Tuesday, September 08, 2009

The lessons of the Lucozade plot

I have a strong personal stake in the so-called Lucozade plot, the plot to explode several trans-Atlantic flights using ingenious liquid explosive devices concealed in lucozade bottles. I was due to fly, with my family, on one of the target flights on the day in August 2006 when the plot was foiled. That long, gruelling day at the tense, chaotic airport, and the subsequent days of indecision about whether to catch another flight, and the day we actually flew, with the fear that it may well be our last day on earth, were extremely stressful – but as the details of the plot emerge I realise more and more how close to being killed I actually was.

Reading the details of the second trial which has finally concluded at Woolwich Crown Court, four lessons strike me – four myths are exposed as utterly wrong. In the writing that follows, I am referring to the eight men who were tried. Of these, Donald Stewart-Whyte was found not guilty. Some of the others were found not guilty of some of the more serious charges, and the jury was unable to reach a verdict on many of the charges. Although the innocence of some of them, particularly Stewart-Whyte, is conceivable, the fact that all were involved in jihadist groups means my observations about the jihadist ideology and milieu based on their examples would stand even if they were innocent of this specific plot. However, it seems clear that the jury’s verdict had to do with the technical quality of evidence, an issue that relates to one of the points I make below, and that the overwhelmingly likelihood is that they were all involved in a bomb plot. Note: Slight edit 10 Sept to put quote marks around the section titles, to make it clear to casual readers that these are the myths I am questioning, and not my own views.

1. "Terrorism as the voice of the voiceless". There is a common view, especially on the left, that terrorism is a cry of despair, the voice of the utterly dispossessed, born out of grievance and poverty. Terrorism, the argument goes, will go away when we remove the grievances, grievances for which the West is largely to blame. However, looking at the biographies of the plotters, it is clear that most of them were from reasonably well off backgrounds, and reasonable life chances, were well educated and articulate, and had other opportunities to express their grievances. Wahid Zaman was a biomedical student at a top university, and, in his “martyrdom video”, said “I have not been brainwashed, I am educated to a very high standard.” He was articulate; he spoke at rallies and had articles published in his university's student magazine. Donald Stewart-Whyte was an art student, a white boy, who went to the “prestigious” Dr Challoner’s Grammar School in Chesham. His father was a Conservative Party agent, his mother a teacher. Tanvir Hussein was also highly educated. In fact, terrorism, far from being the voice of the voiceless, seems to be a weapon of the relatively privileged, of intellectuals.

2. "Londonistan, Eurabia". A familiar argument, particularly in North America and particularly on the right, is that Europe, with its official policies of multiculturalism, has sleep-walked into segregation, has created Islamified ghettos or no-go areas which breed terrorists. This is the Britain and Europe portrayed by Melanie Phillips, Geert Wilders, Robert Spencer, Daniel Pipes and their ilk. The details of the plotters reveal this to be a myth. The plotters were in fact extremely westernised, assimilated even. Waheed Zaman’s favourite TV programme was Only Fools and Horses. Tanvir Hussein experimented with drink, drugs and girls at college. Stewart-Whyte, Umar Islam (from a Christian Caribbean background) and Ibrahim Savant (of Indian and English parentage) were all converts. It is true that one of the July 2005 bomb attempts was perpetrated mainly by young men from one of the areas (Beeston in Yorkshire) which is predominantly Pakistani Muslim. But it is also true that the Beeston bombers turned to radical Wahhabi Islamism as part of a rebellion against the traditionalist Sufi Islam of their parents; becoming Wahhabi meant they could, for example, marry white girls rather than the Mirpuri village girls chosen by their parents. In other words, jihadi violence is not something anachronistic imported to the West through immigration and breeding in multiculturalism’s ethnic enclaves; it is modern, Western and appealing to converts and the apparently most integrated of Muslims.

3. "The war on terror". There seem to have been two approaches to the investigation and foiling of the plot. British intelligence and security services, reporting regularly to Tony Blair on the case, carefully infiltrated and watched the plotters, building up a slowly expanding picture of their networks, and gathering robust trial evidence. They let it run its course, confident they would know when they needed to act. American intelligence and security services, reporting regularly to George W Bush, seemed to want to make quick arrests to shut the network down. British stubbornness, resisting the pressure to swoop, seems to have enabled them to catch the High Wycombe branch of the conspiracy, which was not visible at first. It also seems that the Americans were obsessed with what they called "al Qaeda central", rather than seeing the terrorists as an extremely dispersed and loose net. It seems that America pressured Pakistan into arresting Rashid Rauf, who connected the conspiracy to Al-Qaeda networks. This in turn forced the British to “scramble”, cracking down on the conspiracy earlier than they meant to. This scrambling, seems to have been a major factor in the poor quality of the evidence the prosecution has been able to present at trial, leading to an embarrassing failure to convict some of the plotters. In this instance, the American approach was mistaken, and the culture around the war on terror under Bush – conceived as a military war rather than as a strategy of investigation and prevention, and staged as a high profile public spectacle – proved counterproductive.

4. "The terrorists have already won". There is a certain civil libertarian line – whose vulgar, common-sense, non-dogmatic version you often hear at airports when passengers are irked about having to hand over the over-sized perfume bottles they have in their carry-on – which says that defending us against terror is not worth the price of the curtailment of our “rights”. Our privacy, our freedom of movement, even our right to carry hair gel in our hand bags, are precious, and if we create a draconian security state which abrogates these, then the terrorists have effectively already won. This argument, which we can currently hear most loudly and articulately from those civil libertarians who are calling for an end to control orders, is disingenuous. If the 2006 bomb plot had succeeded, some dozen big long haul planes would have been downed over the sea, with few if any of the passengers surviving. The threat is real, and, as the old saying goes, the bombers only have to be lucky once, while the rest of us have to be lucky all the time. We have managed to be lucky now in Britain since July 2005, but it has not just been luck, and we should be grateful to the security services for the protection we have had.

16 comments:

Flesh said...

Two podcasted presentations immediately sprung to mind related to your analysis, Bob.

Regarding your point about the U.S. approach, this is worth a listen: http://www.thersa.org/events/audio-and-past-events/2008/terror-and-consent-the-wars-for-the-twenty-first-century.

On terrorism as a "voice of the voiceless", empirical findings on http://www.thersa.org/events/audio-and-past-events/2008/what-makes-a-terrorist. I think that terrorists are always motivated by perceived injustice, but terror is a kind of ventriloquism adopted by the privileged without the approval of those they claim to represent.

SnoopyTheGoon said...

Two thoughts, Bob:

1. If you (deity forbid) got offed in that plane, you would have been up to a cool reception at the pearly gates: "What, another one by that drink with a strange name?"

2. Good post otherwise.

Cheers.

Clare said...

Very thought provoking, Bob. Thank you.

socialrepublican said...

Excellent stuff, Bob. Points one and two are vital to understanding and combatting the threat

bob said...

Thanks all. I should have made it clear that I think 1 & 2 are more important than 3 & 4.

ModernityBlog said...

I would agree with you, the evidence in the West points that way, but could your statement of "seems to be a weapon of the relatively privileged, of intellectuals." equally apply to many groups, now and in the past?

I am not thinking of the moment, but 100+ years ago,the Nihilist movement ?
What about the RAF?

Action and activism as Sorelism?

And isn't that violence (or the thought of it) rather enticing for young adults?

Haven't generations of youngsters been drawn towards it in one way or another? From football hooliganism to Columbine shootings, isn't there some commonality? As an outlet, or to strike back at society/people?

I think the hold of Jihadism is, that it is an already made ideology, the acolyte doesn't need to think very much, or think originally, merely accept the doctrine and many young adults might find that appealing, along with the male dominance, use of weapons and latent threat of violence.

It strikes me that these subconscious traits have existed since man came out of Africa, but it is these movements which give expression to those brutal thoughts.

socialrepublican said...

I sure I've bored all and sundry with this, but mod's point is pretty much my research specialism once I stop this charming spree of Illness and being lazy.

This form of terrorism is similar to say public excution of the psycho-sociology of the holocaust. The violence is ritualised, given a meaning for the killers. Terrorisme was originally the rule of fear, of power unholden, displayed and excuted with particular forms. The 'People's Razor' had forms, the calvary etc and metaphoric meaning. It itself was design and considered a morally superior form of 'dispatch'. The drownings of Vendean rebels were called 'Republican Baptism', a common belief being the rebel had a particular odour, being nicknamed 'Stinkers'.

Terrorism as labelled now is a dramatic assertion of power and the new order of things. It is a temporal break, both socially and in terms of morality. Whilst Walter Laqueur is now days a borderline bigot, his Voices of Terror is a magestic reader of original sources, all screaming temporal change

bob said...

I'll have to read SR more carefully, but basically yes to both SR and Mod. I see jihadism as very much in the lineage of the Jacobins, the Conspiracy of Equals, Nechayev and the Nihilists, the RAF, Angry Brigade and Red Brigades -- and also Bolshevik vanguardism, which substitutes the violence of the Elect for the mass action of the citizenry.

All these worldviews appeal to the young, to intellectuals, to sociologically marginal individuals, to the deracinated - and NOT to peasants or to workers! All are religious in form, altho some are antinomian and anti-religious in content (see Coatesy a while back - link to follow).

The difference with jihadism (and I am not sure if this is SR's point or different) is it is oriented to an other world and time - its aims CANNOT ever be fulfilled in this world. That is why liberal angst about withdrawing from Iraq making terrorism go away is ridiculous - they want to reverse the loss of Andalucia as much as they want to get the Americans out of Iraq; when they talk about Crusaders they mean it in a way Bush never did.

ModernityBlog said...

We've all express similar sentiments, I think Flesh's remark is an excellant summary:

"I think that terrorists are always motivated by perceived injustice, but terror is a kind of ventriloquism adopted by the privileged without the approval of those they claim to represent."

I haven't thought on this topic very much, but I'm glad for SR's points, othewise I'd never know of that Laqueur work, but I might try and get it.

Bob you're right Jihadism is in many ways an unattainable goal, an extreme abstract, which is maybe part of its pulling power? Not sure.

socialrepublican said...

I wouldn't put the Conspiracy of Equals in the same company. Their rhetoric had none of the sheer blood lust of St Just, Marat or Hebert.

I would say that all the other example you give are, in essence, utopian, they cannot be acheived. The ultra-pious Muslim in the Global Caliphate, the new worker/robota in the Paradise of free association, the New man in the National revolution, the virtuous citizen in the Glorious republic, all at unacheivable demands on humanity. They seek a perfection that is inhuman

ps. Bob, many spelling mistakes, as per.

'This form of terrorism is similar to say public excutions or the psycho-sociology of the holocaust.'

bob said...

Terror as "a kind of ventriloquism adopted by the privileged without the approval of those they claim to represent" - that's a great and apt phrase.

The Conspiracy of Equals: I'll semi-withdraw that then. I think there was a certain blood-thirstyness in Babeuf's rhetoric, and the form of a conspiratorial sect that ushers in the new order is the model on which Bolshevism and al-Qaeda built. But the aims were pretty mild: social republicanism, I guess is how you'd call it.

The Nihilists, Bolshevists, etc as utopian, as impossibilists. Yes, and Marko's strapline about the perfect versus the good is right. But there is a difference between that sort of this-worldly impossibilism and al-Qaeda's explicitly other worldly orientation: al-Qaeda's aims BY DEFINITION cannot be fulfilled on this earth.

I forgot the Coatesy link I promised. It's ON THE SPIRIT OF SECTS. Hard work, but insightful.

Jogo said...

First off, what terrific name for it! Like a Robert Ludlam title.

>>>>>>>

I'm reading your post (wow!, I did not know that your very lives converged with this Plot). OK, this might be the first of a series of quick fired-off replies, not deeply thought out.

Your Point #2: The existence of a virtual Eurabia, or the looming threat of it (posited by your usual suspects) -- as it pertains to large communities, as sociological fact or trend -- is not incompatible with the genesis, growth and informal institutionalization of a bizarre cult that attracts Westernized, assimilated, multi-racial, educated, relatively privileged, terrorist individuals. The presence of converts in this group is not a surprise, and not proof of anything other than gullibility, rebellion, transferrance, self-hatred and valorization of the Other, perverted eroticism, grandiosity, ignorance and excess of zeal (the very things that characterize almost all converts to Islam).

You imply (actually, you SAY) that the threat of the one (Eurabia) is disproven by the existence of the other (the Terror Cult). I think they're two different (or differentiatable) things. Both of these can exist simultaneously, sharing the same large space (Britain).

I would also suggest that the Terror Cult (hermetic as it appears) needs a "soft instrastructure," a term I invented and have used previously. In this Lucozade case, the infrastructure is not safe houses, communication networks, medical resources, transportation, purchasing agents and other surrogates, money, etc. (the kind of things that a Sendero Luminoso or Weather Underground would require), but a more subtle thing -- a warm, safe, bordered alt.community ... a home-within-a-home, you might say. This idea -- or imaginative map -- won't pass every truth-test, but I think it's worth considering.

socialrepublican said...

'al-Qaeda's aims BY DEFINITION cannot be fulfilled on this earth'

I would class as worldy but utopian. The recreated caliphate could, in bizarro world, 'happen', but it would be yet another utopia in need of vast totalitarian control i.e. an ongoing total war against human nature

Gibson Block said...

Here's one of "the war against terror is already lost if I have to be questioned by the police" crowd

http://is.gd/3jXey

Gibson Block said...

I'LL MAKE THE VIDEO LINK LIVE

Yasmin Alibhai-Brown

She was detained by police at an airport and peed her pants.

So she is very much against the anti-terror security measures

bob said...

Thanks for all these comments. Further thoughts here.