If Putin did it, we need a convincing explanation as to why

Something about this Russian spy and his daughter doesn’t add up for me. Since I wrote my previous posts, it has transpired that the two were attacked with a nerve agent. This makes things doubly serious, firstly because nerve agents are so deadly that collateral damage is hard to avoid – and with 21 people now said to be affected, there has been plenty of that – and secondly because nerve agents, compared with poisons, are generally only accessible to state bodies. This puts the attack on Skirpal in the same bracket as the one which killed Alexander Litvinenko, who was poisoned with polonium-210. Nerve agents and polonium are not things you can buy in a shop or make at home – at least, we hope not.

So all the fingers are pointing towards a Russian government operation. But if that’s the case, the rules of the game have changed:

It seems to reflect a breakdown in the old etiquette of espionage, not only foreshadowing an even more vicious “shadow war” to come, but also challenging Western states to come up with new ways to respond to and deter these kinds of outrages.

In itself, former spies are not usually considered targets, according to the old rules. It’s assumed that they will be debriefed, squeezed of all remaining information of value they may possess, but typically they then semi-retire into grateful obscurity, their knowledge increasingly dated.

So either the Russians have blatantly broken the rules – which served them equally well as us, and were maintained throughout the Cold War – or it was not a Russian government operation. Or put another way, if something doesn’t follow the normal rules of a government operation then it probably wasn’t a government operation.

So let’s suppose it was carried out on Putin’s orders. Why would he do this? The easy answer is “to send a message”. Okay, to whom? For what purpose? To discourage spies within his ranks? Sure, but Putin grew up in the KGB during the Cold War and they’d have been equally motivated then, but they stuck to the rules. What has changed that would make someone versed in old-school spycraft deviate so drastically from the rules? Did this Skirpal still have valuable information to disclose? If that’s the case, why was he wandering around Salisbury eating in restaurants and loafing around with his daughter on park benches?

Perhaps it was for personal revenge. If so, why Skirpal? Of all the people on Putin’s shit-list, was he really that high up? And worth risking a massive diplomatic rift with Britain over? People need to stop looking at Putin as some sort of pantomime villain. He’s a smart man and although his methods of running a country are dubious at best and his morals non-existent, he is not some irrational lunatic who lashes out for reasons of personal revenge without thinking through the consequences. If Skirpal was killed on Putin’s orders, it would not have been to satisfy his ego. We need a better explanation than that.

Some are saying he is sending a warning to Britain. I don’t know why: other than having a vote on the UN security council and (for now) having a say in any sanctions passed by the EU, Britain isn’t much of a threat to Russia. For Putin, it is better to have Britain on-side, or luke-warm, or perhaps even cool rather than dead-set against them. Nothing Putin has said or done suggests he has some huge chip on his shoulder about the UK, in the way he does the United States. Britain and Russia clash over certain policies for sure, e.g. Syria, but I can’t see how murdering Skirpal in such a manner would help with that. Again, we need to stop thinking of Putin as a cartoon villain, coming up with elaborate plans to warn or punish his enemies.

So even though this looks like a Russian government operation, I believe we need to come up with a plausible theory as to why they’d have carried it out as they did, risking an extremely serious rift with the UK. How would it benefit Russia? So far, most commentary has been of similar quality to that which supposes Putin swung the US election for Trump, i.e. implausible and often demonstrable nonsense. And as I said in my previous post, that’s half the problem: having been sold the idea that Putin is a Bond villain working endless nefarious schemes, we’re now incapable of thinking rationally on any subject remotely related to Russia. Here’s what the Russians themselves say:

Russia was not involved in the attempted murder of an ex-spy and is willing to help with a UK inquiry, the country’s foreign minister has said.

Are the Russians playing an exceedingly clever game here, helping out in the inquiry knowing full well they did it? This is a bit risky, isn’t it? When Russian agents allegedly went about assassinating people in Turkey, they didn’t rush to help Ankara with any investigation. They either denied it or said nothing. When they assassinated a Chechen in Qatar and their guys got caught, they defended them to the hilt. When the Israelis assassinated someone in a Dubai hotel room, they denied everything and went quiet. The only times I’ve heard of a criminal assisting the police in their investigation has been in fictional stories or on those TV shows which show the guy in prison having been remarkably stupid in not making himself scarce. My guess is that if the Russian government did order this hit, they’d have in place a very well thought out plan of how to handle the resulting diplomatic crisis, and it would not have involved cooperating with the investigation.

A lot of this doesn’t make sense to me, and only fits the “Putin did it” narrative if we assume he’s the evil genius desperate politicians and the idiotic media say he is. I don’t mind the Russian government being the primary suspect, but I’d like to see a proper theory advanced that stands up to scrutiny, and all other possibilities explored and ruled out, before we decide to close the Russian embassy in London and send them all packing.

What I’m saying is I am not very happy with politicians, the media, and a lot of the public simply saying “Putin did it, obvs” and demanding retaliatory actions without having anything to support the allegation other than the absolute mountain of shite that’s been written about the man in the past 18 months.

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Who did their job, and who didn’t?

Via MC in the comments, this:

The security consultant who has worked for the company that compiled the controversial dossier on Donald Trump was close to the Russian double agent poisoned last weekend, it has been claimed.

Give it a few days and we’ll start finding out this guy was tied in with Clintons, and the story will disappear in a puff of smoke with only conspiracy theorists mentioning his name ever again. With good reason: associates of the Clintons winding up dead is hardly newsworthy, is it? Might as well run a report every time it rains in Wales.

Slightly more seriously, I’m going to buck the trend again. On the one hand I’m in agreement with some of my commenters: Britain should not allow Russian agents (assuming it was them) to go around murdering people willy-nilly with polonium and nerve gas on its soil. For starters, the possibility of collateral damage is great; the policeman who first handled the couple is critically ill in hospital, and this is appalling.

But a spy being killed by the Russians? Okay, the chap worked for us so he’s on our side. But the Russians don’t see it that way, and understandably so. To them, he’s a filthy traitor. Did the information he passed on to the British result in any Russians being killed or imprisoned? It’s hard to imagine his treachery was harmless. So let’s flip this around. Would we be outraged if MI6 had arranged for Kim Philby or Guy Burgess to be knocked off in Moscow once they’d betrayed the west and fled to the Soviet Union? On the contrary, I’d consider it a duty of the British government to try.

The outrage here isn’t really that Russia tried to kill a former spy. The outrage is that the British government let a former double agent wander around Salisbury oblivious to the fact someone still wanted him dead. I don’t think they even gave him a new identity, let alone a security detail. Who was in charge of this? Or is there a gentleman’s agreement that Russia has breached whereby spies who’ve been handed back in a swap are off-limits for retribution? Britain has a duty to protect those who cross over to work for them, as well as the public at large. This duty goes beyond expecting the Russians not to play dirty, and they’ve been negligent. How did someone even get a nerve agent into the country? Isn’t that a scenario they should be guarding against? Perhaps the security services should spend less time hounding British citizens for saying hurtful things on the internet and start doing the job they’re supposed to. We can be sure the Russians are doing theirs.

UPDATE

From the Moscow Times (H/T Tim Johnson):

Skripal was not just any spy, though, but a former insider, a GRU officer who allegedly blew the cover of some 300 Russian agents.

There’s 300 suspects right there. It is quite possible this had nothing to do with the Russian government at all. Let’s just say that had Bowe Bergdahl been Russian instead of American, he’d likely be found dead and the government with a clean pair of hands.

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Leaves on the line, Putin to blame

Let’s talk about this Russian spy and his daughter who have taken ill in Salisbury:

The government’s emergency committee Cobra is to be updated on the police probe into the suspected poisoning of a former Russian double agent.

Sergei Skripal, 66, and his daughter Yulia, 33, have spent a third night in a critical condition in hospital after being found unconscious in Salisbury.

Scientists at the UK’s military research facility at Porton Down are examining an “unknown substance”.

Met Police counter terrorism officers have extended cordons in the city.

I assume the Met Police are there because local plod lacks the competence to handle such a case. So ultimately we now have diversity-hire Cressida Dick in charge of the investigation. If I were a Russian holed up in a potting shed on a Salisbury allotment with an empty syringe in my bag, I’d breathe a sigh of relief.

Mr Skripal and his daughter were found slumped and unconscious on a bench outside the Maltings shopping centre on Sunday afternoon.

The two victims should be grateful they didn’t live in Glasgow. Would anyone have noticed?

Speaking in the Commons on Tuesday, Mr Johnson said: “Honourable members will note the echoes of the death of Alexander Litvinenko in 2006.

“I say to governments around the world that no attempt to take innocent life on UK soil will go unsanctioned or unpunished.”

What sanctions or punishments resulted from Litvinenko’s murder? And are double-agents really innocent? Was Kim Philby?

Okay, let’s talk more seriously. Firstly, this is relevant:

Tony Brenton, the former British ambassador to Russia, suggested that Mr Skripal would have had many enemies – including many former colleagues

He said: “The fact that he blew a whole range of Russian agents, there may be personal animosities there.

“In most Russians’ minds he would be categorised as a traitor. There are people there who would be delighted to see him dead.”

Russia is a dangerous place with no shortage of murderous psychopaths. If somebody gets murdered, there could be several reasons for it. If the deceased happens to be involved in questionable activities, e.g. shady business deals or spying, their list of enemies will be long indeed. Similarly, journalists whose work exposes corruption and malfeasance in Russia will also make a lot of enemies, many of whom will want them dead. In short, a Russian oligarch, spy, or journalist turning up dead does not in itself imply Putin ordered the murder.

Now it may be that Putin is happy with the outcome, but that doesn’t mean it was his doing. It is an article of faith among lefties that the CIA was behind the 1973 coup in Chile that ousted Salvador Allende and brought Augusto Pinochet to power. There is absolutely no evidence of this, and enough evidence showing the American government was somewhat surprised by the developments in Santiago, but lefties simply point to previous American interference in Chile and the undeniable fact that the US would have been quite pleased with the outcome as proof of their involvement. Unfortunately, that is not how historical claims are adjudicated and nor are criminal matters. If we are going to accuse Putin of ordering a hit on a journalist or spy, we need to at least acknowledge that he may well have had nothing to do with it. A lot of commentary in the western press doesn’t do this, and openly states that Putin murders journalists. They then, often in the same paragraph, complain about fake news coming from Russia.

That’s not to say Putin is innocent. Under the conditions of his rule, life for journalists has been made very dangerous indeed, and this is appalling. He certainly bears much responsibility for opposition politicians and journalists being killed in broad daylight, as Boris Nemtsov was, and the standard practice of stitching up a couple of young Chechens each time is happening on his watch. He has also created the conditions under which the words “who will rid me of this troublesome priest?” get interpreted in a manner in keeping with English historical standards. He may not even need to utter them: an ambitious soul might decide to do Putin a favour by knocking someone off before he’s passed any remarks. In a feudal system such as Putin’s Russia, doing the king an unsolicited favour might reap substantial rewards.

So Putin has a lot to answer for, but that doesn’t mean we’re sure he’s tried to kill this guy and his daughter in Salisbury. There are simply too many possibilities, and we need to be sure before saying something daft. Thankfully, someone understands this:

Assistant Commissioner Mark Rowley said: “This investigation is at the early stages and any speculation is unhelpful…

Indeed, but perhaps he should have had a word with Boris Johnson:

The UK would respond “robustly” to any evidence of Russian involvement in the collapse of former spy Sergei Skripal, Boris Johnson has said.

The foreign secretary said he was not pointing fingers at this stage, but described Russia as “a malign and disruptive force”.

Is this helpful? This is even more stupid:

The Russian state has denied responsibility for his poisoning, but author of “Spycraft Rebooted”, Edward Lucas, claimed on the BBC the attack was an “act of war” if Russia was found to be behind the attack.

He said: “If Russia is behind it then it means they are taking this to a whole new level, it is in effect a declaration of war from the Russians to bump off someone like that – if they did it.

Supposing Putin calls up Theresa May this morning and says yup, it was me. Are we going to go to war with Russia? No, we’re not. We’ll piss and moan and kick some diplomats out, and go back to doing nothing. I remember when a Malaysian Airlines jet was shot down over Ukraine, almost certainly by Russian-backed militias operating hand-in-glove with Russian forces. Everyone fell over themselves to avoid having to actually do anything, probably at the behest of the Germans for whom commercial interests in Russia are worth far more than a few hundred dead passengers. At the very worst, there will be calls for sanctions which the EU won’t support. So save the tough-talk, nobody believes you.

But the west has a far larger problem here. Russia has been held up as the bogeyman ever since America’s Democrats couldn’t accept the fact that Hillary Clinton lost the 2016 presidential election because she was an appalling candidate. Nowadays, whenever a vote threatens to go against the interests of the ruling classes, they accuse the Russian government of interference without offering any evidence other than vague reports of “Russian bots” operating with a $15k budget targeting Facebook users with unhelpful stories. This lame excuse was rolled out to explain the establishment’s humiliating defeat over Brexit, it was preemptively deployed when Macron losing to Le Pen was still a theoretical possibility, and Samantha Power – Obama’s ambassador to the UN – is now accusing Russia of throwing the Italian election. Whenever something doesn’t go the way of the ruling classes in the west these days, prominent figures brazenly accuse Putin of interference. It is irresponsible in the extreme, not only because it damages relations with Russia for no good purpose and encourages ludicrous calls for extremely harmful retaliatory measures, but it weakens their position when something happens for real.

This is a classic case of the boy crying wolf once too often. If high-ranking politicians are accusing Putin of nefarious deeds on a daily basis, each time sounding increasingly deranged, why should anyone care when he’s charged with poisoning a spy in Salisbury? And why should the Russians care? Mueller’s investigation into supposed Russian interference in the US presidential election has been running for well over a year, and nothing of any substance has been found, yet the cacophony has only gotten louder. An act of war, says Ed Lucas? Well, he’s a bit late to that particular party:

Why should we expect Russia to behave honourably in this poisonous political environment? Even if Putin personally ordered the hit on Skripal, the British authorities are never going to find out, let alone gather enough evidence to do anything other than ratchet up the existing hysteria. Will anyone even notice?

Finally, I’ve heard several remarks over the past day or two to the effect that Putin, and Russians generally, never forget those who cross them and hold grudges. Well, maybe that’s true but I don’t see why this should necessarily be a bad thing. Consider our own politicians, for example, many of whom seem to have forgotten that the IRA were murderous thugs who killed and maimed innocent British citizens on our own soil. Our memories are so short that the man who showed solidarity with these terrorists and invited them to parliament is now the leader of the opposition, and his past dalliances with groups openly hostile to Britain are airily dismissed with a wave of the hand. And do you think anyone in Moscow is advocating giving social housing to returning ISIS fighters? The question ought not to be why Russia holds grudges and kills traitors, but why we are so forgiving of those in our own ranks.

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When Towers and Trust Collapse

The BBC is running a story about 9/11 conspiracy theories:

On 11 September 2001, four passenger planes were hijacked by radical Islamist terrorists – almost 3,000 people were killed as the aircraft were flown into the World Trade Centre, the Pentagon and a Pennsylvania field. Just hours after the collapse of New York’s Twin Towers, a conspiracy theory surfaced online which persists more than 16 years later.

“Is it just me?” an internet user named David Rostcheck wrote, “or did anyone else recognise that it wasn’t the airplane impacts that blew up the World Trade Centre?

“I hope other people are actually catching this, but I haven’t seen anyone say it yet, so I guess I will. There’s no doubt that the planes hit the building and did a lot of damage. But look at the footage – those buildings were demolished,” he continued. “To demolish a building, you don’t need all that much explosive but it needs to be placed in the correct places… Someone had to have a lot of access to all of both towers and a lot of time to do this. This is pretty grim. The really dire part is – what were the planes for?”

Subsequent investigations made it clear that the tower structures were weakened by the inferno from the planes and felled by the weight of collapsing floors. However even now some people refuse to believe this version of events.

I watched the towers collapse on a television in the conference room of an engineering consultancy, surrounded by civil and structural engineers. None of us could believe what we saw, and many of us thought an airplane crashing into the towers couldn’t cause the towers to collapse as they did. A few months later some American TV station aired a program explaining exactly how they collapsed, someone recorded it, and we all packed into the same conference room to watch it. Everyone came away fully satisfied by the explanations given.

The video explained that the two towers fell in quite different ways. Their construction consisted of an inner steel core and an outer shell, held together by cross-braces made of light steel. Neither the inner core or outer shell could stand independently, so the cross bracing was essential. When the aircraft struck the impact knocked off a lot of the fire protection, and the subsequent fire weakened the cross bracing to the point the outer shell fell away, causing the entire tower to collapse. In one video clip you can actually see the core standing on its own for a fraction of a second before it too collapsed to the ground. The other tower fell differently. When the aircraft struck, the resulting fire weakened the supporting steel above the impact point so the entire (intact) tower section above slammed into the floor below, which gave way, and the process repeated through several floors bringing the entire structure crashing down. Although burning jet fuel is insufficient to melt steel, any increase in temperature beyond a certain point severely reduces its structural strength, and temperatures far exceeded that point.

There are many inexplicable elements to 9/11, but most have to do with the fact that this event was entirely without precedent. Nobody could possibly have predicted what would happen should two colossal skyscrapers come crashing down in sequence in the middle of a city, and the mechanisms it triggered in the immediate surroundings will never be properly understood. People say WTC 7 (or whatever) should not have collapsed in the way it did; well, nobody knows how a building is going to behave subject to forces of that nature, all we can do is look at the wreckage and try to figure it out. If the same thing was repeated half a dozen times we might get a better idea, but until then there will always be a lot of odd phenomena about 9/11 we can’t explain. This is what conspiracy theorists rely on when peddling their nonsense.

However, the point of my post is to highlight how much times have changed. When 9/11 occurred there was still some semblance of trust in the US government, and only demented conspiracy theorists believed it would be an inside job. Most people were even on board with the official explanation, which seemed to make sense to me. I certainly can’t see any reason not to believe the official version of events, at least those concerning the WTC and the Pentagon (the story of Flight 93 lends itself to some manipulation, not least because we don’t know for sure what the target was and how it was brought down). But public trust took a huge knock a year later when George W. Bush and co. started banging on about Iraq’s nuclear weapons and resorting to complete bullshit to make the case for war. Since then things have gone rapidly downhill: the Obama years saw the utter corruption of government agencies, flat-out lies concerning Benghazi and Fast and Furious, and since Trump’s election it’s been non-stop disinformation regarding Russia’s alleged interference in US politics. To cap it all, we had a gunman firing hundreds of rounds into a crowd in Las Vegas and after a brief period of feeding the public contemptible bullshit, law enforcement officials and politicians have decided they’re not going to tell anyone what happened, and the media aren’t in the slightest bit interested in finding out. The government’s reaction to this event was so remarkable that even normal, balanced people were convinced something was rotten about the whole thing. And we’re still waiting for answers, by the way.

So my point is that the 9/11 conspiracy theories are nonsense, but if 9/11 happened today the public would have every reason to think they were being told a pack of lies from the outset and they’d almost certainly be right. This collapse in public trust may prove almost as catastrophic as the collapse of the towers themselves.

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Nothing to see here, Australian edition

Well, it turns out I was completely wrong when I said yesterday’s incident in Melbourne would be forgotten by Christmas: it’s largely been forgotten already, disappearing from the front page of the BBC to be replaced by a story about kids dying in Yemen. At least it’s not the Rohingyas, anyway.

As BiG pointed out in the comments, before the ink was dry on my post the Australian authorities had declared it the work of a lone nutter and hence was not terrorist-related. The fact that the guy was an Afghan refugee, complained about worldwide “mistreatment of Muslims”, and was filmed in action by one of his co-religionists who was carrying a sack of knives doesn’t mean a damned thing, it seems. Because, as Streetwise Professor put it, lone lunatics are always accompanied by knife-wielding cameramen.

The authorities are taking the piss, secure in the knowledge the Australian population – like so many others – will just lie down and take it, with a good percentage actually siding with the men with the beards. But they’re not outright lying, it’s more of a lie by omission. I am quite sure the guys who carry out these vehicular attacks are mentally ill and are quite possibly loners. All societies have them, and Australia’s approach to nutters is to not to care for them or make them seek treatment (because that would be judgmental), but instead to clap them on the back and encourage them to roam the streets panhandling and yelling at passers-by. The irony is that most of Melbourne’s head cases congregate around Flinder’s Street Station where the attack took place, so there is an outside chance our Afghan friend has spotted a mate from way back in the funny-farm and just wanted to say hello.

The problem is, mentally-ill Muslims don’t just hang around stations yelling at people; instead they can tap into a large and well-funded network brimming with anti-western sentiment which will welcome them with open arms. There are supposedly moderate mosques and preachers all over the world who will happily embrace lone nutters and, instead of helping them, turn them into jihadists carrying out amateurish but deadly attacks on western targets safe in the knowledge they have no links to an actual terrorist network and the authorities will play along. By refusing to acknowledge the obvious and dangerous link between mentally-ill Muslim men and organised Islamic terror, western governments have entered into a quite astonishing collaborative agreement with terrorist organisations. Then again, given both see the ordinary native populations as representing the greatest threat to their ambitions, this is perhaps less surprising that you’d think.

But their culpability doesn’t stop there. One day I fervently hope that western politicians and their lackeys are held accountable for their considerable role in perpetuating among Muslims this perception they are being mistreated everywhere, and that westerners are to blame. From the hand-wringing over non-existent Islamophobia to the gleeful reporting of the Muslim world’s reaction to Trump moving an embassy, the western media and many, many governments are as much to blame for filling this idiot’s head full of angry feelings of victimhood as any radical preacher. Once again, it is a collaborative effort.

The good news is that I think fewer and fewer people are buying this crap, and compared to five years ago, more of the population are openly mocking the pathetic, craven, and self-serving response of the authorities to Islamic terror attacks. This is a small but important step along the road to doing something about it. When that time comes, I hope little distinction is found between the terrorists and those in power who currently help them.

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A Mystery in Melbourne

An event in Melbourne, completely without precedent elsewhere, leaves us dumbfounded:

Australian police have arrested two people after a car drove into a crowd in Melbourne.

The car “collided with a number of pedestrians” on Flinders Street, a busy junction in the centre of the city, said Victoria Police.

Fourteen people have been injured, with several in a critical condition.

I know that junction, I used to cross it on my daily walk to work along with about twenty thousand other people. It’s busy, and there’s nothing between the pavement and the road. If you want to mow down a bunch of folk in a car in Melbourne, that’s where you’d do it.

Police have said it was a deliberate act but said it was too early to say whether it was terrorist-related.

This is probably true, but I don’t think time is really the issue here. I remember when an Iranian took a bunch of people hostage in a Sydney cafe and shouted Islamist slogans while waving an ISIS flag before shooting someone; when the police eventually got around to saying whether it was terrorist-related they’d decided it wasn’t. Just another of those “lone wolves” we keep seeing everywhere. The public responded with a hashtag fronting a bizarre campaign to sit next to Muslims on public transport. If only their cricket team behaved like this on the pitch, I’d be a lot happier.

The driver and another man have been detained.

“The motivations are unknown,” police commander Russell Barrett said.

Helpfully, 7 News Sydney tweeted a photo of the two men:

Beards and a lumberjack shirt? Why, they’re fucking hipsters! Melbourne is full of them, and they really are a menace.

Witness Jim Stoupas, who runs a business nearby, told the BBC: “It just barrelled through a completely full intersection of pedestrians. There was no attempt to brake, no attempt to swerve.”

He added: “I saw probably five to eight people on the ground with people swarming around them [to help]. Within a minute, I think, there were police on site, so it was very, very speedy.”

Victoria Ambulance said in a statement that a child of pre-school age with serious head injuries was among those taken to hospital.

If the father of that child were Chechen, the perpetrators would not have long to live. I’m merely observing some cultural differences here, celebrating diversity as we’re encouraged to.

In January, six people died when a man drove a car into pedestrians on Bourke Street.

Afterwards, city authorities installed concrete blocks in various locations – including on Flinders Street – hoping to prevent vehicle-based attacks.

Tsk! Someone tell the BBC that the official term is “diversity bollards“.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said on Twitter that the investigations had begun, and sent “thoughts and prayers” to those affected.

Of course. This will be forgotten by Christmas Day.

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The Inertia of the British Middle Classes

The fascinating social experiment which is the United Kingdom got a bit more interesting last week when a bomb was planted on the London Underground. Fortunately it failed to fully explode, but it burned a number of people as the carriage passed through Parsons Green tube station, leaving behind a smoking Lidl carrier bag with fairy lights and crocodile clips which people seemingly walked right up to and photographed. Obviously they didn’t know it was a bomb, which leaves me to assume they were merely outraged at carrier bags littering the tube, bags they thought had been banned.

The media are, as usual, doing everything they can to obfuscate over who planted the bomb. Check out this BBC report:

An 18-year-old and 21-year-old are being held over the explosion, which injured 30 at Parsons Green station.

The house being searched in Sunbury-on-Thames belongs to a married couple known for fostering hundreds of children, including refugees.

Friend Alison Griffiths said the couple had an 18-year-old and a 22-year-old staying with them recently.

She described Mr and Mrs Jones as “great pillars of the community”, adding: “They do a job that not many people do.”

Lots of people have 18 and 21/22 year olds staying with them. What we want to know is are these the same ones who planted the bomb? The BBC can’t quite bring itself to ask the question, let alone answer it.

When the British government decided to admit thousands of child refugees from Iraq, Syria, and everywhere else it was obvious that many were not refugees and an awful lot of them weren’t children. The authorities didn’t even bother hiding this, such is their contempt for truth and transparency. They were warned time and again that these people weren’t being properly vetted and, having come from a war zone, some of them could be Islamist nutters bent on waging jihad once in the UK. Nobody cared: not the government, and nor the population.

Sure, people made noises on social media but when Nigel Farage brought up the issue of refugees in the last General Election the middle classes howled in outrage and backed that nice man Corbyn instead. However you interpret the results of the GE, one thing is clear: the bulk of the British people seem quite unconcerned about refugees and mass immigration. Proof of this is the reaction of the media and middle classes to people on the continent like Geert Wilders and Marine Le Pen. They wrung their hands at these nasty, racist people and cheered when the Netherlands and France “rejected hate” by electing nice, reasonable people who avoided mentioning Islam, terrorism, and immigration as much as they could.

The British middle classes have gone into full-on meltdown over Donald Trump, with many wanting him banned from the UK and others openly calling him a white supremacist. The same people reacted with apoplectic outrage when the rather mild and reasonable Jacob Rees-Mogg said that, being a Catholic, he opposed abortion in all forms. Apparently there is no place for opinions like that in British political discourse, and he was branded a dangerous extremist. The chances of someone like Rees-Mogg, i.e. a genuine conservative being elected British Prime Minister are slim indeed.

What people want is the sort of wet centrist that Cameron personified. Looks like a nice young man, not especially bright, will say whatever makes people happy and won’t really try to change anything. He’s basically the nice-but-dim uncle your parents let run the kids’ birthday party, a safe pair of hands. They don’t want the other uncle who goes on anti-nuclear marches and everyone suspects is a bit of paedo, and nor do they want the one who’s been in the marines and swears too much. People don’t like Theresa May because she exudes soulless mediocrity and reminds people of the dinner lady nobody liked in school, not because her policies are stupid.

This smouldering bucket on the tube has proved that beyond doubt. The policy of admitting in unvetted migrants from the Middle East and passing them off as child refugees was central to the government of which Theresa May and Amber Rudd were part. Okay, perhaps the 18-year old was a child when he got admitted. It would certainly explain the amateurish bomb-making efforts. The instructions on Fisher Price detonators were always hard to follow. I digress.

My point is that anyone who had not been following politics for the past few years would think the British public would be going absolutely mental at this government and the last for pursuing this insane policy, which has bitten them on the arse in the very manner everyone said it would. But no, the media and middle classes are as muted as ever in the wake of an Islamist bombing, hands are being wrung about a possible Islamaphobic backlash, Sadiq Khan has requested the BBC play the same speech he did last time to save him the effort of repeating himself, and all focus is on how Boris Johnson isn’t fit to be Foreign Minister because he said some things Remainers don’t like.

One can only conclude from all this that the majority British public, and certainly the middle classes, are not unhappy with the situation. Economists have this wonderful term called revealed preferences whereby you watch what people actually do rather than listen to what they say. Well, I’ve seen the reaction of the British public to Wilders, Le Pen, Rees-Mogg, Trump, and Farage and I’ve also seen their response to a series of Islamist bombings aimed at killing as many Britons as possible. What conclusion am I supposed to draw?

My guess is most people live nice, comfortable lives. They have enough food, a warm dry bed, a roof over their heads and more luxuries than their parents ever had, including a second car, foreign holidays, and an expensive phone. By historical standards they are financially secure (nobody is going to evict them from their home, and they can always get another credit card), and most are raising one, two, or three absolute brats who give the mother that unconditional love she’s craved since her student days when she watched far too much telly. It’s not just material, they have spiritual satisfaction, too: in the absence of a religion they have taken to virtue-signalling, backing righteous causes such as banning carrier bags, and making the world a better place – by opposing nasty men like Donald Trump, for example.

One should never discount how much intertia resides in a population so satisfied. Let’s be honest, nobody wants to change anything very much while things are going so well. If a giant bomb went off in London next week killing dozens of people and a fringe politician came out of the woodwork and said “By fuck, enough’s enough, I’m gonna solve this!” the middle classes would shit themselves and would cheer the Met as they arrested him for hate speech and carted him away in a paddy wagon decorated with LGBT livery. The chances of any individual being blown up or mown down by an Islamist nutter in the UK are miniscule, and for most people it’s simply not worth rocking the boat by electing someone who’s willing to harbour robust opinions, never mind actually do something.

In other words, Islamic terrorism is an acceptable price to pay to avoid upsetting the material and spiritual status quo the middle classes enjoy. And that’s why nothing gets done about it.

Anyone want to come up with a better explanation?

(Incidentally, this isn’t just a British thing: the German election is about to see Angela Merkel rewarded for her insane immigration and refugee policies with another term, running against someone who makes her look sensible. Again, what conclusion am I supposed to draw?)

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Zakat’s role in funding terrorism

From the BBC:

Saudi Arabia is the chief foreign promoter of Islamist extremism in the UK, a new report has claimed.

The Henry Jackson Society said there was a “clear and growing link” between Islamist organisations in receipt of overseas funds, hate preachers and Jihadist groups promoting violence.

Wednesday’s report says a number of Gulf nations, as well as Iran, are providing financial support to mosques and Islamic educational institutions which have played host to extremist preachers and been linked to the spread of extremist material.

At the top of the list, the report claims, is Saudi Arabia. It alleges individuals and foundations have been heavily involved in exporting what it calls “an illiberal, bigoted Wahhabi ideology”, quoting a number of examples.

When most people read a report like this, they assume that thousands of Saudis are intentionally handing over money to extremist and jihadist groups in the hope they will use it to promote or practice violence. Undoubtedly this will be true for some individuals and no doubt some organisations too, but these reports overlook a crucial point that I have only seen mentioned once.

That point was made in Steve Coll’s excellent and highly recommended Ghost Wars: The Secret History of the CIA, Afghanistan and Bin Laden (emphasis mine):

The money flowing from the kingdom arrived at the Afghan frontier in all shapes and sizes: gold jewelry dropped on offering plates my merchants’ wives in Jeddah mosques; bags of cash delivered by businessmen to Riyadh charities as zakat, an annual Islamic tithe;

Operating in self-imposed isolation, major Saudi Arabian charities and such organizations as the Saudi Red Crescent, the World Muslim League, the Kuwaiti Red Crescent, and the International Islamic Relief Organisation set up their own offices in Peshwar. Funded in ever-rising amounts by Saudi Intelligence and zakat contributions from mosques and wealthy individuals, they, too, built hospitals, schools, clinics, feeding stations, and battlefield medical services.

Wikipedia describes zakat as follows:

As one of the Five Pillars of Islam, zakat is a religious obligation for all Muslims who meet the necessary criteria of wealth.

Zakat is based on income and the value of all of one’s possessions. It is customarily 2.5% (or 1/40th) of a Muslim’s total savings and wealth above a minimum amount known as nisab. The collected amount is paid first to zakat collectors, and then to poor Muslims, to new converts to Islam, to Islamic clergy, and others.

Basically, in any wealthy Muslim country there is an awful lot of zakat money floating about, handed over by individuals as a matter of duty rather than choice. Inevitably, a portion of this cash will be purloined by people who will use it to further their own nefarious agendas. We see the same thing happening in governments: individuals are forced to hand over taxes ostensibly to pay for police, schools, and the army but the money gets hijacked and ends up going on diversity coordinators, lame arts projects, and the housing of child refugees with full beards and impressive combat records.

If you flood a place with money from a source which doesn’t get to say how it’s spent, you’ll lose control of it. If you lose control, some of it will get spent in ways you don’t like. I suspect a lot of this Saudi funding of terrorism is simply zakat money handed over to a charity in all innocence, and then dispersed by people who have made quite an art of diverting funds to extremist groups under the cover of legitimate, peaceful activities. That’s not to say there is no blatant funding of extremists going on in Saudi, but if you really want to tackle the issue you’ll have to either remove the obligation to pay zakat or ensure it is only distributed to groups which have been subject to thorough due diligence such that every Riyal can be accounted for.

Good luck with that.

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Appeasement

Three things caught my attention yesterday, all to do with appeasement.

Firstly Brendan O’Neill:

Islam now enjoys the same kind of moral protection from blasphemy and ridicule that Christianity once (wrongly) enjoyed. All last week, for example, I received furious emails and messages in response to two articles I wrote about the Manchester attack, telling me I was wrong to defend the use of the phrase ‘Islamist extremism’. That term has an Islamophobic bent to it, we’re told. It demeans Islam and its adherents by suggesting they have something to do with terrorism. You should just say ‘extremism’, not ‘Islamist extremism’. Don’t ever name the extremism, don’t label it, because you might hurt people’s feelings.

This is incredibly dangerous. This censorious flattery of Islam is, in my view, a key contributor to the violence we have seen in recent years. Because when you constantly tell people that any mockery of their religion is tantamount to a crime, is vile and racist and unacceptable, you actively invite them, encourage them in fact, to become intolerant. You license their intolerance. You inflame their violent contempt for anyone who questions their dogmas. You provide a moral justification for their desire to punish those who insult their religion.

Next Theodore Dalrymple in the WSJ:

Instead, we have gone in for what a Dutch friend of mine calls “creative appeasement.” Authorities make concessions even before, one suspects, there have been any demands for them. Thus, a public library in Birmingham, one of the largest known to me, has installed women-only tables, a euphemism for Muslim women only. Whether there was ever a request or demand for sex-segregated seating from Muslims is probably undiscoverable; truth seldom emerges from a public authority. But the justification would almost certainly be that without such tables, Muslim women would not be able to use the library at all.

The Birmingham airport has set aside a room for wudu, the Muslim ablutions before prayer. No other religion is catered for in this fashion (nor should they be, in my opinion), so the impression is inevitably given that Islam is in some way favored or privileged. Again, it would be difficult to find out whether they received requests or demands for such a room or merely anticipated them; in either case, weakness is advertised.

This is not a local problem alone. Many European airports now set aside a room for “meditation.” The icon used to indicate it almost always carries more of an Islamic connotation than any other. A friend told me that when she went into one such room, she was told by a Muslim to remove her shoes, ecumenism being, of course, a one-way street.

Finally, the Cheshire Police (via Twitter):

Somebody please tell me what side our ruling class is on, because it sure as hell isn’t ours.

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Dick-waving across the sands

Well, the Qataris seem to have upset some people, haven’t they?

It looks to me as though this is less about terrorism as two regional powers wrangling for influence. Thanks to its enormous oil wealth, Saudi Arabia has for years been able to buy influence all over the world. e.g. funding madrasses housing extremist preachers, but also paying off governments to turn a blind eye to its rather questionable domestic, regional, and international policies. Iran has always squared off against Saudi for regional supremacy, but insofar as majority Sunni nations go, none of the others could come close to matching Saudi’s wealth and influence.

Then a couple of decades ago Qatar tripped over a giant unassociated gas field at the time LNG was becoming a big thing, and before too long we had Qataris popping up everywhere spending money and buying influence just as the Saudis did: Al-Jazeera media, Qatar Airways, the 2022 FIFA world cup, sponsorship of Barcelona football club, and the London Shard are among the most prominent of the little-known desert nation’s attempts to gain international recognition.

It has been obvious for a long time that Qatar had hoped to match Saudi Arabia in terms of buying influence and raising prestige abroad, and they were able to do so thanks to a much smaller population (2.2m versus Saudi’s 32m), which makes them much easier to buy off and/or control and leaves more surplus cash. Qatar also hoped to compete with Dubai as a regional hub where westerners can do business without feeling they are in a backward, oppressive shithole – as Abu Dhabi was also trying to do.

But like Saudi Arabia, Qatar has never quite been able to shake off accusations that it funds extremist groups and shelters terrorists. The Chechen leader Zelimkhan Yandarbiyev was living in Doha when the Russians assassinated him, and rumours are always circulating that known terrorists are permitted to hide out in, or even operate out of, Qatar in return for ensuring the country isn’t attacked. I have no idea whether this is the case or not, and obviously I have no proof that Qatar sponsors terrorism, but I would not be in the least bit surprised if both were true, and I am quite certain that whatever Qatar is doing, Saudi Arabia has been doing the same thing for much longer.

Again like the Saudis,Qatar has managed to deflect most of the accusations by making sure they stand four-square alongside the Americans. ExxonMobil are heavily involved in the gigantic QatarGas II development, and have been the major international partner of Qatar Petroleum (the state oil and gas company) throughout the rise of the country’s LNG industry and subsequent enrichment. Whatever happens during this spat, we can be sure Rex Tillerson will know everyone involved on the Qatari side very well indeed.

Perhaps more importantly, Qatar is host to the biggest American military base in the Middle East. Something that rarely got mentioned in the discussions surrounding Al-Qa’eda and 9/11 is that Osama bin Laden’s primary motivation was his outrage at Saudi Arabia hosting American troops on its sacred soil during the first Gulf War, and subsequently keeping them there afterwards. The Saudis downplayed it, but the American army’s presence in their country was causing serious domestic resentment towards the ruling classes, but were more afraid of the threat posed by Saddam Hussein’s forces. As soon as Saddam Hussein was kicked out of power in the Iraq War, the American forces departed for Qatar. This was an enormously significant shift – and one that serves as proof that Saddam Hussein’s neighbours genuinely thought him a threat, even if liberal journalists in New York didn’t. But it also shifted the balance of power in the Gulf towards Qatar and away from Saudi Arabia. With Qatar being America’s base in the region, it had some leverage with which to deflect criticism of its conduct.

I suspect that, following Trump’s successful visit to Riyadh and his warnings about Islamic terrorism, the Saudis have taken the opportunity to take their uppity minnow neighbour down a peg or two, bringing along Bahrain and the UAE for diplomatic support (who will also be quite happy to see Qatar’s progress hobbled). The Saudis will know they can’t force America to abandon Qatar, but they can point a few fingers, pretend to Trump that they are doing something about terrorism, and reassert themselves as the more responsible of the Sunni petro-states that poison global politics with their money.

When all of this blows over, as I’m sure it will, the Saudis hope they will have gained some prestige and Brownie points at the expense of Qatar, and deflected some criticism in the process. Despite this rift, both Qatar and Saudi Arabia will be firmly united in opposing whatever designs Iran has on the region (although apparently Qatari forces, whatever they were, are pulling out of Yemen).

All in all, it’s just your typical story of treacherous bastards in the Middle East trying to squeeze an inch in on one other.

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