Busted Flat And Vitriolic In Luton

Bernard sent me this link from the New York Times with the suggestion that it might be of interest to AFOE readers. I am dutifully complying by posting. Unfortunately I fear the situation described may come much more as news in the US than it does to those of us here in Europe.

Luton: “In this former industrial town north of London, a small group of young Britons whose parents emigrated from Pakistan after World War II have turned against their families’ new home. They say they would like to see Prime Minister Tony Blair dead or deposed and an Islamic flag hanging outside No. 10 Downing Street.

They swear allegiance to Osama bin Laden and his goal of toppling Western democracies to establish an Islamic superstate under Shariah law, like Afghanistan under the Taliban. They call the Sept. 11 hijackers the ‘Magnificent 19’ and regard the Madrid train bombings as a clever way to drive a wedge into Europe“.

That this situation exists is clear: what could be done about it much less so. Here in Spain I normally find myself in a minority of one when I try to argue that the Spanish troops should stay. People are pretty familiar with the UK situation, and also with the French one: it is precisely because they wish to avoid this type of extreme polarisation here that they want ‘the boys back’. Two names are normally evoked in any justification for the withdrawal: Fallujah and Najaf. The Spanish population got a fright on 11 March. My feeling was that even over and above the 200 dead, what really shocked the Spanish population was the existence of such an extended network in Spain, a nework which seemed to count on the support of small but significant layers of the Morroccan population here.

Every time the image of an innocent victim of the fighting appears on the little screen people fear these networks will grow. We are losing a very important propaganda war right now: not because we show the images, but because the reality behind the images exists to be shown. You will not convince a majority of the population either in Europe, or in the United States, that you have a winning strategy if the quantity of terrorism resulting is increasing rather than declining.

And meantime we have the likes of Abu Hamza.

On Friday, Abu Hamza, the cleric accused of tutoring Richard Reid before he tried to blow up a Paris-to-Miami jetliner with explosives hidden in his shoe, urged a crowd of 200 outside his former Finsbury Park mosque to embrace death and the “culture of martyrdom.”

Though the British home secretary, David Blunkett, has sought to strip Abu Hamza of his British citizenship and deport him, the legal battle has dragged on for years while Abu Hamza keeps calling down the wrath of God.”

The situation with Abu Hamza reached what would have been the height of surreality if it had not been for the tragic dimension during the aftermath of the Madrid bombings. Spanish journalists were seen on the TV news listening to him harangue his ‘congregation’ duly seated in a Finsbury Park Street waiting for clues as to who may have been behind the Madrid bombings.

A mixture of innocence, credulity, and madness.

When I look at all this, I can only bless my luck that I am but a ‘mere economist’. Sufficient reason is often diificult enough to find in the economic sphere, but in the face of the problems surfacing in the aftermath of the Iraq war, where is the path of reason? I wish I knew.

This entry was posted in A Fistful Of Euros, Terrorism by Edward Hugh. Bookmark the permalink.

About Edward Hugh

Edward 'the bonobo is a Catalan economist of British extraction. After being born, brought-up and educated in the United Kingdom, Edward subsequently settled in Barcelona where he has now lived for over 15 years. As a consequence Edward considers himself to be "Catalan by adoption". He has also to some extent been "adopted by Catalonia", since throughout the current economic crisis he has been a constant voice on TV, radio and in the press arguing in favor of the need for some kind of internal devaluation if Spain wants to stay inside the Euro. By inclination he is a macro economist, but his obsession with trying to understand the economic impact of demographic changes has often taken him far from home, off and away from the more tranquil and placid pastures of the dismal science, into the bracken and thicket of demography, anthropology, biology, sociology and systems theory. All of which has lead him to ask himself whether Thomas Wolfe was not in fact right when he asserted that the fact of the matter is "you can never go home again".

18 thoughts on “Busted Flat And Vitriolic In Luton

  1. Right. It looks like another attack of the “scary European Muslims” meme. (Or should that be “Attack of the Scary European Muslims”?)

    There’s no context in that article beyond the doubtless perfectly true assertion that there are some terrorist-supporting nutters in Luton.While that does technically mean that “[t]he call to jihad is rising in the streets of Europe, and is being answered”, it’s quite a… shall we say “dramatic”?… way of putting it.

    Franky, I don’t think this kind of alarmism helps the situation at all.

  2. I agree with the last poster. As of today, I haven’t seen any information about the right-wing Christian extremists preparing terrorist attacks in the USA in any of the main newspapers, and certainly not in the NYTimes front page. In every society there’s always bound to exist a group of crazed individuals that support terrorist attacks. How does this alarmism help bring any light on european life and societal issues is beyond me.

  3. “…a small group of young Britons…”

    One wonders exactly how small and how young. It’s not difficult to find adolescents willing to spout any form of bile in order to look big in front of their peers. In any case, winding-up the foreign journo is a popular sport for all ages. And needless to say, there is a large number of people who would like to see Tony Blair deposed (not all of them in New Labour…).

  4. “What about this ? A slightly different picture of Luton.”

    I don’t disagree with the sentiment of some of the comments, but I think that this extends beyond the confines of just a few nutcases.

    I think it is undoubtedly true that the vast majority of the planets muslim population don’t want any truck with terrorism. But mainly they don’t want any truck with George Bush either.

    And here comes the problem in a polarised situation.

    Maybe only 10% of the Basque population strongly support eta, but that is 150,000 people.

    So say only 10% of the planets muslim population will give soft-support to terrorism, when forced to choose between Osama and Bush (not that I am equating the two, but this is surely how it appears to many in this 10%). This is still a hell of a lot of people. Globally organised in a virtual net they can of course, as we have seen, act with devestating effect.

    So I don’t think we should treat this lightly either.

    As I said, most of the people arrested in the wake of the 11 March in Madrid come from this group. The ‘hard core’ blew themselves up.

    One of the problems which we can’t really address if we deny that this situation exists is how to address it, and how to address it without destroying the very civil liberties which it was, of course, Osamas objective to destroy in the first place.

  5. Well, I think the point is that a really bad way to address the “problem” is with scare-mongering news stories calculated to stir up tension between Muslims and non-Muslims.

    And that’s only to the extent that the problem exists. I notice that you shade from “10% of the world’s Muslims” to an implicit “10% of Europe’s Muslims”, and from “soft-supporters of terrorism” to a “globally organized virtual net” of terrorists and supporters. It would also be nice to have some actual facts and figures in place of your “maybe 10%”. Is it unreasonable to check if the house is really on fire before turning on the hoses?

    I hope my tone isn’t too strong here, but I feel quite strongly about this: I live in South London and work in East London, so some of these sinster European Muslims are my neighbors and co-workers.

  6. A confession:
    When the Northern Alliance (“led by BBC-journalist Simpson”) took Kabul I was already thinking in advance about the irony that OBL was going to be captured through the value of money he suggests to despise. I was certain that the huge amount of money that was promised for information on him was going to be irresistable. I was wrong. So in Afghanistan the soft-support for islam-fascism lies probably above that 10%.
    Let’s suppose the soft support for islam-fascism among European muslims is found among just 2% of them: we still have a major problem then.
    I just posted a comment at the blog of a Dutch MP, Diederik Samson. He wrote about the rally on a book “The path of the muslim”. The book suggests that gay men should be thrown from a tower, head first. The MP actually confronted the translator (a native Dutch woman!) with this text and she answered that the gay was to be caught in action and “only” be murdered when the islamic court should decide so. So what’s wrong? The Netherlands do not have the sharia. Yet.
    Alarming is the fact that this MP buys this crap and argues that the book is NOT despicable and (!) should not be forbidden.

  7. “I hope my tone isn’t too strong here, but I feel quite strongly about this: I live in South London and work in East London, so some of these sinster European Muslims are my neighbors and co-workers.”

    No it isn’t Sam, not at all. I don’t have facts and figures, but I do open my browser on Google news, and the 2 items in the top left hand corner do seem to tell me that the world is on fire I’m afraid. Not only that, the fire does seem to be spreading.

    The best hope might be that it is one of these forest fires that burns ever so brighly just before extinguising itself.

    “My neighbours”. I live in a quiet Barcelona back street, and just by chance there are a couple of Pakistani boys across the street who have opened a grocery shop (Barcelona is changing, I guess we have the biggest Pakistani community in continental europe just by the Ramblas now). I tend to drop in for something or other once a day, and we talk about all this among other things.

    Nice people.

    Did you ever meet people from Frankfurt who supported the Red Army Fraction, or from Italy who supported the Brigadi Rossi, or from Kilburn who supported the IRA…….. or from Barcelona who sympathise with Eta. I did.

    Why is it difficult for us to understand that many muslims feeling poor, impotent and humiliated can identify with Osama? They are not so different from many young Europeans 20 years ago really.

  8. “Soft Support”

    Look, what am I trying to say here?

    There is a puzzle. If you go to the Basque country, and ask people whether they approve of innocent people being killed to ‘free’ the Basque country, everyone (nearly, including the really hard, hard supporters since they are clandestine and don’t want to be discovered) will say they don’t.

    But when you have the funeral of a terrorist who has blown himself up, most of the people from his village follow the cortege. In elections they vote for a party which refuses to condemn killing, and which is really just the ‘political face’ for it.

    In the North West provinces of Pakistan many politicians openly support OBL etc etc.

    This is the part we have difficulty with, maybe it is just cognitive dissonance, but it is there, and it is a major phenomenon in most terrorist situations. Unfortunately most of those conducting ‘the war on terror’ don’t seem to have understood this.

    eg what is the point in ‘rooting out and killing’ 50 gunmen in Fallujah if globally you create another 5,000 volunteers (some of them in Luton) because of the 600 civilians killed in the process.

    Is this how to defeat terrorism?

  9. “So say only 10% of the planets muslim population will give soft-support to terrorism”…

    This is ridiculous.

    Look, nobody should be surprised that in this kind of circumstances people would identify with a group because they espouse a common cause. This does not translate in “real” support for terrorism. You would probably be surprised at the amount of Americans calling their congressmen on the phone after the slaughter of those four mercenaries in Fallujah and angrily demanding that the USA nuke the place. I’m pretty sure most of these are decent, law-abiding citizen in most circumstances. This does not make them supporters of genocide any more that angry muslims who feel mistreated by the West and misguidedly identify themselves with whom they believe to be a fighter for Islam are supporters of terrorism.
    Alarmism and scare-mongering many times has consequences that are much more serious than the perceived threat, and does not really help see the issues in perspective .

  10. “Look, nobody should be surprised that in this kind of circumstances people would identify with a group because they espouse a common cause.”

    Really? Suppose a 15 yr. old boy is killed by gunfire at a US park, and friends come around weeping and soliciting money for a funeral? Do you contribute? This happened to my wife at her school, and she refused, saying it was a gang fight (which noone denies) and she’s not going to facilitate a gang funeral. She was roundly condemned by EVERYONE else at the school. But someone has to think clear and standup for what’s right. That boy should be buried quietly, without belligerent, ugly, gang members congregating, possibly followed by drinking, drugging and maybe more shooting.

    Every person must decide for himself not to support terrorism and killing.

  11. “Every person must decide for himself not to support terrorism and killing.”

    That would be nice, wouldn’t it? Unfortunately, things are not that simple. Many people, left and right, confuse identifying with a cause (for which they might have, in some cases, perfectly legitimate grievances) with supporting violent means to achieve the ends they fervently hope for. Hell, they might even endorse genocide if they deem it necessary.

    It’s scary how easy it is for some leaders to create a collective state of madness. And you will always find individuals who justify horrendous actions by governments and outlawed groups alike. It shouldn’t be surprising to anybody that most Germans during WWII supported Hitler’s heinous actions, for instance.

    But again, people acting in the way you expressed above (by deciding not to support killing and terrorism)would go a long way towards avoiding wars (utopian goal that we probably will neaver reach). The flip side of that warm and cozy feeling of belonging that groupishness confers on each one of us is jingoistic nationalism .

  12. “Alarmism and scare-mongering many times has consequences that are much more serious than the perceived threat, and does not really help see the issues in perspective.”

    Hi Jose, I really appreciate what you are trying to say, but I it isn’t my intention to be alarmist and scare-mongery, honest it isn’t. I am simply trying to get some realistic perspective on the magnitude of what is happening.

    I readily agree I pulled the number 10% out of a hat, but in the end I bet its not a bad guess. Amongst other things it would fit a fat tail opinion distribution which again I bet is what we have here.

    The point is if you kick all the sociologists and anthropologists out of the window and then want to prognosticate on what people think you usually end up with nonesense.

    What is needed here is some qualitative research. This is just what no-one seems very interested in spending much money on: So we are condemned to ‘swatting-flies’, in someones memorable expression. Even if we use a power hammer to swat them with.

    I guess the killing of those contractors was a calculated act to draw the response it did, and to cohese the Fallujah population around the ‘resistance’, which the US response also probably did.

    So who is winning here?

    I’m an economist not an anthropologist, but out of curiousity I did some qualitative research on illegal Bulgarian immigrants in Spain (I wanted to understand immigration a bit better since I think it is an important economic phenomenon).

    Can I tell you: not one of the Bulgarians I interviewed did not identify with Milosevic, not one was not anti-American. I found this a surprising result. But then illegal immigrants are ‘losers’, what else would you expect, you might ask. But isn’t this just the problem: we live on a planet where there are so many ‘losers’. Perhaps we should be spending some money trying to put this straight.

    Going back to the original question: to what extent are we going wrong in treating this as a religious phenomenon in the first place?

    The number of people seriously interested in imposing Sharia in Europe is probably really small.

    But then so was the number of people in Belfast who headed the conservative Republican’s anti-condom campaign.

    Many of the people who give soft-support for terrorism are not necessarily very religious. Think Northern Ireland. Was this a war between two religious views, or across a cultural divide?

    Many of the people who romanticise Osama don’t share his religious convictions, the resonance and association is cultural, I think.

    But it would be nice to see some studies.

    Part of the problem here is what I mean by soft-support I guess. Maybe letting someone stay in your home without asking too many questions, giving money to someone who is collecting. The IRA did this in pubs (and of course many of those pubs and bars were situated in the US), radical Islam in Mosques, but that may be the only significant difference.

    What I am saying is that it is really difficult for many of us Europeans to understand this phenomenon, but maybe if we look at some of the things we do understand a bit better, then we can deduce something useful and non-trivial.

    Finally, I was chatting to my Pakistani shopkeeper friend again today: ‘but they are wearing uniforms, they are wearing uniforms’ he told me. He was referring to some of those supporting Al Sadr in Najaf. He was clearly identifying in some way with the Shiite ‘resistance’. I won’t be reporting him to the authorities, I don’t imagine he is any kind of terrorist sympathiser if you put the question to him like that.

    But here you have the problem.

  13. Hi Edward,

    I appreciate your response to my posts. My idea about this whole situation is that the emphasis is on the wrong issue. Terrorism became a “very significant problem” around the world when the US was attacked. Why it did not have such international importance before escapes me (insert sarcastic sneer here). I am certainly gonna emphasize the usual lefty arguments of poverty and ignorance as some of the main causes of terrorism and advocate for more aid and humane treatment of the huge masses of dispossessed people around the world. It is in the West’s best interest to change the approach towards combating terrorism (by making it an issue of international policing instead of waging “preemptive” wars) while increasing aid to the third World. Unless this shift in policy happens I don’t see us anywhere close to ending or even controlling the effects of terrorism. The fact that this sort of article appears in the front page of the New York Times, (while information about the fact that hunger, for example, kills many more people than a years’ worth of terrorist attacks in a single day is usually buried somewhere else in the paper) to me is a symptom of a navel-gazing society that tends to focus on the wrong issues.

  14. Jos?,

    “Why it did not have such international importance before escapes me (insert sarcastic sneer here).”

    No need to sneer, I’ll be quite frank about it. It didn’t have much international importance because the U.S. is big and rich, and we didn’t much care. And we didn’t much care because we weren’t the ones getting hit. No apologies, I’m not here for your benefit, I’m here for my own, and I’m pretty damned sure that 99.999% of the human race behaves in precisely the same manner where the “rubber hits the road”, if you’ll pardon a colloquialism.

    “I am certainly gonna emphasize the usual lefty arguments of poverty and ignorance as some of the main causes of terrorism”

    Tell it to those well-educated, rich-boy Saudis who flew the planes, my man. But in any case, if this were about standards of living most of the dopes currently taking up arms in the name of Allah would be well advised to clam-up and get to work at the local sweat-shop. They’d certainly increase their disposable income by a great deal more than they’ll ever manage to extract via their current methods, and you can’t discount the hereafter. Allahu Akbar.

    “(while information about the fact that hunger, for example, kills many more people than a years’ worth of terrorist attacks in a single day is usually buried somewhere else in the paper) to me is a symptom of a navel-gazing society that tends to focus on the wrong issues.”

    You say navel-gazing, I say properly self-interested. But do be sure to let me know when you give up the euros you’re spending on your connection to the Net to buy a couple of sacks of sorghum a month for the poor unfortunates. Don’t look now, but your indifference curve is showing. :^)

  15. Hi Edward,

    But then so was the number of people in Belfast who headed the conservative Republican’s anti-condom campaign.

    I’m from Belfast, and I can’t say I noticed any conservative Republicans, or indeed any anti-condom campaign at all. Oh yes, if you went to a Catholic school you learned that contraception was bad… actually you didn’t, you learned that teachers, even ones who are priests, find it difficult to keep a straight face trying to persuade teenagers of something they don’t believe themselves.

  16. “No apologies, I’m not here for your benefit, I’m here for my own, and I’m pretty damned sure that 99.999% of the human race behaves in precisely the same manner where the “rubber hits the road”…

    Which surely goes a long way towards solving the problem, I presume. This is no news to anybody. We would all, of course, prefer to save our hides when “the rubber hits the road”. But, so what?

    “Tell it to those well-educated, rich-boy Saudis who flew the planes, my man.”

    Or tell it to the Palestinians. They surely are plenty rich and well-educated, what with the 72 virgins and all. I guess a myopic approach that does not take these people blowing each other (and a bunch of settlers) on a weekly basis as an important actor in international terrorism is very probably informed by a “properly self-interested” worldview that only cares about these kind of things when they hit close to home (arguably for you, being at Stern).

    “But do be sure to let me know when you give up the euros you’re spending on your connection to the Net to buy a couple of sacks of sorghum a month for the poor unfortunates. Don’t look now, but your indifference curve is showing. :^)”

    Nope, buddy. Not euros, devaluated dollars just like you. I’m in New York City too. And guess what? This internet connection is free. Which should tell you something about me being self interested enough not to use my own, costly dial-up connection. I guess my misuse of these important resources would probably be considered inefficient and immoral, especially when done at work time (!!). Where’s uncle Milton when you need him?

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