The Terror Election

From a strategic point of view terrorism has a dismal predictability.  Whatever its context or motivation its central objectives are usually the same: a) to provoke a militarily more powerful opponent into an overreaction that will strain its opponent’s resources and draw it into a debilitating confrontation from which the terrorist hopes to gain in the long run b) to re-engineer society so that there are no spaces for moderation or neutrality – only two sides locked into all-out war c) to undermine the political authority of the state by demonstrating that it cannot protect its own people.

Around these central aims other factors may also come into play: simple vengeance for a real or imagined grievance; the desire to demonstrate the power and reach of the terrorist organisation or cause; rage at the real or imagined indifference of the targeted society towards acts of violence and repression for which its government may be responsible.

These components have been replayed again and again in different ways in one terrorist emergency after another, so on one level the horrors that are now unfolding globally are not entirely unprecedented.   What is new is the sustained and calculated barbarity of the attacks that are now unfolding.  In country after country we are witnessing what are essentially crimes against humanity carried out by a variety of ‘jihadist’ groups who have clearly abandoned even paying lip service to rules and customs of war established over thousands of years.

These groups are not constrained by any moral or ethical limits.  Children, women, the elderly, teenage girls at a concert, pregnant women, gays, lesbians, nightclubbers, booksellers, shoppers in markets  – no targets are off-limits.

They call themselves soldiers and walk around in military fatigues but they are more like einsatzgruppen –  petty exterminators drifting out of a druggy haze into the fervor of overnight ‘conversions’ that only seem to have one aim: to give them permission to perpetrate more horrors that disgrace the name of humanity.  They call themselves Muslims, but the only thing that seems to interest them about Islam is its usefulness as a license for violence and killing.

Historically there is nothing uniquely Islamic about such barbarity.  A cursory look back at the conquistadores; the French Wars of Religion; the Thirty Years War; World War II or more recently the wars of the former Yugoslavia should quickly dispel such illusions.   Anders Breivik; the killing of Jo Cox; last month’s murders in Portland – let no one imagine that violence of this kind is due to the special proclivity of any particular race, faith or culture towards cruelty.

But in recent years there has been – and we should not dodge this issue – a proliferation of reactionary, tyrannical and misogynistic groups acting in the name of Islam that are trying to implement the historic strategies of revolutionary terrorism at a global level with exceptional ferocity.  Their essential philosophy was once defined in an epigram in the so-called ‘al-Qaeda training manual’ used by the Afghan mujahideen as they prepared to wage war on the secular tyrannies of the Middle East,  which declared:

‘The confrontation that Islam calls for with these godless and apostate regimes does not know Socratic dialogues, Platonic ideals, nor Aristotelean diplomacy.  But it knows the dialogue of bullets, the ideals of assassination, bombing and destruction, and the diplomacy of the cannon and machine-gun.’

This is morally-speaking, the language of cavemen coupled with the exaltation of violence that you might once have found in Italian futurism or fascism. In the last two weeks British society has been subjected to two utterly horrendous attacks by groups and individuals that subscribe to this philosophy.

There are many reasons why this has happened: the corruption, violence and tyranny of post-colonial regimes in the Middle East (sometimes with Western support and sometimes not); the wars in which successive British governments have recklessly involved themselves for more than fifteen years; the dirty games that elements of the British state have played with some of the same jihadists who are now carrying out attacks here; problems of identity, integration and alienation amongst second and third generation Muslim immigrants that have led some young Muslims to seek some kind of meaning and purpose in wars that have clearly brutalised them and annihilated any capacity for mercy, decency or empathy they may once have had.

Whatever the individual motivations of their perpetrators, the atrocities and crimes that they have carried out have a clear strategic purpose.   They are a form of social engineering, designed to be as disgusting and cruel as possible, in the hope of paving the way for a future of endless violence and heroic war.

The individuals and groups that carry out such attacks want no spectators or bystanders, particularly amongst Muslims.  They want all Muslims to join in the great confrontation that ‘Islam’ calls for – their version of it anyway – and they are prepared to bring down hell on entire communities in order to ensure this result.  Contrary to the endless rhetoric that they simply hate us because of our ‘values’ or are continuing some ancestral war against the ‘West’, they are also prepared to kill Muslims, and have in fact done so in huge numbers.

Despite the anathema that our government pronounces on such groups, Western governments including our own have sometimes used them for their own ends, for example in Afghanistan and Libya, and sometimes they have been used by them. No government will ever admit to this of course, and so tragically, the public is rarely aware of the ‘blowback’ that can sometimes occur as a result of such linkages.

Instead governments prefer to use ill-defined and nebulous notions of ‘extremism’ and ‘radicalisation’ that end up targeting people who may not have done anything wrong or have any intention of carrying a violent act, and which too easily cast suspicion across entire communities.  Or else they invent new legal categories that justify ‘extraordinary rendition’ and indefinite detention that merely bring new recruits driven by bitterness, rancour and revenge.

So we are facing an incredibly dangerous, and in fact critical threat to our ‘way of life’, in terms of its potential longterm political and social consequences.  Not only are these groups a real threat to the ‘soft targets’ who they are using to pursue their objectives, but they have a very real possibility of getting precisely the outcome they are seeking.

However last night’s unholy trio drifted into the moral wasteland in which they found themselves, their actions were ultimately strategic:  they were designed to reach into the fascist underbelly of British society, and promote division, rage and hatred.  These attacks may have been planned long before an election was decided, but it is difficult to believe that two high-profile atrocities were carried out during an election campaign by mere coincidence.

These men know what kind of government they’re dealing with.   They know that UK society is coursing with fear and hatred towards immigrants in general and Muslims in particular.   They want more of it, because hatred and repression to them is the ‘true face’ of the British state and of British society that they want to reveal to their would-be constituency.

And there is no shortage of  hatred about.   Before the blood had even dried last night, social media fora were gushing with hate towards Muslims, Islam, ‘Liberals’,  migrants, Jeremy Corbyn,  Sadiq Khan, ‘political correctness’ or whatever else was supposed to have been responsible for the attacks at London Bridge.  The murderers are dead now, as they no doubt intended to be, but were they alive they would surely have been satisfied to hear the talk of deportations, internment and above all – war, because if there is any one point in which the terrorists and the far-right coincide, it’s in the belief that ‘war’ is some kind of solution or morally-bracing antidote to the flaccid mundanity of peace.

All of which means that we are required once again, to show real resilience in the face of this latest savage provocation.  We should resist talk of internment – a measure which has always acted like pouring oil onto a fire in any previous terrorist emergency – and would certainly have the same effect if it was implemented for this one.  We should not cancel the election.

We should concentrate instead on patient carefully-targeted counterterrorism and law enforcement – a difficult challenge to be sure.  We should expect more attacks, and do what we can to stop them, while knowing that some of them will get through.   We should not allow ourselves to be railroaded or panicked into emergency measures that contradict our best ideals.  We should, as Jeremy Corbyn courageously suggested, look at what there is in our foreign policy that has created the context in which these monstrosities continue to replicate themselves and seek legitimacy, however spurious.

We should mourn together and find ways of working together, with men and women of all faiths and of no faith at all, to face down and marginalise these threats.

Contrary to what some – you know who – have said, that is not weakness, cowardice, surrender or moral decadence, it is simply the only way to avoid giving last night’s murderers what they want, and prevent these dark times from becoming even more catastrophic.

And as bad as things look right now, we should believe that we can get through.  And we should never allow ourselves to descend into the sewer that those who carried out last night’s attacks would like us to sink into.

 

Murder in Westminster

So far nothing is known about the murderer who thought it would be a good idea to mow down a group of pedestrians and cyclists on Westminster Bridge and assault parliament with a kitchen knife yesterday.   The murderer is dead, having completed his homicidal spree with an act of suicide-by-cop that was presumably his ultimate aim in the first place.  Last night Channel 4 News bizarrely identified him as Trevor Brooks, aka Abu Izzadeen, the Islamist bigot linked to Andy Choudary’s group of Islamist bigots who once famously heckled John Reid.   This claim unraveled within minutes when it was discovered that Brooks is still in jail.

So the killer remains a blank, except that he was almost certainly a Muslim.  In the days and weeks to come we will probably learn some details about his trajectory.  More than likely it will match the familiar pattern: druggy/petty criminal background followed by ‘conversion’ and rapid ‘radicalisation’.  We may learn that he was ‘on the radar of the security services’; that he had been to Syria; that he was a member of a cell or an isolated ‘lone wolf’ who was ‘inspired’ by Islamic State.

For the time being, all this is speculation.   Yet within hours of the attacks, the familiar terror attack rhetoric was already unfolding like a machine, and Amber Rudd was depicting the attack as an assault on ‘our shared values’ and insisting that these values would never be destroyed.   And the blood hadn’t even dried when the sneering bigot Stephen Lennon who calls himself Tommy Robinson had arrived at Westminster with his personal cameraman to tell the world that ‘these people are waging war on us’ and that ‘this has been going on for 1,400 years.’

Lennon is a man who carries the stench of the political gutter with him wherever he goes, and his arguments are barely worth drawing breath to refute.   But his use of the first person plural was a fringe variant of the familiar terror rhetoric that invariably follows such incidents.   So far we don’t even have the remotest clue whether yesterday’s murderer was attacking ‘our’ values – if these values are deemed to mean freedom and democracy.

Whatever personal motives he may have had, they are likely to be have been legitimised – in his own eyes at least – by some grievance that he holds the British government and public responsible for.  It might be Mosul.  It could be RAF bombing sorties in Syria.  Whatever it is, it’s likely to be much more specific than the cosy invocations of the first personal plural suggest.  Strategically, yesterday’s attacks are more than likely to belong to the usual dismal jihadist playbook: stir up hatred against Muslims who inhabit what IS calls the ‘grey area’; provoke the government into a security overreaction; demonstrate that IS is everywhere and can attack anyone anywhere.

Such things are almost as predictable as the response to them, yet no matter how many times they happen, politicians continue to respond to them with the same meaningless incantations.  In the emotional aftermath of these horrendous events, it may be tempting to imagine that ‘they’ (Muslims) really are waging war against ‘us’ (Westerners, Democrats, Liberals etc) or against ‘our values (tolerance, democracy, freedom, female equality).

But it’s worth remembering that hundreds of Muslim civilians who are no less innocent than those who were killed yesterday have been murdered across the world in the last few months by Islamic State and by other so-called jihadist groups. They include the 30 wedding guests blown up in a suicide bomb attack in Tikrit on 11 March; the bomb attack in Lahore in February that killed 30 protesting pharmacists and wounded more than 100; the car bomb that killed more than 30 people in a Mogadishu market on 19 Feb;  the Istanbul nightclub massacre on 1 January: the multiple car bombings in Sadr City in Baghdad that killed 56 people and wounded more than 100

This is only the most cursory sample.   Look back on the seventeen years since George Bush  launched his war against evil, and you will see again and again that Muslims have been killed in far greater numbers than non-Muslims by the groups that the forces of civilisation are supposedly fighting.

No one can be surprised that an attack like the one that took place yesterday should dominate the front pages. But we ought to wonder why even bloodier acts of mass murder carried out by the same franchises in Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan or Somalia receive little no coverage at all, no calls for international solidarity, no facebook memes or twitter hashtags, no lofty rhetoric about freedom and democracy and shared values – and above all no first person plural.

On one level it’s inevitable that British society should pay more attention to an attack carried out here than it does to acts of violence that take place in what Neville Chamberlain once referred to as ‘faraway countries about which we know nothing’.  But something else is at stake here in a media-saturated world in which ‘faraway’ no longer means what it used to.

It’s difficult to avoid the conclusion that ‘we’ don’t actually care that much about these Muslim victims because they aren’t included in our definition of the first person plural or because such victims don’t fit into the ‘civilisation versus barbarism’ paradigm.   Or maybe it’s because they die in countries where we somehow expect people to die violently, so it somehow makes their deaths seem normal and routine, whereas ours are always an anomalous intrusion into normality.

But if the first person plural that politicians invariably evoke on occasions like this refers to humanity as a whole,  then it must include those other victims who don’t feature in the ‘them’ and ‘us’ narratives.  Because if there is a ‘war’ going on isn’t between Muslims and ‘us’, but between violent Islamist bigots that are as much a danger to their fellow-Muslims as they are to ‘us’.  Over the next few days ‘our’ bigots like Trump, Farage, and Melanie Phillips will undoubtedly come swimming through the dank swamp that Lennon and Katie Hopkins already inhabit, and use yesterday’s murders to stir up hatred.

In these circumstances it’s worth remembering that a motorcyclist called Ismail Hassan only narrowly avoided being killed on Westminster Bridge.  I have no idea if he was a Muslim, but whoever was driving that car towards him clearly didn’t care if he was or wasn’t.  Like his fellow-murderers in Brussels, Nice, Baghdad or Quetta he was prepared to kill anyone who got in his way, whatever their age, gender, nationality, religion or skin colour.

We need to hold onto that simple recognition, not only because we should not divide the world into worthy and unworthy victims, but because we cannot allow the bigots to use yesterday’s atrocity for their own ends and whip up precisely the kind of hatred that its perpetrators undoubtedly seek.

 

 

 

Nice and the Spectacle of Terror

Yesterday evening I was driving to play a game of tennis and listening to the radio, when I heard the sounds of of screaming people being mown down by a truck in Nice.  I immediately turned it off.  This isn’t because I think I have some privileged right to ignore the escalating procession of horrors that is driving our fractured and ever-more deranged world ever closer towards catastrophe.

I don’t ignore these terrifying developments, and I would be stupid to do so.  But I don’t need to hear the sounds of children being murdered to know that what took place in Nice is utterly sad and tragic and yet another outrageous crime that disgraces the name of humanity.  And I know that the narcissistic murderers who perpetrate such horrors and the bloodthirsty morons who celebrate them want me to be watching and listening.

Like the psychopathic Tooth Fairy in Michael Mann’s Manhunter such men want an audience to ‘feel awe’ at their ability to transmit atrocity-spectacles through a mass media that thrives on such phenomena.  Both the man driving the truck and the so-called ‘Islamic State’ that has ‘claimed responsibility’ for Thursday’s act of mass slaughter have arrived in that peculiar moral wasteland inhabited by the great murderers and genociders of history, in which it is possible to kill anyone without mercy or restraint.

They see themselves as heroes and avengers.  I don’t.  They want me to feel afraid of their implacable ability to kill anywhere they like.  I just feel disgust, shame and sorrow that we belong to the same species.   No use calling them ‘beasts’ or ‘animals’, because animals don’t behave like this. These men are humans, even if the violence that they perpetuate is dependent on stripping its victims of any semblance of humanity.

We call such men ‘terrorists’ to establish some kind of moral distinction between us and them, and the use of the t-word immediately gives their actions a new moral and political significance, so that even the truck that Mohamed Lahouaiej-Bouhlel used as a weapon becomes a ‘terror truck’, as the Sun called it today.

Politicians fall back on the same tropes and rhetorical devices.  We hear that these attacks were aimed at ‘us’ – a first person plural that almost always refers to non-Muslims regardless of the fact that far greater numbers of Muslims than Westerners have been murdered by Daesh and groups like it.   Nearly two hundred Iraqis died in a single bombing in Baghdad the previous week, compared with 84 in Nice – yet as always, attacks on Westerners become a universal media event, which politicians depict as an attack on  our ‘values’ and ‘freedoms’ and our ‘way of life.’

Such depictions ignore the fact that Daesh has a very clear strategy – in its attacks on Westerners anyway – of using atrocity and mass murder to create an unbridgeable chasm between Muslims and non-Muslims in order to eliminate the ‘grey area’ and drive European Muslims in particular towards a dystopian slave state that is inexorably crumbling.

Nothing about freedom or values here – just cold ‘intensification of calamities’ reptilian political thinking of the type that the Russian terrorist Sergei Nechaev once bleakly delineated, whose implications and consequences we ignore at our peril.  Yet again and again we do ignore them, and allow others to reinterpret them.

Today I watched an American ‘security expert’ warning of the danger to France from Muslim ghettoes where the population only obeyed ‘Sharia law’ not French law.   Now there might be marginalized and de facto segregated areas where mostly Muslim populations live in a state of what we politely call ‘social exclusion’ – but I never heard or read any conclusive evidence that such populations live under ‘Sharia law.’

And of course we have a host of pundits informing us that we are ‘at war’ – another essential component of the terror-spectacle.   Well this is true in the sense that every atrocity in Europe is part of a continuum of violence that extends from European capitals to Syria, Libya, Iraq, and Afghanistan, and even further afield.  But it is precisely the wars and interventions that we have waged so gratuitously over the last sixteen years that have created the context in which organizations like ISIS can thrive and present themselves as Islamic holy warriors in a global battlefield.

Had our governments not done this, had they responded to the 9/11 attacks with a measured, calibrated and patient law-enforcement driven response to al Qaeda we might not have been in the situation we are now in.   Had our governments not chosen to bomb and invade one Muslim country after another, we might have drained the crucial – however spurious – legitimacy that groups like AQ and its offshoots have drawn on to present their actions as defensive or reciprocal.

So many what ifs? And it would be an exaggeration to suggest that there would have been no problem or at all if these things had not happened, just as it is crude and simplistic to suggest that every act of mass murder perpetrated by Islamic extremists is some kind of ill-conceived response to Western foreign policy.   But the problem might not have been as all-pervasive as it is now, had our governments not launched themselves into the various ‘wars on terror’ to ‘make us safe’, which have made nobody safe at all – not over here or over there.

Despite these manifold failures, Marine Le Pen would like to ‘begin’ the ‘war’ against was ‘Islamic fundamentalism’ that according to her, hasn’t been fought yet.  How should it be fought?  She doesn’t say.  But others have been saying it for a long time. Forced assimilation; mass expulsions and deportations; turn their cities into car parks; European civil wars; ‘making life harder for Muslims across the board’ – we’ve all heard variants on what this ‘war’ might look like.

In the wake of the Nice attacks, Newt Gingrich has proposed that all American Muslims should be ‘tested’ to see if they believe in ‘Sharia law’ – and expelled if they do.  To me such notions are not only completely impractical – what does a drunk, wife-beating depressive and petty criminal who rarely went near a mosque have to do with ‘Sharia law’? – they have nothing to do with freedom or democracy and reek of incipient fascism.

Of course Daesh and its cohorts would love to see such ‘solutions’ implemented.  These groups don’t believe Muslims have any place in the West – a belief they share with the far right.  It’s safe to assume that they would be extremely happy with a full-blown program of persecution, deportations, and an outbreak of ethnic strife in either the United States or Europe.

For that reason alone, we shouldn’t want to give them that victory, though some clearly don’t care if we do.   There is no doubt that we face an extraordinarily complex and variegated terrorist emergency that is both local and global, whose provocations are designed – like those of so many of their predecessors in the grim history of terrorism – to provoke all-out confrontation and force supposedly democratic societies to reveal their ‘true’ repressive face.

We must resist that temptation, no matter what it takes.  We – Muslims and non-Muslims – must continue together the search for a world based on collective security and peaceful coexistence, on tolerance, justice and mutual respect.  Every atrocity, wherever it takes place, should galvanize us to renew this search not abandon it or conclude that it’s impossible to achieve, because if we stop that common search we are all lost, and the dregs of our species will win.

All governments have the obligation to protect their populations, but too many governments have used terrorist-spectacles as a justification for wars and interventions that have only increased the risks we face.  For this reason terrorism is too important to be left to politicians.   We need civil society to get on board. We need to deepen and widen democracy, not curtail it.   We need to think very clearly, honestly and precisely about who our enemies are and what motivates them .   In the age of the internet and social media, we may never be able to stop marginalised and narcissistic men from seeking redemption and notoriety through poisonous mythologies of grandiose violence.

But no matter how many terror-spectacles they perpetrate, no matter how many times they brag that they love death more than we love life, we must pick up the pieces afterwards and mourn those whose lives have been shattered and cut short.

And then we must forwards together towards our common future with as much serenity and conviction as we can muster, and  continue the search for a world in which these suicide-cum-mass murderers will never be able to see themselves as heroes, and will be treated with universal contempt.

2016: All Aboard the Armageddon Express

One thing you can say about the maniacs who are intent on dragging our world to destruction is they don’t waste any time.   They don’t listen to seasonal bromides from the Queen or anywhere else asking us to light candles in the darkness.  Not for them New Year messages about peace, hope and goodwill.  In a global civilisation ravaged by war and violence and threatened by looming ecological disaster and the prospect of the next financial crisis, they can always be counted on to do whatever is likely to make matters worse at any given time.

Take the House of Saud’s execution of 47 men on terrorism charges yesterday, including the Shia cleric Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr. The execution of a leading Shia critic of the Saudi monarchy is both a deliberate provocation and a clear demonstration of malign intent from a thoroughly rotten regime hellbent on fomenting an all-out Shia-Sunni sectarian war in order to shore up its declining power and influence.

Yet Saudi Arabia is also a key ally of the West in the global struggle between civilisation and terrorism that was unleashed after the 9/11 attacks and which is now entering its fifteenth year.  As such, it knows that it can do pretty much whatever it wants and that neither our government nor any of the other states that have fallen over themselves to sell the Saudis weapons will do anything about it.

The Saudis have also been among the most active promoters of the takfiri/Salafist jihadist groups that Western governments have been fighting. If we take seriously the idea that the ‘war on terror’ is really intended to eliminate terrorism and ‘keep us safe’, as our governments keep insisting, then an ally like this would be considered a massive liability rather than an asset.

Yet there is no indication that our government or anyone else’s has reached such conclusions. Rather than invite the public to consider the dangerous geopolitical alliances that have done so much to make Daesh/ISIS possible, our government, and so many others, prefers instead to whip the citizens of the West into a state of frightened paralysis, while they continue to wage an endless series of pseudo-wars that have already produced such catastrophic consequences, and which play into the hands of the enemies they are supposedly fighting.

In the 1870s, the Russian anarcho-Narodnik Sergei Kravchinsky, a leading propagandist in the ‘Nihilist’ political movement that assassinated Alexander II, advocated a strategy of assassinating high state officials in order to draw the Tsarist regime into a long and debilitating conflict in which ‘the strong is vanquished, not by the arms of his adversary, but by the continuous tension of his own strength, which exhausts him, at last, more than he would be exhausted by defeats.’

Since 9/11 Daesh and the other variants of the al-Qaeda franchise have pursued a very similar strategy with remarkable success. Consider this: the 9/11 attacks cost between $400,000 to $500,000, whereas the various wars on terror have cost more than eight million times as much.

Not only did the nineteen hijackers carry out one of the most cost-effective attacks in history, but their adversaries have given them everything they could have asked for, through a series of reckless, self-interested and incoherent wars and military interventions that have done nothing to diminish the security threat these wars are supposedly intended to eliminate.

Readers who want to think about how we got into this mess rather than merely rant about it might start with a brilliant essay by the anthropologist Scott Atran on the rise of ISIS and its implications. In a discussion of terrorist attacks in Europe and the United States, Atran observes how:

‘Today, mere mention of an attack on New York in an ISIS video has US officials scurrying to calm the public. Media exposure, which is the oxygen of terror in our age, not only amplifies the perception of danger but, in generating such hysteria, makes the bloated threat to society real.This is especially true today because the media is mostly designed to titillate the public rather than inform it. Thus, it has become child’s play for ISIS to turn our own propaganda machine, the world’s mightiest, into theirs – boosting a novel, highly potent jujitsu style of asymmetric warfare that we could counter with responsible restraint and straight-up information, but we won’t.’

No we won’t.   Just as we won’t recognize the strategic objectives outlined more than ten years ago in a document called The Management of Savagery/Chaos, written for the Mesopotamian wing of Al-Qaeda, which urges its followers to : .

1) ‘Diversify and widen the vexation strikes against the Crusader-Zionist enemy in every place in the Islamic world, and even outside of it if possible, so as to disperse the efforts of the alliance of the enemy and thus drain it to the greatest extent possible.’

And

2) ‘If a tourist resort that the Crusaders patronise… is hit, all of the tourist resorts in all of the states of the world will have to be secured by the work of additional forces, which are double the ordinary amount, and a huge increase in spending.’

Today we have reached such a state of collective terror that ISIS achieve these objectives without striking at all.   Thus on New Year’s Eve the German authorities received  a tip that militants from Iraq and Syria were planning New Year attacks in Munich, yet a police chief has now said that ‘ police could not find the suspects and are not even sure if they exist or are in the country.’

And yesterday Belgium released the remaining three men out of an original six suspects, who were arrested for planning a terrorist atrocity during the annual fireworks display on New Years Eve, which was cancelled.  Despite these false alarms Europeans are now being told that threats, cancellations and lockdowns will become the ‘new normal’ over the coming months.

The Belgian security expert  Professor Rik Coolsaet has warned against conflating refugees and terrorism “into something near hysteria. We must not confuse these two separate issues and we must be wary of any politicians who try and do that for their own ends, to the detriment of the very fabric of our society.”

These warnings are likely to fall on deaf ears, when they are aimed at governments for whom public hysteria increasingly seems to be a desired outcome.   As Pankaj Mishra notes in a typically sharp column in the Guardian today:

‘The modern west has been admirably different from other civilisations in its ability to counterbalance the arrogance of power with recognition of its excesses. Now, however, it is not only the bankers who radically expand our notion of impunity. Their chums in politics and the media coax, with criminal irresponsibility, the public into deeper fear and insecurity – and into blaming their overall plight on various enemies (immigrants, budding terrorists in Calais’s jungle, an un-American alien in the White House, Muslims and darkies in general).’

Absolutely right, and if the scapegoating succeeds, then Daesh will the the main beneficiaries.   In  a 12-page editorial published in ISIS’s online magazine Dabiq in early 2015 entitled ‘The Extinction of the Gray Zone’, its authors hailed the ‘blessed attacks’ of September 11 and announced that ‘the time had come for another event to… bring division to the world and destroy the Grayzone.’

Today, as we look forward to another year of fear, hysteria, security paranoia and terrorist provocations, we need to resist these efforts to use atrocity to divide the world into warring camps. But as the Saudi executions make clear, they aren’t the only ones seeking that outcome.

So let us resist the attempts by Daesh to reduce us to cowering wrecks.  But we should not allow governments that seek to use their violence for their own ends to herd their terrified populations into fearful and hateful national security enclaves where we question nothing and accept everything. Let’s do whatever we can, wherever we are, to sow the seeds of something different over the next twelve months.

Let us despise the terrorists by all means, but let’s also remember that the Armageddon Express has many different drivers, and it’s up to all of us to prise their hands off the wheel and find a way to get this world back on track towards a different kind of future, which reflects the best of us, rather than the worst. .   .