Abu Hafs al Masri Brigade Claim Attack

In a website posting yesterday the Abu Hafs al Masri Brigade have one more time claimed responsibility for terrorist attacks, in this case yesterdays bombs in London. It should be remembered that this group also claimed the Madrid bombings and the July 7 bombs. Just how much credibility should be accorded to all this?
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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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Nationalism, regionalism and Spanish football

The Independent has an interesting article today entitled ‘Why will a quarter of Spain be supporting England tonight?’ (for those of you who aren’t aware, there’s an international football friendly tonight between Spain and England in Madrid) which looks at how the Spanish national football team is not supported by many of the people of Spain because of the strong currents of regionalism and nationalism.

In so far as Catalans will be taking an interest in tonight’s Spain v England game in Madrid, they will be – most of them – supporting England. Should England score, the whole city will know about it. It happens every time, just as it does when Bar?a score a goal: in every neighbourhood there will be someone guaranteed to set off a celebratory firework or two.

Now, admittedly, things could get a little complicated this time around. What if Owen or Beckham score for England? The spontaneous reaction will be jubilation, but a moment’s reflection will yield the alarming truth that they play for the most detested enemy of them all, Real Madrid.

At which point the mental systems of Catalan football fans everywhere may dangerously short-circuit. Or not. Love for England may momentarily trump loathing for Spain. Whatever the case, it will yield an interesting new twist on the complex tribal impulses that animate the otherwise sane and impressively civilised Catalan people.

The Catalans are not alone. The Basques are at least as zealous in their desire that the Spanish football team be beaten. And as far as tonight’s game is concerned, because they haven’t got as much of a thing about Real Madrid as the Catalans do, they’ll be cheering on Beckham and Owen with as much abandon as the rest of the England team.

There are other, smaller nationalist enclaves in Spain where they’ll be rooting for England too. A number will in Galicia, in the Celtic-rooted north-west (they play the bagpipes out there, the fields are green and they look Irish); some diehards will in the Valencia region; and the Balearic islanders (Mallorca, Menorca, Ibiza) will be happy for the most part to see perfidious Espa?a defeated.

Update: Unfortunately, the match was marred by some pretty despicable racist chanting from an element of the Spanish fans – see this discussion on Crooked Timber for more.

Daniel Pipes on Tariq Ramadan: Why French literacy still matters

Readers of my previous comment on Tariq Ramadan will no doubt have come away with the impression that I don’t much like Daniel Pipes. This is not an entirely accurate assessment of my opinon of him. I think Pipes is an unreconstructed bigot and xenophobic fanatic whose academic work fails to meet even the lowest standards of scholarship, whose career has been built on politically driven attacks, and who has set up with his “Campus Watch” as a terrorist front designed to intimidate academics and ensure that there is as little debate, discussion or rational thought on Israel, US foreign policy or Islam as possible. His reseach and scholarship are not intended to better inform action but to support specific agendas, usually revolving around hating some foreign force or people. Instead of fostering debate, his work is intended to intimidate. Pipes advocates religiously targetted surveillance, he supports making federal university funding conditional on ideology, and he has helped to terrorise professors who are named on his website. In short, I think Pipes is swine.

He is a second generation right-wing tool, the son of one of the men most responsible for America’s “Team B”, which grossly overblew the Soviet menace in the 70s and 80s – causing massive US defense spending and resulting deficits – and complained that anyone with a better sense of reality was soft on communism. Normally, Pipes’ parentage would constitute poor grounds for condeming him as having a pathological relationship to facts. But keep this in mind, since it constitutes one of his arguments against Ramadan.

All you need is Google to find out why I think these things about Daniel Pipes. It’s not a lot of work. His own website provides ample examples.

But, today, I will be targeting something a little more specific. Pipes has put up on his website his comment on Tariq Ramadan’s visa denial, originally published in the New York Post on Friday. In it, he makes specific points against Tariq Ramadan, linking, in some cases, to articles on the web in support. These articles are primarily in French. As a service to our non-francophone readers, we will be translating the relevant sections, since they lead one to the conclusion that Pipes assumes his readers will just take his word on their contents.

We report, you decide.
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Madrid Bombing: Evidence So Far

Ok: it’s just gone half past six, and demonstrations all over Spain are getting ready to go. Meantime I will leave you with the following thoughts:

I think it must be difficult for anyone outside Spain to understand just how complicated this situation here is. As everyone by now knows, the Spanish police are following two leads: one that of Eta, and the other that of Al Qaeda. On the one hand the difference between the two – since in either case the question is one of terrorism – is minimal, on the other it couldn’t be greater.

In assessing the impact and consequences of the attack, perhaps the first of the major questions which strikes you is the quantity of immigrants – both documented and undocumented – who were involved. Just looking for five minutes at the TV images of the relatives filing past the cameras in the hospitals and mortuaries makes this abundantly clear. There are in fact victims from 11 countries, many of these countries surely being in Latin America. In fact so important is this question that Jos? Maria Aznar spent a significant part of his public appearance this morning underlining that any person among the victims who was found to be ‘undocumented’ would automatically be ‘regularised’. In addition any immigrants who have died in the attack and who had not been naturalised are automatically to be conceded the status of Spanish citizens, for themselves (posthumously) and for their families. What this decision highlights is the quantity of recently arrived immigrants that there are now here in Spain, and confronting some of the all too evident implications of this reality will undoubtedly now be one of the first priorities of the incoming government.

This brings me to my first ‘correction’: yesterday morning I said.. “and the victims are a total cross-section of Spanish society: from executives to recently arrived illegal immigrants”….. in fact this is wrong. There are relatively few executives, the majority of the victims it is now obvious come from poor families.
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Eta Massacre in Madrid

It is still too early to be able to count the toll with any accuracy. The link I post below speaks of 50 dead, others speak of more, and others less. Let us only hope the lower estimates are the accurate ones!

(Update 15 minutes after first post: the official death toll has now risen to 72 according to Ministry of the Interior figures just released on TV. Of course this is still far from definitive. I have been watching the live images on TV and they are among the most horrendous I have seen. I don’t know if the statistics will bear me out, but I have the feeling that this is the worst ever incident of its kind in the history of Spanish terrorism. The previous ‘low’ in this context was the Hypercor hypermarket bombing here in Barcelona – 1987, with 21 fatal victims. The wounded are being attended lying on blankets in the Atocha station in Madrid. Blood is everywhere, and the victims are a total cross-section of Spanish society: from executives to recently arrived illegal immigrants).

(Second Update: 11:44 CET: Spanish TV have just quoted Interior Ministry sources giving a figure of 131 dead. Words ecsapeme, and I fear it may get worse. The number of seriously injured also appears to be high).

I have no hesitation in attributing this heinous act to Eta. Official sources are, naturally, more circumspect. If time should prove me wrong I will, of course, on this as on so many other topics, gladly and willingly accept the fact. But for the time being: I have no doubt.

I have decided to post this immediately since I feel after my recent post on Spain and dialogue that it is behoven on me to say something. In fact I was preparing yet another of those euro related posts (this time on Volkswagen) when I went out to buy the family vegetables for the week. It was listening to the women with me in the shop (Spain is still a pretty traditional and ‘macho’ country in this sense unfortunately) that made me realise I had to make this post: to at least say something. I am aware that after so many years of this interminable killing the pure law of survival means that you tend to put a certain distance between yourself and the insanity of what surrounds you.

But what has happened today passes the bounds of even what one has become accustomed to. It reminds me so much of those dreadful Birmingham pub bombings in the UK in the mid 70’s. So whilst much could be said on the background to, and future implications of, this outrage: I will refrain. This is not the time or the place.

It is purely and simply the time and the place to condemn all such acts of terrorism as barbaric, and of lacking any kind of possible justification within the known frontiers of human reason. It is also the place to say that, inconsequential as this is, my heart goes out to all those who have lost loved ones, family or friends (or simply fellow citizens) as a result of this appauling crime against humanity.
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Eta And The Spanish Elections

As someone who lives and works in Barcelona (capital of Catalonia, and formal definition in the eyes of the local nationalists of being Catalan), it is really rather frustrating to find that about the only time we make it to the European headlines (apart, of course, from when Bar?a wants to buy some world famous footballer like Beckham) is when one of the players in the greater-Spanish political arena – in this case Eta – wants to exploit some situation or other here to its own advantage. Outside of this context (and with, of course, the honourable exception of George Orwell) Catalonia is little heard of, and even less understood.
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