Bastille Day Terrorist Attack In Nice – The Enemy Which We Refuse To Name Strikes Again

Nice Attack - Truck - Terrorism - France

As #PrayForNice trends on Twitter and another European city is plunged into terror and tragedy, what action have we taken to name, confront and defeat the evil which threatens us?

The news and images coming from the French city of Nice on what should be the most celebratory of days for the French people – Bastille Day – are awful, and heartbreaking, and wearily familiar.

As of this time, 77 people are confirmed dead, mown down on the Promenade des Anglais by a truck driven at high speed and containing an arsenal of weapons and explosives. This is clearly an act of terror – the numerous bullet holes in the windshield of the blood stained truck a testament to the amount of force it took the security services to stop the vehicle. And of course this is the third time in nineteen months that the French have suffered a grievous, high profile terrorist attack on their soil – first Charlie Hebdo, then the Bataclan, both in Paris, and now the Bastille Day celebrations in Nice.

To this we can add the Brussels terrorist attacks in March this year and, looking beyond Europe, numerous deadly attacks in Turkey as well as the terrorist shootings in San Bernadino and Orlando.

This is the future. This is the kind of terrorism which we are now going to face – not truly grand attacks on the level of 9/11, where casualties run into the thousands, but a long, slow grind of relentless medium-sized attacks, often on lower-value targets or in second tier, provincial cities. Often their planning and execution may turn out to be quite crude – this is not the age of the cunning master plan coordinated from a supervillain’s lair, but of “quick and dirty” plots hatched by autonomous cells and all the more unsettling precisely because they do not strike where we expect.

Now, murder comes to the airport entrance before the security checkpoints, or to an unremarkable concert venue, or a nondescript office or the main strip of a seaside town. Places which with the best will in the world are impossible to defend 24/7.

Radical Islamist terror has moved firmly into the age of the lone wolf, or the quasi-autonomous sleeper cell.

Why? Think of it like WiFi. Terrorist networks can no longer safely rely on coordinating large scale attacks in the West from a remote location with a reasonable degree of confidence that they will go undetected. Therefore, if ISIS and other fundamentalist Islamist organisations cannot physically cooordinate logistics and dispatch operatives to conduct attacks in Western cities, they must resort to other, remote means.

When the traditional methods of internet, telephone and even face-to-face communication are at risk of being intercepted by the security services, proponents of fundamentalist Islamist ideology must instead rely on transmitting their ideology and broad objectives through more general means, including YouTube and social media, targeted at the right susceptible population – usually disaffected and alienated young Muslim men who do not feel connected to or fully invested in society. The leaders of this death cult then rely on some of their indoctrinated targets possessing sufficient initiative to become their own mini terrorist masterminds.

We saw this approach in San Bernadino last winter, and again in Orlando last month. As more facts emerge, it may become clear that the Nice attack followed this pattern. Alternatively, it may be that Europe’s porous border and chaotic influx of migrants allowed foreign terrorists to slip through the net and aid in the planning or execution of the attack (press reports currently indicate that ID found on the truck driver suggest that he is a 31-year-old with dual French-Tunisian nationality, but this ID could well be fake or stolen).

But what is already crystal clear is the stark, uncomfortable fact that since Paris and Brussels (or Madrid and London, if you want to cast back a decade) our leaders have done nothing – nothing at all – to meaningfully grapple with this scourge of Islamist terrorism. So terrified are they of being accused of intolerance or racism that all we hear is the furious insistence that these atrocities have “nothing to do with Islam“.

And it’s just false. Of course the barbarity in Nice has absolutely nothing to do with the peaceful, moderate Islam practise by millions of adherents in the West and elsewhere. But it cannot be denied that those who do commit mass murdering acts of terrorism often explicitly reference Islam as their inspiration and justification – and do so from a very literal reading of certain Islamic texts. Moderate Islam does not inspire terrorist attacks, clearly. But fundamentalist, radical Islam often does, and we need to admit as much, for if we cannot even name the threat which we face what chance do we have of overcoming it?

As Douglas Murray rightly pointed out in the wake of the Charlie Hebdo massacre:

Contra the political leaders, the Charlie Hebdo murderers were not lunatics without motive, but highly motivated extremists intent on enforcing Islamic blasphemy laws in 21st-century Europe. If you do not know the ideology — perverted or plausible though it may be — you can neither understand nor prevent such attacks. Nor, without knowing some Islamic history, could you understand why — whether in Mumbai or Paris — the Islamists always target the Jews.

[..] We have spent 15 years pretending things about Islam, a complex religion with competing interpretations. It is true that most Muslims live their lives peacefully. But a sizeable portion (around 15 per cent and more in most surveys) follow a far more radical version. The remainder are sitting on a religion which is, in many of its current forms, a deeply unstable component. That has always been a problem for reformist Muslims. But the results of ongoing mass immigration to the West at the same time as a worldwide return to Islamic literalism means that this is now a problem for all of us. To stand even a chance of dealing with it, we are going to have to wake up to it and acknowledge it for what it is.

The cost of this furious pretence that Islam is totally unconnected to the “so called” Islamic State and the terror attacks committed in its name can now be measured in a growing toll of human lives. And the slickness with which we now mourn these events, with standardised tributes and modes of behaviour, only serves to emphasise our utter lack of coordination in preventing their recurrence.

As this blog commented after the recent Brussels attacks in March, charting the inevitability of the public grieving followed by zero meaningful action:

Impromptu shrines appear in a major square of the afflicted city, with candles, chalk drawings and sometimes a bit of impromptu John Lennon.

And the day closes with Europe and America’s major landmarks illuminated to resemble the national flag of the afflicted nation. They’re getting really good at that part now.

Fast forward a day, and plans are well afoot to grant even more powers to the well-meaning but overstretched security services – who were unable to make use of their current extensive powers to thwart the attack – and generally at the expense of our civil liberties. Particularly our rights to privacy and free speech.

Fast forward a month, and we have all moved on. Domestic political concerns, celebrity scandals and daily life have reasserted themselves.

I think we can all agree that we’ve got the public grief, cathartic expressions of solidarity and stern faced authoritarianism down to a fine art at this point.

When are we going to start acknowledging – and maybe even tackling – the root causes?

Unless our leaders can openly and unequivocally acknowledge that the terrorist scourge which sees murder brought to the streets of Europe on a near-monthly basis has its roots in a fundamentalist, literalist and militant strain of Islam, how are we ever to really get to grips with the issues of radicalisation and non-assimilation?

If the deaths of eighty slain people in Nice have nothing whatsoever to do with Islam then how do we hope to save young and impressionable Muslim schoolgirls in London from stealing away to Syria to join ISIS, or young and impressionable Muslim boys from falling under the seductive spell of jihadist recruiters?

If we cannot openly and comfortably name the enemy which we face – not an entire religion, but certainly a very real and present strain of Islam – then how do we even begin to formulate policies which will meaningfully reduce this threat over time?

The answer is that we cannot. We can clamp down further on our precious civil liberties, bartering away even more of our freedoms in the hope of purchasing additional security (and letting the terrorists win, since they count as a victory anything which diminishes our liberal democratic way of life). We can ramp up the surveillance state and clamp down on freedom of speech to make it look like we are doing something purposeful, even though the costs of such draconian measures far exceed the benefits. But none of these measures will stop two radicalised guys and a truck from repeating the horrors of Nice in Camden Town or Edinburgh.

It is impossible to create the perfectly secure country, and the closer one tries to get to this ideal, greater and greater are the liberties which must be traded away in exchange. Therefore, the only way to stop more Nice attacks from happening is to approach the problem from the other end and seek to tackle the radical, fundamentalist Islamist extremism.

And this is the one thing which our leaders, in their tragic fear of giving offence, shamefully refuse to do.

 

Paris Terror Attacks - Eiffel Tower Dark - 2

Top Image: Guardian

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Brussels Attacks: Solidarity With Belgium Today, But What About Tomorrow?

Bruxelles - Brussels - Terrorist Attack - Brandenburg Gate - 3

Solidarity is great. What’s next?

There is a very familiar pattern to all of this.

A bloody Islamist terrorist attack brings carnage and fear to the streets of a major Western city.

Everyone from heads of state to the man next door rush to publicly register their shock and solidarity on Twitter.

Someone inevitably pops up after a few hours to lecture us that there is nothing Islamic about Islamic State, and that we should really be calling them Daesh, or “so-called Islamic State”.

Someone else usually pops up to say something incredibly bigoted or ignorant about all Muslims.

Impromptu shrines appear in a major square of the afflicted city, with candles, chalk drawings and sometimes a bit of impromptu John Lennon.

And the day closes with Europe and America’s major landmarks illuminated to resemble the national flag of the afflicted nation. They’re getting really good at that part now.

Fast forward a day, and plans are well afoot to grant even more powers to the well-meaning but overstretched security services – who were unable to make use of their current extensive powers to thwart the attack – and generally at the expense of our civil liberties. Particularly our rights to privacy and free speech.

Fast forward a month, and we have all moved on. Domestic political concerns, celebrity scandals and daily life have reasserted themselves.

I think we can all agree that we’ve got the public grief, cathartic expressions of solidarity and stern faced authoritarianism down to a fine art at this point.

When are we going to start acknowledging – and maybe even tackling – the root causes?

 

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Syria Vote: Hilary Benn, Saviour Of The Labour Party?

 

Despite deep division within Labour, Hilary Benn’s excellent speech in the Syria debate made David Cameron look very small indeed. But it changes nothing in terms of Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership

Is Hilary Benn the saviour of the Labour Party, the chosen one sent to lead the party out of the Corbynite darkness?

People are starting to say so – first as a result of Benn’s determined stance in the crunch shadow cabinet meeting yesterday, and especially now, after that electrifying speech in the Syria debate.

The speech was undoubtedly a good one. Here’s a key excerpt:

So the question for each of us – and for our national security – is this: given that we know what they are doing, can we really stand aside and refuse to act fully in our self-defence against those who are planning these attacks? Can we really leave to others the responsibility for defending our national security when it is our responsibility? And if we do not act, what message would that send about our solidarity with those countries that have suffered so much – including Iraq and our ally, France.

And the stirring peroration:

Now Mr Speaker, I hope the house will bear with me if I direct my closing remarks to my Labour friends and colleagues on this side of the House. As a party we have always been defined by our internationalism. We believe we have a responsibility one to another. We never have – and we never should – walk by on the other side of the road.

And we are here faced by fascists. Not just their calculated brutality, but their belief that they are superior to every single one of us in this chamber tonight, and all of the people that we represent. They hold us in contempt. They hold our values in contempt. They hold our belief in tolerance and decency in contempt. They hold our democracy, the means by which we will make our decision tonight, in contempt.

And what we know about fascists is that they need to be defeated. And it is why, as we have heard tonight, socialists and trade unionists and others joined the International Brigade in the 1930s to fight against Franco. It’s why this entire House stood up against Hitler and Mussolini. It is why our party has always stood up against the denial of human rights and for justice. And my view, Mr Speaker, is that we must now confront this evil. It is now time for us to do our bit in Syria. And that is why I ask my colleagues to vote for the motion tonight.

The House erupted into rare and sustained applause (which is apparently okay these days, so long as it is not SNP Members of Parliament doing the clapping), while social media and the blogosphere lit up with praise for Benn and hopeful talk that this speech might represent the reassertion of the centrist Left and the high water mark for the Corbynite flood.

Here’s Dan Hodges, waxing lyrical:

Hilary Benn’s speech. It is about to become the House of Commons “where were you when Kennedy was shot” moment. Where were you sitting. Who were you with. What were you thinking.

It was a truly incredible moment. He did not just captivate the House, he inverted the House. Hilary Benn did not look like the Shadow Foreign Secretary. He did not look like the leader of the opposition. He looked like the prime minister. And by extension, his party, which for the past few days has appeared broken and beaten, looked like the government.

Most amazing of all was the effect on the real Leader of the Opposition. Though we may as well now refer to him as the former leader of the opposition. Jeremy Corbyn started by looking agitated. Then he appeared uncomfortable. Then he began to shrink. It was like watching the witch from the Wizard of Oz who has just had a bucket of water thrown over her. All the talk of his “mandate”. All the talk of his legions of new activists. They were destroyed in an instant. Crushed by Hilary Benn and 100 years of the Labour party’s accumulated moral authority.

If only that were so.

Of course Hodges would talk up Hilary Benn, or anyone else from the Labour front bench who managed to sound eloquent while undermining Jeremy Corbyn – and fair enough. The praise is deserved, if somewhat excessive. People will not long remember this speech, and only people within the Westminster bubble and the highly politically engaged will have paid it any note at all. We should not allow ourselves to get carried away by the adrenaline of the moment.

While Hilary Benn’s speech may have been extraordinarily cathartic for centrist Labour types who have had little cause for hope since Jeremy Corbyn (or even Ed Miliband) won the leadership of their party, there is little reason to believe that one speech will dramatically change the fortunes of the Labour Party.

Most people do not watch parliamentary debates, even moderately iconic ones (and this one has certainly been hyped out of all proportion, with politicians and the media talking up the extension of existing airstrikes as some kind of paradigm-shifting declaration of war). Few people will have actually seen Hilary Benn grow in stature, or Jeremy Corbyn shrink a little next to him on the green benches last night.

Martin Kettle acknowledged as much in his own piece praising Benn’s speech:

Wednesday was certainly a reminder that speeches can still make a difference in politics. It was, though, a Victorian political event in a digital age. Benn’s speech was electrifying in the chamber. It triggered an instant Twitter storm among what may have been several hundred BBC Parliament watchers. But most people watch other things. Most people still don’t know who Hilary Benn is, let alone that he made a well regarded speech. And the sleepless digital news caravan has already moved on.

While it’s great that the dignified, sober part of the Labour Party briefly asserted itself – by thwarting Corbyn’s desire to whip the Syria vote, and in Hilary Benn’s speech – it does little to change the cold, hard calculus facing the Labour Party.

Jeremy Corbyn is still not going anywhere – he smilingly said as much on the Andrew Marr show last weekend. His supporters are still growing in influence within the Labour Party, and their memories are long – the current talk of deselections will not have been forgotten by the time the 2020 general election rolls around. And while Benn’s speech was excellent, it only further highlighted the division within the shadow cabinet. That’s the message that most people will take away – that on an important decision about committing British armed forces to action, the Labour Party is no longer able to come to a common position.

Hilary Benn may have displayed his leadership credentials last night, but there is no escaping the fact that Jeremy Corbyn retains firm control of the party, and that any effort to remove Corbyn will produce a nuclear backlash from the activist party base.

The Labour Party needs more than one man with a good speech in his pocket and centrism in his heart. If the goal is to recapture the centre ground of British politics, Labour needs a new wave of members to dilute and counteract the thousands of left-wing activists attracted by Corbyn. And while Hilary Benn gave a good speech on foreign policy, there is no evidence that he is beloved by the public or capable of attracting legions of centre-left supporters back to the party.

Labour Party centrists are desperate for a saviour, and that is understandable. But Hilary Benn is not the answer – not even if ten of his clones sat in Jeremy Corbyn’s shadow cabinet.

To change course, the centrists don’t need one Hilary Benn. They need one hundred thousand new people to be inspired enough by Benn’s words to pick up the phone and join the Labour Party. And that’s simply not going to happen.

The Labour Party needs a new membership before it can even begin to think about choosing a new leader.

Hilary Benn - Syria Speech

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When Is The Islamic State Not The Islamic State?

Islamic State - ISIS - Islam - Daesh

Rather than tackle an intractable issue and mortal enemy, our superficial politicians are quibbling over the language we use in describing it

When is the Islamic State in Syria – ISIS – not the Islamic State in Syria?

Apparently the answer to this question is: since a couple of days ago, when the hive mind of lazy politician groupthink decided that we must bend and warp journalistic practice – and the English language itself – in order to make it clearer that the majority of us do not condone the activities of that brutal, backward-looking group of primitive fundamentalists.

My attention has been elsewhere lately – freshly returned from a relaxing and eventful trip to Greece but otherwise more focused on domestic than foreign affairs. So it was surprising to find my attention drawn back by the furious row between the government and the BBC over exactly how the public service broadcaster should refer to the nascent medieval kingdom seeking to establish itself in the middle east.

The Spectator is – quite rightly – having none of it:

‘Isis’ is an acronym of Islamic State in Syria. ‘Isil’ – an acronym of Islamic State in the Levant. Isil is the better translation of the group’s Arabic name al-Dawla al-Islamiya fil-Iraq wa al-Sham – where ‘Sham’ represents greater Syria or ‘the Levant’ as we would say in English.

As for ‘Daesh’, it has the small propaganda advantage of reminding Arabic speakers of Daes (‘one who crushes something underfoot’) and Dahes (‘one who sows discord’). But beyond that childish word association it is no help at all, for ‘Daesh’ is just the Arabic abbreviation of al-Dawla al-Islamiya fil-Iraq wa al-Sham – or the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant.

All the euphemisms politicians demand we must use to avoid calling Islamic State ‘Islamic State’ therefore call Islamic State ‘Islamic State’. How can they not, for that is its name? And it is no more up to outsiders to change a group’s name than it is up to you to change the names of your acquaintances. Assuming the politicians know what they are doing, they must believe that many voters will not know what ‘Isil’ and ‘Isis’ stand for, or only Arabic speakers will understand the meaning of ‘Daesh’. In other words, they are relying on ignorance and hoping to foster ignorance too.

Never mind the obvious undesirability of government telling the state-owned broadcaster what to report and how to report it – thus proving the central argument against government ownership of the media. Of far more concern is the fact that politicians – specifically our current generation of uncharismatic, uninspiring, superficial leaders – seem to believe that expending time and energy arguing about what to call the Islamic State is more important than doing anything about ISIS in the real world.

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