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Terror

Indiscriminate wickedness in London

Thursday, 23 March, 2017 0 Comments

The sheer evil of fanatics like the one responsible for yesterday’s terror attack in London is incredible. The crowded places they pick and the massive suffering they inflict suggest a mindset that’s beyond comprehension, but in an attempt to learn something, anything, about their strategies, this blogger turned to The Crisis of Islam: Holy War and Unholy Terror by Bernhard Lewis, which was published in 2003. He writes:

“For the new-style terrorists, the slaughter of innocent and uninvolved civilians is not ‘collateral damage’. It is the prime objective. Thanks to the rapid development of the media, and especially of television, the more recent forms of terrorism are aimed not at specific and limited enemy objectives but at world opinion. Their primary purpose is not to defeat or even to weaken the enemy militarily but to gain publicity and to inspire fear — a psychological victory…”

Concerning the willingness of the perpetrators to kill and maim the innocent and the ruthlessness with which they execute their missions, Lewis asks if any of these actions can be justified in terms of Islam. The answer is a clear no, and he adds:

“The callous destruction of thousands in the World Trade Center, including many who were not American, some of them Muslims from Muslim countries, has no justification in Islamic doctrine or law and no precedent in Islamic history. Indeed, there are few acts of comparable deliberate and indiscriminate wickedness in human history. These are not just crimes against humanity and against civilization; they are also acts — from a Muslim point of view — of blasphemy when those who perpetrate such crimes claim to be doing so in the name of God, His Prophet, and His Scriptures.”

After the 9/11 massacre in New York, the response in the Arab press was, to quote Lewis, “an uneasy balance between denial and approval”. Let’s hope that the responses to yesterday’s outrage will be clear in their condemnation of this “indiscriminate wickedness”, this “blasphemy” and these ongoing “crimes against humanity”.

Bernard Lewis


The axis of cyber evil

Thursday, 15 September, 2016 0 Comments

On Monday, Ciaran Martin, the Director-General Cyber at GCHQ, outlined the British approach to cyber security at the Billington Cyber Security Summit in Washington DC. Very topically, he addressed email. Snippet:

“We need to make sure UK Government email is trusted, so we need to stop people spoofing our .gov.uk domain. To do that we’ve set a DMARC policy as a trial to stop emails from the wrong IP sets, or with the wrong key, from being delivered purporting to come from .gov.uk. Well they do get delivered, but they get delivered to us, not the recipient — usually members of the public. And when we first trialled it, whoever was sending 58,000 malicious emails per day from the delightfully named [email protected] isn’t doing it anymore.”

In an increasingly digitized economy, security is a critical currency. When Colin Powell wakes up and finds his hacked emails on the front pages of global media outlets, overall confidence in cyber security is greatly diminished and while his comments on Clinton and Trump might make for great merriment, we should condemn these intrusions because the cyber bell may toll for us one day, too. Just as it has done for the tennis stars Serena and Venus Williams, the gymnast Simone Biles, and the Tour de France winning cyclists Chris Froome and Bradley Wiggins. Because when Ciaran Martin was speaking, the World Anti-Doping Agency was confirming that a Russian cyber espionage group known as Fancy Bear had accessed its Anti-Doping Administration and Management System database. The stolen information is now being broadcast 24/7.

People, businesses and institutions will be reluctant to share information in a digital environment they feel is fundamentally unsafe, and Ciaran Martin accepted this when he said that the internet may have transformed the way we live, “but it hasn’t completely changed our nature fostered over thousands of years. And nor are the groups who pose us harm particularly new.” They are stealing secrets, stealing money, stealing intellectual property, and they are pumping out propaganda that’s crafted to confuse and intimidate. Without naming Russia, China and North Korea specifically, he said:

We’ve got hostile states. Some of them are great powers, using cyber attacks to spy, gain major commercial and economic advantage or to pre-position for destructive attack. Others are smaller states, looking to exploit the relatively immature rules of the road in cyberspace to tweak the nose of those they see as bigger powers in a way they would and could never contemplate by traditional military means.”

Tomorrow, here, we’ll name the most hostile of these states.


Evil is neither awful nor tragic. It is the enemy.

Tuesday, 26 July, 2016 0 Comments

Another day, another dreadful deed: Nineteen residents at a Japanese care centre for people with mental disabilities killed in a knife attack. Police have arrested a former employee. He is reported to have said he wanted people with disabilities “to disappear.”

The number 19 was central to another report, one equally dreadful, which went under-reported at the time, perhaps because the source was the Iranian Shia Ahlolbayt News Agency. “ISIS burns 19 Yezidi girls to death in Mosul” was the headline. After reading it, William Dalrymple, the English writer and historian tweeted yesterday, “This is so awful and tragic.” His choice of words was criticized by some who felt that “awful and tragic” were timid synonyms for such a monstrous crime.

Quite simply, “awful and tragic” do not cut it when we’re talking about deeds that “constitute a direct negation of human liberty, and vent an undisguised hatred and contempt for life itself.” So said the late Christopher Hitchens in The Enemy, his meditation on the death of Osama bin Laden.

According to Hitchens, “this force”, the one we have seen at work recently in Sagamihara, Ansbach, Nice, Mosul, Orlando, Brussels, Paris… “absolutely deserves to be called evil.” Here’s the full quote:

“I thought then, and I think now, that Osama bin Laden was a near-flawless personification of the mentality of a real force: the force of Islamic jihad. And I also thought, and think now, that this force absolutely deserves to be called evil, and that the recent decapitation of its most notorious demagogue and organizer is to be welcomed without reserve. Osama bin Laden’s writings and actions constitute a direct negation of human liberty, and vent an undisguised hatred and contempt for life itself.” — Christopher Hitchens, The Enemy

UPDATE: In Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray, two IS adherents murder Fr Jacques Hamel, 84, by slitting his throat while he was saying Mass. Evil is now ascendant in Europe.


The barbarity of Mohamed Lahouaiej Bouhlel

Friday, 15 July, 2016 0 Comments

The terrorist responsible for murdering up to 84 people by driving a truck into a Bastille Day celebration in Nice has been identified as Mohamed Lahouaiej Bouhlel, a delivery driver and petty criminal. How do we respond to such barbarity? With more useless hashtags? Ineffective cartoons? Meaningless interdenominational prayer ceremonies? Hollow declarations of “je suis Nizza”? Hand-wringing gestures by political leaders? We’ve had lots of those in the past but they made little impression on Mohamed Lahouaiej Bouhlel. Maybe we should consider the words of J.R.R. Tolkien:

“War must be, while we defend our lives against a destroyer who would devour all; but I do not love the bright sword for its sharpness, nor the arrow for its swiftness, nor the warrior for his glory. I love only that which they defend.” — The Two Towers


Marshall McLuhan: today’s media and today’s terror

Wednesday, 15 June, 2016 1 Comment

After Larossi Abballa had killed a French police officer and his partner near Paris on Monday evening, he posted a 12-minute video from the scene to Facebook Live. Speaking in a mix of French and Arabic, he smiled evilly as he urged his viewers to target the police, declared that the Euro 2016 football tournament would “be like a cemetery,” and pondered what to do about the dead couple’s three-year-old son.

“When people get close together they get more savagely impatient with each other,” said Marshall McLuhan in a television interview in 1977. Anticipating the arrival of Facebook Live, he accurately predicted the downsides of social media platforms: “Village people aren’t that much in love with each other, and the global village is a place of very arduous interfaces and very abrasive situations.”

With France in despair and the European Union in disarray, McLuhan foresaw the current rage, the hooliganism and the hatred of the elites: “All forms of violence are a quest for identity… Identity is always accompanied by violence… Ordinary people find the need for violence as they lose their identities, so it’s only the threat to people’s identity that makes them violent.”

McLuhan also anticipated that the likes of Larossi Abballa would use social media to broadcast their nihilism: “Terrorists, hijackers — these are people minus identity. They are determined to make it somehow, to get coverage, to get noticed.”

And in the same interview he predicted the current clash of civilizations: “The literate man can carry his liquor; the tribal man cannot. That’s why in the Moslem world and in the native world booze is impossible. However, literacy also makes us very accessible to ideas and propaganda. The literate man is the natural sucker for propaganda. You cannot propagandize a native. You can sell him rum and trinkets, but you cannot sell him ideas. Therefore, propaganda is our Achilles Heel, our weak point”

Note: Four hours after Larossi Abballa had made his statement on Facebook Live, French police stormed the house in Magnanville, and shot him dead. (The three-year-old boy was unharmed.)


The evil inside Omar Mateen

Monday, 13 June, 2016 0 Comments

“Gradually it was disclosed to me that the line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either — but right through every human heart — and through all human hearts. This line shifts. Inside us, it oscillates with the years. And even within hearts overwhelmed by evil, one small bridgehead of good is retained. And even in the best of all hearts, there remains … an unuprooted small corner of evil.

Since then I have come to understand the truth of all the religions of the world: They struggle with the evil inside a human being (inside every human being). It is impossible to expel evil from the world in its entirety, but it is possible to constrict it within each person.” — Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, The Gulag Archipelago

Omar Mateen


Open web digital counterinsurgency against ISIS

Friday, 12 February, 2016 0 Comments

“Trolls, Hackers and Extremists — The Fight for a Safe and Open Web” was the title of a discussion yesterday evening at the Munich Security Conference. So far this week, we’ve looked at the trolls and the hackers, and now it’s the turn of the open web. On 18 January, during a discussion at the Royal Institute of International Affairs at Chatham House in London, Jared Cohen, Director, Google Ideas, said the key to stopping ISIS from prospering online is to drive them out of the traditional web, the open, web, which can be indexed by search engines. It will be impossible to stop terrorists from using Tor and the dark web, however, he said.

According to Cohen, ISIS is “not a tech savvy organisation” and it stoops to tactics associated with fraud or spam. Still, there have been reports that it’s started using encrypted chat apps, such as Telegram, and that it has developed its own messaging app that “features news and videos showing executions and battlefield victories.”

Some will argue that there are enough laws on the books already about hate speech, and others would say that Google, which owns YouTube, the preferred platform of ISIS, could do a lot more to withdraw the oxygen of publicity, so there’s no shortage of views. 


It is 2022 and the votes are being counted in France

Tuesday, 17 November, 2015 0 Comments

On the day that Michel Houellebecq’s Submission was published in France, two Islamist terrorists stormed into the offices of the satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo and murdered 12 people, including eight journalists. Among the dead was the economist Bernard Maris, one of Houellebecq’s closest friends. The tragedy and the coincidence were interpreted as a portent, but nobody could agree as to its significance. Conspiracy theorists wondered if Houellebecq had not somehow provoked the attack. The fact that the publication date of the book had been signaled long in advance did nothing to deter them.

Submission transports readers to the year 2022 as the votes are being counted after the French general election. Marine Le Pen and her Front National are neck-and-neck with the Muslim Brotherhood, led by a charismatic grocer’s son, Mohammed Ben Abbes. The Socialists, under Manuel Valls, decide to form a coalition with the Brotherhood to keep Le Pen out of the Élysée Palace, but negotiations are tricky. One evening during the talks, François, the narrator, meets a friend whose husband works for the DGSI intelligence service, and the three discuss politics with the aid of port. Snippet:

“But what do they want?”
“They want every French child to have the option of a Muslim education, at every level of schooling. Now, however you look at it, a Muslim education is very different from a secular one. First off, no co-education. And women would be allowed to study only certain things. What the Muslim Brotherhood really wants is for most women to study Home Economics, once they finish junior school, then get married as soon as possible, with a small minority studying art or literature first. Sottomissioni That’s their vision of an ideal society. Also, every teacher would have to be Muslim. No exceptions. Schools would observe Muslim dietary laws and the five daily prayers; above all, the curriculum itself would have to reflect the teachings of the Koran.”
“You think the Socialists will give in?”
“The haven’t got much of a choice. If they don’t reach an agreement, they don’t have a chance against the National Front. Even if they do reach an agreement, the National Front could still win. You’ve seen the polls…”

“Are your sure? That sounds so drastic…”
“Quite sure. It’s all been settled. And it is exactly in line with the theory of minority sharia, which the Muslim Brotherhood has always embraced. So they could something similar with education. Public education would still be available to everyone though with vastly reduced funding. The national budget would be slashed by two-thirds at least, and this time the teachers wouldn’t be able to stop it. In the current economic climate, any budget cut is bound to play well at the polls.”

All of this bores François, who Houellebecq depicts as a caricature of the Western middle class: smug, agnostic, narcissistic, alcohol-addicted and sex-preoccupied. But there’s no smoke without fire. The question at the core of the story is how will he manage when his world is engulfed by the approaching wave of zealotry. Sink or swim? If ever there was a book for our times, Submission is it.


Waiting for the Barbarians in Paris, Berlin, London

Sunday, 15 November, 2015 0 Comments

«la France sera impitoyable à l’égard des barbares» said French President François Hollande in response to the Islamist terror that left 129 people dead in Paris on Friday night. Hollande’s evocation of “the barbarians” makes Waiting for the Barbarians, written by the Alexandrian Greek poet Constantine Cavafy in 1898 and published in Egypt in 1904, seem particularly prescient today.

In a huge square in an unnamed city (Athens? Rome? Constantinople?), the emperor is preparing to present a “scroll” that is “replete with titles” to the designated barbarian leader. Not that the brutal fighter will care. He can take what he wants, anyway, and there will be no negotiations. As Cavafy notes, the barbarians are “bored by rhetoric and public speaking.” Oratory and punditry, laziness and luxury have made the empire cynical and soft and the citizens have lost interest in politics: “What laws can the senators make now? Once the barbarians are here, they’ll do the legislating.”

Cavafy delays until the last two lines before tossing in the hand grenade. The crowd is, in fact, waiting eagerly for the barbarians: “They were, those people, a kind of solution.”

One can picture a decadent polis, after a lengthy culture war, longing for a radical solution to the empire’s crisis. Cavafy’s bigger point is that barbarians have been at the gates since the dawn of civilization and their presence always poses an existential test for leaders and nations. When the barbarians arrive, when concert-goers and diners are being slaughtered, action is needed. That’s why the supine appeasement Cavafy brilliantly evokes in Waiting for the Barbarians is so loathsome.

Waiting for the Barbarians

What are we waiting for, assembled in the forum?
     The barbarians are due here today.

Why isn’t anything happening in the senate?
Why do the senators sit there without legislating?

     Because the barbarians are coming today.
     What laws can the senators make now?
     Once the barbarians are here, they’ll do the legislating.

Why did our emperor get up so early,
and why is he sitting at the city’s main gate
on his throne, in state, wearing the crown?

     Because the barbarians are coming today
     and the emperor is waiting to receive their leader.
     He has even prepared a scroll to give him,
     replete with titles, with imposing names.

Why have our two consuls and praetors come out today
wearing their embroidered, their scarlet togas?
Why have they put on bracelets with so many amethysts,
and rings sparkling with magnificent emeralds?
Why are they carrying elegant canes
beautifully worked in silver and gold?

     Because the barbarians are coming today
     and things like that dazzle the barbarians.

Why don’t our distinguished orators come forward as usual
to make their speeches, say what they have to say?

      Because the barbarians are coming today
      and they’re bored by rhetoric and public speaking.

Why this sudden restlessness, this confusion?
(How serious people’s faces have become.)
Why are the streets and squares emptying so rapidly,
everyone going home so lost in thought?

      Because night has fallen and the barbarians have not come.
      And some who have just returned from the border say
      there are no barbarians any longer.

And now, what’s going to happen to us without barbarians?
They were, those people, a kind of solution.

Constantine Cavafy (1863 – 1933). Translated by Edmund Keeley/Philip Sherrard


Symphony of Sorrow and solidarity for Paris

Saturday, 14 November, 2015 0 Comments

When he was composing his Third Symphony (the Symphony of Sorrowful Songs), Henryk Górecki sought inspiration in a variety of texts. Foremost was an inscription scrawled on a cell wall of a Gestapo prison in Zakopane at the foot of the Tatra mountains. The words were those of 18-year-old Helena Wanda Błażusiakówna: O Mamo nie płacz nie — Niebios Przeczysta Królowo Ty zawsze wspieraj mnie (“Oh Mamma do not cry — Immaculate Queen of Heaven support me always”). He also read Psalm 93/94 in the 16th-century translation by Jakub Wujek: “They humiliated Your people, O Lord, and afflicted Your heritage, they killed the widow and the passer-by, murdered the orphans.”

Henryk Górecki survived two of the most vile ideologies in history: Communism and Nazism. We are now challenged by Islamism, a reincarnation of their combined evil. The followers of the new wickedness, like their 20th-century predecessors, do not shy from murdering the orphans, killing the widow and the passer-by, afflicting heritage and humiliating people. The words of Helena Wanda Błażusiakówna and the music of Henryk Górecki offer comfort at this time of suffering and sorrow and solidarity.


And where will the Tunisians go?

Thursday, 3 September, 2015 0 Comments

Back in June, a young Tunisian Islamist arrived at a tourist beach in Sousse, on the Gulf of Hammamet, which is a part of the Mediterranean. “In the midday sun, Seifeddine Rezgui pulled a Kalashnikov from a parasol and opened fire on the beach, sending holidaymakers fleeing for their lives. He threw explosives at the pool area before continuing inside the Imperial Marhaba hotel,” reported the BBC. By the time the police shot him, he had murdered 38 tourists. Three months earlier, Islamist terrorists killed 22 people in the Bardo National Museum in Tunis.

Michael J. Totten visited Sousse recently and his post, How to Destroy a City in Five Minutes, is chilling. It is especially relevant in light of the crises that are engulfing North Africa and their knock-on consequences for Europe. Snippet:

“Hotels are laying off workers. Shops are empty and many will have to be closed. The city is reeling with feelings of guilt and anxiety. Guilt because one of their own murdered guests, the gravest possible offense against the ancient Arab code of hospitality, and anxiety because — what now? How will the city survive? How will all the laid-off workers earn a living with their industry on its back? Sousse without tourists is like Hollywood without movies and Detroit without automobile manufacturing.

Even Tunisia’s agriculture economy is crashing. Prices are down by 35 percent because the resorts don’t need to feed tourists anymore.”

What will become of the the unemployed Tunisian hotel workers? How will the country’s agricultural labourers survive the winter? Despite the risks, crossing the Mediterranean may be their best option. The question then is how should they be classified: migrants in search of work or refugees fleeing the barbarism of ISIS?