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Tag: terror

The final tragedy of Philip Seymour Hoffman

Tuesday, 4 February, 2014 0 Comments

Ten days ago, Associated Press film writer Jessica Herndon spoke to Philip Seymour Hoffman in Park City, Utah, and here’s the opening sentence of her report: “Philip Seymour Hoffman’s new movie is a psychological thriller about terrorism, but he says it also has something to do with hitting a midlife crisis — and that’s what really drew him to the role.” The midlife crisis turned out to be more destructive than most of its kind and the actor was found dead on Sunday morning in his New York apartment, after a suspected drug overdose. He was 46.

The reason that Jessica Herndon interviewed Philip Seymour Hoffman in Park City was that his most recent film, A Most Wanted Man, had premiered at the Sundance Film Festival there. Hoffman plays a rogue German counter-terrorism expert, heading up an anti-terrorism team in Hamburg, the former home of the 9/11 hijackers. The film is based on John Le Carre’s 2008 thriller, which is marred by the author’s didacticism. The US has now replaced the USSR as the le Carré adversary of choice and his portrayal of Americans is too close to caricature to be considered seriously. It is a tragedy that this would turn out to be Philip Seymour Hoffman’s final serious film.


Shia and Sunni and the Thirty Years scenario

Monday, 27 January, 2014 0 Comments

“This is a conflict which is not only bigger than al-Qa’eda and similar groups, but far bigger than any of us. It is one which will re-align not only the Middle East, but the religion of Islam.” So writes Douglas Murray in the current issue of The Spectator in a piece titled “Iran, Saudi Arabia, and the Middle East’s 30 year war.” Murray contends that the slaughter in Syria is, in reality, a proxy war between Saudi and Iran, between the Shia and Sunni factions of Islam. “There are those who think that the region as a whole may be starting to go through something similar to what Europe went through in the early 17th century during the Thirty Years’ War, when Protestant and Catholic states battled it out,” he says, warning that the current savagery will be exceeded in barbarity when the “gloves come off.”

The former British Prime Minister, Tony Blair, is sounding a similar alarm. “Religious difference, not ideology, will fuel this century’s epic battles” he claimed in yesterday’s Observer. Citing a “ghastly roll call of terror attacks” in Syria, Libya, Iraq, Lebanon, Egypt, Yemen, Tunisia, Pakistan, Nigeria, Russia, Burma, Thailand and the Philippines, he declares that these “are perpetrated by people motivated by an abuse of religion. It is a perversion of faith. But there is no doubt that those who commit the violence often do so by reference to their faith and the sectarian nature of the conflict is a sectarianism based on religion.”

If there is to be peace, we need to study faith and globalisation and agree on the place of religion in modern society. With this in mind, in collaboration with Harvard Divinity School, Tony Blair’s Faith Foundation, will launch a website later this year that will provide “up-to-date analysis of what is happening in the field of religion and conflict; in-depth analysis of religion and its impact on countries where this is a major challenge; and basic facts about the religious make-up and trends in every country worldwide.” It’s not a solution, but it is a sign and it’s a necessary sign because the latest Pew report on global religious Hostilities doesn’t make for pretty reading. “The sharpest increase was in the Middle East and North Africa, which still is feeling the effects of the 2010-11 political uprisings known as the Arab Spring.”

Meanwhile, a glance at the devastating history of the original Thirty Years’ War should encourage everyone to work to prevent a modern-day re-enactment.

War


In the old man-killing parishes

Monday, 14 October, 2013 0 Comments

A recent outbreak of savagery in Northern Ireland brought to mind the work of the late Nobel Prize winning poet Seamus Heaney, who wrote a series of poems inspired by the discovery of the 4th century Tollund Man, whose mummified corpse was found in a peat bog on the Jutland Peninsula in 1950. In his poem, Heaney compares the ritual sacrifices of ancient Celtic Europe to the “sacrifice” of those murdered by the Irish Republican Army, which had the barbaric habit of burying its victims in peat bogs.

Heaney was in top form when composing this poem and the imagery of his language is startling: “She tightened her torc on him / And opened her fen / Those dark juices working / Him to a saint’s kept body.”

The Tollund Man

I

Some day I will go to Aarhus
To see his peat-brown head,
The mild pods of his eye-lids,
His pointed skin cap.

In the flat country near by
Where they dug him out,
His last gruel of winter seeds
Caked in his stomach,

Naked except for
The cap, noose and girdle,
I will stand a long time.
Bridegroom to the goddess,

She tightened her torc on him
And opened her fen,
Those dark juices working
Him to a saint’s kept body,

Trove of the turfcutters’
Honeycombed workings.
Now his stained face
Reposes at Aarhus.

II

I could risk blasphemy,
Consecrate the cauldron bog
Our holy ground and pray
Him to make germinate

The scattered, ambushed
Flesh of labourers,
Stockinged corpses
Laid out in the farmyards,

Tell-tale skin and teeth
Flecking the sleepers
Of four young brothers, trailed
For miles along the lines.

III

Something of his sad freedom
As he rode the tumbril
Should come to me, driving,
Saying the names
Tollund, Grauballe, Nebelgard,
Watching the pointing hands
Of country people,
Not knowing their tongue.
Out there in Jutland
In the old man-killing parishes
I will feel lost,
Unhappy and at home.

Seamus Heaney (1939 — 2013)

Tollund Man


The urban battleground

Thursday, 10 October, 2013 0 Comments

This just in via the BBC: “Libyan Prime Minister Ali Zeidan has been seized by armed men from a hotel in the capital, Tripoli.” Attacks such as this and like that on the Westgate shopping mall in Nairobi underline what we’ve already seen in other cities: urban environments with their hotels, shopping centres and restaurants will be the battlegrounds of the future. And the siege, with its commando-style tactics and penetration of the city’s systems, is increasingly the tactic of choice for the enemies of civilization.

In his new book, Out of the Mountains: The Coming Age of the Urban Guerrilla, counterinsurgency strategist Dr. David Kilcullen examines conflicts in Benghazi, Kingston, Mumbai and other cities to explain the changing face of warfare. Given the major trends of the 21st century — population growth, coastal urbanization and increasing digital connectivity — he predicts a future of savage cities, and increasing intersections between crime and conflict in the real and virtual urban environments. Kilcullen argues that dealing with these challenges will require insight and expertise outside the military realm — from urban planning to systems engineering to alternative energy technology.

How countries can diffuse urban conflict was the theme of a discussion with Dr. Kilcullen hosted last month by The New America Foundation. It’s excellent. By the way, we end our urban-themed week here tomorrow with a look at Big Data and the City.


9/11 at 12

Wednesday, 11 September, 2013 0 Comments

Today is the twelfth anniversary of the 11 September 2001 terror attacks on Manhattan and Washington. What has entered folk memory as “9/11” was our young century’s introduction to totalitarianism, in its most brutal form. On that day, a murderous, criminal gang dedicated to maximizing civilian deaths seized airplanes filled with innocent passengers and then used their victims as part of a wicked plan to gain notoriety. In the wake of the tragedy, the civilized world woke up to the reality that the West was now at war with a medieval death cult driven by a racist, religious hatred of Jews, Hindus, Christians, Shi’a Muslims and all other “unbelievers”, especially those who placed their faith in democracy, tolerance and individual liberty. Out of the blue on 11 September 2001, those who trusted in modernity were confronted with the evil resolve of people dedicated to the restoration of a vanquished dictatorial empire. Two worlds collided on 9/11 and the repercussions are still being felt. As always, our thoughts are with the families whose loved ones were torn from them on that day.

The Twin Towers


The silence of the imams

Tuesday, 10 September, 2013 1 Comment

Students of contemporary barbarism should take note of what happened to customers at the Village restaurant in Mogadishu on Saturday. Here’s the BBC report: “The Somali Islamist militant group al-Shabab has said it bombed a popular restaurant in the capital Mogadishu, killing 15 people… Run by Somali businessman Ahmed Jama, who returned to the country from the UK in 2008, it was targeted by two suicide bombers last September in attacks that killed 14 people.”

As word of this appalling crime seeped out, Pope Francis was holding a “Syria peace vigil” in Rome attended by 100,000 people. “May the noise of weapons cease!” he said. “War always marks the failure of peace — it is always a defeat for humanity.” He didn’t mention the murdered Mogadishu diners directly, but he cannot be faulted for this because no imam did, either. These authority figures in the Islamic world are usually vociferous when it comes to condemning the decadence and crimes of the “West”, but they tend to be very shy about the horrific crimes being committed in the name of their own faith. And the body count from those faith killings is shocking.

In Iraq, some 4,000 people have been killed by rival Sunni and Shi’a gangs so far this year. The pot of sectarian hatred is being stirred by the Islamic Republic of Iran, which is also heavily involved in the savage Syrian civil war. It has invested heavily in the notion of an embattled Alawite regime led by Assad battling a radicalized Sunni opposition of al-Qaida terrorists because this legitimizes Teheran’s interference. Meanwhile, Turkey’s government is adding fuel to the sectarian fire, as rumors circulate that Ankara is pressing for a Sunni majority Syrian government if Assad falls. One does not need a vivid imagination to picture the butchery that would follow, should this ever be the case.

Forgotten in this gruesomeness is that fact that the Taliban have killed more than 1,300 men, women and children so far this year with car bombs, improvised explosive devices and suicide bombers in the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan. As if that wasn’t enough, Muslims are also murdering Muslims in Pakistan, Libya, Tunisia and Egypt and the silence of the imams and mullahs regarding this carnage is deafening. Finally, there’s Yemen: “Kuwaitis have called for stringent action against a family in Yemen after their eight-year-old daughter died of internal injuries on the first night of her arranged marriage to a man more than five times her age.”

A mosque


It’s time to take sides says Tony Blair

Tuesday, 27 August, 2013 3 Comments

Writing in the Times today, the former British Prime Minister Tony Blair says that we have reached a crossroads and he wants to know which direction the West will take. Is it going to be talk or action? Blair demands action. Snippet:

Tony Blair In Syria, we know what is happening. We know it is wrong to let it happen. But leave aside any moral argument and just think of our interests for a moment. Syria, disintegrated, divided in blood, the nations around it destabilised, waves of terrorism rolling over the population of the region; Assad in power in the richest part of the country; Iran, with Russia’s support, ascendant; a bitter sectarian fury running the Syrian eastern hinterland — and us, apparently impotent. I hear people talking as if there was nothing we could do: the Syrian defence systems are too powerful, the issues too complex, and in any event, why take sides since they’re all as bad as each other?

But others are taking sides. They’re not terrified of the prospect of intervention. They’re intervening. To support an assault on civilians not seen since the dark days of Saddam.

It is time we took a side: the side of the people who want what we want; who see our societies for all their faults as something to admire; who know that they should not be faced with a choice between tyranny and theocracy. I detest the implicit notion behind so much of our commentary — that the Arabs or even worse, the people of Islam are unable to understand what a free society looks like, that they can’t be trusted with something so modern as a polity where religion is in its proper place. It isn’t true. What is true is that there is a life-and-death struggle going on about the future of Islam and the attempt by extreme ideologues to create a political Islam at odds both with the open-minded tradition of Islam and the modern world.

Blair is right. We cannot be neutral in this clash of civilizations. Which side are you on?


The Saudis and the Brotherhood: love turns to hate

Tuesday, 20 August, 2013

“On Monday, Saudi Arabia promised to compensate Egypt for any aid that Western countries might withdraw in response to the harsh tactics employed by Egypt’s leaders to quell protests by supporters of the country’s deposed president, in which nearly 1,000 people and more than 100 police officers are reported to have been killed.” — Backing Egypt’s generals, Saudi Arabia promises financial support

Later in her Washington Post report, Liz Sly writes, “That Saudi Arabia is prepared to confront Washington over the crisis is an indicator of how deeply Saudi leaders were unsettled by the prospect of the Muslim Brotherhood consolidating its hold over the Arab world’s most populous nation, analysts say.”

Muslim Brotherhood Times have changed, especially in the relationship between the Saudis and the Muslim Brotherhood.

In 1952, Gamel Abdel Nasser and a group of fellow military officers overthrew King Farouk and turned to Sayyid Qutb and the Muslim Brotherhood for popular support. However, the Brotherhood wanted to outlaw alcohol and introduce the religious law of Islam, sharia, in the new, post-monarchical Egypt, a price that was too high for Nasser and his Revolutionary Council. It banned the Brotherhood in 1954, then undid the ban, but after an attempt on Nasser’s life, reinstated the ban.

In Terror and Liberalism, Paul Berman notes what happened next:

“Leading figures from the Muslim Brotherhood fled from Egypt to Saudi Arabia, and the Saudi rulers welcomed them, and put them to good use. The Saudi princes were determined to keep their own country on a path of pure adherence to Saudi Arabia’s antique and rigid version of Islam; and Egypt’s Islamist intellectuals, with their stores of Koranic knowledge, had much to offer. The Egyptian exiles took over professorial chairs in Saudi universities. And their impact was large. Qutb’s younger brother, Muhammad Qutb, a distinguished religious scholar in his own right, fled to Saudi Arabia and became a professor of Islamic Studies. One of his students was Osama bin Laden.”

Sayyid Qutb, however, stayed in Egypt and Nasser hanged him in 1966. By then, though, the damage was done and the religious fascism represented by Qutb and the Muslim Brotherhood has since left a trail of death and suffering that stretches from the banks of the Nile to lower Manhattan. It has also steered Saudi Arabia towards barbarism and although it’s a bit late in the day for the princely descendants of the princes who imported Qutb’s toxic ideology to acknowledge their capital mistakes, it is better that it’s done late rather than never. Unless they wish to be devoured by the radicals, the Saudis and the Egyptians know that the Muslim Brotherhood must be smashed.


Dying industry turns to terror and necrophilia

Thursday, 1 August, 2013 1 Comment

In a world where Google and Facebook are rewriting the rules of global media production and consumption, the traditional entertainment magazine must contemplate the writing on the wall. Still, there’s fight left in the old dog as Rolling Stone demonstrated recently when, in search of sales and publicity, it applied a touch of Che chic to suspected terrorist Dzhokhar Tsarnaev by placing him on its cover. Instead of flogging alleged killers, Vanity Fair opts for the dead with its September cover, which features Princess Diana. This highly cynical move is clearly timed it to coincide with the recent royal baby birth. The photo, taken by Mario Testino in 1997, is beautiful beyond words, but its blatant necrophiliac use by Vanity Fair is offensive in the extreme.

Vanity Fair


What we talk about when we talk about terrorism

Tuesday, 16 April, 2013 0 Comments

The word has become so politically incorrect that it should be avoided because one man’s terrorism is another’s liberation, we are told. When it comes to the “Language when Reporting Terrorism”, the BBC offers “Guidance in Full“, which states: “Terrorism is a difficult and emotive subject with significant political overtones and care is required in the use of language that carries value judgements. We try to avoid the use of the term ‘terrorist’ without attribution.”

What makes terrorism such a “difficult and emotive subject” for the media is that terrorism is often assumed to have validity. It only erupts wherever people have legitimate grievances, say the apologists. Eradicate these grievances — poverty, injustice, hunger, discrimination, inequality, lack of political participation — and the terror will stop. While it is true that in an ideal world inhabited by flawless human beings there would be no terrorism, the reality is that people are imperfect, our institutions are faulty and grievances can be addressed but never eliminated. Regardless of how democratic a society is, it can never be perfect. There will always be unhappy people claiming that their particular situation is unbearable, and there will be dangerous people more interested in terror than in tolerance.

Interestingly, democratic societies where grievances can be expressed openly are the favourite targets of terrorists, while the worst forms of dictatorship are almost never targeted. There were no terrorist movements in Nazi Germany or Fascist Italy, and there are none in North Korea today.


@IDFSpokesperson is winning

Friday, 16 November, 2012 0 Comments

With 122,768 followers, @IDFSpokesperson, the Twitter handle of the Israel Defense Forces, is winning the real-time information war against the terrorists. Their voice, @AlqassamBrigade, “The official web site of Al Qassam Brigades in Palestine”, has managed just 14,539 followers, including many Western media representatives, who thereby combine professional obligations with undisguised sympathy. The Hamas cat’s […]

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