Everyone Is Crazy Afraid

It’s amazing what fear can do.

It’s amazing what people will do when they are fearful. They go crazy. Man, do they go crazy.

If you don’t believe me, then consider this: A nutcase with a gun goes into an elementary school in the United States and kills teachers and little children. Normally you might expect a thunderous crescendo of noise calling for a ban on the proliferation of guns.

But exactly the opposite happened. People went out and bought more guns. There was a significant spike in the sale of guns after the Sandy Hook massacre.

Crazy.

But you need not be a rocket scientist to come up with the reason. People are afraid. Americans went out and bought more guns through fear. Yes fear. And fear becomes self-perpetuating. If more people have guns, it makes massacres of innocent people more likely, not less. In other words fear breeds more fear and stupidity. But I don’t want to talk about guns. I want to talk about fear. The more fearful we become, the greater the ignorance, the irrationality and stupidity of our actions.

Here’s another example: Brexit. I used to think the Poms were a bit measured and considered and less hair brained than their American cousins. But their decision to leave Europe was completely insane. Seriously, what were you thinking, English people? Has anyone in the UK looked at an Atlas lately? Geographically, you are part of Europe. No amount of wishful thinking is going to change that.

But I know why you did it. You were afraid. You were afraid of all those Syrian refugees somehow finding their way to the UK. You know the ones I’m talking about. The ones fleeing war and oppression and ignorance and bigotry and zealotry. The ones who need someone to show them a bit of compassion. And if you stayed as a part of Europe, you were going to have to accept your share and do your bit. Anti immigration is fear. Xenophobia is fear. You don’t need to be afraid.

Fear has become our mantra especially when we are confronted with lone wolf terrorist attacks that inflict mass casualties. What happened in France, Germany and Turkey is appalling, unacceptable and outrageous. And when Governments are powerless to protect their citizens from these attacks, as they seemingly are, everyone becomes fearful and irrational. If Donald Trump becomes the next President of the United States, God forbid, it will be because Americans are afraid. They want a leader who they think will protect them. Who will talk and act tough and build walls to keep people out and ban people on the basis of their race or religion.

Little do they realize this only makes a bad situation much worse. Banning all Muslims or attacking all Muslims or excluding all Muslims because we are afraid of them only creates more fear. It makes Muslims fearful of us and the whole cycle self perpetuates. We need to break the cycle. Instead of fear, we need to show love and compassion and understanding and tolerance and be inclusive. As people, we are all in this together, irrespective of whether we are Muslim or Christian or any other religion you care to name. What happened in Nice and elsewhere was an attack on humanity. And as human beings we need to stand together and embrace one another. We need to reassure Muslims we don’t fear them nor should they fear us. The vast majority of Muslims don’t want to kill us nor do we want to kill them. There will always be individuals who are fanatics. Muslim and Christian alike.But these fanatics don’t speak for anyone except themselves. And when these fanatics attack some of us randomly, they are attacking all of us.

They are attacking humanity and it is humanity as a whole that needs to respond. Let me say it again. That means all of us in this together. Xenophobia was never a chapter in the guide book for being human.

We have to stop being afraid and start being inclusive.

Charlie Hebdo A Game Changer…Now Their Fight Becomes Ours

I do not agree with what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it. Those are the words of French philosopher, Voltaire, spoken centuries ago but resonating all over France and the world today, and never have they been as powerful or as poignant or meant as much as they do right at this moment. Words that speak for all of us, as we mourn the deaths of 10 people at the Paris based satirical magazine, Charlie Hebdo, as well as the two policemen who were sent to guard them. Charlie Hebdo was at war. They knew it. But they were fighting for something all of us should be prepared to stand up for. It’s called freedom of expression. Charlie Hebdo had armed itself with pens and paper and ideas. These weapons can be powerful but they were never going to be a match for fanatics and their Kalishnikovs. These religious fanatics tried to silence Charlie Hebdo, once before in 2011, when the magazine offices were firebombed. But that only made the magazine more determined and more resolute. But unfortunately for them so were the forces out to harm and silence them. And yes, today those forces of darkness achieved a small, bloody and brutal victory but don’t be fooled into thinking they have won the war. They have not. Not by any stretch, in fact au contraire is how I would describe it. What happened in Paris in the last 24 hours has changed the game. Charlie Hebdo’s fight has now become our battle as well, or it should be, against those who want to kill us not for anything other than the way we think and the way we choose to live. The people of Paris know this. That’s why thousands took to the streets chanting or holding signs that read: Je suis Charlie, I am Charlie.

It was the deadliest terrorist attack on French soil in decades. Three attackers, all wearing balaclavas, who later fled, like the cowards they are. French media identified two of them as Parisian born Algerian brothers who grew up in the same neighbourhood where Charlie Hebdo is located. One of them had returned to France after fighting in Syria. Clearly battle hardened and ready to reek havoc. The third man is said to be an 18-year-old student. A huge anti terrorist operation is going on, as we speak, as French authorities try to find them.

French President Francois Hollande called the massacre “an act of exceptional barbarity” and “undoubtedly a terrorist attack.” Charlie Hebdo gained notoriety in February 2006 when it reprinted satirical cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed that had originally appeared in Danish daily Jyllands-Posten, causing fury across the Muslim world. Yes they were offensive cartoons but they meant to be. There will be those who say that the Charlie Hebdo journalists and cartoonists, brought this on themselves by being too provocative. But I say, to hell with that idea. It’s what living in a democracy is all about. That is why wars have been fought and won and lost for our collective right to say what we think. You don’t have to agree but you must respect everyone’s right to be able to say it.

However, there are people living in our world who clearly have no respect for that right. They want to use violence to take it away and permanently silence us. As the killers went about their deadly business in Paris they screamed “we have avenged the prophet, we have killed Charlie Hebdo”, according to prosecutors. One eyewitness told French media: “I hid under my desk … they spoke French perfectly … they said they were al-Qaeda.” Another reportedly said: “Tell the media that this is al-Qaeda in Yemen.” Quite frankly I don’t care who it was. They are not welcome in Paris. They are not welcome anywhere. And that message needs to be delivered loud and clear.

The drama started in broad daylight in a quiet Paris street when the gunmen entered the weekly magazine’s offices as journalists were in an editorial meeting. They began by shooting a receptionist and then picked off eight journalists, including some of France’s best-known cartoonists, a security guard and a visitor. One staff member survived, by hiding under a table.

Chilling amateur video footage filmed after the carnage then showed them outside of the building, running toward a wounded policeman as he lay on the pavement.

One attacker was heard to say “you wanted to kill me?” before shooting the officer, execution style. Large numbers of police and ambulances rushed to the scene with shocked residents spilling into the streets. Reporters saw bullet-riddled windows and people being carried away on stretchers. Prosecutors said 11 people were also injured in the attack, with four in critical condition.

As you would expect, the attack has been condemned around the world.

US President Barack Obama led the global condemnation of what he called the “cowardly, evil” assault. British Prime Minister David Cameron called it “sickening”, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said the attack was “despicable” and Russian President Vladimir Putin as well as the Arab League condemned the violence. Saudi Arabia, the home of Islam’s holiest sites, condemned “this cowardly terrorist attack which is incompatible with Islam”. The imam of Drancy mosque in the northern suburbs of Paris, Hassen Chalghoumi, visited the scene, calling the shooters “barbarians, they lost their soul, sold their soul to hell”. The Charlie Hebdo website went down after the attack before coming back online with the single image of the words “I am Charlie”.

Like I said earlier. There are signs already that this is a game changer. I truly hope it is. Paris will bury and mourn its dead. Parisians will show them the respect they deserve. And we will mourn with them in solidarity. But nothing changes or must change in thoughts, words or cartoons, in Paris or anywhere else. We cannot live in fear or be intimidated into silence. We must continue to do and say the things we have always said even if, and especially if, some of us don’t like it. We must draw a line in the sand and take this on, head on.

The words of Voltaire are worth more than just paying lip service. They are fighting words and words worth fighting for. And if that is what needs to happen then let all of us join the battle.

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.

Australia’s New Terror Laws And What They Mean

A series of events in Australia in the last few days have quite frankly left me reeling in shock and surprise. The first was an incident where an 18-year- old boy was shot dead by police. Technically he’s a man but I call him a boy. A boy who was foolish and very naïve. A brain washed jihadist. A supporter of ISIL, a Muslim extremist group, which wants to destroy all of us for no reason other than, who we are and how we live. He came to the attention of authorities for some of the things he was saying on social media like wanting to behead police, drape their bodies in the ISIS flag and post the images online. He also made death threats against the Australian Prime Minister.

Very surprisingly and quite ironically the police decided to deal with this by taking a fairly low, key approach. Instead of a dawn raid and arresting him at gunpoint they invited him to come and see them at the police station. They arranged a time and he turned up to be met by two officers outside the station. What happened next will become the subject of an official inquiry. But it appears when one of the policemen tried to shake his hand in greeting, the 18-year-old produced a knife and began hacking at the two policemen. It is believed, one of the policemen fired a single, fatal shot at the 18-year-old. It was both tragic and senseless.

This young boy was seen talking with older men before this incident occurred which supports the idea he was not acting alone. He first came to the attention of police and intelligence authorities, three months ago, because he was part of a small group of men sharing messages, preaching violence and hate. Authorities were concerned he may try to join ISIL in Syria and Iraq so they cancelled his passport.

The second disturbing report was an allegation of a second, separate attack on a serving member of the Australian Army who was walking along the street minding his own business. The catalyst for the attack was the fact that he was wearing the Australian Army uniform. In a recent development, police are now saying the attack didn’t happen but it was enough for Australian Defence Force Chiefs to issue an order for defence force personnel not to wear their uniform in public. Reports of these two incidents coincide with ISIL using social media to call on its supporters to attack indiscriminately. They were told they do not need the authority of a senior Muslim cleric, they should just go ahead and wage jihad and God was on their side. These people seem to be under the illusion we are back in the Middle Ages fighting some sort of mythical crusade. Muslim versus Christian. What is most disturbing is the number of young Muslim men, in Western countries who believe in this nonsense. What worries me the most about these developments is it could end up being a double-edged sword. We need to be worried about radicalised Jihadists but equally we should also be worried about whack jobs who want to attack Muslims for being Muslim. There’ve been reported incidents of vandalism and graffiti but fortunately no violence.

Here is a small reality check.

The vast majority of Muslims in Australia, or anywhere else in the world are not defined by what the Islamic State does in Iraq and Syria. They are peace-loving people who believe in tolerance, benevolence and humanity. As President Obama quite correctly pointed out, No God condones terror.

But there is no denying these incidents frighten people and when people are frightened they lose perspective and forget to think and respond rationally.

And what usually follows is another unfortunate by-product – the rights and freedoms that we have come to expect and accept are suddenly under threat.

The Australian Prime Minister said as much the other day. In a speech clearly aimed at softening up the country he said some freedoms needed to be sacrificed in order to protect the vast majority. He asked Australians to support this shift in what he called the delicate balance between freedom and security. We are only just beginning to find out what this actually means. In Federal Parliament a bill was passed giving Australia’s domestic spy agency, the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation, unprecedented and unfettered power to monitor the entire Australian internet. All that is needed is one warrant. The bill passed with bi-partisan support so the Opposition clearly agrees with the Government. ASIO will be permitted to copy, delete or modify data held on any computer it has a warrant to monitor. It also allows ASIO to disrupt target computers and use innocent third-party computers, not targeted, as a way of accessing targeted computers. Many lawyers and academics are saying this bill goes too far. Australian Attorney-General George Brandis says we all better get used to living in what he called this “newly dangerous age.” It is vital he said to equip those protecting Australia with the necessary powers and capabilities needed to do their job.

That’s all well and good but what about the checks and balances? Where are they? How can we be sure that ASIO won’t abuse these massive new powers? And if you are worried about these questions, and you should be, then what I am about to say should make you even more worried. The bill also allows for journalists, whistle-blowers and bloggers who “ recklessly” disclose information that relates to a special intelligence operation ,to be jailed for ten years. Get this. Any operation can be declared to be “special” by an ASIO agent. It also gives ASIO immunity from criminal and civil liability in certain circumstances. In other words it makes them pretty much untouchable.

Now don’t get my wrong. I am all for giving law enforcement the powers they need to do their job but that doesn’t mean they have an open checkbook. And going after whistleblowers and journalists providing the necessary balance, threatening them with a hefty prison sentence, is not a good thing in a democratic country. It is very much the case of shooting the messenger. Of course with the threat of a ten-year prison sentence hanging over them, whistleblowers will become extinct. I’m sure that is exactly what Governments around the world want to happen. I’m sorry but I don’t trust ASIO not to abuse its powers. Unless we have something or someone keeping a watchful eye out on behalf of us all there is a danger that the so-called cure could end up being far worse than the disease.

Is It Time for Moderate Muslims To Stand Up?

I read an interesting opinion piece today that is bound to get people hot under collar.

It asked the question, why aren’t Muslims all over the world protesting at the atrocities being committed by ISIS?

It is a tantalising debate for me because I can see both sides of the argument.

It all started when a well known Professor of Journalism at the American University in Dubai wanted to know why Muslims protesting against Israel’s war in Gaza were not also protesting the Islamic State atrocities against Christians, Yazidis and fellow Muslims in Syria and Iraq.

Writing in the Washington Post, the academic made the point that Muslims know ISIS does not represent Islam but the rest of the world doesn’t know that or can’t make the distinction. So if organisations like ISIS and Boko Haram are not representative of mainstream Muslims, and they clearly aren’t, then the community should be shouting this from the rooftops. In other words mainstream Muslims must disown the Islamic State because the rest of the world thinks their brutality is what Islam has become. She says if people hear the word Islam the first thing that pops into their heads isn’t its glorious cultural history or the peaceful words of the prophet Mohammed. Rather they think of men in masks carrying knives and beheading innocent journalists who happen to stumble into the wrong place at the wrong time.

I can understand where she is coming from. The other side of the argument goes something like this. Why should moderate Muslims have to speak publicly every time some extremist sends a message of hate? A certain amount of common sense needs to be applied here. The reality is the vast majority of Muslims are peace-loving people who would never contemplate harming anyone. They point to the Koran as a book that preaches peace, goodwill, tolerance, understanding and love. Why should they have to stand up and justify themselves every time some nut job nuts off? It becomes the denial that never ends.

Of course there is another factor at play here, especially among Muslim leaders in the Middle East. And that is a dislike and mistrust of the United States. Academics at Princeton and Harvard University analyzed the Twitter feeds of 3.7 million Arabic users in 2012 and 2013 and discovered that whatever position the United States adopted, right or wrong, it made no change to their intense dislike of America. It might explain why President Obama is struggling to get support in the Arab world as well as a meaningful strategy to combat ISIS. The present strategy appears to be limited air strikes while at the same time arming and backing a rag tag of political factions in Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan in the hope that they can cobble together some kind of consensus that speaks for the majority of their citizens. Good luck with that one.

ISIS is a perplexing problem for the United States and the world.  The Islamic State won’t be defeated by air strikes alone. Its defeat has to be engineered by local people. Local Muslims prepared to take local action. In other words it will take a coalition of Arab forces prepared to fight against everything that ISIS stands for. Doing it for themselves and their future. One thing’s for sure. We can’t all spend the next 20 years wondering how this is going to be achieved. We may not have the luxury.

We Have No Choice

Australia has thrown its lot in with the United States in the war against the Islamic State but not everyone is happy.

I say war even though it’s undeclared. It’s a war of philosophy and ideas as much as weapons and like or not it is one we have to fight and win.

In a rare moment of lucidity the Australian Prime Minister described ISIS as a certain type of terrorist organization, which hate us not because of what we do but because of who we are and how we live. The PM went on to say that he hoped how we live, and who we are, will never change. Amen to that.

Unsurprisingly, Australia has agreed to an American request to transport arms and equipment to Kurdish fighters battling Islamic militants in Iraq. The country is facing a humanitarian catastrophe and this is our way of averting that catastrophe.

The move has the support of the other major opposition political party in Australia but not everyone thinks this is a good idea.

One independent Member of the Federal Parliament said that Australia had taken sides and if the country wants to be gunrunners for the Kurds at the behest of the United States then we are part of that war.

This particular MP is a former senior intelligence analyst turned whistleblower. He resigned from his analyst position in protest at Australia’s involvement in the 2003 Iraq War.

His remarks were strident and some might say intemperate. I must say it took me by surprise. I guess his opposition to this is to be expected but we are facing a very different set of circumstances in Iraq this time around.

He received fairly predictable support from other left wing Members of Parliament who called on the Prime Minister to suspend all current Parliamentary business to debate Australia’s latest military involvement in Iraq.

Some newspaper columnists have waded in castigating the Government for being ready to do Washington’s bidding. The Government was interposing Australia in a country fighting a civil war and clearly taking sides in that conflict.

The main Opposition party in a rare show of bipartisanship supported the Government’s decision. They acknowledged it was not an easy one to make but made for the best of reasons-humanitarian relief to prevent genocide against the beleaguered minorities in northern Iraq. It is a risk but on balance the greater risk would be to allow ISIS to succeed in Iraq.

Australia has already begun dropping relief supplies to an Iraqi town holding out against ISIS but this latest development will place our military and our air force in harms way. In order to make sure the arms get to the right people Australian aircraft will land on Iraqi soil, risking anti-aircraft fire from the Islamic State. We will be giving the Kurdish Peshmerga rocket propelled grenades, mortars as well as different caliber ammunition.

The Prime Minister said that understandably Australia shrinks from reaching out to these conflicts and I am sure plenty of other countries do as well. But the truth is these conflicts reach out to us whether we like or not. He said 60 Australians (that we know of) are involved in terrorist groups in the Middle East. Another 100 are actively supporting those Islamic extremists. With such a significant number of Australians involved with these groups they become radicalized, brutalized and accustomed to kill in the name of God. And so the logic goes if they think it is right to kill in the name of God in Iraq then it stands to reason those same people will think it is right to kill in the name of God in Sydney, London or New York.

Australia is yet to receive a request from the United States to join air strikes against ISIS but if that request comes I am sure it will be regarded favorably.

US Secretary of State John Kerry has called for a global coalition to stop the spread of what he called the cancer of the Islamic State. For me it brings to mind the frequently quoted Edmund Burke homily: All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing. In this case doing nothing is not an option.

 

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.