Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Racist Britain: No justice in a police state

Let me spell it out clearly: you don’t get justice in a court of law, less so in a police state when your grievance is against the police.
We have just been handed down the judgment in the case of Abdu-l-Muqtadir Mustaqim, a young law student stopped by police at the road side and subsequently arrested and manhandled and charged with having used abusive or insulting language. He was convicted before Milton Keynes Magistrate’s Court and appealed. His appeal before Aylesbury Crown Court was dismissed because all the court was interested in was a narrow point of law: did or did he not utter the words “racist” followed by an expletive. There is no doubt, he did. He admitted so himself. Hence he was guilty. Whether it was justifiable or reasonable to do so under the circumstances did not interest the judge as it was not relevant to the case.

Now Mr Mustaqim did not walk up to an officer of Thames Valley police out of the blue and call him a racist something. He was provoked. He had been followed in his car and stopped at the road side. He had been accused of not having a valid road tax, but he did. He voluntarily showed all his documents, but the officers felt too showed up to apologise and send him on his way, they wanted to find something else to catch him with. They alleged drugs in a piece of foil, but it turned out to be a kebab roll. Then they suggested his tyre tread might be below the legal limit but were told the car had just passed an inspection as evidenced by the documents. They called a traffic officer for backup to check the tyre. He never measured the tyre; instead he suggested the car might be stolen or contain stolen goods. He never searched the car, however, instead he subjected the driver and the passenger to a rub-down search. All the time he was swearing and threatening the young Asian men. When Mr Mustaqim retorts to his brother’s suggestion of racist motives with “could be, a lot of them are racist ***” he is jumped at from behind, slammed onto the bonnet of the car, handcuffed, put in a police car and driven off without wearing a seat belt. He is kept in a police cell for nine hours without food and then interviewed at length. Finally he is charged with having uttered abusive language.

Now whilst the learned judge under his medieval wig was busy curtailing every other sentence by witnesses he did not want to hear and decided there was no point in listening to the audio and video recording of the scene at the road side, outside in the court waiting room people were dropping the “F” word every once or twice in each sentence of their conversation. Unfortunately, swearing has always been an integral part of “polite” conversation in Britain, and it is getting worse.

Milton Keynes, one of the new show-case British cities where the events took place, is currently plagued by rats crossing the streets in broad daylight. Instead of fighting the pests, hundreds of thousands of pounds were spent to make the point that to object verbally to bullying and abuse by the police is an offence under British law. The lesson is not lost on the youth: Don’t even bother to play by the rules. There is one rule for one and one for another. Fast forward, and another police transgression might spark the kind of riots France saw recently. The learned judge and his colleagues from the Crown Prosecution Service might wonder what on earth made young people want to smash up the world around them. After all, we’ve had excellent race relations in this country, haven’t we?

Friday, January 27, 2006

Taboos: You can trust the BBC

There are taboos in the media, and the BBC usually observes them all. One of those is to undermine the credibility of the false premise that in the economy the only two uncomfortable choices are higher taxes or cuts in services. Years back I telephoned after Jonathan Dimbleby’s Any Questions on Radio Four to make the point that the third, and sensible, option was monetary reform and government issue of credit, breaking the monopoly of banks to debt-finance our money supply. The BBC team told me that they already had too many callers on this subject, whilst Dimbleby announced on air that there were no callers on this issue and he was therefore moving on to the next topic.

Another taboo is discussion of the Holocaust. People have been imprisoned for demanding proper historical research of the facts. On the occasion of Holocaust Memorial Day I received a phone call from one of the producers of BBC Newsnight. They were interviewing someone promoting the Holocaust memorial day in schools and, given that Muslims refused to take part in the commemorations last year, were looking for an opposing view. I told them that we had no objection to people remembering the crimes of the past, but that declaring human suffering as the prerogative of one particular group was unacceptable as was the political exploitation of that suffering in order to justify the illegal occupation of Palestine.

We spent about half an hour on the phone discussion various aspects, including the Iranian president’s recent call for a conference on the holocaust, and concluded the conversation by the producer stating that my views were “too sophisticated” for his programme. I retorted by saying that I had always thought that Newsnight was a sophisticated programme and that I was very sorry if I could not provide them the emotional or outrageous sound bites they were looking for.

The next day the producer rang back whether I was still willing to take part as the angle of the programme had changed. I agreed and we arranged to meet for the filming. We spent a good two hours during which the interviewer was asked to cover every perceivable aspect of the story. The programme was to go out the following day. Half an hour before the show the interviewer rang to apologise that the item had been put back to the next day’s bulletin. Fine by me, I said, better late than never. But never it was: Today I received another call that the programme had been taken out altogether.

So the BBC can be trusted to keep to the taboos established for public discourse in society. An outrageous, easily dismissed opposition voice may be acceptable, but a proper discussion of sensitive issues which have become the cement of Western ideology will not be permitted.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Democracy is dead, long live hypocrisy

Commentators are queuing up to express their opinion why the will of the people must be ignored. The Palestinian people have spoken, but obviously they are not mature enough for democracy. They have not learned the lessons of Algeria; they have not understood that Western democracy does not mean you can vote for whom you want, it does not mean the will of the people should prevail: Western democracy implies that you should only have a limited choice between more or less identical options so as not to upset the apple cart.

The acting Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert has gone on record that he would not talk to a Palestinian government headed by Hamas because “A political party that is viable, is one that professes peace, in my judgment”. On that basis nobody should speak to him either from now on. Israel, hallowed by the United States as the only “democracy” in the Middle East, was founded by war and continues to illegally occupy Palestinian territory.

Others have suggested that Hamas could lead a government but make a non-Hamas member prime minister in order to interface with the outside world. Yet others say that the Palestinian authority should have read the writing on the wall and found ways of excluding Hamas from standing in the elections in the first place. This is what democracy is all about: never give people the choice they would really want. If they’re stupid enough to vote for whom they don’t really want that party can then claim legitimacy – like Blair’s minority government in Britain or Bush’s Supreme Court installed dictatorship.

The self-appointed “International Community” misses an important point, however: There are real communities out there who have real aspirations whether outsiders are willing to acknowledge them or not. As far as the Palestinians are concerned they are not letting the Israelis be the judge of what they should want, nor are they likely to be bothered whether Israel wants to talk to Hamas or not, seeing they were not talking peace anyway. And even when they were occasionally talking peace for the cameras, they never meant it.

The facts remain. Israeli’s occupation of Palestine is illegal under international law and unwelcome in Palestine. Palestinians will not support anyone who pretends otherwise. They have made it unequivocally clear that they feel only represented by those who reject the occupation and promise to fight it. Meanwhile, let the “world” continue to delude itself. Next year Jerusalem!

Friday, January 20, 2006

London Whaling

Londoners where caught completely off guard. I think a serious review of security protocols is required. I know, it’s not politically correct to call for whaling, but how could the British immigration authorities and the Metropolitan police let a whale swim up all the way to the House of Commons? Such a serious breach of security must not go unpunished.

I was first alerted how potentially hazardous such erroneous wild life could be when I read that this was a “Pilot Whale”. These days you have to be most cautious with regards to pilots. They should immediately have declared a no-swim zone around the Houses of Parliament.

You think the British would have known better from their history lessons, but I suppose these days the education system is under great strain from paedophiles inadvertently having been placed on the wrong list and from being torn apart in the dispute who should get more power over schools under the guise of parental choice. So let me remind you: The Greeks finally conquered Troy after a ten-year siege by using a cunning ploy – they hid their fighters inside a big wooden horse which they left behind after retreating.

Considering that the arrival of this whale coincided with a new message from Usama bin London, delivered courtesy of al-Jazeera after they just narrowly escaped being blown to smithereens by George Bush the Lesser had he not been stopped by Tony Bliar of Sedgefield, who is to say that the Whale swimming up the Thames is not a variation on the same theme, a Trojan Whale. Whales are capable of carrying human cargo; Yunus (Jonah) travelled in a whale, although he did not quite like the experience. So this pilot whale could hide large numbers of suicide bombers in his belly to do what Guy Fawkes failed to manage: blow up the houses of parliament.

Reassuringly we were later told by the experts that the 20 foot submarine was not a pilot whale but a Northern bottle-nosed whale, which immediately brings up associations of message in a bottle. This whale might not be carrying human cargo after all, but bottles filled with high-grade explosives. A suicide whale in fact; no wonder he appeared distressed.

I was reassured when I learned that the authorities were considering having to cull the beast if they could not persuade it to turn around. After all, we shoot innocent Brazilians on the underground by way of precaution, so it would be inexcusable to let a huge whale on the loose on the London waterways. The whale already passed Big Ben and might be on his way to the Eiffel Tower next if he read the Afghan terror manual our security services gave back to Abu Hamza in order to re-confiscate it for the trial. It also circled near Vauxhall Bridge, headquarters of British spying agency MI6, which brings me to yet another option: The whale might have been sent on a reconnaissance mission to study intended targets for a later attack by some other means. Was there a hidden camera in one of his squinting eyes? We are told that a second whale had already been sighted near Southend-on-Sea, West of London.

Then again, maybe it’s just as well that ordinary Londoners do not share their politicians’ vision of imminent doom. They came out to watch the big animal and seemed to have a whale of a time.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Police racism in the UK

At the end of this month the appeal or retrial by my son against Thames Valley Police will be heard before Aylesbury County Court. As the matter is going to be sub judice then and I am involved as a witness I will not be able to comment on these pages. However, Mathaba News Network have once more agreed to cover the case and I will be reposting their reports here to keep readers informed. Here is the first report ahead of the trial. The original post contains further links for a background of the previous case before Milton Keynes Magistrate’s Court.

A high profile case brought by Thames Valley Police against a Muslim law student is coming before the appeals court and could decide whether it will become a crime in Britain to allege racism against a police officer - Photo: forceful arrest was captured on video

Abdu-l-Muqtadir Mustaqim, a third year law student and son of Islamic Party general secretary Dr Sahib Mustaqim Bleher, was arrested, handcuffed, held in custody and abused when alleging that Thames Valley Police officers behaved racist when they stopped him.

The event took place when he was stopped while driving his car on 23 August 2004. At first the police claimed that he did not have a valid tax disc for his vehicle and then proceeded to try and find some other faults when they found his car and paperwork was in good order.

Following an outcry by the local Muslim community the 'Independent Police Complaints Commission' (IPCC) was selected to investigate the behaviour of Thames Valley Police officers in this case after a consultation meeting with local community representatives.

This was the first case the IPCC appropriated for Thames Valley police and it was therefore reported in The Guardian and subsequently on Channel 4 News. However, they soon put their investigation on hold when the police charged Mr. Mustaqim with possession of an offensive weapon and a public order offence under section 5 of the Public Order Act.

Mr Mustaqim alleges that the IPCC was not independent but instead actively trying to obtain witnesses and prepare evidence for the benefit of the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) which was acting for the police.

After the police forensic service had had to admit that what officers had made out to be an illegal lock knife was in fact a perfectly legal ornamental pocket knife the more serious charge had to be dropped and only the minor public order offence charge remained. After a total of 8 pre-trial hearings at great cost to the British tax-payer the matter was heard during a further 3-day trial before District Judge Williams at Milton Keynes Magistrates Court.

In spite of video and audio evidence of the arrest provided by the defendant's brother and in spite of the fact that the only civilian witness furnished by the CPS who had seen part of the events only saw the defendant from behind yet proceeded to offer a dock identification, District Judge Williams decided to make her own findings on fact, disregarding most of the evidence before her.

Williams convicted Mr Mustaqim for allegedly saying a phrase which she found to be offensive for the police officer, although the audio recording clearly indicated that he had said something quite different.

Mr Mustaqim appealed and there followed a number of unsuccessful and improper attempts by a representative of the local Council for Race Equality to mediate on behalf of the police and to dissuade him from doing so. The case is now going to be heard in the form of a retrial before Aylesbury County Court from January 30 to February 1.

According to Mr Mustaqim, he was victimised by the police and this trial is as much about establishing the truth about a whole range of abuses and procedural errors by Thames Valley Police starting from the time he was stopped until he was released with a bruised face from custody some twelve hours later.

The case is also of relevance in that District Judge Williams attempted to redefine the definition of what constitutes racism. That definition had been recommended by the Stephen Lawrence enquiry (one of the most important enquiries in Britain that looked into the handling of the murder of a Black teenager) and had subsequently been accepted by most government agencies.

Contrary to giving the victim the benefit of the doubt when feeling harassed and alleging racism towards him, District Judge Williams concluded that she found the allegation of racism against a police officer to be offensive and racist in return. If this conclusion were allowed to stand it would make it quite difficult in future for anybody to allege racist behaviour by an officer of a police force as such an allegation could subsequently be found to constitute an offence.

Monday, January 16, 2006

A history of shady deals

German MPs have asked for an enquiry into allegations that the German intelligence services provided information on Iraqi targets to the US military before the illegal invasion, thus compromising Germany’s neutral stance in the war and assisting the illegal occupation in spite of overwhelming German opposition to this Anglo-American adventure. Whilst this may be true, it should not come as a surprise any more than the recent revelations about European collusion and assistance in the American programme of “extraordinary rendition”, the transporting of suspects into countries abroad where they could be interrogated under torture.

A little history may be appropriate to understand the shady world of Western intelligence services which exists to keep old dynasties in power irrespective of the public front of elected governments. The German intelligence service, the Bundesnachrichtendienst (BND) has an unbroken pedigree to the days of the now much maligned Third Reich. Its own website admits that the “Organisation Gehlen” was its predecessor and founded its current premises in Pullach in 1947, but wisely gives no further information about them.

Reinhard Gehlen was Hitler's senior intelligence officer on the Eastern Front during the war and transferred his expertise and contacts to the U.S. as World War II reached its climax. Gehlen's network of agents in Europe - including many with Nazi backgrounds who were bailed out of prisoner of war camps by U.S. intelligence officers - was known as the Gehlen Organisation and received millions of dollars in funding from the U.S. until 1956. Gehlen eventually retired from the West Germany intelligence services in 1968.

That the US happily employed ex-Nazis whilst proclaiming publicly that it had fought to free the world from the yoke of Nazism is not as strange as it first seems. American Nazi support has a long pedigree all the way back to the current US president’s grandfather Prescott Bush and the latter’s father-in-law George Walker together with Allen Dulles who worked for Standard Oil, IG Farben and other Rockefeller-backed Nazi corporations. There’s big business in wars and the policy of “Divide and Rule”. US bankers also financed the Russian revolution and their secret agents ensured through the leaking of information that the Soviet Union retained a technological edge which made it a serious threat in the Cold War. For details you can read the book Satanic Voices.

That the apparent differences in political belonging are meaningless, given the active behind-the-scenes cooperation between them, is also important to remember when looking at the new “war against terror”. Al-Qaida has often jokingly been called al-CIAda, because they were trained and financed by the American intelligence services who also gave us their old enemy Jamal Abdul Nasser and, more recently, Saddam Hussain. Via Pakistan the CIA wired money to some of the alleged hijackers of 9/11, and a recent article in the Observer shows that the British intelligence services seem as apt in infiltrating Islamic circles as the McCarthyists were in infiltrating Communist circles in the 1950s. The current trial of Abu Hamza at the Crown Court is likely to reveal that many of the things he said and did had the prior clearance of special branch officers. As I mentioned in an earlier post there are also allegations that Tony Blair used to work for MI5, which might explain why he’d love to be given carte blanche to wire tap his parliamentary colleagues.

George Orwell’s 1984 is an old hat by now, yet the full story of US (and Zionist) collusion with Hitler is still to see the light of day over half a century since the end of the second world war. It looks like we’re standing no chance to find out the truth about 9/11 and the July 7 bombings in London during our lifetimes. Maybe Oasis have a point when they sing: Don’t believe the truth.

Saturday, January 14, 2006

Iran is a sovereign state and can change the course of history

War is in the air. According to Clausowitz war is the extension of politics by other means. Iran is not making the news because of some important event having just come up, and all the talk about nuclear capability is just a distraction – here is a state which refuses the supremacy of the American-British-Israeli axis of Zionism and can afford to do so. The Americans know only too well that Iran is not a push-over, having painfully learned over the last year that even sanction-crippled Iraq was not a walk-over, but they have Iran firmly in their sights. Propaganda is frequently a prelude to aggression in that it helps justifying the same. To achieve this purpose, fear is made a factor: weapons of mass destruction before the illegal occupation of Iraq, nuclear bombs in the case of Iran.

One of the biggest mistakes the targeted countries often make is to assume that the aggression will go away if only they comply and play the game by the rules imposed on them, forgetting that the goal post will be moved regularly. Luckily for Iran the new government seems to want to grab the nettle, although there is much more they could do. Let’s not forget that Iran is a sovereign state with an elected government and president. Elected by the people, not won in the Supreme Court (Bush) or stitched up behind the barrel of a gun (Iraq, Afghanistan). In fact, Iran is probably the only proper democracy in the Middle East given that in apartheid Israel the majority of people have only limited rights.

Of course, this is not about democracy or the rule of law, this is about power. It is almost bizarre to watch commentators make u-turns in the opinions they present depending on the issue in hand. The same people who complained bitterly about the insecurity of future gas supplies to Europe when Russia turned off the taps to Ukraine argue that Iran should trust Russia in energy matters by letting them enrich their Uranium for them. The same people who argue that Britain needs more nuclear power stations because the long-term future of fossil fuels is in doubt argue that Iran’s nuclear ambitions cannot possibly be peaceful because they already have plenty of oil.

Iran’s president Mahmoud Ahmedinejad has gone some way in exposing Western hypocrisy by pointing to the fact that Israel has undeclared nuclear weapons whilst in illegal occupation of another country (therefore a rogue state), whereas Iran has signed the nuclear non-proliferation treaty and abided by all the rules. He has gone even further by pointing out that there is no real freedom of speech in the West, because Western governments do not permit a thorough historic questioning of the Jewish holocaust, and that there is no justice in making the Arabs pay for the crimes of Europe. This has, of course, earned him the hatred of all those who peddle the myth that Israel is entitled to the land of Palestinians because they would almost have been an extinct species courtesy of the Nazis.

In my view, however, the new Iranian administration has not gone far enough. It is about time that some of the assumptions underpinning global relations are being examined. The laws governing the world were all drawn up by the former European colonial masters with no regard for other cultures or religions. This holds true for the victors’ justice after Nuremberg defining the laws of law and peace, the Anything-but-universal declaration of human rights making white Anglo-Saxons the blueprint for humanity, and the United Nations with its undemocratic Security Council set-up. This tilted view of the world considers it normal and acceptable that a belligerent state like the USA does not need to sign any treaties or be subject to any international inspections or checks or judicial overview, but that other sovereign nations constantly have to explain themselves even if they voluntarily sign treaties or agree on openness.

What Iran should do is to unilaterally withdraw from any such treaties and agreements which are unfairly tilted in favour of those wanting to destroy the independence and sovereignty of Iran. Iran’s enemies use this tactic to their advantage: America cannot be hauled before an international war crimes tribunal because they have never given any legitimacy to an international court of justice; Israel cannot be referred to the UN Security Council for non-compliance because it has never signed up to a nuclear non-proliferation treaty.

Of course, one could argue that this would make the chances of a military intervention more likely to the detriment of Iran. I do not think that this is the case. As the shamble of Iraq weapons inspections has shown the US will attack if it wants to, irrespective of what the unfortunate victim will do. The only language a bully understands is power; he will not pick on somebody with the potential to fight back or to weaken his image substantially. America will not go for a show-down with North Korea, less so with China.

Iran should concern itself less with the tilted rhetoric coming out of Washington, Tel Aviv or London. Instead the Iranian government should strengthen its defences by forging strategic alliances on the one hand and weakening the US on the other. The latter is best done by denominating oil sales in an alternative currency to the dollar. The American economy is the most indebted one in the world. Its survival and apparent strength is only due to the fact that countries around the world use the dollar as a standard currency in which they keep their reserves. If the artificially supported value of the dollar falls the American economy will collapse and with it the threat of future foreign military adventures. Others in the coalition of the willing and coerced will not stand by their ally when he falls; their support for the bully is only in order to achieve protection and share the spoils – when he is down, they will kick him, too.

As an oil-rich industrialised nation Iran has a leverage in these matters that most of the countries of Africa and Asia do not have. If Iran uses this strength to its advantage, it might even change the course of history.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

On Eid and sheep led to the slaughter

Eid Mubarak – it is the time of the most important Islamic festival again which celebrates the culmination of the rituals of the Hajj pilgrimage to Makkah and commemorates the sacrifice Ibrahim (Abraham) was willing to make by giving up his then only son Ismail (Ishmael). Muslims around the world sacrifice an animal and distribute of its meat amongst the needy, friends and relatives.

Here in the UK and other European countries this practice is considerably impeded by government regulation. Many Muslims are still able to make an arrangement with a local farmer to sacrifice a sheep in his barn, but generally Western control society does not like independence. There are too many sheep to tag them all, but cows already have ear tags and passports. People are thus unnaturally separated from our environment. Most people who eat meat would not know how to dispatch an animal, having to rely on their butcher instead.

Animal rights activists have since long been restlessly campaigning for a prohibition of Muslim slaughter (they don’t dare attack kosher practice) claiming that it is a cruel way of killing an animal for consumption and that all animals should be pre-stunned. They are dishonest in their arguments, because in reality they argue for vegetarianism and simply single out Muslims as an easy target. I have had many exchanges with them about the evidence that captive bolt stunning is much more painful for animals yet a lot more convenient for the mass production in slaughter houses. My leaflet “The Halal Slaughter Controversy: Do animal rights activists protect the sheep or the butcher?” addresses this issue.

In this leaflet I have quoted a scientific study on the pain experienced by animals using either the captive-bolt or the kosher/halal method of slaughter. In my exchanges with animal rights activists they argue that the study is outdated as it was carried out in 1978. However, no more recent experimental studies are available, and the same people object to new studies being carried out on the grounds that these would cause unnecessary suffering for the animals involved. Thus the animal rights people are quite content that millions of animals should be dying a more painful death by stunning, because they do not want their unsubstantiated claims put to the test.

Sadly, there are many Muslims who could not care less what they eat provided it has been declared as halal for them. Meat labelled halal from Denmark, for example is from pre-stunned animals, because Danish Muslims have gone for a compromise. Here in the UK, too, we probably only retain the right to halal slaughter in order to protect the kosher exemption. When the government revisited the relevant legislation a few years back our self-appointed leaders were quite happy to limit the range of animals which can be slaughtered halal and consumed by Muslims: venison, for example will not be found in the list of animals exempted from the captive bolt stunning requirement, and if you fancy hare or rabbit you will have to go poaching.

The majority of Muslims live in large cities and do not realise that they should make common cause with the country population who also find their way of life increasingly curtailed – not only by the high-profile but unworkable new laws on hunting. I suppose city dwellers are much more dependent on the services and organisation provided for them and are, consequently, easier to manage for the authorities. I hope Muslims in the West will still teach their children how to survive outside the cosy trappings of “civilisation”, so they know how to slaughter a sheep rather than be themselves, like sheep, led to the slaughter by an ever-imposing government demanding respect, but giving none.

Saturday, January 07, 2006

Mecca, the BBC, and Schadenfreude

It is always sad to hear of a tragedy, and more so when it happens at an auspicious occasion like the pilgrimage to Mecca. The final sentences of a BBC online report entitled Mecca disaster toll rises to 76 struck me as that typically laden mix of fact and polemics so characteristic of the BBC, almost containing a glee that something had gone wrong at Islam’s holiest site:
“Deadly stampedes are relatively common. They killed 251 people in 2004 and 1,426 in 1990.”

BBC statisticians missed one stampede in 1997 killing 217 people, but they still fail to explain how three events in fifteen years make the occurrences “relatively common”. I was there in 1990. The stampede was caused by the air turbines failing in a walkway tunnel and people trying to make a fast exit to avoid suffocation. The one in 1997 was due to a fire. Only the on in 2004 was due to crowd behaviour as such.

I have criticised the Saudi authorities in the past for certain aspects of Hajj management, but when things are put into perspective they’re doing a great job. The Hajj takes place every year with in excess of four million pilgrims. In the Hillborough disaster in Sheffield 96 people were crushed to death, and in the Heysel stadium disaster in Liverpool 36. Taking a lead from the BBC, you could say football stadium stampedes are relatively common in the UK and, bearing in mind that stadiums are only attended by tens of thousands of fans at most, are also particularly deadly.

The collapse of the pilgrims’ hostel in Mecca does not constitute the first ever engineering disaster in human history either – only last week an ice rink collapsed in Bavaria, Germany, killing 15, and 12 miners died in a Virginia coal mine in a tragedy which probably earned a place of notoriety for poor disaster management straight after the dreadful handling of the devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina and flooding in New Orleans. I challenge the BBC to point to any other event where millions of people do not only attend a single show but spend several days in the same location, travelling simultaneously from one place to another, participating in the same rituals, yet with hardly ever an incident worth mentioning. If the crowds at Mecca were British football supporters instead of devoted Muslim pilgrims, it would be a scene of disaster year in and year out.

For the benefit of BBC statisticians, here are a few other figures to put things into perspective, taken from the “land of the free”, the USA:
In any one year 27,000 Americans commit suicide, 26,000 die from fatal accidents at home, 23,000 are murdered, 85,000 are wounded by firearms (38,000 of whom subsequently die from the injuries), and more than 5,000 die from illicit drug use. 45,000 are killed in car accidents, 10,000 die during unnecessary surgical operations, 180,000 die from adverse reactions to medical treatment. These are only some of the death statistics. I won’t add those of other serious “mishaps” (e.g. the 700,000 women raped every year in the USA, one every 45 seconds) or this posting would be running into several pages.

Therefore, if you’re planning to pay a visit to Mecca, don’t be put off by biased BBC reporting. It is infinitely safer than going to, for example, New York.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Game set and match

I often listen to the radio when driving and so I caught the interview with Sir Iqbal Sacranie of the Muslim Council of Britain on BBC Radio 4’s “PM” news programme. I have run many training sessions of how to interact with the media and successfully get a point across during interviews, and this particular piece would have been an excellent example of how NOT to do it.

Sacranie rose to fame during the poorly managed Rushdie affair, and his Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) was the Labour government’s attempt to create a favourable body of Muslim representatives. Whilst the unelected MCB claimed to represent and speak for all Muslims, Muslims never felt very much represented by it, so ultimately the MCB could not deliver what it was set up to do: to create an official, “moderate”, government-friendly Islam in Britain. In order to not be fully discredited in the eyes of ordinary Muslims they did, however, have to criticise the government over the Iraq war, for example. Sacranie was knighted for his service, but his organisation has since fallen out of favour, having lost its usefulness.

So back to the interview: The interviewer chose the topics and decided where the interview was going all along. He laid one trap after the other, and Sacranie walked straight into each and every one of them. In this cat and mouse game he let Sacranie boast that his organisation was going to meet Islamic terrorism head on, then listened to his assurances that, of course, they did not have any links with terrorism and didn’t know who the terrorists were, and then had a lot of fun with exploring the question of how they could possible meet head on a group of people of whom they knew nothing. Sacranie tried to stutter his way out of it. One nil for the interviewer.

In the second half the MCB spokesman didn’t fare any better. First he was given an opportunity to profess his commitment to tolerance in society. Then he was given a chance to elaborate on his objection to same-sex relationships. Game set and match: what followed was the presenter enjoying the futile attempts of the interviewee to extricate himself from the contradictions of preaching tolerance, yet not tolerating an “alternative” lifestyle. Whatever he said would damn him either in the eyes of the general public or the Muslims. Heads you lose, tails you lose.

As long as we continue to have willing “sheep to the slaughter” obliging spokespeople like this for the media to play with, we needn’t worry about Islam being taken seriously. The media can happily “give a platform” to Muslims and include their views without ever risking to be challenged in substance. Not once did Sacranie turn around and challenge any of the underlying assumptions. Not once did he state that neither terrorism nor homosexuality are on top of the Muslim agenda, nor for that matter the rest of the country who are more worried about job security or indeed gas and oil prices. He wouldn’t talk about state terrorism, the illegal war on Iraq, the Israeli apartheid regime, racism and discrimination in Britain, because he was too busy trying to please everyone at the same time. He certainly wouldn’t be asked about the Islamic alternative to our devastating interest-based economic system. Just as well, he probably wouldn’t know what to say anyway.

Monday, January 02, 2006

Big Brother Britain is losing control

Maybe it’s in preparation for the economic melt-down and its subsequent unrest – whatever the reason, Britain is wanting to play Big Brother big time. By this I mean the Orwellian variety, but as a result we might just as well all feel like playing part in a gigantic reality TV show, except that the people watching will be at the other end of monitors and in the employ of the government.

The police have just been given new powers to arrest anybody anytime for any (or no) reason. They are bound to make use of it, and the brunt of the arrests is likely to be borne by minority communities who already are disproportionately targeted by existing stop and search powers. Give the police powers they don’t need to justify and they gradually become a force above the law. The abuse of powers does not always have to be due to racism or some political or sinister motive: imagine two bobbies walking the street on a freezing cold winter’s day coming across a tramp taking shelter near a shopping window. An arrest will ensure that the officers can spend the next couple of hours snugly in the warmth of the police custody suite, and even the tramp might welcome the change of environment. This would be infinitely better than  the practice of London police some years ago where they picked up tramps from inside London in order to keep them out of sight for cash-spending shoppers and dumped them without care on the outskirts of London from where they had to make their own way back.

As another new year present we have been given the announcement that Britain will be the first country to track every car journey. Using a network of cameras that can automatically read every passing number plate, the plan is to build a huge database of vehicle movements so that the police and security services can analyse any journey a driver has made over several years. This is sure going to be profitable business for hardware and software suppliers and great fun for government agents tired of playing with train sets or X-boxes, and now and then they might even be able to check up on their partners. All in secret, of course.

Secrecy is at the heart of the government’s desire to monitor and control its people, and after the deluge of requests made under the freedom of information act introduced a few years back we are seeing the first demands to tighten up the right of access to information, initially described as a need to check frivolous applications. Secrecy, however, creates a subculture amongst the authorities in the know, and in turn drives their targets underground. Ultimately the control-society fails due to the arrogant overconfidence of its protagonists.

Before moving further in this direction the UK government would be well advised to look at the German Democratic Republic (former East Germany) as a case study. They had a file on each and every citizen. If you stopped your car in the wrong place you were surrounded by police within minutes. In spite of all the information they gathered, the authorities totally failed to understand, never mind prevent, what was really going on in their country. When the signs unrest became apparent the structure collapsed rapidly.

In the UK, too, representatives of the government and its agencies are so full of themselves that they fail to take the pulse of the country. The mood is not in their favour and the trust between them and the people is lost. A change of leadership is not going to change this fact. Whilst they are busy playing with their new surveillance toys and powers of arrest, real control is more and more slipping through their fingers.