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Posted Online on Saturday, 19 August 2006 15:55 IST

Muslim Islamic NewsLetter From Airstrip One: Fear Over Facts 

By Chris Floyd

The Milli Gazette Online

18 August 2006

London - Swift action by British intelligence services foil an imminent terrorist strike by religious extremists that would have resulted in mass death and social upheaval on an unprecedented scale. Government ministers heatedly denounce the plotters as the evil agents of a worldwide sectarian conspiracy seeking to impose its totalitarian ideology on free nations everywhere.

The country goes on high alert, with raids on private homes and places of worship. Native adherents of the suspect faith fall under a cloud of suspicion as "the enemy within"; neighborhoods are riven with distrust. Any attempts at exploring the grievances that so radicalized the plotters are dismissed as treasonous coddling of a monstrous foe impervious to reason.

The year, of course, is 1605.

The foiling of the Gunpowder Plot 400 years ago - when a small group of radical Catholics tried to blow up Parliament and the royal family - is still celebrated as one of the chief national holidays in the UK: November 5, "Guy Fawkes Day," named, oddly enough, after the chief plotter. Effigies of the dastardly terrorist - who was tortured, hanged, drawn and quartered for his pains - are still burned each year at night rallies across the country.

It's unlikely, however, that last week's apparent thwarting of an alleged test-run by one alleged conspirator in an alleged plot by a group of alleged religious extremists to allegedly blow up an ever-shifting number of US-bound airplanes with some sort of liquid explosive or other will be celebrated centuries from now as "Rashid Rauf Day," after the alleged plot mastermind who was arrested in Pakistan and is now, after the gentle ministrations of the ISI, said to be "cooperating with authorities." But Britain's political and media elites have reacted to the incident with a degree of fearmongering and rancor that would have done old Guy's torturers and quarterers proud.

In fact, the level of government bombast and media Muslim-bashing following the Great Bomb Scare Plot far surpasses that seen after the successful terrorist attack on July 7 last year, when 56 people were killed by bombs on London's transport system. And it's off the scale when compared to the nation's measured stoicism in the immediate aftermath of 9/11, when 78 Britons died in the attacks on American soil. It seems Tony Blair and the UK commentariat are operating by some strange law of inverse proportion: the less dire the incident, the greater the frenzy.

Of course, Blair himself reacted to this "imminent threat" of "mass murder on an unimaginable scale," this moment of extreme national peril, by cruising the Caribbean. The sight of Blair sunning on a luxury yacht while security troops stormed suburban homes and surrounded mosques back home was just one of the many surreal juxtapositions in the vast media spectacle that quickly overwhelmed whatever kernel of reality lay behind the plot.

The inherent schizophrenia of the "War on Terror" was everywhere in evidence. Britons were told they were facing the greatest threat to the life of the nation since World War II, requiring tireless vigilance, a "huge effort of will and courage" - but they should keep shopping, keep traveling, carry on with their normal lives (as their tanned and jaunty leader was doing). They were pipelined stories by an unquestioning media about the dazzling triumph of the super-efficient security services - the same services that had botched the Iraq WMD intelligence, shot dead a Brazilian carpenter they mistook for a terrorist last year and, just two months before, sent 250 heavily armed agents on a raid to seize two alleged "chemical bombers" (and shoot one of them) on the false word of a single informant. Britain has arrested more than 700 people on terrorism charges in the last five years; only 17 have been found guilty - and only three of these convictions were related to "Islamic terrorism," as CounterPunch and the Guardian report.

For days, TV screens here were filled with the gruff visage of Home Secretary John Reid, a former Stalinist who used to enforce the party line on his communist comrades with his fists, and now serves the same function - sans knuckles - for Blair's increasingly right-wing regime. Reid is the point man for a raft of draconian measures that Blair has been pushing for years, including national ID cards; trials without jury; summary powers for police to dispense "instant justice," without trial or defense, for a range of street crimes; and ever-broader expansions of the state's surveillance and arbitrary detention powers, which in many cases already outstrip those claimed by Bush's "unitary executive." You will not be shocked to hear that Reid has now seized on the bomb scare as bullwhip to drive Parliament forward on these and other "security reforms."

Reid is the rising star of the Blair Remnant, which aims to prevent Tony's long-time rival and putative successor, Chancellor Gordon Brown, from seizing the Labour crown when Blair makes his long-promised, much-delayed exit. In the bomb plot media blitz, Reid completely eclipsed the nominal head of government in Blair's absence, Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott, who was already in the doghouse after an adultery scandal - and who will likely be eased out altogether now that he has committed the ultimate heresy of Blair's inner circle: denigrating George W. Bush. In private remarks leaked to the Independent this week, Prescott called Bush's Middle East policy "crap" and mocked him as "cowboy with his Stetson on." Doubtless Prescott is now mulling the fate of ex-Foreign Minister Jack Straw, who was dumped from his post earlier this year after publicly declaring that the Bush administration's obvious yen for a war with Iran was "nuts." Those who speak ill of the Master in the White House are not long toleratd by his satrap in Downing Street.

But perhaps the most surreal and jarring juxtaposition of all was the assertion by the British Establishment that the UK's central role in the Iraq War - and Blair's lockstep behind Bush's "crap" policy of giving Israel's hardline government free rein in the Middle East - have played no part in radicalizing young Muslims. Leading writers from the left-leaning Guardian and Observer to the staid rightists of the Times and the Telegraph joined Blair and Reid (and Bush and even Bill Clinton) in advancing this remarkable thesis. No, they all said, the fact that America and Britain invaded the Islamic heartland on false pretenses and have killed more than 100,000 innocent Muslim civilians there could not possibly have angered a small handful of Muslims to the point of wanting to answer violence with violence. Nor could the pictures of shredded infants being pulled from the rubble of farming villages in Lebanon while Bush and Blair cheered on Israel's inducement of "birth pangs" in the region have had any effect on anguished and impressionable minds.

Not even the "Intelligent Design" crowd denies reality with such willful ignorance as this. After all, both the US and UK intelligence services have clearly stated that the war in Iraq is fomenting more terrorism worldwide. Yet when a group of leading Establishment Muslims - "good" Muslims, you understand, including some peers of the realm - echoed this rational, fact-based assessment in a polite public letter to Blair, they were castigated across the commentariat for their defeatism, their terrorist-coddling, even their ingratitude. Didn't they realize, thundered the Observer, that America and Britain were actually in Iraq to save Islam from the extremists who pervert the faith? Why, that's what the war is all about!

The Sunday Times best encapsulated the Establishment mood with an ominous piece entitled - what else? - "The Enemy Within." It is not Iraq or Palestine or any other so-called grievance that is generating terrorism, said the paper; it's just pure evil, a floating, motiveless malignancy which has infected "a generation of disaffected Muslims" who seek any excuse "for killing their fellow citizens." These deadly microbes in the body politic may "seem all too ordinary, perhaps enthusiastic about football and cricket and living 'normal' westernized existences in neat terraced houses. They work, study or run small businesses," but any one of them - or maybe all of them, a whole "generation" - might be secretly plotting to "destroy our way of life."

This is about as far as you can go in Muslim-baiting short of calling for an outright pogrom. It appeared in one of the nation's most venerable and respected papers. It evoked not a single spark of controversy. Indeed, it represents the conventional wisdom of an Establishment that, with few exceptions, now seems addicted to the manufacture of hysteria, the exaltation of fear over facts: blind to the corrosive effects of its own use of death and violence for political ends; inflating moderate risks into existential threats; sacrificing liberty for an illusory security; and obliterating the complexities of reality with cartoonish rhetoric that poisons public discourse - and official policy - with fear and suspicion.

Happy Rashid Rauf Day everyone. Don't forget your effigies.

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