North Sea neuroses

Matthias Matussek, once London correspondent of Der Spiegel and now its culture editor, not to mention brother of top diplomat Thomas Matussek, has a book out. Wir Deutschen: warum die anderen uns gern haben können is meant to be a call for a renewed German patriotism and pride in culture. This would usually suggest a very dull book, but I enjoyed it immensely. Not for the right reasons, though.

Matussek’s approach is idiosyncratic, not that there is anything wrong with that, and the book is really a collection of essays, on topics ranging from Heinrich Heine and Angela Merkel to Britain, Britain, the German economy, Vergangenheitsbewältigung, the World Cup, Britain, Danish cartoonists, the East after reunification, and Britain. In fact, an obsession with Britain runs through this book like letters through a stick of rock-hardly a page passes without comparing some German institution, writer, company, statesman or building to one in Britain, and no chapter is complete with a volley of snark directed roughly westward.

Now, it is a truism that Britain and Germany share a mutual obsession. But this would be less interesting if it wasn’t for the sheer wordcount devoted to complaining about the British obsession with Germany. There is a complete chapter on Anglo-German relations, which I looked forward to-the possibilities are immense. Would he dig into the pre-1914 closeness that gave Bradford a Little Germany (and its own Nazi, Ernst-Wilhelm Bohle, born there in 1903 and later Rudolf Hess’s right hand) and Leeds a Dortmund Square, Robert Graves a relative on the Oberste Heeresleitung?

Nah. Instead, most of the chapter is dedicated to the results of a trip to Germany for some schoolteachers his brother’s embassy organised, and a pleasant but uninformative weekend in the country with John Le Carré.
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The Colour of Steel

First of all many thanks to the kind folk of Afoe offering me the possibility of expressing my views on some European reactions to the Mittal Steel bid for the European steel giant Arcelor. By now most of you must have heard about this sitation. Mittal Steel is the world’s largest steelmaker and was founded (and is still currently run) by the Indian-born steel maker Lakshmi Nivas Mittal, the third richest man in the world.
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Robin Hood Or The Sheriff of Nottingham?

José Barroso, European Commission president, yesterday advised Tony Blair not to act like the Sheriff of Nottingham, taking from the poor to give to the rich. I don’t know whether Tony’s been taking his advice, but this decision seems significant, and seems to reflect a willingness to try and get a deal. I don’t know what will eventually happen to the badly needed reform of the CAP though.

UK prime minister Tony Blair has signalled London will agree to cut its rebate from the EU budget, without a link to common agricultural policy (CAP) reform but through excluding new member states from contributions to the “British cheque.”…

London had, until now, insisted that a complex reform of EU spending, mainly on farm subsidies, is needed if the UK is to give up the rebate, which was negotiated in 1984 by Margaret Thatcher.

However, with France unlikely to agree on any farm cuts at the December summit, UK officials have revealed they will offer to freeze the UK’s €5.6 billion annual rebate at something close to the current level.

The solution is similar to one which London rejected in June, but the proposed British rebate cuts are less severe.

The damage done to Britain

As regards his more general attitude to the war, you must not rely too much on those feelings of hatred which the humans are so fond of discussing in Christian, or anti-Christian, periodicals. In his anguish, the patient can, of course, be encouraged to revenge himself by some vindictive feelings directed towards the German leaders, and that is good so far as it goes. But it is usually a sort of melodramatic or mythical hatred directed against imaginary scapegoats. He has never met these people in real life?they are lay figures modelled on what he gets from newspapers. The results of such fanciful hatred are often most disappointing, and of all humans the English are in this respect the most deplorable milksops. They are creatures of that miserable sort who loudly proclaim that torture is too good for their enemies and then give tea and cigarettes to the first wounded German pilot who turns up at the back door.

        — C. S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters

Britain is crawling with suspected terrorists and those who give them succour. The Government must act without delay, round up this enemy in our midst and lock them in internment camps.

Our safety must not play second fiddle to their supposed ?rights.?

        — Barbarism of twisted cause, unsigned editorial, The Sun

Considering how much the resilience of Londoners during the Blitz has come up over the last week in commentary about the bombings in London, I thought a little war-time C. S. Lewis might be an appropriate contrast to the rantings of London’s fish-wrap press.

Now that there is no longer any doubt that the authors of the bombings in London were British citizens – three born and raised in Yorkshire and one Jamaican born convert – we will see how Britain faces an element of the war on terrorism that has no real parallel to WWII and that Americans, Australians and Spanish people have so far managed to avoid: the prospect that the enemy may not be someone far away. How the British people handle this will say far more about their national character than their resolve to “preserve our way of life, our values of democracy and respect for life”.
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Blowing The Mole?

This doesn’t look like it’s going to be a good week for GWB, with the Valerie Plame affair far from resolved, some blog attention is now moving back to the issues raised at the time of the arrest of Mohammed Naeem Noor Khan (any connection with Mohammed Barbar?) in the Pakistan more or less exactly a year ago.

Juan Cole has picked up a story initially explored by John Aravosis at AmericaBlog. There are a lot of twists and turns in the story, but it does appear that excessive eagerness to catch the headlines around the time of the Democratic Convention may have inadvertently set off a chain reaction that finally exploded itself in London last Thursday. The suggestion is that when Noor Khan’s name broke in the press, the British police were forced to acted in haste, and that Muhammad Sadique Khan, one of the July 7 bombers, was apparently connected – by a telephone link – to one of the people under surveillance. If this is the case, this would explain Sarkozy’s behaviour at the EU Interior Minister’s summit on Wednesday.

As the IHT article shows, the London bombing was a complex operation, and plenty of details are still unclear. I wouldn’t rule out a Spanish connection at this stage, not in the least:

“Spain has also begun to confront Pakistani-born radicals operating there since the terrorist train bombings in Madrid on March 11, 2004.

After 10 Pakistanis were arrested in September on suspicion of belonging to an Islamic radical support network, the Spanish police discovered a video showing details of a number of buildings in Barcelona.

In November, two more Pakistanis were arrested, and in April, 11 suspects were indicted on terrorism charges.

No direct link has been established between the Barcelona plot and the London bombings, a senior Spanish official said. But the official added that there was every possibility some members of cell were still at large and that Spain and British were pooling their information on the London bombing investigation.”

Update: this piece gives some of the background at the Pakistan end.

There’s been an arrest


The investigation quite early led us to have concerns about the movement and activities of four men, three of whom came from the West Yorkshire area,” said the head of the Metropolitan Police anti-terrorist squad, Peter Clarke.

“We are trying to establish their movements in the run-up to last week’s attack and specifically to establish whether they all died in the explosions,” Clarke told reporters.

He added that it was “very likely” that one of the suspects was among those who died in one of the bombed Underground trains, near Aldgate station in east London.

Clarke said the “complex and intensive” investigation was “moving at great speed”, following raids on six premises in the industrial city of Leeds, in northern England, home to a large Muslim population of south Asian origin.

He said a man — identity and age not revealed — was arrested in West Yorkshire, the county that includes Leeds, and that he was being transferred to London for questioning.

Closer to the capital Tuesday, police sealed off a train station and parking lot in Luton, a town north of London, and carried out controlled explosions on a car with suspected links to the attacks.

More Theories

Very hard to interpret the information we are receiving right now. Much of it may well be aimed at the terrorists themselves so it is also perhaps better not to dig too deeply.

There are, however, a number of rival (but possibly) compatible theories. One of these, and it is the one I am following most closely (possibly for obvious reasons) is that of the Spanish connection. Now following this along the road a little (and just in a kind of ‘what if’ sense) it may not be entirely without relevance that raids were carried out in Italy on Saturday. (The FT today also also has a piece on the Italian raids. What stands out is the ‘cover’ provided by mass illegal immigration for such groups. I am in favour of increasing economic migration to meet demographic needs, but this process needs to be regulated and orderly, here we can see one more reason why). It is just me speculating, but the rapidity of the raids in Italy may relate more to the fact that there are ties between the Spain-based Jihadists and the Italian-based ones than to the immediate threat of an attack in Italy. This article contains the following information sourced from the Italian newspaper Corriere della Serra:

In 2003, the Italian Police and the carabinieri from the Special Operations Unit uncovered a link between the alleged Italian cell and its extremist associates in a number of European countries, primarily Germany, Spain, and the Netherlands. The Milan probe revealed that “young North Africans were ?trawled for’ in the European mosques, given money, and supplied with a visa?” to travel to Iraq to conduct suicide operations.”

This connection is loose, but is one possible route. Those who feel there might be an Iraq connection (and the lack of any explicit information about the explosives might point to this: this origin would be politically sensitive) would do well to note that the Italian net appears to have close links with Ansar Al-Islam which is based in the Kurdish zone, and was once host to none other than Abu Musab Al-Zarqawi. As I say, I wouldn’t even call this a conjecture, just some isolated pieces of information which are worth keeping track on, irrespective of whether or not the people mentioned were implicated last Thursday.

Finally, the NYT highlights the way in which the kind of terror we are seeing is in fact bringing Europe closer together:
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Nothing to see here but (more) death and destruction

I?m grateful for the thought (and the information and the links) that have gone into recent posts by my co-blogger Edward. I find myself disagreeing with him about only one thing: That the London bombing will (or should) lead to a major change in the way we see things, or to the West?s anti-terror strategy in particular.

I certainly don?t support aspect of Western leaders? anti-terror strategy, although I?ve been a proponent of a global war on terror since 2001. (I think the war in Iraq has turned out pretty disastrously, for instance.) So yes, I think something should change. I?m just not sure what the London bombings have to do with it.
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This is not an analytical “perspectives” type post. Just a number of bitty threads that seem in one way or another worth noting (small pieces loosely joined). They could basically be grouped together under the following headings: photos, suicides, explosives and origins.

Maybe I should also point out the obvious: that living in Spain while coming from the UK gives me a rather unusual perspective on what is happening. I lived the days surrounding the Madrid bombings intensely, now I am doing the same with London (where I had my home for many years). In some ways I can’t help but see this in terms of similarities and differences.

The big difference is of course in the government reaction, and the way that this is transmitted to a wider public. The British official reaction is one of ‘containment’ in every sense of the word. I think this is a good approach, since I think that excessive shock and panic only serves the purposes of the terrorists. The overall sensation was that London was as prepared for this as it could have been, and that many of those working in the crisis management and emergency services areas were following through on already well rehearsed roles.

Things in Spain couldn’t have been more different.
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A quote from a Johann Hari post, via Digby:

But another fight began yesterday: to defend our civil liberties ? and especially those of the decent, democratic Muslim majority ? in an age of terror. I headed for the East London Mosque ? a few minutes? walk away from the bomb in Aldgate ? to watch afternoon prayers. Chairman Mohammed Bari said, ?Only yesterday, we celebrated getting the Olympics for our city and our country. But a terrible thing happened in our country this morning? Whoever has done this is a friend of no-one and certainly not a friend of Muslims. The whole world will be watching us now. We must give a message of peace.? Everybody in attendance agreed; many headed off to the Royal London Hospital to give blood. But they were afraid the message would not get out: several people were expecting attacks on the mosque tonight.

From the media, it seems to representative of British muslim reactions in general. And quite understandably so.

There ar really several questions here: a) will there be harassment and violence now, in the wake of the attack, b) the long term negative impact n inter-ethic relations, b) will civil liberties be (further) curtailed.

As for b and c, based on the admirably non-hysterical response by the public so far, I’m cautiously optimistic. Cautiously. As for a, it only takes a few racist scumbags, doesn’t it? Regardless of how decent the general population may hypothetically be. But maybe it won’t get really horrifically bad, seeing as I haven’t seen any really serious incidents serious happened in the first night. Or did I miss them.

Guardian reports on the backlash:

At the Finsbury Park mosque in north London, worshippers said passersby had shouted abuse and rattled the entrance gates in the hours after yesterday’s bombings.

Within hours of the attacks police forces across the country were sent advice from the Association of Chief Police Officers on how to counter any backlash.

Forces are supposed to make contact with “vulnerable communities”, in this case Muslims, and react quickly and robustly to incidents of hate crime.

There are two fundamental aims, to keep Muslims safe, then to ensure there is the maximum chance that those with information about the planning of the attacks have the confidence and trust in the police to come forward.

Input from people who know what they’re talking about would be good.

(I’d also like to hear what the long term and short term reaction was after 3/11. It’s not necessarily hugely relevant, but interesting in itself.)

It’s perhaps a phrase that’s lost all meaning, or never had one, but I’d say if bigotry prevails, the terrorism will in some real sense have won.