Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Posts Tagged ‘terrorism’

Soldiers of a Different God ****

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 14th August, 2018

Soldiers of a Different GodWhile considerable attention has been paid by the media to jihadi groups and terrorist attacks of various kinds, the spotlight has not been shone so brightly on the counter-jihad movement. That is the term Brussels-based writer Christopher Othen gives to the motley collection of political activists, commentators and miscellaneous Islamophobes who are the subject of his book, Soldiers of a Different God (Amberley, £18.99). The sub-title on the cover offers the promise that the book will explain how the counter-jihad movement created mayhem, murder and the Trump presidency, but in fact the narrative thread is not as assertive as that. Indeed, at the very end, the author tentatively opines: “Decide whether Islam is an existential threat to Western liberal democracy or a slandered religion of peace that just wants to co-exist. Even Houllebecq the mage on the cover of Charlie Hebdo might find that kind of prediction beyond his powers.”

The French novelist Michel Houllebecq is just one phenomenally successful literary figure whose contribution to the counter-jihad movement is considered. Far more significant in many ways is Oriana Fallaci, who raised herself from her sickbed to write La Rabbia e l’Orgoglio, which, Othen writes, “spewed rage and venom like an out-of-control firehose.” Othen’s rhetoric is a fiery as that of many of the characters he introduces into the story, from Marine Le Pen and Geert Wilders to Milo Yiannopoulos and Nigel Farage, but that does not mean he shares their views. Steve Bannon, formerly Donald Trump’s right-hand man, and for a while a key figure in alt-right Breitbart News, comes across as a particularly hiss-worthy pantomime villain. Othen was a journalist before turning to writing books, and much of this volume is written in colourful journalese, which suggests the volume is geared towards a younger readership, yet there are pages of copious notes at the end, giving it an apparent badge of academic respectability. I liked the way that he managed to include most of the right-wing nutters on both sides of the Atlantic that one has learned to hate, while not glossing over the terrorism, rape, human rights abuses and other causes of their ire, so the book does serve as a useful source for easy reference. But I do wish he had taken a clearer authorial stance. Serves me right for taking at face-value what was on the cover.

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What Makes a Terrorist *****

Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 4th August, 2018

What Makes a TerroristTerrorists, like revolutionaries, tend to come not from the impoverished masses but from the middle class, and usually have an above-average level of education. This was the shock central finding of Alan B. Krueger’s What Makes a Terrorist when it was published a decade ago, thus challenging the widely-held assumption that poverty is the root cause of terrorism. A 10th anniversary edition of the book has now appeared (Princeton University Press. £22), with the addition of a new Prologue, in which Professor Krueger points out that despite the high level of publicity surrounding terrorist attacks, the risk of being a victim of such an outrage is minimal and has not increased since 2008, notwithstanding blanket coverage of incidents in the media, including social media. In the 15 years between 9/11 and 2016, for example, 123 Americans were killed in terrorist attacks, whereas 240,000 were murdered.

9 11The main body of this book comprises three lectures that Dr Krueger (Bendheim Professor of Economics and Public Affairs at Princeton) gave at the London School of Economics, snappily entitled Who Becomes a Terrorist? Where does Terror Emerge? and What Does Terror Accomplish? As a regular commentator in mainstream media in the United States, the author is adept at explaining things in layman’s terms, while sacrificing none of his academic rigour. The unique quality of his work rests on the fact that he approaches the subject from the perspective of an economist (statistics and all, though there is only one mind-boggling equation to daunt the non-specialist). He draws on useful examples, not least from Iraq and the Basque Country, as evidence to support his theories and certain quantifiable patterns do emerge. While most of us may find it impossible to imagine a situation in which we would deliberately kill random people in an act of violence, probably sacrificing our own lives, it is maybe useful to understand why some youths — and they are overwhelmingly young men — do and what they hope to achieve. Anger about a situation of poverty and injustice, such as the plight of the Palestinians in Gaza, can be a motive, even if the perpetrators are not poor themselves. But I found particularly intriguing Professor Krueger’s assertion that there is a correlation between the origin of terrorists and the lack of civil liberties in that country. So although there is probably still substance to the argument that reducing poverty and injustice could reduce the incentives for terrorism, improving civil liberties and good governance could be at least as effective. Egypt and Saudi Arabia, please take note.

 

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Standing up to Terrorism

Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 24th March, 2017

Westminster Bridge attackAs the Metropolitan Police had been warning for months that there would almost certainly be a terrorist attack in a London, following those in Paris and Brussels, the Westminster outrage should not have been a shock, but of course it was. Nothing can truly prepare one for the random carnage caused by pure hate. For everyone directly or indirectly affected by the assault its repercussions are bound to be traumatic, and even though the death toll was mercifully lower than in incidents in France, Belgium and Germany, every life lost or person seriously injured is one too many. There were three aspects to the Westminster attack that seemed destined to inflict the maximum psychological damage. Firstly, the random nature of running into pedestrians (including young tourists) on Westminster Bridge, the symbolic heart of London as a visitor destination. Secondly, the fatal stabbing of a policeman, someone serving in the line of duty to protect the public. And thirdly the targeting of Parliament itself, the centre point of British democracy. Whoever planned the outrage (on the first anniversary of the Brussels attacks) has clearly thought it through. But that should not make us panic, or indeed make us cowed. For years Londoners got on with their lives when the IRA bombing campaign was happening; every waste bin was suspect and many were sealed as a defensive measure. The best response to the latest threat is to keep calm and carry on, while championing the values that underpin our society. That means eschewing ethnic or religious profiling in our daily lives; the idiot who posted “Kill All Muslims!” as a reaction on his Facebook page has been promptly un-friended. On Saturday, a big March for Europe is planned for people who believe Britain is better off inside the European Union. I think the Westminster attack makes it all the more important for that message of solidarity among Europeans (of whatever ethnicity) to be heard loud and clear.

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Remembering 9/11

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 11th September, 2016

twin-towers-2001On 11 September 2001 I was at the Savile Club having lunch when the head waiter called me into the kitchen to look at the TV. I thought I was seeing a disaster movie but soon the penny dropped that this was live news footage from New York. The way the twin towers crumbled and some people threw themselves to their death to escape the flames was almost unbelievable. Indeed, for a while my brain could not register the fact that it was really happening. It was an almost inconceivable event outside of wartime, and soon President Bush and Tony Blair and others would declare that we were in a state of war — a War against Terror. The following morning I was due to fly to Beirut and when I heard of the security measures being rushed into place around the globe I wondered if Heathrow would even be open. In fact, it was, though hardly any passengers had turned up and there were policemen carrying guns patrolling the corridors. Only about half-a-dozen people had boarded my Middle East Airways flight to Lebanon, so we were outnumbered by cabin crew when we finally took off. At Beirut, some airport staff came onto the tarmac to welcome us, to thank us for coming despite the tension. The Lebanese were frightened they might be attacked in reprisal for the 9/11 assaults, but it turned out that most of the hijackers were Saudis, not Lebanese or Palestinians or any of the “usual suspects” in the American mindset. Of course, there was no way that the United States was going to attack Saudi Arabia, its bosom buddy, in reprisal. Instead, it would be Afghanistan and then later Iraq that took the brunt. Millions were killed or displaced over the next decade and a half. The consequences of 9/11 must surely have been unimaginable to those who perpetrated it. Looking back 15 years on I am struck by a parallel with the 1914 assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand that was the spark that lit the tinder that set in motion the First World War, the consequences being so enormous that they overshadowed the initial act. I think the same will be true when the verdict of history is passed on 9/11, but we are still close enough to the events of 2001 to wish to mourn those who were killed and to offer deep sympathy to their families and friends. Perhaps the greatest tribute we can pay to them is then to dedicate ourselves to try to contain and ultimately extinguish the firestorm of war and terror that took hold of the Middle East and beyond.

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Russell Square: Keep Calm and Carry On

Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 4th August, 2016

Russell SquareI heard about last night’s bloody knife attack in Russell Square, Bloomsbury, as soon as I logged on to the computer early this morning. The location had a sickeningly tragic ring, as it was just off Russell Square that a bus was blown up on 7 July 2005 and Russell Square tube station was one of the ones affected by coordinated Underground bombs that day, with significant casualties. This time, fortunately, the death toll was much smaller,  but still one poor sexagenarian American lady tourist lost her life and several other people were wounded, all of them apparently selected at random. A 19-year-old man who has been arrested under suspicion of murder is reportedly a Norwegian of Somali origin, who has been in this country sine 2002, though police believe there was not necessarily a terrorist motive to the attack, citing possible mental heath issues. It may be some time before the full facts are known. When I arrived at Russell Square shortly before 10am, to give classes at a summer school at SOAS, there were numerous television crews from around the world, not least the United States, and indeed at noon I had to give a stand-up interview myself for a Lebanese Arabic language channel, Al Mayadeen. I stressed that although the security forces had stepped up their activities just yesterday, deploying armed officers in several parts of London, partly to reassure the public, there can never be total security in a city like ours, especially if one is dealing with a lone attacker whose only weapon is a knife. However, it was impressive to see how both locals and visitors in Russell Square today were determined not to let the outrage vanquish their morale. As I sat having lunch on the terrace of the Caffe Russell in the gardens, life was going on as normal, a gentle but strong example of the British spirit of Keep Calm and Carry On.

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Shout-out for Brussels

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 22nd March, 2016

Brussels attackThe latest terrorist attacks in Brussels made me sick to the bottom of my soul. Targeting modes of transport — Zaventem airport and the city’s metro system — is the worst kind of random killing as well as an attempt to scare people away not just from the Belgian capital but from travelling altogether. Freedom of movement is one of the most precious things we citizens of the European Union have gained from the EU, and violent fanatics must not be allowed to undermine that. Having lived in Brussels for seven years, initially working for Reuters, subsequently as a freelancer, I have a particular affection for the place. The Belgians themselves have a particular attitude to life, perhaps influenced by being occupied twice in the 20th century, which I appreciated: low-key, quirky and stubborn, which may not sound the most attractive of national characteristics but which proved brilliant for survival. Of course, the Brussels attacks were not just aimed at Belgium; the symbolism of Brussels as the capital of Europe and HQ of NATO obviously made it a tempting target. This has happened twice now. Twice too often. While we wish the security forces well in their attempts to apprehend the culprits and dismantle terrorist cells, let us also shout out for Brussels and for all who live and work there. Courage! Nous sommes tous Bruxelles!

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Turkey: No End to the Killing?

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 20th March, 2016

Istanbul bombingToday there was another terrorist bomb attack in Istabul, not for the first time in the busy central shopping street of Istiklal Caddesi, which is one of the places I always go when I visit the city, just like I always go to the Grand’Place in Brussels when I am there. The fatalities among today’s victims include at least two Israeli Arabs and a citizen of Iran. Absolutely people who were in the wrong place at the wrong time. However, that in no way excuses the atrocity; I condem the bombing outright, as I did following the incident in Turkey’s capital, Ankara the other day. My tweet of sympathy for the family and rriends of the victims of the Ankara outrage prompted one anonymous Twitter troll to accuse me of not caring what is happening to the Kurds in some parts of south-eastern Turkey. On the contrary, I have expressed my outrage at Turkish government assaults in Kurds, just as I have condemned the excesses of Kurdish militant groups. A peaceful, negotiated settlement between the AKP government and Kurds is vital for the whole region. Name-calling won’t help. Some of what the Turkish security forces in certain towns in south-east Turkey have been doing is unforgivable and may even amount to war crimes. But so, too, are the excesses of various fringe group more or less linked to the separatist PKK guerrillas. It’s maybe not for me, as a foreigner, to pontificate about where I think Turkey should go, but what is abundantly clear at present is that it is going to hell on a handcart. Violence begets violence, whether this is on the part of the Turkish security forces or AKP policians or of the PKK and its sister organisation. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, before he became the Putin of the Bodphorus, deserved credit for moving forward negotiations with the nation’s Kurds. Despite the bloody challenges, he needs to re-embrace negotiation and to make sure that the still-imprisoned Abdullah Ocalan is a free man to be able to take part in those talks, in all integrity.

 

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Terrorism and the EU

Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 8th February, 2016

imageMuch of Europe is on alert following the Paris outrages late last year and London in particular is braced for one sort of attack by radicalised Muslim youths or returnees from service with ISIS/Deash in Syria. Having lived through years of IRA bombings the British public is probably more phlegmatic about terrorism than most, but it was nonetheless reassuring this afternoon to hear at first hand about the anti-terrorism work of Europol from that agency’s Director, Rob Wainwright. He was guest speaker at a Global Strategy Forum event at the National Liberal Club, speaking on the record, so not revealing any deep secrets, but nonetheless presenting a brilliantly cogent exposition of how Europol operates against terrorism through a three-pronged approach relating to radicalisation, migration and cyber crime. The sharing of information between different European police forces as appropriate has helped avert a number of planned attacks and Rob Wainwright says that Europol manages to track a very high percentage of potential terrorists and their international links, not least through monitoring financial transactions and social media. Because of the heightened security threat, the agency is doubling its personnel from 50 to 100 approximately, which is still tiny compared with the challenge, though most of its work is in collaboration with national forces. Currently the EU has no specific competence in this field, but the European Parliament should keep an eye on areas where more formal cooperation would be desirable. When an audience member at today’s forum asked Rob Wainwright if Britain would benefit from the same degree of such cooperation if it left the EU, he replied that he could see no security benefits from Brexit.

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Alex Carlile on Counter-Terrorism

Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 22nd June, 2012

Baron Carlile of Berriew — the former Liberal MP for Montgomery, Alex Carlile — is one of  the LibDems’ most distinguished but also controversial Members of the House of Lords, which is one reason why he attracted a particularly large attendance at the Kettner Lunch at the National Liberal Club today. Another reason is that Kettner Lunch regulars have enjoyed his performances three times in the past and were therefore keen to experience another one. The reason for Alex’s ‘controversy’ — as well as a major element of his distinction — is that after 9/11 and up until early last year, he was the Government’s Independent Reviewer of the UK’s anti-terrorism laws, thereby effectively advising Tony Blair, Gordon Brown and David Cameron in turn on the sensitive issue of national security. This sometimes put him at odds with LibDem Leader Nick Clegg and other parliamentary colleagues who have taken what they consider to be a more ‘liberal’ line in relation to matters such as the rights of terror suspects, privacy and data retention. To an extent those disagreements are ongoing, given the legislation now before Parliament relating to communication data and so-called Closed Material Procedures, included within the Justice and Security Bill. Alex believes, on the basis of his experience at the Bar, as well as his inside knowledge of issues relating to counter-terrorism, that it is important for the defence of a liberal society that the intelligence services and the Police, where appropriate, can have access to certain information — for example, relating to a suspect’s location at a particular moment, which  these days can be discovered from retrieved mobile phone ‘cell site’ records. Similarly, he argues that there are instances when the prosecution of alleged terrorists or other people trying to undermine society can be jeopardised if all information is made available to the people concerned. I trust I am not bowdlerising what is quite a complex position, eloquently expressed at the lunch by Alex himself. Anyway, this is a story that is going to run and run, not least as, so Alex believes, networks such as Al Qaeda are gowing in some areas of the world, including Yemen and northern Nigeria, posing a real thraat to the UK’s security. ‘Debate about terrorism has been characterised by ignorance,’ he declared at one point. Clearly, he will continue to take his stand, even when other elements in the party raise what for them are valid concerns about the infringement of civil liberties.

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Evidence of Israel’s Successful Hits on Palestinian Terrorists

Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 7th January, 2009

The pictures speak for themselves:

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Infants killed so far in the assault on Gaza: 195 (source: BBC News, quoting Palestinian Health Ministry)

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