Wednesday 17 April 2013

Some theories on the Boston Marathon Bombing

As the blasts occurred (Courtesy of Dan Lampariello-Reuters)

With news that the April 15th terrorist assault on the Boston Marathon killed three, including an eight year old boy, and caused over one hundred and eighty to be injured (some critically), those touched by the tragedy and horror of this bloodthirsty indiscriminate attack on innocent civilians will of course be speculating a great deal on the source of the terrorism.

Definitive assertions would of course be unjustified at this stage but it is reasonably certain that the terrorist attack came from one of arguably three politically distinctive categories of terrorism.

Domestic terrorism

Numerous journalists have speculated that American right-wing extremists are responsible because the assault occurred on Tax Day, tax being an issue politicised in American politics perhaps to a greater extent than that of most other nations, partly due to being a traditionally low-tax economy that focused on a philosophy of small governance. A more European scale of governance, funded by the taxpayer is seen as impacting on liberty on a number of levels.

The attack also coincides with Patriots’ Day in Massachusetts, which commemorates the anniversary of the earliest battles for the American War of Independence, giving further credence to the right-wing extremists claim. However, prima facie, it seems that such a historic date would be more likely the cause of celebration for patriot groups, rather than a time to generate such widespread infamy in America.

On the other hand, some individuals or groups may of course see the date as a symbolic starting-point for further conflict with what they deem to be a State that has turned tyrannical, and in breach of the values espoused in the US Constitution. However, such groups tend to favour very symbolic targets, such as government institutions as well as certain organisations (e.g. abortion clinics) and related events that have a distinctive political character that they deem to be objectionable. 

The prospect of an Islamist attack

There is some reason to tentatively suspect that the attack originated from an Islamic source, be it a group, or an American citizen/convert:
A Middle East counter-terrorism official based in Jordan said the blasts “carry the hallmark of an organised terrorist group, like al-Qaeda”. He did not give actual evidence linking al-Qaeda to the bombing. “From the little information available, one can say it was a well-coordinated, well-targeted and near-simultaneous attack,” he said.
The counter-terrorism official highlighted the fact that the massacre featured the dual-assault hallmarks of an Islamist attack. This strategy of maximising casualties has become near ubiquitous for such groups. However, it should be noted that this same technique has also been used by other terrorist groups in the past, including the IRA.

It has been reported that the authorities investigating the case may suspect al Qaeda or an affiliated group although evidence is lacking at this early stage, and the search for a specific motivation remains open. Richard DesLauriers, the FBI agent in command of the investigation, stated that fragments recovered from the bombsite suggest the bombs were a specific pressure cooker based design that was recommended in al Qaeda’s magazine Inspire because they are easy to construct, can make use of widely available materials, and avoid detection from sniffer dogs. Such bombs have been used in India, Pakistan and Afghanistan.

It has also been noted that Abdallah Dhu-al-Bajadin, a senior al Qaeda weapons specialist, made threats against the US last month. This coincided with a rash of threats from other al Qaeda affiliated sources.

The Inspire connection also rears its head with an article attributed to Abu Musab al-Suri, a well known Syrian terrorist, which described sports events as being one of “the most important enemy targets” in the US.

Islamists have shown a tendency to target the city of New York since the 1993 World Trade Centre attack. It took on a symbolic dimension, being the most successful Islamic attack on non-ambassadorial US soil until 9/11. This fact would make Boston a less likely target for Islamists, although it could perhaps become more attractive from a terrorist perspective since the city clearly possessed a lower rank of security, and numerous plots to attack New York since 9/11 were prevented.

The prospect of state-sanctioned terrorism

It tends to be the case that terrorist groups rapidly claim responsibility after an attack takes place. The objective for any terrorist group is to maximise gain in terms of political capital, and to bolster a fearsome reputation. Making the claim soon after a horrified public response, to what is typically a most callous act of murder, will inevitably burn the identity of the terrorist group into the collective consciousness of a society. The fact that no group or individual has claimed responsibility is puzzling, and leaves open the possibility that the attack might involve a foreign nation.

Iran has not been mentioned to a significant extent in the media as a possible source for the assault, even though their attacks on foreign soil, involving their elite Quds Force (part of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard), and closely allied Hizbullah, have greatly increased in the last number of years. Indeed an attack in 2011 on the Saudi Ambassador to the United States is likely to have had Iranian/Quds origins.

It is thought the United States has been involved in extensive efforts to prevent Iran developing nuclear weaponry. In parallel, it has introduced increasing rounds of sanctions against the Islamic State, which have been taking an ever-increasing toll on its economy since 2012.

One would speculate that such an attack would have a degree of sophistication but the terrorists having used relatively crude technology, suggesting that an inexperienced individual or individuals constructed the bombs, works against the theory. However, the pressure cooker bomb is a common device found in Islamist insurgency, and some security experts have speculated in the media that the use of less experienced bomb makers could be intentional, with the aim of enhancing the possibility of escaping detection by US authorities.


Regardless of the source of this attack, the Boston Massacre is a tragic reminder of what terrorism truly constitutes.

Terrorism is the act of assaulting what are so often purely civilian events. In this instance it was a marathon in Boston, where competitors and bystanders were the sole target. It cannot even be said by apologists that this is simply an attack on Americans, over some sort of domestic or foreign policy, for the event attracts many international visitors. It is terrorism designed to maximise the carnage of innocents, be they men, women, children or infants.

The harm visited on the city will no doubt scar the victims, their families, and the greater community of Boston for years to come, giving rise to fear where there was once implicit trust. Yet it’s a community that has long possessed a strong individual identity, one that will surely survive the malign purpose of the instigators, whosoever they may be.

Update (19/4)

A dramatic sequence of events in the search for the Boston Marathon bombers has claimed the life of one police officer, and led to areas of Boston being placed in lockdown. The older of the suspects has been killed in a shootout with police. The younger second suspect continues to evade police despite a vast manhunt, which some speculate is due in part to the impact of social media.

The suspects were identified as brothers Tamerlan (26) and Dzhokhar (19) Tsarnaev, from Dagestan, a federal republic within the Russian Federation, which neighbours Chechnya. The brothers lived in the US for nearly a decade.

Dagestan is a principally Muslim region that has had substantive issues with Islamic insurgency and terrorism in recent decades, spilling over from chechnya, where there has been protracted conflict in an effort to gain independence. Whilst the conflict there has not threatened the US, regional Chechen fighters constitute part of the membership of certain groups fighting against the US presence in Afghanistan, with some believing Chechen rebels have links with al Qaeda.

The belief in an Islamist motive behind the attack has been strengthened, with an aunt of the brothers stating that Tamerlan Tsarnaev became a devout Muslim two years ago, while US government officials state that he travelled to Russia last year and returned to the US six months later. Similarly strong expressions of faith were made by the bothers on the Internet, with the suspects also expressing pride in their ethnic Chechen origins, and a desire to see independence from Russia.

A similar article is featured at Crethi Plethi.

Sunday 14 April 2013

The Hypocrisy of the Irish Teachers Boycott of Israel

In April 2013 the Teachers’ Union of Ireland (TUI) became the first European trade union involved with education and academia to adopt a resolution calling on its members to “cease all cultural and academic collaboration with Israel”. The boycott includes any co-operative research programs with Israeli institutions, and also proscribes the exchange of students between the nations.

The resolution also calls on the Irish Congress of Trade Unions (ICTU), an umbrella organisation representing some 55 Irish trade unions of which the TUI is affiliated, to “step up its campaign for boycott, divestment and sanctions against the apartheid State of Israel boycotting Israeli academia until it ends the embargo of Gaza, withdraws from the West Bank, and abides by all anti-Israel UN resolutions.” The ICTU has officially boycotted Israel since 2009, and has already gone out of its way to demonise the Jewish State with extremely one-sided pro-boycott conferences.

The TUI motion also instructs the Union’s executive to institute an information programme to justify the boycott. To use their own Orwellian language, it will be “an awareness campaign amongst TUI members on the need for a full boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel”. It will likely invoke the dubious apartheid claims that led to the boycott in the first instance, in an attempt to reinforce the ideology behind the motion, and guarantee its continued support in the face of objections.

Assertions of the leading BDS advocates

According to the Jerusalem Post
The motion was raised by Jim Roche, a lecturer at the Dublin Institute of Technology and member of the fringe groups Ireland Palestine Solidarity Campaign (IPSC) and Gaza Action, and seconded by the vice-president of the TUI Gerry Quinn. […]

David Landy, a lecturer at Trinity College Dublin, member of the radical IPSC and founder of Academics for Palestine, called on other unions to follow suit. […]

He said it was “nonsense” that boycotts stifle academic principles.

“Undoubtedly apologists for Israeli apartheid will complain that such motions stifle academic freedom, but this is nonsense.”
So Mr. Landy haughtily deems it a “nonsense” that the boycott will discourage the free movement of academics and students, a valued principle within the academic world, and likewise it is a “nonsense” that it will discourage the free exchange of information and research? If his assertions are correct then why has he and his colleagues advocated a boycott that seeks to isolate Israeli academia and students?
“The Palestinian call for an academic boycott of Israel is an institutional boycott, not a boycott of individuals.”
Does Mr. Landy have no notion of the fact that academic institutions are composed of individuals both working and studying within them? When Israeli students attend schools from childhood, will they not almost inevitably be Israeli schools? What exactly does Mr. Landy and his IPSC colleagues foresee as happening when their motion proscribes the exchange of students with Israeli institutions? Clearly the real nonsense is the claim by boycott advocates that the process won’t harm individual Israeli students.

Israel and Arab-Palestinian education

Both Landy and Roche assert that Israel is somehow destroying the Palestinian education system, to the extent of even boycotting it:
“Ironically, those that will jump to complain about this motion will have no words of condemnation for the de facto boycott imposed on Palestinian education by Israel, nor for its continuing attacks on Palestinian education, students and educators,” Landy said.
Does such an assertion have any substantive basis in fact? Perhaps not, for literacy in the West Bank was at 88% before Israel administered the territory. It has now risen to 93%, comparing favourably with neighbouring Jordan.

Furthermore, university education was non-existent in the West Bank prior to Israel’s presence. Israel built six third level institutions to serve Arab-Palestinians. Several were temporarily closed during the Second Intifada as they were being used to advance the cause of conflict.

One example of third-level incitement is Al Najah University, which featured perhaps the most debased exhibit celebrating the death of Israeli civilians. It became a centre for Hamas’ al-Qassam brigade, and yielded numerous suicide bombers from amongst its student body.

Jim Roche and David Landy

Two chief advocates for the TUI boycott have become quite well known in Ireland for extremist views.

Jim Roche and Ahmed Muheisen at the Islamic University of Gaza

Jim Roche is a veteran of the flotillas that attempted to break the legal Israeli embargo on Gaza. He is a senior member of the jihadist-supporting Irish Anti-War Movement. His views echo that of the basest pro-Palestinian propaganda. He has openly perpetuated the long-disproven assertion that Arab-Palestinians in Gaza are starving, which was untrue even before Israel lifted all food import restrictions in June 2010.

Mr. Roche postulates fanciful notions, claiming Israel “has erased and continues to erase indigenous Palestinian architectural heritage from the physical landscape and collective consciousness….”, whilst ignoring the destruction to the holiest Jewish sites through the decades. He not only inverted the sequence of events leading to the Operation Pillar of Cloud conflict in 2012 but actually congratulated Hamas on showing ‘restraint’ while it was indiscriminately attacking Israeli civilians:
…what is remarkable about the current escalation, purely manufactured by Israel for internal electoral reasons, is the resilience and restraint shown by the Gazan people and its elected government.
Roche opposes all sanctions against Iran, and speaking after the successful TUI vote, he stated:
I am very pleased that this motion was passed with such support by TUI members, especially coming the day after Israeli occupation forces shot and killed two Palestinian teenagers in the West Bank.
Would this happen to be the same teenagers who threw petrol bombs at an armed Israeli checkpoint in the darkness of night? Haaretz reported that they were carrying seven incendiary devices, despite describing them as “unarmed”!

David Landy

David Landy is a figurehead of the Irish pro-Palestinian movement. It has been suggested that he has a rather problematic stance toward his own Jewish identity. Indeed Landy wrote a book on the very issue, entitled “Jewish Identity and Palestinian Rights”, which taps into the increasingly vocal negation of Jewish identity in the Jewish quarter of the anti-Zionist movement. A review by Professor Philip Mendes, also featuring a similarly themed book, states that:
Both authors rightly suggest that their samples are involved in creating alternative communities of Jews who reject Israel. These communities give them a sense of belonging and mutual support that was denied to them in the mainstream Jewish community. This then begs the question of what if anything distinguishes their anti-Zionist beliefs from the views of anti-Zionists who aren’t Jewish…

Double standards, Irish style

Whether or not one thinks Israel is violating the rights of Arab-Palestinians, the singling out of this small nation above all others must surely seem an oddity to all but those who obsessively hate Israel.

Numerous Irish academic institutions have strong links with regimes that possess dubious human rights records. Moreover, one would think this issue would be a source of even mild concern to those supposedly interested in human rights because these links have grown ever stronger, such as with Russia, and particularly China, the developments of which have been well publicised. Consequently, the obsession over a few rather tenuous academic links with Israel is outlandish, to say the least.

As musician and academic Ciarán Ó Raghallaigh noted, perhaps with a hint of sarcasm in a letter to the Irish Times
There seems to have been no discussion of the extensive academic ties that Trinity College, Dublin Institute of Technology and University College, Dublin all have with Russia and China, despite the former country’s illegal occupation of parts of the sovereign state of Georgia… This is all the more surprising given that it was the Dublin Colleges Branch of the TUI that sponsored the anti-Israel motion.
Neither were any corresponding demands placed by members of the TUI onto the opposing Arab-Palestinian side. It should be recalled that the Arab-Palestinian education system & academia has been used to incite extreme hatred and violence throughout the Palestinian populace for decades, thereby dealing a death-blow to any chance of a peace process, thanks to a permanently radicalised populace. It would seem that even an education system using children in endeavours to exterminate another state, going as far as to institute militaristic camps is not worthy of censure!

On prejudice and discrimination

The notion that the TUI boycott is an assault on Israel, rather than an attempt to weaken any sense of a perceived occupation, is well founded. The boycott extends to all Israeli institutions, rather than merely those involved with the West Bank or Samaria and Judea. The organisation Trade Unions Linking Israel and Palestine, which unites both Israeli and Palestinian workers and attempts to foster dialogue, noted the indiscriminate nature of the TUI boycott resolution:
The resolution does not specifically call for a boycott of Israeli academics or students who are, for example, based in the occupied territories. The boycott covers all Israelis, even those students and academics who oppose the occupation and who support self-determination for the Palestinians.
Similarly, one wonders what is to be achieved by including a cultural aspect to the boycott. Proponents argue that any manifestation of Israeli culture “whitewashes the occupation”. However, it can easily be inferred that behind such senseless words an uglier truth lies. These individuals are afraid that we will see Israeli people as human beings rather than as bloodthirsty monsters so often portrayed on the news.

Interestingly, British academic unions considering a similar boycott received legal advice that it might be in breach of European Union anti-discrimination laws. BDS was found to be illegal by the French Supreme Court, and the European Court of Human Rights upheld this ruling. However, it is unclear whether the TUI will be challenged on their boycott.

Some implications for Ireland

It should not be thought that the arguments of BDS advocates were overwhelmingly superior simply because the TUI vote was unanimously in favour of a boycott. Rather it is a somewhat unexpected conclusion that there would be little if any dissent to the boycott motion because pro-Palestinianism is by far the pre-dominant paradigm in Ireland when it comes to any discussion on this Middle Eastern conflict. Moreover, there appears to have been no speakers voicing opposing anti-boycott views at the TUI conference. Sadly the voices of a fanatical well-funded terrorist-applauding element have undue influence on the debate in Ireland in the absence of any substantive defence of Israel by opposing sides.

The boycott could have profoundly divisive implications. It may lead to TUI members singling out Israeli exchange students, and refuse to assist them as has occurred in other boycott scenarios. In 2009 a lecturer at NUI Maynooth mounted an unofficial boycott of Israel which was discovered when his refusal to assist an Israeli student was reported in the media. It may even cause industrial unrest if an employee of the TUI is disciplined for refusing to work with Israeli students or institutions since no Irish colleges appear to endorse a boycott.

The boycott also comes at a time when recession-hit Ireland has been increasingly looking to Israel due to its economic model, which is weathering the economic downturn.

Israel’s record when it comes to academic achievement can be justifiably described as outstanding. It ranks as the second best educated nation in the world according to the OECD, and one of the more remarkable aspects of those going along with the agitators of such a boycott is the inability to conceive of the way in which Israel substantively contributes to world academia, and scientific innovation, where it is known for its strides in health care.

Education is a key element in any nation’s economic recovery, and whilst Ireland can no doubt exploit opportunities with other nations, Israel still stands out in a number of key respects. It has the largest per capita number of third level and PhD graduates in the world. It is a world leader in science and high technology as evidenced by its remarkable showing on the NASDAQ which is almost comparable in scale to that of the entire EU, whilst it also gained substantive inward investment from multinationals. These are the very areas of industry in which Ireland seeks to advance, and to position itself.

The BDS movement seeks to isolate Israel economically, academically and culturally, in a quest to bring a remarkable nation to its knees. Whether or not such an action is deemed offensive from a moral perspective, simply from a position of self-interest, boycotting Israel’s education and academia is likely to make Ireland the worse off if it takes hold and spreads to other Irish academic unions in the long run.

Also published at Crethi Plethi.