You Can’t Negotiate With Religious Extremists

Terrorism left its calling card in Sydney today. I think we all kind of knew it was coming. We just didn’t know the where?, or the when? Both of those questions were answered when a middle-aged fanatical Jihadist, walked into a busy café, in the heart of the city, around 9 in the morning. He was armed with a sawn off shotgun and proceeded to take more than 20 people hostage. What followed was a siege lasting 17 hours. It ended around 2 am, when heavily armed police stormed the café, after hearing the sound of gunshots coming from inside. Minutes later, three people were dead. The fanatical jihadist hostage taker, and two of his hostages, a man aged 34 and a woman aged 38. Australia is fighting the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq. We knew there would be consequences. The Islamic State publicly vowed revenge against innocent people to be chosen at random. But you can’t stop living your life, just because a group of religious crazies threaten you, or want to attack you for the way you choose to live. Nor should we.

Authorities know quite a bit about the Jihadist hostage taker but I don’t want to waste oxygen talking about him to any significant degree. He was Iranian and a Muslim convert. A self styled cleric who was convicted of sending poison pen letters to the families of Australian soldiers killed during the war in Afghanistan. He was also on bail for being an accessory to the murder of his wife, who was stabbed and set on fire. He persuaded his girlfriend to kill her.   The self-styled Jihadist also faced 40 sexual assault charges after complaints from seven women who attended one of his ‘spiritual healing sessions.’ The Jihadist likened himself, on his own webpage, to Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, claiming the police charges against him were laid for “political reasons.” His website also carries a quote, posted earlier this month, stating: “I used to be a Rafidi, but not any more. Now I am a Muslim, Alhamdulillah.” ( Praise be to Allah)

During the siege, this religious fanatic forced his hostages to hold up a black flag, with Arabic writing, against the window of the cafe and record video messages on their mobile phones, listing his demands. The videos were initially posted on YouTube but were immediately removed on the advice of police. Deep down we all knew, right from the very start of this, it was going to end badly. Of course, there will be the inevitable questions: Should this man have been released on bail? Had he been identified as a religious extremist and placed on a watch list? If not? why not? His lawyer described him as a ‘damaged goods individual.’ There will also be scrutiny of how the police handled the siege. We received many public assurances from the New South Wales Police Commissioner, the Premier of New South Wales and the Prime Minister that the police were professionally trained to deal with this type of crisis and we should all have faith that they can bring about a peaceful resolution.

Bring about a peaceful resolution? Are you kidding me? When they said that I began to get very worried. For a start this was not a normal siege by any stretch. Most sieges are an attempt by the hostage taker to achieve some personal advantage. The Jihadist who walked into that café only had two purposes, to die killing innocent people and secondly to create maximum publicity so that when he did, everyone would remember who was responsible and, hopefully, from that time on, live in fear of it happening again. He didn’t care that he would be killed. In fact he was counting on it. You can’t negotiate with people like that. You are wasting your time to even try. But the New South Wales police did try. They didn’t comply with his demands but they tried to negotiate with him. And they waited.

Now I don’t want to sound like some armchair quarterback replaying the calls that were made with the benefit of hindsight. I understand the police had a nightmare on their hands. But I will be honest and say I think it was a serious mistake to wait for the shooting to start before they did any shooting themselves. It might sound harsh but being reactive is too late. The horse has bolted. The hostage taker is already doing what he came to do from the moment he walked into that café. We live in a different world. There are people in it who have no regard for their own life as long as they can take the lives of innocent people. The hostage taker in Sydney made it pretty clear who he represented, and what this was about, right from the start. You don’t negotiate. You wait for an opportunity or, you create an opportunity, to use lethal force against him. You certainly don’t wait until he starts killing people. It’s a harsh lesson that maybe the New South Wales police are about to learn.

Ignore Them At Your Peril

Most people in the world will, by now, have heard of ISIS. Why am I wasting time and oxygen talking about a grotesque and barbaric group of extremists? Because we need to take them seriously. Very, very seriously. And, it would be a serious mistake not to. 

Here’s why.

ISIS is wealthier than a small country. They have $2billion in cash and even more in captured assets. With Syria a basket case, ISIS took control of oil fields, electricity plants, and dams as part of its strategy to control key infrastructure. It even continued to collect taxes to fund its invasion of Iraq. Other money making enterprises like ransom payments for hostages have earned millions.

It is better financed than all of the other radical Middle Eastern groups like Hezbollah, the Taliban, Farc and Al Shabaab. ISIS can even pay its fighters a salary.

Right at this moment they are the most dangerous and powerful group of extremists in the world. They have a PR machine, that some observers claim, can rival the slickest Hollywood agency. They have sophisticated strategies and very structured social media tactics and they are growing stronger every day. ISIS produces merchandise including branded T-shirts. Its followers post to Twitter, Instagram and Facebook. They even produce a glossy magazine that’s posted online and the Islamic State publishes an annual report complete with infographics detailing its operations.

And like any ambitious corporation hoping to get bigger, ISIS possesses a very clear business and marketing plan. Their stated aim is to create an Islamic state in the Middle East and to recruit fighters from all over the world. ISIS has clearly identified its target audience as young Muslims aged between 20 and 30. They are people who feel alienated and frustrated by the society they are currently living in. What ISIS offers is proving to be a very attractive commodity.

ISIS sees itself as an alternative to Western and Middle Eastern governments around the world. Particularly western Governments that have failed to engage with young Muslims. And ISIS has the runs on the board. Potential recruits see it fighting against the leadership in Iraq and Syria with great success.

One academic who specializes in radicalization, criminal behavior and gangs blames Governments in the United States, Australia and the UK for not reaching out to their young Muslim population. He says that failure has led to the group becoming radicalized. ISIS gives these young Muslims the feeling that they belong to something especially if they are socially disadvantaged, isolated and alienated from wider society.

Most disturbingly, they’ve been flocking to radical movements like ISIS by the thousands. The stats speak for themselves. Three years ago, ISIS had only 1000 members. Now it has an estimated 80 thousand fighters from around the world. Its influence is outstripping other terrorist groups like al-Qaeda, which has been forced willingly or not to take a back seat to ISIS in power, size and influence 

Who would ever have thought that al-Qaeda could be considered moderate in comparison to ISIS with Bin Laden’s successor labeling the Islamic group too extreme. 

But clearly extremism does not put people off from joining. In fact the graphic YouTube beheadings designed to goad countries like the United States into sending ground forces has helped ISIS to recruit more fighters.

Counter terrorism laws are great at helping people feel more secure but they are not going to do the job on their own. If ISIS is, as one diplomat put it, the most capable military power in the Middle East outside of Israel, then Governments are going to have to come up with some better solutions and fast.

A Picture’s Worth A Thousand Words

This is a story you are not going to believe.

It concerns an 86 year old retired senior American corporate executive, called James Prigoff.

Mr Prigoff is a with it sort of guy with impressive credentials. He was the former president of a division of Levi Strauss the jeans manufacturer. He was  previously the senior vice president of the Sara Lee Corporation in Chicago. Mr Prigoff also happens to be a professional photographer. In fact, he has been a photographer for most of his  life. His specialty is photographing murals, graffiti, and other pieces of community public art. He’s also co-authored three books based on the many photographs he has taken, one of which, Spraycan Art,  sold more than 200,000 copies. His photographs have appeared in many other publications and his photography has been exhibited at the Smithsonian Institute in Washington as well as many other galleries. Mr Prigoff has also given lectures on photography and public art in museums, universities, and venues worldwide. He knows his stuff.

It’s a lifestyle he clearly loves but it’s one that got him into serious trouble.

It all started when he attempted to photograph the “Rainbow Swash” outside Boston in 2004.

For those  who may not know, the Rainbow Swash is an iconic piece of public art painted in 1971 on the circumference of a 140-foot or 45 metre high liquefied natural gas storage tank and repainted in 1992. It is actually one of the largest copyrighted pieces of art in the world. The original artist was Korita Kent.

Now how could visiting a piece of public art  get Mr Prigoff into so much trouble you might ask?

Here’s how.

Mr Prigoff went to Dorchester, Massachusetts., to photograph the storage tank. But before he could take his photograph, he was confronted by two security guards who came through their gate and told him he couldn’t take pictures because the tank was on private property.

When he  pointed out that he was taking his photographs in a public place well outside the fenced area, and was not on private property –  they insisted he leave.

Mr Prigoff not wanting to cause offence or confrontation did what he was asked. That should have been the end of the matter.But it wasn’t.

A few months later, Mr Prigoff discovered a business card on the front door of his home in Sacramento from someone called Agent A. Ayaz of the Joint Terrorism Task Force, asking Mr Prigoff to call him.

In fact one of Mr Prigoff’s neighbours, an elderly woman, later told him that two men wearing suits had come to her door to ask her about her neighbour.

Armed with this information, James Prigoff did what most curious people might do if they found themselves in that situation.

He called Agent Ayaz.

What followed was a very strange conversation. Agent Ayaz asked Mr Prigoff if he had been in Boston recently. It was at that moment that it suddenly dawned on him why they might be asking those kinds of questions.

Mr Prigoff realized that the security guards at the Rainbow Swash site must have taken down the car license plate number of his rental and reported him to a law enforcement agency.

There could be no other possible explanation.Mr Prigoff  never gave the security guards any information about himself, so clearly he must have been traced across country through his rental car record.

But why would they bother? Well the answer is frighteningly simple even if it makes no sense.

Even though James Prigoff might have been a professional photographer taking a photo of a well-known Boston landmark according to the Joint Terrorism Task force what he was doing was considered to be engaging in suspicious terrorist activity.

Mr Prigoff said : ” I lived through the McCarthy era, so I know how false accusations, surveillance, and keeping files on innocent people can destroy their careers and lives. I am deeply troubled that the Government may be recreating that same climate of false accusation and fear today.”

James Prigoff aged 86 says photography is an important part of his life, and what’s more he plans to keep photographing public art and public places – like he’s been doing for the past 69 years.

He can’t understand why his legitimate artistic pursuits landed him on a national database potentially linking him to “terrorist” activities.”

He says there is no justification. Should we be worried?

 

WTF

This is a story you are not going to believe.

It concerns an 86 year old retired senior American corporate executive called James Prigoff.

Mr Prigoff is a with it sort of guy with impressive credentials. He was the former president of a division of Levi Strauss the jeans manufacturer and previously the senior vice president of the Sara Lee Corporation in Chicago. Mr Prigoff also happens to be a professional photographer. In fact, he has been a photographer for most of his life. His speciality is photographing murals, graffiti art, and other pieces of community public art. He’s also co-authored three books based on the many photographs he has taken, one of which, Spraycan Art, sold more than 200,000 copies. His photographs have appeared in many other publications and his photography has been exhibited at the Smithsonian Institute in Washington and in many other galleries. Mr Prigoff has also given lectures on photography and public art in museums, universities, and venues worldwide. He knows his stuff.

It’s a lifestyle he clearly loves but it’s one that got him into serious trouble.

Trouble that started when he attempted to photograph the “Rainbow Swash” outside Boston in 2004.

For those of you who may not know, the Rainbow Swash is an iconic piece of public art painted in 1971 on the circumference of a 140-foot or 45 metre high liquefied natural gas storage tank and repainted in 1992. It is actually one of the largest copyrighted pieces of art in the world. The original artist was Korita Kent.

Now how could doing that get Mr Prigoff into so much trouble you might ask?

Here’s how.

Mr Prigoff went to Dorchester, Massachusetts., to photograph the storage tank. But before he could take his photograph, he was confronted by two security guards who came through their gate and told him he couldn’t take pictures because the tank was on private property.

When he pointed out that he was taking his photographs in a public place well outside the fenced area, and was not on private property – they insisted he leave.

Mr Prigoff not wanting to cause offence or confrontation did what he was asked. That should have been the end of the matter.But it wasn’t.

A few months later, Mr Prigoff discovered a business card on the front door of his home in Sacramento from someone called Agent A. Ayaz of the Joint Terrorism Task Force, asking Mr Prigoff to call him.

In fact one of Mr Prigoff’s neighbours, an elderly woman, later told him that two men wearing suits had come to her door to ask her about her neighbour.

Armed with this information, James Prigoff did what most curious people might do if they found themselves in that situation.

He called Agent Ayaz.

What followed was a very strange conversation. Agent Ayaz asked Mr Prigoff if he had been in Boston recently. It was at that moment that it suddenly dawned on him why they might be asking those kinds of questions.

Mr Prigoff realized that the security guards at the Rainbow Swash site must have taken down the car license plate number of his rental and reported him to a law enforcement agency.

There could be no other possible explanation.Mr Prigoff never gave the security guards any information about himself, so clearly he must have been traced across country through his rental car record.

But why would they bother? Well the answer is frighteningly simple even if it makes no sense.

Even though James Prigoff might have been a professional photographer taking a photo of a well-known Boston landmark according to the Joint Terrorism Task force what he was doing was considered to be engaging in suspicious terrorist activity.

Mr Prigoff said : ” I lived through the McCarthy era, so I know how false accusations, surveillance, and keeping files on innocent people can destroy their careers and lives. I am deeply troubled that the Government may be recreating that same climate of false accusation and fear today.”

James Prigoff aged 86 says photography is an important part of his life, and what’s more he plans to keep photographing public art and public places – like he has been doing for the past 69 years.

He can’t understand why his legitimate artistic pursuits landed him on a national database potentially linking him to “terrorist” activities”

He says there is no reason for it. He is absolutely right about that.