Sunday, May 16, 2010

Spot the difference when the "terror suspect" is a Muslim

Stop the War Coalition

By Robin Beste

It's front page news if the suspect is a Muslim, but barely reported when it's a white supremicist convicted of plotting to use deadly poison in terrorist attacks.

On 30 April 2010, a member of a white supremacist gang was convicted of planning terrorist attacks and possessing a jar of the deadly poison ricin and pipe bombs. Members of the gang referred to themselves as the Wolfpack or Legion 88 and used codenames with known references to Hitler and other Nazi leaders. The prosecuting council at the trial, said:

"They are fighting against the government because they believe it has been taken over by Jews, so it must be resisted by those interested in white supremacy."

The trial was barely reported in the media, and no politicians had a word to say about these convicted terrorists. Certainly the prime minister of the day, Gordon Brown, was completely silent.

How different it was in January 2003, when six Algerians were arrested in Wood Green, north London, and the BBC reported:

Terror police find deadly poison

Doctors have been warned to look out for signs of exposure to the potentially lethal poison ricin, after it was found by anti-terrorist police at an address in north London.

Six Algerian men are being questioned in connection with the discovery, made following an intelligence tip-off. The men were arrested on Sunday morning and are in their late teens, 20s and 30s.

Tony Blair said the arrests showed the continued threat of international terrorism was "present and real and with us now and its potential is huge".

The intelligence services are said to be "shocked and worried" by the discovery and are looking at possible links with suspected Islamic extremists.

BBC home affairs correspondent Margaret Gilmore said: "For six months now MI5 and the anti-terrorist branch have been getting intelligence reports indicating that extreme groups want to launch a chemical, biological or radiological attack.

"Now we're being told this is probably the first real evidence they were trying to do this here in the UK." (BBC, 07 January 2003)

For the next few days reporting bordering on hysteria dominated newspaper front pages and the broadcast news channels. The Times reported:

Police believe that the seven men are part of an Algerian-led terrorist cell. As soon as government scientists confirmed the presence of ricin at the flat, Scotland Yard officers informed the leaders of the Jewish community and other vulnerable ethnic groups.

French intelligence services are believed to have provided the vital tip-off which led police and MI5 officers to the scruffy rented flat. Some of the suspects are alleged to have links with a gang seized in Paris last month; they were found with plans to attack the Russian Embassy using chemical weapons. Three of the gang were Algerians and they had a chemical contamination suit in their flat as well as cash, computers and two phials of so far unidentified chemicals.(The Times, 09 January 2010)

The "ricin plot" was used before the Iraq war by Tony Blair as evidence of the danger from weapons of mass destruction, and by Colin Powell, then US Secretary of State, before the UN Security Council as proof that Iraq was aiding al-Qaeda terrorism.

All of this was nonsense. There was no ricin, there was no link to al-Qaeda. Ricin is in any case not a weapon of mass destruction, but a poison which is only fatal when injected into individuals.

The government knew this within 48 hours but did not inform the public until more than two years later when the case collapsed in the law courts.

No lessons have been learnt, least of all by the media. The politics of fear and prejudice are still used endlessly by politicians to justify foreign wars, attacks on civil liberties and to divert attention from the worst economic crisis in a generation. It is Muslims who have become the scapegoat of choice, just as Jews were used in similar circumstances in the 1930s.

In April 2009, after 11 Pakistani students were arrested in Manchester, Gordon Brown – desperate to shore up support for the war in Afghanistan, opposed by a large majority in Britain – said:

"We are dealing with a very big terrorist plot. We have been following it for some time. There were a number of people who are suspected of it who have been arrested. That police operation was successful. We know that there are links between terrorists in Britain and terrorists in Pakistan."
(Daily Mail, 22 April 2009)

Once again, this was nonsense. There was no evidence against these students, all but one of whom were released without charge, the remaining one being charged only with a visa violation.

Gordon Brown has never apologised to these students; instead as soon as they were released the government rushed to cover their embarrassment by seeking to get them all deported immediately.

Across Europe, this Islamophobia is a bushfire, the latest example being the proposed banning of the burka by the Belgium government, a form of dress worn by only thirty women among the half million Muslim population -- a measure also likely to be introduced soon in France, where less than 2000 women wear the burka out of a Muslim population of two million.

It is in this climate of hate and racism that Stop the War and the British Muslim Initiative, supported by numerous other organisations, have organised a one day conference in London on Saturday 5 June. Early booking for the conference is advisable, as early indications are it will be over-subscribed.

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