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Police pseudoscience and the 'War on Terror'


The following is an excerpt from my latest piece for Al Jazeera.

Radicalisation in the West: The Homegrown Threat” is the name of a 2007 report issued by the New York Police Department (NYPD) highlighting the allegedly underappreciated risk that terrorist acts might be committed by the domestic Muslim population.

The report’s pseudoscientific analysis postulates that Muslim individuals generally pass through four different phases prior to engaging in terrorism: Pre-Radicalisation, Self-Identification, Indoctrination and Jihadisation.

Examples of the Self-Identification phase are said to include “[g]iving up cigarettes, drinking, gambling and urban hip-hop gangster clothes” and “[b]ecoming involved in social activism and community issues”. To illustrate the Indoctrination phase, the report’s authors assert that the Islamic bookshop in Brooklyn that previously employed Pakistani American Shahawar Matin Siraj – convicted in 2006 for plotting to blow up a New York subway station – served as an “extremist incubator” and a venue for “transferring [Siraj’s] Salafi-like mindset to his perception of global issues”.



'Thomas Friedman: The imperial messenger'

The following is an excerpt from my book The Imperial Messenger: Thomas Friedman at Work, released today by Verso. The excerpt, originally published at Al Jazeera, begins with late Palestinian-American scholar Edward Said’s criticism of the Orientalist tendencies Friedman exhibits in his 1989 bestseller From Beirut to Jerusalem. All quotes appearing in this excerpt are properly cited in the work itself.

Edward Said has challenged Friedman’s superimposition of desert scenery onto the contemporary Middle East in his explanation of the Hama massacre of 1982, which Friedman attributes in part to the notion that Syrian President Hafez al-Assad viewed the Sunnis of Hama as “members of an alien tribe – strangers in the desert – who were trying to take his turkey”, something we are told happens in Bedouin legends. Said comments:

So astonishing a jump, from modern, predominantly urban Syria to the prehistoric desert, is of course the purest Orientalism, and is of a piece with the moronic and hopelessly false dictum offered later in the book that the Arab political tradition has produced only two types: the merchant and the messiah.”

It should be noted, however, that Said’s original conception of Orientalism as Eurocentric prejudice must be amended slightly in Friedman’s case to incorporate his generalisations about Europeans themselves, collectively denounced as “Eurowimps” when they do not exhibit sufficient enthusiasm for US military endeavours against Arabo-Islamic peoples. Friedman alternately cajoles particularly intransigent language groups with persuasive slogans like “Ich bin ein New Yorker”, advocates removing France from the UN Security Council because, “as they say in kindergarten, [it] does not play well with others”, and warns Spain that a withdrawal from Iraq in the aftermath of the Madrid bombings of 2004 is a potential modern-day equivalent of the European appeasement of Adolf Hitler.


Mustafa fends off Islamic republic in Turkey

Atatürk and rakı, a scene undermined by current ruling AK Party. (Image from harbigazete.com)

A 62 year old Turkish acquaintance of mine recently informed me that he had erected an empire and was now going by the title İmparator Mustafa.

The empire currently extends from Mustafa’s ground-level apartment in the seaside town of Fethiye in southwest Turkey to the three rental apartments he has just constructed above it. The creation of novel territorial entities has apparently been necessitated by Mustafa’s conviction that, prior to the rise to power of the Islamic-oriented Justice and Development (AK) Party, Turkish girls roamed the streets in bikinis.

In order to construct the apartments, Mustafa tore down the restaurant he had operated since the 1970s but that had in recent years failed to subsidize his daily consumption of rakı, the national alcoholic beverage, serving instead as a forum for Mustafa to spout political wisdom to the gang of loyal companions that arrived each night with bags of sunflower seeds and beer. His attempts to seduce European tourists with a misspelled banner advertising the “Ottoman Fantazy Kebab”—the distinguishing characteristic of which was that it was cooked on a cast-iron contraption Mustafa swore was an Ottoman army relic—proved fruitless, and the novelty was discontinued after one too many wooden chairs had been sacrificed to maintain the kebab oven’s flame.


TSA fails to order enhanced screening of residents of state sponsors of terrorism who arrive to Florida coast on tractor tires

According to heightened security measures devised by the United States Transportation Security Administration (TSA) in the wake of the “Dec. 25 incident,” “every individual flying into the U.S. from anywhere in the world traveling from or through nations that are state sponsors of terrorism or other countries of interest will be required to go through enhanced screening.”

In order that air travelers might more easily determine whether their travel plans involve “countries of interest,” TSA elaborates:

The countries of interest are Afghanistan, Algeria, Iraq, Lebanon, Libya, Nigeria, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Yemen and those designated as state sponsors of terrorism, Cuba, Iran, Sudan, and Syria.”

Washington Post Op-Ed columnist Eugene Robinson bravely objects to Cuba’s inclusion in the list in a Jan. 5 dispatch entitled “A terrorism designation Cuba doesn’t deserve,” in which he explains that—unlike the other 13 countries of interest—Cuba “is not a failed state where swaths of territory lie beyond government control” and that “[t]here is no history of radical Islam in Cuba.”

TSA has thus far failed to detect Cuba’s uniqueness, however, or to expand its heightened security requirements to include amendments to the Cuban Adjustment Act, such that visitors arriving illegally to the U.S. from Caribbean state sponsors of terrorism are not rewarded with expedited citizenship options.

American Muslims radicalize selves in tradition of European counterparts, Washington Post discovers

U.S. government, on the other hand, continues to refrain from radical behavior in Pakistan.

A 12 December The Washington Post article entitled “Arrests suggest U.S. Muslims, like those in Europe, can be radicalized abroad” by Mary Beth Sheridan and Spencer S. Hsu begins:

A spike in terrorism cases involving U.S. citizens is challenging long-held assumptions that Muslims in Europe are more susceptible to radicalization than their better-assimilated counterparts in the United States.”

The limited scope of Sheridan and Hsu’s anthropological breakthrough is suggested by the fact that they neglect to explain whether the rape of Iraqis by US soldiers would not also qualify as “radicalization abroad”; as for “long-held assumptions,” these had apparently been bolstered by “British domestic intelligence chiefs [who had] warned in 2006 and 2007 of 200 terrorist networks [in Britain], at least 2,000 individuals who posed a direct security threat and perhaps 2,000 as-yet unknown would-be terrorists.”