When are we going to give up our infantile “terrorist” lists? The IRA were “terrorists”. So was the Irgun. So was EOKA. So was the Mau-Mau. And their leaders – every bloody one of them – met Her Most Gracious Majesty Queen Elizabeth II. Think Begin, Makarios, Kenyatta. How long, I wonder, before Khaled Mashal of Hamas meets the old girl? Or Sayyed Nasrallah of Hezbollah?
You can’t help thinking that joining a “terrorist” list is almost guaranteed to get you an invitation to Buckingham Palace. And if the North Vietnamese could meet the Americans in Paris and Barack Obama can chat to the Iranian President on the phone, is it any surprise that Anas al-Tikriti – a caliphate-loving Iraqi Muslim with “close links to the Hamas terrorist group”, if you believe what you read in the papers – has translated for Obama himself when the then-speaker of the Iraqi parliament visited the White House?
But now even Mr Tikriti’s gently named Cordoba Foundation – a public relations outfit also “close” (that word again) to the Muslim Brotherhood – has found itself on a “terrorist list”, this time among 82 “terror” organisations named by the United Arab Emirates whose enemies include all the usual suspects – al-Qaeda, Isis and the rest. “I felt physically unwell when I saw the Cordoba Foundation just three lines away from Boko Haram,” says al-Tikriti, a UK citizen who has spoken at Chatham House as well as on that most notorious of all “terror” television channels, al-Jazeera.
As a frequent guest on the very same satellite station, I suppose I’ve also been scratched by the “terror” label. After all, I’ve even spoken for the Council on American-Islamic Relations which has an office on Capitol Hill – and which is now also named as a “terrorist” organisation by the Emirati government.
Tony Blair’s old sidekick Jonathan Powell – he of the IRA-Blair peace negotiations – has been banging on about the need to chat to the bad guys in his new book Talking to Terrorists, and I’ve naturally started counting up all the “terrorists” I’ve talked to. Quite apart from the common-or-garden war criminals we journos have all shaken hands with in Bosnia, Lebanon and Iraq over the years – I include Saddam, who’s also shaken hands with Donald Rumsfeld – I’ve met Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness (super-terrorists who became super-statesmen), Yasser Arafat (a super-terrorist who became a super-statesman and then became a super-terrorist again), numerous suicidal jihadis and of course Osama bin Laden, a super-terrorist who is beginning to look like a posthumous super-statesman now that the Caliph Abu Bakr “Rolex” al-Baghdadi has created his own little Isis hell in Iraq and Syria. And we mustn’t forget the gesture of the Blessed Tony himself who actually kissed the brutal super-terrorist Muammar Gaddafi – but only after the Libyan crackpot became a super-statesman and before he became a super-terrorist again.
So, slick public relations man though he is, you can’t help feeling a bit of sympathy for Anas al-Tikriti. Of course, I did ask him for his thoughts on the Paris bloodbath with whose murderers he would presumably not be encouraging “dialogue”. “I think Paris had produced our absolutely worst nightmares,” he says. “What happened must be seen as a heinous crime. But we risk reading it wrongly if we see it as a crime committed by Muslims – one of the policemen killed was a Muslim.
“The challenge now is to concentrate on the kind of extremists who are hell bent on creating chaos. These people have a deep loathing of society.” And al-Tikriti, it should be added, has no time for Isis-style caliphates.
But his predicament will not end there. Being fingered as a “terrorist” supporter has already prompted HSBC to close his bank account even before he acquired the “terrorist” label from the UAE, yet he cannot find anyone in the Gulf state to explain to him why he’s on their list.
The stories that defined 2014
The stories that defined 2014
Sheffield United withdraws its offer to its former player, the convicted rapist Ched Evans, to use its training facilities, following a public backlash against the club
The Apple Watch launches, in the hope that 'wearable technology' will become commonplace
In the European Parliament elections, Ukip comes top with 26.5 per cent, Labour polls 24.5 per cent and the Conservatives 23 per cent. The result presages a year of electoral success for Ukip: the party wins two by-elections, at Clacton in Essex and Rochester in Kent
Bearded drag act Conchita Wurst wins the Eurovision Song Contest for Austria with her song ‘Rise Like a Phoenix
The American actor George Clooney marries the British human-rights lawyer Amal Alamuddin in Venice
A user posts on an online bulletin board a list of celebrities of whom he or she claims to have explicit photographs and videos. The list comprises mostly female actors, singers and other public figures, including Jennifer Lawrence, Kim Kardashian, Rihanna and Kirsten Dunst. Soon after, images of Lawrence and others begin circulating on file-sharing sites. The hacker claims to have taken the images from Apple’s iCloud back-up service
The Royal Family announces that Kate Middleton and her husband Prince William, Duke of Cambridge are expecting a second child
Chris Kennedy, a golfer from Florida, uploads a video of himself pouring a bucket of icy water over his head, and nominates three friends to undergo the challenge ‘or donate $100 to the ALS Association’. Within weeks, more than $50m is pledged to various motor neurone disease charities, as the craze to emulate Kennedy’s feat goes viral. Pictured here, Kylie Minogue gives herself a soaking.
Rebekah Brooks, the former editor of ‘The Sun’ and chief executive of News International, is cleared of all charges related to phone hacking. Her former lover, ex-colleague and one-time Conservative Party director of communications, Andy Coulson, however, is found guilty of conspiracy to hack phones
After a 10-year, four billionmile journey, the European Space Agency probe Philae landed on comet 67P. Amid excitement about the apparent success of the mission, attention turns to a British scientist, Dr Matt Taylor, involved in the mission – in particular, his striking shirt depicting scantily clad cartoon women
The Scottish referendum returns a conclusive decision in favour of continuing the union with the United Kingdom: the Yes vote, led by Alex Salmond, polls 45 cent, the No vote 55 per cent
March, April, October…
First, Jeremy Clarkson uses the term 'slope' on 'Top Gear' in a context that some believe is racist; a few days later, it emerges that Clarkson, in footage not broadcast, has used the word 'nigger' in a nursery rhyme. Finally, in October, he and his 'Top Gear' film crew flee an angry crowd in Argentina who believe a licence plate (H982 FKL) on a car used in filming is a reference to the Falklands
An inquest jury rules that Mark Duggan, whose death in Tottenham, north London, sparked the August 2011 riots, was lawfully killed by police
“No one in the UAE has picked up a phone and spoken to me,” he says. “A couple of years ago, the Gulf newspaper The National singled me out as someone who is leading a worldwide campaign to undermine and destabilise the government of the UAE. I responded by saying that it’s no secret I support democratic referenda throughout the region – in Morocco, Egypt, Yemen, the Gulf, Saudi Arabia.”
Al-Tikriti suspects that UAE officials may be irked that he spent his childhood in the Emirates. “Anyone who has a vendetta can use the word ‘terrorism’. We have hundreds of Muslim men and women aged between 15 and 35 who are frustrated, dissatisfied, and who feel that their place in Europe and North America has been sidelined, that they are second-class citizens. And now even organisations that work in the mainstream to create a real change have been lumped with Boko Haram and al-Qaeda. ‘Terror lists’ have become a game.”
Indeed, you only have to look at the EU, where the General Court of the European Union now says that Hamas should be removed from its “terror list” to see what happens to those who buck the system. Europe, quoth Benjamin Netanyahu, had “learned nothing” from the Holocaust. Arab newspapers suggested that Israel – after last summer’s horrors in Gaza – was lucky not to be on a “terror list” itself. Few, however, paid attention to the EU court’s conclusion that Hamas had been put on the “terrorist list” not because of proven facts, but because of “media reports and the internet”.
So now we have it. Cyberspace can put you on a “terror list” just as fast as political power. And if al-Tikriti is associated with the Muslim Brotherhood – which he is – and if David Cameron could even cast a cold eye on the Brotherhood (to curry favour with a certain President-General al-Sisi of Egypt), then anyone can earn the “terrorist” label and absolutely no government in the West will talk to you. Hence the Brits can no longer talk to Hezbollah because it’s a “terrorist” organisation. And they’ve already pulled out of Damascus because they hate Assad who is also a “terrorist” – even though Assad is fighting al-Qaeda and Isis, which are also “terrorist” organisations.
Terror, terror, terror, terror, terror. What’s in a name?
Will Paris stop the media doing its duty?
Much of the post-massacre debate in Paris and elsewhere in Europe has revolved around the preparedness – or otherwise – of newspapers to print anti-Islam cartoons or articles sure to infuriate Muslims. Will a new climate of fear prevent the media from its duties?
I hate to bend the argument, but over the decades, I’ve found that journos and editors across Europe are far more fearful of important and rich people with expensive lawyers who might sue them for slander than any gunmen storming into their front office.
Paris may change all this. But a lot of true stories have been spiked because of Britain’s absurdly costly libel laws rather than any threat of violence.