Woolwich and Double Standards

Last week, a crime rocked Britain. Drummer Lee Rigby, a soldier in the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers, was walking outside the Royal Artillery Barracks (he was off-duty at the time) in Woolwich, London, when two men ran him down in their car. They then proceeded to attack him with knives and a cleaver, screaming all the while, and attempted to behead him. They then hung around, talking to passers-by, until the police arrived, whereupon they charged at them. Both men were shot and wounded.

This, on its own, would have been sufficient to make headlines, but then the always-provocative topics of race and religion entered the fray. Both attackers, Michael Olumide Adebolajo and Michael Oluwatobi Adebowale, were Nigerian-born Britons and Muslims, and declared their attack an act of revenge against the British military’s killing of Muslims in the Afghanistan war. This lead them to, once again, fall under the title of ‘radical Islamists’, and the attack prompted widespread outrage, of all kinds, across Britain. Most people were, naturally, merely shocked that such a horrific attack had taken place, particularly against one of the soldiers of which our country is so proud, and there was a massive outpouring of sympathy for his family. However, others went on the attack, with of cases anti-Muslim attacks including verbal abuse, assault, graffiti and even attempted arson, prompting the police to mobilise as many officers as they could get their hands on. The Queen was even informed, and issued a statement appealing for calm.

There are a couple of things about this frankly horrific incidents that I believe are worth bearing in mind- and, just so nobody accuses me of ripping the following arguments off, I should point out that they were generated from stuff I saw online following the event. The first considers the news we receive; every few months or so, the news will report a case of a black, Islamic or gay person being murdered, assaulted or somesuch in what is dubbed ‘a hate crime’. And this is only the ones that get on the news; around 700 people are murdered every year in the UK (that’s an average of two per day), and I personally find it unlikely that only the two or three of those that get reported are motivated by racial or sexual hatred- the number of more ‘casual’ hate crimes must number well into the thousands. I don’t know, I couldn’t find any numbers.

Anyway, the point is this; these hate crimes generally make it onto the evening news, where they are covered by a serious-looking journalist standing by a police line before everyone moves on. People watching will think ‘oh how terrible’, and then start thinking about what happened in the stock exchange today or who was wearing what dress at some star-spangled event the night before. Point being, people generally don’t make a massive deal out of it; an exception was perhaps the awful murder of Indian student Anuj Bidve last year, but his killer (Kiaran Stapleton) claimed it wasn’t a hate crime so much as Bidve being the closest available person to shoot. However, even then, the case didn’t garner anywhere near the coverage the Woolwich incident has done; multiple protests from all political angles have been organised, every major political or religious figure has made some statement or other, and the whole country has been gripped by the shock. Not only that, but this attack has, rather than a ‘hate crime’ been labelled in some quarters as terrorism.

Now, never let it be said that I think the outpouring of grief and emotion over this case is in any way wrong; a seemingly random victim, innocent of any crime against his attackers, has been viciously murdered in cold blood in a public, supposedly safe, place, and I cannot imagine what his family must be going through. I feel I should also say explicitly that nothing I say from hereon in is intended to insult the memory of Lee Rigby: may he rest in peace. However, I do think that the public outcry to the event has revealed something of a double standard in the public eye; when a Muslim is murdered by some white extremist nutter, then it’s a hate crime that we all consider gravely, but when a white guy gets murdered by a pair of Muslim nutters, then the entire country is wrapped up in a frenzy. I understand that it would be impractical (not to mention depressing) for us to get this wrapped up every time somebody is murdered, but treating each case differently based upon who kills who is simply not fair, at least on the families of the half-forgotten hate crime victims.

And then there are the accusations of terrorism. Now, I will be the first to admit that the line between terrorism and hate crime is, particularly in the modern age, a narrow one; both involve the killing of innocent people based, usually, on the fact that they violently disagree with a practice or philosophy ostensibly held by the victim. The difference is, ostensibly, that terrorism is a typically organised campaign that intends to strike terror into the hearts of the group or nation being targeted, in order to make them give in to their demands (which, historically, never works), whilst a hate crime is simply done out of anger or, in this case vengeance. Because the Woolwich Incident was a hate crime, nothing more or less, and was horrible for precisely that reason.

My point is that there is, frankly, only one reason that some quarters have dubbed this attack terrorism; because the perpetrators were two Muslims. Again, we find ourselves facing a double standard, the kind of discrimination that does not consciously register to the discriminators and is all the more harmful because of it. One of the biggest examples of this occurred as the story of the Anders Breivik incident broke; whilst news agencies were still unsure as to who the perpetrator was, one story went around that the attacker was a Muslim extremist. Immediately, several news organisations began reporting the incident as a terrorist attack, but as soon as it became widely known that the attacker was a white guy, the whole thing went back to being a ‘lone gunman’ story, one madman, a twisted political philosophy and a gun coming together in the most tragic of ways, as the case actually was. Again, we see evidence of this double standard, and this unintentional institutionalised racism.

A post like this doesn’t really have a natural ending beyond the idea that such a double standard is simply wrong; our society (well, most of it) prides itself on being accepting of all different cultures, and such attitudes run directly contrary to this. So, just to bring it all full circle, I shall end with this; rest in peace, Lee Rigby. May your soul find peace.

The story of Curveball

2012 has been the first year for almost as long as public conciousness seems able to remember that the world has not lived under the shadow of one of the most controversial and tumultuous events of the 21st century- the Iraq war. From 2003 to December 2011, the presence and deaths of western soldiers in Iraq was an ever-present and constantly touchy issue, and it will be many years before Iraq recovers from the war’s devastating effects.

Everybody knows the story of why the war was started in the first place- the US government convinced the rest of the world that Iraq’s notoriously brutal and tyrannical dictator Saddam Hussein (who had famously gassed vast swathes of Iraq’s Kurdish population prior to his invasion of Kuwait and the triggering of the First Gulf War) was in possession of weapons of mass destruction. The main reason for the US government’s fears was, according to the news of the time, the fact that Hussein had refused UN weapons inspectors to enter and search the country. Lots of people know, or at least knew, this story. But much fewer know the other story- the story of how one man was able to, almost single-handedly, turn political posturing into a full-scale war.

This man’s name is Rafid Ahmed Alwan, but he was known to the world’s intelligence services simply as ‘Curveball’. Alwan is an Iraqi-born chemical engineer, who in 1999 fled to Germany, having embezzled government money. He then claimed that he had worked on an Iraqi project to design and produce mobile labs to produce biological weapons. Between late 1999 and 2001, German intelligence services interrogated him, granted him political asylum, and listened to his descriptions of the process. They were even able to create 3-D models of the facilities being designed, to a level of detail that CIA scientists were later able to identify major technical flaws in them. Despite the identification of such inconsistencies, when Curveball’s assertions that Iraq was indeed trying to produce biological WMD’s got into the hands of US intelligence, they went straight to the top. US Secretary of State Colin Powell referred to Curveball’s evidence in a 2003 speech to the UN on the subject of Iraq’s weapons situation, and his evidence, despite its flaws, pretty much sealed the deal for the USA. And where the US goes, the rest of the world tends to follow.

Since then, Curveball has, naturally, come under a lot of criticism. Accused of being an alcoholic, a ‘congenital liar’ and a ‘con artist’, he is quite possibly the world record holder for the most damaging ‘rogue source’ in intelligence history. Since he first made his claims, the amount of evidence showing how completely and utterly false they were has only stacked up- a facility he attested was a docking station was found to have an immovable brick wall in front of it, his designs were completely technically unsound, and his claims that he had finished top of his class at Baghdad University and had been drafted straight into the weapons program were replaced by the fact that he had finished bottom of his class and had, as he admitted in 2011, made the whole story up.

But, of course, by far the biggest source of hatred towards Curveball has been what his lies snowballed into- the justification of one of the western world’s least proud and most controversial events- the Second Iraq War. The cost of the war has been estimated to be in the region of two trillion dollars, and partly as a result of disruption to Iraqi oil production the price of oil has nearly quadrupled since the war began. The US and its allies have come under a hail of criticism for their poor planning of the invasion, the number of troops required and the clean up process, which was quite possibly entirely to blame for the subsequent 7 years of insurgent warfare after the actual invasion- quite apart from  some rather large questions surrounding the invasion’s legality in the first place. America has also taken a battering to its already rather weathered global public image, losing support from some of its traditional allies, and the country of Iraq has, despite having had an undoubtedly oppressive dictatorship removed, become (rather like Afghanistan) a far more corrupt, poverty-stricken, damaged and dangerous society than it was even under Hussein- it will take many years for it to recover. Not only that, but there is also evidence to suggest that the anger caused by the Western invasion has been played for its PR value by al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups, actually increasing the terrorism threat. But worse than all of that has been the human cost- estimates of the death toll range from 87,000 to over a million, the majority of whom have been civilian casualties from bomb attacks (courtesy of both sides). All parties have also been accused of sanctioning torture and of various counts of murder of civilians.

But I am not here to point fingers or play the blame game- suffice it to say that the main loser in the war has been humanity. The point is that, whilst Curveball cannot be said to be the cause of the war, or even the main one, the paper trail can be traced right back to him as one of the primary trigger causes. Just one man, and just a few little lies.

Curveball has since said that he was (justifiably) shocked that his words were used as justification for the war, but, crucially, that he was proud that what he had said had toppled Hussein’s government. When asked in an interview about all the death and pain the war he had sparked had caused, he was unable to give an answer.

This, for me, was a both shocking and deeply interesting moral dilemma. Hussein was without a doubt a black mark on the face of humanity, and in the long run I doubt that Iraq will be worse off as a democracy than it was under his rule. But that will not be for many years, and right now Iraq is a shadow of a country.

Put yourself in Curveball’s position- somebody who thought his words could bring down a dictator, a hate figure, and who then could only watch as the world tore itself apart because of them. Could you live with that thought? Were your words worth their terrible price? Could your conscience ever sleep easy?