How popular are Britain First and its Islamophobic ‘Christian patrols’?

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The Washington Post reports: It’s a video that depicts just the sort of civilizational clash that extremists everywhere crave: Christians walking down a central shopping street in Britain. Muslim storekeepers and passerby hurling verbal abuse. A push. More abuse from both sides. And finally, police intervening to keep the warring clans apart.

The video, a slick propaganda job by the virulently anti-Muslim group Britain First, became a viral hit when the organization posted it to its Facebook page, racking up millions of views.

But there was more to the story than what the video showed.

The video was filmed on Jan. 23 in the multicultural British town of Luton, 30 miles north of London. The town, a former industrial powerhouse that is today known for its budget-flight-focused airport, has become a magnet for both Islamist and Islamophobic extremists. It’s often the canvas upon which hate groups unfurl their provocative displays.

And so it was when Britain First came to town for the fourth time in two years for what it termed a “Christian Patrol.”

The group — a far-right rival of the homegrown English Defense League — specializes in anti-Muslim street theater, while dressing itself in the garb of a devoutly Christian organization. Members wear dark green paramilitary-style uniforms, and march with oversized crosses through Muslim-majority areas, or even through mosques. [Continue reading…]

The garb of a devoutly Christian organization whose members wear dark green paramilitary-style uniforms?

Would the Washington Post refer to the Ku Klux Klan as bearing the symbols of a devoutly Christian organization because — like Britain First — its members like to march carrying large crosses?

There’s no question that these knuckleheads and self-described defenders of British culture have as little right to speak in the name of Christianity as Anjem Choudary has to present himself as the voice of Islam. But easy as Paul Golding and his rowdy followers might be to dismiss, do they actually stand at the vanguard of a much wider but less visible movement stretching across Britain?

The Washington Post picked up this story because Britain First’s recent Luton video went viral, but how much political significance derives from social media popularity?

Britain’s Labour Party, now under the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn who enjoys more grass root support than he does in parliament, has a Facebook page with 422,000 likes.

Britain First’s Facebook page has 1,289,000 likes!

But what do all these “likes” actually mean?

Paul Golding probably thinks they mean a lot and this might explain why he felt confident enough to run in the upcoming election to become Mayor of London. Moreover, he probably thinks it’s imperative that he, or someone like him, be able to govern the British capital city given that his leading opponent, Sadiq Khan, is a Muslim.

The election will take place on May 5, and the most recent YouGov poll gives Khan a clear lead (45%) over his closest rival, Zac Goldsmith (35%).

Further down the field comes George Galloway (Respect Party), who is just one point ahead of British National Party candidate, David Furness, who is himself, one point ahead of Golding.

That is to say, 1% of London voters say they support the BNP while 0% support Britain First.

Maybe the antics of Golding and his motley crew deserve less attention than does the promise of what would surely be a victory for multiculturalism: the increasingly likely election of London’s first Muslim mayor.

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Another ISIS jailer who held Western hostages identified as British

BuzzFeed reports: A second member of the notorious ISIS execution cell once headed by “Jihadi John” has been unmasked as a “quiet and humble” football fan from west London, BuzzFeed News and the Washington Post can reveal.

Thirty-two-year-old Alexanda Kotey has been identified by British and American intelligence services as one of four ISIS guards, collectively known as the “Beatles”, who are responsible for beheading 27 hostages. The guards were given their nickname by hostages because of their British accents.

It can be revealed that Kotey travelled to the Middle East alongside three other known extremists on a controversial aid convoy to Gaza organised by the London mayoral candidate George Galloway in 2009 – and friends in west London have not heard from him since.

He is the second member of the cell to be identified, after “Jihadi John” was exposed as west Londoner Mohammed Emwazi, who was killed by US a drone strike in November. The other members of the cell, nicknamed “Ringo”, “George”, and “Paul”, remain among the world’s most wanted men and are being hunted by intelligence and security services on both sides of the Atlantic. [Continue reading…]

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Britain says Russia trying to carve out mini-state for Assad in Syria

Reuters reports: Britain said on Tuesday Russia could be trying to carve out an Alawite mini-state in Syria for its ally President Bashar al-Assad by bombing his opponents instead of fighting Islamic State militants.

Russia and Britain have been trading barbs after British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond told Reuters he believed President Vladimir Putin was worsening the Syrian civil war by bombing opponents of Islamic State.

Hammond dismissed Russian criticism that he was spreading “dangerous disinformation”, saying there was a limit to how long Russia could pose as a promoter of the peace process while bombing Assad’s opponents, who the West hopes can shape Syria once the president is gone.

“Is Russia really committed to a peace process or is it using the peace process as a fig leaf to try to deliver some kind of military victory for Assad that creates an Alawite mini state in the northwest of Syria?” Hammond told reporters in Rome.

The comments indicate growing frustration in Western capitals about Putin’s intervention, alongside Iran, in Syria but also give a frank insight into the Western assessment of the Kremlin’s potential objectives for Syria. [Continue reading…]

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Britain is distracted while Europe faces an existential crisis

By Clara Sandelind, University of Huddersfield

Europe is undergoing an existential crisis. Whatever the eurozone hasn’t already managed to break is well on the way to being destroyed by the refugee crisis.

The Schengen agreement of open borders has more or less vanished, at least for now. The Dublin regulation, aimed at supporting asylum seekers, is hardly being upheld. The burden-sharing schemes that were agreed last year to distribute refugees more evenly over Europe are failing to come to fruition.

Donald Tusk, president of the European Council, warned earlier this year that the EU has two months to get the refugee crisis under control, or the whole EU project will be in question.

[Read more…]

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The latest video from ISIS was its most menacing warning to Britain yet

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Shiraz Maher writes: It was the final part of the latest Islamic State video that will have caught the ­attention of the Security Service. After a 15-minute film celebrating the Paris attacks in November, viewers see David Cameron giving a press conference in Downing Street with a message from Islamic State flashing across the screen.

“Whoever stands in the ranks of kufr [the infidels],” it reads, “will be a target for our swords and will fall in humiliation.”

Various London landmarks – Big Ben, Buckingham Palace, Tower Bridge, Trafalgar Square – then appear in rapid succession before the video comes to an abrupt stop. A terrorism analyst sent me a message shortly after the video was released on Sunday. “I would consider it a warning,” he noted. “That wasn’t [there] because they didn’t know how to fill the last segment.” This is not the first time IS has appeared to threaten Britain, but it is the most pointed and menacing warning yet.

I messaged a British member of IS, who is originally from Buckinghamshire, to ask his view. Was it intended to be warning? “Yep,” came the reply. “Do they [the British government] expect us to sit back and do nothing? Idiots.”

The fighter was referring to parliament’s decision to extend British air strikes to IS targets inside Syria, and to those people who counselled against such action his comments may seem to offer vindication. Yet the facts aren’t so straightforward.

Last July I spoke with another British IS fighter, Abu Rahin Aziz, to get his thoughts on the tenth anniversary of the 7/7 London terrorist bombings. He was bullish, warning of more attacks, and then he explained in careful detail some of the philosophical reasons Britain remains a target for the group. [Continue reading…]

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Saudi bombing campaign — supported by Britain — leaves Yemen’s healthcare system in tatters

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The Independent reports: When the men and women who worked at Shiara hospital heard the explosion, there was little surprise. Just half an hour’s drive from the border with Saudi Arabia, in Yemen’s mountainous northern region, they were used to the sound of shelling.

What they did not expect 10 months into the Saudi-led campaign of airstrikes was that it would be their own hospital that had been hit. The bombing on 10 January left six people dead, including three staff members. Many more were injured.

“The wounded were hit by shrapnel from the missile, and also by shards of metal from the fence [around the hospital]. The injuries were brutal,” said Teresa Sancristoval, the head of the emergency desk at Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), which operates in the hospital.

The attack was among 130 on health facilities hit in Yemen since the Saudi-led coalition began its bombing campaign in March last year. It was the fourth on a facility supported by MSF – which says it gives detailed co-ordinates for its hospitals to both sides of the conflict. [Continue reading…]

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British arms companies ramp up bomb sales to Saudi Arabia by 100 times despite air strikes on civilians

The Independent reports: British arms companies have cashed-in on Saudi Arabia’s military campaign in Yemen by ramping up arms sales to the country’s autocratic government by over a hundred times, new figures show.

Sales of British bombs and missiles to the Saudi Arabia surged to over £1bn just three months last year, according to an official record of arms export licences quietly released by the Government this week.

The sales, up from just £9m in the preceding three-month period, have occurred while the oil-rich autocracy conducts a military campaign in its neighbour’s territory, where the United Nations has said a “humanitarian catastrophe” is unfolding. [Continue reading…]

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Alexander Litvinenko and the banality of evil in Putin’s Russia

Following the release of the UK report on the 2006 death of Alexander Litvinenko, Julia Ioffe writes: It’s a salacious tale of revenge and espionage, straight out of a John le Carre novel: an F.S.B. man turned whistleblower meets in a posh London hotel with his former colleagues, who slip polonium 210 into his green tea. Investigators find a clump of debris laced with the radioactive stuff in a sink drainpipe a few floors above, near where one of the F.S.B. men was staying. The other suspected assassin gave Litvinenko’s wealthy benefactor, the banished oligarch Boris Berezovsky, a T-shirt that said, “nuclear death is knocking your door [sic].”

And yet, in Russia the report merited little more than a yawn. Immediately, the familiar reactions kicked in. Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, said the report wasn’t of any interest to the Kremlin and, in a pointed turn of phrase, expressed regret that the report “only poisoned” relations between Russia and Britain. Maria Zakharova, spokeswoman for the Russian Foreign Ministry, called the findings “politicized,” and a report on the main evening-news program on Russia’s Channel One hinted that the British killed two key witnesses in the case. The British, in turn, said they would freeze the assets of Andrei Lugovoi and Dmitry Kovtun, the two former F.S.B. agents accused of poisoning Litvinenko. Theresa May, the British home secretary, said that the Russian ambassador to London was summoned for a talking-to.

All of this changes exactly nothing. Relations between Russia and Britain could hardly have been worse before the report was released, and Lugovoi and Kovtun haven’t been to London in ages — not since the British police fingered them in Litvinenko’s murder and sought their extradition, which Russia has flatly refused. Lugovoi now has immunity as a member of the Russian Parliament, as well as a medal from Putin for “service to the nation.” The murder itself took place nine years ago, and since then, the sordid details have become endlessly familiar. Even the le Carre comparison has become a nauseatingly common cliché, bandied about endlessly since Litvinenko’s death.

It may be crass to be bored by the details of a man’s murder, but here we are. The West and Putin’s opponents at home believe that the Kremlin killed Litvinenko — that his death was a Cosa Nostra-style murder of a traitor. Putin loyalists and the masses who will see the news on Russian television believe this is all a Western ploy to tarnish Russia’s image. Nothing that came out in Judge Owen’s report will sway them; in fact, it only hardens the two positions. The same happened this summer with the release of another supposedly scandalous report on Russia’s nefarious deeds: The Dutch marshaled reams of evidence in the shooting down of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 over eastern Ukraine, carefully laying it out in a report that pointed to Moscow’s role in the tragedy. The Russians pooh-poohed it and showed their own report on television, one that directly contradicted the Dutch investigation. Only 3 percent of Russians believe the Dutch narrative of the crash. [Continue reading…]

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Litvinenko ‘probably murdered on personal orders of Putin’

The Guardian reports: The former Russian spy Alexander Litvinenko was probably murdered on the personal orders of Vladimir Putin, the UK public inquiry into his death has found.

Litvinenko, who died from radioactive poisoning in a London hospital in November 2006, was killed by two Russian agents, Andrei Lugovoi and Dmitry Kovtun, the inquiry report said. There was a “strong probability” they were acting on behalf of the Russian FSB secret service, the report added.

Sir Robert Owen, the inquiry chair, said that taken as a whole the open evidence that had been heard in court amounted to a “strong circumstantial case” that the Russian state was behind the assassination.

But when he took into account all the evidence available to him, including a “considerable quantity” of secret intelligence that was not aired in open court, he found “that the FSB operation to kill Mr Litvinenko was probably approved by [Nikolai] Patrushev [head of the security service in 2006] and also by President Putin”.

Marina Litvinenko, Alexander’s widow, welcomed the report’s “damning finding” and called for the UK to impose sanctions on Russia, in a statement read outside the Royal Courts of Justice, where the inquiry took place. But she claimed she had been given indications that the UK would do nothing. [Continue reading…]

Alexander-Litvinenko

Luke Harding writes: The Soviet Union had a long tradition of bumping off its enemies. They included Leon Trotsky (ice-pick in the head), Ukrainian nationalists (poisons, exploding cakes) and the Bulgarian dissident Georgi Markov (ricin pellet fired from an umbrella, on London’s Waterloo Bridge). There was a spectrum. It went from killings that were demonstrative, to those where the KGB’s fingerprints were nowhere to be found, however hard you looked. Such murders were justified by what you might call Leninist ethics: they were necessary to defend the Bolshevik revolution, a noble experiment.

Under Boris Yeltsin these exotic killings mostly stopped. Moscow’s secret poisons lab, set up by Lenin in 1917, was mothballed. After 2000 though, with Putin in the Kremlin, such Soviet-style operations quietly resumed. Critics of Russia’s new president had an uncanny habit of ending up … well, dead. In power, Putin steered the country in an increasingly authoritarian direction, snuffing out most sources of opposition and dissent. The president’s fellow KGB comrades, once subordinate to the Communist party, were now in sole charge.

The murders of journalists and human rights activists could not be explained in terms of protecting socialism. Rather, the state was now synonymous with something else: the personal financial interests of Putin and his friends.

As an FSB officer in the 1990s, Litvinenko had been shocked to discover how thoroughly organised crime had penetrated Russia’s security organs. In his view, criminal ideology had replaced communist ideology. He was the first to describe Putin’s Russia as a mafia state, in which the roles of government, organised crime and the spy agencies had grown indistinguishable. [Continue reading…]

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Litvinenko poisoning: Polonium explained

By Simon Cotton, University of Birmingham

The murder of former Russian spy Alexander Litvinenko was one of the most high-profile assassinations of the decade. It particularly captured the public imagination because Litvinenko was killed using polonium-210, a rare but deadly substance that was thought to have been slipped into Litvinenko’s tea. Now a UK public inquiry has issued its findings on the case. But what is polonium?

Rare and radioactive

Polonium is a radioactive element that occurs naturally in tiny amounts (which are harmless to us). It was discovered in 1898 by Marie Curie, during her research on pitchblende, an ore of uranium. It has the chemical symbol “Po” and Curie named it after Poland, her native country. If you look at a periodic table, you’ll find polonium at the bottom of the group headed by oxygen and sulfur.

[Read more…]

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How British do British Muslims feel?

By Saffron Karlsen, University of Bristol

The prime minister, David Cameron, has launched a number of measures aimed at improving integration among Muslims – in particular, Muslim women – in the UK. Polls show that around 70% of people don’t think Muslims are well integrated into British society and concern that Muslim people living in Britain do not feel British has long been part of broader discussions around extremism.

So, now seems like a good time to take a closer look at how British Muslims actually feel about their place in society and to explore the link between segregation and extremism in greater depth. Along with Professor James Nazroo, I conducted research into these issues using nationally representative data, collected in 2008/09 from almost 5,000 people with different ethnic and religious backgrounds, as a part of the Home Office Citizenship Survey. We found that these ideas about British Muslims are not backed up by evidence.

[Read more…]

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Alexander Litvinenko: The man who solved his own murder

Alexander-Litvinenko

Luke Harding writes: The Millennium hotel is an unusual spot for a murder. It overlooks Grosvenor Square, and is practically next door to the heavily guarded US embassy, where, it is rumoured, the CIA has its station on the fourth floor. A statue of Franklin D Roosevelt – wearing a large cape and holding a stick – dominates the north side of the square. In 2011 another statue would appear: that of the late US president Ronald Reagan. An inscription hails Reagan’s contribution to world history and his “determined intervention to end the cold war”. A friendly tribute from Mikhail Gorbachev reads: “With President Reagan, we travelled the world from confrontation to cooperation.”

The quotes would seem mordantly ironic in the light of events that took place just around the corner, and amid Vladimir Putin’s apparent attempt to turn the clock back to 1982, when the former KGB boss Yuri Andropov – the secret policeman’s secret policeman – was in charge of a doomed empire known as the Soviet Union. Next to the inscriptions is a sandy-coloured chunk of masonry. It is a piece of the Berlin Wall, retrieved from the east side. Reagan, the monument says, defeated communism. This was an enduring triumph for the west, democratic values, and for free societies everywhere.

Five hundred metres away is Grosvenor Street. It was here, in mid-October 2006, that two Russian assassins had tried to murder someone, unsuccessfully. The hitmen were Andrei Lugovoi and Dmitry Kovtun. Their target was Alexander Litvinenko, a former officer in Russia’s FSB spy agency. Litvinenko had fled Moscow in 2000. In exile in Britain he had become Putin’s most ebullient and needling critic. He was a writer and journalist. And – from 2003 onwards – a British agent, employed by MI6 as an expert on Russian organised crime. [Continue reading…]

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Russia accused of deliberately targeting civilians in Syria

The Guardian reports: Russia is breaching all the norms of war by deliberately targeting rescue workers, schools and hospitals in Syria, the UK foreign secretary has claimed, accusing the Russians of running return raids on targets inside Syria solely to hit civilian rescue workers.

Philip Hammond levelled his charges after meeting Syrian civil defence workers in Adana, southern Turkey. The rescue workers are being trained by the Turks to extract the injured and dying from the rubble of buildings struck by Syrian regime bombs or Russian raids.

In probably his toughest condemnation of Russian tactics since Vladimir Putin surprised the west by intervening militarily in Syria at the end of September, Hammond said: “The Russians are deliberately attacking civilians, and the evidence points to them deliberately attacking schools and hospitals and deliberately targeting rescue workers.

“If you go back for a second strike you know what you are doing.”

The west has long argued Russia is not targeting Islamic State but instead opponents of the Assad regime, but this is the furthest Hammond has gone in condemning the tactics of Russian pilots. [Continue reading…]

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Forgotten excrementitious humours of the third concoction shed by the English

Erica Wagner writes: Helen Maria Williams observed the French Revolution at first hand. A poet, essayist and novelist known for her support of radical causes, she entertained the likes of Thomas Paine and Mary Wollstonecraft in her salons. Among the things she perceived, in her accounts of political turmoil across the English Channel, were differences in national character when it came to expressing emotion.

“You will see Frenchmen bathed in tears at a tragedy,” she wrote in 1792. “An Englishman has quite as much sensibility to a generous or tender sentiment; but he thinks it would be unmanly to weep; and, though half choaked with emotion, he scorns to be overcome, contrives to gain the victory over his feelings, and throws into his countenance as much apathy as he can well wish.”

And so you would be forgiven for thinking that the stiff upper lip – the complete refusal of lachrymosity, no matter what disaster befalls us – has been paralysing the faces of Britishers since Stonehenge was raised on Salisbury Plain. But, as Thomas Dixon shows in his erudite and entertaining book Weeping Britannia, you would be wrong. Once upon a time and not so very long ago, this nation was given to paroxysms of sobbing at almost any opportunity. Dixon, a historian of emotions, philosophy, science and religion (phew!) at Queen Mary, University of London, asks what dried our tears and wonders whether the death of Diana, Princess of Wales, in 1997 unlocked the floodgates again.

Both he and Tiffany Watt Smith, in The Book of Human Emotions, offer a reminder that “emotion” is a pretty novel idea. [Continue reading…]

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Me and my Syrian refugee lodger

Helen Pidd writes: “You are not going to like me saying this,” my dad said, “but you need to get a lock on your bedroom door and a lock on your bathroom door. Men can get very frisky when they are away from their wives.”

I rolled my eyes, hung up and panicked. I’d rung my parents to tell them that Yasser, a Syrian refugee, was coming to live with me while he arranged for his wife and baby to join him in Britain. I was a little nervous about the arrangement, but of all the many things worrying me – would he disapprove of my single heathen lifestyle? Could I carry on having bacon butties at the weekend? Should I edit my drinks cupboard? – the possibility of getting molested by my lodger had yet to occur to me.

I first had lunch with Yasser one day in August, after a mutual friend in Turkey told me he had arrived in Manchester and had no mates. She didn’t tell me he was Syrian, or how he had reached our rainy island. So I was gobsmacked when, in very broken English, he told me of his 37-day odyssey across land and sea. He had sailed across the Mediterranean in an inflatable boat in the dead of night, even though he can’t swim; walked from Greece to Macedonia, and crossed Europe until he reached the Jungle in Calais, where he jumped on trucks for six nights before making it to England hidden in the back of a lorry. After 17 hours packed between boxes of toys, he banged on the door. The truck driver was furious: he would face a £2,000 fine were the border police to discover his human cargo. Yasser scarpered. He wasn’t sure he was even in England until a car passed him driving on the left. He walked to the nearest petrol station and asked them to call the police. His new life had begun.

I wondered how I could help him. He was living on £5 a day given to him by Serco, the outsourcing company contracted by the Home Office to process asylum applications. While Yasser waited, he couldn’t take paid work and was living in a Serco house off the Curry Mile with five other asylum seekers: Syrians, Eritreans, a guy from Sudan. I asked if he fancied coming round to help me strip wallpaper on the bank holiday weekend. He agreed, but then I had to go and cover the world gravy wrestling championships in Bacup (try explaining that one to someone whose first language isn’t English), so left him to it.

When I got back, he had almost finished. We had an awkward meal together, then I tried to give him some money. Yasser looked appalled. “No, no,” he said. “I don’t want money. I want friends.”

Two days later, three-year-old Alan Kurdi washed up on a beach in Turkey. The mood in Britain changed. Suddenly the sort of newspapers who usually run stories about immigrants eating swans started showing compassion. David Cameron agreed to resettle 20,000 of the most vulnerable Syrian refugees – and I offered my spare room to Yasser. [Continue reading…]

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