May 23, 2013 § 12 Comments
It was a mad, barbarous attack, more akin to a particularly savage form of street violence than to a politically motivated act. What was striking about the incident was not just its depravity but the desire of the murderers for that depravity to be captured on film. This was narcissistic horror, an attempt to create a spectacle, enact a performance, and generate media frenzy. In that it succeeded. We should not provide the act with greater legitimacy by rationalizing it in political or religious terms. Even to call it a terrorist act is to give it too much credibility.
Brutal nihilism and narcissistic hatred are central threads of contemporary jihadism. This is as true of 9/11 and 7/7 and the Boston bombing as it is true of the Woolwich murder. But while 9/11 and 7/7 were degenerate acts, the Woolwich attack shows how much more degenerate such attacks have become over the past decade. This was jihadism as depraved street violence.
Such degenerate nihilism is not peculiar to jihadists. It drove the twisted, paranoid fantasies of Anders Breivik, the Norwegian mass killer, who wanted ‘to create a European version of al-Qaeda’. It underlay the mass shootings in America in Aurora and Sandy Hook. Such acts remain rare. But the inchoate, disengaged, misanthropic rage upon which they draw, and the hatred of people and the indifference to one’s actions that they express, has become typical of a very contemporary form of violence. « Read the rest of this entry »
March 30, 2012 § 2 Comments
Earlier this week I published an extract from my book From Fatwa to Jihad, that told the story of how the Asian Youth Movements were created in Britain in the 1970s. This second extract explains how the British state and religious conservatives joined forces to marginalise secular radicals in the name of multiculturalism. This is the story of how Bradford came to be painted green. The same story could be told about towns all over Britain.
In the summer of 1981 Bradford’s Asian communities were flush with rumours of an impending attack by neo-fascists. A group of young Asians, including Tariq Mehmood, made and stashed away petrol bombs to be used in the event of any such attacks. They were all members of the United Black Youth League, a group that had broken away from the Asian Youth Movement which they felt was not sufficiently radical. Police discovered the petrol bombs on some waste ground and twelve members of the UBYL were arrested and charged with conspiracy to cause an explosion and endanger lives. The trial of the ‘Bradford 12’ the following year created a national sensation. The defendants put up an audacious defence. They openly admitted making the petrol bombs – but argued that they were acting legitimately to protect their communities. Astonishingly, the jury agreed and acquitted all twelve.
The sheer bravado of the Bradford 12 and their bold, confident self-assertion won them respect and support from communities across the country that similarly felt under siege from racists. It also unnerved both local politicians and Muslim religious leaders. ‘Our children were growing up hating our culture’, observed Sher Azam of the Bradford Council for Mosques. ‘They were being drawn to Western values and Western lifestyles. We knew such values and ways of doing things could only harm them. Without Islam they no foundations, no home. They were angry, withdrawn, we could not reach them.’ « Read the rest of this entry »
March 28, 2012 Comments Off
BBC Radio 4 broadcast a documentary this week by Zaiba Malik on the history of the Asian Youth Movements. For many of us who grew up in 1970s and 1980s, the AYMs were a central feature of our lives. Radical and secular, the movements challenged both the vicious racism that defined Britain in that era and many traditional values too, helping to establish an alternative leadership in Asian communities that confronted the conservatives on issues such as the role of women and the dominance of the mosque.Today, in an age in which communities are defined in terms almost solely of faith and culture, when identity politics has ripped apart any sense of radical unity, and when the idea of a ‘secular Muslim’ seems to most people an oxymoron, a movement and a tradition that thirty years ago was highly influential is barely remembered. Zaiba Malik’s documentary was enjoyable, good on the struggle against racism, less sure about the struggle within the communities.
I have written of the AYMs in my book From Fatwa to Jihad. Here is an extract that delves into the roots of the AYMs and how they came to be formed. I will publish a second extract later this week which will look at how the British state and religious conservatives within Asian communities joined forces to marginalise secular radicals. For more details about the AYM, the Tandana archive set up by Anandi Ramamurthy is a good place to start.
On 17 April 1976 the far-right National Front organised a march through the centre of Manningham, the main Asian area in Bradford. It was to end with a rally at a local school. The National Front was in the late 1970s a minor force in British politics, but more than a bit unpleasant. In 1974 it took 44 per cent of the vote in a parliamentary by-election in Deptford in South London; three years later more than 120,000 voters supported it in London-wide elections. It was on the streets, however, rather that at the ballot box, that the NF preferred to strut its stuff. It had a cadre of thugs often involved in racial assaults and was fond of organising provocative marches through predominantly black and Asian areas. And it was on the streets that a new generation of blacks and Asians decided to take on the NF. This brought them into conflict not just with the fascists but often with their own community leaders, too. « Read the rest of this entry »
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.
January 16, 2012 § 3 Comments
When is a terrorist not a terrorist? When, apparently, he is ‘our’ terrorist.
Last week Mostafa Ahmadi Roshan, a professor at Tehran’s technical university, and deputy director of commerce at the Natanz uranium enrichment facility, was blown up by a bomb attached to his car. He was the fourth Iranian nuclear scientist to be killed in the past two years, part of what appears to be a concerted assassination campaign against people deemed key to Teheran’s nuclear ambitions.
It is still unclear who carried out the attacks. Israel is high on the list of most informed observers. A number of well-connected journalists, including Ron Ben-Yishai and Richard Silverstein, claim that their sources in the Israeli military confirm it as a Mossad operation, though none has so far provided any proof. Silverstein and others, including Juan Cole, speculate that it may have been a joint operation between Mossad and MEK, or Mujahedin-e Khalq, a Marxist Islamist group that has been fighting the Teheran regime and which in the past has claimed to have provided Washington with information about Iran’s nuclear programme. Last week the journal Foreign Policy carried a report about Mossad operatives posing as CIA agents to recruit fighters from the Pakistani jihadi group Jundallah for terrorist operations in Iran. Twenty-four hours before the assassination, Israel’s military chief of staff Lieutenant-General Benny Gantz told a parliamentary meeting that Iran should expect ‘continuing and growing pressure from the international community and things which take place in an unnatural manner.’
The identity of perpetrators may still be uncertain. What is without doubt, however, is the international response to the assassinations – or, rather, the lack of it. « Read the rest of this entry »
August 12, 2011 § 21 Comments
The riots, David Cameron told Parliament this week, revealed a ‘deep moral failure’ in British society. It’s an argument echoed by many others, from Melanie Phillips to the Archbishop of Canterbury. The language of morality, and of moral failure, comes easily to the lips of rightwing politicians and pundits, being all too often a means of individualizing social issues, of pinning the blame on some of the weakest in society for the problems caused by public policy, social inequality and economic failure.
The fact that the right has appropriated the language of morality has led many on the left to ignore moral arguments, indeed often to see such arguments as reactionary. That is a fatal mistake. Morality is as important to the left as it is to the right, though for very different reasons. There is no possibility of a political or economic vision of a different society without a moral vision too. Moral arguments lie at the heart of our understanding of social solidarity, and of the distinction between notions of social solidarity and pious rightwing claims of ‘we’re all in it together’. And that is why it also has to be at the heart of our understanding of the riots.
August 9, 2011 § 80 Comments
I am writing a longer and more reflective piece, but in the meantime here are five quick points about the riots in London and elsewhere:
This is not a rerun of the inner city riots that shook Britain in the late seventies and the eighties. Those riots were a direct challenge to oppressive policing and to mass unemployment. They threatened the social fabric of Britain’s inner cities and forced the government to rethink its mechanisms of social control. Today’s riots may have made the Metropolitan police look inept, revealed politicians as out of touch and brought mayhem to some parts of London, Liverpool and Birmingham. But there is little sense that they pose a challenge to social order, in the way that the 80s riots did, or that they are in any sense ‘insurrectionary’, as Darcus Howe described those revolts. Rather today’s riots amounted to the trashing of some of the poorest areas in the city. On Friday night, when the riots began in Tottenham, there was some political content to the violence, an inchoate response to the shooting of Mark Duggan (whose death looks increasingly like a police killing rather than the outcome of an exchange of fire). By Saturday the riots had descended largely into arson and looting with little sense of political motive or cause. « Read the rest of this entry »