Posts Tagged ‘terrorism’

Horrible things are happening in France.

It’s really not a useful function of this blog to tell you about that. Other, better people have already given you much more useful detail about what’s going on, and I’m no better at picking the accurate and useful details apart from the misinformation and speculation than you are. All I can be is one more futile voice in the crowd, agreeing that it’s horrible when horrible things happen, and we all feel bad.

My one-time secondary blog would be relevant here. If we want to change things, to effect a world less imbued with anger and violence, less susceptible to such an apparent onslaught of attacks and hatred, a good place to start is to examine attitudes to the Other. To try to understand how tribalistic tendencies nurture fear and contempt toward those who, for whatever reason, don’t feel like “one of us”.

And god knows there are plenty of opinions on display at the moment about the Other, and their role in this latest tragedy.

For some, the Other is the Infidel, who refuses to submit to the true way through an inherent grotesqueness that makes them less than human. They deserve nothing less than death, and to serve as a message to the rest of the world.

For many, the Other is the kind of inhuman monster who could commit violence like this against innocent people. Examination of the mindset that could lead to such acts is therefore of no interest. They’re awful, broken people, the ones who did this awful thing, and deserve no sympathy. And maybe this means that some other folk who share some characteristics with the awful, broken people – their religion, say – are necessarily awful and broken too. They might not want to think that. But it seeps through.

For a tragically visible number, the Other is a big collective mass of Everyone Who’s A Bit Different From Me And Is To Blame For This Somehow. Refugees, whose camps are reportedly being burned. Muslims, who are already defending themselves against exactly this type of entirely predictable slur. People with suspiciously dark skin. You know, that lot. You know who I mean. Obviously these groups of individuals are all loosely connected at best, but who cares about nuance and meaningful distinctions when we’re under attack by Them.

For me, primarily, the Other is people who, at times like these, talk about the need to close ranks and close borders, to crack down on all those foreigners coming over here bring all their terrorism with them, to solve intolerance with intolerance, to face hate with hate. The Other is loudly proclaiming how a mercilessly authoritarian approach is the only appropriate response to atrocities like this, and that there’s no time for bleeding-heart lefty ideas like “free speech” and “compassion” when we need to make sure our people are safe.

Humanity and love for the Other: it’s a tough job, but someone’s everyone’s got to do it.

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“The FBI encouraged and sometimes even paid Muslims to commit terrorist acts during numerous sting operations after the 9/11 attacks,” begins an article which gets no less fucking appalling as you read on.

Not for the first time, and to the surprise of nobody who’s paying attention, the FBI are exacerbating and assisting violent and destructive extremism, under the guise of fighting some sort of ideological war against it.

And, as is also frighteningly common, it’s not hard to imagine how few people need to be actually evil for it to get like this. The way their incentives were set up, it just made sense at the time for everyone to behave in destructive, damaging, hurtful ways. In which sense the feds in question really aren’t very different from the fanatics against whom they claim to stand in opposition.

I wonder what it takes to allow this sort of structured and systematised monstrousness to come into being under your watch. Whether it requires a special kind of incompetence or malice somewhere near the top of the chain, or whether this is just how things will inevitably turn out for any society that fetishises law enforcement as much as the modern USA.

When society has decided that an entrenched institution of authority must be respected, and revered, and paid homage to, because of its position at the top of the hierarchy, rather than continuously scrutinized, criticised, satirised, and questioned, in an effort to counteract the further concentration of power lest said power be deployed against us – maybe you don’t need to add outright evil or incompetence to the mix to end up with an organisation indistinguishable from terrorists.

Fuck the police. Fuck the feds. And no apologies for picking a title for this post which would fit better on some hipster douchebag pseudo-rebel’s t-shirt.

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Here’s a fun game. See if you can tell what the following things have in common:

  • Prolonged isolation
  • Deprivation of light
  • Extreme variations in temperature
  • Death threats
  • Shackling and manacling for hours at a time
  • Noxious fumes that caused pain to eyes and nose
  • Denial of medical care for serious and potentially life-threatening ailments, including chest pain and difficulty breathing, as well as for treatment of the chronic, extreme pain caused by being forced to endure stress positions, resulting in severe and continuing mental and physical harm, pain, and profound disruption of the senses and personality

Any ideas? I’ll give you a hint.

Imagine that you were taken somewhere and incarcerated against your will, without being accused of any specific crime, but just because it’s been decided that you’re a bad sort. You don’t get a trial, or any legal recourse, and you’re put through all the things listed above.

If you had to describe your ordeal to somebody else later, what word might you use? Just a one-word summary to really get across the scope of how much you’d been made to suffer. “I was… somethinged.” What’d be a good word to fit there?

If you said “tortured”, congratulations, you might just be a reasonable human being. But in this case, sadly, you’re out of luck. This is actually a partial list of “things that government officials could do to an American citizen and still claim later that they didn’t know they were ‘torturing’ that citizen.”

“Torture”? How dare you accuse the greatest nation on Earth of such barbarism? Why do you hate America?

(via BoingBoing)

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I’ve not got a lengthy piece of my own for you about the “rogue US soldier” who recently massacred sixteen people in Kandahar. But here are some things I’ve read which I think you should also read, and which should give you a flavour of my own feelings on the matter.

Farzana Versey
Afghan Youth Peace Volunteers
Center for a Stateless Society
Practical Doubt

Also, Mitchell and Webb bring up an awkward question that perhaps America would do well to start asking themselves:


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Firstly, if you want a more authoritative source than some YouTube video for the details of civilians killed in deliberate drone attacks by the US military, here’s Glenn Greenwald in Salon, and here’s the report he references by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism.

The CIA’s drone campaign in Pakistan has killed dozens of civilians who had gone to help rescue victims or were attending funerals, an investigation by the Bureau for the Sunday Times has revealed.

The findings are published just days after President Obama claimed that the drone campaign in Pakistan was a ‘targeted, focused effort’ that ‘has not caused a huge number of civilian casualties.’

But research by the Bureau has found that since Obama took office three years ago, between 282 and 535 civilians have been credibly reported as killed including more than 60 children. A three month investigation including eye witness reports has found evidence that at least 50 civilians were killed in follow-up strikes when they had gone to help victims.

So, there’s that.

But perhaps more pertinently: Where do you go from here? If you’ve seen enough now to believe that Obama is essentially morally corrupt, and that he has every intention to continue with this slaughter of innocents for as long as it’s politically expedient, how do we change that? Vote him out after he’s had his four years and replace him with somebody we’ll expect to do better? Remember how well that worked once we finally got rid of Bush.

Answers on a postcard.

For extra credit: Imagine all the hundreds of people killed by the American military in the manner described above were terrorists, despots, and other violent oppressors of liberty. Would it then be morally permissible – or even necessary – to have conducted such attacks, and to continue doing so wherever there might be more bad guys out there who we’re able to blow up? Or is it still wrong?

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– Are you agnostic, atheist, or something else? Zach Weiner has thoughts that are worth reading.

– Prepare to be astonished: Richard Littlejohn’s lying again. I hope you prepared yourself or the shock might have injured you.

– How many times have you heard someone utter a phrase like “Knock ’em dead!” in casual encouragement to cheer someone on? I imagine a few times, but they were probably white so it was okay. If you’re one of those darkie Muslims, though, blowing away the competition is basically terrorism.

– Is Obama sincere in his Christianity, or not? Panderer or pastor, there’s no reason for atheists to be behind him.

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You know when Irish rock band U2 released an album titled How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb?

You remember how they were then arrested and spent several years in Guantanamo Bay under suspicion of possessing illegal fissile material and intent to tamper with restricted government nuclear facilities?

No, you probably don’t. One reason why you don’t remember this is that nobody ever really suspected them of any kind of dangerous or unlawful activities relating to weapons of mass destruction.

It may have been possible that this album title was a surprisingly overt expression of a malicious intent to commit a terrorist act, made by individuals whom nobody has ever had any other reason to suspect.

But it’s more likely that they had their own, more benign reasons for using that particular combination of words, in a way that wasn’t quite literal.

In fact it’s a lot more likely. It probably never even occurred to anyone to weigh up the respective probabilities. They didn’t even waste time investigating the potential nuclear threat, because it was so vanishingly remote.

Unfortunately, that wisdom is something we seem to have lost in recent years.

Otherwise, when a British guy called Leigh joked on Twitter about “diggin’ Marilyn Monroe up” and his plans to “destroy America”, he and the friend he was travelling with wouldn’t have been handcuffed and detained overnight on arrival in the US before being denied entry and sent back home.

Even after five hours of questioning (and a night sharing a cell with Mexican drug dealers), they had still failed to explain the notion of “humour” to airport officials. Their interrogators didn’t find any grave-digging shovels in the tourists’ possession (and yes, apparently they checked), or anything else to suggest that they might have been doing anything other than hyperbolically discussing their party plans. But it was still deemed safest not to let them in.

The phrase I’ve heard that most pithily sums up the problem here, to my mind, is “Suspicion Fail“. The criteria for valid suspicion outlined in that post make sense: you should only view a person’s behaviour as suspicious if it is consistent with “bad” behaviour (such as intent to commit a crime), and inconsistent with innocent behaviour.

In the case of the “destroy America” tweets, these guidelines were not followed with any competence. Anyone who understands anything at all about the way people talk in casual conversation, and the flippancy and inconsequentiality that characterises a significant proportion of Twitter usage, could tell you that this guy’s tweets were entirely consistent with someone innocent of any terrorist intent.

If you are determined to take things that literally, all the time, regardless of the context, in the hope of catching the very occasional terrorist, then if you cast your net widely enough you are inevitably going to achieve a false positive rate which does more damage to society than any atrocity you manage to prevent.

And by the way, if you think what happened is made slightly less unconscionable because the joke tweet in question “wasn’t funny”, then congratulations, you don’t understand anything about anything.

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– No, it’s not Blue Monday. And if you’re using that nonsense as anything other than an excuse to break out some New Order LPs and go on a nostalgia binge, you’re doing it wrong.

– The TSA has compiled a list of its best “catches” – that is, people detained by their security staff at airports – in 2011. The ratio of thwarted terrorists to harassed innocent citizens… may surprise you.

– Just the words “arrested on secret evidence” should make this seem like a seriously bad idea, even before you get to the torture of a humanitarian aid worker.

– Has your memory ever turned out to be unreliable, even though you swear something happened the way you replay it in your mind? Let the False Memory Archive know.

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United States lawmakers are trying to push through legislation of such a disheartening nature that I don’t even know how to finish this sentence about it.

Glenn Greenwald is far more articulately concerned about this than I have the capacity to be. In essence, the proposed bill will give some people even more power than they already have to attack, kidnap, and imprison anyone they want from anywhere in the world.

They justify this by the abstract rhetorical trick of insisting that the former individuals be labelled as “US government agents”, and the latter as “Terrorists”.

Senator Lindsey Graham in particular spoke of the importance of allowing the US military to target and indefinitely detain “these guys” – referring to, among others, American citizens who’ve not had any formal charges made against them. He said:

If you’re an American citizen and you betray your country, you’re not going to be given a lawyer.

The implication to these words is that, even if being thrown in Gitmo and forgotten about were a suitable fate for those accursed terrorists who wish America ill, it would somehow be less important, not more, that we pay attention to due process, and lines of evidence, and all the things that the people who created the USA put in place to make damn sure that we only lock up the right people.

Apparently, when it comes to that most heinous crime of offering “substantial support” to forces “associated” with Al Qaeda or the Taliban, the very fact that suspicion has entered the mind of US military officials should be all the proof of guilt that it’s reasonable to require.

Maybe this doesn’t sound so bad to you. Maybe you’re willing to trust the upper echelons of government, when they say that for reasons of national security they can’t tell you how they know that somebody has terrorist connections, and must be held captive indefinitely with no access to any legal recourse for your own safety. Maybe this sounds like a reasonable way to treat those who hate America, and the idea that these laws might ever be abused against those who don’t deserve it is entirely academic.

If that’s the case, then please imagine the next couple of paragraphs slowly fading out as I back carefully away from you.

Incidentally, lest you suspect this is just those warmongering Republicans doing their usual schtick, note that the Obama administration’s main objection to the bill seems to be that they want “to remove the language in the original bill which exempted American citizens and lawful residents from the detention power”. As it initially stood, it didn’t give enough tyrannical privilege for the liking of the Democrats in charge.

I think democracy may have officially jumped the shark. Or perhaps I’ve just finally got around to noticing.

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The Heresiarch is characteristically spot-on in his take on the matter of the recently firebombed French magazine that had dared to publish blasphemous cartoon images of the prophet Mohammed. In particular, he’s taking on the idea that an organisation that goes out of its way to deliberately cause offense to millions of peace-loving Muslims deserves no sympathy when a small violent faction is driven to bloody vengeance.

I think when I do this it’s called a pull-quote:

The irony is that this kind of argument is a form of Islamophobia itself, both because it demonstrates actual fear of Muslims (they might bomb us) and because it caricatures them as all the same, all equally thin-skinned and all interested in nothing beyond upholding the dignity of their holy prophet. But in fact Muslims (whether they know it or not; many do) have much more than other people to gain from a lifting of the taboo on criticising any aspect of their religion, whether Sharia law, the Koran or the personality of Mohammed.

This is exactly right. If the over-sensitive cultural taboo wasn’t so keenly and aggressively in place, then cartoonists and satirists wouldn’t find it nearly such a rich vein of subject matter. Magazines wouldn’t bother putting the images in question on their covers, because there’d be no worthwhile point to be made by doing so; and so the extremists subgroups wouldn’t keep firebombing people and reinforcing the public image of Muslims as violent reactionaries who the rest of us ought to fear. Surely that unfortunately widespread perception is more damaging and hurtful to the majority of Muslims than the occasional drawing of their prophet.

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