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Tuesday, 28 September 2004
Master Park in Autumn

Oxted Master Park

It’s that time of the year when the trustees of Master Park allow the tacky fun-fair to set up shop, play tacky music and extort huge sums of money from the children and teenagers of Oxted to have short thrill rides or to try to win a soft fluffy toy. 

I guess that the trustees of the park need the income. 

Something pretty bizarre happened late last week: An Al-Qaida suspect, who has been detained without charge for over two years in Belmarsh, South London, issued an appeal to the kidnappers of the British civilian Ken Bigley.  He said

To those holding Ken Bigley, in the name of Allah the Magnificent, the Merciful, I am Mahmoud Abu Rideh (Abu Rasmi). I am a Palestinian prisoner, I have myself been tortured by the Israelis. I have been held indefinitely now nearly three years under unjust laws in England which do not tell me why I am imprisoned. I know what it is like to suffer injustice and torture. I ask you to release this man.

He is apparently known to the kidnappers of Bigley, having set up and run a school in Afghanistan which several of their children attended.  I read about the story in the Independent print edition. It is available for a fee here.  A free version of the same article by Robert Fisk is available here and here.  It seems these are abbreviated versions of the original.

BBC and others seem to have totally ignored this story.  They are focusing on the appeal two British Muslim clergy, who have travelled to Iraq to plea/campaign for Bigley’s release. These clerics have said in a statement that Bigley is a victim just like the people of Fallujah, the eastern city in Iraq which has endured a weekend of US raids, and should not be punished. They have been working with Sunni, Shia and Christian communities in Iraq, but are due to return to the UK on Monday. 

Bigley is the first UK hostage in Iraq, but he is one of over a hundred people kidnapped in Iraq since last year. Most are Iraqis.  Hence the wide publicity in the UK over his situation. There has been some debate over the media frenzy surrounding him, and several people have echoed Margaret Thatcher’s statement about publicity being the oxygen of terrorists.

Posted by bigblue on 28/09/2004 at 01:07 AM
Filed under: EuropeUnited KingdomEngland • (4) CommentsPermalinkBookmark or Share

I heard an interview with a senior UN hostage negotiator in Iraq who stated that there have been many thousands of hostages taken - almost all Iraqis - but only the high-profile foreigners make the press. 

He said the outcome very much depends where you are taken - there are about 4 different regions and each has different likely outcomes and each requires a different approach.  In some regions warlords are known to be able to control the kidnappers, but are suspected of manipulating their roles as “middlemen” in order to pocket hefty middleman fees.

He said that, with the exception of the area just north of Baghdad, the motivation is almost always money - only when valuable hostages are “traded up” (several times) to more senior combatants does politics or religion come into the picture. The key is apparently to quickly get into contact with those who have actually taken the hostages before they start to get traded up the line.

It was revealed last week that an Australian-Iraqi had been taken and “ransomed” out of hostage without even the Australian Dept of Foreign Affairs becoming aware of it.  It took only a few days for his family to pay the ransom and see him released.

If the lower echelons are more criminal than terrorist then does this mean one should not negotiate with them?  Is there only one form of negotiating, or perhaps you can negotiate without compromising core principles? And if the scale of kidnapping is so large then will your actions in negotiating make any difference to terrorist behaviour?  In the absence of more holistic supportive justice systems very creative approaches will need to be used.  I can’t agree with the apparent rigidity of Tony Blair.

Posted by flank  on  28/09/2004  at  03:27 AM

I don’t think that it can be a principle never to negotiate with terrorists. We negotiate with them whenever doing so will reduce the risks/possiblity of terrorism. 

On the one hand we sometimes try to draw them into the political process. On another, more common level, we tend to talk to them in a situation like Beslan in Russia in order to gather information, stall them, and to save lives.

One of the Bigley families gripes with the British government is that they say the text book on hostage taking has not been followed.  It would be interesting to see that “book”...

Despite her public insistence on never negotiating with terrorists, we now know that Margaret Thatcher held secret negotiations with the IRA.  And in all siege situations I think the police try to open up negotiations immediately with the hostage takers.

Apparently Bigley and the 2 American hostages were taken for money: their kidnappers sold them to al-Zarqawi.  So yes, if you can respond quickly, it may be possible to buy a hostage of these guys before he/she is sold on.  However in this situation there is a difficult balance between compassion for and saving of individual victims and encouraging kidnapping by supporting the market.

Ultimately we have to address the “causes of terrorism”...

Posted by bigblue  on  28/09/2004  at  11:47 AM

Yes - addressing causes of terrorism is one very important dimension of a more holistic strategy to deal with terrorism.

There is the argument that inflexibility in negotiation reduces the supply of terrorism (note the economist?s model) by reducing the reward.  Moral, political, and practical issues arise from whatever tactics are used in negotiation.  The tactic use of flexibility would imply that each side has the possibility of bettering their outcome. 

With increasing frequency I’ve been hearing the view that all terrorism in the Middle East and Asia owes its genesis to the Arab-Israeli conflict.  I cannot see that the dominant political dynamics in Israel and in the USA will result in any resolution of that conflict - so it is difficult to predict a diminution in the causes of terrorism.

Last year I heard an interview with a senior church leader in Jerusalem.  He pointed out that up to 30 years ago Palestinians were half-and-half Christian and Muslim. They had lived in absolute harmony for the last few hundred years. The conflict since then has destroyed this society and today only 5% of Christians remain. It seems, therefore, that an unintended consequence of US-based Christian Fundamentalist backing of Israel has been the decimation of Palestinian Christian society.  But just who in the Bible Belt would be aware of this outcome?

Posted by flank  on  29/09/2004  at  01:17 AM

I should correct the last paragraph:

... an unintended consequence of US-based Christian Fundamentalist UNCONDITIONAL backing of Israel has been the decimation of Palestinian Christian society.

Posted by flank  on  29/09/2004  at  01:23 AM

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