Saturday, April 16, 2005

House of the Ricin Son 

On January 5, 2003 they raided a flat in North London and found 'ricin' and a formula for making the poison. Last week, at the Old Bailey, Britain's Central Criminal Court, one man named Kamel Bourgass, of Algerian origin, was jailed for 17 years. Others arrested with him were acquitted or not brought to trial.

What emerged from the trial was that no 'ricin' was found in the raid, and there wasn't even evidence that Bourgass (whoever he is) had links with al-Qaeda.

But more than 2 years after the arrests, it was too late. The media had already been whipped into a ricin frenzy, as did the government. And there was careless talk of a terror gorup in Britain that was plotting to 'destabilise' British society with mass poisoning. And of course, there was that notorious Finsbury Park mosque and the Imam with the Captain Hook hand and the trade-mark eye-patch who hijacked the congregation for his gospel of hate. How the media went to town.

The 'ricin' discovery became, like the WMD, an argument for war with Iraq. Then US Secretary of State Colin Powell told the Security Council about that, and later augmented his warnings with information that the ricin had come from a facility run by Kurdish fundamentalists in northern Iraq, not far from Halabja. Halabja village was the victim, not the source, of mass poisoning, but the association was too good to be missed: men, women and children writhing in pain, deadly poison, civilian deaths, ricin, Islamist fundamentalists.

Then British Home Secretary David Blunkett also joined in with alarming pronouncements of "al-Qaeda on our doorstep."

During the attack on Iraq, the 'ricin' production factory, home of the insignificant islamist group Ansar al-Islam was savagely bombed by the Americans. Many died, but the minor detail was that no factory nor any trace of ricin was found.

Now, just weeks before the General Election, the trial verdict has fed opportunistic political parties with the handy terrible-triplets of ricin-immigration-Islam. The day after the Bourgass was sentenced, the tabloid Daily Mail went mad with its front page headline that fed on the issues of immigration and terrorism. Opposition leader Michael Howard revelled in his attack on the government for having let in terrorists through the loopholes of its immigration policy. This was the day when Bourgass was on every front page and ricin on everyone's mind. Only one columnist — Poly Toynbee of the Guardian — dared say what was left unsaid:
"The most explosive issue in this campaign burst out again yesterday with the collapse of the ricin trial. "Asylum and immigration" are the public words that tell of unspoken passions on race, Britishness, Islam and other things winked and nudged at in "Are you think what we're thinking?"

I have said much the same about the attempts by the main opposition party and other — smaller — outwardly xenophobic ones to raise immigration to the main core of the forum, but thanks to the good sense of the majority population, they have not yet succeeded. But I expect the tabloid papers will keep harping on that till the day of the elections.

So what else fell to the ground in the ricin trials?

Much of the demolition job against the prosecution's case was done by former Time Out journalist and computer and telecommunications expert Duncan Campbell who was called to give evidence.

In their case, the prosecution alleged that Bourgass had recipes for making ricin in his own handwriting. The source for this was said to be al-Qaeda's poisonous cook-book. These are the facts as established in Court:
— Many of the internet poison recipes had originated from white, Christian right-wing 'survivalist' sites such as fthe one maintained by a man called Kurt Saxon,;

— Bourgass needn't have obtained his recipes from the 'al-Qaeda Handbook' as alleged. Much of it were written in the 1980s by the US supported Afghan Mujahideen fighting the Russians;

— The ricin recipe found in Bourgass's possession was a direct translation of an internet document put out by none other than the US Justice Department.
During the trial the prosecution dropped the Afghan link. But the government, on this ricin information that was worthless, brifed the media on the plot to poison commuters on the London Underground. "It is not hard to guess why. There was a war coming," said Defence Counsel Michael Mansfield, QC.

Later Campbell said in an article in the Guardian:
"The most ironic twist was an attempt to introduce an "al-Qaida manual" into the case. The manual - called the Manual of the Afghan Jihad - had been found on a raid in Manchester in 2000. It was given to the FBI to produce in the 2001 New York trial for the first attack on the World Trade Centre. But it wasn't an al-Qaida manual. The name was invented by the US department of justice in 2001, and the contents were rushed on to the net to aid a presentation to the Senate by the then attorney general, John Ashcroft, supporting the US Patriot Act."
So the big conspiracy trial collapsed. A second trial involving four men arrested with Bourgass was abandoned, and four others were acquitted by the jury.

One question remains: who is Kamel Bourgass? The answer is not known. He is said to have been a police conscript in Algeria, and he is said to have used at least four other names. Bourgass's flat was raided after information was supplied by the Algerian authorities who got it from their questioning of someone named Muhammad Meguerba who, under interrogation, "found his tongue". That's torture for me and you.

From evidence that has come into the open, Bourgass appears to be a mysterious person, and also a sick man. Before this ricin trial he'd already been sentenced for stabbing a policeman to death during the raid on his flat. Perhaps someday something else will come to light about this mysterious man.

§ Presumption of guilt.
§ The politics of poison.


House of the Ricin Son

Friday, April 15, 2005

Not So Big In China 

I've just learned from fellow-blogger Dynamic City that Jalan-Jalan is blocked in China. So, to those 600 million or so potential readers of this blog in that broad and marvellous land, my regrets. I was trying to make arrangements in Trafalgar Square today to have my thoughts relayed to you by carrier pigeons. But alas, the thrusting Labour Mayor of this unfair city, the erstwhile "Red" Ken Livingstone, has got them all banned from there, the pigeons I mean.



Not So Big In China

Smooth As Muslin 

Elections are such wonderful times until you see the shape of Robert Kilroy-Silk entering the fray. These are British elections I'm talking about, this 5th May, and this is the Robert Kilroy-Silk I'm talking about, who used to host a chat show of sorts that revelled in making Muslims look idiotic by first screening his guests to take only Muslims who looked and sounded just like him, i.e. desperate and idiotic. And then, in then when his show's on full swing, Mr Silk (smooth that he is) would be able to intervene with his rational sounding exasperation, "'Ang on! 'Ang on!" (he's Brummie, you see) and make them all look ridiculous.

Then he tried to win a seat in Parliament with a party that stumbled on his ego-trip, and then he went away to form another party that now trips on the same (whose name — the party I mean, not the ego — I've forgotten). Today Robert Kilroy-Silk made his voice heard on the radio (well, I don't watch TV that much these days) and he said: All these people, all this multi-culturalism is retarding this country. All these people who don't allow their women to go to work and lock them up at home, and don't allow them to drive, they shouldn't be tolerated in our midst. I'm of course paraphrasing his words, but that's the gist of it. And you know of course who he's referring to. And then of course, immigration. All this immigration caper should be stopped dead, he said. Again, I'm paraphrasing.

Well, there's a danger in talking like that. Firstly because all those people who are locked up at home and not allowed to drive are also going out to vote on the day. Secondly, if you want to talk like that about immigration, you're in danger of sounding like the Conservatives (whose leader Michael Howard, descendant of Transylvanian Jewish immigrants, is also riding on the ticket of anti-immigration) so you're making yourself sound a tad extreme for being Tory-like.

Muslims are a boost fort all sorts of causes these days. Neocons love to hate them, Zionists love to smear them, Conservatives under Howard loved it today when he gave a thinly veiled warning that all these Muslims are potential bombers and ricin-makers, the proper subjects of strictly controlled immigration. And Islamo-fascists are the bad-taste of the month. (If you want to know why Howard was sounding like that today, well, a strange man purporting to be Muslim was sentenced for killing a policeman today, and he was also suspected of trying to manufacture ricin.) Muslims once contributed to Western civilisation and the renaissance, now they're contributing to Western elections.

Which brings us to the amusing battle between former Labour man George Galloway and Oona King in East London. Our Oona's a Blairite pro-war sitting MP who's majority of around 10,000 is being threatened by George (anti war, former Labour MP, Scotsman). And guess what straw is our Oona clutching at? Why, anti-semitism of course (she's daughter of a Black father and a Jewish mother), and her friends were just beginning to decry Galloway's 'shameful' act of wanting to unseat (they're talking about unseating already, tsk, tsk) one of two black, female Labour members of Parliament, but were quickly shut up by Galloway's reply that by voting with Blair for war on Iraq, our Oona's responsible for the death of thousands of women in Iraq, and some with skins blacker than hers.

Brings out all sorts of desperados from the woodwork, these elections.


Smooth As Muslin

Sunday, April 10, 2005

He Kissed the Earth & the Qur'an 

I've never waved at the Pope nor he at me from his balcony in the Vatican. Pope kissing at the Qur'an at the Umayyad Mosque, Damascus.But he was a remarkable man in these faithless times, and once, he even kissed the Qur'an, or perhaps he was just taking a close look at the small print, I couldn't be certain.

There are opinions about John Paul II: some want him beatified, others want him condemned. Some say he was responsible for the collapse of Communism in Poland, others say Polish Communism was controlled from within the Catholic church of the land. Well, they did shake him up a little in the Vatican, knock his head with a silver mallet, and call him by his name three times. Then they pulled the silken cloth over his face, and the Pope was dead and gone.

Poppery has always excited strong passions, from the mad rants of Ian Paisely in Northern Ireland to the adulating Poles waving their Solidarity flag in the Vatican. The Pope's been called many things from Il Papa to Antichrist (Google your way through some Christian sites to see them for yourself). But the reaction to the Pope's death that to me was the most disconcerting came from the arch-liberal of the Guardian, Poly Toynbee, who accused poor John Paul II of, among other things, religious mania. The Pope a religious maniac, can you imagine. And that's for his beatification of Mother Teresa.

Well, this is the siren voice of another kind of mania, that of secular fundamentalism, a movement that is now on the assault, ostensibly against all religions, but especially against Islam. This is the new ideology that's uniting the extreme right and the once liberal left, that brought the hijab ban in France, that is demonising Islam in America and Holland. This is the thrusting new stance emboldened by 9-11 that pulled the barriers down.

Muslims may frown at the celebration of the dead at the expense of remembrance of the Supreme Being to whom we shall all return, and the turning of a funeral into pomp and circumstance. But it served a useful purpose in that it brought together Israel and Iran, Rabbis, Ayatollahs, Bishops and Clergymen; and the placing of 'world leaders' in the back row behind its own nobility was commendable for the Vatican's recognition of its own purpose above pandering to the vanity of men (something here not for Muslims to learn). But for Toynbee, this is of course a conspiracy of dunces. "At the funeral will be a convocation of mullahs, rabbis and all the other medieval faiths that increasingly conspire together against modernity," she says. Hers is a powerful new anti-religion, the worship of the modern.


He Kissed the Earth & the Qur'an

Monday, April 04, 2005

Practise Notes 

In The Kite Runner, a moving book by Khalid Husseini on Afghanistan and turmoil on many levels, one line brought home to me how our lives have changed. In America, the Muslim character in the book was asked to define his identity in today's world. You a Muslim? Are you a practising Muslim?

What is a practising Muslim?

It strikes me as odd because it defines at once the two situations that a professed Muslim can be. And for the questioner, it carries the subtext of what's acceptable and what's undesirable. This was further underlined for me whan a friend told me of a recent incident at Heathrow airport when a Muslim businessman from Malaysia was taken off a plane to be questioned by some security people. This businessman was much travelled, having in his passport many stamps from Middle-Eastern countries. "Are you a practising Muslim?" he was asked.

You can probably now guess what the questioner was getting at: that a practising sort of chap was a potential bomb-maker, mass-murderer, terrorist supporter (if not already one himself), and the cause of all the problems in this world. It is a point of view that is fast becoming the norm in many places, among many people.

This business about Muslims being good as long as he or she isn't a strict follower of his/her religion is not at all a recent phenomenon, although it has only now come out, unabashedly, into the open. I remember when at school, opening the comics section of an American newspaper and finding, in the bottom of a page, an advertising strip for a brand of battery. A man wearing an Indian-type turban was being confronted by some American-type heroes who were becoming deeply suspicious of what our Eastern villain was up to. Then the latter very helpfully turned to the direction of the sunset to do what looked like the motions of prayer. "Ah, a Mohammedan!" our comic-strip hero proclaimed to the world, followed by the sound of fisticuffs as our 'Mohammedan' villain hit the floor. That was the kind of light spread by this brand of battery in those days.

Recently, while doing some research on a man who became the rallying point for a popular rebellion in a part of Malaya in the 1920s against an unpopular, British imposed tax on the peasantry, I came across this expression 'practising Muslim' yet again in another form. The man who inspired the rebellion was deeply religious, a scholar who preached not only religion but also a form of self-help through economic activity. He'd obtained a pleader's licence to argue the peasants' case in court, where he argued that the peasants owned the land they were working on, and that the products of the jungle did not belong to anyone, but was a gift from the Almighty to the people. Surprisingly, he won the case at two levels of court hearing, but the Britsh still pushed the local Sultan to tax these poor people.

In a despatch to the Colonial Office, the so-called British Adviser to the Sultan of course described the man as a 'fanatical Muslim', i.e. a practsiing Muslim as it is understood now. To the 'adviser' this labelling justified everything that they did subsequently: the man was finally sent to Mecca on a forced exile, the harsh sentence imposed on the leaders of the rebellion (imprisonment in Singapore for terms ranging from 15 to five years, with hard labour), and the tax burden imposed on the peasantry.


Practise Notes

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