Archive for the 'Foreign Policy' Category

Ziauddin Sardar lays into Quilliam Foundation founders

The embrace of former extremists is a slap in the face for Muslims who have worked tirelessly to build a British Muslim identity and foster inclusion by constructive community activity. It’s another attempt at the marginalisation of the overwhelming majority who never had a moment’s doubt that Islam gives no sanction for such murderous and misguided perversion of belief.

I am troubled by the fact that former extremists are seen as the only people who know how to deal with extremism. Just because you have been an inmate of a mental hospital does not mean you are an expert in clinical psychology. But former extremists are being lionised because they confirm the basic tabloid prejudice that violence is a natural part of being a Muslim. So whose ignorance is being vindicated? Certainly the potential of an open, unapologetic belief in Islam as a valuable part of British society is not on the agenda.

At every stage of dealing with extremism, the government has made the wrong choice. First, only British-trained imams were to be promoted, though how and what they were trained in was not examined. Then there were to be roadshows at which religious scholars selected for their moderation and tractability, rather than an understanding of the problems of young British Muslims, would explain the error of extremist ways. Then Sufism was touted as the solution, and the Sufi Muslim Council was created as the voice of moderation. Now the way forward is with sinners who were once mouthpieces for jihadi propaganda and advocated the violent rejection of all things western.



Tories join Gordon Brown to defend ‘British values’

It looks like politicians from our two biggest parties have put aside their differences to come together and defend ‘British values’:

Gordon Brown yesterday won Conservative backing for a move that would allow the government to block future criminal investigations such as the corruption case against the arms company BAE Systems.

Despite scathing criticism in the high court on Thursday, the Tories have chosen to support Downing Street in facing down critics who are keen for the BAE investigation to be reopened.

Over at the Telegraph, I notice none of the bloggers who so enjoyed mocking Gordon Brown over his handling of the Olympic torch fiasco, have so far failed to mention anything about Tory support for Brown’s move. The only story tagged under ‘BAE Systems’ is… you guessed it, mocking Gordon Brown.

UAE troops used Islamic connection to help win ‘hearts and minds’ in Afghanistan

The BBC’s security correspondent, Frank Gardner, can reveal that Arab soldiers have been taking part in dangerous missions alongside US troops in Afghanistan.Troops from the United Arab Emirates (UAE) have been delivering humanitarian aid to their fellow Muslims and, on occasion, fighting their way out of Taleban ambushes. Though Jordanian forces have been carrying out some base security duties, the UAE’s troops are the only Arab soldiers undertaking full-scale operations in the country.Until now, their deployment has been kept so secret that not even their own countrymen knew they were here.


Con Coughlin not telling the whole truth on Iraqi deaths

Con Coughlin continues his theme of combining pro-war propaganda and anti-BBC screeds in a tirade against John Humphreys.

Coughlin is outraged that Humphreys, in an interview with Jack Straw, suggested “many more people have died since the war than died under Saddam Hussein”. He then goes on to cite an official Iraqi estimate of 150,000 deaths. Unsurprisingly, given his credentials as a propagandist for the Iraq invasion (and other future wars), Coughlin is telling half the story. The official Iraqi estimate is not uncontested or without its (qualified) critics and needs to be understood properly in the context of the ongoing situation in Iraq.

First, it should be noticed that Coughlin doesn’t give any source for his official Iraqi estimate. The only thing I could find were news reports made back in 2006 in which an Iraqi official had estimated around 150,000 dead. That figure was not, in anyway, a serious statistical analysis and merely citing the figure of 150,000 does not tell the whole story. The only other place Coughlin could have taken the 150k figure from was a survey conducted by the Iraqi Health Ministry (IHM) and the World Health Organization (WHO), which was published earlier this year in the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM). This study suggested an estimate of 151,000 violent deaths since the American-led invasion. Although the study does not estimate non-violent deaths (pdf), it has been possible to use the data provided in the WHO report to get a rough estimate a around 400,000 violent and non-violent deaths since the invasion. And Coughlin’s trumpeting of the official estimate of deaths since the invasion contrasts with his dismissive attitude toward the 2004 Lancet study even though the WHO/IHM used similar methods to gather and analyse the data.

Secondly, was Humphreys really referring to a total or absolute figure for deaths before and after the invasion? I didn’t get the chance to listen to the Today programme, but it wouldn’t surprise me if what he was comparing the death rates before and after the invasion (notwithstanding the point that Humphreys was conducting an interview so making provocative points is not necessarily an expression of his own opinion). A commentator at the Telegraph suggests this was the case (scroll down to the comment left on 25 March 2008 at 13:38). Whatever the case, Coughlin has abused the source of the 150,000 figure by portraying it as it is the total number of deaths. The WHO study — from where I presume the 150,000 figure must have been extracted — actually says the death rate after the invasion is substantially worse than for a period before the invasion. This concurs, broadly speaking and with all the caveats needed for such comparisons, with the more ‘controversial’ studies published in the Lancet, the second of which received so much press attention for its estimate that 655,000 may have died as a result of the invasion (and occupation). Les Roberts, who has been the public face for the Lancet studies, noted in a National Public Radio (NPR) programme that the both the study he was involved in and the WHO study have underlying similarities to try and gauge the effects on the mortality rate before and after invasion — the key difference between the two were the numbers of deaths attributed to violence (the WHO attributes much smaller number of deaths to violence).

In other words, it stills holds that “things have got worse [since the invasion], and they have got a lot worse, not a little bit worse”.

The good news, though, is that lots of people who read Coughlin’s blogs at the Telegraph have realised what a mendacious character he really is and are not buying into his spin.

Meanwhile, over at her Spectator blog, Mad Mel joins in with Coughlin attacking both Humphreys and Straw. She concurs with Coughlin’s use of the official Iraqi figure (and uses the opportunity to make terrible historical comparisons between Saddam and Hitler). Back in January Mad Mel was keen to denounce the 2006 Lancet study as a propaganda exercise funded by an anti-war billionaire (George Soros) and conducted by ex-Ba’athists. The source of Mad Mel’s attack was an article written by the editor of the National Journal, Neil Munro, which is full of smears and innuendo against the Johns Hopkins team that did the research. This is the same Neil Munro who in 2002 was cheering for the “destruction of Iraq” (complete with a stupid remark about 11th-century Wahhabism**), yet has the nerve to call into question the motives and intentions of those who carried out the 2006 Lancet study because they may have opposed such “destruction”!. In the same NPR programme involving Les Roberts, Munro make another smear suggesting that in terms of reporting the number of Iraqi dead there were essentially two camps: people who want to show the war was a success; and those who opposed the war and want to prove what a bad move it was so, ‘like the al-Qa’ida guys’, plant bombs in market places***.

People like Coughlin, Mad Mel’s and Munro would probably like Iraq mess to be extinguished from the news cycle (Coughlin has certainly decried bringing up the origins of the Iraq War). They would probably not like to be reminded of the disastrous effects of the invasion on the people the war was meant to liberate, especially if we remember the Iraq invasion was one of choice, not of necessity, and action that they helped push in the media. Is it surprising then that any reminder of the disastrous choice must be met with yet more lies and spin until the reminder is discredited? The likes of Coughlin, the false humanitarians who claim to support the oppressed, do not appear to be bothered with actually trying to understanding the effects of ill-thought out, uninformed, interventionist policies. For all their nationalistic and supremacist bombast about Our Way Of Life, they don’t seem to be bothered about the effects of such adventures (for which they will probably never have to personally suffer) on our national security and armed forces.

For further reading I would suggest Diane Farsetta’s article at PRWatch, the extensive Lancet archives at Deltoid and numerous posts at Crooked Timber.

*Does Mad Mel realise this is the same Lancet in which a study critical of her other pet hate, MMR vaccines, was published?

**It seemed beyond a simpleton like Munro to perform a quick check. Wahhabism, at the very earliest, could not have arisen before the mid-late 1700s, and even if its ‘true origins’ are pushed back to Ibn Taymiyya that is still only the 14th-century.

***Actually, the invasion of Iraq fits perfectly in with the ‘jihadist’ narrative.

The West supports the GCC’s nuclear ambitions (because clearly these energy poor nations need nuclear energy…)

Marc Lynch has a brief point which higlights the enthusiatic Western support for the nuclear ambitions of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC). Said Abu Aardvark:

Yesterday the UAE announced that it would begin exploring the prospects for a civilian nuclear program, after signing a deal with French President Sarkozy on nuclear cooperation in January. Today, the United States announced an agreement with Bahrain to support a civilian nuclear program. Qatar has been talking up nuclear power for years, and the GCC collectively has been talking of late of the need for a joint nuclear energy agenda. This all makes great sense. These large, energy-poor countries clearly need nuclear energy programs to meet the power needs of their vast populations and energy-dependent manufacturing economies. Where else could they find reliable supplies of energy? And from a security perspective, there really doesn’t seem to be any better place to locate nuclear power plants than in small, weak states in the Persian Gulf, where would-be nuclear terrorists would have no chance of getting close and the plants themselves couldn’t possibly become military targets.

Of course, what Gulf watchers really want to know is whether Dubai’s peaceful nuclear energy program will be taller, shinier and more expensive than Qatar’s.

Iran is involved in this calculation by France and the United States, no doubt.

Pakistan on FCO’s human rights watch list for the first time

Britain for the first time has included Pakistan on a list of countries of concern over human rights, saying there had been “very little progress” towards pledged improvements.Pakistan featured on a list of 21 “major countries of concern” like China, Iran, Russia, Saudi Arabia and Zimbabwe in the Foreign Office’s Human Rights Annual Report 2007.

The report released Tuesday says the list “is not a league table of countries we consider the worst offenders” but adds it “focuses on countries where human rights issues cause us the greatest concern, or where we devote a great deal of attention”.

The move to include Pakistan came after a recommendation from the House of Commons’ Foreign Affairs Committee.

During a three-page analysis of Pakistan’s human rights record, the FCO says: “The UK is concerned about human rights issues in Pakistan…recent changes in the political landscape and the period surrounding the state of emergency declared by President Pervez Musharraf on 3 November 2007 have brought a number of human rights issues in Pakistan to the fore.”

It adds that Pakistan has expressed a desire to improve its human rights record but says there has been “very little progress towards the fulfilment” of pledges on issues including torture and civil and political rights.

The study also expresses concern about the human rights situation in Kashmir and restates a call for an end to all external support for violence there.

It says the media should be able to report on events there without restriction and dubbed a bill last year which made apostasy a capital offence “an unwelcome development”.


How about teaching children to think critically? (Part II)

Andrew McKie, the Telegraph’s obituary writer, criticises the National Union of Teacher’s (NUT) attempts to support a boycott of material provided by the Army for schools. The NUT has suggested these attempts amount to “propaganda” and will require teachers to show a biased view of the Iraq invasion.

I have no problem with people wanting to join the armed forces (I’ll confess I considered a career as an army engineer), and McKie goes to great lengths to point out that armed forces in Britain serve at the behest of the democratically-elected government. Thus, “enterprises which have been fundamentally ill-conceived by politicians” are not to be blamed on the Army, Royal Navy or the RAF. But he is missing the point.

For a start, “I was only following orders” is not really a defence of these “fundamentally ill-conceived enterprises” is it? Secondly, who does McKie think is to blame for abuses committed by armed forces personnel and does he suggest teaching about these abuses to children too? And lastly, will children be taught that even the most “well-conceived enterprises” involves bombing and killing people, often children of similar ages to them, who have little to do with fighting?

The novel thing, of course, would be to provide children with the skills that would allow them to think about critically about different subjects. Then again, based on McKie’s recent foray into the philosophy of religion, I am not surprised he decided to simply thump the table harder than his opponents.

MoD parachutes propaganda into classrooms attempting to rewrite the Iraq debacle

How about teaching children to think critically?


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