Sunday 26 May 2013

Justifying Islamic terrorism and the murder of Lee Rigby: Asghar Bukhari and MPAC UK

Asghar Bukhari, MPAC UK

Asghar Bukhari, leader and a founding member of the Muslim Public Affairs Committee UK (MPAC UK) featured quite widely in the mainstream media in the aftermath of the shocking attack on Lee Rigby, a twenty-five year old soldier, in Woolwich (London, England) on May the 22nd 2013.

Despite awareness that both Bakhari and MPAC UK possess extremist views, they nonetheless tend to be presented by the media as moderate mainstream representatives of British Islamic society.

Bukhari/MPAC hit out at British Muslim organisations

Asghar Bukhari was interviewed by the BBC on the day of the Woolwich attack. He was first asked for his response to the news of the brutal murder:
Well it’s a depressing cycle of violence, and its not going to end anytime soon. I can see some Muslim organisations have condemned the killing, and rightly so but the problem with this is that Muslim organisations have been condemning it for years, and what have they actually done…
Initially Bukhari sounds like a critic of Muslim organisations for failing to teach young people about the harmful impact of violence, perhaps, one would assume, with reference to teaching a deeper respect for the wider society in which they live. Sadly that turned out not to be the case:
Muslim organisations have failed to teach young people that there is another route for the grievance, the anger, the frustration that they feel about this government’s policies in the Muslim world… They will never teach their young people that there is a democratic way to bring a change to the foreign policy they are so aggrieved about, justifiably so.
Therefore, first and foremost Bukhari was taking issue with the way in which mainstream Muslim organisations were not attempting to focus the Muslim youth on trying to change government policy! His focus was not on addressing the disharmony between Muslims and others within British society but rather to seek a better way for Muslims to obtain their goals, a way that will hurt their interests less.

Indeed, other members of MPAC UK actually made statements criticising those Muslim organisations that condemned the slaying of Lee Rigby! For example, one Facebook statement by senior MPAC member Maryam Yaqub:
By apologising in such a stupid way these pathetic Muslims are reinforcing the enemy’s narrative, which is telling the world that these murderers did what they did because their religion makes them inherently violent and evil… Muslims are the most oppressed people on earth, we have been denied our freedom, we have been denied our equality, we have been denied any justice…
Another MPAC member posted a FB message, justifying the killing of Lee Rigby as well as explaining that the condemnations by mainstream Muslim organisations, which he characterised as apologies, were to assist Islamic preaching and conversions:
All day yesterday I hear Muslims apologising and condemning this act as if it was the most abhorrent act ever committed on British soil, and “we are sorry because yes it is our fault that a man reacted to tyrannical oppression”… They are only cowards worried about their own reputation and image. “Oh no brother this is really bad for ‘the dawah’, we must publicly condemn these acts, Islam means peace.”

Singing from the same hymn-sheet

Perhaps the most notable aspect of Asghar Bukhari’s BBC interview was the way in which he echoed the demands of Lee Rigby’s killers and other extremists:
The government can condemn it [the murder] all they want, and they can say Britain’s got to stand strong, and all the rhetoric in the world but until the government admit there is a direct link between this radicalisation happening and their foreign policy, how are we ever going to end this? There’s two culprits here.
Laying substantive blame at Britain’s door echoes almost exactly the views of Anjem Choudary, the notorious 9/11-praising Islamic cleric, who is likely to have played a part in radicalising the killers. He said:
We must concentrate on why this incident took place. That is the presence of British forces in Muslim countries and the atrocities they’ve committed…
Like Bukhari, Choudary expressed some lesser disapproval of the violence of Lee Rigby’s killing:
What he did was unusual and it’s not the kind of view that I propagate and I do not condone the use of violence…
Michael Adebolajo and other Islamists clashing with police
at the Old Bailey, 2006 (Daily Telegraph)

Bukhari’s views also resemble the remarks made by Michael Adebolajo, one of the terrorists who spoke to a video camera moments after he severed the unarmed soldier’s head. Adebolajo asserted that there would be more violence until there was a change in British foreign policy, a view Bukhari had also pushed:
You think politicians are going to die? No it’s going to be the average guy, like you, and your children. So get rid of them. Tell them to bring our troops back so you can all live in peace.
Adebolajo also stated at another point at the scene:
I apologise that women and children had to witness this today but in our land our women have to see the same. You people will never be safe. Remove your governments, they don’t care about you.
Thus even the killer himself expressed some form of regret at the violence of the act minutes afterward.

Parsing a justification of terrorism

During the BBC News interview, did Asghar Bukhari provide an “explanation” for the killing or a justification? Explanations and justifications are easy to confuse because they can sound very similar.

The context of Bukhari’s points demonstrate he tried to pass off the justification of the terrorist atrocity as merely an explanation, by placing equal or greater blame on the conduct of the British government for the murder. This was unmistakable when he stated “There’s two culprits here.”

Notably, rather than condemning the slaying outright, he chose to place the barbaric attack within a context of “a depressing cycle of violence”, which he would of course deem the British to have begun.

Maryam Yaqub, another senior MPAC member, justified the killing of Lee Rigby more overtly despite including the adjective “horrific”, which would of course be self-evidently true of any beheading:
This incident today was horrific, but it was not because Islam teaches barbarism, it happened because it was an extreme reaction to an extreme situation. These people did what they did because they wanted to get a message across, a message that tells the world that they are sick of being oppressed, colonised, demonised, killed and murdered, simply for being Muslim.
Moreover, Bukhari’s mild criticism of the killing should be understood in a context of his past statements. He has praised terrorism, against Israel in particular:
The concept of Jihad is a beautiful thing, and logical to those with a sincere heart. It tells the human being to stand up and fight against those who bring evil and oppression on this earth, and by standing up — roll back that oppression until the people are free from it.

MPAC UK's Twitter icon, invoking Islamic rebellion and Arab terrorism

Selective condemnation

Are the claims by Bukhari, the killers and other extremists true to any meaningful extent? Are British troops in Afghanistan slaughtering civilian men, women and children en masse? No they are not.

The Taliban and other Islamist insurgent groups are responsible for the vast majority of civilian deaths in Afghanistan, as they were in the Iraqi war. For example, in 2011 the United Nations issued a report affirming that 75 percent of civilian deaths were due to insurgents. NATO and Afghan government forces were responsible for 16 percent of civilian deaths. Much of that 16 percent would be due to unintentional death as a result of bombing and drone raids, whilst the Taliban and other insurgents intentionally targeted civilian locales.

Colonel Richard Kemp, a retired former Commander of the British forces in Afghanistan, stated of his time fighting these Islamic insurgents:
The Taliban in southern Afghanistan are masters at shielding themselves behind the civilian population and then melting in among them for protection… The use of women to shield gunmen as they engage NATO forces is now so normal it is deemed barely worthy of comment. Schools and houses are routinely booby-trapped. Snipers shelter in houses deliberately filled with women and children.
It is quite simply a falsehood to blame the death of civilians, particularly women and children as noted by the killers of Lee Rigby, on NATO troops in Afghanistan. It should be noted that Bukhari, and his ideological partners, rarely if ever criticise the Taliban or other Islamic insurgents, despite the intentional butchery of a vastly larger number of their fellow Muslims. Those attempting to explain Islamic terrorism, reserve their ire for Western non-Muslims who kill far fewer, and typically in error.

If there is truth to the claim that foreign policy issues are the reason behind Muslim violence, then one has to wonder what are the motivations for the six days of rioting by the immigrant Muslim population in Sweden. Sweden only has 500 men in Afghanistan with the International Security Assistance Force, attempting to train the Afghani security forces.

"Political Jihad"

Whilst MPAC UK presents itself as Muslim civil rights group, it has gained notoriety for its extremist views. It openly advocates a “political Jihad” against enemies of Islam and the West which apparently harms the Muslim world. In fact they claim any Muslim who’s not politically motivated in this way is a traitor to Islam!

Thus, MPAC UK’s criticism of other Muslim organisations, for not politicising the Muslim youth sufficiently, should be understood as an advocacy for what they term “political jihad”. Likewise, their attempts to minimise and subtly justify the slaughter of Lee Rigby is indeed a form of “political jihad”.

Also published at Crethi Plethi.

Saturday 25 May 2013

The Media’s Islamophilia: RTE’s Coverage of the Woolwich Atrocity

In the aftermath of the frenzied bloodthirsty terror attack on a twenty-five year old soldier in Woolwich (London) on May the 22nd 2013, political leaders made concerted efforts to paint a harmonious gloss on Islamic relations. Whilst the media acknowledged an Islamist element, they attempted to deflect focus from religious aspects of the attack by offering a politicised narrative, and reinforcing a view that the killers do not represent Islam.

RTE, Ireland’s state-funded national broadcaster, misrepresented the threat posed by Islamists in Britain. It was stated at least twice on RTE’s prime 6.1 (six PM) news slot (23rd May) that the savage murder was the first terrorist attack in mainland Britain since the 7/7 Underground Bombings in 2005! News presenter Eileen Dunne stated:
The attack in Woolwich was the first terrorist attack in mainland Britain since the Underground Bombings in July 2005. It’s led to a new debate about the threat posed to Britain by militarised radical Islamists.
Similarly, journalist Paul O’Flynn, in a pre-recorded report on the story, stated almost identically:
The moment terror returned to the streets of London. The cruel callous killing is the first terrorist attack in mainland Britain since 2005. Back then four young Islamists set off suicide bombs on public transport. 52 people died and hundreds were wounded.
Screen-grab of the RTE Player:
 "First terrorist attack in mainland Britain since 2005"

Numerous other Islamist attacks on the British mainland, which went very much beyond a planning phase, have garnered substantial publicity. These include a co-ordinated attack just two weeks after 7/7, the 2007 London and Glasgow Airport attacks, and the 2008 Exeter Bombing. RTE features a very substantive amount of news content from the United Kingdom so this error represents a surprisingly large journalistic blunder.

Eileen Dunne’s claim was revised on the nine o’clock RTE News bulletin. The attack was now claimed to be the first “killing” since 2005. Paul O’Flynn’s report was also modified, and the claim was entirely removed. It is probable that complaints had been made about the factual content of RTE’s coverage.

The relevant RTE Player 6.1 video file (“First terrorist attack in mainland Britain since 2005”) remains on the website at the time of publication.
It is thought they were lone wolves similar to the suspects in the Boston Bombing.
So said Paul O’Flynn on 6.1 News, days after another suspect linked to the Boston Tsarnaev brothers, was shot dead by the FBI. The international media continues to label them as “lone wolf” terrorists, despite the gradual increase in arrests over the Boston Bombing, and the link with the Chechen region of Dagistan where Tamerlan Tsarnaev came to the attention of the Russian authorities after he met a known militant Islamist.

The English Defence League

RTE’s coverage of the terrorist attack, the day after the story emerged (23rd May), consistently labelled the English Defence League (EDL) as a “far-right” group (see RTE Player video clip entitled “UK Horror over Woolwich Murder”, which contains the relevant TV broadcast material), when reporting that there were some disturbances the previous night at a relatively modest protest in Woolwich, of approximately one hundred persons.

The label “far-right” carries essentially the same meaning as “fascist”. It also evokes neo-nazism. However, the media tends to apply the label to groups against immigration or the Islamic faith. The label is pejorative by its very nature, and as if to back up its implicit criticism, immediately afterward RTE featured an extended statement from a Muslim leader, one Asghar Bukhari of the ‘Muslim Affairs Committee UK’, a truncation of the name ‘Muslim Public Affairs Committee UK’. Bukhari stated, with reference to the Woolwich EDL protest:
And the EDL, classic kind of right-wing fascist group, have jumped on the bandwagon, and straight away they are out in the town centre…
Bukhari also brought up some highly emotive racial images to reinforce his criticism of the EDL:
What do they want from us? What do they want from the average Muslim, to hang us from the trees like what happened in the olden days to black people?
Screen-grab of the RTE Player featuring Asghar Bukhari of MPAC UK

In March of this year, a critical report by Chatham House asserted that the EDL do not conform to the classic signifying features of a far-right group. Members were often found to be of a relatively high employment status, and were not alienated from the democratic process. Their preoccupation was seen to be cultural, and perhaps xenophobic, rather than characteristically racial. Overt Sikh support for the EDL is a signifier of the phenomenon.

Whether or not the EDL constitute a fascist/far-right group, it is a breach of basic journalistic standards for any broadcaster to fail to provide some reply to such sustained criticism of the group’s character.

The Muslim Public Affairs Committee UK

RTE did not express any overt opinion of the Muslim Public Affairs Committee UK (MPAC UK) but, within the context of the report, Bukhari was presented as a mainstream Islamic leader, and, by implication, the representative of a mainstream Islamic organisation. Immediately before Bukhari’s contribution on the EDL, RTE journalist Martina Fitzgerald stated:
Today local and national Muslim leaders intervened, and appealed for calm, condemning the murder in the strongest terms.
However, Bukhari was shown in the footage condemning the EDL rather than the terrorist atrocity.

The Muslim Public Affairs Committee UK has gained notoriety for extremist views, and it is also somewhat ironic that the head figure of MPAC UK called the EDL racists and fascists, when a British All-Party Parliamentary Committee found that MPAC UK is happy to borrow traditional fascist and neo-Nazi concepts (see page 29), to reinforce their own views on Jews and Israel.

Giving broadcast time to groups and individuals known to possess extremist outlooks, which could in turn further their known political agendas, is irresponsible without advising viewers of the contentious nature of the groups and individuals.

Notably, there has been substantive criticism of television coverage in Britain, where the BBC and Channel 4 gave undue airspace to Anjem Choudary, the extremist preacher thought to be behind the radicalisation of the two killers.


RTE, particularly within its remit as a public service broadcaster, has a responsibility to report the news accurately. However, their news coverage suggests they have not moved beyond the ideological dogma that led them to accuse a priest in 2011 of being a predatory paedophile on a primetime TV programme, without substantive proof. This imbalance is further compounded by giving free voice to groups and individuals, possessing divisive extremist perspectives. Commentator Eoghan Harris believes that:
Bias in RTE, as in the BBC, begins at the bottom. And to make it worse, bias invisible to the broadcasters, seems as natural as the air they breathe.

Also published at Crethi Plethi. 

Tuesday 14 May 2013

No prospect for peace: Two-thirds of Arab-Palestinians support “armed struggle”

[Updated article].

The latest Middle Eastern PEW study focuses to a large extent on the perception of Barak Obama and his prospective role in the Israeli-Arab conflict. 

The PEW study also revealed some notable findings about the opposing sides involved in the conflict. One of the more expected but still sobering findings was the confirmation that, unlike Israeli’s, a large majority of Arab-Palestinians do not favour peaceful methods to achieve independent statehood. From the report:
Israelis, on balance, believe a way can be found for an independent Palestinian state to coexist peacefully with their country. Palestinians, on the other hand, overwhelmingly do not think this is possible, and a plurality believes armed struggle rather than negotiations or nonviolent resistance is the best way to achieve statehood.

A question of “armed struggle” or terrorism

Armed struggle” in this instance can be understood as a politically inoffensive terminology that in effect translates as terrorism, when confronted with the reality of the conflict to-date.

Arab-Palestinian violence, particularly the actions of disciplined paramilitary groups, traditionally assault the Jewish civilian populace rather than the Israeli military. Aiming at easy “soft targets”, particularly those that are civilian (in an effort to intimidate) is the principle defining characteristic of terrorism. Thus terrorism contrasts starkly with other forms of paramilitary activity and resistance.

For example, during the Second Intifada, which constitutes the last great united Palestinian “armed struggle”, 80% of those killed on the Israeli side by Arab-Palestinians were in fact civilian. Afghanistani/Iraqi insurgents killed civilians in similar proportions.
Palestinians are more likely to say armed struggle is the best way for their people to achieve statehood (45%) than they are to say negotiations or nonviolent resistance offer the best prospect for the creation of a Palestinian state (15% each). Another 22% volunteer that a combination of these three approaches would be most effective.

Source: Pew Research

In effect 67% of all Palestinians support armed struggle because 45% support it completely, whilst another 22% support it combined with political actions.

Indeed PEW received similar percentage results in 2011 concerning supportive views of suicide attacks in defence of Islam:
Palestinian Muslims, however, remain an outlier on this question: 68% say suicide attacks in defense of Islam can often or sometimes be justified, a level of support essentially unchanged from 2007.
Earlier in May, poll results indicated that 40% of Arab-Palestinians believe suicidal attacks in defence of Islam are justified. In this instance the question of justification explicitly referred to the assault of civilian targets.

Whilst those of a pro-Palestinian persuasion may take the opinion that the survey indicates a lack of faith in the present Palestinian leaders, the survey results of the same PEW poll makes it clear that this is not the case (see section entitled “The popularity of Palestinian factions amongst the populace”).

The reality is that there is strong sentiment against even a resumption of peace talks, as indicated by the widespread riots in June-July 2012. It does not bode well for Palestinian Street giving any sort of peace process a chance.

Seeking pan-Arab military assistance?

The PEW study also found that a broadly similar percentage (three quarters) of Arab-Palestinians believe that the Arab world is not doing enough to assist them in achieving independent statehood:
When asked whether Arab countries are doing too much, too little or enough to help the Palestinian people achieve statehood, three-quarters in the Palestinian territories say they are doing too little; 16% say other Arab nations are doing enough and 5% believe they are doing too much to help Palestinians achieve statehood.
Assistance to achieve statehood can of course be given in various non-violent ways. However, when viewed with regard to a sizeable majority of Arab-Palestinians supporting violence to achieve the same goal of nationhood, it can clearly be inferred that that a majority of Arab-Palestinians likely support some form of pan-Arab military aid. Iran and Syria’s assistance to Hizbullah and Hamas, which are both combative belligerents against Israel, has a principally military dimension.

The finding has a degree of ambiguity but it may even reflect some desire for outright pan-Arab inter-state war with Israel. This was a common populist expectation in the Middle East some decades ago. For example, Israel’s response to Fatah’s attacks, prior to the Six Day War, triggered violent mass protests throughout the Arab world.

Indeed Abbas advised Arab leaders that the PLO is ready to make war on Israel if the rest of the Arab world does the same:
If you want war, and if all of you will fight Israel, we are in favor. But the Palestinians will not fight alone because they don't have the ability to do it.

The popularity of Palestinian factions amongst the populace

Perhaps surprisingly, Arab-Palestinians, both in the West Bank and Gaza, have a largely positive view of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. This popularity may have been bolstered by his successful move for “Palestine” to controversially gain observer status at the United Nations General Assembly last year, a unilateral move which breached the spirit of the Oslo Accords/Resolution 242.
Palestinians express mostly positive opinions of Abbas; 61% have a favorable view and 34% have an unfavorable view of the Palestinian president. Abbas is viewed favorably by majorities in both the West Bank (57%) and Gaza (68%). His party also receives positive ratings among Palestinians; 69% have a favorable view of Fatah, while 27% express unfavorable opinions.
PEW also found that leading terrorist groups Islamic Jihad and Hamas are less popular than Abbas’ Fatah/PLO faction. However, this finding may not be seen as a positive. 11% fewer Arab-Palestinians now hold negative opinions of Hamas since the last poll was taken by PEW. It is a sizeable change:
…a majority of Palestinians (56%) holds favorable opinions of Islamic Jihad, while about a third (35%) gives the militant organization negative ratings.

Opinions of Hamas are more mixed, with 48% of Palestinians viewing the extremist group favorably and 45% saying they have an unfavorable view of Hamas. In 2011, when Pew Research last asked Palestinians about Hamas, more held negative views (56%) than expressed positive opinions (42%)…
Despite changing views, such a show of support for Fatah may nonetheless encourage Abbas to hold long-delayed elections later this year.

Perceptions of Israeli’s and Arab-Palestinians in the West

The PEW survey also focused on the contrasting international support for Arab-Palestinians and Israel.

As has long been the case, the vast majority of Arab nations are extremely hostile to Israel, whilst the United States of America still holds a firm support for the State, despite the intensive efforts of Arab-Palestinian supporters to chip away at what is an essential block of support for Israel’s existence.

Elsewhere in the Western World, opinion of the two sides of the conflict varies quite considerably:
Views are more mixed in France, Germany and Russia. For example, 40% of French respondents sympathize more with Israel, while 44% say their sympathies lie with the Palestinians. Similarly, in Germany and Russia, about as many side with Israel as side with the Palestinians, but substantial numbers in these countries do not sympathize with either side in this conflict (31% and 42%, respectively).
The image PEW presents is one that may give a small ray of hope to those that support Israel because broad public stances on the conflict have not dramatically changed since 2007, despite the high-intensity campaigning by Western pro-Palestinian supporters:
For the most part, there has been little change in perceptions of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in recent years.
In mainland Europe, the image is varied. Germany has seen a notable increase in support for the Palestinian cause, whilst in France support for Israel has surprisingly increased in recent years. Russia has a sizeable pro-Israel support base despite decades of hostility from officialdom within the USSR.

The report finds that almost twice as many British people support the Palestinians over that of Israel. The finding reinforces the view that the British stand out as perhaps the most anti-Israel collective in the Western world, where many British academics, journalists and politicians have taken a leading and longstanding role in Israel’s delegitimisation.

This article was also published at Crethi Plethi.