Gilbert Ramsay https://www.opendemocracy.net/taxonomy/term/11282/all cached version 16/02/2019 15:24:33 en Theresa May offers a gig-economy approach to counter-terrorism https://www.opendemocracy.net/uk/gilbert-ramsay/theresa-may-offers-gig-economy-approach-to-counter-terrorism <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Regulating the internet won't work. Investing in public services might.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553846/deliveroo_fr-300dpi-39 (1).jpeg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553846/deliveroo_fr-300dpi-39 (1).jpeg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="345" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Is Theresa May proposing a 'gig economy' approach to counter terrorism? Image - Deliveroo</span></span></span></p> <p>In her response to the recent attack in Westminster, Theresa May has called for action to end online “safe spaces” which “breed” extremists. It’s a line which is starting to sound like that most iconic of vintage media: the broken record. The idea that the Internet needs to be increasingly regulated – once only expressed by authoritarian right-wingers – has become increasingly mainstream on both sides of the political spectrum. But it’s naïve for two important reasons. </p> <p>First, these ‘safe spaces’ don’t actually exist. Serious extremists are well aware that they are being constantly monitored, tracked and infiltrated. The following blog post from an ISIS supporter (one of countless screeds by Islamist and other extremists on the same subject) offers a neat snapshot of how the Internet looks to an extremist. </p> <blockquote><p>The intelligence agencies specifically monitor the internet with the intention of dismantling anti-colonial narratives and attacking those who postulate them. Whether Muslim, radical socialist, anarchist, or anti-government activist, they want you. They want to know what you send, when you send it, to whom you send it to, why, and how to use it against you. They monitor your social media. Even if you never use your real name, post a picture, or leave any hints, they can track your IP address, know your identity, and jail you for a few online posts. They search for keywords such as “kafir” in order to find specific individuals. These agencies are notorious for even harassing youth around the ages of fourteen to sixteen for their beliefs and rather reckless online posting.</p><p>&nbsp;</p><p>The need to avoid these agencies is exaggerated in those living in Western countries, from Finland to the West coast of the United States. Here, kafir intelligence agencies are particularly interested in entrapping young Muslims. Sometimes, they will pretend to be sincere brothers or sisters and invite Muslims to marriage or hijrah, sometimes both, and when they coerce them, they jail them for trying to join terrorist organizations. It is clear these are amongst the foulest of Allah’s creation. They want to find ikhwan who discuss these things because they know the true Islamic narrative is dangerous to their flamboyant way of life, wherein they hoard wealth from the poor and slaughter the weak. The United States government, the government of the United Kingdom, France, and elsewhere, want to jail you. They want you to suffer. And they aren’t playing games. </p></blockquote> <p>Extremism continues to survive not because it is simply allowed to flourish, but because it adapts. The very tactics of ‘leaderless’ terrorism (‘leaderless resistance’ for extreme right wingers, and the copycat tactic of ‘leaderless jihad’ subsequently developed by the thinkers such as Abu Mus’ab al-Suri and Yusuf al-'Uyayri) exist precisely because of the impossibility of developing secure networks on a larger scale. Jihadi forums set up to distribute Al Qaeda propaganda content were infiltrated (and in at least one case run) by intelligence agencies. Their members were well aware they weren’t safe. When they started being shut down, they migrated to social media, messenger app channels or any one of a plethora of other media, hiding in plain sight. </p> <p>Extremism also continues because even the most apparently obvious cases of extremism aren’t so obvious when you actually look at them. Some jihadi content is unmistakably extremist of course – it’s self-consciously designed to look that way by culturally sophisticated authors out to provoke as much as to proselytise. (The easiest and most reliable way to get hold of such material online is often from websites set up for counter-terrorist purposes in order to study and understand it). But a lot of the time, extreme ideologues express themselves primarily in terms of real Qur’an quotations, authentic sayings of the prophet and genuinely venerated classical Islamic scholars. Anders Breivik, the Utoya Island shooter, issued a manifesto shortly before his attacks which he openly admitted was largely copied and pasted from materials which nobody would have thought of censoring beforehand. In the introduction, he encourages any potential followers to feel free to edit the manifesto to remain within the limits of future law. The are-they-or-aren’t-they-real-Nazi alt right have made an art form of ambiguity. Even the Tories themselves, we now learn, have entered the fake news game, spreading deliberately misleading attack ads on Facebook which, it is alleged, would be illegal were they to be shown on mainstream T.V. On the other hand, legitimate content put up by, for example, avowedly non-violent pro-Palestinian activists is routinely blocked or taken down by Facebook moderators. Who moderates the moderators? </p> <p>The Internet handles more than a zettabyte or infinitely recombinable bits of data every day, competing for the finite attention of a mere three or so billion human users. In the big picture, extremism online is nothing more than a series of patterns – logically necessary ends of a distribution curve – to which we attach narrative and meaning. We can’t make it go away, because once we have eliminated it, we (and the extremists) will simply adjust our baselines. </p> <p>Terrorism is terrifying. This is a cliché if not quite a tautology (formal definitions of the phenomenon actually disagree as to how central the production of ‘terror’ is to the meaning of the phenomenon). But it isn’t a cliché if terrorists have claimed the life or limbs of your sister, brother, spouse or friend. And yet the uncanny horror of seeing people’s loved ones killed by people whose ultimate motivation seems to both invite endless analysis and resist it at the same time is not just part of the nature of terrorism: it is part of the strategy of terrorism. Terrorists want people talking about them – not just angry people in pubs or tabloid newspaper columnists, but also diffident academics writing pieces in openDemocracy. </p> <p>But for all this, the good news is that things aren’t nearly as bad as they were once expected to be. After the bombings in Madrid in 2004 and London in 2005, which were widely (and, we now know, inaccurately) believed to be the work of wholly independent ‘self starters’, there was a widespread expectation among serious strategic thinkers that countless acts of small-scale homegrown terrorism would become so widespread as a pose a comparable threat to Al Qaeda as it was when it carried out 9/11, one capable of bringing the West to its knees. More recently, as ISIS has faced elimination on the ground, it has been predicted that, with levels of funding and manpower easily eclipsing anything Al Qaeda ever possessed, it would be able to morph into a global terror threat of unprecedented severity. </p> <p>Thank God, the reality so far falls well short of this. Leaderless terrorism has been a damp squib compared to what its architects hoped for and what counterterrorism analysts once feared. The deliberate tactic of trying to incite random sympathisers online was meant to trade off quality for unpredictability and quantity. In the event, attackers have seldom been off the authorities’ radar, and while of course many plots are thwarted, the overall volume has been nothing like the epidemic that was once feared. Yes, ISIS has given added momentum and glamour to the brands of both jihadist and far right ‘counter-jihadist’ extremists. But the very fact that ISIS has largely had to rely on this tactic speaks to the efficiency with which it has been contained.&nbsp; </p><p>Terrorism of course has a notable online dimension – ‘terrorists use the Internet just like everybody else’. It is appropriate for social networks to enforce community standards, and for intelligence services to monitor and infiltrate violent plots where it is clearly proportionate to do so. But ever more constrictive attempts to regulate the Internet are the wrong answer to a question which can barely even be formulated properly. </p> <p class="mag-quote-center">What Theresa May offers is a gig economy approach to security</p> <p>There are big holes in what Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour party have to say about security policy, to be sure. But what Theresa May offers is a gig economy approach to security: fancy surveillance equipment, small numbers of more heavily armed police, and drab office buildings full of under-paid, overworked content moderators. (None of whom, incidentally, come free of charge). In the end, terrorism doesn’t happen on Facebook, it happens on the streets. Trying to rebuild public services, including the police, isn’t a magic answer. But it might not be a bad place to start looking for an alternative approach. </p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/uk/gilbert-ramsay/no-link-between-terrorism-and-our-foreign-policy-isn-t-simple-but-jeremy-corbyn-is">No, the link between terrorism and our foreign policy isn’t simple. But Jeremy Corbyn is basically right.</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> uk uk Gilbert Ramsay Tue, 06 Jun 2017 14:11:12 +0000 Gilbert Ramsay 111433 at https://www.opendemocracy.net No, the link between terrorism and our foreign policy isn’t simple. But Jeremy Corbyn is basically right. https://www.opendemocracy.net/uk/gilbert-ramsay/no-link-between-terrorism-and-our-foreign-policy-isn-t-simple-but-jeremy-corbyn-is <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Look at ISIS's own propaganda and it's clear that Western intervention is a key driver of their violence.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553846/corbyn speech.jpeg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553846/corbyn speech.jpeg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="259" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Jeremy Corbyn's speech on terrorism. BBC, fair use.</span></span></span></p><p dir="ltr">Michael Fallon richly deserved to <a href="https://www.channel4.com/news/fallon-no-correlation-between-foreign-policy-and-this-appalling-act-of-terrorism">fall into the trap</a> that Krishnan Guru-Murthy recently sprang on him, which saw him pouring scorn on words previously spoken by foreign secretary Boris Johnson. His spluttering insistence that we not seek to understand the motives of killers such as Salman Abedi represents politics at its most grating – as a brazen insult to the intelligence of the public. </p><p dir="ltr">But behind the attacks faced by Jeremy Corbyn from both right and centre regarding his comments about the failure of the war on terror lies a serious and genuine debate. Can we really say, more than a decade after the Iraq War, that our foreign engagements are a major cause of jihadist terrorism at home? </p><p dir="ltr">In a recent column in the Guardian, Jonathan Freedland <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/may/26/delusion-terror-attacks-just-about-foreign-policy">pours scorn</a> on what he admits is Jeremy Corbyn’s ‘carefully caveated’ position. His argument is that jihadists are driven primarily by an inward-looking ideology which hates us for who we are, not for what we do. As he points out, within this frame of reference, even inaction by the West – as in Bosnia for example – can be used as material by entrepreneurs of grievance. </p><p dir="ltr">He’s not altogether wrong, but it’s more complicated than that. </p><p dir="ltr">Take, for example, a recent propaganda article by ISIS themselves, with the usefully straightforward title “Why We Hate You and Why We Fight You”. </p><p dir="ltr">The purpose of this article is exactly what it says it is: to clarify, once and for all, in the most straightforward terms, what the self-ascribed meaning of ISIS’s violence is. </p><p dir="ltr">And yet, this being so, the remarkable thing is that the article isn’t clear at all. </p><p dir="ltr">The piece opens by praising Florida nightclub killer Omar Mateen’s “attack on a sodomite, Crusader nightclub”, but goes on to express frustration at the idea that it might be considered a mere hate crime, or, worse, “senseless violence”. As ISIS insist, they have “repeatedly stated their goals, intentions and motivations” for violence, which are, it says, to be understood as “brutal retaliation” against “the crimes of the West against Islam and Muslims”, crimes which include “waging war against the Caliphate”, but also “insulting the Prophet” or “burning the Qur’an”. </p><p dir="ltr">“Although some might argue that your foreign policies are the extent of what drives our hatred, this particular reason for hating you is secondary… the fact is, even if you were to stop bombing us, imprisoning us, torturing us, vilifying us and usurping our lands, we would continue to hate you” the piece insists. And yet, a few paragraphs earlier, it hints at the idea that a temporary cessation of violence might be possible: “even if you were to stop fighting us, your best-case scenario in a state of war would be that we would suspend our attacks against you – if we deemed it necessary – in order to focus on the closer and more immediate threats”. </p><p dir="ltr">Utterly uncompromising as this all sounds, there is still a tension in the words. ISIS wants to declare an unlimited war on unbelief as such; but it also wants to retain the notion that it can use violence as strategic leverage, which requires at least some limited concession to the idea that it could choose to stop (even though it couldn’t choose not to hate). It is worth pointing out that this ideology is no different in its essentials from that upheld by hardline, but officially tolerated scholars in Saudi Arabia too: that there is an obligation for true believers to ‘hate’ all others, even if actual hot conflict can, for reasons of expediency, be put on what might in practice be indefinite hold. </p><p dir="ltr">What conclusion can we draw from this? Certainly not that ISIS is worth cutting deals with. Rather, what it ought to reinforce is the point that ideology is not a sort of ineffable uncaused cause. However rigid and vicious, it doesn’t predict how a group or an individual will behave on its own. Even ISIS, for all its savagery and hatred, didn’t as such start its campaign of killing and direct incitement against Western targets and homelands prior to the first Western air strikes aimed at containing and rolling back its sudden advance into Iraq. </p><p dir="ltr">If we have learned anything from the ‘war on terror’, it is that murderous ideologies (which increasingly often seem to be almost interchangeable), are not just things that fall from the sky, Invasion of the Body Snatchers style, but rather things which, like nettles, flourish in disrupted ground. Where military interventions – even interventions which may have been well-meaning – have led to anarchy, they have created conditions conducive to socialising young people into the habits and attitudes of seemingly incomprehensible violence. Libya is an obvious example. </p><p dir="ltr">In the case of ISIS, a totalistic and expansive ideology may well provide ready justification for violence under almost any circumstance. But radical movements cannot flourish as fragmented archipelagos of true believers. In recent years, research into radicalisation has been increasingly interested in the role of wider milieus of people who have some emotional sympathy for the radicals, even if they don’t accept their specific beliefs. ISIS are well aware of this, and narratives of victimisation of Sunni Muslims are a key part of their attempts to reach a wider audience. </p><p dir="ltr">The morning after the Manchester bombing, I happened to give a lift to a Syrian friend, a former politics professor, whose family had been obliged to leave the country because, among other things, the encroachment of ISIS into their hometown. Naturally, he was full of dismay about the attack, and concern for the victims; but after a few minutes, he added quietly that hardly a week goes by without his hearing from some friend or other about more civilians killed by Western air strikes. He wasn’t, of course, trying to use one to justify the other, or suggesting that the killer had himself been thus motivated. But he was in little doubt that this fact helps at least to blunt the outrage that some might otherwise feel at attacks on Western civilians. According to the monitoring group Airwars, the minimum estimate for civilians killed in Syria and Iraq by Western coalition airstrikes since August 2014 now stands at 3,681. </p><p dir="ltr">But what if Corbyn is wrong in his assessment? What if there has been an evolution of the almost meteorological system of interaction between state failure, murderous militias, global media, identity crises in crumbling Western communities, and the ‘long tail’ effect whereby, if a group like ISIS solicits widely enough for killers, someone somewhere is bound to answer the call? What if the complex link between terrorism and foreign wars really has broken? Well then, the only real solution is to properly fund interventions at the level of our own communities, by building robust and trusted partnerships; to do that, and to deepen our cooperation with European and other partners. The need for better community policing is perhaps the single intervention most agreed upon by counter-terrorism experts. But police can’t do it if they aren’t resourced to do it, not to mention the many other public servants supposedly charged with a duty of care under the UK’s Prevent strategy. Theresa May can’t have it both ways. </p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/uk/steve-hanson/this-month-in-manchester-past-is-another-country">This month in Manchester: the past is another country </a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> uk uk Gilbert Ramsay Sun, 28 May 2017 11:17:16 +0000 Gilbert Ramsay 111205 at https://www.opendemocracy.net In troubled Hebron, an innovative programme of activism training brings new hope https://www.opendemocracy.net/north-africa-west-asia/badia-dwaik-gilbert-ramsay/in-troubled-hebron-innovative-progamme-of-activism-trainin <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>The organisation that filmed the notorious incident of an Israeli medic shooting a wounded Palestinian teenager in the head, is at the crest of an exciting new wave of creative resistance.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><iframe width="460" height="259" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/x67sNvWAR_w" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen></iframe> </p><p>&nbsp;</p><p>When an Israeli medic shot a wounded Palestinian teenager in the head, it was hard to imagine that the moment might represent a turning point for a troubled city in the epicentre of the wave of violence that swept Palestine and Israel last year. And yet, almost exactly a year on, the organisation that filmed the notorious incident is at the crest of an exciting new wave of creative resistance. </p><p>Long a special case in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, Hebron, the largest Palestinian city by population is also the only Palestinian city (other than East Jerusalem) in which Israeli settlements are located in the city centre. As such, Hebron represents the Israeli occupation with all its various logics of control in concentrated form. The historic high street and main commercial artery of Hebron – Shuhada Street – is now virtually a no-go area for Palestinians – as are its adjoining neighbourhoods, such as Tel Rumeida. The Shrine of Abraham – sacred for Muslims and Jews, and now partitioned between a mosque and a synagogue, has also become increasingly inaccessible to Palestinian worshippers as a result. </p><p class="mag-quote-left">Israeli authorities took advantage of this situation to impose new, tighter controls which are likely to become permanent</p><p>In the wave of violence that gripped Palestine and Israel last year, nowhere was more affected than Hebron. Starting with the incident in which a young girl, Hadeel al-Hashlamoun was killed at a checkpoint, dozens of local young people were shot dead in response to alleged knife attacks – some real, others probably not. Typically, Israeli authorities took advantage of this situation to impose new, tighter controls which are likely to become permanent. Palestinian residents of central Hebron have been numbered and listed on a registry, and anyone not on the list is no longer permitted to enter. It’s not difficult to see how this could represent yet another step towards the complete removal of Palestinians from the area – something which leading figures among the local settlers are quite open about seeing as their medium term goal (the long term one being to remove us from the city altogether). Further physical restrictions have been imposed, in some cases cutting communities in half. </p><p>When two young Palestinians, Ramzi al-Qasrawi and Abdul-Fattah al-Sharif were shot dead at Gilbert Checkpoint towards the top of Shuhada Street, it could well have just ended up as another statistic in the bloody history of our city. Instead, it turned out to be a crucial catalyst for change – and perhaps not in the way you might expect. </p><p>The story of what happened to Abdul-Fattah al-Sharif, and of Elor Azariya, the young Israeli medic who killed him, has attracted copious media attention. No one can deny the basic facts: Abdul-Fattah was lying on the ground, critically injured but alive. A Magen David Adom ambulance rushed to the scene. MDA are affiliated to the ICRC, and are therefore legally obliged to uphold the principles of neutrality and impartiality – giving priority help to those who need it most. Instead, a lightly wounded Israeli soldier was quickly stretchered off, while Elor Azariya cocked his rifle, walked over to Abdul-Fattah, and coolly shot him in the head. </p><p>You may well have read about the repercussions of this incident in Israel – which have been extensively covered. The event caused a significant rift in Israeli society between those who did and didn’t think he had done anything wrong, setting the commanders of the Israeli military who positioned themselves – hilariously for us – as humanitarian defenders of international law, against Israel’s political elite. Things intensified recently when Azariya was given an eighteen month sentence for manslaughter – a sentence which, it has been noted before, is less than what many Palestinians get for throwing stones. </p><p class="mag-quote-center">Azariya was given an eighteen month sentence for manslaughter – a sentence which is less than what many Palestinians get for throwing stones.</p><p>What has been less written about, though, is the impact of the event in Hebron. For <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/arab-awakening/imad-abu-shamsiyya/well-burn-you-like-we-burned-dawabshehs-life-as-video-activist-in-">Imad Abu Shamsiya</a>, the former wedding photographer turned veteran video activist who filmed the incident, the event was life-changing in ways that weren’t initially positive. He was inundated with death threats, sometimes delivered by telephone or social media, at other times in person by groups of local settlers who came round to his house, or harassed his children on the street. The threats to his security ultimately led the president of the Organisation of the Islamic Conference to raise a question directly to the UN Security Council. </p><p>But for the wider community, the example Imad set in shooting that video – combined with the hard work of groups such as Human Rights Defenders – the activist organisation which I co-founded with him in 2014, has helped – has helped to catalyse a change which is beginning to look like it might be the start of one of the most positive things to happen to Palestinian resistance in years. </p><p class="mag-quote-right">Our demand now would be for the complete decolonisation of Hebron, through the removal of the illegal settlements.</p><p>The story actually starts a year ago, when Israeli troops raided my house. Having previously been trained by the Israeli NGO B’tselem in video activist methods, my natural response to this warrantless intrusion was to film them. Their response to my filming was to seize my video camera and break it. Broken or confiscated cameras are a well-known fact of life for Palestinian activists. But if our equipment has a rather short lifespan sometimes, luckily we have more durable assets to draw on – including, in this case, the networks of international solidarity which have been steadily growing for many years. Generously, activists in the North California chapter of the International Solidarity Movement more than made up for the deficit, providing four new cameras which we distributed to the community. </p><p>That was the birth of a new project which we call the ‘Capturing the Occupation Camera Project’. The ideas was to try to source decent quality video cameras, distribute them to the local community, and train people in video activist methods. </p><p>Around the same time, teaming up with another local group, the ‘Hebron Defence Committee’ we also initiated another project. We’d previously helped run a campaign called ‘Open Shuhada Street’, focusing on the demand of restoring freedom of movement to our city centre. This time, though, we decided to go more ambitious. Our demand now would be for the complete decolonisation of Hebron, through the removal of the illegal settlements. The name of the campaign might sound controversial to some. It’s called ‘Dismantle the Ghetto’. But that’s what we are living in central Hebron. We are numbered, listed, our every movement is tracked, in order to guarantee the security of a military, colonial occupation. It’s not that we have a problem with Jews. They’re welcome to come and live with us. Many of the activists who come to do solidarity work here are Jewish. But the settlements in central Hebron are clearly illegal and the infrastructure of occupation that maintains them is the root cause of Hebron’s problems. </p><p>Since the killing of Abdul-Fattah, and the video Imad shot of it, these projects have gathered pace. We now have more cameras and more volunteers. Five families in total have been trained and equipped – together with another five volunteering with B’tselem, that makes ten. But recently, with our increased resources, we’ve been able to do something else which is looking to be game changing – we’ve started going into schools. There are four schools in central Hebron – Cordoba, Ibrahimia, Fayha and Ziad Jaber – which operate right next to the military checkpoints and the settlements. The kids in these schools are under constant pressure – they are routinely detained, intimidated and harassed. Many now have had the experience of seeing their friends shot dead by Israeli soldiers who were going way beyond anything that could reasonably have been justified by self-defence. They are scared, angry and traumatised. </p><p class="mag-quote-left">Lesson number one in our training is to keep yourself safe.</p><p>We’ve been amazed by the response we’ve had. Not only were the children incredibly eager to learn. Many of their parents came as well! We were also met with phalanxes of local media eager to interview everyone. Since shooting the video, Imad has become a local hero. Children and young people now see that there is something they can do – non-violently and constructively – to change their situation. </p><p>More than anything, parents want their children to be safe, and that’s what we teach them. Lesson number one in our training is to keep yourself safe. As veteran activists, we’ve developed a sixth sense over the years about how far you can go when trouble kicks off – where to position yourself, how not to become a target. We want to share that with the kids. Ideally, we’d be able to provide proper legal advice as well – we’re in talks with lawyers who might be able to help provide that sort of training in the future. But for now we do maintain a network of lawyers who can help provide cover if our young activists find themselves in trouble. </p><p>Of course we also want people to learn how to make powerful, punchy videos. We train them on how to compose space – how to divide up a picture, how to focus on the most important thing when there are things kicking off all around you. For best results, proper video cameras are ideal, which is why we go to the trouble of getting hold of them. But you can still get great footage with a phone, so we teach people how to do that too. </p><p>We’re already beginning to see results. The thing that has impressed us most is the number of girls and young women who have come forward. We did a training session at a girls’ school for five people, but nine turned up. They have been our most active trainees so far. </p><p class="mag-quote-right">The thing that has impressed us most is the number of girls and young women who have come forward.</p><p>Meanwhile, ‘Dismantle the Ghetto’ has been going from strength to strength as well. What’s been incredible has been how everyone has unified. The campaign now involves virtually every political party and campaigning group in Hebron. We organise peaceful marches and demonstrations. </p><p>Back in mid-February, my house was raided again by soldiers who told me that they would arrest me if I attended our next demonstration. I told them to go ahead if they had anything they could arrest me for. But we are heavily focused on finding more innovative ways to protest. The Mosque of Abraham (Ibrahim in Arabic) has become almost unattended because of the level of restriction on movement in the area – most days you’ll only see four or five people there. So we organised two days where we got as many people as possible to come and pray – hundreds attended on a Wednesday, and then again on a Friday. We organised a big cultural event for everyone afterwards. </p><p>In the near future, we’re planning more artistic and cultural events. We want to paint a mural to commemorate the victims of the Hebron mosque massacre, when in 1994, the radical settler Baruch Goldstein shot dead twenty nine people. We’re also planning exhibitions of photography to coincide with Ramadan, and with ‘Land Day’. So far, it’s looking like Hebron is leading the way on this, but we’re very interested in spreading the movement – if people came to us from Ramallah, Nablus, Jenin, Nabi Saleh or Bil’in we’d do everything we could to help them replicate what we’re doing. </p><p>These days the atmosphere in Hebron is incredibly exciting. The new generation of young people who are taking over in the local organisations just aren’t interested in the petty splits and divisions of the past. As for us older people, we’re tired of them too. We miss the sense of unity we had in the First Intifada – and that’s exactly what the atmosphere feels like now. There’s a determination to build mass resistance on non-violent lines. We don’t want to see our children as martyrs. We want them to live so they can continue the struggle. One thing we know for sure is that we’re in it for the long haul. And you can’t go on resisting when you’re dead.</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/north-africa-west-asia/gilbert-ramsay-badee-dwaik/untold-story-of-how-killing-of-abdulfattah-al-shareef-was-">The untold story of how the killing of Abdul Fattah al-Shareef was filmed</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/north-africa-west-asia/imad-abu-shamsiyya/well-burn-you-like-we-burned-dawabshehs-life-as-video-activist-in-">&#039;We&#039;ll burn you like we burned the Dawabshehs&#039; - life as a video activist in Hebron</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/us-prisoner-labor-and-academic-solidarity-delegation-to-palestine/open-letter-standing-with-palestin">Open letter: standing with Palestine in the spirit of &#039;sumud&#039;</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-country"> <div class="field-label"> Country or region:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Palestine </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-topics"> <div class="field-label">Topics:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Civil society </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> North Africa, West Asia North-Africa West-Asia Palestine Civil society middle east occupation Israel Hebron Gilbert Ramsay Badee Dwaik Fri, 17 Mar 2017 08:30:55 +0000 Badee Dwaik and Gilbert Ramsay 109450 at https://www.opendemocracy.net The untold story of how the killing of Abdul Fattah al-Shareef was filmed https://www.opendemocracy.net/north-africa-west-asia/gilbert-ramsay-badee-dwaik/untold-story-of-how-killing-of-abdulfattah-al-shareef-was- <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>The story of the camera, and the campaign that helped reveal the criminal acts perpetrated by Israel's military occupation of the West Bank.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/562712/PA-29616111.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/562712/PA-29616111.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="307" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>The mother of Palestinian Abdul Fattah al-Shareef holds his poster during a protest in the West Bank city of Hebron on Jan. 4, 2017. Picture by Xinhua SIPA USA/PA Images. All rights reserved. </span></span></span>Media all over the world have covered the case of<a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x67sNvWAR_w"> the killing of Abdul Fattah al-Shareef</a>, the Palestinian teenager who was shot in his head in cold blood by Israeli soldier Elor Azaria on 24th March 2016 in the Tel Rumeida district in Hebron. Hebron, the largest city in the West Bank, is unique among other West Bank cities in that illegal Israeli settlements are distributed not only at its periphery, but also in the heart of the city, including in Tel Rumeida. These are accompanied by military checkpoints spread out over the city centre preventing the free movement of its inhabitants, and dividing the city into isolated sections which have become a sort of exhibition of contemporary apartheid, or - from the point of view of the terrorised inhabitants who remain - a ghost town. </p><p class="western">The wide publicity which the video of this particular killing received is a good and important thing, in so far as it helped to reveal the criminal acts which are perpetrated by Israel’s military occupation of the West Bank - the founding purpose of our group, Human Rights Defenders. Yet, there are facts that have seldom been spoken about in the Israeli media, or indeed the international media, which continue to rely disproportionately on Israeli media sources for its information. </p> <p class="western">In particular, international media has had little to say about the story behind the filming of the attack. It wasn’t just good luck that placed a camera in the hands of a local Palestinian resident on that day in March. Rather, it was the result of a long, difficult campaign to organise a community. </p> <p class="western">Let’s start with the camera that Imad Abu Shamsiya used to film the killing. As it happens, that particular camera was one of four which were donated by a group of American activists based in northern California. We received them after the Israeli army broke into my house roughly a year ago, and began to trash its contents. I’d been filming an incursion by the army into my neighbourhood as they carried out warrantless searches of nearby houses. Perhaps ironically, that’s what attracted their attention. The film was distributed online, where it caught the attention of our generous Californian partners who went on to donate the cameras. In turn, we distributed the cameras to vulnerable families in the neighbourhood, forming the basis of an expanded campaign of citizen journalism which we decided to call ‘Capturing the Occupation’. </p><p class="mag-quote-left">It wasn’t just good luck that placed a camera in the hands of a local Palestinian </p> <p class="western">In what is becoming a familiar pattern, the attempts of the military forces occupying our communities to suppress our documentation of their violations of our rights in order to hold them accountable, produce further violations which end up increasing our resolve, and that of our growing network of international partners. </p> <p>Imad Abu Shamsiya and I founded Human Rights Defenders in 2014 with precisely this purpose: to document crimes and violations carried out by the occupation. At the time, I had just finished working on a campaign to free the imprisoned lawyer Shireen Issawi, and as a result I’d been invited to Geneva with Shireen’s parents to contribute to an Al-Jazeera film. The experience stuck with me. I was struck by just how strong a global response a local campaign like this one could produce. Imad, meanwhile - formerly a professional wedding photographer - was already building up a local reputation for his film work. One of our main goals in establishing the group was not just to do citizen journalism ourselves, but also to produce a body of Palestinians who were active in this media work as well, and in other forms of nonviolent resistance. We consider media work to be particularly important for exposing the crimes of the occupation to the world, applying pressure on institutions such as the International Criminal Court to take action, and helping to counter the false narrative that is often advanced by the global media. </p><p class="western">What happened in the military court last Wednesday was a media performance aimed at dispelling the image of Israel the world saw when they watched an Israeli soldier who - fully aware of his actions, with premeditation, and in front of witnesses - opened fire on a boy, Abdul Fattah al-Shareef, who was lying on the ground and did not pose any threat to anyone around. The strength of Imad’s video is precisely that it reveals all these details so clearly, even though in the end the Israeli judges came to decide on a charge of manslaughter - a charge that implies the absence of an intention to kill. Once again, Israel has failed the test of integrity and justice required of a democratic state. We see the trial more as political theatre with the aim of projecting democracy and justice, than as a real thing. It is a smokescreen designed to get Israel off the hook and weaken the case for taking incidents like these to the International Criminal Court.</p> <p class="western">The ruling falls short of justice. But thanks to the work of Imad, the truth of the matter can no longer be easily concealed. This is the right of the Palestinian people, and the right of all those who support us worldwide. We are proud, at Human Rights Defenders to have been the ones who documented the killing of Abdul Fattah al-Shareef.</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/opendemocracy/un-security-council-condemns-israeli-settlements">UN Security Council condemns Israeli settlements</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/north-africa-west-asia/hannah-prytherch/mohammad-abu-sakha-in-prison-for-making-children-happy">Mohammad Abu Sakha: in prison for making children happy</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/north-africa-west-asia/stephen-mccloskey/visit-to-west-bank">A visit to the West Bank</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-country"> <div class="field-label"> Country or region:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Palestine </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> North Africa, West Asia North-Africa West-Asia Palestine Israel occupation West Bank Badee Dwaik Gilbert Ramsay You tell us Thu, 12 Jan 2017 08:41:49 +0000 Gilbert Ramsay and Badee Dwaik 108036 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Those who don't like the referendum result should demand more democracy, not less https://www.opendemocracy.net/uk/gilbert-ramsay/those-who-dont-like-referendum-result-should-demand-more-democracy-not-less <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Britain's referendum shows the need to deepen democracy, and make it truly deliberative.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553846/Screen Shot 2016-07-15 at 18.12.32.png" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553846/Screen Shot 2016-07-15 at 18.12.32.png" alt="" title="" width="460" height="297" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Irish Citizens' Constitutional Assembly, image ibid</span></span></span></p><p>Like many people who passionately want the UK to remain in the European Union, I have struggled with feelings of denial about the referendum vote. I wish it hadn’t turned out the way it did. I wish I could magic it away. But it is important to recognise that what happened, happened. British people were told that they would get a chance to vote on a perfectly clear question: whether Britain should remain a member of the European Union or leave the European Union. They were told that the decision would be decided on the basis of a simple majority of the British electorate as a whole, including expatriates, but not including those under the age of eighteen or European Union citizens resident in the UK (who voted in the Scottish referendum). The result was that 52% voted to leave. </p> <p>Since then, wishful thinking about the result, my own included, has been sadly revealing, I think, about the fragility of the democratic commitments of the British intellectual elite, which has managed to exhibit almost every anti-democratic instinct exhibited by elites in fragile and emerging democracies. </p> <p>One immediate reaction has been to try to second guess the electorate, insisting that those who voted Leave didn’t really mean or understand what they voted for, that they were lied to, or that they voted emotionally – merely wishing to punish the government, not thinking through the actual consequences. But the British public aren’t children. They are adults. And even if such claims are true (it is in fact far from clear that the referendum would have a different outcome if it were rerun tomorrow), one of the major prerogatives of adulthood is the right – within the law – to sometimes make ill-informed and irreversible decisions with potentially terrible consequences for oneself and others. In democratic contests, politicians lie, and voters make bad decisions. </p> <p>Another set of criticisms has gone after the way the referendum was set up, or the decision to use a referendum to decide a complex policy issue at all. Perhaps the referendum should indeed have required a 60% threshold to overturn the status quo. Perhaps it should have required a majority in all of Britain’s constituent nations. But that horse has bolted. </p> <p>Others have developed lawyerly arguments that the referendum does not have legal force, calling on either MPs or judges to strike the result down. These arguments may indeed have technical merit. But any such moves would surely be received with the richly deserved contempt of the British public. The damage they would do to the popular trust in British political institutions (such as remains) would be a cure worse than the disease. Moreover, what could more effectively confirm the belief that the EU is an anti-democratic behemoth? </p> <p>A particularly bizarre twist is a sort of inversion of the tendency to look to a strongman leader to protect the elites from the ignorant masses. Before Boris Johnson’s withdrawal from the Tory leadership contest, some remainers who loathed Johnson nonetheless held out a faint hope that, as prime minister, the very qualities of dishonesty, hypocrisy, cowardice, and snobbery they so hated would mean that he would ride to the rescue of the European cause by failing to pick up the poisoned chalice David Cameron had left him, and his betrayal of the Leave movement would shred its political credibility so utterly as to provide the fig leaf of popular support that would be needed to justify this elite coup against 52% of the public, many of whom hated Boris Johnson anyway. </p> <p>All of these arguments are dispiritingly familiar to anyone with a passing familiarity with how democratic politics works in countries such as Thailand, Egypt, or Turkey: as the masses vote into power politicians believed to be disastrous, corrupt, authoritarian or simply downright incompetent, the liberal-minded middle class develop a surprising faith in the very national institutions they might otherwise rail against in political commentary, satirical novels or rap music. </p> <p>This can’t be what we want. The EU referendum did indeed represent democracy at its bluntest and, at least on the part of some of its instigators, at its most cynical. But the way forwards can’t be less democracy. It ought to be more and better democracy: democracy at its most sophisticated, empowering and forward looking. </p> <p>Shortly before passage of the EU referendum bill, two renowned American political scientists, Bruce Ackerman and James Fishkin, argued that the UK should institutionalise procedures of deliberative democracy into the referendum process. Deliberative democracy is a concept which aims to overcome the fact that, in conventional democratic votes, citizens are asked to decide on issues about which they know little, do not know to whom they can turn for accurate information, and in any case have limited incentives to expend time and energy on becoming better informed. In the case of the British referendum, Ackerman and Fishkin proposed that the referendum debates should be accompanied by the mass engagement of British citizens, first in small groups, building up to larger assemblies. The groups would be provided with factsheets with content vetted by both sides, and trained facilitators would help the group to develop questions and focus discussions. Another proposal informed by Ackerman and Fishkin’s work was made by Andy Rynham, who called for a one-off bank holiday ‘deliberation day’ for the referendum. </p> <p>Had we followed this advice, things might have gone very differently. Fishkin and Ackerman report that ‘deliberative polling’ conducted along these lines on the question of withdrawal from the EU resulted in increasing support of members of the British public to 60% (although support for joining the Euro remained unchanged). But the point is, it’s not too late to do something similar. Clearly, the referendum vote settled very little beyond the immediate question asked of voters. Leave, we now know, had no plan for what leaving the EU would actually look like. Leave voters were motivated by issues which point towards very different settlements: is it really the people’s will to end freedom of movement, whatever the cost? Was the actual motivation to restore ‘sovereignty’? If so, what does this really mean? Was the real idea just to punish an out of touch political establishment? If so, finding some radical new tools for reconnecting citizens with decision making might be part of the solution in its own right. If there is a real appetite for Scottish independence now, what does that really mean? Is it about a genuinely nationalist desire for self-determination, or is it driven more by the hope that breaking the UK is the drastic preliminary needed to radically reform it? </p> <p>All these complex questions seem to require a form of procedure more powerful and sophisticated than what we are accustomed to. A deliberative approach could mean, for example, setting up a series of jury-style bodies all over the UK, recruited at random but with appropriate representation of the makeup of the population and of its constituent minorities, empowering them to summon expert witnesses, and setting them to spend a year working through all the issues and reporting back. In keeping with the concept of deliberative democracy, it would combine cutting edge insights into political psychology with ideas about the true meaning of democratic governance drawn straight from classical Athens. </p> <p>Notwithstanding understandable European Union demands for an expedited process of disengagement, Britain should seize the opportunity to renew itself as a sovereign, democratic community. The deliberative process for working out what to do next should be broad, deep, subtle and yet designed to produce clarity and closure. It should operate to a well-defined, but not to a rushed timeline. ‘Patriotic’ Brexiters are bandying about slogans about Britain being capable of being ‘the best in the world’. Let’s not just sneer at that. Let’s try to think of a way to actually set a good example.&nbsp; </p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/uk/gilbert-ramsay/we-can-only-contemplate-leaving-eu-because-its-miracles-have-become-banal-brexit">We can only contemplate leaving the EU because its miracles have become banal</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/ourkingdom/sonali-campion/imagining-constitutional-convention-for-uk">Imagining a constitutional convention for the UK</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> uk uk Brexit Gilbert Ramsay Sat, 16 Jul 2016 23:00:01 +0000 Gilbert Ramsay 103969 at https://www.opendemocracy.net We can only contemplate leaving the EU because its miracles have become banal https://www.opendemocracy.net/uk/gilbert-ramsay/we-can-only-contemplate-leaving-eu-because-its-miracles-have-become-banal-brexit <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>The EU is an astonishing institution, unique in human history, imperfect because of the scale of its ambition. Let's not tear it down.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553846/Screen Shot 2016-06-14 at 17.57.24.png" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553846/Screen Shot 2016-06-14 at 17.57.24.png" alt="" title="" width="460" height="312" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>I love EU (c) 2016 ACT LIGHTING DESIGN – all rights reserved </span></span></span></p><p>Another day has brought another dismal poll for the Remain campaign. And yet, if Britain does vote to leave the EU on the 23rd, it will still most likely not be because a majority of British people wish to leave, but because those who wish to remain are too lukewarm about the issue to get out and vote.&nbsp; </p><p>This, if it happens, will be tragic. For all its faults – which, though very real, are inherent to the grandeur of its virtues – the European Union is arguably the greatest thing human beings have ever achieved in the political sphere. </p> <p>To put the matter in perspective, imagine for a moment how the world would look if the international system worked like the EU. </p> <p>First off, suppose that entry into global free trade arrangements was conditional on the more or less genuine implementation of democracy and human rights. Imagine, say, that a state couldn’t join the IMF, the WTO or the World Bank without demonstrating that it complied with the Universal Charter of Human Rights and accepting the jurisdiction of an International Court of Human Rights to which its citizens could appeal and which, unlike the International Criminal Court, actually worked. </p> <p>Now suppose, in this world of democracies, that the General Assembly of the United Nations had real authority which it used to regulate on matters of global importance beyond the competence of any one state, upholding environmental, labour and safety standards, holding transnational corporations to account and ensuring that free trade wasn’t a race to the bottom. </p> <p>More than that, imagine that there was also a directly elected world parliament – one which admittedly still played second fiddle to the General Assembly, but which was displaying growing confidence as the mass of national level political parties began to coalesce into genuinely global coalitions. </p> <p>Now imagine if this counterfactual international order achieved the holy grail of being able to <em>actually do </em>development and peacekeeping? Imagine if, by taking a small amount of revenue from each member state, it was able to divert very substantial resources to the world’s most impoverished regions and, unlike much development aid today, this money (combined with meaningful support in improving governance) had a real (nobody said perfect) track record of lifting countries out of poverty? </p> <p>At the risk of sounding like a bad John Lennon impersonator, imagine if war had become unthinkable within the boundaries of this global community, while countries that collapsed into civil war outside of it could expect to be painstakingly and unglamorously pieced back together again and patiently prepared to return to the fold? Imagine if there were not just armed peacekeepers, but international police missions and a plethora of other hard and soft interventions of the kind which transformed Bosnia in less than ten years from a place so riven with sectarian politics that lasting inter-communal peace seemed unthinkable, to a place where, by 2003 ‘a resumption of violence [was] no longer seen as a credible possibility’. </p> <p>Having sketched this rather dry work of speculative fiction, consider the sorts of attitude that world citizens would have towards this arrangement. Would they be grateful? Would they think they were living in some kind of utopia? I very much doubt it. Businesspeople from Delaware to Delhi would rant about red tape that prevented them from hiring or firing as they wished, or using whatever chemicals they liked. Petty nationalists from Moscow to Milton Keynes would pine for the days of sovereignty, forgetting that true state sovereignty is intimately bound up in ‘realist’ conceptions of international ‘anarchy’ in which war is endemic and the lives of states (or more usually their citizens) are often nasty, brutish and short. Anti-capitalists would complain that the global order was basically capitalist, and that the world parliament was in hock to the big corporations. Small government libertarians would moan about examples of money spent corruptly or inefficiently. What’s more, all of these complaints would surely contain at least a grain of truth. </p> <p>But would these really be grounds for dismantling the arrangement, in favour of multilateral trade deals made behind closed doors and a nationalist free-for-all? </p> <p class="mag-quote-center">“the European Union isn’t just the devil that we know. It is the foothills of something truly new, something not quite like anything that has existed on earth before.”</p> <p>Whenever people criticise the European Union for its many real, and its many imaginary faults, it is legitimate to ask ‘as opposed to what?’. This isn’t to reiterate the tired challenge of the political centrist to any demand for radical change. After all, the European Union isn’t just the devil that we know. It is the foothills of something truly new, something not quite like anything that has existed on earth before. More than that though, it is here now, at least in rough draft. And what makes it radical is, in large measure, precisely the same as what makes it achingly dull.&nbsp; </p> <p>The EU isn’t quite like anything else, and as such it suffers from being chronically overestimated or underestimated. And yet, in its curious tangle of attributes, it bears comparison with some rather obvious human institutions that have much longer pedigrees.&nbsp; </p><p>Former ‘lexit’ voices such as Aaron Bastani (who will now be <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/uk/aaron-bastani/why-ive-changed-my-mind-on-brexit">voting ‘remain’</a>) object that the European Union has used its economic clout to bully developing countries and, increasingly, to challenge elected governments within the EU itself. Both accusations are perfectly true. But they go both too far and not far enough, and in both ways are unfair to the EU project.&nbsp; </p> <p>At one level, these accusations rest on the idea that the EU acts with too much of the realpolitik of an old-fashioned expansionist state. But if we choose to see the EU as a quasi-state, then it’s only fitting to compare it with the track record of actual states. The EU’s use of financial muscle and soft power to coerce and control abroad and at home is often not nice or fair. But nearly every actual state worthy of waving a flag for brought itself into being through appalling acts of violent extermination at home and, in many instances, abroad. In particular, support for Brexit, we know, because previous polling data tells us, can be seen in the context of widespread nostalgia for the British Empire. This is important. When Brexiters long for the days when Britain controlled ‘its own destiny’, they are really recalling an era when Britain controlled the destiny of numerous other countries and peoples by means of patently unfair trade undergirded by brute force. </p> <p><span class="print-no mag-quote-right">the future of human institutions doesn’t have to be defined by the categories of the past</span></p><p>On the other hand, those who observe in the EU a ‘democratic deficit’ perhaps forget that, when push comes to shove, the EU isn’t actually a state, but rather a regional cooperation organisation with a lot of bells and whistles attached. &nbsp; </p><p>Various memes are flying about to the effect that the EU is actually more democratic than the UK (since the Council of the European Union is made of ministers from elected national governments, whereas the House of Lords is unelected). But perhaps these miss the point. Compared to its obvious peers, the EU wins hands down. Where is the NAFTA parliament, for example? Which specific political assembly exists to hold the WTO to account?</p> <p>In the end, the EU isn’t definitely one thing or the other, and the point is that it doesn’t have to be, because the future of human institutions doesn’t have to be defined by the categories of the past. What the EU obviously is, is an attempt to impose some kind of political accountability on transnational trade and to build political community without violence. And it is not just an attempt, but a real, concrete example – the only one there is. The European Union, vastly, magnificently imperfect beast that it is, has made political miracles so ordinary that we too easily forget that they even exist. </p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/blimey-it-could-be-brexit">Blimey, it could be Brexit! The whole book so far.</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> uk uk Brexit Gilbert Ramsay Tue, 14 Jun 2016 16:57:22 +0000 Gilbert Ramsay 102968 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Authoritarian Britain is made freer by the EU https://www.opendemocracy.net/uk/gilbert-ramsay-javier-argomaniz/authoritarian-britain-is-made-freer-by-eu <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>The idea that the EU undermines English liberty is nonsense: it has helped curtail the British state's repressive surveillance.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553846/Quartier_Européen_Nord,_Kirchberg_(2846812066).jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553846/Quartier_Européen_Nord,_Kirchberg_(2846812066).jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="345" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>European Court of Justice, By sprklg, Kirchberg, CC BY-SA 2.0</span></span></span></p><blockquote><p>‘You know, you go to protests in Germany and in France and they just don’t do that level of intelligence gathering. And when I’ve spoken to activists in Europe they talk about Britain as in, as if it’s this fortress. “You can’t possibly break the law,” you know, you — people say “oh, yeah, you know this person spray painted this bank.” And people are like “oh, did they get caught? Presumably in Britain, you know it’s such a surveillance state.”’ </p></blockquote> <p>Proponents of Brexit love to paint the European Union as an authoritarian institution which poses an existential threat to an ancient tradition of British (or English) liberty. Those who have come into meaningful contact with British domestic security practices, such as the anonymous British activist quoted above, beg to differ. </p> <p>While the European Union may not have a perfect record in standing up for the privacy rights of its citizens, there is no reason for thinking that Britain would do better on its own. On the contrary, if anything, European institutions have played a role in helping to counterbalance some of the UK’s more draconian tendencies. </p> <p>Perhaps the most problematic piece of European legislation for those concerned about state surveillance of their day to day lives is the Data Retention Directive, which requires member states to store records of citizens’ phone and online interactions (though not the ‘content’ of these interactions) for between six months and 2 years. The IP address and time of use of every email, phone call and mobile text message sent or received within the EU have been made available to police and security authorities’ requests. </p> <p>Ironically, this piece of legislation was the brainchild of the Blair‑era British government, which took advantage of the aftermath of the 7/7 bombings to push the measure through the European Council. And yet, two years ago, in a dramatic challenge by Digital Rights Ireland, the European Court of Justice overturned the directive on the grounds that it was incompatible with fundamental rights. The Commission did pressurise Member States to implement the legislation and could still introduce a new version that takes account of this judgement, but has not yet produced one. </p> <p>On the other hand, the European Commission has also passed the Privacy Directive, which is a useful instrument protecting the rights of European Citizens relative to the data amassing powers of large Internet corporations. The Austrian law student Max Schrems became a poster-­‐‑boy for the powers of the directive when he successfully forced Facebook to provide him (in a mountain of pdf documents) all the data they held on him. No doubt Facebook saw this as an example of just the kind of ‘red tape’ Brexiters rail against. </p> <p>While far from perfect, the European parliament has also played an active role in defending the digital rights of European citizens. The parliament called European authorities and member states to do more to safeguard citizens' surveillance concerns in response to the Snowden leaks. In a 2015 resolution it urged the commission to ensure that all data transfers to the US are subject to an adequate </p> <p>level of protection, criticised recent surveillance laws in several EU countries (including the UK) and even asked EU member states to grant protection to Edward Snowden. Although one can debate the extent of the EPs real impact on these questions, at least it has served as a forum where European electronic rights activists concerns have been heard and welcomed. </p> <p>By contrast, the UK has shown that it is perfectly capable of developing highly expansive ways of spying on its own citizens without any need for interference from Brussels. Much has been made of the supposedly ‘unlawful’ data-­sharing relationship between the UK’s spy agency GCHQ and America’s NSA, based on a ruling last year by the Investigatory Powers’ Tribunal. In reality, what is perhaps more shocking is that the Tribunal actually found that GCHQ’s relationship with the NSA was, apart from one small and ‘entirely hypothetical’ possibility ‘lawful and human rights compliant’. This was the same arrangement that saw GCHQ (with NSA’s massive technical assistance), tapping transatlantic fibre optic cables that allowed it to spy on virtually the entire Internet. The Tribunal’s report is a testament not to the restrained nature of trans-­Atlantic intelligence sharing, but to the toothlessness of British laws regulating surveillance. </p> <p>If Britain leaves the EU and (a near certainty in the event that it does) the European Court of Justice and (potentially) European Court of Human Rights as well, it is almost certain that British police and intelligence will still want to cooperate with their European counterparts in much the same way as before. All that will have been removed are human rights and democratic safeguards presently available to hold this to account. We know the people who are likely to be in charge after an EU exit vote have spoken of trying to reorient the UK’s trade and freedom of movement relationships towards other English speaking countries. In surveillance-­land, this is already largely the case. Britain freely shares intelligence and helps to spy on the world through the ‘Five Eyes’ club of English speaking countries. In the modern world, of course, intelligence sharing is often vital. But where there is transnational power, there ought also to be transnational responsibility. For all its faults, the EU can, on occasion, offer the clout in a globalised world to hold others to account on behalf of its citizens. A global web of opaque arrangements between secretive agencies in which the strongest individual powers exercise a policy of divide and rule is the likely alternative. </p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/uk/gilbert-ramsay/report-impacts-of-surveillance-on-contemporary-british-activism">Report: Impacts of surveillance on contemporary British activism</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/uk/gilbert-ramsay/has-generation-of-activists-given-in-to-surveillance">Has a generation of activists given in to surveillance?</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/uk/ellie-mae-ohagan/climate-activists-and-blacklisted-workers-face-same-struggle-against-surveillanc">Climate activists and blacklisted workers face the same struggle against surveillance</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> uk uk Activist Surveillance Brexit Javier Argomaniz Gilbert Ramsay Tue, 31 May 2016 23:00:01 +0000 Gilbert Ramsay and Javier Argomaniz 102594 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Has a generation of activists given in to surveillance? https://www.opendemocracy.net/uk/gilbert-ramsay/has-generation-of-activists-given-in-to-surveillance <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Reflections after months poring over interviews with activists about surveillance.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553846/G20_crowd.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553846/G20_crowd.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="309" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>G20 crowd, Kashfi Halford</span></span></span></p><p>For three years now, I have taught a class under the broad title of ‘International Relations and the Internet’. Often, I get the feeling that I am learning as much from the students I teach as they are getting from me.</p> <p>At thirty-five years old, I’m flattered to learn that I qualify (just) as a digital native. But it becomes more and more obvious that the students I teach and I belong to different generations.</p> <p>There is a tradition that has emerged in the course whereby, in our last session, I take the class out onto the lawn in front of the university library, we sit cross-legged, and we talk: a bit about the class, a bit about the exam, but quite a lot just about how my students use the Internet themselves, how they have grown up with it, and how they see the future panning out.</p> <p>Every year, the thing that always surprises me most – though it shouldn’t any more – is the students’ attitude to privacy. During the course, I outline to them some of the more alarming ways in which governments – especially the British and American governments have been found to gather data on their own citizens. Sometimes I do it, if I’m honest, as much to jolt them into conversation as to inform. But for this purpose it rarely works.</p><p><span>When I tell them about, say, GCHQ’s ‘Optic Nerve’ programme, which involved turning millions of hijacked webcams into spy cameras which collected mountains of sometimes highly intimate data, they take it with equanimity. They aren’t shocked or angry. It doesn’t seem to particularly disturb them to think of some faceless, distant agency having access to this kind of information.</span></p> <p>Some of this, it seems to me, is a kind of apathetic trust in authority. Some of it is fatalism. The semi-sacred notion of privacy which libertarian campaigners rarely seem to unpick just isn’t something they are familiar with. This year, one student told me that she thinks of herself as manager of her own personal brand; that there are even now parties and social events that she avoids attending for fear of the digital trail they would leave. This is the world my students seem to be comfortable living in. But what other world could there be?</p> <p>As for me, I’m caught between. I remember the watching the television as the Berlin Wall came down. As a nerdy, but not particularly techy kid in my early teens, I read about the Internet with detached interest in New Scientist Magazine years before I ever actually experienced the thing. Perhaps like the proverbial boiling frog, I’ve grown into adulthood with the world being a particular way.</p> <p>But I hazily remember it being apparently otherwise. In reality, of course, we have always lived in a surveillance state to some degree. In recent years, here in the UK, we have been confronted with this uncomfortable reality in the deluge of discoveries made by investigative journalists, activists and campaigning victims about the often unconscionable methods of infiltration used by police against dissidents and protestors stretching back over decades.</p> <p>But the history of radical protest is still in the end history written by the victors. The numerous exposes that have been written about, for example, the COINTELPRO programme of spying and dirty tricks against the American Civil Rights Movement, or the Anti-War Movement are written in the knowledge that ultimately these repressive actions failed. With the safety of hindsight, they take on a certain slapstick quality for this reason. When one reads, for instance, the letter the FBI wrote in an attempt to blackmail Martin Luther King, it is difficult not to smile at the crudeness with which it is drafted.</p> <p>When my students put me on the spot about my concerns over the surveillance powers of agencies like the NSA or GCHQ, or large companies like Google or Facebook, when they ask me to really explain what kind of a world I am fearful of moving into, and what kind of alternative I can hold up to it, the truth is I often feel at a loss. Things I think are self-explanatorily bad aren’t necessarily so to them.</p> <p>For the last few months, I have been poring over the transcripts of interviews collected as part of an exploratory research project on activism and surveillance, funded by the Carnegie Foundation and the Russell Trust, and carried out jointly by openDemocracy and the University of St Andrews. The report on the study is available in full. You can read it <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/uk/gilbert-ramsay/report-impacts-of-surveillance-on-contemporary-british-activism">here</a>.</p> <p>Understanding what these activists have to say is, for me at least, an important part of an answer to this question. In some ways, the people who contributed to our study sound a little like my students. They often sound fatalistic about the possibility of achieving privacy, and relaxed about doing without it. In other ways, they have a totally different world view: they are part of a tradition which has learned the hard way not to believe in a promised land of civil liberties and constitutional checks and balances. They have learned over time what the state will do when it feels challenged. And yet, faced with the inherently transparent properties of platforms which now seem indispensible to mobilisation, it is not entirely clear that they have figured out what to do next.</p> <p>It is naïve to expect to live in a perfectly liberal and democratic society in which civil rights function like Newtonian laws. The possibility of dissent and protest remains open not just because those in power say they are committed to it, but also because people actually do keep on finding ways to protest and hold power to account. Those who hold power – formally or otherwise – have always found new ways, soft or hard, legal or extra-legal, to stymie meaningful challenges.</p> <p>That’s how power works. But those challenging them have, up to now, always found ways to adapt and survive. What concerns me in these conversations with my students is not the passing of a utopia of privacy and individual liberty which never existed. It is the possible coming of a world in which the cycle of innovative repression and innovative contention appears to be flying off its hub. The conversations with activists which form the backbone of this report do not, I think, make for easy reading on this score.</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/uk/gilbert-ramsay/report-impacts-of-surveillance-on-contemporary-british-activism">Report: Impacts of surveillance on contemporary British activism</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> uk Can Europe make it? uk Activist Surveillance Gilbert Ramsay Tue, 24 May 2016 23:00:01 +0000 Gilbert Ramsay 102391 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Report: Impacts of surveillance on contemporary British activism https://www.opendemocracy.net/uk/gilbert-ramsay/report-impacts-of-surveillance-on-contemporary-british-activism <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>St Andrews University and openDemocracy interviewed 25 activists, and surveyed more than a hundred, about the impacts of surveillance on activism in the UK. Here are our findings.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><strong><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553846/GCHQ-aerial_1.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553846/GCHQ-aerial_1.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="324" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>By Ministry of Defence - http://www.defenceimagery.mod.uk/, OGL</span></span></span> </strong><strong>&nbsp;</strong></p><h2><strong>Introduction </strong></h2> <p>This report details the findings of an exploratory research project funded by a Carnegie Trust research incentive grant and by the Russell Trust. The aim of the project was to examine how concerns about surveillance have impacted on activists in progressive-left causes in the UK. The project was originally inspired by a question which Jim Killock, Executive Director of Open Rights Group asked Adam Ramsay of openDemocracy – one of the co-authors of this report, about whether activists in the UK had changed their practices since the Snowden Revelations in 2013.</p> <p>The research plan we developed envisaged an exploratory, mixed methods study based on a qualitative, inductive approach. Our study drew on three main sources of data, in addition to the available secondary literature. Between September and November 2015, using snowball sampling, we conducted 25 semi-structured interviews with political activists, all of whom had significant experience in forms of civil disobedience or direct action. In keeping with the increasing tendency for activists to move fluidly between congruent causes,<a href="#_ftn1">[1]</a> the interviewees had been involved in a broad cross section of different ‘progressive’ campaigns and movements, including climate change, anti-austerity and tax justice, radical Scottish independence, anti-nuclear, anti-arms trade, free Tibet and Palestine solidarity. </p> <p>In order to obtain a broader set of views, we also created a survey, which we disseminated via the interviewees and via social media. The hundred responses we received provided useful additional background information, which supported, developed and in some cases seemed to challenge what we heard from the interviewees. </p> <p>Finally, in December 2015, in partnership with Open Rights Group, we held a workshop in London. Following a largely open seminar format, this brought together leading academics, digital rights NGOs and activists to brainstorm and share insights into the intersecting issues of surveillance, activism and digital rights. </p> <h2><strong>Findings</strong></h2><h2> </h2><p>When we began planning the research for this report, we fully expected to find a British direct action culture which had internalised the lessons of the Snowden leaks and the surveillance debate they triggered. One of the co-authors had personal memories of using the secure encrypted organising platform Crabgrass in the context of anti-austerity campaigning in 2011.<a href="#_ftn2">[2]</a> It seemed likely that in the years since then, left wing activists would have found newer and more sophisticated tools, perhaps forging links with technologically sophisticated ‘hacktivists’ and digital rights campaigners in the process. </p><p>What we found in the testimony of our informants was in fact very nearly the opposite of this. In sum: </p><ul><li>- The <strong>Snowden revelations</strong> have had only a modest impact on activists’ attitudes to security. </li><li>- While there has been <strong>some</strong> <strong>diffusion of communications tools</strong> designed to protect online privacy, <strong>activists’ approach to information security is often rather low tech</strong>. Activists’ interest in surveillance and information security tends to be quite <strong>narrowly focused</strong> on surveillance practices they have directly witnessed and encountered. </li><li>- In particular, <strong>the ‘undercover cops’ scandal had a significant impact </strong>on the climate change movement and associated areas of activism. </li><li>- Faced with increased surveillance challenges, activists have not always adapted successfully.<strong> Lack of trusted communications tools </strong>has at times made direct action impossible to organise. </li><li><h2> <strong>Reactions to the Snowden leaks</strong></h2></li></ul> <p>Since they began to be released in 2013, the documents published by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden have revolutionised our understanding of what British as well as American ’signals intelligence’ agencies can do, and what they are prepared to do. Documents relating to programmes led by GCHQ such as ‘Tempora’, ‘Karma Police’ and ‘Optic Nerve’ read like the stuff of dystopian science fiction.<a href="#_ftn3">[3]</a> </p> <p>The leaks have triggered significant debate worldwide, and in the UK they have helped to precipitate a wide-ranging review of surveillance legislation.<a href="#_ftn4">[4]</a> At least in principle, this debate has informed the drafting of the government’s Investigatory Powers Bill.<a href="#_ftn5">[5]</a> But the Bill has itself been highly controversial, particularly on account of provisions such as those mandating the retention of Internet users’ browsing records.<a href="#_ftn6">[6]</a> These and other points of concern in the bill have led its critics to fear that it ultimately heralds the transformation of the UK into a surveillance state.<a href="#_ftn7">[7]</a> </p> <p>There is still a widespread perception that the British public - perhaps more than the US public – remain rather trusting and apathetic on issues of surveillance, despite these developments.<a href="#_ftn8">[8]</a> However, it is far from clear that this is the case. For example, opinion polling data pulled together in a report published last year by Cardiff’s Digital Citizenship and Society Project shows that the British public has in fact been consistently concerned about surveillance, even if this is not always fully reflected in the urgency of public debate.<a href="#_ftn9">[9]</a> </p> <p>The activists we spoke to did indeed believe that there was a troubling disconnect between their own attitudes to surveillance, and the attitudes and norms of the wider public.&nbsp; Broadly speaking, they took the view that state surveillance is extensive and problematically so. In the matter-of-fact words of one, ‘the UK is a surveillance state’. But nearly all agreed - as much because of as in spite of this - that the Snowden revelations had in themselves had only a modest impact on their own perceptions. Meanwhile, changes to British surveillance legislation had seemingly had very little impact at all. </p> <p>In our survey, slightly more respondents said they were shocked by the Snowden leaks (46%) than said they weren’t (42%). 50% reported that they had, as a result of the revelations, become more cautious about the information they shared electronically with others, and 57% were more worried about government agencies’ surveillance. Most, though, did not believe that the impact on activism had been significant, with a quarter reporting a ‘considerable’ or ’significant’ effect on their activism resulting from concerns about surveillance, while 60% maintained that there had been no such effect. </p> <p>At least in term of the emotional reaction they had created, most of the interviewees were of the opinion that the Snowden leaks had not been particularly shocking to activist communities. But they offered a variety of distinguishable reasons for this. </p> <p>For some, the Snowden leaks were seen as primarily a matter for a general public that had previously seen itself as safe from spying, as opposed to activists who had in any case long accustomed themselves to the idea. </p> <blockquote><p>…my feeling is that people said “well yeah, we know”&nbsp; so perhaps I exaggerate but I’m not really aware of any group I’ve been &nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; involved in being particularly affected by the Edward Snowden revelations</p></blockquote> <p>The revelations could even be seen as comforting, in so far as they promised to make the ‘paranoid’ views already held by activists more mainstream.&nbsp; </p><blockquote><p>When all the Ed Snowden stuff came out it was nice in a way that some non-activisty people who always said we were ridiculously paranoid were like “ah, yeah, sorry”… Obviously the Snowden stuff was a surprise to everyone, but I think it was less of a surprise to lots of us than it was to the wider public. </p></blockquote> <p>For others of those we spoke to, though, reactions to the Snowden leaks did not apparently set them far apart from the likely reaction of many members of the wider public. For them, the forms of surveillance revealed by the leaks simply felt remote and difficult to engage with. One contrasted ‘the relative abstraction of big data’, the more immediately ‘personal’ impact of other forms of surveillance such as spying by undercover police officers. Others saw it not so much in terms of operational security, as a political cause somewhat remote from the concerns of their own protest subculture. </p><blockquote><p>&nbsp;I don’t really hear direct action people talking about this. It’s something I hear, from, like, people who are into wiki campaigning stuff like Wikileaks and ‘No2ID’, and collect information type campaigns. Like I want to say campaigns that relate to information, not campaigns that inform.</p></blockquote> <p>At the workshop, a key issue raised was the apparent gap between activists in the specific areas of privacy and digital rights campaigning <em>against </em>surveillance, and activists in movements using direct action who were <em>experiencing </em>surveillance. This gap was clearly in evidence in the testimony we collected: </p> <blockquote><p>It’s just occurred to me that none of us have ever actually taken action against the people who are surveilling us, or done anything about the surveillance issue. We’ve just taken it on board that we have to be more secretive. There’s a&nbsp; huge &nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; degree of separation between people who are left wing activists and the rest of the world… so there is already that separation and we are accepting more separation; accepting the fact that we need to be more secretive and look for channels of communication that will help keep us and our movement going, instead of saying “well, actually this is a human right that we need to fight for.”</p></blockquote> <p>&nbsp;A further area of difference was between those who viewed news of mass electronic surveillance programmes fatalistically, and those who believed that they did not have to be overly concerned on the grounds that existing security precautions were already more than adequate to counter the sorts of information gathering the leaks revealed. </p><p>For one… </p> <blockquote><p>Edward Snowden was kind of liberatory because it just finally confirmed everything that we thought we knew. And for lot of people, certainly for me it’s like “Great, I can just get on with it now, because we know everything is being recorded. And why should we just give a shit any longer?” We’ve just got to be above ground. </p></blockquote> <p>But another insisted that:</p> <blockquote><p>&nbsp;…it [i.e. the Snowden leaks] was vindication of the sort of awareness about online activity&nbsp; that&nbsp; we’d had… groups I was in… would&nbsp; organise by email list and by secure forum and even then we would keep lots of things off those two things if you wanted to keep them really secret. That I felt was a healthy level of security culture. And that they can read your emails and they can you know, they can look at everything you put on Facebook and things. There’s not bugs in every watch. They can’t bug your conversation through a satellite. So it was sort of like, the level of security that most people I know use was seemed to be adequate to beat the level of intelligence gathering the state seems to use. It was just total vindication of the methods that we were using to try and keep things secret. </p></blockquote><p>&nbsp;While these are – at least on the surface – very different assessments, they have one thing in common: in neither case do the activists in question view the Snowden leaks as particularly influential on their attitude to surveillance and security. So what did shape our activists’ perspectives? </p> <h2><strong>Emergence of security consciousness </strong></h2> <p>The reactions to mass surveillance as reported in the Snowden leaks seem to be indicative of a wider tendency. The activists who contributed to this study did not think that online and digital information security was unimportant in a general sense. But with rare, notable exceptions they admitted to having only rather limited knowledge of the subject. In the survey, 61% claimed they had ‘weak’ or ‘very weak’ understanding of UK surveillance laws, while 63% said that they had ‘weak’ or ‘very weak’ knowledge of counter-surveillance techniques. Most agreed that their groups<a href="#_ftn10">[10]</a> spent too little time on counter-surveillance. </p> <p>We have already seen how the interviewees expressed a variety of views as to the adequacy of the measures their groups had taken to protect their online and telecommunications security. Sometimes their responses also seemed to unintentionally reveal an apparently limited conception of the possibilities of online surveillance. For example, some suggested that an appropriate - and perhaps even sufficient - response to the Snowden revelations would be to cease to participate in social networks like Facebook under one’s real name, or to avoid using mobile phones for sensitive communications. While these remarks were made off the cuff, many interviewees appeared to have a rather sketchy and approximate understanding of the basic mechanics of internet surveillance and online anonymity. </p> <p>Similarly, despite a solitary reference to ‘big data’ (quoted above), nearly everything the activists had to say about monitoring of electronic information - whether known or speculated about - seemed to assume human analysts actively examining ‘content’: emails, text messages, forum posts, phone conversations. One reference was made to a practice involving mobile phones which could be interpreted as indicating sensitivity to monitoring of mobile phone location data.&nbsp; (In this example, instead of taking batteries out of phones, the phones were given to one activist to walk around with). Otherwise, issues that are of major concern in the wider surveillance debate – such as algorithmic sorting of data collected in bulk, or use of metadata to draw detailed inferences about individuals’ behaviour and associations - simply didn’t come up.<a href="#_ftn11">[11]</a> </p> <p>Interestingly, the one programme mentioned in the Snowden leaks which seemed to have attracted serious interest was JTRIG, the Joint Threat Research and Intelligence Group, a British unit within GCHQ specialising in “online covert action” including hacking, propaganda, misinformation and ‘dirty tricks’ against targets known to include the Taliban, Iran and ‘hacktivists’.<a href="#_ftn12">[12]</a> Unlike other, perhaps ultimately more insidious forms of surveillance, news of this programme appeared to resonate with activists’ direct experiences, such as the sudden appearance of disruptive trolls in online discussions. </p> <p>This fits with the overall pattern we observed whereby activists’ interest in surveillance is largely conditioned by the specific experiences of groups and individuals, and by the immediate need to perform successful acts of protest. Encounters with physical surveillance by police forward intelligence teams had clearly made a deep impression.<a href="#_ftn13">[13]</a> So too had incidents in which police had seized hardware from activists, or confronted them directly with evidence taken from intercepted communications. Forms of surveillance which can generally only be known about only at second remove, and the effects of which are unlikely to be readily attributable at the level of particular actions, simply didn’t register as strongly. </p> <p>In the survey responses, physical surveillance was (perhaps almost by definition) by far the form of surveillance with which activists were most personally familiar, with 63% having experienced it directly, while 75% said that their group had. Over half had suspected at some point that a group member might be an undercover agent (although under 20% believed they or their group had actually encountered one). Nearly half took electronic equipment into consideration when holding a group meeting.</p> <p>In the interviews, it soon became clear that it is usually impossible to separate the evolution of activists’ security-consciousness from their personal narratives of engagement. Again and again, interviewees described a gradual process of becoming aware of security issues which was shaped by specific events and encounters. Adoption of particular counter-surveillance strategies seemed to be ‘path dependent’ to use the social science jargon, to the extent that it depended very much on specific starting points and particular experiences thereafter.&nbsp; </p> <p>Some interviewees had had early exposure to the idea of state and police surveillance. </p> <blockquote><p>I was actually brought up in an activist family… so our phone was tapped from when I was a kid, and that was just pretty normal… you could hear them click in and click out and we knew that there was a certain amount of time, I think it was thirty seconds, that they could listen in for. And so me and my little sister used to take the piss, so we would say key words that we knew that they would click back in for, we would be like “Get the bombs! All the bombs!”… I think it was quite playful in the early 1990s and 2000s. It was quite a playful thing. Talking to older peace activists, they’d get walkie talkies and they’d change frequency every few hours, because they knew the police could tap into the frequency. </p></blockquote> <p>Others had early exposure through working with groups which, for different reasons, were more than usually security conscious. One had lived for a period in Iran, and had experience of being followed by secret agents. Another had started out in the Free Tibet movement. Both experiences had in these cases had the effect of making heightened concerns over surveillance seem natural. </p> <p>In the Free Tibet context, for example, a culture of security apparently emerged which was sustained by numerous stories and anecdotes about disturbing breaches of security. One recounted, for example, an inexperienced member who, not knowing any better, had kept his mobile phone on at a meeting in the Free Tibet central office in London. On returning home, he was said to have found the entire meeting recorded onto his own answerphone - something assumed by the Free Tibet activists to be an intentional gesture of intimidation by Chinese intelligence. </p> <p>Another mediating factor appears to be the role of large organisations. As a result of various data breaches, such as when it was hacked by a private intelligence company contracted by energy supplier EDF,<a href="#_ftn14">[14]</a> Greenpeace has rolled out much more rigorous information security procedures across the organisation, normalising the use of encrypted email and ToR, a programme which enables anonymous browsing and other online interactions by bouncing requests through encrypted relays, thereby concealing the user’s IP address. </p> <p>Those who had not been primed by significant formative experiences sometimes recalled finding it difficult to take surveillance concerns seriously to begin with. Talk about government spying, when they first encountered it, felt “fake”, “paranoid” or “a load of nonsense”, or at least as something unlikely to be relevant to the sort of activities they were getting involved in. </p> <p>Again, just as some contexts and movements served to sensitise people to the possibility of government spying, other movements were said to influence in the opposite direction. According to an interviewee who had been active in a Christian movement, Christian activists were known for being more open and trusting than those with other ideological backgrounds. </p> <p>Another factor identified was what was seen as a ‘generational’ shift in favour of openness. Interviewees who had been engaged in direct action in the context of the Scottish Radical Independence movement, for example, suggested that this mobilisation brought on stream an intake of young people who by default were much more inclined towards openness that was the norm for their older counterparts. </p> <blockquote><p>…a really good illustration of that [generational shift] was…with this big YES banner drop thing, where they dropped this big banner that just said YES off the crags on some buildings in Edinburgh. A few people I knew who were involved were sort of old hand anarchists and had been very careful about how they had organised their involvement in it, in terms of what they had said on text messages and things like that. And they’d also got phone numbers of solicitors on their arms. And then they got to the place where we were supposed to be meeting to plan it, and it was just in a Home Base car park, with people driving back and forth, getting all the stuff out of this van, talking openly in this car park and inviting strangers to just of kind of get involved when they were walking past doing their shopping. They were totally baffled by people’s complete lack of concern about surveillance or being stopped basically. And that was quite interesting, to see that difference between old hands and new people.</p></blockquote><p>Typically, the process of “gradual growing awareness” of the real likelihood that state agents were spying on them began with enculturation into existing security practices such as the removal of batteries from mobile phones at meetings, or speculation about the possibility of police informants in the group. These initial experiences produced a variety of reported reactions. Interviewees spoke of the elation of feeling like ‘I was in my own Bond film’, or describing it as ‘a badge of honour that the police knew who I was’; or, conversely, of feeling exasperated that fellow activists had ‘confused low level civil disobedience with being in a James Bond film’. Both reactions speak of the inherent difficulty activists face in making informed calculations about risk under such inherently uncertain conditions. </p><p>As activists became more deeply engaged, uncomfortable or ‘spooky’ experiences would gradually build into a more personalised narrative of encounters with surveillance as a reality.</p> <blockquote><p>I very distinctly remember a climate camp in 2000…2006 at Heathrow, and you were just aware that there was plain clothes cops on the site and come to meetings and things and you just found yourself wondering who it was.</p></blockquote> <p>The earliest unmistakable manifestation is, unsurprisingly, likely to be ‘physical surveillance’ by the police. In the survey, 75% reported that they or a member of their group had experienced physical surveillance of some kind. Among the interviewees, accounts of physical surveillance also predominated, and played an important role in making the issue of surveillance real in their minds. The following account describes an early experience. </p> <blockquote><p>…when I was at university in the lead up to the G8 protests, the level of intelligence gathering from the police in sort of using forward intelligence teams. They would turn up at every protest we had but they would also turn up at things, they would sort of, you know, turn up when you were having a stall at university, or they were around more than when they were necessary. So it wasn’t well, like they were there to watch out in case you broke the law, it was — they were there quite clearly there to intimidate and let you know that they were always watching. </p></blockquote> <p>An important point to bring up at this stage is the varying possible interpretations of the meaning of police behaviour. A theme encountered in several interviews was the idea that police surveillance of this sort is primarily disruptive and deterrent in its aims, despite its ostensibly intelligence gathering function. But the reverse may also be considered to be true. For example, the mass arrest that pre-empted the occupation of Ratcliffe-on-Soar power station, given that the very number of arrestees and the moment of the arrests appeared to limit the likelihood of a successful prosecution, was interpreted in one account as evidence of arrest being used primarily for purposes of information gathering. Indeed, such anxiety-inspiring ambiguities are clearly central to the experience of developing security-consciousness. </p> <blockquote><p>…it’s when it gets a bit spooky that you suddenly — that you start to be more worried about how, how much information the police have on you. And when you don’t have control over it or when, when you’d have control over when you were at a protest and you know, you were in that confrontation and then you go home and you’re not doing that, but they - the police are still after you still sort of care.</p></blockquote> <p>This quotation also illustrates another key problem in maintaining security within decentralised movements: people do not usually become involved in political protest with the express intention, from the outset, of breaking the law. They therefore do not have the same incentive at the outset to limit the information police can gather on them that they will later acquire. </p><p>Even when these ‘spooky’ or surprising things do begin to happen to individuals, there may still be considerable room to question the significance of what has happened. </p> <blockquote><p>…Any time we get close to an action, especially a big thing, our phones get weird. I don’t know. You think for a while it’s just paranoia. But, like, a phone that’s new, that’s perfectly fine all the time, three days before an action, three days before a camp, three days before something happens, your phone starts crackling and making weird noises and sending texts to people that you sent three years ago to other people. It’s either something that makes people super-paranoid or just like ‘Oh yes! Well, they’re watching that one. Ah, thank goodness, I am vaguely important.’ </p></blockquote> <p>Interviewees described police turning up in surprising numbers at events which were either supposed to be secret, or which did not involve any controversial actions. One activist, for example, had organised an alternative history tour of the City of London. The places where the group would be stopping had not been announced in advance, but there turned out to be a police presence at every one. Another had taken a local community group for a walk and picnic at the site of a proposed coal mine. Despite the site being nothing more than a field at the time…</p> <blockquote><p>…between 8 and 10 in total police were gathering there, and they had long lens cameras. You know, they’ve got my phone. They know who I am. I’m talking to the leader of the community council and they know who he is. And there are these cops — there was a van of riot cops that turned up, but the community council said it — someone at the council said it was bit over the top and so the police eventually sent them away. But literally all we were doing is we were having tea and cake. We’re talk — you know, activists who campaign against coal and communities that’s affected by coal and we’re going to have a conversation and then we walked and looked at some farmland. But that was like an open thing. We’d publicised that, we had put posters up. They knew about that.</p></blockquote> <p>Were police merely acting on publicly available information, or were they – as seems likely in this instance - also drawing on intelligence about the activist organising the community event? </p> <h2><strong>Undercover cops </strong></h2> <p>In contrast to the relative indifference to the Snowden revelations, we were struck by the significance attributed to the undercover cops scandal. This began in 2010 with the discovery that a well-known figure in the environmental direct action movement, Mark Stone, was in fact an undercover police infiltrator named Mark Kennedy.<a href="#_ftn15">[15]</a> Kennedy had spent years becoming a trusted member of the inner circle of British environmental direct action, in the course of which he had at least two (very likely many more) sexual relationships with activists, as well as cultivating numerous close friendships. </p> <p>The personal impact on those immediately affected, as reported to us, was understandably and unsurprisingly severe. Although none of the interviewees had personally known Mark Kennedy, they were well aware of the emotional devastation that had resulted from his being uncovered. A former girlfriend of Stone’s felt, in the words of one of our interviewees, “Like she had been raped by the state”. </p> <p>Or again… </p> <blockquote><p>[The impact was h]uge. I think they took people out. I think there’s a whole group of people who just aren’t involved with anything anymore. Such was trust damaged through that whole process. I don’t know how many it is. Could be ten, could be forty, somewhere around there…some of them it’s severe mental health problems. Some of the women who he had relationships with and some of them it’s just an absolute exhaustion with having gone through that whole process. They’re just not up for putting them —even the potential of putting themselves through something like that. And we’ve had some nasty experiences with people breaking down when they felt security’s being compromised. And I’m sure that partly comes out of Mark Kennedy, Mark Stone thing. Huge amounts of anger towards government security — just lack of trust, kind of increase that lack of trust.</p></blockquote> <p>Our interest in this study was less in the direct impacts on individual mental health mentioned here, but rather on possible wider effects, such as the ‘lack of trust’ identified here. For the climate change movement, the outing of Mark Kennedy coincided with a slump in direct action, albeit one which probably had multiple causes, not least the anticlimactic debacle of the Copenhagen climate change conference, on which much of the wider movement had pinned its hopes. For this reason, attributing unambiguous causal significance to undercover cops scandal is difficult, and our interviewees’ comments on the question reflected this. </p> <blockquote><p>I guess on a personal level, I <em>do</em> know people who withdrew at that point and who talked about infiltration and Kennedy as one of the things that had really upset them. But I don’t know of anyone who said ‘<em>this </em>is the reason why I’m now disengaging with this, this is the reason why I now feel I don’t want to go to protests’ but it was definitely a, a factor in the mix.</p></blockquote> <p>Nonetheless, while it is hard to say for certain that Mark Kennedy was the cause of an absolute decline in environmental direct action, whether in terms of actions carried out, or levels of participation, there seems little doubt that clear impacts were felt within the movement. </p> <blockquote><p>…there was quite a witch hunt for about a year and a half after that point. And you know we found four others and we knew there was twenty, at least twenty from the reports. You know, obviously what happened to former partners as well was devastating and you know, some of them have now gripes with the police that can’t — they can’t emotionally get over it and that’s led to different kinds of political action and you know, quite a fragmentation. But, you know, you see shortly after the Mark Stone thing the break down of Climate Camp. There’s certainly a level at which — I’m not saying that was — I would say it was a minor contributing factor whereby certain bonds of trust certainly were broken down. Especially from people from Oxford and Cambridge because we know where that’s where they find recruits</p></blockquote> <p>Collapsing trust had two main consequences. Internally, its ‘toxic and insidious’ effects served to poison longstanding friendships in ways which reportedly came close to ripping the movement apart. </p><p>For those who remained, it also served to isolate activists from the wider public. Inner circles tightened, as activists began to enquire into the backgrounds of those they took action with, checking out the parents or siblings of their peers. Vigilant about potential infiltrators, some began to fall back on crude stereotypes which, in turn, may have made them seem unwelcoming and paranoid to potential recruits </p> <blockquote><p>…it leads to a lot of stereotyping as well…I remember coming out with anti-fracking stuff here in the last few years where you see some burly working-class looking men, two or more of them together. And everybody starts to…whisper to each other “there’s fucking cops here.” And it’s like, they could be trade unionists… the same cliches that make people think of cops apply to most working-class men. And so like these kinds of dynamics — and I’ve seen them, and again it’s hard to know because it’s rare that you actually — people get outted in a very visible way where there’s beyond shadow of a doubt that this is what’s going on here. But yeah, it does create certain kinds of stereotyping. And I think that is a really, really problematic thing for people who do action and want to create a world where we see each other as human beings and not just as the physical traits we might happen to embody. So I think it is definitely a serious impact.</p></blockquote> <p>&nbsp;Or again… </p> <blockquote><p>It’s like you sort of think of yourself in those positions. You start to look at the people around you differently. You start to think like “are — is there any way that this person who I’ve gotten along with could be something other than what they seem to be? Am I being suspicious of them because they fit certain descriptions, in which case, am I reinforcing certain negative stereotypes?” It leads to self-doubt and all these cycles that kind of come along with it aren’t the same as the way you respond to, like, x number of people have had their phones tapped, uh or that kind of, that kind of level of thing.</p></blockquote> <h2><strong>Countermeasures and impacts </strong></h2> <p>As we have argued up to this point, the activists who contributed to this study weren’t naive about surveillance. But they did tend to be focused quite narrowly on a particular set of concerns seen as immediately relevant to performing their actions, and they were somewhat sceptical of speculating more generally on the subject.&nbsp; Activists engaging in civil disobedience have in fact sought to develop ways of working which try to minimise the need for operational security while encouraging openness where possible, encouraging people to participate without necessarily having to all take elaborate precautions. </p><p>Indeed security thinking of enterprises like Climate Camp was specifically premised on the idea that infiltration and surveillance were unavoidable facts of life, and that operating procedures therefore had to rely on keeping as little secret as possible. </p> <blockquote><p>…from the start, there was this acknowledgment of ‘we are infiltrated, it’s just a fact’; that anything we put online is being read by somebody; anything we say in an openly advertised meeting is being listened to by somebody; that either there’s a cop in the room or someone who is being put under pressure by the police to feed information… or there would be some sort of listening device outside or in the room. That was built in to the planning of the climate camp from the beginning, in that there was this secret group called the ‘land group’ whose job it was to find the land, who were absolutely secret. No one in the open meetings knew who they were. Only they knew who they were. And it was always a bit of a mystery how this group was selected; but then that’s how it was meant to be. I think it was kind of self-selected, as a group of people who trusted each other, got together and were like ‘well we’ll trust each other, we’re up for this, we know what we’re doing and we’ll be the land group’ and then would communicate with everyone else by passing notes. The idea was that it was up to the rest of the network to trust that group to do the one thing about the climate camp that had to be kept top secret, which was choosing the precise location. So all the network as a whole could decide what the overall target was, whether that was going to be Kings North Power Station or Heathrow Airport or whatever it might be, where exactly the camp appeared, you know on what specific patch of land it would pop up, would be up to that secret group to organise, very secretly, separate from everyone else, in their own way and in their own time.</p></blockquote> <p>&nbsp;The extraordinary level of trust which the climate justice movement’s ‘secret hierarchy’ had been able to acquire meant that it could largely offset the limitations of operational security by mobilising volunteers en masse at a moment’s notice on the basis of very sketchy information. On the eve of the Ratcliffe-on-Soar Power Station action at which police, tipped off by infiltrator Mark Kennedy, carried out a mass arrest of 114 activists: </p><blockquote><p>…it’s a sign of the level of strength in the networks at that stage that over a hundred people turned up, you know on that promise, without even knowing what the action was, just like they <em>trusted</em> these networks, they trusted this, this action movement to just come and go ‘right I guess I’ll come and find out’.</p></blockquote> <p>Where activist networks find themselves geographically dispersed, and perhaps lacking the momentum described above, secure telecommunications presumably become less dispensable. It is certainly the case that some activists do attempt to use secure encrypted communications tools. We have already encountered a reference to activists using ‘secure online forums’. Specifically, encrypted social networking site ‘crabtree’, encrypted email service ‘riseup’ and phone privacy guard ‘applock’ were mentioned in the interviews, as well as, reportedly, nearly ubiquitous use of ToR in at least some circles. </p> <p>How widespread take up actually is may be open to question, however. In the survey, 70% assumed that they were under surveillance, and 89% did not think that unencrypted online communications were safe. And yet only 17% said that they habitually used encryption. And this was despite the fact that small but appreciable numbers specifically identified surveillance as a direct problem for activism.&nbsp; 32% believed that surveillance had in some sense obstructed what they were trying to achieve. A fifth said that surveillance concerns had specifically led them to abandon an action, while 17% said that they had changed the type of concerns their group had over the past five years. 21% believed that their group had lost members due to surveillance concerns. </p> <p>Moreover, according to accounts provided in the interviews, it is unclear that activists are making more use of secure communication tools. On the contrary, there are clear suggestions that trust in such methods is in decline, at least for some. And rather than finding successful workarounds, the resulting communications breakdown can lead at least in some cases to actions ceasing altogether. </p> <blockquote><p>…there were a couple within the last eighteen months where online stuff — because you can’t, with jobs you can’t do the traveling, so if you can’t do the traveling and you can’t communicate online then you’re fucked. And we tried things like clean phone networks that you turn on at specific times of day and it just — people can’t — that doesn't work with people’s jobs… another specific example is that I think we used to use Skype a lot to organise and now no-one would ever use Skype for anything remotely confidential after, I think it was a court case in Germany when Skype handed over a load of information. People would have used Riseup email service but now people wouldn’t want to use any email... after one person’s computer got taken by the police after Oxford Airport action.</p></blockquote> <p>Seeking any alternative to mobile phone or Internet communications, activists told us they had fallen back on landline based phone trees, on the postal service or, in some cases, proposed actions had simply fallen through. Lack of information security was also seen as having a qualitative impact on political actions, impacting on aspects of planning, as in this account: </p> <blockquote><p>…But since then I think I’ve not wanted to use email in that way before direct action and that actually makes it difficult to plan because for me…for me, one of the reasons I get involved with direct action, one of the main reasons, is because of the potential for media interest. And so for me it is really important, usually, depends on the action, but usually, to try and sort out a press release talking about it as soon as it’s happened. And so if you can’t draft a press release and agree on press release in advance, if people say things like “oh well, we’ll just have to agree on a press release after it’s happened,” and then you send a press release out after it’s happened and it’s all too late you know, um, it actually makes it…harder to do, to plan sort of media work around the action. </p></blockquote> <p>Or on internal democracy…&nbsp; </p> <blockquote><p>And actually, sometimes I think that has affected how we’ve done it. It’s affected it in terms of making the media work a lot less effective, and sometimes I think if we’d talked about it by email and or phone, if then the police had known about it, if the police had turned up and arrested everybody straight away or whatever, even then we’d have had more effective media coverage than we do if they didn’t know about it but we couldn’t actually talk about how to contact the media. Um, so I think it does — and things would have been a lot better planned sometimes. And also I think there’s been cases I’ve known of where it actually has an undemocratic effect because you can’t talk about it all together, you have one or two people planning all the details and everybody else just has to fit in. So it has the effect of making the planning of the action less democratic. </p></blockquote><p>&nbsp;Another, somewhat subtler impact, which has also been remarked on in a previous study of American groups, but according to this interviewee extends beyond activist circles seems to relate to the loss of the internet as a space for creative deliberation and archiving of collective memory. </p> <blockquote><p>I think there is a general cultural shift, just with digital media, that may be the case among activists: that people just know now that written, anything recordable communication is best avoided in life. If you say anything particularly dangerous you know, just don’t write it down or say it over the phone… people don’t think out loud in email any more.</p><p>&nbsp;</p><p>Could activists have obviated some of these problems by investing more time and effort in online security? To some extent, activists’ fatalism seems understandable. Even the most apparently bulletproof system may turn out to have been secretly compromised. And even if it hasn’t been, it is no defence against human infiltration. </p></blockquote><blockquote><p>What they’ve [activists] got is an understanding that everything, because of GCHQ, is recorded. And almost, in a way, it’s like a “Well, you know. Sod it. We know this now.” You know what I mean? And people have just given up on trying to be secure. A lot of people I know have just given up. And then you’ve got the hard core live on camp types here like, you know. They’re taking — they’re becoming a smaller and smaller minority because just no one can organise without this technology now. So we just make the compromise and say “Well at least we know now for sure. We’re not being paranoiac that everything’s being recorded and you know, we’re just going to have to live with that.</p></blockquote> <p>As the confidence of seasoned activists in their ability to organise secretly is seemingly eroded, new recruits are described as ever more wedded to online mobilisation strategies premised on open sharing of information. </p> <blockquote><p>[Today] there’s no pretense of anonymity. People are really happy to go on Facebook and organise things. The groups I was in stuck to email lists and closed forums on secure services, but it’s the way we organised online. And even that some people weren’t quite comfortable with. If there was anything you wanted to keep secret you just didn’t put it on the internet; it didn’t go in an email, it didn’t go on a forum, um, and you’d just communicate face to face. Whereas now, if people organise a protest they’ll set up a Facebook group and that will be the entire organisational platform - a Facebook group or a hashtag. People don’t organise from email lists anymore. Even though email lists were not particularly secure. It would at least, you know — the police can just go look in the Facebook group and there’s everyone saying “oh let’s go do this, let’s do this.” </p></blockquote> <p>Where is all this leading? One account, intriguingly seemed to point towards the emergence of a new paradigm premised on even greater reliance on openness, mass action and rapidity. </p> <blockquote><p>…some of the, actually, most successful direct actions I’ve been involved with, um, have gone completely the opposite way, I mean totally open about what’s going on. And somehow by just sheer numbers of people or police indifference or whatever, managed to pull something off. Like, for example, uh, blockading Faslane this year the police were incredibly attentive and the date was totally public and had been six months or something like that. And even the night before people were making very specific plans. People were taking like selfies of themselves with lock on shoes and stuff like that. I’ve never seen anything like that before, the brazenness of it. So that was totally different to my past experiences of being very careful about what you say and do online and that kind of thing.</p></blockquote> <p>Whether action of this kind represents a genuinely new approach, perhaps in line with the scholarly theory of ‘connective action’, or simply a new iteration in the cycle of ‘I’ve got nothing to hide’ openness, arrests and intimidation followed by increased attempts at operational security remains to be seen. &nbsp; </p> <h2><strong>Conclusion</strong></h2> <p>It is important to stress that the infiltration and disruption experienced by contemporary protest movements in the UK is not a new phenomenon. The use of wire-tapping, undercover agents and the like has a long pedigree in the UK, although the principal targets have shifted over time. Indeed, an interesting point raised at our workshop was the idea that the British state’s periodic shifts of security focus may in themselves have inhibited the emergence of a robust security culture in different dissident milieus. More generally, the use of methods of this sort is widely attested in other democratic and ostensibly liberal states in both Europe and the US. </p> <p>This is not a justification of these practices. It is now very clear that intelligence gathering on peaceful protest groups in the UK has often been clearly disproportionate and in many cases very probably illegal. These judgments are, however, beyond the immediate scope of this report. </p> <p>Moving away from idealised notions of how democratic states work, we can see the struggles between protest movements and the state (as well as other so-called ‘polity members’) in terms of an ongoing arms race in which the state seeks by a variety of means, some above board, and others clearly less so, to repress radical protest, while protestors in turn seek to challenge the state, sometimes resorting to practices of civil disobedience or direct action which involve breaking the law and, to that extent, understandably attracting the attention of law enforcement. </p> <p>The real question that arises in considering the impact of the state’s contemporary surveillance capabilities and practices is not so much whether the state does spy on activists, or even whether it can be relied on not to overstep clear legal and moral limits in doing so. The question is whether activists are able to adapt as the state adapts and, in doing so, to keep open a space for radical protest within the overall political ecosystem. </p> <p>We believe that the research reported in this paper raises troubling questions as to whether this is the case. While protest and direct action in the UK is far from dead (the recent dramatic revival of direct action against climate change is a case in point), it appears that activists are continuing to rely on tried and tested methods of organisation which, while potentially very effective, are not designed to counteract forms of surveillance and disruption which are likely to become increasingly routine parts of the state toolkit as we move deeper into the information age.</p><p>&nbsp;</p> <hr size="1" /> <p><a href="#_ftnref1">[1]</a> Della Porta, D. (2007). <em>The Global Justice Movement</em>. Boulder: Paradigm Publishers.</p> <p><a href="#_ftnref2">[2]</a> Tactical Technology Collective - groups - Crabgrass. (2016). <em>We.riseup.net</em>. Retrieved May 7, 2016, from &lt;https://we.riseup.net/tacticaltech&gt;</p> <p><a href="#_ftnref3">[3]</a> Ball, J. &amp; Ackerman, S. (2014). Optic Nerve: Millions of yahoo webcam images intercepted by GCHQ. <em>The Guardian</em>. McAskill, E., Borger, J., Hopkins, N., Davies, N., &amp; Ball, J. (2013). GCHQ taps fibre-optic cables for secret access to world's communications. <em>The Guardian</em>, </p> <p><a href="http://www.dcssproject.net/tempora/https:/theintercept.com/document/2015/09/25/broadcast-analysis/">http://www.dcssproject.net/tempora/https://theintercept.com/document/2015/09/25/broadcast-analysis/</a>; Martin, A. (2015). Karma Police: GCHQ spies on every web user ever. <em>The Register</em>. </p> <p><a href="#_ftnref4">[4]</a> Anderson QC, D. (2015). <em>A Question of Trust: Report of the Investigatory Powers Review</em>. Her Majesty's Stationery Office.</p> <p><a href="#_ftnref5">[5]</a> Joint Committee on the Draft Investigatory Powers Bill,. (2016). <em>Draft Investigatory Powers Bill</em>. London: HM Stationery Office. Retrieved May 8, 2016, from &lt;http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/jt201516/jtselect/jtinvpowers/93/93.pdf&gt;</p> <p><a href="#_ftnref6">[6]</a> Bowcott, O. (2016). Investigatory powers bill not fit for purpose say 200 senior lawyers. <em>The Guardian</em>.</p> <p><a href="#_ftnref7">[7]</a> Rt Hon David Davis MP » David Davis calls for an inquiry into the surveillance state. (2016). <em>Daviddavismp.com</em>. Retrieved May 9, 2016, from &lt;http://www.daviddavismp.com/david-davis-calls-for-an-inquiry-into-the-surveillance-state/&gt;</p> <p><a href="#_ftnref8">[8]</a> Barnett, A. (2016). Surveillance, the British and US debates compared. <em>openDemocracy</em>. Retrieved May 8, 2016, from &lt;https://www.opendemocracy.net/anthony-barnett/surveillance-british-and-us-debates-compared&gt;</p> <p><a href="#_ftnref9">[9]</a> Bakir, V., Cable, J., Dencik, L., Hintz, A., &amp; McStay, A. (2015). <em>Public Feeling on Privacy, Security and Surveillance</em>. Cardiff: Bangor University, Cardiff University. Retrieved May 8, 2016, from &lt;https://sites.cardiff.ac.uk/dcssproject/files/2015/11/Public-Feeling-on-Privacy-Security-Surveillance-DATAPSST-DCSS-Nov2015.pdf&gt;</p> <p><a href="#_ftnref10">[10]</a> In the questionnaire, activists were asked at an early stage to identify a primary ‘group’, which served as the subject of some of the subsequent questions. This was defined to include loose affinity groups and networks as well as formal organisations.&nbsp; </p> <p><a href="#_ftnref11">[11]</a> For an accessible overview of these issues, see Schneier, B. (2015). <em>Data and Goliath</em>. New York: W.W. Norton.</p> <p><a href="#_ftnref12">[12]</a> The Intercept. (2016). <em>The Intercept</em>. Retrieved May 8, 2016, from &lt;https://theintercept.com/document/2015/06/22/behavioural-science-support-jtrig/&gt;</p> <p><a href="#_ftnref13">[13]</a> Police use of Forward Intelligence Teams has led to the creation of a specific organisation, Fitwatch, to campaign against them and offer activists advice on how to avoid being incriminated by them. http://www.fitwatch.org.uk/</p> <p><a href="#_ftnref14">[14]</a> EDF was ultimately cleared of direct involvement, on the grounds that it was not fully aware of the actions of the private security firm it hired. Boxell, J. (2013). Court clears EDF of Greenpeace Hacking. <em>Financial Times</em>.</p> <p><a href="#_ftnref15">[15]</a> Evans, R. &amp; Lewis, P. (2013). <em>Undercover: The True Story of Britain's Secret Police</em>. London: Guardian-Faber.</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/uk/gilbert-ramsay/has-generation-of-activists-given-in-to-surveillance">Has a generation of activists given in to surveillance?</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> uk digitaLiberties Can Europe make it? uk Activist Surveillance Sarah Marsden Adam Ramsay Gilbert Ramsay Mon, 23 May 2016 23:00:01 +0000 Gilbert Ramsay, Adam Ramsay and Sarah Marsden 102350 at https://www.opendemocracy.net IS attacks and not playing their game https://www.opendemocracy.net/gilbert-ramsay/is-attacks-and-not-playing-game <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>For the terrorists, best would be to be left alone to consolidate. Next best would be an epic all-out confrontation with western infidel ground forces. We should not give them what they want.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/4358525.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/4358525.jpg" alt="President Francois Hollande. " title="" width="460" height="269" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style=""/></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>President Francois Hollande. Demotix/ Zaer Belkalai. All rights reserved.</span></span></span></p><p>On Friday's massacres in France, I predicted that the attacks would turn out to have been centrally organised by IS – as opposed to being by locals acting in their name, or by Al Qaida. </p> <p>It was hardly going out on a limb, but it has indeed turned out to be accurate. </p> <p>So, what now? It is always risky to read too much into any one terrorist attack. The Madrid train bombings, for example, have often been interpreted as the straightforward culmination of a jihadi strategic study, published online called <em>Jihadi Iraq, Hopes and Dangers, </em>which argued that Spain was the weak link in the ‘crusader’ alliance, and that knocking it out could create a domino effect that would severely undermine the US’s coalition in Iraq. </p> <p>It was too neat though. It read back from the highly contingent fact that Jose Maria Aznar’s Partido Popular would go on to be defeated in the election that followed, to assume that this was what the attackers must have had in mind all along. </p> <p>In reality, the electoral defeat had more to do with the discovery that Aznar had lied about the identity of the attackers than the attacks themselves, and the conspiracy behind the Madrid train bombings would turn out in any case out to have deeper, more complex origins. </p> <p>It also forgot the longer history of jihadist violence in Spain, such as the <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1985_El_Descanso_bombing">El Descanso bombing</a> in 1985. </p> <p>There is a deeper lesson about terrorism here. Terrorist attacks are unpredictable in their effects. Indeed, they are inherently so. Where violence occurs in order to achieve a clearly comprehensible and immediate outcome, we tend to refer to it as something else. Those who don’t share the agenda of a given terrorist group almost inevitably cast around for tactical or strategic explanations, and often the terrorists do so as well. But the seeming rationality of strategic accounts is often illusory for all that. </p> <p>Did IS attack France in order to deter? Or in order to provoke? Whichever it was will no doubt seem obvious in hindsight. Already, President Hollande is referring to the attacks as an‘act of war’. But was it so whenever this operation was being put together? Overrating the strategically rational motivations of terrorism is often, I suspect, to do with a failure to truly appreciate the seriousness (usually dealt with using the conveniently colourless word ‘ideology’) with which terrorists take the morality of their own acts. </p> <p>From IS’s point of view, it is simple. It is fighting for Muslims against ferocious, predatory monsters who will do everything in their power to annihilate all it holds dear. Apropos of this, it is worth making the point that France – while not a particularly prominent country in IS’s official communiqués to date, is somewhere for which global jihadists arguably reserve a special hatred. In 2009, the pioneering jihadi ‘fan’ magazine <em>Jihad Recollections</em> published an article arguing the case for regarding Europe, and especially France, as even worse than America, and deserving a special priority on that account. When George W. Bush said after 9/11 that al Qaida hated America for its values, that really wasn't reflective of AQ's main priorities at the time. But this is a line Francois Hollande could more legitimately lay claim to this time around. Jihadis utterly despise secular republicanism. </p> <p>This is all the more reason for France to truly live up to its promise of liberty, equality and fraternity for all French citizens, striving to deliver that promise unflinchingly, but without hypocrisy, inequality or covert racism. </p> <p>Nonetheless, it is difficult to escape the conclusion that the attacks on Paris yesterday reflect a genuine change in strategic choice by IS. Analysis of the group’s past statements has not encouraged the view that it has previously had a serious longstanding interest in ‘going global’ with its attacks, as opposed to consolidating its territorial all-but state. Besides which, the chillingly effective simplicity of the attacks themselves – striking for the most part at relatively nondescript targets that will never be a top priority for protection, using familiar and readily available weapons, argue against the idea that IS has been trying to do this for a very long time without success. </p> <p>No doubt major attacks have been thwarted. But if this sort of thing is what IS, at its present level of capacity – really wants to focus on – then all the sophisticated intelligence sharing and surveillance in the world won’t be able to stop it completely from doing this sort of thing. </p> <p>So what does this tell us? The most obvious implication is that the present strategy against IS is working. Up to now, pessimists have been swift to point out that air strikes have not apparently damped IS’s offensive dynamism or ability to control territory, while slow, painful advances against the group, as in Tikrit, have usually been rapidly compensated for by counter advances elsewhere. But as the analyst Will McCants observed in a BBC interview yesterday, that may be beginning to change. </p> <p>The killing of Mohammed Emwazi (whose murderous brutality, revolting as it was, apparently posed no immediate strategic threat to the UK warranting the claim of self-defence) nonetheless does indicate that probably no one in IS, however high up, can expect to move around safely any more. The recapture of Sinjar by Kurdish forces is, similarly, a morale boost. But more than that, it is indicative in the bigger picture of the fact that IS, however much it tries to re-assert its momentum, is now locked into precisely the kind of war of attrition which fanatic passion and daring ingenuity cannot win. </p> <p>For IS, losing to a coalition of local militias with air support is clearly the least optimal outcome. Best would be to be left alone to consolidate. Next best would be an epic all-out confrontation with western infidel ground forces. </p> <p>If there is a reliable strategic purpose to terrorism it is simply this: to shake things up. To change things. To kick over the table and play a different game instead. The best way, always, to win that particular game is not to accept the invitation to play.</p> <div style="background-color: #f9f3ff; width: 100%; float: right; border-top: solid 3px #DAC2EA;" class="partnership-in-article-banner-infobox"> <div style="margin-bottom: 8px; padding: 14px;" class="partnership-in-article-banner-infobox-inner"><span style="font-size: 1.2em; margin-bottom: 8px;">There is an acute and growing tension between the concern for safety and the protection of our freedoms. How do we handle this? Read more from the <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/wfd">World Forum for Democracy</a> partnership.</span></div></div><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-read-on"> <div class="field-label"> 'Read On' Sidebox:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p><a href="https://opendemocracy.net/wfd"><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/smallwfdbanner.png" alt="wfd" /></a></p><p>There is an acute and growing tension between the concern for safety and the protection of our freedoms. How do we handle this? Read more from the <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/wfd">World Forum for Democracy</a> partnership.</p> </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/paris-atrocity-and-after">The Paris atrocity, and after</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-country"> <div class="field-label"> Country or region:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> France </div> <div class="field-item even"> Spain </div> <div class="field-item odd"> Iraq </div> <div class="field-item even"> Syria </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-topics"> <div class="field-label">Topics:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Conflict </div> <div class="field-item even"> Ideas </div> <div class="field-item odd"> International politics </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> Syria Iraq Spain France Conflict Ideas International politics The Paris attacks World Forum for Democracy Gilbert Ramsay Sun, 15 Nov 2015 00:46:53 +0000 Gilbert Ramsay 97641 at https://www.opendemocracy.net On the unexplained killing of Raqib Ruhul Amin https://www.opendemocracy.net/ourkingdom/gilbert-ramsay/on-unexplained-killing-of-raqib-ruhul-amin <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>British government air strikes killed three IS combatants. It only appears to have tried to justify two of these deaths.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553846/portal-amin_3431945b.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553846/portal-amin_3431945b.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="287" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Raqib Ruhul Amin</span></span></span></p><p>Two days ago, I had a phone conversation with a journalist at a local Scottish paper. She wanted some general background for a piece she was writing on Raqib Ruhul Amin, the Aberdeen-born IS recruit who, we now learn, was, killed by an RAF Reaper drone on 21st of August. </p> <p>In the relatively short space of time between the phone call I got from the University media office (I work at the University of St Andrews, partly on jihadi-salafism) and the interview with the journalist, I thought about what she might want to know. It interested me that we were going to be talking specifically about this man, because – based on my scan of the news that morning – there seemed to be an odd silence about him. We know that the attack that killed him was specifically targeting Reyaad Khan, a jihadist from Cardiff; and that a previous attack had also killed Junaid Hussain, another British IS member. But unlike these two, news reports had been oddly silent about why Ruhul Amin had been killed.&nbsp; </p><p>The silence, it occurred to me, was telling, and I still think so. Most likely, since he apparently wasn’t the actual target of the strike, Raqib Ruhul Amin was killed collaterally, simply because he happened to be travelling in the same vehicle as the actual target. But we haven’t actually been told this in so many words. Instead, the government has noted that there were ‘no civilian casualties’. The newspapers have been eerily silent on Raqib’s killing. Even pieces in the BBC and the Guardian specifically probing the legitimacy of the drone strike have avoided mention of his fate, focusing instead on the <em>decisions </em>to target his fellow jihadists Reyaad Khan and Junaid Hussain. </p> <p>It is quite right that we ought to scrutinise the government’s legal and political reasoning in actively deciding to extra-judicially kill two British citizens. But why aren’t we also interested in the third man whose death apparently wasn’t even dignified with being the outcome of a cabinet-consulted decision backed by government legal counsel? &nbsp;</p> <p>I would suppose that the fact that the British government had already committed to bombing IS militants causes us to assume that this particular line has already been crossed, at least where the killing of a British citizen is not the specific intent of a strike. But has it? The mere fact that one serves in a combat role for a paramilitary group does not mean that one is a legitimate target all the time.&nbsp; (And, incidentally, most foreign recruits to IS – though not the three in question - are thought to serve in civilian rather than front line combat roles). When our own soldiers are attacked off the battlefield (when they count as, as we would put it, ‘non-combatants’), we call the people that attack them terrorists. When Hezbollah blew up the Marine Barracks in Beirut, it counted as terrorism presumably because the marines were in their barracks, as opposed to being actually engaged in a gunfight with the Shiite militia. When Al Qaeda blew up the USS Cole the fact that <em>Al Qaeda </em>believed they were at war with an occupying military was completely irrelevant. Messy as the reality may be, from the perspective of the laws and norms of war, there is a great deal of difference between bombing, say, a convoy of IS technicals <em>en route </em>to Kobane and killing a single IS fighter driving to the other side of town to pick up a pizza.&nbsp; </p><p>In short, the mere fact of their being IS does not make it legitimate for the British government to kill its own citizens. And if the British government doesn’t have a case for killing someone, and then it does kill them, then even if it does so by accident, it still has, at least, some explaining to do. </p> <p>When I got onto the phone, though, I wasn’t asked any of this, but instead the standard question about what could possibly motivate a young man to join a group like IS. The journalist admitted that she hadn’t really thought about the angle that a local boy had just been killed by his own government without any explanation as to why. ‘Good riddance’ had been the general feeling, she rather sheepishly admitted. This was in spite of the fact that the newspaper had been reporting on this sensational local story for some time now – since the earlier sensation when Raqib Ruhul Amin had appeared in a video alongside two of his now deceased co-nationals extolling the virtues of IS and issuing swaggering threats to their country of birth. Indeed, she had only quite recently spoken to Raqib’s family. She had struggled, so she told me, to understand their sadness on learning of their son’s death, given that he was a terrorist. </p> <p>Our government has killed a British citizen without dignifying its action with any explanation as to why it did so. We are apparently supposed to assume that the killing of any IS fighter, targeted or no, British citizen notwithstanding, is basically ‘good riddance’. If we won’t challenge the idea that some citizens can be killed in distant countries, no questions asked, how long before we meet with it much closer to home? </p><p><em><strong><span>Liked this piece? Please support us with</span><a href="https://opendemocracy.net/ourkingdom/donate"><span> £3 a month </span></a><span>so we can keep producing independent journalism.</span></strong></em></p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/paul-rogers/islamic-state-letter-from-raqqa">Islamic State: a letter from Raqqa</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/paul-rogers/islamic-state-vs-britain">Islamic State vs Britain </a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> uk uk Gilbert Ramsay Wed, 09 Sep 2015 23:19:31 +0000 Gilbert Ramsay 95828 at https://www.opendemocracy.net The British constitutional reform crisis: a proposal https://www.opendemocracy.net/ourkingdom/gilbert-ramsay/british-constitutional-reform-crisis-proposal <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>The UK needs a framework for federalisation. Here's one suggestion for how this could work.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553846/800px-Welsh_National_Assembly_Senedd.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553846/800px-Welsh_National_Assembly_Senedd.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="306" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'></span></span></p><p><strong>The Problem</strong> </p><p>Britain is on the brink of a catastrophe of which the left seems to be frighteningly unconcerned and unaware. If the Conservatives succeed in implementing English-only days at Westminster, it is likely to transform both Scotland and the rest of the UK into what will in effect be neoliberal dictatorships. Scotland will lose the ability to vote down proposals that would lead to steep cuts in its budget via Barnett consequentials if key services are privatised south of the border. English voters who may have voted Conservative or UKIP for ‘protest’ reasons such as concern about immigration or dislike of the EU could find themselves ruled by a domestic majority focused single-mindedly on implementing a libertarian-right agenda. Whatever the outcome, ‘English votes for English laws’ is likely to offer the best of both worlds for the Conservative party and the worst of both for everyone else. </p> <p>People on the left probably don’t need to be persuaded intellectually that English-only days is a bad policy. But the only real response coming from the left to this simple Tory solution to an obvious and easily communicable grievance is largely represented by vague calls for a constitutional convention. These calls are unlikely to resonate or succeed for three reasons. First, the left is split between those who are genuinely committed to constitutional reform and those who merely wish to postpone engagement with a troublesome issue. It is likely to be difficult for the public to distinguish between the former and the latter, particularly given that the latter (the Labour Party) are rich, powerful and dominate the mainstream media. Second, while radical left activists are likely to see the opportunity to have a deep public dialogue on constitutional issues as a positive thing in itself, people unused as yet to political mobilisation may not see things the same way. Third however, and most importantly, while the left is having a conversation about the possibility of having a conversation, the right will act and in acting will be able to ensure that any convention that does take place takes place on its own terms. We may note that the media already seems to be framing the need to resolve the West Lothian Question (as opposed to the House of Lords or voting reform) as common sense, and the English-only days proposal as the only realistic solution on the table. </p> <p><strong>Towards a Solution</strong></p> <p>It is not enough therefore to merely call for a constitutional convention or some similar process. The left needs a concrete proposal which can be set against the right’s, and it needs one right away. Of course any such proposal would not have to be <em>implemented </em>right away. It just needs to be available. </p> <p>The problem with the sorts of ideas being batted around at the moment – primarily devolution for the English regions – is that they are at once too concrete and too unsystematic, while also being too ‘top down’, and too vulnerable to short term swings of public opinion. Calling for an assembly for the North East or Manchester, for example, is clearly too specific an idea to seriously propose in advance of an extensive process of consultation and debate. But in itself, it is also no solution to the systemic problem of ‘English votes for English laws’, unless accompanied by a still more problematic programme for the arbitrary dismemberment of all of England into regional chunks. Any such plan would, in turn, risk being derailed by a negative referendum result such as that of the previous referendum for a North East assembly. </p> <p>Instead, what is needed is an immediate plan for a legal structure which would be both systematic and open; one which would prescribe a clear structure for accommodating bottom-up mobilisation. What is needed in other words is a system which will legally formalise the status quo, while setting out well-defined mechanisms for changing it. Here, as an example of what this might look like, is one such proposal. </p> <p> <strong>A Sample Proposal </strong> </p> <p> First, a law would be passed which would formally define two levels of entity, the 'nation' and the 'region'. Nations would initially be the four nations of the UK: England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. However, it would be in principle be possible for the number of nations to increase in future, either by new nations joining (e.g. Guernsey, The Isle of Man), or by portions of existing nations seceding (e.g. the North of England). No regions would be defined (except, by default, Greater London).&nbsp;</p> <p> A nation would have a right to a parliament, which would be entitled (but not required) to arrogate to itself powers up to a certain maximum limit. Nations would not be required to have parliaments, however. A nation without a parliament would be directly administered by the federal parliament in Westminster.&nbsp;</p> <p> A region would have the right to an assembly. The definition of a region would be left fluid. It could be a single county, a group of counties, or an urban area, provided that there was local support in the area for the declaration of a region and the establishment of an assembly. Assemblies would be legally limited to powers less than those of a national parliament. There would also be a lower limit for the powers and size of assemblies, so as to deter the establishment of frivolous assemblies by small units in the absence of overwhelming communitarian desire to have one.&nbsp;</p> <p> More tentatively, an elected body replacing the House of Lords could have the important function of serving as a single upper house for all these various national and regional assemblies.&nbsp;</p> <p> The point about this system (which might sound speculative and outlandish) is that implementing it would at first mean virtually no change. England would acquire the formal status of 'nation', but there would be no legal need to immediately have an English parliament (although one might well go on to be established in due course). If English people voted to reject the establishment of an English parliament, it would weaken the case for objecting to the West Lothian Question. If they voted for one, then it would solve it altogether. Wales and Northern Ireland would have their assemblies redefined as 'parliaments' (but there would be no obligation for them to assume powers greater than what they have at present). A framework would exist for incorporating regional assemblies in England (or anywhere else, for that matter), as and when demanded. But there would be no obligation to split up the country according to some consistent overall plan. Once implemented, we could allow the UK, and each part of the UK, to federalise at its own pace and according to the wishes of its people. </p> <p>&nbsp;</p><p><strong><em><span>This article is part of the Great Charter Debate series. If you want to support this project, you can donate to OurKingdom </span><a href="http://www.opendemocracy.net/ourkingdom/donate"><span>here</span></a><span>. Thank you.</span></em></strong></p> uk uk A constitutional convention Power where? Nations, regions, cities Rethinking representation Great Charter Convention Gilbert Ramsay Fri, 26 Sep 2014 09:11:49 +0000 Gilbert Ramsay 86258 at https://www.opendemocracy.net The security dilemma, the media and the Israeli bombardment https://www.opendemocracy.net/north-africa-west-asia/gilbert-ramsay/security-dilemma-media-and-israeli-bombardment <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>If you care about human life you should be appalled by what is happening in Gaza right now. But you should also be appalled if you are a hardheaded political realist. Or even if you simply love Israel.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p>At the time I write this, ninety Palestinians have been killed by the Israeli bombardment of Gaza, and no Israelis killed by Gazan rockets. There is plenty of moral indignation about this unpleasant fact. As Chomsky put it:</p> <blockquote><p>Israel uses sophisticated attack jets and naval vessels to bomb densely-crowded refugee camps, schools, apartment blocks, mosques, and slums to attack a population that has no air force, no air defense, no navy, no heavy weapons, no artillery units, no mechanized armor, no command in control, no army… and calls it a war. It is not a war, it is murder.</p></blockquote> <p>The narrative of defenceless Palestinians being massacred by the vastly richer, vastly more powerful Israelis is a compelling one for all those who care about human life. And yet even this narrative, used in a certain way, can be read as a subtle example of the subtle pro-Israeli bias that predominates in much western media. Why so?</p> <p>The moral psychologist Jonathan Haidt argues that the ‘liberal’ and ‘conservative’ tendencies that characterise much of political discourse not only in his own country, the United States, but increasingly throughout the rest of the developed world, are understandable in terms of the way that they seek to activate different fundamental ‘bases’ of human morality. Liberals, Haidt believes, are concerned primarily with care, fairness and liberation. Conservatives want these things too – but usually only for a particular in-group, which they define in terms of a different moral vocabulary, rooted in culturally constructed, but ultimately primal notions of purity, authority and loyalty.</p> <p>When ‘liberals’ read about one side killing 90 people with advanced weaponry, and the other side killing no people with primitive weaponry, they naturally root for the underdog. In doing so, however, they play right into the hands of those with ‘conservative’ political sensibilities. After all, ‘all’s fair in love and war’. And if leftists (it’s a bit daft to call a radical anarchist like Chomsky a ‘liberal’, but he is for the purposes of the argument here) say it isn’t war, then hardline conservatives beg to differ. Read the words, for example, of ultra-hardline Knesset member Ayelet Shaked:&nbsp;</p> <blockquote><p>The Palestinian people has declared war on us, and we must respond with war. Not an operation, not a slow-moving one, not low-intensity, not controlled escalation, no destruction of terror infrastructure, no targeted killings. Enough with the oblique references. This is a war. Words have meanings. This is a war. It is not a war against terror, and not a war against extremists, and not even a war against the Palestinian Authority. These too are forms of avoiding reality. This is a war between two peoples. Who is the enemy? The Palestinian people. Why? Ask them, they started it.</p></blockquote> <p>The logic here is grotesque, but there is a logic, somewhere. If you have two groups, each one perceiving itself to be in an existential struggle with the other, then the idea that you would voluntarily restrain yourself arguably makes not that much sense. Why should Israel restrain its firepower just because Hamas doesn’t have access to the same firepower? War isn’t pistols at dawn. It isn’t cricket.</p> <p>Of course, this is an example of foaming at the mouth fundamentalism that few will sympathise with. But a more insidious version of basically the same logic comes up in the ‘security dilemma’ claims that deeply permeate the way that our media presents Palestine and Israel. According to this narrative, Israel is stuck in an unfortunate catch-22 situation. It knows that its occupation is breeding misery and extremism. It wants to withdraw. But it can’t, because the very extremism which occupation produces means that if it loosens its grip, it will expose itself to devastating attacks by an unrelenting opponent.</p> <p>Of course, Israel’s occupation of the West Bank is simply illegal. Technically, refusing to withdraw on these grounds is a bit like saying that you won’t give back the plasma tv you stole because you’ve tried watching cheaper models, but it hasn’t really worked out for you. Being realistic, however, the security dilemma argument <em>looks </em>compelling. It looks compelling because security dilemmas are good stories. They are plausible – we’ve all experienced something similar in microcosm. They offer a realistic <em>a priori</em> account of human motivation. They explain why good people might have to do bad things. And they don’t force us to demonise one side or the other.</p> <p>So, the security dilemma argument, <em>placed side by side</em> with the asymmetric killing argument sets up the Palestine-Israel issue in terms of the consumer market in political opinions that we are all familiar with. If your politics are shaped by the ‘care’ instinct, then you will probably empathise (all things being equal) with dead Palestinian children. You don’t need, then, to worry too much with the wrongs and rights that got things to that point. If you think of yourself as still compassionate, but a bit tougher minded, then you will go with the ‘tragedy’ narrative, and perhaps lament the lack of ‘leadership’ on ‘both sides’. If, finally, you are a hard core political partisan on one side or the other, then you will simply pick your team and stick to it through thick and thin. </p> <p>Either way, each market sector can be comfortable with its choice, knowing the dispositions that have accounted for its own choice, and the contrasting dispositions that have accounted for others’ choices. And there is, of course, another winner from all this: the incumbent power, (Israel, in this instance) which gets to keep the status quo.</p> <p>What is obscured in all this, is that the central issue is not really a security dilemma at all. We do not have a conflict, but rather a colonisation. Israel is not occupying the West Bank to protect Israel (were that so, Israelis would have given up tolerating the expense long ago). It is occupying the West Bank to protect the infrastructure of Israeli settlements that crisscross and cut up the West Bank. It is laying siege to Gaza, choking it just short of death, not to prevent Hamas from getting the wherewithal to build rockets, but to collectively punish its citizens for refusing to recognise Israel’s ‘right to exist’ or, nowadays its ‘right to exist as a Jewish state’. (There is also the small matter of the gas fields in Gaza’s territorial waters which Israel is presently selling off permits to develop). </p> <p>It is bombing Gaza not because of rockets, but as part of a broader campaign to undo the remarkable achievement of the Palestinian authority in reconciling Hamas to a project of moderation and Palestinian national unity. </p> <p>And when I say ‘Israel’, that conceals the fact that this is really being done by a narrow elite made up of politicians, the military, and the hi-tech arms industry who grow ever richer in a country which is one of the most unequal in the developed world. </p> <p>If you care about human life you should be appalled by what is happening in Gaza right now. But you should also be appalled if you are a hardheaded political realist. Or even if you simply love Israel.</p><div class="field field-country"> <div class="field-label"> Country or region:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Israel </div> <div class="field-item even"> Palestine </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-topics"> <div class="field-label">Topics:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Civil society </div> <div class="field-item even"> Conflict </div> <div class="field-item odd"> Equality </div> <div class="field-item even"> Ideas </div> <div class="field-item odd"> International politics </div> </div> </div> North Africa, West Asia North-Africa West-Asia Palestine Israel Civil society Conflict Equality Ideas International politics Israel Palestine: asymmetry Gilbert Ramsay Sat, 12 Jul 2014 17:05:56 +0000 Gilbert Ramsay 84402 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Gilbert Ramsay https://www.opendemocracy.net/content/gilbert-ramsay <div class="field field-au-term"> <div class="field-label">Author:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Gilbert Ramsay </div> </div> </div> <p><span>Gilbert Ramsay is a lecturer in International Relations at the Centre for the Study of Terrorism and Political Violence (CSTPV), University of St Andrews.</span></p><div class="field field-au-shortbio"> <div class="field-label">One-Line Biography:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Gilbert Ramsay is a lecturer in International Relations at the Centre for the Study of Terrorism and Political Violence (CSTPV), University of St Andrews. </div> </div> </div> Gilbert Ramsay Mon, 10 Jun 2013 12:21:55 +0000 Gilbert Ramsay 73221 at https://www.opendemocracy.net The Woolwich attack in Britain demonstrated an evolving and more rational terror https://www.opendemocracy.net/ourkingdom/gilbert-ramsay/woolwich-attack-in-britain-demonstrated-evolving-and-more-rational-terror <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>The Woolwich attack can be seen as a more scrupulous, even moral, development within terror tactics. It tells us nothing about the "Muslim community", and reveals the success of the security forces rather than the failure.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p>Regrettably, the reaction to the <a href="http://www.opendemocracy.net/nafeez-mosaddeq-ahmed/mi5-woolwich-failure-due-to-geopolitical-alliance-with-islamist-extremists">brutal murder</a> of drummer Lee Rigby would seem to imply that Britain has <a href="http://www.opendemocracy.net/myriam-francois-cerrah/woolwich-attack-should-british-feel-terrorised">learned little </a>in over a decade of worrying about terrorism. Despite draconian laws, we are told that Britain has not been tough enough on 'violent extremism'. Because of the behaviour of two people, the other 63 million of us face the prospect of unwarranted monitoring of our internet traffic data (see Anthony Barnett's response <a href="http://www.opendemocracy.net/ourkingdom/anthony-barnett/sadness-of-terrorism">here</a>, and Sambrooks piece on John Reid <a href="http://www.opendemocracy.net/ourkingdom/clare-sambrook/woolwich-lord-reid-security-industrys-salesman">here</a>). From Tony Blair, no less, we have heard that the problem is 'within Islam'. Too often, so it seems, universities are allowing Muslims to attend speeches at which they - horror of horrors - choose to sit with others of their own gender. Other commentators - seemingly milder - have called for more engagement with 'communities', despite the millions already spent on Britain's much vaunted (and widely imitated) 'Prevent' programme.&nbsp;</p> <p>While these responses have tended to be authoritarian, cliched or downright nasty, they all suffer from a more serious problem - they are all wrong. Moreover, in their wrongness, they fail to point out what is, in fact, significant and important about the Woolwich killing.&nbsp;</p> <p>Perhaps the first point that needs to be made is that the incident says nothing about the failure of British counter-terrorism. If anything, it would seem to indicate that it has done rather well.&nbsp;</p> <p>The most obvious reason for saying this is that - horrible as it was - the Woolwich killers were responsible for the death of a single man. This death represents the end of an eight year run in which - with the exception of Kafeel Ahmed, who died of burns inflicted in the course of his own attempt to bomb Glasgow airport - jihadist terrorists succeeded in killing not a single person on British soil. But more importantly, the method of attack employed by the killers was one which could barely have resulted in more deaths than this. Armed with cleavers and a gun which, for some interesting reason, remained unused, the killers were not setting out to produce mass casualties. They were setting out to produce one highly symbolic casualty. This was, in other words, the method of people who either knew they would not be able to carry out a more lethal attack, or who did not aspire to one. Not for them the bombs, poisons, or assault weapons of jihadi manuals, for all the effort that Al Qaeda has put into trying to encourage and facilitate these highly favoured attack methods.&nbsp;</p> <p>Perhaps the killers had learned the lesson of the numerous bomb plots which have been either thwarted at the planning stage or, more rarely, have thwarted themselves at the operational stage. But there is a more interesting possibility: that they knew there would be no constituency for anything but an attack of (in jihadist logic) impeccable legitimacy. If so, one might argue that not only has British counterterrorism worked in terms of practically disrupting terrorist plots, but that (whether because of or in spite of officially sanctioned policy), violent extremism has moved on in ideological terms as well. This was, in other words, the sort of attack carried out by people who were aware of being substantially constrained not only by practical barriers, but also (perverse as it may sound) rather strong moral scruples.&nbsp;</p> <p>It is these features which present the Woolwich attack as, arguably, the paradigm of a new type of jihadist violence which has been gradually emerging over the past few years. And it is in this that the significance of the attack (and the irrelevance of most of the commentary about it) would principally seem to lie.&nbsp;</p> <p>First, while this attack was obviously 'extreme' in a behavioural sense, much of what is problematic about it lies precisely in the fact that the actual belief being enacted by the killing in Woolwich (that the British involvement in Afghanistan is unconscionable and that British forces have blood on their hands) is by no means uncommon or indefensible. If one believes that British forces have no right to be in Afghanistan, then it is hardly an outrageous conclusion that local Afghan forces have the right to kill them. And if one believes that, then it is not such a bizarre claim that this right extends beyond Afghan soil. It is precisely the plausibility of the idea upon which the act was founded, rather than its outrageousness, that makes it so worrying.&nbsp;</p> <p>Second, the idea that some kind of engagement with the 'Muslim community' is a meaningful response to this attack should be clearly perceived as nonsense. Jihadists like the ones that carried out the attacks in Woolwich - very often converts as these ones were - are simply not a part of the 'Muslim community' in any meaningful sense. Their identity status is closer to (though this is still not a perfect analogy) youth subculture than to any ethno-religious grouping.&nbsp;</p> <p>But lest this give succour to those who would claim that there is a distinctive and more or less homogeneous 'ideology' at work here which, like some kind of pathogen, must be dealt with by quarantine and inoculation, this view must also be rejected. Jihadism is not an organised cult or even a unified set of beliefs. It emerges rather from certain unfortunate collisions between things which are hardly threatening in their own right: fundamentalist Islamic piety (which is often in itself apolitical, and focused, like its Christian equivalent, on turning around the lives of people at the margins of society); and dissident political beliefs which are the very stuff of democratic society. Neither of these things can or should be suppressed. When (as in certain groups like Al-Muhajiroun) they appear side by side with other indications of possible violent risk there is at least a case to be made (as the British government did indeed do in this instance) for banning them. What else can the government do? Today's terrorist may be yesterday's community activist who gets young men off drugs and helps children to cross the road. Believing in a religion is not a crime. Nor is it to hold a political opinion shared by many others.&nbsp;</p> <p>All this suggests that we need to look less towards vague notions of 'violent extremism' and more towards the specific actions by which this, in itself, meaningless abstraction sometimes makes itself all too real. And here again it would seem that there is something rather extraordinary about the stomach churning butchery that happened outside Woolwich barracks. Terrorism, we are often told, is violence as communication. And yet if it is so, it is perhaps strange how narrow the theatrical repertoire of terrorism has been. This is perhaps particularly so with regard to phenomena such as jihadi-salafist and white supremacist terrorism, both of which draw self-consciously on richly (cod) historical iconography. While a group like Hamas, for example, may tack the Qur'an, the odd Islamic slogan, or a few kitsch looking clouds to its imagery of kalashnikovs, RPGs and bandanas, the world it invokes is still very much that of the typical guerrilla fighter.</p> <p>The jihadist world, by contrast, is one of galloping horses, billowing banners, curving scimitars and spiky armour. And yet despite this, with only a few rare, important, exceptions, the world evoked by jihadist action has been largely the old fashioned one of bullet and bomb. There is a paradox here of which jihadists are not unaware. First, if violence is primarily symbolic - a ritual act of service to a cosmic war, rather than a narrowly strategic act of clinical killing - then there is no reason why it may not enact itself however it pleases. Why kill with the new fangled bullet when one can kill with the prophetically authentic arrow? Why use the car bomb when one could charge nobly on horseback? Why use the suicide vest when the hadith that is supposed to legitimate suicide attacks relates to the heroic act of plunging head first into the enemy, not trying to die, but fearing nothing for one's own life.&nbsp;</p> <p>The Woolwich killers said they came to start a war. It would be a bloody stupid government that took them at their word.&nbsp;</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/nafeez-mosaddeq-ahmed/mi5-woolwich-failure-due-to-geopolitical-alliance-with-islamist-extremists">MI5 Woolwich failure due to geopolitical alliance with Islamist extremists</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/myriam-francois-cerrah/woolwich-attack-should-british-feel-terrorised">The Woolwich attack: should the British feel terrorised?</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/shinealight/clare-sambrook/woolwich-lord-reid-security-industrys-salesman">Woolwich: Lord Reid, the security industry&#039;s salesman</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/ourkingdom/anthony-barnett/sadness-of-terrorism">The sadness of terrorism</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-country"> <div class="field-label"> Country or region:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> UK </div> </div> </div> uk openSecurity uk UK Gilbert Ramsay Security in Europe Non-state violence Peacebuilding Fri, 07 Jun 2013 09:36:18 +0000 Gilbert Ramsay 73153 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Does the government need new internet surveillance powers? https://www.opendemocracy.net/ourkingdom/gilbert-ramsay/does-government-need-new-internet-surveillance-powers <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>The UK faces a range of cyber threats to its security – including terrorist cells, child pornography and cyber-crime. Are they enough to justify extending the government’s powers of online surveillance?&nbsp;</p> </div> </div> </div> <p>Surveillance of citizens by governments is generally a bad thing. All things being equal, the more of it the worse. So regardless of the specific details of the legislation the government is going to propose in relation to the real time monitoring of Internet and mobile phone traffic data, it is something we should have a negative presumption about. In advance of knowing exactly what is being proposed, I don’t intend to jump on any bandwagons about an Orwellian extension of state power. There will be plenty of opportunity to do that, and to do that with greater authority and seriousness when the time comes. Instead, let’s consider the other side of this particular utilitarian balance sheet. Does giving the government new Internet surveillance powers (whatever they are, exactly) actually offer any benefits for society?</p><p>Whenever a new piece of cyber-surveillance is proposed, the same three issues are always brought up: terrorism, child pornography and cyber-crime. And sure enough, it is these three issues that supposedly justify the renewed intrusion this time around.</p><p>The argument that the government needs real time, rather than retrospective access to traffic data for investigating ‘ordinary decent’ cyber-crime, or even quintessentially evil child pornography is surely disingenuous. The conventional approach to crime is that one waits for a crime to take place before one tries to investigate it. If that approach is good enough for physical burglary or rape it is difficult to see why it doesn’t hold for their virtual equivalents. The Council of Europe Convention on Cybercrime, which the UK has ratified, already provides what is increasingly a global standard for what ISPs are required to retain in terms of traffic data. Why the police – and still less, as has been reported, GCHQ (which, after all, is supposed to be looking after national security) need this data in real time is far from clear.</p><p>Terrorism, by contrast, is always a useful way of justifying any extension of surveillance, because it is one of the very few crimes where the response is supposed to be proactive and preventative, rather than simply responsive.</p><p>It is unfortunate for the government’s case, then, that it is pretty much the settled conclusion of analysts these days that terrorist threats to the UK are receding rather than increasing. To be sure, there are issues on the horizon. Violent splinter groups of the IRA have been building up a bit of momentum, and there are general concerns about whether the rise of the English Defence League might herald some new kind of right wing Islamophobic militancy. But the kind of terrorism which actually matters – that is, the one that is supposed to justify detaining people for 28 days or putting them in jail for selling books – that is, of course, Islamist terrorism – is on the wane. The UK’s most radical Islamist groups are a shadow of what they were a few years ago; Al Qaeda ‘central’ has more or less been eliminated. The movement’s ‘regional franchises’ seem uninterested in global struggle. There hasn’t been a successful attack in Britain for seven years, and recently even online supporters of Al Qaeda have been protesting that Mohammed Merah – the Toulouse gunman –&nbsp;hasn’t&nbsp;been labeled by French authorities as clinically insane on a par with Norwegian terrorist Anders Breivik.</p><p>More importantly, the specific idea that the Internet is a major factor in the recruitment of terrorists has come under almost relentless assault in recent years. One by one, almost every claim made about the usefulness of the medium to the commission of acts of terrorism has come under serious questioning. It turns out, for example, that it is well nigh impossible to learn how to make bombs effectively using online instructions alone. It also appears, based on the ease with which Internet-hatched plots have been disrupted that the use of the medium is (with no more than the generous surveillance capabilities already allowed to British authorities through the provisions of acts like RIPA) more a liability than a boon to would be terrorists. Indeed, on the hard-core pro-Al Qaeda forums, members are advised ad nauseam not to be an idiot and try to ‘join the jihad’ via the patently unsafe medium of the Internet.</p><p>Indeed, in&nbsp;<a href="http://www.homeoffice.gov.uk/publications/science-research-statistics/research-statistics/counter-terrorism-statistics/occ97?view=Binary">the most thorough and theoretically rigorous</a>&nbsp;literature review of ‘Al Qaeda influenced radicalization’ yet conducted – a review commissioned, ironically enough by the UK Home Office - the criminologists Wikstrom and Bouhana state quite clearly that ‘the Internet does not appear to play a significant role in AQIR’. If anything, they argue, the inherent nature of online relationships may mitigate against movement from speech to violent action.</p><p>If the government knows about some other, utterly anticipated threat to our collective security then it would be nice to know what it is supposed to be – in real time please, rather than after new legislation has already been passed.</p><p><em>This article originally appeared at&nbsp;<a href="http://brightgreenscotland.org/index.php/2012/04/does-the-government-need-new-internet-surveillance-powers/" target="_blank">Bright Green</a>.</em></p><div class="field field-topics"> <div class="field-label">Topics:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Civil society </div> <div class="field-item even"> Internet </div> </div> </div> uk openSecurity uk Civil society Internet Gilbert Ramsay Security sector reform - a global challenge Internet Security Thu, 21 Jun 2012 10:21:58 +0000 Gilbert Ramsay 66585 at https://www.opendemocracy.net