UK anti-radicalisation chief says ministers’ plans risk creating ‘thought police’

The Guardian reports: The police chief leading the fight to stop people becoming terrorists has said government plans targeting alleged extremists are so flawed they risk creating a “thought police” in Britain.

Simon Cole, the police lead for the government’s own Prevent anti-radicalisation programme, said that the plans may not be enforceable and risk making police officers judges of “what people can and can not say”.

His comments in a Guardian interview expose opposition in part of Britain’s security establishment against the planned Conservative government bill which was unveiled last week in the Queen’s speech.

The bill widens Britain’s counter-terrorism fight to legislate against those defined as extremists but who do not advocate terrorism. Supporters of the measures say such people encourage those who want to commit atrocities and are ideological fellow travellers, who undermine common bedrock British values.

However, Cole said that other senior police officers have concerns about the plans and the Guardian has learned separately that several British police chiefs are opposed or have serious reservations. [Continue reading…]


My son the ISIS executioner

BuzzFeed reports: When El Shafee Elsheikh was a little boy, after his father had left, his mother would find him at the workbench by the summerhouse at the bottom of the garden in White City, west London, tinkering endlessly with engine motors, bicycle parts, and old computers. Elsheikh was slight and elfin-featured, with wide almond eyes and pointed ears under a cloud of dark curls. He cut a sombre figure, intently turning the parts over in his small hands, finding out what made things work, how to fix them when they got broken. On warm nights, his mother says, he liked to sleep alone down here, in the makeshift old wooden summerhouse with a sheet drawn over the door.

Years later, in 2011, when Elsheikh had a grown into a striking young man in his early twenties, his mother found him here skulking with his CD player, listening to a torrent of hate. The words streaming out of his headphones, when she snatched them from him, were those of the notorious al-Qaeda-affiliated west London preacher Hani al-Sibai. By now Elsheikh had qualified as a mechanical engineer and was earning his living fixing cars and fairground rides. He was quiet, studious, and devoted to his family, and he made his mother proud. But on that day in the garden, she says, she feared for the first time that she was losing him to an ideology she did not understand.

Now, five years on, Maha Elgizouli stands down here by the summerhouse, struggling to conceive of how the son she still calls her “little one” turned into one of the world’s most wanted terrorists. Elsheikh has just been identified by BuzzFeed News and the Washington Post as a member of the notorious ISIS execution cell of four British guards known as the “Beatles” and responsible for beheading 27 hostages and torturing captives with electric shocks, waterboarding, and mock executions. He is the fourth and final member of the terror cell to be named, following the unmasking of the group’s knife-wielding executioner “Jihadi John” as Mohammed Emwazi, and the two other guards as fellow west Londoners Alexanda Kotey and Aine Davis. [Continue reading…]


A beleaguered Britain takes comfort in nostalgia for empire


Paul Harris writes: The British empire never lacked contradictions. A global juggernaut standing with its military boot on millions of necks, practising commercial coercion and diplomatic cynicism, it nonetheless routinely thought of itself as a plucky underdog. Its heroes were the handful of redcoats at Rorke’s Drift fighting off the Zulu masses, or General Charles Gordon of Khartoum, going down against the odds in a last stand against religious zealots in the Sudan.

British soldiers, diplomats and traders pictured themselves as almost accidental conquerors, vanquishing a quarter of the planet’s landmass in between tea, tiffin and cricket matches. They maintained a detached stiff upper lip and publicly ignored the unpleasant reality of the Maxim gun – a luxury not afforded to the locals on its business end.

Britain preferred to see its dominance of a fifth of the world’s population as some sort of benevolent, God-given mission to bring law, order and free trade to benighted corners of the world. As George Bernard Shaw complained: ‘The ordinary Britisher imagines that God is an Englishman.’

It was a powerful notion and it has not gone away. Even though the Empire is reduced to a scattering of tiny islands with names few Britons would recognise, the imperial past remains implausibly popular. Early this year, a poll showed that a full 44 per cent of Britons were proud of colonialism, far outnumbering the mere 21 per cent who regretted their country’s imperial past. The survey was not an outlier. A 2014 report showed a mere 15 per cent of Britons thought the colonised might just have been left worse off by the experience. [Continue reading…]


Britain: Syrian airdrops begin next month if more aid blocked

USA Today reports: The United Kingdom said Tuesday the World Food Program will begin airdrops to besieged areas of Syria on June 1, if humanitarian access is not provided.

Syrian President Bashar Assad’s regime continues to remove medical aid from humanitarian convoys and to prevent convoys from reaching Syrians in need, said British Ambassador to the United States Kim Darroch. If the practice continues, the World Food Program will create an airdrop program starting June 1, Darroch said.

British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond made the announcement after meeting with the International Syria Support Group in Vienna to discuss ways to save a shaky partial cease-fire.

The airdrops will be conducted by United Nations airplanes with security guaranteed by Russia.

Syrian government forces last week removed medical supplies from an aid convoy to the town of Moadamiya, according to the World Health Organization. Similar incidents have been reported since. [Continue reading…]


Cavorting with extremism: UK cracks down at home, befriends extremists abroad

By Brian Whitaker, May 18, 2016

Today Queen Elizabeth will deliver her annual speech to the British parliament setting out the government’s programme for the next 12 months. High on the list of proposals is a renewed effort to combat “extremism”, and one idea is to establish a register of “extremists” – similar to the register of sex offenders – intended “to stop radicals infiltrating schools, colleges, charities and care homes, where they could brainwash vulnerable young people or disabled adults into violence”.

The problem with this, as with the rest of the government’s “counter-extremism” policy, is how to define “extremism”. In a recent article for The Independent, Liberal Democrat MP Alistair Carmichael explained:

“The [government’s] current definition of extremism as ‘the vocal or active opposition to our fundamental values, including democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty and the mutual respect and tolerance of different faiths and beliefs’ is drafted so widely that it will not only catch terrorist sympathisers but perhaps even those who oppose the government, believe the monarchy should be abolished or disagree with same-sex marriage.”

But the problem goes deeper than that. Last Sunday a spectacular event featuring TV celebrities and 900 horses was held at Windsor Castle to mark the Queen’s 90th birthday. The royal family were in attendance and, seated at the Queen’s right-hand side was a man who by any reasonable interpretation of the government’s definition would be considered an extremist: the king of Bahrain.

[Read more…]


‘Brexit’ vote worries European immigrants living in Britain

The New York Times reports: For years, Britain’s relatively vibrant economy has attracted a steady flow of young people fleeing a lack of opportunity in their home countries on the Continent. London in particular is full of young Europeans, who have helped give the city its dynamic, global feel. From entrepreneurs, bankers and fashion designers to artists, waiters and students, all are free to resettle in Britain and make their futures here without so much as a visa.

No one knows for sure what would happen to them if Britain voted to leave the European Union — their immigration status would have to be worked out in the negotiations that would follow — but the debate itself has left some of the young people feeling fearful, frustrated and even angry.

“Maybe I’m too much of a drama queen, but I feel that it’s such a bold statement against immigrants and Europeans,” said Alejandro Macías, 31, a Spaniard who lived in Germany before moving to Britain to work in an audience research company.

If Britain votes out, three-quarters of citizens from other European Union countries who are working in the country would not meet current visa requirements for overseas workers, according to a report by the Migration Observatory at Oxford University. The impact would be greatest for workers in agriculture and the hospitality industry, it said.

There are concerns that London in particular would suffer if the flow of skilled immigrants fell. About a million European Union citizens from other countries work in London, a city of more than 8.5 million people. [Continue reading…]


Sadiq Khan and the future of Europe


Mehdi Hasan writes: As the votes in London’s mayoral election were being counted on May 5, almost every British Muslim I know seemed to have only one thought: Would Sadiq Khan pull it off?

He did. Mr. Khan, the son of Pakistani immigrants, was elected as the first Muslim mayor of a Western capital city, with more than 1.3 million votes, in what is being called the biggest mandate in the history of British politics. And the Labour candidate managed his landslide even after his opponent, the Conservative politician Zac Goldsmith, smeared him as a “radical” and shamelessly accused him of giving “oxygen” to extremists.

Islamophobes are tearing their hair out as they decry the Islamization of Britain. But for all the Muslim baiting, London’s new mayor is part of an encouraging trend. He’s just the latest in a series of observant Muslims who have captured the hearts and minds of the British public. Last October, 14.5 million Britons tuned in to watch the smiling, hijab-clad Nadiya Hussain, the daughter of a waiter from Bangladesh, as she was crowned champion of “The Great British Bake Off,” a TV show. In April, Riyad Mahrez, who was born in Paris to an Algerian father and a Moroccan mother, was awarded the Professional Footballers’ Association Player of the Year trophy after scoring 17 goals for Leicester City, which went on to a surprise victory in the Premier League championship.

In a perfect world, the faith of a TV cooking show star, an athlete or even a major politician would be irrelevant. But in our deeply imperfect — and, yes, Islamophobic — world, it isn’t. British newspapers are filled with alarmist headlines about “Muslim sex grooming” and “the rise in Muslim birthrate.” Earlier this year, Trevor Philips, the former chairman of Britain’s Equality and Human Rights Commission, accused Britain’s Muslims of “becoming a nation within a nation.”

It’s harder to say that now. The tide is turning in the toxic debate on Islam, integration and multiculturalism. [Continue reading…]


Britain should stop trying to pretend that its empire was benevolent

By Alan Lester, University of Sussex

The recent debacle of David Cameron’s filmed condemnation of Nigerian and Afghan corruption and the Queen’s remark on Chinese officials’ rudeness highlights the persistence of imperial thinking in Britain. There seems to be a continuing assumption within the British establishment that it sets an example for others to follow and that the British are owed deference by others.

Ever since evangelical antislavery activists campaigned for Britain to abolish the transatlantic slave trade, Britons have assured themselves that imperial overrule is compatible with the “benign tutelage” of other races and nations. Unlike the other European empires, Britons tell themselves, theirs was an empire founded on humanitarian compassion for colonised subjects.

The argument runs like this: while the Spanish, Portuguese, French, Belgians and Germans exploited and abused, the British empire brought ideas of protection for lesser races and fostered their incremental development. With British tutelage colonised peoples could become, eventually, as competent, as knowledgeable, as “civilised” as Britain itself. These platitudes have been repeated time and again – they are still at the heart of most popular representations of the British Empire.

Even when we are encouraged to pay attention to empire’s costs as well as its benefits, these costs are imagined solely in terms of specific incidents of violence such as the Amritsar Massacre in India or the suppression of the Mau Mau rebellion in Kenya. Britain has excused itself from that most structural injustice of empire – the slave trade itself – by the fact that it was Britain that pioneered its abolition.

[Read more…]


Why Brexit would be the perfect gift for Vladimir Putin

Garry Kasparov writes: olitics often makes for strange bedfellows. Far-right parties in the UK and across Europe push for anything that will weaken the European Union – a goal shared by Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump. This week, their fellow Brexiteer Boris Johnson went as far as to repeat the Kremlin line that Europe is partly to blame for Putin’s ongoing invasion of Ukraine.

One does not expect clear policy statements from Trump or Johnson, but Putin’s reasoning is irrefutable. His goal is to weaken the institutions, including Nato and the EU, that could thwart his neo-Soviet ambitions. The Kremlin was in mourning when Scotland narrowly voted to stay in the UK. Putin sees Europe as his enemy and wants his adversaries to be divided, smaller and weaker.

Divide and conquer isn’t new, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t effective. During his 16 years in power, Putin has done a good job of picking off the weakest, most pliable members from the herd of European leaders and using them as a wedge against a united Europe. He had Silvio Berlusconi, who boasted he was Putin’s personal advocate. He had Gerhard Schröder – and in fact still has him as chairman of the Nord Stream gas pipeline connecting Russia to Germany, which Schröder signed into effect as German chancellor.

Brexit isn’t simply an item on Putin’s wish list. Russia Today and Sputnik, Kremlin propaganda outlets that are inexplicably treated as legitimate news sources in the west, are full of Brexit articles (next to the pro-Trump ones).

Putin always supports the most divisive elements in European politics, and hopes they will repay the favour by voting to end the EU sanctions placed on Russia after his invasion of Ukraine. Europe’s anti-immigrant parties, the quasi-fascists and the not-so-quasi fascists, openly venerate the man who has annexed European territory and continues his military assault in Ukraine – a country Putin wishes to punish for following the dream of joining the EU, a dream some in Britain would freely abandon. [Continue reading…]


‘Good Muslims’ or ‘Good citizens’: How Muslim women feel about integration

By Line Nyhagen, Loughborough University

A great many things have been said about Muslims as UK citizens, mainly by non-Muslims. The prime minister, David Cameron, believes that if more Muslim women became proficient in English, for example, it would help beat extremism and terrorism. Meanwhile, Trevor Phillips, the former chair of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, says that UK Muslims “See the world differently from the rest of us”.

Phillips also presented a controversial Channel 4 programme called What British Muslims Really Think, which put across the message that Muslims are more conservative than the majority population and don’t want to integrate into wider society.

The debate is often highly intemperate – and both Muslim and non-Muslim voices alike have suggested it contributes to further stigmatisation of an already marginalised and disadvantaged Muslim population. In this highly politicised climate, the relationship between Islam and citizenship has also come under scrutiny by Citizens UK, a charitable voluntary organisation with churches, mosques and unions among its members.

In July 2015, Citizens UK launched its Commission on Islam, Participation and Public Life headed by conservative MP Dominic Greave. Greave somewhat unfortunately framed the Commission’s work as aiming to “help tackle extremism”.

[Read more…]


Court refuses request to force alleged hacker to divulge passwords

The Guardian reports: An alleged hacker fighting extradition to the US will not have to give the passwords for his encrypted computers to British law enforcement officers, following a landmark legal ruling.

Lauri Love, a 31-year-old computer scientist, has been accused of stealing “massive quantities” of sensitive data from US Federal Reserve and Nasa computers. His lawyers say he faces up to 99 years in prison if found guilty in the US.

The National Crime Agency (NCA) raided Love’s family home in Stradishall, Suffolk, in October 2013, seizing encrypted computers and hard drives. No charges were brought against him in Britain and Love is suing the NCA for the return of six items of encrypted hardware, which he says contain his entire digital life.

The NCA applied to the courts to force Love to hand over his passwords before it returns the computers but this was rejected by a judge on Tuesday.

Speaking to the Guardian, Love called on governments around the world to set aside differences with activists and hackers and to work together to improve global computer security. [Continue reading…]


Sadiq Khan vs. Donald Trump

Roger Cohen writes: The most important political event of recent weeks was not the emergence of Donald J. Trump as the presumptive presidential nominee of the Republican Party but the election of Sadiq Khan, the Muslim son of a London bus driver, as mayor of London.

Trump has not won any kind of political office yet, but Khan, the Labour Party candidate, crushed Zac Goldsmith, a Conservative, to take charge of one of the world’s great cities, a vibrant metropolis where every tongue is heard. In his victory, a triumph over the slurs that tried to tie him to Islamist extremism, Khan stood up for openness against isolationism, integration against confrontation, opportunity for all against racism and misogyny. He was the anti-Trump.

Before the election, Khan told my colleague Stephen Castle, “I’m a Londoner, I’m a European, I’m British, I’m English, I’m of Islamic faith, of Asian origin, of Pakistani heritage, a dad, a husband.”

The world of the 21st century is going to be shaped by such elided, many-faceted identities and by the booming cities that celebrate diversity, not by some bullying, brash, bigoted, “America first” white dude who wants to build walls. [Continue reading…]

Time interviewed Khan and asked:

You’re the first Muslim mayor of a major western city. Do you feel an extra responsibility to tackle religious extremism?

One of the things that’s important to me as a Londoner is making sure my family, people I care about, are safe. But clearly, being someone who is a Muslim brings with it experiences that I can use in relation to dealing with extremists and those who want to blow us up. And so it’s really important that I use my experiences to defeat radicalization and extremism. What I think the election showed was that actually there is no clash of civilization between Islam and the West. I am the West, I am a Londoner, I’m British, I’m of Islamic faith, Asian origin, Pakistan heritage, so whether it’s [ISIS] or these others who want to destroy our way of life and talk about the West, they’re talking about me. What better antidote to the hatred they spew than someone like me being in this position? [Continue reading…]

The Independent reports: Sadiq Khan has criticised Donald Trump for suggesting he would exempt him from his proposed temporary ban on Muslims entering the US, adding his comments play “into the hands of extremists”.

It comes after Mr Trump, the presumptive Republican presidential candidate, said he was happy to see London’s new Muslim mayor elected, saying it could be “very, very good”.

The billionaire property mogul caused international outrage when he called for the temporary ban after the November 2015 Paris attacks. David Cameron labelled the idea “stupid” and calls to ban Mr Trump from entering Britain were raised in Parliament after a petition attracted nearly 600,000 signatures.

“This isn’t just about me – it’s about my friends, my family and everyone who comes from a background similar to mine, anywhere in the world,” Mr Khan said.

“Donald Trump’s ignorant view of Islam could make both our countries less safe – it risks alienating mainstream Muslims around the world and plays into the hands of the extremists.

“Donald Trump and those around him think that western liberal values are incompatible with mainstream Islam – London has proved him wrong.” [Continue reading…]


Trumpism meets its first defeat … in London


Pankaj Mishra writes: Donald Trump became last week the presumptive Republican nominee in the U.S. presidential elections. But those condemned to agonizing suspense and anxiety until November should note that Trumpism, or the politics of hate and fear, also suffered a major defeat last week.

I refer to the election of former human rights lawyer Sadiq Khan as London’s mayor. That the son of a Pakistani bus driver, whose campaign team included gay men and Jewish women, should become the mayor of a great European city would at any time have signaled hope for our irrevocably mixed societies. Its significance in this era of politically expedient bigotry cannot be overestimated.

For, as Khan said a day after his remarkable victory, his Conservative opponents set out “to divide London’s communities in an attempt to win votes,” using “fear and innuendo to try and turn different ethnic and religious groups against each other — something straight out of the Donald Trump playbook.” [Continue reading…]


Sadiq Khan: British dream now a reality for London’s first Muslim mayor

By Parveen Akhtar, University of Bradford

In Pakistan, the chances that the son of a bus or rickshaw driver could secure a high-ranking political position in the country’s capital city are minuscule. But now, the people of London have elected Sadiq Khan – the son of an immigrant Pakistani bus driver – to be their first Muslim mayor.

While unable to influence the nation’s foreign or economic policy, Khan will have responsibility for key areas in London, such as transport, housing, policing and the environment. And being directly elected gives the London mayor a personal mandate which no other parliamentarian in Westminster – including those in the cabinet – enjoy.

Khan’s father was one of hundreds of Pakistani men who migrated to Britain in the 1950’s and 1960’s, seeking the UK’s version of the American dream: stable employment, social mobility and opportunities for a better future for themselves and their families. One of eight children, Khan grew up on a council estate in the capital. He went to university to study law and practised as a solicitor in human rights cases before becoming a member of parliament.

Now, at the age of 45, he is mayor of London: the economic and cultural heart of the UK, the largest city in western Europe and one of the most important cities in the world. He is the immigrant success story – for him, the British dream has become a reality.

[Read more…]


Why Sadiq Khan’s victory matters

Muddassar Ahmed writes: the type of aggressive, populist campaign that has so far been successful for Donald Trump in the United States will not necessarily be a blueprint for success elsewhere. Although many on the right in Britain apparently believed that capitalizing on anti-Muslim sentiment is not just acceptable, but a sure ticket to victory, the strategy was found wanting. In short, there is a limit to the ability of bigotry to capture elections.

And it is not just Britain that has demonstrated that resorting to anti-Muslim language can backfire. Take the example of former Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper. Last year, he resorted to crude anti-Muslim language as he sought re-election. In contrast, Harper’s opponent, Justin Trudeau, went out of his way to embrace Muslims (and other minorities). Harper didn’t just lose — he was trounced.


Many non-Muslim Canadians were repelled by seeing this faith-based bigotry in their secular politics. Just as importantly, the Muslim-bashing had another effect that Harper apparently did not seem to see coming — it prompted Canadian Muslims to vote in record numbers. You can bet that these new voters will continue and extend their political involvement, meaning that in a well deserved bit of irony, Harper’s Islamophobic campaign may have created a Canadian Muslim political consciousness where none existed before.

With this in mind, it is likely for good reason that in the United Kingdom, the Conservative group leader of the Greater London assembly, Andrew Boff, criticized Goldsmith’s divisive campaign for damaging his party’s relations with the Muslim community, something that could further hurt it down the road.

In fact, the same thing could happen in America. After all, not only is Donald Trump now a widely detested politician (polls suggest that more Americans disapprove of him than are worried about Muslims), but American Muslims are becoming more politically engaged. And although the American Muslim population is relatively small, it may hold the key to swing states like Virginia, Florida and Ohio. [Continue reading…]