May 2, 2013 § 11 Comments
Ken Livingstone, the former Mayor of London, has stirred up controversy with his claim, on Iran’s Press TV, that behind the Boston bombings lay anger about Western foreign policy and its attitudes to Islam:
There was such ignorance in the Bush White House about Islam and about the history of so many disputes that exist in the Middle East. People get angry. They lash out. It’s the whole squalid intervention that has disfigured the record of the Western democracies. I think this fuels the anger of the young men, who as we saw in Boston went out, and, out of anger and demand for revenge, claimed lives in the West.
Livingstone may have expressed his argument in a particularly crass fashion, but it is the kind of explanation that many have proffered over the past few weeks. Ever since Tamerlan Tsarnaev was shot dead and his brother Dzhokar captured, there has been a frantic search through their back history to discover the motivations of the alleged bombers and the reasons for their homicidal act. Their Chechen family origins, their attraction to Islam, their radicalization through jihadist sites – all have become part of the narrative of why the brothers could commit such horror. « Read the rest of this entry »
October 10, 2012 § 1 Comment
On Monday I chaired an illuminating discussion called ‘Inside the Mind of the Taliban’ with Alex Strick van Linschoten, Felix Kuehn and Jason Elliot. Strick van Linschoten and Kuehn, who until recently lived in Kandahar, have written a series of outstanding books on Afghanistan, including An Enemy We Created, which tells the story of how the American insistence that al Qaeda and the Taliban were in effect a single, unified enemy, and Washington’s view of the Taliban as just another jihadist group, helped conjure up that very mythical enemy that the West so feared. Earlier this year their anthology, Poetry of the Taliban, was published both to considerable acclaim and considerable controversy. Elliot is a travel writer whose book An Unexpected Light has become a classic and is one of the most influential recent works on Afghanistan.
Given that few people who talk about Afghanistan possess more than the briefest acquaintance with the country, it was good to have the kind of public conversation that so very rarely takes place, led by three people passionate, informed and articulate. But while it was refreshing to have a nuanced discussion on the issue, nuance carries its own baggage. « Read the rest of this entry »
August 5, 2012 § 9 Comments
As a coda to my previous post on abuse and how to deal with it, I am republishing this essay on changing notions of incitement that was first published in Index on Censorship in 2008. The essay was written in the context of the debate about the war on terror – it is an edited version of a talk I gave at an Index on Censorship conference on ‘Extremism and the Law: Free Speech in an Age of Terror’. It does not relate directly to the controversy about the abuse and threats received by Tom Daley and other public figures, nor to the question of how to deal with nastiness on the web. Nevertheless, the issues raised here are pertinent to the wider debate about incitement and the policing of speech.
Twenty years ago, at the height of the Rushdie affair, a televised debate took place in Manchester Town Hall. On the platform was Kalim Siddiqui, the founder of the London-based, Iranian-backed Muslim Institute. The fatwa, he claimed, was just, and Rushdie had to die. How many of you, he asked the audience, support the death sentence? The majority raised their hands. How many, he continued, would be willing to carry it out? Almost the same number kept their hands up. It was an electrifying moment, caught on camera and replayed on the evening news. It became the spark for a debate about incitement to murder. « Read the rest of this entry »
June 21, 2012 § 2 Comments
Everything has gone from the world,
The world has become empty again.
Everything has gone from the world,
I don’t see anything now.
All that I see is
They don’t accept us as humans,
They don’t accept us as animals either.
And, as they would say,
Humans have two dimensions.
Humanity and animality,
We are out of both of them today.
So begins Samiullah Khalid Sahak’s poem Humanity. It is a poem about the pitilessness of war and of its destruction of human sensibility, indeed of human identity. It is also a poem by a supporter of the Taliban.
April 26, 2012 § 3 Comments
in 2004, Tarek Mehanna traveled from America to Yemen with a friend. He claims he was searching out schools at which to study classical Islamic law. The US government insists that he was looking for a jihadi training camp. What all agree is that, even if he was looking for jihadis, he never found any. The US authorities accept that Mehanna never joined the jihadi groups he never found, nor ever funded any such groups. He did, however, on returning to the USA, set up a website that published English translations of jihadi documents, including one called ’39 Ways to Serve and Participate in Jihad’, and advocated the jihadi cause. Last year Mehanna was convicted of providing ‘material support for terrorism’, and of ‘conspiring to kill in a foreign country’. Earlier this month he was sentenced to seventeen and a half years in prison.
The Mehanna case raises troubling questions about how the war on terror has transformed the interpretation of the First Amendment. It is, many lawyers and academics suggest, the most significant free speech verdict for a generation. « 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 27, 2012 § 2 Comments
John Kiriakou, a former CIA officer, was charged this week with espionage for disclosing to journalists classified information about the capture and torture of Abu Zubaydah, a suspected al-Qaeda member. Before Barack Obama entered the White House in January 2009, just three Americans had ever been prosecuted by their government for espionage for leaking stories to journalists. Kiriakou Is the sixth person to face such charges under Obama. In less than four years under Obama, in other words, twice as many people have been charged with espionage for leaking information to journalists as in the previous two centuries under all the presidents put together. Whatever the Obama presidency will be remembered for, it will not be for its sympathies towards civil liberties.
Obama strode into the White House promising to roll back George W Bush’s egregious attacks on liberties in the name of the war on terror. Three years on Guantanamo still stand. Last month Obama signed off on the National Defense Authorization Act which allows for indefinite military detention. He has maintained the policy of extraordinary rendition and of secret prisons, and intensified the use of drones and the programme of assassinations, including of US citizens. Obama has also endorsed the right of the government to strip citizens of legal protections based on its sole discretion. He has extended the scope of the Patriot Act allowing for warrantless searches of everything from business documents to library records. « Read the rest of this entry »