Speak freely, firmly & without prejudice
Free speech & rule of law after the Cologne attacks
One of the many shocking things about the mass sexual assaults in Germany on New Year’s was the inadequate police response to the unfolding violence despite circumstantial evidence that it had been coordinated in advance. But why was the evidence only circumstantial? Why is it still so?
Take the UK and the 2011 riots, organised via social media and encrypted messaging. It was a layered phenomena: framed on Facebook, inflated by gawkers drawn via Twitter, tactically exploited by criminals via Blackberry, and fanned by the visually arousing real-time geo-located images of YouTube.
Police across Europe listened and learnt. But the significance of monitoring putative youth violence online has taken on far greater import since. Street gangs are the recruitment spaces for tomorrow’s salafist euro-jihadis.
The link between crime and terrorism is well recognised, if under researched. It has been so for years, historically from experience in Northern Ireland to the Sahel and beyond, to today’s two-way trafficking gangs who send children north to brothels and wannabe terrorists south to the Islamic State.
It’s easy to detect the trend through the briefest look at the criminal gang records of self-styled ISIS inspired lone wolves. The killers increasingly come from a very precise sector of society, especially on mainland Europe and particularly in France, as Olivier Roy, among others, points out.
As in the UK in 2011, social media is still the means to stir the pot of disaffected criminal youth, only now the scum that rises to the top (or sinks to the bottom) are as prepared to turn to terrorism as organised gang crime. Or both.
Thus rapid interpretation of social media ‘chatter’ has become a primary tool in police and state intelligence early-warning systems. Second-generation Muslim migrants running with European street gangs must now be the most readily definable and broadly monitored community in Europe.
On New Year’s Eve attention had focused on Munich where similar areas were closed after intelligence reports indicated that Islamic State supporters planned attacks. Helsinki police staved off another incident in advance. It seems implausible that the monitors missed the chatter around the gang’s preparations for Cologne.
Yet it did not trigger a pre-emptive police response. Worse, wrote Deborah Orr in the Guardian, “the police were slow to respond to reports of sexual assaults, slow to admit to an emerging pattern of assault — or maybe even to piece one together at all — and say now that they are unlikely to be able to apprehend or convict any of these brazen serial sexual predators.”
“Perhaps,” wrote Gaby Hinsliff in another insightful piece for the same paper, “as with the mob assaults on women, including journalists covering protests in Tahrir Square, where sexual opportunism was hard to distinguish from political intimidation, this feels like a new phenomenon”.
Or perhaps the point of gathering Cologne’s scum for a local re-run of the vile gang gropes organised by Egyptian and Indian youth, say, was to deepen the pool from which jihadi commissars fish for future lone wolves?
I’ve spent months now studying the political economy of ISIS and nothing would surprise about its ability to mutate ideology and practise to suit environment and opportunity. If so perhaps German state intelligence, realising this, held their tongue to see what emerged from the pool later.
As a firm sceptic on the subject of intelligence work, I could also put it down to a failure to present covertly gathered information as actionable intelligence. This is what spooks call an “I&W” (Indications and Warning) bulletin. Often actionable information is left off the bulletin to protect the ‘integrity’ of their intelligence from police officers working outside their gilded circle. The gigantic growth of surveillance exposed by Edward Snowden has only added to the intrinsic fallibility of mass-monitoring.
But you probably saw the last series of Homeland, so I’ll end my sub-Russia Today-style conspiracising with a Glenn Greenwald-ready question: How much easier will it be to publicly present a surveillance clampdown on minorities now that the primary motive is to target rapists rather than activists?
Anyway, no one’s listening. The popularly circulated reason for this chronic failure of operational policing was not spooks over-protecting their sources, but that well-known crime against humanity, Political Correctness.
Deborah Orr called it “leftageddon”. Two matters close to the progressive heart pitted against each other: “When the rights of women and a warm reception for migrants come into conflict, it’s understandable if the left panics — but we have to salvage nuance”.
Some hope. Virtual gangs of angry men of a particular age and ethnicity immediately organised online. Driven by the desire to prove their victimhood is as good as any minority’s, they fell in packs, groping at a section of society they hold in historic contempt. Their target, folk peacefully expressing themselves on their own terms in their own culture.
Hinsliff was circumspect but frank. “Many Germans are asking why politicians, police and broadcasters seem so reluctant to discuss what happened under cover of the crowds,” she wrote, “and whether it’s because the attackers are widely described as looking Arab or north African. Which is why, of course, liberals like me are reluctant to talk about it.”
But not to do so risked, she said, miserably self-censoring, giving the “why can’t we talk about immigration?” brigade ammunition for their conspiracy theories. “Journalism isn’t really journalism when it avoids stories for fear of how some might react.”
Hinsliff valiantly verbally slapped down a dismissive Peter Hitchins — at his most smugly patronising — on BBC R4’s World at One programme. But the opportunity to exploit the “regressive left’s” hesitating failure to square both multi-culturalism and women’s rights was too much for some to pass up.
Mercifully the inventor of the phrase ‘regressive left’ spelt it out for himself in a well argued article for The Daily Beast. Majid Nawaz: “If liberals do not address such issues swiftly, with complete candour and courage, the far-right and anti-Muslim populist groups will get there first. They have been doing so for a while now”.
The route out of this predicament is to speak freely in defence of all women’s right to justice and protection under the law. Regardless of race, colour or creed. And just in case it was missed, if the theory is that women need the protection of modesty to deter sexually incontinent males, it’s the males who are problem.
Hinsliff cited Britain’s shameful response to predominantly Asian gangs grooming girls in Rotherham for sexual exploitation, partly of fear of giving succour to racists. “It was a reminder that victims are victims, even when championed by the wrong people for the wrong reasons.” Then as now.