February 15, 2012 § 1 Comment
By next Monday William Hague and Phillip Hammond could be behind bars. In December, the Court of Appeal ruled that the foreign and defence secretaries had by February 20th to produce before the court a Pakistani rice merchant, Yunus Rahmatullah; if they did not, then the court would ‘be moved to commit you to prison for your contempt in not obeying the said writ’.
Hague and Hammond will not, of course, be sent down. But the Rahmatullah case does reveal, yet again, the lawlessness of the war on terror. The story begins in February 2004, when Rahmatullah and Amanatullah Ali, a fellow merchant, disappeared on a business trip to Iran. They were held incommunicado for nearly a year before their families learned that they had been seized by British forces in Iraq and then turned over to the Americans who had renditioned them to Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan. There they have been held for the past eight years beyond the rule of law and in conditions far worse than those at Guantánamo Bay. No charges have been filed against them, and both the British and American governments have refused to provide any hearing or account for their continued detention.
September 9, 2011 § 3 Comments
A recent poll by the Pew Trust showed that virtually every American can remember where they were on the morning of 11 September 2001. Most recognize the profound changes that 9/11 has wrought to the nation. But America is divided down the middle on the question of whether the USA brought the attack upon itself. Forty-three percent of those polled thought that 9/11 was caused by US ‘wrongdoing’; 45% disagreed. Perhaps no set of statistics better expresses the confusions and ambiguities that still surround 9/11, the chasm between an acknowledgement of the significance of the event and the uncertainties about what it signifies. The Pew poll figures are particularly striking given the fear and suspicion of Muslims revealed in other polls and by the furore over the so-called ‘Ground Zero mosque’.
Such ambiguity and unclarity is perhaps inevitable given that we still live in the shadow of the attack on the Twin Tower and continue to feel the reverberations, both of the event and of the West’s response to it. But the uncertainty also derives from the way that the very nature of the narratives we weave around historical events has changed. During the Cold War, the faultlines that divided the world were broadly ideological. Today, as the philosopher Tzvetan Todorov observes in his book The Fear of Barbarians, the world is structured not so much by ideology as by emotion, and in particular the emotions of fear and resentment. Anti-Western sentiment results from a sense of ‘humiliation, real or imaginary’ which has bred a sense of resentment, particularly within Muslim communities, towards Europe and the United States, which are ‘held responsible for private misery and public powerlessness.’ And in the West, public attitudes and political policy have been shaped by fear of terrorism, of immigration and of the ‘other’, and resentment about the loss of power and prestige abroad, and of the supposed erosion of ‘Western’ culture at home. The result has been a series of narratives about 9/11 that have combined a yearning for certainty with a profound sense of ambiguity. « Read the rest of this entry »
July 30, 2011 § 9 Comments
Three weeks ago London marked the sixth anniversary of the 7/7 tube bombings. Now Oslo will have its own heart-wrenching day of remembrance every year. Even for those who lived through 7/7 – not to mention countless other bombings, from IRA to neo-Nazi, that London has witnessed in the past few decades – there was still something viscerally shocking about Anders Breivik’s murderous rampage through Oslo and Utoya, the mindlessness of the massacre combined with its cold-eyed homicidal brutality.
It was inevitable, perhaps, that Breivik’s attack would first be portrayed as an Islamist plot. For some, any form of terrorism is marked ‘Muslim’ and they wish to look no further. The irony, however, is not just that Breivik’s hatred of Islam should lead to a horror that many took to be Islamic, but also that nothing so resembles Breivik’s mindset as that of an Islamist jihadist. « Read the rest of this entry »
May 16, 2011 Comments Off
Jane Mayer, author of The Dark Side, a seminal account of the CIA, extraordinary rendition and torture, has an interview in the New Yorker with Thomas Drake, a former senior executive at the National Security Agency who is about to be tried for violating the Espionage Act by leaking to a journalist secret documents about America’s covert surveillance of its own citizens. Drake, as Mayer puts it, is effectively being charged with being ‘an enemy of the state’. But it’s a state that, as Drake argues and as Mayer fleshes out, is out of control in its desire and capacity to spy upon its citizens. What has been created, in the words of one of Mayer’s interviewees, is a ‘national surveillance state’: « Read the rest of this entry »
January 26, 2011 Comments Off
So, the Coalition government is abolishing Control Orders only to retain them in a modified form and by another name. The argument for constraining liberty is that security requires such constraints. Without Control Orders, or Control Orders Lite, so the argument goes, our ability to combat terrorism is compromised. It is a false argument because security vs liberty is a false dichotomy. Liberties are part of our security. They help define what kind of society we want, what we’re trying to secure, why we should fight terrorism. The more the government undermines liberties, the more it undermines the reasons to fight terrorism, the more it undermines security.
The greatest success of terrorists has not been 9/11 or 7/7. It has been the willingness of Western governments to trash basic liberal and democratic freedoms in the name of security.