Just over a year after Trump's air-strikes on an Assad regime airbase in response to the Khan Sheikhoun chemical attack, we've witnessed a repeat of this episode—although this time the air-strikes were on wider targets, and carried out in conjunction with British and French forces. In response to last week's chemical attack on Douma in Syria's besieged Eastern Ghouta enclave, missiles and warplanes from the USS Donald Cook in the eastern Mediterranean carried out the first Western strikes on targets around the Damascus area. The following targets are reported to have been hit: the Damascus Scientific Research Center, said to be linked to production of chemical and biological weapons; another purported chemical weapons lab in Barzeh; a chemical weapons storage facility west of Homs; and headquarters of various elite military units. Iranian forces were apparently also targeted, with a base used by the Republican Guard struck. However, this military action looks like it will be no more sustained than that of last April. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis called it a "single shot," and is believed to have put the brakes on the scope "to keep this from escalating." He told reporters after the initial sorties: "Right now we have no additional attacks planned." There are no reports of any deaths in the air-strikes, and the few known casualties are all military personnel. (American Military News, Middle East Eye, Reuters, NYT, CNBC, BBC News)
From anonymous radical-right xenophobes in Britain came the call to make April 3 "Punish a Muslim Day." Letters were sent through the mail to addresses across England, calling for violent attacks on Muslims. The sick mailings assigned a point score for levels of violence from "Verbally abuse a Muslim" (10 points) to "Beat up a Muslim" (100 points) to "Burn or bomb a mosque" (1,000 points) to "Nuke Mecca" (2,500 points) Police were on alert, and women who wear the hijab were advised to stay home. No actual attacks were reported. There were also reports that some of the letters had arrived at New York addresses, causing the city's Muslim community to mobilize and the NYPD to beef up security. (BBC News, WPIX) The Daily News reports that Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams joined multi-faith leaders at a press conference to condemn the threats. His comments there were laudable in intent, but revealing in their wording: "Our message must be just as loud. Not punish a Muslim, let's embrace a Muslim, let's embrace a Christian, let's embrace a person of Jewish faith, let's embrace the diversity that this city has to offer."
Islamist leaders in Pakistan agreed Nov. 27 to call a halt to protests that had for nearly two weeks paralyzed Islamabad and other cities in return for the resignation of Law Minister Zahid Hamid. Along with the deal, although seemingly not a part of it, a judicial panel ordered the release of 2008 Mumbai terror suspect Hafiz Saeed from house arrest, sparking angry protests from New Delhi. The protests were led by the Tehreek-i-Labaik Ya Rasool Allah Party, linked to the Barelvi sect of Islam and fronted by the cleric Khadim Hussain Rizvi. The protests were launched over Hamid's proposed changes to the oath taken by incoming lawmakers, omitting the language recognizing Muhammad as God's final prophet. Rizvi called the proposed change "blasphemy," which is a capital offense in Pakistan. Hamid quickly backtracked, calling the omission of the text a clerical error, and had it reinserted. Rizvi's followers still demanded his resignation, and protests reached by point of deadly violence before the deal was struck. In recent days, Islamabad considered calling in the army to clear the streets—raising fears about whether the army would respond, and the prospect of a face-off between the armed forces and civil authorities. (BBC News, NYT, Nov. 25; NYT, Nov. 27)
The horrific Manchester suicide bombing of May 22 is said to have been carried out by a son of Libyan refugees, and speculation is rife that he was linked to militant networks rather than being a lone wolf. The UK's right-wing tabs are responding predictably. The Daily Star screams that Libya has become an "ISIS breeding ground where THOUSANDS of terrorists are created." We are told that the attacker's older brother "was recently arrested in the Middle Eastern country after intelligence suggested he was about to commit an attack there." After thusly revealing that they don't know where Libya is (it's in North Africa, not the Middle East), the Star goes on to sensationalize about the jihadist threat there. Embarrassingly, it cites a UN report from November 2015 (yes, more than a year and a half ago) that warned, "ISIS has clearly demonstrated its intention to control additional territory in Libya."
Four are dead, including the attacker, and 20 injured after an SUV mowed down pedestrians on London's Westminster Bridge, just outside the Houses of Parliament. Prime Minister Theresa May called it a "sick and depraved" terrorist attack, although nobody has claimed responsibility and the motive remains unknown. The bloody incident does come on the one-year anniversary of Brussels airport attack. So now we will once again be treated to endless debate about whether the perp was a "terrorist" or just an angry lone nut—a question which is pathologically politicized, and denies the possibility of the hybrid phenomenon: that is, an angry lone nut inspired by jihadism. And, of course, the critical factor of car culture will be overlooked in mainstream discourse.
The UK government said Dec. 12 it will use its terrorism laws to ban a neo-Nazi group, marking the first time such a step has been taken. The move would make it a crime to be a member of, wear insignia, or work with the National Action, as it would fall under the umbrella of a terrorist organization. While the group rose to prominence for its anti-Semitic and xenophobic stances, they recently began to encourage their members to use violence. The terrorism act provision is being used because the group used their now deleted social media to encourage lone wolf acts and showed members training for battle. Additionally, the group praised the murder of progressive MP Jo Cox and adopted her accused killer's court statement as its official slogan. ("Death to traitors, freedom for Britain.") The measure to ban the group is subject to Parliamentary approval.
The UK's Investigatory Powers Bill (PDF) was given royal assent and became law on Nov. 29. The bill gives the UK's intelligence agencies a wide variety of tools to monitor the online activity of all UK citizens. The bill will require Internet providers and phone companies in the UK to retain logs of every citizen's communications and online activity in a massive database for one year. The bill makes it lawful for authorities to access communications data without judicial approval, except to uncover journalistic sources. The government defined communications data as "the context, but not the content of a communication." It also allows for targeted equipment interference (EI), accessing specific devices such as mobile phones and computers, with the approval of a law enforcement chief and judicial commissioner. Another section allows agencies to seek communications data or EI in bulk by applying for a warrant. The bill's supporters argue that it is necessary for enforcement agencies to keep up with rapid technological advances. Critics of the bill, however, have already began circulating a petition calling for it to be repealed. The petition is nearing 140,000 signatures, passing the 100,000 signature threshold required to compel a discussion on the matter by Parliament.
The UK Supreme Court confirmed on Nov. 18 that Scotland and Wales may intervene in an upcoming hearing that will determine whether Prime Minister Theresa May has the power to take the UK out of the EU without a parliamentary vote. Earlier this month the High Court ruled that Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, which allows for the UK's exit from the EU, can only be triggered by a vote of the British Parliament. The UK government immediately appealed the decision to the Supreme Court, with Scotland and Wales demanding intervention soon after. While the two countries had their lawyers attend the previous hearing, they will now be allowed to argue how triggering Article 50 without their parliaments' consent will infringe upon their governments' rights and powers. The UK government continues to argue that it has exclusive control over foreign affairs and legal treaties. The three parties will argue their stances at the hearing scheduled for early December.