Archive for October, 2015

Am now finally catching up on myself, with a short piece done yesterday for Prospect in response to Prime Minister Cameron’s speech at his party conference yesterday. Am also using this moment to also catch up on media posting, I spoke to the Press Association about ISIS and the UK’s response, to the Guardian about some of the Brits killed by drone strike in Syria, to the Daily Mail about Sally Jones online threats, while on the other side of the equation spoke to Newsweek about Xi Jinping’s statement to the UN about deploying peacekeepers, South China Morning Post and New York Times about the Bangkok bombing, to Die Zeit about Uighur terrorism, and McClatchy about the Chinese government’s response to Uighur extremism.

Prime Minister David Cameron addresses the Conservative Party conference at Manchester Central.

Extremism: focus on the positive

Raffaello Pantucci—Director of International Security Studies at the Royal United Services Institute

The Prime Minister has laid out a robust declaration of his intent to counter extremism. While little of the rhetoric is new, the fact that he is now able to deliver it from a position of confidence and strength means it is important to consider the detail of what he is saying.

The PM’s focus is one that very much tracks back from the front line of counter-terrorism (disrupting terrorist plots and networks) into the space of countering extremist ideas. While there is a confusing grey space between the two, where you draw the defining line of the law is something that varies depending on where you stand on the political spectrum. Clearly, the government is keen to push deep into the territory of confronting extreme ideas and wants to try to push such ideologies firmly into the illicit space. The question, however, is what the necessary relationship with counter-terrorism is. While few would dispute that those who practice such horrible acts as FGM or forced marriages in the UK should be prosecuted, it is unclear what relationship this specific behaviour has to those who are radicalised into terrorist networks.

The eagerness to confront conspiracy theories and the dissemination of incorrect information is a good ambition. The problem with confronting it in the space of extremism is that you are up against conspiracy theorists, who will pivot on a wisp of information into a spiral of obfuscation and confusion. Tackling such narratives in this space is not only difficult (since they are inherently intangible), but also ultimately pointless since no matter what is said they will find a way of pivoting away to contradict you and use your narrative to further strengthen their own. Cameron would do better to focus on the approach he also advocated of setting out what makes the United Kingdom great and focusing on that, rather than trying to correct those who are inherently bent on looking for something darker.

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And a final catch-up piece, this time a chapter in a report colleagues (Liz and Jonathan) at RUSI pulled together looking at the UK government’s response to the threat from ISIS. The whole thing is available here for free, but I have pasted the first few paragraphs here to give you a flavour.

V. ISIS, Terrorism and the UK

Raffaello Pantucci

ISIS has rapidly moved from being a group seen merely as an affiliate or offshoot of Al-Qa’ida to being recognised as one of the principal international terrorist threats faced by the UK. The threat comprises various strands: the number of British citizens travelling to fight alongside ISIS in Iraq and Syria, and the possibility that they may return with the intent of undertaking an attack on British soil; possible attacks on UK territory by individuals who have not fought abroad but who are nevertheless inspired or facilitated by ISIS; and the possibility of attacks on British interests and citizens abroad.

It is true that ISIS remains part of a larger threat picture, and care needs to be taken to avoid exaggerating the domestic threat posed by the group, which would only serve to inflate its importance while potentially distracting the UK from other menaces both on and off the battlefield. Indeed, British citizens are travelling to the Middle East to fight not only with ISIS, but also with groups such as Jabhat Al-Nusra, Al-Qa’ida’s principal affiliate on the battlefield in Syria. Nevertheless, the threat posed by ISIS, at home and abroad, remains a serious one that the UK must persist in addressing.

The picture is complicated as it remains unclear whether ISIS – or any of its affiliates in Africa or Asia – has taken a strategic decision, at a senior level, to launch a large-scale campaign of terrorism outside its immediate territory (in contrast to the wave of more loosely linked incidents witnessed so far). Currently, those plots already disrupted in the UK have demonstrated a confused link to the battlefield in Syria and Iraq. Nevertheless, given the reach of ISIS via the Internet and the large numbers travelling to join its ranks, the problem remains a substantial one. Bolstering agency capacity and building community resilience will help to some degree, but the threat will only be eradicated once stemmed at source.

This chapter outlines the nature of the current threat posed by ISIS before exploring the response by the UK’s police and security agencies, which involves disrupting the plans of both would-be attackers and aspiring travellers alike. It will conclude by offering some ideas about how to counter the particular threat that the UK faces from ISIS at home.

For entire article and report

More catch-up, this time a longer magazine sized piece for the excellent current affairs journal Current History. This explores the China-Russia relationship with a particular focus on Central Asia sitting in between them. Clearly more on this topic to come – including a piece soon focused a bit more on the econ and geopolitical equation more broadly. I have pasted the first paragraph below to give you a flavour, but the whole thing is available as PDF below as well.

China and Russia’s Soft Competition in Central Asia

China and Russia have a long history of conflict and competition in Central Asia. Sitting between the two great superpowers, the landlocked Central Asian nations appear to have little choice or control over their destiny, and are often considered to be pawns in a perpetual great game. Yet this narrow view misses the broader picture of the Sino-Russian relationship. It is undeniable that the region has been slipping out of Russia’s immediate economic sphere of influence for some time, but China has been making inroads with Russia’s full acquiescence. For Moscow and Beijing, Central Asia is increasingly a region of soft competition where they are very aware of and attentive to each other’s interests, rather than a source of conflict and tension.

Overriding any differences concerning the steppe are the larger realities of the Sino-Russian strategic relationship on the international stage, where the two permanent members of the United Nations Security Council continue to support each other’s refusal to bow to a Western-dominated global order. Russia may appear to be the loser in Central Asia, but the two powers have established a modus vivendi that suits the interests of both. The real geopolitical losers are likely to be the Central Asians, slowly slipping from Russia’s orbit into China’s.

Please follow for entire article

 

And more catch up posting, this time in Italian for the excellent think tank Twai’s publication Orizzonte Cina. This one was actually initially written a bit in English and a bit in Italian (thanks to Giovanni for commissioning and Simone for editing and translating!), so am not going to re-print here completely in English, but am sure people can figure this out or it gives you an opportunity to learn a beautiful language.

“Una cintura e una via”: il modello dell’Asia centrale

OC Oct 2015

Annunciata in due fasi dal presidente Xi Jinping e dal premier Li Keqiang, la strategia “Una cintura e una via” è il nuovo orientamento della politica estera di Pechino su cui oggi sembrano concentrarsi quasi tutte le discussioni tra esperti d’Asia. Presentata al mondo prima nel settembre del 2013 ad Astana come “Cintura economica della via della seta”, e poi mesi dopo in Indonesia come “Via della seta marittima del XXI secolo”, le finalità di questa nuova strategia non sono sempre ben definite. Per capire meglio l’indirizzo che la Cina sta prendendo bisogna guardare a ciò che Pechino sta facendo in Asia centrale: è l’Asia centrale, infatti, la pista di lancio di questa nuova iniziativa.

Xinjiang: l’Asia centrale cinese

Descritta dal geografo inglese Halford Mackinder come “il fulcro dell’Eurasia”, l’Asia centrale è al centro del pensiero strategico da secoli. Per la Cina essa ha un’importanza anche maggiore per via della sua vicinanza allo Xinjiang – a tutti gli effetti una parte di Asia centrale dentro ai confini della Cina. È una regione ricca di risorse naturali ma popolata da una minoranza uigura profondamente scontenta del governo di Pechino. Una rabbia che si è intensificata fino al punto di scatenare ripetuti episodi di violenza, con apice nel luglio del 2009, quando gruppi di uiguri ad Urumqi (la capitale regionale) aggredirono cinesi han. In seguito alle violenze, che sono durate un paio di giorni, il governo di Pechino ha dato attuazione a una strategia volta a migliorare la situazione regionale con un enorme investimento economico. Pechino scommette sul fatto che la promozione del benessere economico sia sufficiente a mitigare il malcontento sociale e a soddisfare le rivendicazioni della popolazione.

Il risultato è una corsa allo Xinjiang: altre province si sono date l’obiettivo di investire in aree dello Xinjiang, inviando funzionari del Partito a lavorare a fianco delle autorità locali per trasmettere le ricette applicate con successo nel resto del paese. Una percentuale del Pil di ogni provincia cinese viene dirottata verso lo Xinjiang e le grandi imprese statali che investono nella regione sono tenute a lasciarvi una quota dei loro profitti maggiore della norma. Questo sul fronte interno; le imprese straniere, a loro volta, sono incentivate ad aprire stabilimenti nella regione attraverso sostanziosi benefici e agevolazioni.

Il problema, però, è che – come il resto dell’Asia centrale – lo Xinjiang è lontano dalle rotte oceaniche e dalle vie commerciali tradizionali. Per rendere profittevoli gli investimenti nella regione la Cina deve perciò puntare sull’apertura dei mercati limitrofi tra I paesi dell’Asia centrale e costruire una nuova rete infrastrutturale che li colleghi tra loro. Il risultato è un’enorme spinta allo sviluppo regionale con le grandi banche statli cinesi (come la Exim Bank o la China Development Bank) pronte ad offrire ai governi dell’Asia centrale prestiti a tasso agevolato, a condizione che i progetti su cui vengono investiti vengano realizzati da aziende cinesi – generalmente con manodopera cinese e utilizzando prodotti cinesi.

Per i paesi dell’Asia centrale si tratta di proposte attraenti: la Cina rappresenta una fonte d’investimento più solida della Russia, più generosa di altri paesi asiatici come il Giappone e la Corea del Sud, e più affidabile dei paesi europei e degli Stati Uniti. È una dinamica in atto da più di un decennio: la Cina sta diventando la potenza che persegue con più efficacia i propri obiettivi in Asia centrale, mentre – poco per volta – le strade e le infrastrutture della regione si riorientano da Mosca verso Pechino, via Urumqi.

Il sogno cinese di Xi Jinping

È questa la situazione che la nuova amministrazione di Xi Jinping ha ereditato quando è andata al potere nel novembre del 2012: una relazione con l’Asia centrale costruita su finanziamenti e imprese cinesi, di cui entrambe le parti sono soddisfatte. I paesi della regione sono infatti favorevoli a questa nuova fonte di investimenti, con disponibilità economiche apparentemente illimitate e scevra dalle aspettative di dominazione politica che accompagnano invece gli investimenti russi, nonché dalle condizioni politiche poste da Europa e Stati Uniti. L’esperienza centrasiatica ha insegnato a Pechino quali siano le leve più efficaci per affermare gli interessi nazionali cinesi sulla scena internazionale. A Pechino prevale ancora un approccio incentrato sul principio di non interferenza negli affari altrui, che consente di operare all’estero senza crearsi nemici.

Vi è anche una spinta a riprodurre globalmente il modello sperimentato in Asia centrale: dalla “Cintura economica della via della seta” annunciata ad Astana alla “Via della seta marittima del XXI secolo”, al “Corridoio Bangladesh-Cina-India-Myanmar”, al “Corridoio economico Cina-Pakistan” e a una serie di proposte per altre vie che si sviluppano a partire dalla Cina. Nel loro insieme, questi progetti costituiscono l’iniziative ‘Una cintura e una via’, che mira a ridare alla Cina centralita nella rete internazionale di vie commerciali, aprendo nuovi mercati e riorientando le vie commerciali della regione per rafforzare il ruolo di pivot del paese.

Sin dall’inizio del suo mandato, Xi Jinping ha sottolineato l’importanza della diplomazia economica. Nel gennaio del 2013, in un discorso all’Ufficio politico del Comitato centrale, Xi ha sostenuto che la Cina non avrebbe “mai perseguito l’obiettivo del proprio sviluppo al costo di sacrificare gli interessi di altri paesi”. Questa dichiarazione evidenziava l’importanza degli interessi reciproci come nucleo centrale della strategia cinese verso l’esterno. Lo stesso aspetto veniva evidenziato in settembre ad Astana all’interno del famoso discorso sulla ‘Cintura economica della via della seta’ pronunciato da Xi all’Universita Nazarbayev, nel quale il presidente cinese auspicava che “la Cina e l’Asia centrale [unissero] i propri sforzi per costruire una cintura economica della via della seta che [rafforzasse] la cooperazione”. Lo stesso punto veniva nuovamente ribadito nell’ottobre di quello stesso anno, durante la Conferenza sul lavoro diplomatico nella regione, laddove Xi delineava una lista di priorità in politica estera verso l’“obiettivo di realizzare la grande rinascita della nazione cinese; sviluppare complessivamente le relazioni con i paesi della regione; consolidare l’amicizia con i vicini; approfondire forme di cooperazione reciprocamente vantaggiosa; preservare e impiegare al meglio l’importante periodo di opportunità strategica per lo sviluppo della Cina; preservare la sovranità nazionale, la sicurezza e gli interessi dello sviluppo; impegnarsi per migliorare la relazione politica della Cina con I paesi della regione; consolidare i legami economici, approfondire la cooperazione di sicurezza e intensificare gli scambi culturali tra la Cina e i paesi della regione”.

Le leve economiche del progetto

L’attrattiva di un simile modello è facile da comprendere, da un punto di vista cinese. La combinazione di vie commerciali, investimenti nelle infrastrutture, prestiti agevolati e mercati aperti fa leva su una serie di strumenti che I policy-maker cinesi conoscono bene. Si tratta di strumenti che corrispondono alla nozione cinese di benefici armoniosi e di vantaggi condivisi, e che mirano a ricollocare la Cina al centro della struttura economica globale. Sono strumenti che I policy-maker cinesi sanno come utilizzare: prestiti agevolati e finanziamenti vengono forniti attraverso banche quali la China Development Bank o la ExIm Bank, mentre l’attuazione dei progetti è affidata a imprese di Stato cinesi che hanno esperienza nella realizzazione di grandi progetti infrastrutturali in contesti difficili.

Nel quadro dell’iniziativa “Una cintura e una via”, ciò si è concretizzato in una forte proiezione finanziaria cinese. Sia la China Development Bank che la ExIm Bank hanno articolato una propria strategia per “Una cintura e una via”, ma – accanto a questi veicoli tradizionali – la Cina ha iniziato a promuovere la creazione di nuove partnership bilaterali. Non solo: oltre all’approccio bilaterale Pechino ha promosso un’intera rete di nuove istituzioni internazionali, costitute appositamente per finanziare la nuova iniziativa. Queste istituzioni assumono tre diverse forme. Alcune sono create su proposta e sotto la guida cinese; la più significativa è la Banca asiatica d’investimento per le infrastrutture (Aiib), con un capitale di 100 miliardi di dollari. Altre sono create con il sostegno di Pechino, come la Banca di sviluppo dei Brics (pure dotata di un capitale di 100 miliardi di dollari) e la Banca di sviluppo dell’Organizzazione per la cooperazione di Shanghai, ancora in attesa del varo; infine, crescono a ritmo sostenuto gli accordi bilaterali in materia commerciale e di investimento che la Cina sta concludendo con i suoi vicini – ad esempio l’accordo per l’investimento di 46 miliardi di dollari per il Corridoio economico Cina-Pakistan, annunciato da Xi Jinping durante la sua visita di quest’anno a Islamabad. In aggiunta, la Cina ha annunciato la creazione di un Fondo per la via della seta del valore di 40 miliardi di dollari con un board of advisors che include esperti della Urumqi Central Bank.

È attraverso questa rete di istituzioni finanziarie che viene fornita la liquidità necessaria a finanziare l’iniziativa “Una cintura e una via”. Destinatari dei finanziamenti sono i paesi vicini: per esempio, il progetto di Corridoio economico Cina-Pakistan, in particolare alcuni progetti “early harvest” nel settore dell’energia in Pakistan, saranno i primi beneficiari di finanziamenti dal Fondo della via della seta. Ma i finanziamenti finiscono per la maggior parte a imprese di Stato cinesi impegnate a dar sostanza alla retorica dei leader. Per avere un’idea di quali imprese il governo cinese intenda sostenere con l’iniziativa “Una cintura e una via” basta del resto guardare al progetto di China securities index e Shanghai stock exchange per la creazione di un “indice congiunto che rilevi le performance delle azioni che ricadono entro l’iniziativa ‘Una cintura e una via’”. Composta da 52 imprese attive nei settori di “costruzione di infrastrutture, trasporti, produzione di energia e comunicazioni”, la lista offre una chiara indicazione di quali siano – nelle aspettative di Pechino – i beneficiari dell’iniziativa.

La strategia potrà avere successo?

Ma quante concrete possibilità di successo ha questa ambiziosa strategia? Secondo il Ministero del commercio della Repubblica popolare cinese, nella prima metà del 2015 le imprese cinesi hanno investito circa 7,05 miliardi di dollari in 48 paesi collocate entro il perimetro dell’iniziativa. Ma ciò non elimina del tutto i dubbi sulla concreta realizzabilità della strategia. In Asia centrale, in particolare, ha colto alcuni successi, ma ha anche incontrato ostacoli destinati a manifestarsi altrove.

La logica sottesa alla strategia può apparire benevola. L’apertura di corridoi commerciali, con grandi investimenti e con il coinvolgimento di imprese in grado di realizzare i progetti, garantirà vantaggi in termini di nuove reti infrastrutturali ad alcuni dei paesi più poveri della regione. Ma vi sono dubbi sui vantaggi che questi paesi potranno trarre al di là del mero investimento in infrastrutture. Per i paesi dell’Asia centrale, per esempio, non è chiaro quanto la visione di nuovi corridoi commerciali che li attraversano possa realmente aiutarli nello sviluppo delle proprie economie nazionali. Questi paesi puntano a sviluppare industrie nazionali – ma se si parla con uomini d’affari e commercianti della regione, tutti esprimono la preoccupazione di essere espulsi dal mercato dall’arrivo delle più competitive imprese cinesi.

Un ulteriore dubbio è se i paesi della regione siano nelle condizioni di beneficiare realmente dell’iniziativa. L’apertura di corridoi commerciali è finalizzata a creare nuove vie di trasporto per i prodotti, ma nulla garantisce che ne derivino automaticamente vantaggi anche per i cittadini dei paesi di transito. In Pakistan si è cercato di ovviare a questo rischio attraverso l’istituzione di zone economiche lungo il Corridoio economico Cina-Pakistan, ma sarà necessario del tempo prima che queste decollino.

Infine, tutto ciò non risolve i problemi di sicurezza che avranno con ogni probabilità un impatto su molte delle vie di comunicazione create sotto l’egida di “Una cintura e una via”. In aggiunta alle tensioni nelle relazioni tra la Cina e buona parte dei suoi vicini marittimi (che in teoria dovrebbero cooperare nel progetto della Via marittima della seta), vi sono i problemi di sicurezza di Asia centrale e meridionale: instabilità in Belucistan e in Myanmar, gruppi terroristici attivi in Afghanistan e capaci di espandersi in altri paesi dell’Asia centrale. Alcuni di essi hanno contatti con gruppi dissidenti uiguri, il che rinvia a quelle stesse minacce che la Cina cerca di attenuare attraverso la propria strategia di investimenti in Asia centrale. Queste sono parti del mondo in cui è difficile per chiunque investire, non solo a causa della mancanza di infrastrutture ma anche per i diffusi problem di corruzione e per i gravi deficit di governance.

Nonostante ciò, la visione di “Una cintura e una via” è destinata a diventare la fondamentale direttrice della politica estera di Xi Jinping. Delineata in termini sempre più chiari, e sostenuta dai necessari finanziamenti, essa sta ora muovendo dall’elaborazione retorica all’azione. È presto per dire se sarà coronata da successo, ma la rotta è tracciata ed è già stata sperimentata in Asia centrale. Xi Jinping e la sua cerchia hanno certo letto Mackinder: l’Occidente farebbe bene a concentrarsi su come rispondere al meglio all’agenda di politica estera che la Cina sta articolando.

Reciprocal Extremism

Posted: October 6, 2015 in Hope Not Hate

Another catch up post, this time for Hope not Hate’s magazine exploring the idea of reciprocal radicalisation between the far right and violent Islamists in the UK. You can purchase the magazine and support the very worthy organization by following these links and thanks to them to for publishing it!

Reciprocal Extremism

HnH mag_Oct 2015

Raffaello Pantucci explores how extremisms feed off one another

Terrorism Thrives in society’s fissures. This is something that is true in terms of both the alienated individuals who are drawn to extremist ideas, but also of the groups who advance terrorist ideas and narratives who need societal tensions to be able to incite people towards violence.

Absent these tensions, groups find it hard to survive and recruit people. The result is a paradox whereby extremists of both stripes need the other in order to help breathe life into the “clash of civilisations” that they see taking place in the world around them.

As the founder of al Muhajiroun Omar Bakri Mohammed put it: “People, when they suffer in the West, it makes them think. If there is no discrimination or racism, I think it would be very different for us.”

This narrative is one that has remained fairly constant over time. Back in the 1980s, a group of young southeast Asian men in Birmingham got angry about the encroachment of racist groups like the National Front (NF) locally and decided to band together to protect their community.

Among them were Shahid Butt and Moazzam Begg, two young men who grew up to find themselves incarcerated, respectively, in Yemeni prisons and Guantanamo Bay. In both cases, the societal fissures fed on by racist groups like the National Front provided a rationale for focusing on their otherness from British society that ultimately led to them being involved in dangerous activity that rejected the society in which they were born.

The rise of groups like the British National Party (BNP) in northern British cities like Bradford or Oldham was something that was the product of an economic downturn that many blamed on immigrants.

Feeding off this feeling, groups like the NF and BNP came from a long tradition of such tensions in the northwest of England, and had in earlier times led to counter-reactions like in the 1970s-1980s when the Southall Asian Youth Movement emerged and soon after, when twelve members of the Bradford Black United Youth League were picked up for apparently preparing a series of petrol bombs to use against the fascist groups they saw threatening their communities.

These tensions repeated themselves again in the hot summer of 2001 when rioting tore through Bradford as the local Muslim communities reacted to the presence of the NF at an anti-nazi celebration in the city centre. Rioting broke out across the mostly Muslim Manningham area, leading to numerous arrests and tensions that left local youth open to the influences of radical groups like both the BNP and Hizb ut Tahrir.  In the protests’ wake, the febrile community environment meant both groups were able to grow and attract followers.

During the period post the September 11 attacks these tensions took on an even stronger flavour. Groups like al Muhajiroun revelled in the shock caused by the attacks to hold public events at which they would glorify the “magnificent 19” who had participated in the incident. In Luton, some young men took off to go and fight alongside the Taliban.

The sense of an alienated society from within continued to grow. It also took off across Europe, as similar stories and narratives started to emerge in different European contexts. Terrified by the attacks of 9/11, attempted shoe bombings, terrorist massacres of tourists in Bali and Tunisia, there was a growing fear of what was coming from within, a tension that radical groups on both sides of the equation benefited from.

It was, ultimately, only a matter of time before a formalised counter-reaction emerged to the Islamists. Part of the al Muhajiroun narrative in particular was to attack society and provoke a reaction, an approach championed by Omar Bakri Mohammed. The group became infamous for making incendiary statements.

In the 1990s, this had got Omar Bakri in trouble with his then organisation Hizb ut Tahrir when he had declared a fatwa on then-Prime Minister John Major for his support of the war in the Gulf. Such negative attention was not the preference of the ultimately quietist and studious Hizb ut Tahrir.

But it was very much Omar Bakri’s way of working and he trained the younger members of his group in this provocative style.

Large conferences on Jihad were organised in London at which he declared ambitiously to want to get Osama bin Laden and the head of Hamas to come to London and he would make pronouncements in public speeches about wanting to “see the black flag of jihad over Downing Street”.

Years later, his acolytes continued in this style, holding anti-social protests in sensitive places like Royal Wootton Basset, the site of the repatriation of the British dead from the conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq – and during the annual minute’s silence in remembrance for the war dead.

Instead of standing in respectful silence, the group would burn poppies and chant about the “criminality” of Britain’s war dead. Taking a more local approach, the group would charge around East London declaring “shariah zones” in which they would attack homosexuals, chide women for wearing revealing clothing and condemn public drinking. In a more brazen daily display, they would march up and down Brick Lane telling shopkeepers selling alcohol they were breaking shariah law.

It was only a matter of time before there was a reaction. This came in the form of the emergence of the English Defence League (EDL), a body that emerged out of a protest against an al Muhajiroun-associated rally in Luton opposing a parade by the Royal Anglian Regiment on its return from Afghanistan.

Nine people were arrested as counter-action emerged in the city under the name the United People of Luton. Local football fan groups quickly took up the banner and, soon afterwards, a group calling itself the English Defence League (EDL) started to show up around the country claiming to be seeking to take the country back from the Islamists overrunning it.

The EDL stomped around the country, causing consternation as it stirred up racial tensions and caused protest and counter-protest from anti-fascists, Islamists and others.

The more general sense to the public at large was a vague feeling that a “clash of civilisations” was taking place within its own country, merely adding to the sense of alienation and tension between communities.

And, at the sharper end of these protests lurked terrorists. From the al Muhajiroun community numerous terrorists and plots have emerged, including the 2012 plot by convert Richard Dart, Jahangir Alom, and Imran Mahmood. All three were regular al Muhajiroun faces and among the many plots they discussed was an attempt to attack a funeral march at Royal Wootton Basset.

At the other end of the scale, Michael Piggin, a clearly disturbed young man from Loughborough who had accumulated a large volume of nazi memorabilia, was fixated with killing sprees and had even obtained explosives and weapons.

At school, he showed off to his friends that he had attended EDL marches and clearly found the group influential in his life. Piggin was arrested before he could do anything, unlike Anders Behring Breivik, the Norwegian mass murderer, who detonated a massive car bomb in downtown Oslo before attacking an island where the Labour Party’s youth wing was having a summer gathering.

Seventy-seven people were massacred by a man who had drawn inspiration from, and allegedly visited, EDL marches and who was an adherent of the ideology centred on the perceived “Islamicisation” or Europe.

On the other side of the coin, the EDL was the intended target of a group arrested in June 2012 that was connected with al Muhajiroun elements in Birmingham.

Linked to a cell that had received direct training from al Qaeda in Pakistan, the Birmingham group gathered guns, knives and bombs and had intended to strike an EDL march in Dewsbury but failed to get their timings right, arriving after the march had already broken up.

It was the brutal murder of Lee Rigby that really crystallised the centrality of the extremes on either side in sustaining the process of mutual radicalisation and a level of hatred and division within society in which terrorist ideologies can thrive.

When Michael Adebolajo and Michael Adebowale cut down the off-duty soldier as he walked near his barracks in Woolwich, they sparked off a series of reactions and counter-reactions that inflamed already tense relations.

The EDL almost instantly launched a protest nearby, reaching out to Lee Rigby’s family to offer their support but also using the opportunity to paint themselves as the supporters of the armed forces and society in the UK.

In contrast, Royal Barnes and his wife Rebekah Dawson (both al Muhajiroun associates) amused themselves going past the site of the murder in their car laughing and ridiculing the gathered crowds.

Posting a video of their antics online, they sought to stir anger and hatred and inflame an already explosive situation.

Both were arrested but the murder opened up once again the deep divisions within British society that both groups have continued to benefit from in continuing to advance their narratives.

For the EDL (or their subsequent organisations), the continuing existence of the al Muhajiroun crowd or, more latterly, the ISIS supporters, communities that frequently overlap gives them a reason to continue to rail about the Islamicisation of British society.

In the wake of both the murder of Lee Rigby and the poppy burning incidents, EDL Facebook pages received tens of thousands of “likes”, highlighting the direct influence of such terrorist acts on their support base.

On the other side of the equation, the existence of such far right organisations and the appearance of terrorists subscribing to this ideology merely nourishes the Islamist claim that there is a “clash of civilisations” going on.

And, while the groups themselves are often careful about trying to toe the line of the law, their followers frequently go further, be this in terms of those trying to join groups like ISIS abroad or those at home like Zack Davies who, on January 14, 2015, walked into his local Tesco store and spotted Dr Sarandev Bhambra, a local 24 year old – ­ Sikh – dentist, and set upon him with a large knife.

Shouting about “white power” and that this was “revenge for Lee Rigby,” Davies would have butchered the unfortunate dentist had not a former soldier shopping there stepped in and stopped him.

A confused young man, Davies had been a far right sympathiser for several years and had recently become involved in the nazi group, National Action. However, he also drew inspiration from the brutality of ISIS, claiming to have been inspired by “Jihadi John”’s videos not only showing his disorganised mind but also exactly how pernicious it can be to have two such brutal ideologies espousing hatred on our streets.

Reciprocal radicalisation, it seems, has an impact not only across societies but also within confused individuals.

It has been a while since I posted and apologies to avid followers. Been inundated with work of late and things are slipping by. I have tried to continue to be productive and am now going to post a series of pieces that have come out in the past month, some of which have been in the pipeline for a while. First up is a piece for BBC 中文 looking at Uighurs and the Bangkok bombings. This was maybe also going to come out in English so I am not going to post the text here, but will eventually if nothing emerges. For the time being, it will be an opportunity to practice using google translate.

國際縱橫:維吾爾人與曼谷爆炸案

BBC Zhongwen image

image from: BBC Zhongwen

泰國當局在調查八月發生的四面佛爆炸案方面進展緩慢,但越來越多跡象顯示這起兇殘的攻擊於可能與新疆有關。

最近逮捕的其中一人擁有中國護照,當中顯示的出生地是新疆。當然,這個關聯是否屬實仍未清楚,但看來中國公民是這起攻擊的目標越來越有可能,而背後的原因在某程度上可能與中國的新疆政策有關。

這不是中國公民第一次在國際恐怖組織的行動中成為受害人。過去曾發生例如在喀麥隆,與尼日利亞極端組織博科聖地有關的團伙曾綁架中國工人;在巴基斯坦,中國遊客曾被綁架和殺害;在摩加迪沙的中國使館受到炸彈襲擊;中國工人在北非阿拉伯之春的暴亂中受影響;還有數年前在肯尼亞內羅畢的西門購物中心(Westgate Mall)襲擊中受傷的中國公民。

維族人在敘利亞

今時今日在世界每個角落都可以找到中國公民的足跡,無論他們是遊客或外勞或政府官員,反映了中國在全球留下越來越多的腳印。相對而言,恐怖組織也加強了他們的活動,在更多地方肆虐。因此,在這類襲擊中受到連累的中國公民數目增加是不難想像的。

在土耳其的維吾爾人示威聲援新疆維族人2015年7月
Image copyright AP
Image caption 今年7月在土耳其的維吾爾人示威聲援在新疆死亡的維族人

可是,至今為止仍未有很多證據顯示中國公民是攻擊目標,針對維吾爾族異議者的證據也不多。但這並非說維吾爾人與全球聖戰者全無關係。在塔利班管治時期的阿富汗有不少證據顯示不滿中國的一些維族人逃到阿富汗集結。在美國領頭攻打阿富汗時,很多這些人輾轉流離到巴基斯坦,相信他們在那裏更靠近基地組織,並與藏身巴基斯坦部落地區的中亞聖戰者組織建立更密切的聯繫。

此外,有跡象顯示維族人正更積極參與全球聖戰運動。有關維族人在敘利亞參戰和死亡的報道不斷出現。最近在敘利亞吉斯爾舒古爾城鎮周圍的戰鬥,就有報道說兩名維族人充當自殺炸彈手;另有報道說約20名維族人與努斯拉陣線一同作戰,努斯拉陣線被視為是基地組織在敘利亞的分支。

去年九月,印尼當局逮捕了四名維吾爾人,懷疑他們嘗試與極端主義頭目桑托索聯繫,以進入他在東帝汶建立的其中一個聖戰者訓練營。在2010年7月,一個與基地組織有聯繫並由維吾爾人領導的團伙在挪威奧斯陸被攻擊。在2008年6月,阿聯酋當局逮捕兩名維族人,他們後來因策劃攻擊迪拜龍城購物中心被定罪。

「沒得到基地組織、IS支援」

雖然基地組織和IS「伊斯蘭國」組織的領袖以及他們的刊物紛紛展示支持維族人的姿態,說這些人所處的困境反映出西方不關心穆斯林的痛苦。但事實上聖戰組織支持維族人的實質證據很少,間或有言辭上的聲援,但在資源上幫助的證據很少。

維吾爾人是否已在國際聖戰網絡中起到重要作用,目前尚未清楚。反而有跡象顯示他們看來處於絕望的境況,不斷出現有關他們逃離中國的報道。 由於中亞國家加強了邊境控制和與地區政府的聯繫,他們前往該地區越來越困難。例如去年底有十名維族人在吉爾吉斯坦邊境死亡。此路不通後,維族人看來轉而南下到東南亞。很多時候他們被捕時辯稱說自己是土耳其人,最終目的地是土耳其。在越南邊境也出現過涉及維族人的暴力衝突,還有幾個報道說一些維族人在東南亞國家被捕或遣返。

中國遊客在泰國曼谷大皇宮附近2015年8月
Image copyright AP
Image caption 泰國曼谷是受中國遊客歡迎的地點

總的說,現在的兩個現象是維吾爾人繼續逃出中國,以及在他們前往的目的地附近出現更多的暴力。在某程度上來說,突顯出新疆和中國其他地區出現的有關維族人的攻擊。不過,這類攻擊最近看來有所減少,但這類報道通常不透明,很難獨立引證到底發生什麼事。

事實上,很多維吾爾人對當局感到不滿或憤怒,他們試圖離開中國,但這方面越來越困難,令他們更鋌而走險。

從中國的角度來說,他們擔心的是針對海外中國公民暴力的增加與新疆內部的不滿有關。在土耳其曾有亞裔遊客和中國使館被襲擊,以及曼谷爆炸案中的遊客。北京當局正調查是否有曾在敘利亞或伊拉克進行恐怖襲擊的人在中國內組成團伙。中國一直以來擔心海外國民受到威脅,以及國內發生的事情與外國有關聯。

這些所謂的聯繫一直相當模糊不清,直至現在看來越來越明顯,一個可能的結論是:中國本土的聖戰者終於與發展出某些國際聯繫,但至今為止很難令他們落網。

(編譯:葉珊 / 責編:晧宇)