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Tuesday, March 10, 2015 

The ladies dost protest too much.

Let's be honest.  Good as most of us are at dishing out criticism, few of us take it quite as kindly.  At least if your self-hatred is off the charts one of the, perhaps the only benefit is there's very little going to be thrown your way you haven't already thought yourself, accurate or not.

If there's one quality I can't then abide, it's how those who should know better try and make the most out of something vaguely insulting when they're not averse to the odd bit of directing their own mob.  Witness the very much non-shrinking violets around the fringes of the Scottish independence campaign pretend to be offended by yesterday's Steve Bell cartoon in the Graun, the very same people whom just 2 weeks ago were not, emphasis not trying to get a nurse sacked for appearing on Labour's campaign material.  Indeed, if she did ended up getting sacked it would be the fault of Labour's hatred of the SNP and not those complaining about an NHS worker breaching some unlikely to be well known rules on such activities.

The way politicians and their hangers-on react to criticism can at times be even more enlightening.  You might have thought a government confident in the security services would for instance have just ignored the mostly absurd rhetoric from the charity Cage about our good friend Mohammed Emwazi, which only garnered such coverage in the first place as the media was desperate to immediately know all they could about him.  When someone describes a serial murderer as a "beautiful man", apparently a shy and retiring type until he was made into a fanatical killer by the merest of interactions with MI5, it's the kind of silliness that doesn't really merit a response.

Except of course we have both a media and political establishment that can't just stand by as slander is spoken of those brave guys and gals at Thames House.  The Mail on the Saturday after Emwazi's unveiling had as many pieces on the apologists from Cage as it did alongside the obligatory profiles of the man himself.  Asim Qureshi, Cage's director, has since been given a ritual dunking by among others, Andrew Neil and Andrew Gilligan, as though anyone hadn't been tipped off by Cage's website about their combining of genuine examples of state overreach, such as the continuing imprisonment of Shaker Aamer at Guantanamo, with their general insistence that many other convicted Islamists are in fact gentle sorts.

Cage had been approached by the Washington Post during their investigation into Emwazi, hence why they were able within a matter of hours after his naming to hold a press conference attended by the salivating media.  That Qureshi and Cerie Bullivant didn't expressly condemn the man who had previously complained to them about being harassed, something that would normally be taken as read when it comes to someone filmed beheading aid workers was enough to set in motion what has occurred since.  Cage's bank accounts had previously been closed with the arrest and charging of Moazzam Begg, since released after MI5 "remembered" they hadn't raised any objection to his travelling to Syria.  The charity's other main backers, the Roddick Foundation and the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust have since put an end to their funding.

Whether they should have supported the group in the first place is a question worth asking.  It does however seem odd at this remove for the defence secretary Philip Hammond to make such a bizarre assertion as a "huge burden of responsibility also lies with those who act as apologists for them [Islamic State et al]", as he did in his speech to RUSI today.  Does it really?  You can hold Cage accountable for not being fussy over those they choose to back, but to say they have a burden of responsibility themselves is a nonsense.  Even if you take the Gilligan line that Cage have significant traction with those who forever see themselves as victims, looking either to conspiracy theories or putting the blame on a persecuting, oppressive state which operates a foreign policy that is itself a radicalising force, then it still doesn't confer responsibility on them.  They might be irresponsible yes, but that isn't the same thing by any stretch.

It's difficult not to wonder if this shooting of the messenger isn't meant precisely as distraction.  Absurd as Cage's claims are that Emwazi's interactions with MI5 turned him into the person in IS's propaganda, there are questions to be asked of the intelligence agencies, not least made clear by Hammond elsewhere in his speech.  As he put it "Not all those countries with whom we might like to share information in the interests of our national security adhere to the same high standards".  Well quite, and we never had any definitive answers over how Michael Adebolajo, one of the two men convicted of the murder of Lee Rigby, was treated while in Kenya by an anti-terrorist squad in part funded by the UK government.  We haven't been given anything close to a defence of the seeming chief tactic of MI5 when it comes to interviewing those suspected of involvement on the fringes of involvement in terrorism of trying to recruit them, nor have they offered an answer as to why it is those in the circle around Emwazi all went abroad to various places without being stopped.

Hammond's speech was all the more remarkable for just how matter of fact it was.  He mentions just what promises the coalition did keep about reform of the intelligence agencies, but for some reason forgot about the inquiry into alleged complicity in torture, cancelled in the face of new allegations concerning Libya.  Apparently intelligence has played a key role in "providing the information to check ISIL’s murderous advance", a statement so patently absurd you wonder how Hammond delivered it with a straight face.  We did everything we could to draw Russia into the rules-based international system, you know, the one where you don't invade sovereign nations on the basis of, err, faulty intelligence, or invoke the "responsibility to protect" then use it to enforce regime change.  This was in a spirit of openness, generosity and partnership, all for our good intentions to be rebuffed.  The Paris attacks are evidence of the dangers of lone wolves, despite the links the killers had to al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula and Islamic State.  GCHQ must be allowed to intercept bulk communications data, which they have been and still are.  The debate over such things cannot be allowed to continue forever, although seeing as the Cabinet Secretary told the Guardian the debate was over nearly two years ago now, Hammond seems late to the party.

MI5 is one of those organisations that can't win.  Its major successes only emerge years or decades later if at all, while the failures are immediately glaring.  Such a reality though comes with the territory.  Just as it should be taken as apparent that you aren't supportive of pin ups of the caliphate, so it should be obvious to be critical of the intelligence agencies is not to be against them completely.  One correspondingly obvious conclusion to be reached over how the angle grinder of government and media has been taken to Cage is a whole lot of people are protesting way too much.

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