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Derek McMillan

The New Al Quaeda

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Peter Taylor of the BBC broadcast a program which concentrated on Al Qaeda's use of the internet "The New Al Qaeda" .

It was an interesting if somewhat sensationalist program, the main thrust was the use of websites to publicise the resistance in Iraq, who were described as terrorists. It mentioned rather coyly the routine reading of citizens' emails by the US government - presumably this is an "official secret" in the UK.

I was particularly interested to see the woman described as “an American patriot” defending the use of torture. (“a little bit of torture might go a long way”).

However, I think that it is unfortunate that a well-intentioned journalist should make a TV program which appears to advocate censorship of websites by the government. Tony Blair has made it clear last week that he regarded (for example) the Militant tendency as terrorists despite their consistent opposition to terrorism. To give Blair the power to close down websites on a whim is dangerous to journalists and probably fatal to the BBC. If they come for anti-war activists in the morning you can bet they will come for the "respectable journalists" by nightfall.

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I saw the programme too, and I have to say that I found it all a bit scary - if sensationalist in places. It confirmed my belief that the Web has a Dark Side and can be a dangerous tool for the spread of extremist views. On the whole I don't agree with censorship, but there is a limit to what is acceptable and I don't know where to draw the line.

It is a well-known fact that websites that advocate extremist views of any sort are constantly monitored by the USA and the UK goverments - and by many others. A lot of money has been spent on the development of software tools to make this job easier. I have seen demonstrations of language tools that have been developed to transcribe TV broadcasts in Arabic automatically (and they work quite well) and tools that can translate the gist of Arabic texts into English and even identify their authorship. By publicising their views on the Web extremists are actually making monitoring of their activities easier. There is probably no need to close their sites down. Big Brother is watching all the time. See, for example:

http://ai.bpa.arizona.edu/research/coplink/crimenet.htm

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One site was classified as extremist because it uploaded video footage from al Zarqawi. The problem is the same footage was also used by Al Jazeera - so obviously they should be closed down and the same footage was also used by the BBC so obviously......

(In fact the American administration closed down Al Jazeera in Iraq for being off-message)

In fact one argument the Militant tendency used to use against the terrorist tactics of the IRA was the fact that the state can use it to justify repression. Socialist and workers' organsations were the main victims of this repression. Likewise the anti terror laws in the UK are used against anti-war and anti-capitalist protesters.

This has not stopped Blair branding the Militant tendency as terrorists.

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This has not stopped Blair branding the Militant tendency as terrorists.

I have had some dealings with Militant Tendency and would call them many things. None of these however would be "terrorist" :lol: .

The Right Wing will without doubt use recent tragic events to attempt to facilitate a clamp down on civil liberties and rights to free expressions and association.

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Censorship doesn't only operate against the left. I was in East Germany on three occasions in the 1960s-1980s, and I lived with a family in Leipzig for a whole month in 1976. Censorship was evident in almost all aspects of daily life. East Germans who did not have access to West German TV had a very strange image of life in the West. Newspapers and magazines from the West were banned and confiscated from Western visitors as they crossed the border.

I recall talking to two East German farmers over a meal in the Auerbachs Keller. They were attending a trade fair and I was the first Englishman they had ever met. They were excited to meet me and told me all about their free state education system, national health service etc, which they thought was unique to Socialist countries. I don't think they believed me when I said that we also had free state education and a national health service - which wasn't at all bad at the time and even now is not as bad as many people make it out to be (I've had to attend hospital several times in the last two years for three totally unrelated problems, all of which were quickly and efficiently sorted out). After spending a month in Leipzig I spent a week catching up with all the news that I had missed.

I think we may be wrong to talk of left or right, socialist or capitalist, etc when we discuss governments' policies regarding censorship or terrorism. Any government, left or right, can be oppressive, and one government's terrorist is another government's freedom fighter. I prefer to think in terms of "hard" or "soft" or "nasty" or "nice". Hitler's regime was hard and nasty, and so was the East German regime that followed it. In comparison, the UK's regime is quite soft and nice - but getting harder and nastier in response to current events.

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Graham is quite right in pointing out the repression in Stalinist regimes like East Germany. It is unfortunate that the only thing which people like Blair and Mandelson learnt from them was the repressive superstructure rather than the free health care and state education :unsure:

In fact East Germany imported the distorted version of socialism from the USSR under Stalin and alongside the state ownership of industry, equal rights for women and a planned economy they inherited all the repressive apparatus which was used to keep the working classes under the control of the party.

Having taken the capitalist road they now find the downside of the media image of Western democracies in terms of unemployment, cuts in social services and an astonishing growth in pornography and prostitution.

However, I notice from tonights news that a terrorist suspect has been captured alive with the aid of a stun gun. The family of Jean Charles de Menezes, a Brazilian mistakenly shot to death by police July 22 in London want to know why a stun gun was not used rather than shooting this innocent suspect eight times seven in the head one in the shoulder. That is democracy is it?

And thanks to Andy for noticing that Labour Party activists Ted Grant, Clare Doyle, Peter Taaffe and Roger Silverman were not terrorists. Have a word with Tony Blair about that will you?

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The old regimes in Central and Eastern Europe weren't a good advertisement for Socialism. I have travelled widely in the course of my life, lecturing and running training workshops in 21 different countries and visiting around a dozen more on holiday. The old regimes in Central and Eastern Europe all fall at the bottom of my list of countries regarding how comfortable I felt visiting them. Belarus, which I visited in 1995, comes at the bottom, and Canada, which I visit regularly, comes at the top. The most (politcally) right-wing country that I have visited is the USA, but on the whole one still feels comfortable travelling around, people are generally very polite ("I just lurve your British accent. Say it again..."), and in rural areas such as Vermont or New Hampshire one often feels that one has been taken back in time to 1950s' England: sparkling white weatherboarded houses, lace curtains, tea and cakes at 5 o'clock, houses clustered round a village green (as in Middlebury or Woodstock in Vermont), and a crime section in the local paper running to two paragraphs. We stayed in a motel in Woodstock, where the owner would often go off on a shopping trip leaving the office unlocked so that we could pop in and help ourselves to hot coffee.

In the course of my travels I have discovered a yardstick that has proved to be completely reliable regarding the quality of the regime of a country, namely: the quality of toilets in buildings such as educational institutions and offices. If the loos are good then the regime is good. For eample, one immediately noticed the difference when travelling from West Germany to East Germany. In West Germany the toilets were clean, the plumbing worked, and there was a good supply of toilet paper. In East Germany the toilets did not smell very nice, the plumbing was iffy, and the toilet paper was like sandpaper (if it existed).

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The Eastern European regimes were not an "advertisement for socialism" because they were Stalinist dictatorships which violated all the principles of socialism. They had state ownership and a plan of production but it was controlled by a bureaucracy rather than democratically.

They were very useful to capitalism as a way of discrediting socialist ideas.

I am a little worried about Graham's criterion for democracy. On that basis Britain is more democratic than France.

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Derek writes:

I am a little worried about Graham's criterion for democracy. On that basis Britain is more democratic than France.

France's loos are a lot better than they used to be. I recall the dreaded "squatters" and the open-sided "pissoirs" in the in the 1950s. As I said, the "bog standard" yardstick is very reliable. It tells you all you need to know.

As for the Central and Eastern European regimes of yesteryear, they all called themselves "Socialist". Has there ever been a true "Socialist" state anywhere? By the way, East Germany inherited much of its infrastructure from Hitler rather than Stalin. The Free German Youth and the Stasi of East Germany were direct descendents of the Hitler Youth and the Gestapo.

To compare the oppressive machinery that operated in East Germany with the controls against terrorism that the UK is about to introduce is a mockery. I am sure Derek has never experienced how awful East Germany was as a regime. It wasn't just the censorship and the knowledge that one was constantly being watched. It was also the sheer drabness of everyday life and the constant shortages that made life miserable. The people that govern us are pussycats by comparison.

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I have been concerned for example in the way that people have reacted to the calls by the UK government to curtail our civil liberties since the London bombing. Tony Blair tells the public that we cannot allow the terrorists to change our way of life. Yet he immediately talks about bringing in legislation that will do just that. The majority accept these measures. Not only that, the popularity of Blair since the bombing has gone up. Instead of people thinking that the bombing only took place because of Blair’s policy on Iraq, they embrace his “tough talking” and reward him with high poll ratings.

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John writes:

Not only that, the popularity of Blair since the bombing has gone up. Instead of people thinking that the bombing only took place because of Blair’s policy on Iraq, they embrace his “tough talking” and reward him with high poll ratings.

Is this what we expected? When the IRA bombings were taking place every politician - regardless of their political leanings - who took a tough line was showered with praise (not, of course, by those who supported the IRA).

I wonder to what extent the current climate has prompted the IRA to state that it has given up the armed struggle. I can't remember who said it - I think it was during a TV discussion last night: "Al-Quaeda has given terrorism a bad name".

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It is not much of an excuse for Blair to say that his policies are not as bad as the Stasi. Incidentally did the Stasi have a policy of public executions on tube trains? An execution incidentally for no lesser crime than looking a bit Asian? Just a question.

The tactics employed by the Americans in Guantanamo are also directly copied from the Gestapo and Mr Blair fully supports them. I am sure it is a great comfort to Omar Deghayes (a British resident tortured for three years by our allies, or more precisely Mr Blair's allies) that he is being tortured democratically.

Even my MP Nicholas Soames is concerned about this case. I am sure Graham would not like to be thought of as to the right of Nicholas Soames <_<

Edited by Derek McMillan

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Am I the only one that thinks our Tony is doing a good job? I fully support his tough policies on terrorists and I don't feel in any way threatened by the new legislation that is proposed. You can think of me as right-wing, if you like. Anyway, it's not a question of being left or right, and I abhor the trend to see everything in left-right political terms. It's a question of how much one is prepared to accept threats to our society and what we are prepared to do to combat them. By the way, I descend from a Welsh Socialist coalmining family, and my grandfather was a close associate of Arthur Horner - who was considered a bit too left for the South Wales miners. I have always voted Labour since I got the vote.

Of course, the police made a dreadful mistake in killing the Brazilian lad, but the guy who pulled the trigger clearly thought (wrongly in restrospect - and it's easy to be wise after the event) that he was confronting a suicide bomber and acted accordingly. If he had been right he would have been a hero. The shoot-to-kill policy is not new, by the way. It's been in place for a very long time. And the word "execution" is a completely misleading emotive term.

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Am I the only one that thinks our Tony is doing a good job? I fully support his tough policies on terrorists and I don't feel in any way threatened by the new legislation that is proposed.

Would you think that if you had a son who looked non-European and had to travel around London with a bag?

Don't you think that Blair is acting in the exact same way as the terrorists want him to behave? Is he not making the same mistakes as George Bush after 9/11?

Did the "get tough" tactics with the IRA in the 1970s (internment, etc.) work or did it make the situation worse. Did Blair bring an end to IRA bombings by passing tougher laws against them? In fact, he did what he is now saying he will never do against the Muslim terrorists. Blair's popularity will soon go when people realize that his "tough talking" does not work. Do you really think these proposed measures will bring an end to terrorism? Why do we need new laws? Isn't it already against the law to incite murder?

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