June 2011


I hate to be depressing, guys, but really – this is horrifying…

The young teenage girl was thrown from a moving car like a piece of discarded litter.

When she had recovered enough to be interviewed she told detectives from Greater Manchester police a story that lifted the stone on a criminal subculture in which men systematically and routinely groom young girls whom they target anywhere young people gather – including cafes, takeaways and outside school – in order to rape and sexually abuse them, often passing them on to others.

Detectives discovered the crime was going on in almost every area of the Greater Manchester force, with children on the fringes of society – runaways from family homes and the care system – the predominant victims.

When did the “fringes” of society become so frayed that we can’t pick up on rape gangs? It’s a “hidden crime” the police say, and that’s true enough, but its victims were in plain sight. I mean, over a third of these children were in care(pdf) – it’s a horrifying reflection on our society that being “in care” so often implies neglect, abuse and isolation rather than, y’know – care.

The New York Times reports on a strange piece of hasbara…

A YouTube video featuring a man who presented himself as an American gay rights activist disillusioned with the latest Gaza flotilla campaign has been exposed as a hoax.

The man in the video, who introduced himself to viewers as Marc and claimed that the organizers of the latest flotilla of ships bound for Gaza had rejected his offer to mobilize a network of gay activists in support of their cause, was identified as Omer Gershon, a Tel Aviv actor involved in marketing, by the Electronic Intifada, a pro-Palestinian Web site.

Here’s Omer in action…

One thing gratuitous exposure to pro-wrestling does teach you is to separate a “worked” (staged) performance from the real thing. And Omer’s product is embarrassing. He ostentatiously turns the webcam on at the beginning but acquires a mystery cameraman at other points in the film. There are some tactics that I’d guess are common to spooks and astroturfers, though. He never directly states his affiliations – just mentioning ambiguous “gay rights networks”. His faux-naive narrative is also utterly implausible when you break it down: he implies that he’d have been prepared to join the flotilla because the names of its organisers “sound[ed] impressive”. Oh, yeah, and I’m off to Rwanda with Médecins sans Frontières. Don’t know much about the guys but, hey, MSF – almost like EMF, innit? Cool!

Various nuggets worth promoting or preserving -

Good News, Everyone – The Scottish Public Petitions Committee has referred the Lockerbie petition to the Justice Committee, where, happily, Lockerbie-sceptic Christine Graeme is the chair. If all goes well they’ll discuss the possibility of an inquiry into the verdict. Buried in this tangled institutional web, I’d like to think, is the hope that this question will be resolved.

Haute Cuisine – The new issue of Lobster(pdf) has been released, and contains terrific articles on the financial crisis, Kathryn Olmsted on “conspiracy theories”, paedophile scares and plenty more besides.

Taking the Mickey – An Egyptian businessman and Coptic Christian has caused outrage among Islamic clerics by tweeting a picture of Mickey and Minnie Mouse in a beard and veil respectively. The Beeb offers this quote, which perfectly encapsulates the mindset of people who think they have a right to be protected from offence…

There’s a fine line between expressing your opinion/freedom of speech and being flat out disrespectful…

No. No there isn’t. There is no line between them. The latter is merely an example of the former. This is the kind of point that should be loudly, firmly clarified.

A boy who cries, “Labrador!” – Mehdi Hasan believes it’s “time to lay the sharia bogeyman to rest”. I wish we could but then it’d just rise back up again. A poll of British Muslims suggested that 40% would like Sharia law established in Islamic areas of the U.K.. Let’s say that’s around 500,000 to a million people. When the BNP returned similar numbers of votes I don’t remember being told that it was time lay the fascist bogeyman to rest.

That’s Entertainment – This brilliant segment, which has had fans asking whether it was real or staged all day, is pro wrestling at its finest. I must sketch out its appeal some day.


The field of psychiatry appears to be enduring a renewed and, it seems to me, well-deserved assault. Richard Bentall’s fascinating Doctoring the Mind, published in 2009, essentially argued that there are three defects with in practices: no one’s sure of how to explain mental phenomena; no one’s sure of how to diagnose their conditions and no one’s sure of how to treat them. Actually, there are four, and the fourth could be the most important: far too many people are ignoring these uncertainties. Reductionist social and, increasingly, biological hypotheses are adduced as scientific truths; characteristics are wedged inside questionable diagnoses and, of course, Big Pharma-formulated treatments are doled out by the million. It seems to be a lethal mix of complacent ideology and corporate influence.

In the New York Review of Books Marcia Angell introduces recent tomes that offer similar conclusions

The books by Irving Kirsch, Robert Whitaker, and Daniel Carlat are powerful indictments of the way psychiatry is now practiced. They document the “frenzy” of diagnosis, the overuse of drugs with sometimes devastating side effects, and widespread conflicts of interest. Critics of these books might argue, as Nancy Andreasen implied in her paper on the loss of brain tissue with long-term antipsychotic treatment, that the side effects are the price that must be paid to relieve the suffering caused by mental illness. If we knew that the benefits of psychoactive drugs outweighed their harms, that would be a strong argument, since there is no doubt that many people suffer grievously from mental illness. But as Kirsch, Whitaker, and Carlat argue convincingly, that expectation may be wrong.

At the very least, we need to stop thinking of psychoactive drugs as the best, and often the only, treatment for mental illness or emotional distress. Both psychotherapy and exercise have been shown to be as effective as drugs for depression, and their effects are longer-lasting, but unfortunately, there is no industry to push these alternatives and Americans have come to believe that pills must be more potent. More research is needed to study alternatives to psychoactive drugs, and the results should be included in medical education.

Did the Russian Mafia kill Gareth Williams? That’s what the Mail’s asking, anyway…

The MI6 agent found dead in a holdall at his London flat was working on secret technology to target Russian criminal gangs who launder stolen money through Britain.

The revelation adds weight to claims that Gareth Williams was killed because of his secret work and raises the possibility that the Russian mafia has targeted British spies.

Well, the fact that these ever-anonymous sources have dropped the idea that his death was an accident or amateurish killing might suggest we’re inching closer to the truth. On the other hand, before I entertain this “Russian mafia” idea, I’d like to know why the police insisted it was his private life that inspired the killing, not his work. Then I’d like to know who spread lurid claims about that private life, and allowed the media to gawp over them; smear him as – essentially – a pervert and make his family’s lives even more painful. Then, if that’s all cleared up, I’d like to be told whether Williams’ “best friend” in the services, who wassuddenly” transferred to Denver before his killing and stopped from speaking to investigators by the MI6, has testified to the police. And, if not, why.

I’d like to know, in other words, why they’ve been bullshitting us since day one.

There are other questions to be answered, of course. (Was his friend correct to say that he was working on a “new identity” and, if so, how does that fit with the claim that he was just “devising…software”?) But, ultimately, it’s not worth taking the “Russian mafia” claim too seriously at the mo’, ‘cos if there’s one thing this case has revealed it’s how worthless anonymous sources are. The Mail references “outlandish conspiracy theories”. Thus far, I’m afraid, the weirdest have come from the state.

This glorious Star Wars mashup (thanks, ejh!) reminded me of one of my favourite unsung creative forms: the spontaneous angry rant. For some reason unhinged fury can give rise to the most florid and ingenious streams of language humans have produced. All the inhibitions that our fears and conscience impose on our speech in milder times are swept aside by a wave of maddened rhetoric. Here are a few classics…

Ranter: Christian Bale

Target: Director of Photography on Terminator: Salvation

Choice Quote: “D’you want me to fucking trash your lights?”

Ranter: Buddy Rich

Target: His jazz band

Choice Quote: “You motherfuckers are sucking all over this joint!”

Ranter: John Sitton

Target: Leyton Orient

Choice Quote: “If you come back at me, we’ll have a fucking right sort-out in here. All right? And you can pair up if you like, and you can fucking pick someone else to help you, and you can bring your fucking dinner. ‘Cos by the time I’ve finished with you, you’ll fucking need it.”

So, Geert Wilders was cleared. Good. The classic liberal argument is that views should be debated, not prohibited, so I re-read a series of pieces that I wrote a coupl’a years ago on the man. Franky, I was disgusted. With myself.

There was the odd fair point about the man and his compadres. There was plenty of abuse (he was, apparently, an “arse” and “bouffant bonehead” whose election would be “as welcome as a handful of ricin in the water mains”). But among the scorn and denunciation there was scant engangement with the issues that surround him. There’s nothing wrong with scorn and denunciation but look at this way: there’s nothing wrong with cream on coffee but subtract the latter and your snack seems gross and immature.

I’ve no wish to revisit my opinion of Wilders for the simple reason that he’s Dutch and his future is the business of the Dutch people. It’s the broader topic of political Islam that I’d like to reconsider, because (a) since those posturings, and without quite realising it, my views have changed and (b) if this blog has a theme it’s upholding the value of investigating currents of thought, however muddied their waters might seem.

I’d like to make two points clear, though. First, that I make no excuses for hawkishness. If you think that military adventurism is a cure for Islamic radicalism you’re massively deluded. Never mind the millions who’ve been killed or dispossessed – much of that radicalism was encouraged by the West. It’s like asking Leatherface to perform surgery. Second, that I have no desire to be a combatant in the “War on Terror”. What I’d like to consider is “non-violent extremism”. To that end, I’m going to write this post without mentioning (except here, of course) the very word terrorism.

***

The Pew Research Center has predicted that Muslims will make up 10% of the British population in the year 2030. Hardly Eurabia, no, but a sizeable chunk of the populace, especially considering that they’re liable to be distributed in certain areas: London, Birmingham and Northern cities like Bradford, Leicester or Leeds.

There are some who’d now respond with, “So, what’s the beef?” These, of course, are multiculturalists – people who, as far as I’m aware, think that no one culture has the right to monopolise a society, and, besides that a diversity of cultures is a blessing. And migrants have blessed the Brits. That’s not to be platitudinous, it’s just a fact. Christopher Caldwell famously speculated that the greatest blessing of migration was “Pakistani cuisine”. Well, even disregarding curries, naan breads and kebabs, I doubt you’d find a British person who hasn’t benefited from it. Anyone who’s cheered on Amir Khan, Nasser Hussain or Nicholas Anelka, watched James Caan, Rageh Omaar or Konnie Huq, read Tahmima Anam, worn Joe Bloggs or, hell, just had a friend of Pakistani, Indian or Bangladeshi extraction will know migrants, from Islamic nations or otherwise, can’t be seen as monolithic. The “mass” in “mass migration” doesn’t mean they’re one big blob.

Yet while tarring a people with the same brush is wrong, to whitewash them is no better. In these eerie post 9/11 years we’ve come to see radicalism as a feature of the “War on Terror”. This is, as much as that deceitful enterprise has played upon the fears of Western folk, a vaguely comforting idea, as it implies it can be traced to relatively distinct networks. As strange as it is to outdo George Bush for antagonism, however,  “extremist” doesn’t translate as “suicide bomber”.

In a Guardian interview, Sayeeda Warsi claims that “extremists” aren’t Muslims…

…if you are an Islamist extremist you are by its very nature following a distorted, detached version of the faith. You’re not actually of the faith.

If this is true she’s thinned the ranks of Muslims quite considerably.

What kind of idea do you think is “extreme”? How about the notion that apostates or adulterers should be executed? Well, that’s not the view of an “extremist” minority – it’s mainstream. Not ubiquitous – most of the Turks and Lebanese, say, aren’t keen on such ideas – but in the broad sweep of Islamic opinion they’re majority views. Popular and theologically reputable. Yusuf Al-Qaradawi, believed by influential Muslims and British politicians to be “one of the most authoritative Muslim scholars” around, has said that “Muslim jurists agree that the apostate is to be punished” and “the majority of them go for killing”. (So does he, by the way – unless they keep it to themselves.)

I don’t know enough about Islam to discern its fundamental nature but you don’t have to know the workers of a car to see how it performs. You don’t have to be expert on Islamic teaching to see what Muslims think. So, let me put it this way. European Christians, by and large, think that if you disobey the commandments of God you’ll pay for it – after you die. Muslims, on the other hand, are far more likely to believe that if you disobey the commandments of Allah you should pay for it – on Earth. That’s why the Cairo Declaration of Human Rights in Islam structured its precepts around the Islamic Shari’ah while the European Convention on Human Rights is noted for its lack of references to the ten commandments.

There are people, such as me, who’ve pointed to differences of opinion in Islamic countries as evidence that the religion isn’t monolithic. This is, to paraphrase Gag Helfrunt, true but probably irrelevant. If two people are debating two illiberal strains of a religion I’ll watch with interest but that doesn’t mean I want the argument to play out here. Ali “let’s not kill apostates, just punish them” Gomaa is preferable to Yusuf “kill ‘em” Al-Qaradawi but his views are only liberal inasmuch as his culture is so authoritarian. In its bold denial of the freedom of conscience and freedom of expression it’s still, by our standards, an “extremist” position. Both ideas are noxious and threatening and I have no desire for them to gain currency in Britain, Europe or, well, anywhere they’ve not already been established.

A culture can deal with some “extremists”. If they’re marginal enough they won’t have the power to wield influence (and, in some cases, like the Stalin Society, can be faintly endearing). But a growing population of “extremists” will become more of a threat over time. And it will grow: much of our immigration is from countries whose people cleave to theocratic strictures, and such view are popular – if considerably less so – amongst their educated young.

This poses various dangers. In the long term, “extremists” – theocrats, Islamists, whatever’s your preferred descriptor – could build up sufficient numbers to gain electoral sway. This sounds implausible but it should be remembered (a) that they’re likely to be concentrated in certain areas and (b) that while our system has conditioned us to think in terms of five year plans we’ll still be around in twenty years or so. As well as exploiting the democratic process such numbers would lend them greater force in pressuring the institutions whose work defies their views.

Growing numbers also increases the likelihood of people taking the (Sharia) law into their own hands. Bringing their environment into accordance with their will by forcing out the elements that contradict it. A host of beaten Jews, intimidated women and bullied apostates can attest to how serious a threat that is.

With these points in mind, “non-violent” extremism may be thought more dangerous – here, at least – than its more spectacular cousin. So, what’s to be done? Some might feel that we should live and let live. That’s not an option. You can only do this with somebody if they’re willing to extend the same courtesy. Liberals and secularists might claim that what’s required is a good, old-fashioned argument. This is terribly idealistic in that it ignores the fact that arguing rarely changes people’s mind. We’re not particularly rational beings – clinging to beliefs, in spite of everything that’s thrown at them. A third hope is that contact with a liberal-ish society will be infectious. This also sounds idealistic but is not without foundation. A disturbing number of British Muslims have endorsed Sharia law but the fact that it’s so much lower than the nations they, their families and their co-religionists have left remains cause for hope. Others may drift from religion and, indeed, separate themselves from it entirely. (I know of one bloke who’s an affable drunkard at Uni and poses as an observant Muslim at home.)

Yet this is a risk. I think, as I’ve said, that mass migration is a really dangerous policy. The kind of pluralism that has been encouraged in the past decades is, at best, experimental – no one really knows how different communities are going to emerge from it. I’m conservative enough to think we shouldn’t act as if we’ve already achieved the desired results.

One thing I’ve come to realise is that supposed freedoms are often vehicles for oppression. So, the freedom to consign one’s children to a faith school seems to be a little privilege that provokes lots of injustice. Theocratic textbooks are often being unearthed; undercover filming has revealed similar garbage being preached; the chairman of the Association of Muslim Schools once openly stated that apostates deserve execution. I don’t see why tax money should be spent on making our society a more unpleasant place. Similarly, I’m intensely relaxed to know that David Cameron won’t be funding “non-violent” extremists. It would seem ridiculous to pay “non-violent” fascists to keep a handle on Combat 88 and, in many cases, I fail to see the difference here. “We” should stop playing with firebrands.

A third change, and something we can all pitch in on, is answering calls to check free speech with more, louder (and, if necessary, better) speech. The weird thing about the self-censorship that’s practiced over “insults” to Islam – or, indeed, insults to Islam – is that it’s often provoked by little more than obscure fulminators. It’s stupid. Like fleas intimidating giants. If “we” can’t stand up to frothing Mullahs on the street it’ll inspire their hulking relatives to think we’re submissive.

The freedom we enjoy in our society is weird – abnormal – ahistorical. Think of it: religious people, who believe that straying from the path their God has laid before you means you’ll wander into the eternal blackness of hell, are prepared to coexist with people who try and tempt us off it. They respect your freedom at the cost of your and others’ eternal soul. We should remember how strange and special that is before we take it for granted.

Adam Curtis has been getting a once-over – some of it deserved – but it’s important to remember an extraordinary virtue of his films: the music. Sure, the sweet and sober tones might distract you from whatever the guy’s theorising but that doesn’t mean they’re not great choons.

I’ve been hunting down some favourites from his recent series. This is a delicious little slice of J-pop…

I was already a fan of this demented trash from French-German hipsters Stereo Total. It’s guaranteed to provoke the ol’ synapses…

And who doesn’t welcome a spot of Nine Inch Nails? Making despair sound life-affirming since 1988…

Though, frankly, I think this gorgeous offering from Low would have been more effective.

I suppose it’s when you realise that you’re more concerned with the choice of music than the subject matter that you see the value of conventional argumentation…

It’s the weekend! So, here’s a great song…

A funny video…

And a classic wrestling match…

Have fun, broheims. (Or, er, brohers…)

Richard Marquise, the FBI investigator into the Pan Am bombing, is, as far as I’m aware, the only public figure who’s tried to defend the prosecution. It’s interesting, then, that he does it rather badly.

Anyway, in an interview with OhmyNews, back in 2009, Marquise addressed the evidence that crucial (if unconvincing) witness Tony Gauci was rewarded for his testimony in the form of loadsamoney…

I can assure you that no witnesses were ever offered any money by anyone…

When he was interviewed for Gideon Levy’s documentary Lockerbie Revisited Marquise seems to have been more equivocal…

Richard Marquise states categorically that no money was paid to any of the witnesses before the trial. In relation to witness Tony Gauci, Marquise refuses to say whether any money was paid out after the trial.

After the Al Jazeera documentary – which provided a sceptical view of the investigation – Marquise popped up in the comments at Robert Black’s blog and gave an even weirder response…

I believe that I and any of my Scottish colleagues coulod well have testified in Zeist that no witness asked for, was promised or paid money in exchange for saying anything anything.

Let’s all play a game where we answer the relevant question! Was money offered? Given? It seems so

Presented with documents showing that Scottish police officers and FBI agents had discussed as early as September 1989, ‘an offer of unlimited money to Tony Gauci, with $10,000 being available immediately’, Lord Fraser said: “I have to accept that it happened. It shouldn’t have and I was unaware of it.”

The Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission conducted its own investigation into the case, which resulted in it being referred back for a second appeal – abandoned when Megrahi was freed. Unlike the trial court, it required police officers to produce notebooks and diaries.

Harry Bell’s diary reveals that reward money was discussed from September 1989 onwards, within days of Gauci being traced.The Commission also reported that Gauci’s brother, Paul, who made important witness statements, ‘had a clear desire to gain financial benefit’, and that ‘the US authorities offered to make substantial payments to Tony Gauci at an early stage’.

Witness payments have typically been an issue when the media has offered witnesses moolah for their tales. It’s so controversial that the practice was nearly banned, and is subject to a host of regulations. (One of them, which might interest Lord Fraser, is that any payment or offer of payment must be disclosed to the prosecution and defence.) They’re concerned that the idea of cash might sway the witnesses’ judgements.

Hmm.

Seems like Mr Marquise has some ‘splaining to do.

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