error, if you spend several months shelling areas, some of your explosives are going to stray off course. It’s what the perpetrators euphemistically refer to as “collateral damage”. What Condi described as “tactical errors”. What many moral philosophers and legal experts would describe as “murder”.

How’s this for a defence in court… “well yes, your honour, I did regularly fire my machinegun into the loft of my neighbour’s house. You see, he sometimes uses that loft to shoot at me. Unfortunately I wasn’t paying enough attention yesterday and sprayed the floor below it with bullets instead. I’m sorry to say that his lodger and her 3 year old daughter were killed. But really, what else am I supposed to do? Killing some of my innocent neighbours is the only way to ensure that my family remains safe.”

For me, blowing up someone else’s child in order to reduce the risk to your own is not an acceptable way to act.

The attitude we adopt toward the Arab minority will provide the real test of our moral standards as a people.
– Albert Einstein

There can be little question that the Israeli people are failing that test.

1 comment  |  Posted in: Opinion

Apr 2006

The shareef don’t like it

London Calling banned by SOCA
British anti-terrorism detectives escorted a man from a plane after a taxi driver had earlier become suspicious when he started singing along to a track by punk band The Clash, police said on Wednesday.

Leave a comment  |  Posted in: Opinion

Apr 2006

John Reid

Note: This essay was about twice as long as it currently is. Unfortunately (depending on your point of view) there was a big cut’n’paste farrago resulting in the second half getting deleted. This means there’s a whole chunk of the argument just missing, as well as the dissection of much of Reid’s speech. It’s way too late to rewrite it tonight, and I’m almost certain I’ll not have the enthusiasm for a rewrite in the near future… so you’ll have to make do with half an essay. I think I made a couple of relevant points in the first half though.

The blogosphere… or leastways, the bit I flap about in, has lately been buzzing with talk of John Reid’s recent speech to the Royal United Services Institute for Defence and Security Studies (RUSI). The mainstream media (MSM) have covered it of course, but predictably with little gusto. Thankfully, as the MSM become less and less relevant – all parroting the same corporate line, shifted slightly left or right depending upon the pretensions of the editor – it provides space for truly fine writers to fill (rather than truly adequate copywriters). Unpaid writers who are willing to spend the time and energy to genuinely educate and inform their readers. To critique and analyse an issue, rather than providing a 500 word puff-piece in return for a paycheque. Bloggers who – by virtue of having a smaller, but more interested readership – don’t have to dumb down a point or follow an editorial policy that always has one eye on advertising revenue. So on the issue of the Defence Secretary’s disturbing speech, I recommend you check out the following pieces…

Dr. Reid has responded to the mild criticism he received from some elements of the MSM by pathetically mewling about being taken “out of context”. This was a familiar cry up until a few years ago. But since the late 1990s, it’s generally been possible for anyone interested to get hold of a complete copy of a recent speech within a few minutes. The internet has – in some respects – turned soundbite culture on its head. Context can be fully restored by those who choose to do so. Sadly, I’m not sure many people do. Anyways, it clearly isn’t a lesson that John Reid has learnt too well. The full text of his speech is – by itself – more damning than anything being said about him in the MSM.

Now, the speech is quite long and – by and large – pretty dull. But I still feel it’s worth a read-through for those interested in the topic. Because the juicy bits are really juicy. He clearly – albeit euphemistically – calls for torture and internment to be accepted as valid weapons in The War Against Terror. That a man with such beliefs is Defence Secretary tells you all you need to know about the current British government. This is a morally bankrupt regime and – viewed objectively – bears chilling similarities to the recently deposed regime in Iraq.

Both are willing to kill (and support the killing of) non-combatants en masse in order to achieve their stated political aims. Both are willing to wage pre-emptive war against another nation to further their political agenda. And now it seems, both will use indefinite internment without trial and even torture to achieve ends it deems as worthy of such tactics. Reid wants to be able to legally rip out fingernails and teeth. To legally boil people alive. And what’s more, he wants to be able to choose who merits such treatment without fear of any consequences to himself.

Dr. Reid begins his lecture by pointing out that he’s not a lawyer…

I am not myself a lawyer but, as a practising politician, I understand how law continues to evolve in response to real changes in the world.

This immediately got me thinking; “If he’s not a lawyer, then I wonder what he is? What’s he a doctor of?” A couple of clicks later and it turns out that he’s an historian. BA and MA in history, PhD in Economic History (I valiantly resist the urge to go off on a tangent about how “economic history” is a redundancy).

The guy is a comic genius though… moments after drawing my attention to the fact that he’s an historian, he launches into some of the most absurd historical revisionism I’ve ever heard. It seems he takes his own maxim seriously…

I always believed socialists, or indeed any rational person, should be revisionist on principle.
Dr. John Reid

Can anyone tell me exactly why the following analysis of where The Geneva Conventions (the basic international laws which cover warfare) came from might be considered a tad opportunistic…

For centuries conflict between tribes, cities and states was completely unbridled and savage. Very gradually, mankind developed a range of conventions that they applied to constrain and moderate what is in essence a brutal activity.

Eventually, these agreements became rules, which became laws. Much has been achieved in current legal frameworks. But warfare continues to evolve, and, in its moral dimensions, we have now to cope with a deliberate regression towards barbaric terrorism by our opponents.

Uh-huh… subtle isn’t it? Despite his protestations, politics has clearly made the man more lawyer than historian. Reid is – I believe deliberately – casting The Geneva Conventions as simply the latest iteration in an ongoing process to define the rules of warfare. He is drawing an imaginary line from Sun Tzu through Hugo Grotius in the 1600s and then to the first Geneva Convention in 1864. It’s incredibly misleading. And, as I say, opportunistic. By spinning this web of false history, Reid paints The Geneva Conventions as merely a set of rules which require constant updating as war evolves.

It is true that they are that. But they are not “merely” that. The first Geneva Convention was drafted and signed thanks to the work of the remarkable Henry Dunant, founder of The International Red Cross. It essentially laid out rules for the treatment of injured or sick people during wartime. Later conventions covered the treatment of civilians during wartime and the treatment of prisoners of war.

These are not merely iterations of the rules of war. They constitute both a moral and legal code. A vital difference. And it places a strict obligation on those who wish to act in a legally and morally responsible manner.

Furthermore, what Dr. Reid chooses to overlook is that the modern Geneva Conventions aren’t merely a further iteration of the codes of behaviour which preceded them. They are the result of a four-month long convention in 1949 in which the nations of the world; horrified by the recent world war and the Nazi regime’s treatment of certain groups, and perhaps equally horrified at the thought of a future filled with nuclear bombs; gathered together and set down the moral code by which all future conflicts had to be settled.

This wasn’t “tweaking the rules” in order to take into account the new technology of warfare, or the particular tactics employed by The Enemy. This was an understanding that the barbarism of Germany in the 30s and 40s must never be allowed to occur again. It made a clear statement of right and wrong. The rules Dr. Reid seeks to have tweaked, amended or weakened are precisely those rules put in place by humanity to stop people acting like the Nazis.

Reidy then uses a transparent bait and switch. Of course, says he, “our values – of law, democracy, restraint and respect – are at the core of our national beliefs, and even if – as some suggest [yes, you John, you suggest] – they create a short-term tactical disadvantage, they represent a long-term strategic advantage”. Got that everyone? Even though our laws against boiling people alive may present short-term difficulties for those who wish to boil people alive; in the long-term, it’s a good thing we have them.

But within two paragraphs he’s saying…

Historically, of course, laws have always been adapted to better suit the times. When they have become out-dated, or less relevant, or less applicable to the realities of the day they have been modified or changed. This is true of all laws, domestic or international.

See it? See the switch? The first paragraph talks about “our values – of law, democracy, restraint and respect”. The second one is only talking about “laws”. All we’re doing is changing a few “less relevant laws”. It’s as if he’s saying that a law permitting state torture would have no effect on “our values – of […] democracy, restraint and respect”. Surely he’s not that stupid is he? One of the classes I took when studying philosophy was “Discourse”… Dr. John Reid (an anagram of “John did err” incidentally) would have been laughed out of the room for that one.

That is why I pose three questions about the international legal framework. Put simply, in today’s changed circumstances are we convinced that it adequately covers:

  • the contemporary threat from international terrorists?
  • The circumstances in which states may need to take action in order to avert imminent attack?
  • Those situations where the international community needs to intervene on grounds of overwhelming humanitarian necessity in order to stop internal suppression — mass murder and genocide — as opposed to external aggression?

Before I go any further I want to tackle one of the phrases used by Dr. Reid in the above snippet. Can you guess which one? That’s right…

“today’s changed circumstances”

When Reid says “today’s changed circumstances”, he doesn’t literally mean “today” of course. That would be silly. No, he means “September 11, 2001”. He even says so later in the speech. “September 11, 2001 was”, apparently, “a date which exposed how much [our view of the world] needed to change”. Except it really wasn’t. We’re certainly living in changed times since that day, but entirely thanks to the reaction of western governments. Al Qaeda launched a deadly attack on several buildings and aircraft in the United States. That much is true. But it was us who changed the world. Try not to forget that. As Einstein once remarked, “The release of atomic energy has not created a new problem. It has merely made more urgent the necessity of solving an existing one.”

To me, September 11, 2001 represents a terrible missed opportunity. The problem of radical Islamic terrorism existed prior to 9-11. On 9-12, however, I’d argue that it was at its lowest ebb. Sympathisers are the lifeblood of terrorist organisations. On September 12th 2001, the sympathy of the entire world was with New York. The images we all saw on our screens hit at an emotional level that negated politics for most of us. Those photographs of the young firemen rushing up the stairs into – what we know to be – certain death… I cried my eyes out.

I don’t know what America could have done to best capitalise on the immense goodwill shown towards it by the world back then. But it’s safe to say that what they did do was horribly counterproductive. Islamic terrorism hit British shores as a direct result of UK involvement in US policy. The same is true for Spain. Both Iraq and Afghanistan are in flames and global anti-American feeling is higher than it’s ever been. The people who declared and are running The War Against Terror are patently doing it wrong. They’re making matters far worse. And when those same people suggest that the changes they have wrought in the world require the abandonment of “our values – of law, democracy, restraint and respect”, then it’s probably a bad idea to give them free rein.

Besides, it’s probably a wee bit dodgy for Dr. Reid to be bandying around Geneva Conventions. After all, he may be itching to change them to better suit his desires to rip the fingernails from suspected terrorists, but as of now they are still a legal force to be reckoned with. Leastways in theory. The 4th Convention (the one dealing with the treatment of civilians) states the following…

Persons taking no active part in the hostilities, including members of armed forces who have laid down their arms and those placed hors de combat by sickness, wounds, detention, or any other cause, shall in all circumstances be treated humanely, without any adverse distinction founded on race, colour, religion or faith, sex, birth or wealth, or any other similar criteria.

To this end the following acts are and shall remain prohibited at any time and in any place whatsoever with respect to the above-mentioned persons: (a) violence to life and person, in particular murder of all kinds, mutilation, cruel treatment and torture; (b) taking of hostages; (c) outrages upon personal dignity, in particular humiliating and degrading treatment; (d) the passing of sentences and the carrying out of executions without previous judgment pronounced by a regularly constituted court, affording all the judicial guarantees which are recognized as indispensable by civilized peoples.

Convention IV | Relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War, 12 August 1949.

It’s really quite specific with all that “shall remain prohibited at any time and in any place whatsoever”. So a prize to the first person who can square that clause with the use of cluster bombs.

Like Reid, I am not myself a lawyer but, as a practising human being, I understand that a society which condones torture is a society that has lost its way. The man has clearly spent too long fighting monsters and didn’t heed Nietzsche’s advice to ‘take care lest he thereby become one’.

As Defence Secretary it is John Reid’s job to defend the country and – by extension – its values. It is not acceptable that he seek to alter those values so he can better protect them. Anyone suggesting such a plan is clearly unable to do the job, and must be removed from it as soon as possible.

7 comments  |  Posted in: Opinion