The new terror

In the wake of the failed terror attacks in London and Glasgow Shiv Malik reports on an unforeseen t

The foiled terrorist attacks in London on 29 June, and the subsequent attack at Glasgow Airport, differ from previous British Islamic terrorist plots in two important ways.

First, in terms of their tactics. These were car bombs. The Iraqi insurgency, it seemed, had for the first time been outsourced to British soil.

Second, according to police, those involved in the plot or plots were not British-born or bred. With the notable exception of the Algerian Kamel Bourgass, the lead figure behind the so-called ricin plot in 2003 (a suspected plan to create havoc using home-made poison), pretty much every recent UK-based Islamic terrorist plot has had a British-bred rump at its centre.

But the Brit factor is not the only one that links those behind the 2001 "shoe bombing", the 2003 bombings in Tel Aviv, the Bluewater plot, the 7/7 and failed 21/7 bombings and the 2006 plot to blow up aircraft on transatlantic flights. Almost all of those involved in these incidents were associated with a network of jihadis who were radicalised during the time of the Bosnian conflict, and/or were ex-members of the British Islamist group al-Muhajiroun who went to Pakistan before or just after the 11 September 2001 attacks (see Observations, NS, 7 May 2007).

In the past few days, attention has focused around the profession of the suspects in the latest attacks: foreign doctors working in British hospitals. Much astonishment has been expressed that highly educated, affluent family men could perpetrate acts of terrorism. Yet this comes as no surprise to those close to the jihadi networks. These groups have long attracted people from all professional and social classes, not just the poor and socially deprived. It is often forgotten, for example, that Mohammad Sidique Khan, leader of the 7/7 bombers, was university-educated, as was Omar Sheikh (who masterminded the murder of Daniel Pearl) - and, indeed, so were the 9/11 terrorists themselves. Dhiren Barot, the British al-Qaeda plotter, was also middle-class. Hassan Butt, a former fundraiser for al-Muhajiroun, commented this past week that many of his donors in Manchester and the north-west of England were professionals. Junaid Babar, supergrass in the Operation Crevice case, also stated that in 2002 he travelled "to the north of England to see a doctor to raise money for jihad". The doctor donated several hundred pounds.

In all but the most vicious of police states, it is possible to radicalise and indoctrinate terrorists with the right kind of ideology and mentality anywhere. Thankfully, however, there are very few places in the world where aspiring terrorists can equip themselves with the skills necessary to commit mass murder effectively. An audacious attempt to do so in the wilds of Oregon, where the Islamist British cleric Abu Hamza and his henchmen set up an ad hoc camp between 1999 and 2000, was quickly spotted by US law-enforcement authorities. And whatever is said about the vast amount of weapons information on the internet, nothing compares to being taught in person. Setting up an effective terror cell involves more than just knowing how to construct a bomb.

Basic mistakes

Those with inside knowledge tell me that if a cell is to be effective, it needs to learn discipline (in British jihadi circles this is known as amarship), as well as anti-surveillance techniques, how to operate secure funding structures, and the art of reconnaissance (so the jihadists don't make basic mistakes such as parking their improvised explosive device in a Westminster council tow zone).

And then there are the lessons that can only be learned through experience. For example, the Bluewater plotters wasted weeks trying to devise methods of smuggling nitrogen fertiliser through Pakistani customs, when they should have realised that it can be purchased quite easily in Britain (but not, of course, if you want half a tonne of it in one go). This learning of lessons is one reason why armed forces are far more effective at killing people than terrorists; institutions are much better at remembering their mistakes.

In Britain, the vast majority of home-grown terrorists are of south Asian descent and acquired their skills to kill in Afghanistan during the Taliban era (the 1990s) or during the few years after 9/11, when the Pakistani authorities were still grappling to take control of their historically lawless tribal regions. With filial links and few language barriers, aspiring British terrorists found that Pakistan was an easy place to manoeuvre around. The sterling in their pockets, raised from donors in Britain's Muslim com munities, also helped to elevate them into the ranks of Pakistani terrorist networks faster than their experience should have warranted. However, as President Pervez Musharraf made genuine attempts to crack down on foreign terrorist camps, it became much harder for Brits to travel to Pakistan to receive training.

Since the 7 July 2005 attacks on London, with Pakistan largely closed off, south Asian British radicals have found it extremely difficult to get training in other parts of the world, such as Iraq. For a start, they don't speak the pan-jihadi language - Arabic. (Sources tell me that although the Iraqi insurgents take on foot soldiers, they don't yet have any substantial capacity to train non-Arabic speakers in terrorist methods.) And so, as the men of the 1990s-to-2004 generation of trained jihadists have been arrested, fled the UK or, more horrifyingly, died succeeding, the overall skills base of the British terrorist network has dwindled rapidly.

In theory, if all other factors remained equal, the security services would just have to pick off the rest of the pre-2004 generation. The bad news is that all factors have not remained equal.

In recent months, there have been two major developments on the training front. First, before the Ethiopian invasion of Somalia last December, there was a window of roughly six months when the pro-jihadist Union of Islamic Courts (UIC) was in control of the capital, Mogadishu. During that time, I am told, it was possible for British Somalis to travel back to Somalia to receive terrorist training. "If the UIC hadn't been removed, Britain would have had another nightmare," said a source who asked not to be identified.

The second problem is even more worrying. In Pakistan, as President Mu sharraf has tried to tackle the liberal opposition, he has had, out of necessity, to drop the ball of fighting extremism. The summer training season has been in full swing. "Musharraf," said another source, "has turned a blind eye to what Islamists and jihadists are doing there because he can't tackle everything. It has totally opened up." Under pressure, the Pakistani military has begun to clamp down again on hardline mosques. The potential for violence, and further grievance, is great.

This article first appeared in the 09 July 2007 issue of the New Statesman, The new terror

Jeremy Corbyn. Photo: Getty
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Lexit: the EU is a neoliberal project, so let's do something different when we leave it

Brexit affords the British left a historic opportunity for a decisive break with EU market liberalism.

The Brexit vote to leave the European Union has many parents, but "Lexit" – the argument for exiting the EU from the left – remains an orphan. A third of Labour voters backed Leave, but they did so without any significant leadership from the Labour Party. Left-of-centre votes proved decisive in determining the outcome of a referendum that was otherwise framed, shaped, and presented almost exclusively by the right. A proper left discussion of the issues has been, if not entirely absent, then decidedly marginal – part of a more general malaise when it comes to developing left alternatives that has begun to be corrected only recently, under Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell.

Ceding Brexit to the right was very nearly the most serious strategic mistake by the British left since the ‘70s. Under successive leaders Labour became so incorporated into the ideology of Europeanism as to preclude any clear-eyed critical analysis of the actually existing EU as a regulatory and trade regime pursuing deep economic integration. The same political journey that carried Labour into its technocratic embrace of the EU also resulted in the abandonment of any form of distinctive economics separate from the orthodoxies of market liberalism.

It’s been astounding to witness so many left-wingers, in meltdown over Brexit, resort to parroting liberal economics. Thus we hear that factor mobility isn’t about labour arbitrage, that public services aren’t under pressure, that we must prioritise foreign direct investment and trade. It’s little wonder Labour became so detached from its base. Such claims do not match the lived experience of ordinary people in regions of the country devastated by deindustrialisation and disinvestment.

Nor should concerns about wage stagnation and bargaining power be met with finger-wagging accusations of racism, as if the manner in which capitalism pits workers against each other hasn’t long been understood. Instead, we should be offering real solutions – including a willingness to rethink capital mobility and trade. This places us in direct conflict with the constitutionalised neoliberalism of the EU.

Only the political savvy of the leadership has enabled Labour to recover from its disastrous positioning post-referendum. Incredibly, what seemed an unbeatable electoral bloc around Theresa May has been deftly prized apart in the course of an extraordinary General Election campaign. To consolidate the political project they have initiated, Corbyn and McDonnell must now follow through with a truly radical economic programme. The place to look for inspiration is precisely the range of instruments and policy options discouraged or outright forbidden by the EU.

A neoliberal project

The fact that right-wing arguments for Leave predominated during the referendum says far more about today’s left than it does about the European Union. There has been a great deal of myth-making concerning the latter –much of it funded, directly or indirectly, by the EU itself.

From its inception, the EU has been a top-down project driven by political and administrative elites, "a protected sphere", in the judgment of the late Peter Mair, "in which policy-making can evade the constraints imposed by representative democracy". To complain about the EU’s "democratic deficit" is to have misunderstood its purpose. The main thrust of European economic policy has been to extend and deepen the market through liberalisation, privatisation, and flexiblisation, subordinating employment and social protection to goals of low inflation, debt reduction, and increased competitiveness.

Prospects for Keynesian reflationary policies, or even for pan-European economic planning – never great – soon gave way to more Hayekian conceptions. Hayek’s original insight, in The Economic Conditions of Interstate Federalism, was that free movement of capital, goods, and labour – a "single market" – among a federation of nations would severely and necessarily restrict the economic policy space available to individual members. Pro-European socialists, whose aim had been to acquire new supranational options for the regulation of capital, found themselves surrendering the tools they already possessed at home. The national road to socialism, or even to social democracy, was closed.

The direction of travel has been singular and unrelenting. To take one example, workers’ rights – a supposed EU strength – are steadily being eroded, as can be seen in landmark judgments by the European Court of Justice (ECJ) in the Viking and Laval cases, among others. In both instances, workers attempting to strike in protest at plans to replace workers from one EU country with lower-wage workers from another, were told their right to strike could not infringe upon the "four freedoms" – free movement of capital, labour, goods, and services – established by the treaties.

More broadly, on trade, financial regulation, state aid, government purchasing, public service delivery, and more, any attempt to create a different kind of economy from inside the EU has largely been forestalled by competition policy or single market regulation.

A new political economy

Given that the UK will soon be escaping the EU, what opportunities might this afford? Three policy directions immediately stand out: public ownership, industrial strategy, and procurement. In each case, EU regulation previously stood in the way of promising left strategies. In each case, the political and economic returns from bold departures from neoliberal orthodoxy after Brexit could be substantial.

While not banned outright by EU law, public ownership is severely discouraged and disadvantaged by it. ECJ interpretation of Article 106 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU) has steadily eroded public ownership options. "The ECJ", argues law professor Danny Nicol, "appears to have constructed a one-way street in favour of private-sector provision: nationalised services are prima facie suspect and must be analysed for their necessity". Sure enough, the EU has been a significant driver of privatisation, functioning like a ratchet. It’s much easier for a member state to pursue the liberalisation of sectors than to secure their (re)nationalisation. Article 59 (TFEU) specifically allows the European Council and Parliament to liberalise services. Since the ‘80s, there have been single market programmes in energy, transport, postal services, telecommunications, education, and health.

Britain has long been an extreme outlier on privatisation, responsible for 40 per cent of the total assets privatised across the OECD between 1980 and 1996. Today, however, increasing inequality, poverty, environmental degradation and the general sense of an impoverished public sphere are leading to growing calls for renewed public ownership (albeit in new, more democratic forms). Soon to be free of EU constraints, it’s time to explore an expanded and fundamentally reimagined UK public sector.

Next, Britain’s industrial production has been virtually flat since the late 1990s, with a yawning trade deficit in industrial goods. Any serious industrial strategy to address the structural weaknesses of UK manufacturing will rely on "state aid" – the nurturing of a next generation of companies through grants, interest and tax relief, guarantees, government holdings, and the provision of goods and services on a preferential basis.

Article 107 TFEU allows for state aid only if it is compatible with the internal market and does not distort competition, laying out the specific circumstances in which it could be lawful. Whether or not state aid meets these criteria is at the sole discretion of the Commission – and courts in member states are obligated to enforce the commission’s decisions. The Commission has adopted an approach that considers, among other things, the existence of market failure, the effectiveness of other options, and the impact on the market and competition, thereby allowing state aid only in exceptional circumstances.

For many parts of the UK, the challenges of industrial decline remain starkly present – entire communities are thrown on the scrap heap, with all the associated capital and carbon costs and wasted lives. It’s high time the left returned to the possibilities inherent in a proactive industrial strategy. A true community-sustaining industrial strategy would consist of the deliberate direction of capital to sectors, localities, and regions, so as to balance out market trends and prevent communities from falling into decay, while also ensuring the investment in research and development necessary to maintain a highly productive economy. Policy, in this vision, would function to re-deploy infrastructure, production facilities, and workers left unemployed because of a shutdown or increased automation.

In some cases, this might mean assistance to workers or localities to buy up facilities and keep them running under worker or community ownership. In other cases it might involve re-training workers for new skills and re-fitting facilities. A regional approach might help launch new enterprises that would eventually be spun off as worker or local community-owned firms, supporting the development of strong and vibrant network economies, perhaps on the basis of a Green New Deal. All of this will be possible post-Brexit, under a Corbyn government.

Lastly, there is procurement. Under EU law, explicitly linking public procurement to local entities or social needs is difficult. The ECJ has ruled that, even if there is no specific legislation, procurement activity must "comply with the fundamental rules of the Treaty, in particular the principle of non-discrimination on grounds of nationality". This means that all procurement contracts must be open to all bidders across the EU, and public authorities must advertise contracts widely in other EU countries. In 2004, the European Parliament and Council issued two directives establishing the criteria governing such contracts: "lowest price only" and "most economically advantageous tender".

Unleashed from EU constraints, there are major opportunities for targeting large-scale public procurement to rebuild and transform communities, cities, and regions. The vision behind the celebrated Preston Model of community wealth building – inspired by the work of our own organisation, The Democracy Collaborative, in Cleveland, Ohio – leverages public procurement and the stabilising power of place-based anchor institutions (governments, hospitals, universities) to support rooted, participatory, democratic local economies built around multipliers. In this way, public funds can be made to do "double duty"; anchoring jobs and building community wealth, reversing long-term economic decline. This suggests the viability of a very different economic approach and potential for a winning political coalition, building support for a new socialist economics from the ground up.

With the prospect of a Corbyn government now tantalisingly close, it’s imperative that Labour reconciles its policy objectives in the Brexit negotiations with its plans for a radical economic transformation and redistribution of power and wealth. Only by pursuing strategies capable of re-establishing broad control over the national economy can Labour hope to manage the coming period of pain and dislocation following Brexit. Based on new institutions and approaches and the centrality of ownership and control, democracy, and participation, we should be busy assembling the tools and strategies that will allow departure from the EU to open up new political-economic horizons in Britain and bring about the profound transformation the country so desperately wants and needs.

Joe Guinan is executive director of the Next System Project at The Democracy Collaborative. Thomas M. Hanna is research director at The Democracy Collaborative.

This is an extract from a longer essay which appears in the inaugural edition of the IPPR Progressive Review.

 

 

This article first appeared in the 09 July 2007 issue of the New Statesman, The new terror

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