Tag Archives: terrorism

Remembering 7/7

Was it really four years ago? I have two abiding memories of the day.

The first was my journey into work. I got to Finchley Central only to find the trains weren’t working. Grumbled. Jumped on a bus to Golders Green. Got a bus to Golders Green. Got a number 30 once I reached Baker Street. Throughout my bus journey I was sending snarky text messages about the uselessness of public transport. It was only a little further down the road that I got a panicky phone call from my girlfriend ordering me to get off the bus.

Fortunately it wasn’t that number 30 (indeed I wouldn’t have got the phone call in time if it had been). I carried on my journey to work only to find that the Euston area was completely cordoned off. With no phone reception, I had no idea what was going on at that point. It just seemed surreal.

I do occasionally idly speculate what might have happened if I’d got out of bed half an hour earlier that morning (on a related note, I was meant to be in Manchester city centre performing, um, street theatre, on the morning of 15 June 1996 but decided to have a lie in instead; similarly, I planned to go to the cinema at the Brixton Ritzy on the evening of 15 April 1999 but got sidetracked writing an article – I’ve been a bit of a jammy, if lazy, bugger all told).

Having got to work at last, I monitored the news a bit, spectacularly failed to do anything productive and eventually decided to start the journey home. With the whole tube network out of action, it was no mean feat.

This may not sound like a particularly sensitive thing to say, but my overwhelming sense of the day was quite happy. Seeing the commuting population of a city the size of London walking home, with virtually no traffic, was plain surreal and most of us felt the same way. It was a strangely unifying experience. People were making eye contact and even talking with complete strangers. There was an enormous swell of community spirit.

I’m sure the experience for those more immediately involved in the bombings was nothing like this, but for the rest of us the sense was relief and comaraderie more than panic. It was a unique experience and one I won’t forget.

UPDATE: Hmmm… a little worried this article might make me sound dismissive of all the horror and tragedy of that day. I really don’t mean to sound that way. What I’m trying to get across is that a) I was bloody lucky and b) the bulk of the human race – at least the ones in London – are decent, sensible people who behaved well on that day and gave me a glimmer of hope for humanity more generally.

Calm as Hindu cows

Jonathan Calder and I have a different take on the “Keep Calm and Carry On” phenomenon. I have to admit that until I had read the Guardian article yesterday, this whole thing had passed me by. Now that I am aware, I don’t find it as charming and comforting as some of the commentators do in the piece by Jon Henley.

“Carrying on” is a much overrated concept. The fact is we can’t carry on as we have done for the past twenty, thirty years. The economic collapse was caused by people spending far too much time “keeping calm and carrying on” instead of questioning what they were doing. Climate change is a similar tragedy waiting to happen. In whose interest is all this “calm” supposed to serve?

Jonathan draws a link with the Metropolitian Police’s new anti-terror poster campaign, something which I found myself commenting on as an “expert” on LBC on Monday (I’d put a recording up here, but they’d probably sue me). Where Jonathan sees a change, I see a clear continuity – it’s just that the Met are now being rather less classically understated.

Given that we have not, as far as I’m aware, in a more vulnerable situation than we were six months ago, one has to ask why the police have suddenly come up with this campaign now. Could it, perchance, be related to this “summer of rage” stuff the Met are also pushing at the moment, or the apparent “guerilla” raids anti-globalisation protestors will be deploying during the G20 summit? Is it really about preventing terrorism or ratcheting up the sense of fear on the streets? Are the police really focusing on collecting intelligence about terrorists at the moment, or protestors?

I was shocked to learn the other day that my intern was stopped and questioned by the police under anti-terror legislation on Tuesday because she was waiting on a tube platform and, realising she was early for an appointment, decided not to get on the next train to arrive. She was left intimidated and scared. What was the point of that? Is not getting on a train really potential terrorist activity? Does it help their statistics to arbitrarily pick on white females (as opposed to the black and brown males they usually profile – as another of my colleagues can attest)? Does word getting around of a bit of arbitrary bullying like that help the Met create a heightened sense?

This sort of sneering bullying from the state seems to extend in other areas to. Even the latest Home Office campaign on the new “Policing Pledge” – which is supposed to be about how the public have a right to expect a certain level of service from the police – is being conducted in a vaguely sinister manner. On the back page of the Guardian yesterday was an advert bearing the legend “You have the right not to remain silent” (you may recall that we had the right to silence taken away from us 15 years ago by those great civil libertarians, the Conservative Party last time they were in power). Other slogans used include “We’d like to give you a good talking to” and “Anything you say may be taken down and used as evidence”. Subtext: you are all suspects, fuckers. The most striking thing about this advert was the design they used, which is an explicit homage to “Keep Calm and Carry On.” And so we have come full circle.

The Home Secretary: an unacceptable risk?

I can’t help but feel that this statement reveals all too much about the mental state of our beloved Home Secretary:

Speaking during Home Office questions in the House of Commons, Ms Smith said: “I’ve spoken to him this morning about his comments. I’ve told him that I was surprised and profoundly disappointed by the article reported.”

She added: “I’m sure most people would simply not accept the link that he makes up in his article between horse riding and illegal drug taking.

“For me that makes light of a serious problem, trivialises the dangers of drugs, shows insensitivity to the families of victims of ecstasy and sends the wrong message to young people about the dangers of drugs.”

Ms Smith also said: “I made clear to Professor Nutt that I felt his comments went beyond the scientific advice that I expect of him as the chair of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs.

“He apologised to me for his comments and I’ve asked him to apologise to the families of the victims of ecstasy.”

No-one is questioning the validity of Professor Nutt’s statistics; indeed they are a matter of public record. However, simply mentioning them in the same paragraph is enough to get an “independent” advisor publicly excoriated. Talk about inconvenient truths.

If nothing else sums up madness raging within the Home Office and other government departments then this does the job. Faced with the choice between a hard headed risk assessment and an unquantifiable dread, Jacqui Smith goes for the fear and loathing every time. It reminded me of her petulant whinging at the end of the 42 days debate (which she lost). At least with our war on terror (which of course officially isn’t a war any more), they can hide behind that amorphous thing called “national security”. With the war on drugs (still officially a war as far as I know), she has no such safeguard.

Yet the fact is that you are more likely to die of ecstacy, however low those odds may be, than be killed by a terrorist. Think of all the billions of pounds, all those liberties compromised, all that unneccessary fear aroused, for something that remains an extremely low risk. A something that is intended to spread fear and dread and thus fulfils its objective if governments react in this way.

People die on the roads, fall off horses and die of preventable diseases every day. Smith accuses Prof Nutt of “trivialising” the deaths of ecstacy users, but since when were those deaths more significant than all the others? Ignoring the real risks of drug use (and terrorism) is to fetishise it. If anyone is in the business of trivialising deaths, it is Smith.

Is “42 days” a ruse for something else?

Say what you like about the Labour government, they are experts at the art of splitting the difference. Even when they lose, by and large they win. For example, the existing rules on allowing terrorist suspects to be locked up for 28 days without charge was a “compromise” eked out of the last time they tried getting their 90 days proposal through.

It looks as if the Labour backbenchers are in no mood to fall for that one again and enough of them will join the Lib Dems and Tories to block the 42 days proposal. But is that the whole story? I was not, for example, previously aware that the counter-terrorism bill included scope for Home Secretaries to ban coroner juries with a stroke of a pen in the interests of “national security“. It sounds like a dreadful idea, but in the kerfuffle over 42 days, how much attention will be paid to it? And for that matter, how many other clauses in this bill are we likely to be concerned about?

Could it be that Jacqui Smith is prepared to lose “42 days” so long as the debate surrounding it succeeds in obscuring all the other bad laws she intends to get through the backdoor? Scrutiny in the Lords can only block so much.

V. Brit. Wedge Strategy Redux

Given the furore I caused last week by being rude about nationalists, I was somewhat disappointed that my piece about faith groups earlier in the week didn’t elicit at least one death threat.

However, I am extremely grateful to Jim Denham for providing me with some info on the ‘moderate’ Islamic scholar Azzam Tamimi, which has lead me to this story:

At the last Stop the War event, a Palestinian born Muslim scholar, Dr Azzam Tamimi of the MAB promised to give Israel “hell” in response to its military action.

Dr Tamimi, a supporter of Hizbullah, caused controversy in 2005 when he told the BBC that he supported Hamas suicide bombing and said he was willing to carry out a suicide mission himself.

Isn’t it a bit worrying that the rhetoric of a man like that is virtually indistinguishable from that of senior Anglican clerics?


You’ve got to be pretty bloody barking to be able to make Jack Straw look like a liberal by comparison. Fortunately however, we have Tory MPs Julian Lewis and Liam Fox. This pair of halfwits are calling for the BBC to be bitchslapped over their decision to broadcast an interview with a Taliban leader.

I watched that interview. It was part of a piece that was very sympathetic to the British troops in Helmand province. It illustrated only too well of the sort of people they are up against. How Lewis and Fox thought this equated to broadcasting terrorist propaganda is anyone’s guess.

It brings back memories of the 1980s when the Tories banned Sinn Fein’s voices from being broadcast, leading to all the news agencies broadcasting footage of Gerry Adams and co with their voices dubbed by actors. Utter moronic, and illiberal, stupidity.

This isn’t just some dinosaur backbencher spouting off. This is Cameron’s hand-picked defence spokesperson. This is what Cameronian Conservativism is all about: be nice to gays (although not that nice), but ban freedom of the press. And chocolate oranges of course.

How far is too far?

I haven’t blogged about the situation in Lebanon, but that isn’t to say it hasn’t been constantly on my mind. The problem is, how do you articulate a position without instantly being jumped on by either side? As with Iraq, for so many people there is no space for nuance.

But I will say this: I have constantly hit out at people who tend to make excuses for terrorism. When Jenny Tonge made fatuous remarks about how she would have been a suicide bomber if she was Palestinian, I was one of the first to criticise, just as I was earlier this year when Chris Davies made similar comments. But it does amaze me how certain people who have been quick to attack such comments seem blind to the fact that it does work both ways.

Israel’s attack on Lebanon was by no means unprovoked but it has resulted in something like 10 Lebanese deaths for every 1 Israeli. The Israeli reaction to claims that this is disproportionate is “what would you have done?” But this sounds just a little too much like the rote of “something must be done” > “this is something” > “therefore it must be done.” Are we really to believe that there is no such thing as going too far?

Israel can’t expect us to sympathise with its right to defend itself, however disproportionately, and then expect us to condemn Palestinians or Hizbullah for reacting in the same disproportionate manner.

Conspiratorial Pots and Kettles

Another incoherent article in the Observer by Nick Cohen again this week. The man truly is hopelessly confused.

This week he manages to conflate people who see Zionist conspiracies in everything with people who believe in the conspiracy theory (for that is what it is) that al-Qaeda is a SMERSH-style international organisation with Osama Bin Laden sitting there in his cave in Northern Pakistan plotting their every move (presumably complete with white Persian sitting on his lap).

Although I must admit to not having seen Adam Curtis’ Power of Nightmares, my understanding of his thesis is not that terrorists identifying themselves as al-Qaeda don’t exist, but that there is no “organisation” called al-Qaeda as such. Indeed, that is both their strength (hard to eradicate fully) and weakness (can only ever pick away at targets without ever really damaging infrastructure in a meaningful way).

As Max Hastings puts it in today’s Guardian, this grand conspiracy theory – shared by busom buddies Nick Cohen and George Bush – has the perverse effect of equating the Palestinian struggle – people with a legitimate grievance even if groups such as Hamas go the wrong way about it – with people who are completely beyond the pale, cannot be reasoned with and who are committed to the total destruction of our way of life. In the past, international diplomacy would have been dedicated to driving a wedge between these groupings; Bush’s strategy over the last few years has been to drive them together.