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In this week’s New Statesman | The Summer of Blood

A first look at this week’s magazine.

5 SEPTEMBER 2014 ISSUE

COVER STORY: THE SUMMER OF BLOOD

FROM IRAQ TO AFGHANISTAN: THE BLACK HOLES WHERE THE NASTIEST GROUPS ARE THRIVING

John Simpson: the only credible response is to turn these
places back into proper countries

STEPHEN GLOVER: THE RIGHTEOUS MIND

The Guardian’s Nick Davies was courageous and correct
to expose phone-hacking – but he has crossed the line between reporter and campaigner

THE POLITICS ESSAY: THE TORY SCHISM

Tim Bale: From Robert Peel and the split over the Corn Laws
to the Ukip insurgency

Plus

DAVID PATRIKARAKOS IN UKRAINE: WHEN ONE SIMPLE MISTAKE
CAN LEAD TO CATASTROPHE

LETTER FROM EDINBURGH: ANGUS ROXBURGH BELIEVES SCOTS SHOULDN’T
BE AFRAID TO TALK ABOUT NATIONALISM

HELEN LEWIS: ONLINE ABUSE, LEAKED NUDES AND REVENGE PORN – THIS IS NOTHING LESS THAN TERRORISM AGAINST WOMEN

THE POLITICS COLUMN: SPLITS OVER EUROPE SHOW THAT THE TORIES ARE
LOSING – SO WHY DOESN’T IT FEEL LIKE LABOUR IS WINNING?

And

IN THE CRITICS: RACHEL COOKE ON THE STRANGE, DARK LIFE OF
JIMMY SAVILE
PETER WILBY WISHES THE ESTABLISHMENT
BY OWEN JONES WENT DEEPER TRACEY THORN WATCHES
KATE BUSH’S RETURN TO THE STAGE

 

 

COVER STORY: THE SUMMER OF ANFAL

The BBC’s world affairs editor, John Simpson, reports from Pol-e Khomri in northern Afghanistan, where he talks to Commander Mirwais, the local leader of Hizb-e-Islami, a Taliban group that once murdered a BBC journalist who was filming with them. “I know all about Isis,” the commander says, using the Arabic acronym for the group – “Daish”:

“We have links with some Daish members. Muslims are thirsty for an Islamic caliphate in the world. Daish is expanding, conquering entire parts of Syria and Iraq, and we are waiting to see if they meet the requirements for an Islamic caliphate.

“If they do, then we are ready to join them. They are great Islamic fighters, and we pray for them.”

If Islamic State (IS) were to begin operating in Afghanistan, Simpson writes, it would be harder than ever for the new government to take control of the country. He makes a connection between the campaigns by extreme Islamist groups across the globe. “They have become fiercer, more brutal and considerably more effective” in Libya, Gaza City (where the IS flag has been flying) and Nigeria, and are able to use the internet to follow one another.

“The more complex the population,” Simpson writes, “the greater the opportunity – especially when the existing government is incapable of defending its minorities.”

Iraq, Syria, Libya, Afghanistan, Nigeria: in one way or another they are all in danger of becoming black holes in which the nastiest and weirdest groups can thrive. The only serious answer is to turn them back into real countries once again. But that takes long-term commitment from outside interests, especially (though not exclusively) the US and Europe. It certainly can’t be achieved by firing off a few rounds of missiles.

 

THE RIGHTEOUS MIND: STEPHEN GLOVER, CO-FOUNDER OF THE INDEPENDENT, ON THE REAL ENEMIES OF NICK DAVIES

In a vigorous and provocative essay, Stephen Glover, co-founder of the Independent and founding editor of the Independent on Sunday, says that even though he admires the Guardian journalist Nick Davies for exposing widespread phone-hacking by the tabloid press, Davies’s motivation has little to do with victims of the crime. He also argues that it’s a big mistake to regard Davies as an “unvarnished hero”:

Despite his prowess in unmasking wrongdoing, I see him in many ways as a destructive figure, consumed by unreasonable hatreds, whose motivation was not only to expose malpractice at the NoW but also to weaken much of the British press, in which task he has succeeded pretty well.

Davies’s target first and foremost, Glover writes, was Rupert Murdoch, owner of “the Sunday Times and Times and, more especially, the Sun and the now-defunct News of the World”. Glover defends Murdoch’s decision to move his papers to Wapping, because it “gave the press a vital lease of life”, and he tries to debunk the assumption that the media mogul has the power to throw elections:

Murdoch may have backed the winning side in eight successive elections but there is a strong argument that, with the possible exception of 1992, he was simply jumping on a bandwagon that was already heading in a particular direction.

Glover takes his argument further, suggesting that Davies harbours a “near-total contempt for the British press”:

He despises most journalists and hates most newspapers. He doesn’t express a single word of sympathy for innocent Sun hacks hauled out of bed and arrested by the police at the crack of dawn, or for those who have been kept on police bail for many months without charge. Only the Guardian is on the side of the angels, the chief reason being that it does not have to make money, as it has a huge trust fund behind it.

He highlights Davies’s suggestion that the former Observer editor Roger Alton allowed himself to be bullied by the Blair government into supporting the Iraq war: “the most heinous accusation one could make against an editor”. Glover says the idea is based on “shreds of tittle-tattle or hearsay” – perhaps of the same kind that led the Guardian to announce in a report by Davies that the New of the World had deleted messages left on the missing schoolgirl Milly Dowler’s phone, which raised her family’s hopes that she was still alive. The claim turned out to be false but Davies never apologised or retracted.

 

GEORGE EATON: THE POLITICS COLUMN

In his column this week, the NS political editor, George Eaton, argues that the “discipline, pragmatism and ruthless desire to win” that allowed the Conservative Party to govern for 57 years of the 20th century seem to be disintegrating, starting with the defection of Douglas Carswell to Ukip:

That the Tories are convulsed by an issue [Europe] that does not even feature in the top ten of voters’ concerns is a clear sign that the party has lost its winning instincts. Another was the willingness to relinquish the planned boundary changes in return for the abandonment of House of Lords reform. Another still is the decision of so many new MPs in marginal seats (nine) to stand down rather than take their chances with the electorate.

To understand the enemy better, Eaton writes, “GCHQ staff have been ordered to read Revolt on the Right, Matthew Goodwin and Robert Ford’s analysis of the rise of Nigel Farage. But the opposition cannot afford to be sanguine in the face of Ukip’s increasing popularity.

On the micro level, Farage’s party poses an immediate threat in target seats such as Thurrock and a longer-term one in Labour’s northern fortresses. On the macro level, the ascendancy of a party that trades in cynicism and anti-politics creates a culture ever less hospitable to a social-democratic idealist such as Ed Miliband. The Ukip insurgency has robbed Labour of the energy and momentum that ordinarily accrue to an opposition party on the road to Downing Street.

Eaton says that Labour strategists are “alive to the danger of winning the election by default, lacking a mandate for bold change and the popular support necessary to sustain a government through another parliament of austerity”:

“People aren’t yet convinced that we’re prepared to make the changes required. That’s why they’re playing footsie with Farage,” one shadow cabinet member tells me. To others, the Ukip surge is evidence of the need to offer reassurance, above all else, on the issues of the deficit, welfare and immigration.

The tension is greatest in the case of the NHS. The desire to sustain the health service (the issue on which Labour enjoys its largest poll lead) and to carve potent dividing lines with the Tories competes with the fear that a party devoted to reducing the “cost of living” cannot credibly commit to a rise in general taxation. The solution, combined with a definitive and radical policy on tuition fees, will likely form the centrepiece of Labour’s conference.

 

HELEN LEWIS: ONLINE ABUSE, LEAKED NUDES AND REVENGE PORN – THIS IS NOTHING LESS THAN TERRORISM AGAINST WOMEN

In her column – Out of the Ordinary – the New Statesman’s deputy editor, Helen Lewis, identifies a common thread in a series of appalling cases of online abuse, often aimed at women involved in the video-games industry. The cases include the leaking of nude photos of female celebrities, most recently the actress Jennifer Lawrence. “This is a form of terrorism,” Lewis writes.

What we are witnessing are deliberately outrageous acts, designed to create a spectacle and to instil fear in a target population. Where Osama Bin Laden watched in approval as every news network endlessly replayed the footage of a plane hitting a tower, the hackers and harassers must feel thrilled by all the carefully search-engine-optimised headlines above articles decrying the latest leaked pictures. It is a function of successful terrorism that the media become unavoidably complicit in spreading the terror. There is no way to report the story without increasing its potency. We cannot stop looking.

Lewis links the leaking of nude celebrity photos to the impetus behind revenge porn – men use it to “punish women who step out of line”. Online radicalisation is also a factor:

It would be hard to design a better echo chamber than a tightly knit, insular internet forum. We already know that groups tend to drift to extremes as members move with the prevailing wind (and moderates leave). Add a dash of alienation and a sprinkle of resentment and you have the perfect crucible for extremist behaviour.

There is a crucial difference between what has happened to [Anita] Sarkeesian, to Z [a games developer] and to the female celebrities and revenge porn victims, and the reaction to more conventional kinds of terrorism. I bet you no one involved in any of the former will be put under a control order or have their passport taken away. It’s only women living in fear, after all.

 

Plus

In Peter Wilby’s First Thoughts: A Tory-Labour grand coalition, generous
BBC pay-offs and why Isis will probably ignore Britain

Mehdi Hasan: Why is the Muslim world in thrall to conspiracy theories?

Jonn Elledge describes his itchy run-in with London’s bed-bug pandemic

Valerie Grove discusses J B Priestley’s politics with his son, Tom

The Science column: Michael Brooks on a dispute about how far away we are
from the stars that is souring transatlantic relations

Mark Lawson on Philip Seymour Hoffman and posthumous films

Ed Smith scrutinises Alex Salmond’s charm and his bully-boy tactics

Amanda Craig gets to grips with a ripping Arthurian satire – and Christopher Bray considers Marlon Brando’s physical power and intellect

European People's Party via Creative Commons
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Ansbach puts Europe's bravest politician under pressure

Angela Merkel must respond to a series of tragedies and criticisms of her refugee policy. 

Angela Merkel, the Chancellor of Germany, is supposed to be on holiday. Two separate attacks have put an end to that. The first, a mass shooting in Munich, was at first widely believed to be a terrorist attack, but later turned out to be the actions of a loner obsessed with US high school shootings. The second, where a man blew himself up in the town of Ansbach, caused less physical damage - three were seriously injured, but none killed. Nevertheless, this event may prove to affect even more people's lives. Because that man had come to Germany claiming to be a Syrian refugee. 

The attack came hours after a Syrian refugee murdered a pregnant Polish woman, a co-woker in a snack bar, in Reutlingen. All eyes will now be on Merkel who, more than any other European politician, is held responsible for Syrian refugees in Europe.

In 2015, when other European states were erecting barriers to keep out the million migrants and refugees marching north, Merkel kept Germany's borders open. The country has resettled 41,899 Syrians since 2013, according to the UNHCR, of which 20,067 came on humanitarian grounds and 21,832 through private sponsorship. That is twice as much as the UK has pledged to resettle by 2020. The actual number of Syrians in Germany is far higher - 90 per cent of the 102,400 Syrians applying for EU asylum in the first quarter of 2016 were registered there. 

Merkel is the bravest of Europe's politicians. Contrary to some assertions on the right, she did not invent the refugee crisis. Five years of brutal war in Syria did that. Merkel was simply the first of the continent's most prominent leaders to stop ignoring it. If Germany had not absorbed so many refugees, they would still be in central Europe and the Balkans, and we would be seeing even more pictures of starved children in informal camps than we do today. 

Equally, the problems facing Merkel now are not hers alone. These are the problems facing all of Europe's major states, whether or not they recognise them. 

Take the failed Syrian asylum seeker of Ansbach (his application was rejected but he could not be deported back to a warzone). In Germany, his application could at least be considered, and rejected. Europe as a whole has not invested in the processing centres required to determine who is a Syrian civilian, who might be a Syrian combatant and who is simply taking advantage of the black market in Syrian passports to masquerade as a refugee. 

Secondly, there is the subject of trauma. The Munich shooter appears to have had no links to Islamic State or Syria, but his act underlines the fact you do not need a grand political narrative to inflict hurt on others. Syrians who have experienced unspeakable violence either in their homeland or en route to Europe are left psychologically damaged. That is not to suggest they will turn to violence. But it is still safer to offer such people therapy than leave them to drift around Europe, unmonitored and unsupported, as other countries seem willing to do. 

Third, there is the question of lawlessness. Syrians have been blamed for everything from the Cologne attacks in January to creeping Islamist radicalisation. But apart from the fact that these reports can turn out to be overblown (two of the 58 men arrested over Cologne were Syrians), it is unclear what the alternative would be. Policies that force Syrians underground have already greatly empowered Europe's network of human traffickers and thugs.

So far, Merkel seems to be standing her ground. Her home affairs spokesman, Stephan Mayer, told the BBC that Germany had room to improve on its asylum policy, but stressed each attack was different. 

He said: "Horrible things take place in Syria. And it is the biggest humanitarian catastrophe, so it is completely wrong to blame Angela Merkel, or her refugee policies, for these incidents." Many will do, all the same.