All posts by Binoy Kampmark

Fantasies of Humanity: The Christchurch Pledge and a Regulated Internet

It had to come.  A massacre, broadcast in real time and then shared with viral automatism; the inevitable shock, and the counter from the authorities.  The Christchurch shootings, inflicting fifty-one deaths upon worshippers at two mosques in quiet New Zealand on March 15 this year, have spurred Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern.  Laws have been passed regulating guns in her country.  Interest has increased in monitoring white nationalist groups.  But Ardern was never keen keeping the matter local.

In Paris, the NZ Prime Minister, meeting French President Emmanuel Macron, brought other leaders and US tech giants to make a global pledge to “eliminate terrorist and violent extremist content online.”  The cheer squad feel behind the “Christchurch Call to Action” was unmistakable.  Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau highlighted the “deadly consequences” of “hateful content online” and his enthusiasm behind the project. “Together, we can create a world where all people – no matter their faith, where they live, or where they are from – are safe and secure both on and offline.”  Stirring stuff.

The opening of the pledge starts with a description: “On 15 March 2019, people looked on in horror as, for 17 minutes, a terrorist attack against two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, was live streamed.”  The emphasis is significant here: not merely the atrocity itself but the means of its dissemination.  Stress falls upon the fact that “the live stream was viewed some 4,000 times before being removed.”

The premise of the call is exaggerated and forced: that the events were caused by online content the way a child’s violence can be caused by gormless hours of glued-to-screen viewing. Ignore the tingling motivating factors of the shooter in question, a view that was nurtured in the atmosphere of acceptable intolerance.  Ignore, as well, the contested, troubled literature on the “contagion” thesis behind mass shootings and killings.  The shooter becomes less significant than the act of streaming his exploits, or sharing unsavoury matter with chatty dolts on certain chat forums. “The attack was livestreamed, went viral and remains available on the web despite the measures taken to remove it.”

The call is framed is a clunky exercise pillowed by the language of openness, only to then flatten it.  It articulates “the conviction that a free, open and secure internet offers extraordinary benefits to society.  Respect for freedom of expression is fundamental.”  But there is an unqualified injunction: “no one has the right to create and share terrorist and violent extremist content online.”

It seems fluffy, the stuff of head-in-the-cloud enthusiasm, but lodged in such calls is a desperate, confused message with sinister implications.  Commitments, outlined by Trudeau’s office, include “building more inclusive, resilient communities to counter violent radicalisation” and “enforcing rules laws that stop the production and dissemination of terrorist and extremist content online.” Media outlets would also be told “to apply rules when reporting on terrorist events” to avoid amplification of the content.  This is ignorance as antidote, not reason as solution.

Online providers, in turn, are urged to, “Take transparent, specific measures seeking to prevent the upload of terrorist and violent extremist content and to prevent its dissemination on social media and similar content-sharing services”.  The qualifying point is that such measures are “consistent with human rights and fundamental freedoms.”  Transparent processes would include “publishing the consequences of sharing terrorist and violent extremist content”.

Live streaming is the true bugbear here, with the need to implement “immediate, effective measures to mitigate the specific risk that terrorist and violent extremist content is disseminated”. Algorithms that might magnify the spread of material should also be reviewed.

A more “humane” internet is central to Ardern’s vision which, read another way, is one more regulated and policed of its content and uses.  This lies more in the realm of social engineering than it does in free self-correction, the call for presbyters of cyberspace to cull and remove what states, or the tech enforcers, deem inappropriate.  Given that “extremism” and “terrorism” remain very much in the eye of the censoring beholder, the dangers of this should be apparent.  Dissidents, contrarians and commentators are bound to fall foul of the project.

The regulatory attitude outlined in the pledge has been twinned with a business object.  Silicon Valley, to remain in clover, has been convinced to make overtures and moves dealing with the sharing of “terrorist” and “extremist” content.  Having become a punching bag for anxious regulators, Facebook announced that Facebook Live would be barred to those who, in the words of company official Guy Rosen, “have broken certain rules… including our Dangerous Organizations and Individuals policy”.  A “one strike” policy would be introduced.  Technical advances to combat “adversarial media manipulation” and improved “image and video analysis technology” were needed.

With such high minded calls for regulation and control from government voices, a seminal warning is necessary.  John Perry Barlow, in A Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace, began his call quite differently.  Traditional states were the problem.  “Governments of the Industrial world, you weary giants of flesh and steel, I come from Cyberspace, the new home of Mind. On behalf of the future, I ask you of the past to leave us alone. You are not welcome among us.  You have no sovereignty where we gather.”

Such governments, with efforts to bring in the behemoths of Silicon Valley, have stated their clear purpose: to intrude upon Barlow’s world of the cyber mind and clip any sovereign pretext that might have ever existed.  The internet, for them, remains a vigilante playground, difficult to police with its bursts of anarchic sentiment and primeval insensibilities.  While Ardern’s sentiments are probably genuine enough, their authenticity hardly matters before the dangers such initiatives will create.  Symptoms have been confused, if not totally muddled, with causes; technology has been marked as the great threat.

Modern Merchants of Death: The NSO Group, Spyware and Human Rights

Arms manufacturers of old, and many of the current stable, did not care much where their products went.  The profit incentive often came before the patriotic one, and led to such dark suspicions as those voiced by the Nye Committee in the 1930s.  Known formally as the Special Committee on Investigation of the Munitions Industry, the US Senate Committee, chaired by US Senator Gerald Nye (R-ND) supplies a distant echo on the nature of armaments and their influence.

The Nye Committee had one pressing concern: that the United States might fall for the same mistake it did in 1917 in committing to a foreign conflict while fattening the pockets of arms manufacturers.  As Chairman Senator Nye promised, “When the Senate investigation is over, we shall see that war and preparation for war is not a matter of national honour and national defence, but a matter of profit for the few.”

Despite the current sophisticated state of modern weaponry, along with modern offshoots (cybertools, spyware, the use of malware), the principle of ubiquitous spread is still present.  Companies in the business of developing malware and spyware, modern merchants of disruption and harm, face charges that their products are being used for ill, a nastiness finding its way to hungry security services keen to monitor dissent and target contrarians.  While the scale of their damage may be less than those alleged by Nye’s Munitions Committee, the implications are there: products made are products used; the ethical code can be shelved.

The NSO Group, a tech outfit based in Herzliya, a stone’s throw from Tel Aviv, specialises in producing such invasive software tools as Pegasus.  The reputation of Pegasus is considerable, supposedly able to access data on targeted phones including switching on their cameras and microphones.

NSO’s spyware merchandise has now attained a certain, viral notoriety. When Mexican investigative journalist Javier Valdez Cárdenas was butchered in broad daylight on a street in Culiacán, the capital of the Mexican state of Sinaloa, something reeked.  The killing on May 15, 2017 had been designated a cartel hit, an initially plausible explanation given Valdez’s avid interest in prying into the affairs of organised crime in Sinaloa.  But the smell went further.  As Mexican media outlets reported in June 2017, the government of former president Enrique Peña Nieto had purchased the good merchandise of Pegasus.  Three Mexican agencies had purchased spyware to the tune of $80 million since 2011.

Since then, Canadian research group Citizen Lab, in collaboration with Mexican digital rights outfit R3D and freedom of expression group Article 19, have made the case that the widow of the slain journalist, Griselda Triana, became a target of Pegasus spyware within 10 days of her husband’s death in 2017.  According to the report, she was also targeted “a week after infection attempts against two of Valdez’s colleagues, Andrés Villareal and Ismael Bojórquez.”  The group behind the infection attempts, named RECKLESS-1, is alleged to have links with the Mexican government.

Canadian-based Saudi dissident Omar Abdulaziz can also count himself amongst those targeted by Pegasus.  In 2018, he claimed that his phone was tapped by NSO-made spyware, leading to a gruesome implication: that the Saudi authorities would have had access to hundreds of messages exchanged with the doomed Saudi journalist and fellow comrade-in-dissent Jamal Khashoggi.

In December, a suit was filed in Israel by Abdulaziz’s representatives Alaa Mahajna and Mazen Masri, alleging that the NSO Group had hacked his phone in the service of Riyadh.  In court papers, it was alleged that the dissident was harangued by the same individuals behind Khashoggi’s murder, insisting that he pack his bags and return to Saudi Arabia.

Buried in the court documentation was the receipt of a text message purportedly tracking the shipment of a package; instead, it masked a link to the NSO Group.  Once clicked, the link installed the spyware, turning the phone into an effective agent of surveillance.  Soon after this took place, Abdulaziz’s family home in Jidda was raided by Saudi security forces.  Two brothers were subsequently detained.

Last January, Maariv, an Israeli daily, investigated reports about telephone spyware supposedly used to bug the phone of the murdered Khashoggi.  Khashoggi’s ending at the Saudi embassy in Istanbul, facilitated by a death squad, was not handiwork NSO wanted to be associated with.  The group had been, according to a statement in December, “licensed for the sole use of providing governments and law enforcement agencies the ability to lawfully fight terrorism and crime”.  Misuse of products would lead to investigation and, depending on appropriate findings, a suspension or termination of the contract.

Shalev Hulio, the company’s CEO, was clear to emphasise his humanity, before distancing himself and his company from the killing.  “As a human being and as an Israeli, what happened to Khashoggi was a shocking murder.”  Hulio was also adamant that “Khashoggi was not targeted by any NSO product or technology, including listening, monitoring, location tracking and intelligence collection.”  Could such precise denials be inadvertent confessions?

The cooperative umbrella for Israel is broadening. It seeks allies, or at least some form of accommodation with regional powers, to counter common enemies.  With Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, one common foe remains a constant: Iran.  The Israeli state’s licensing of such companies as the NSO Group implicates the policy of permitting the distribution of Pegasus and such products.  License their use; license their consequences.  Molly Malekar, of Amnesty International’s Israeli office, puts it simply: “By continuing to approve of NSO Group, the Ministry of Defence is practically admitting to knowingly cooperating with NSO Group as their software is used to commit human rights abuses.”  Monitoring and killing dissidents and intrepid journalists tend to be nasty by-products.  They, in a sense, have become the modern merchants of death, whose clients remain unsavoury regimes.

Maximum Pressure in the Strait of Hormuz: The US-Iran Standoff

Hegemons are never going to sound too sensible when they lock horns or joust in spats of childish anger.  Power corrupts, not merely in terms of perspective but language, and making sense about the next move, the next statement, is bound to be challenging.  Otherwise justified behaviour can be read as provocative; retaliatory moves duly rattle and disturb.

The Iran-US standoff is finding a surge of increments, provocations and howlers.  Since the Trump administration withdrew from the 2015 Iran Nuclear deal (the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action) last year, Tehran has gnawed and scratched at the arrangements.  Threats to close the Strait of Hormuz as a retaliation for frustrating Iranian oil sales have been made.  President Hassan Rouhani last week made it clear that the Islamic republic would scale back on certain JCPOA commitments.  Limits on building up stockpiles of low-enriched uranium and heavy water would be abandoned.  A 60-day period has been stipulated in the hope that the E3 (Britain, France and Germany), China and Russia provide relief for the Iranian oil and banking sector.  More suspensions of compliance orders threaten to follow if the powers do not muck in.

Despite not being part of the JCPOA anymore, the Trump administration persists in sticking its oar in the matter.  In May 3, the State Department explicitly warned it would sanction individuals and entities involved in swapping permitted uranium (enriched or natural) with Iran.  Nor would excess heavy water limits be permitted.

With such moves to strangle Iran’s economic feelers, it is little wonder that Rouhani has called on “surgery” to be performed on the JCPOA, one far more effectual than “the painkiller pills of the last year”.  Such a process, he promised, was “for saving the deal, not destroying it.”

News this week that Saudi Arabian oil tankers had been sabotaged near the Strait of Hormuz had its effect, even if the Trump administration has yet to pin its colours to the claim that Iran is responsible.  Give it time, and not much at that.  As the Wall Street Journal put it, “The assessment, while not conclusive, was the first suggestion by any nation that Iran was responsible for the attack”.

To reporters in the Oval Office, Trump was keen to make his usual remarks about happiness, or its absence, if things turned out to be darker than he thought.  “It’s going to be a bad problem for Iran if something happens, I can tell you that.”  What, pressed reporters, did the president mean by a “bad problem”?  “You can figure it out for yourself.  They know what I mean by it.”

Brian Hook, the US State Department’s special envoy on Iran, has been doing the circuit in Europe with Washington’s allies, hoping to stir some action against the meddling mullahs in a campaign of “maximum pressure”.  “Everything we are doing,” Hook tried to reason with the Sunday Times, “is defensive.”  Secretary of State Mark Pompeo also journeyed to Brussels to stir the matter.  According to Hook, “The secretary shared information and intelligence with allies and discussed the multiple plot vectors emerging from Iran.”  What a boon Iran is proving to be for the parched hawks, an endless well of threat, much of it imaginary, to draw upon in the hope of actual military engagement.

National Security Advisor John Bolton is making do with the situation, creating much mischief, turning the furniture and belongings of the entire diplomatic stable inside out like a brat in search of attention.  He blames Iran, naturally, for “a number of troubling and escalatory indications and warnings”.  As is the manner with all chicken hawks, he craves the blood of others and is not shy pushing it.  The problem with this attitude is that having a playmate such as Iran is bound to get you, and your fellow playmates, hurt on the way.  The school mistress should intervene, but her sense, and sensibility, is yet to be found.

Washington is certainly keen to make it a bad problem, a habit it has fallen into during stretches of its violent and imperial history.  At Bolton’s instigation, an aircraft carrier and B-52 bombers are being deployed to the Persian Gulf on the supposedly clear grounds that Iran and its proxies are readying themselves for a strike on US forces in the region, bringing to mind similar provocations sought to stoke a potential conflict.

The planning of Operation Prairie Fire was one such ignominious example, designed to provoke Muammar Qaddafi’s Libya into a military incident in 1986.  In what seemed to be a true overegging of the pudding, US Navy Task Force 60 involved three aircraft carriers operating in the Mediterranean off the Libyan coast.  They were involved in exercises falling within that most stretched of terms: freedom-of-navigation.  Prairie Fire turned out to be a bellicose affair, with Task Force 60 put on essentially a wartime footing.  Military exercises were duly conducted to stir the beast; patrols along the coast were conducted.  The beast responded with some six surface-to-air missiles.  A Libyan patrol boat was duly obliterated with some satisfaction, along with two more naval vessels and a missile site in Sirte. “We now consider all approaching Libyan forces,” claimed the White House note with some smugness, “to have hostile intent.”

US-Iran encounters in the Strait of Hormuz are also not new: the Iran-Iraq War, one which saw the US throw in its lot with Saddam Hussein’s invading armies against the Iranian Republic, featured a fair share of attacks on merchant shipping.  The importance of the Strait to shipping and international traffic is again coming into play.

Trump has remained inflexible and obstinate regarding Iran. (In his wheeler-dealer world, every crook with a silver lining must be matched by a Lucifer who will be given no quarter.)  In these calculations, the silver lining of North Korea’s Kim Jong-un shines far brighter than any the Islamic Republic of Iran might have.  But by any referee’s estimate of recent conduct by Trump and company, Washington must be seen as responsible for the most aggravating fouls.

A Great Flushing Out: Social Media Footprints and Electioneering in Australia

It has been an uninspiring election, punctuated by occasional moments of madness on the part of various candidates.  Their sin was to be incautious in their previous use of social media, a form of communication that reveals everything and nothing about a person.  In a political sense, the erring tweet and the injudicious remark on an online forum have laid waste to incipient political careers and ambitions.

This is a far cry from the supposedly mighty role the use of social media was meant to have in participatory politics.  Now, the chickens have come home to roost in various unexpected ways.  Social media outlets are condemned for being platforms for misinformation and manipulation (the horror!) and tech giants are given daily tongue lashings by politicians and representatives for not being online Bobbies.

Paradoxically, these are the same critics who have been more than happy to embrace such media to access voters at virtually no cost.  As President Donald J. Trump once explained on his use of Twitter, “I like it because I can get my point of view out there, and my point of view is very important to a lot of people that are looking at me.”  Various surges in the polls by presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders in 2016 were occasioned by a conspicuous and aggressive presence on social media relative to his rival, Hillary Clinton.  In Britain, the rise of Jeremy Corbyn to the position of Labour leader was very much boosted by a dedicated social media following.

Social media in this Australian federal election has done quite the opposite: rather than advancing profiles and improving visibility for the candidate, mistakes have been noted, and previous misbehaviour drawn out as grave errors of judgment.  Bad speech has been picked up and prosecuted by the machine men and women of various parties.  Resignations have been encouraged, and, in some cases, forced.

These instances have provided marvellous distractions from policy, fitting for those who do not have any.  “The offensive remarks,” noted The New York Times, “have forced at least six candidates for Parliament to quit, while many more linger like zombies – most of them from the conservative governing coalition and other parties on the right.”

The range of comments, for all the unsavoury nature, would not have seemed out of place in previous elections.  Susan Harris-Rimmer, a law academic at Griffith University, expressed amazement “that these people are being asked to resign, because a lot of this stuff would have been seen as normal a few years ago.”  It was “a bit of a sign of success that they’re being forced to leave.”  Harris-Rimmer ignores that obvious point that such individuals do not leave so much as retreat to the party undergrowth.

Has Australian politics suddenly become righteous?  A sense of proportion is in order, and social media is precisely the medium that distorts it.  Rage is magnified, as are errors.  Idiotic behaviour, probably mandatory for a teenager, is rendered immutable if it touches on rape humour or sexual observation.  Luke Creasey, an urchin-looking Labor candidate running in Melbourne, expressed contrition at doing so but ultimately fell on his sword.  He acknowledged making “those awful comments many years ago and they in no way reflect the views I hold today,” claimed Creasey in a statement.  He understood “especially as a member of the LGBTIQ community, that we need to be careful about what we share or like on social media.”

Others have been somewhat fresher in their sins.  Jessica Whelan, formerly a Liberal candidate running in the seat of Lyons, came undone with the airing of various social media posts in the Tasmanian parliament.  In 2017, Whelan’s response to a woman regarding public housing waiting lists was piquant: “Given that your profile states that you went to college at ‘never lose hope in Allah’… I hope you’re not bloody on our housing waiting list.”  Another, addressed to a Facebook video purportedly showing American Muslim and non-Muslim women praying together, was similarly direct.  “Round them up Donald, cut their clitorises off and sell them to Muslims in Muslim countries and cancel their passports.  You’ll make a mint.”

Jeremy Hearn, also of the Liberal Party, was binned for anti-Muslim remarks made in 2018.  Those sinister warriors of Allah (“people of bad character”), he said pointedly, had been insinuating themselves into the landscape, concealing their true intentions in wishing to overthrow the Australian government.

Not to be outdone, Peter Killin, another Liberal candidate, resigned after attacking his own colleague and member for Goldstein, Tim Wilson, in a comments thread of a blog post by Christian conservative blogger Bill Muehlenberg.  While contesting the seat of Wills in Melbourne’s inner-north, Killin made no secret of the fact that he was against the pre-selection of Wilson for Goldstein, who had won by “one lousy vote” in 2016.  “Many of us will recall [Wilson] was the openly homosexual who proposed to his boyfriend in parliment [sic].”

One of the last holdouts – and there are no doubt a few more lurking – was Gurpal Singh, Liberal candidate for Scullin.  What eventually pushed him?  Not remarks made in 2017 equating same-sex marriage with paedophilic tendencies.  It took Facebook comments to an SBS article written in 2018 expressing disagreement with an allegation of rape made by a Punjabi woman against her husband.  “Based on new information that has come to light,” explained a Liberal party spokesman, “Mr Gurpal Singh has been asked to resign as candidate for Scullin.”  Singh called it “shameful that a married woman suffering family violence can go to such extent” having “skimmed her lover, husband and father of her two children for all these years.”

Perversely, in an era characterised by episodic Twitter deluges by a US President, many bruising and scornful of political correctness, Australian politics shows a far more regulated concern for the red mist of online commentary.  The social media scrubbers within the parties have gotten busy.  Tweet and be damned; share, and face the consequences.  In Creasey’s own warning, “this is a really important lesson for young people that your social media footprint will follow you.”

A Great Flushing Out: Social Media Footprints and Electioneering in Australia

It has been an uninspiring election, punctuated by occasional moments of madness on the part of various candidates.  Their sin was to be incautious in their previous use of social media, a form of communication that reveals everything and nothing about a person.  In a political sense, the erring tweet and the injudicious remark on an online forum have laid waste to incipient political careers and ambitions.

This is a far cry from the supposedly mighty role the use of social media was meant to have in participatory politics.  Now, the chickens have come home to roost in various unexpected ways.  Social media outlets are condemned for being platforms for misinformation and manipulation (the horror!) and tech giants are given daily tongue lashings by politicians and representatives for not being online Bobbies.

Paradoxically, these are the same critics who have been more than happy to embrace such media to access voters at virtually no cost.  As President Donald J. Trump once explained on his use of Twitter, “I like it because I can get my point of view out there, and my point of view is very important to a lot of people that are looking at me.”  Various surges in the polls by presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders in 2016 were occasioned by a conspicuous and aggressive presence on social media relative to his rival, Hillary Clinton.  In Britain, the rise of Jeremy Corbyn to the position of Labour leader was very much boosted by a dedicated social media following.

Social media in this Australian federal election has done quite the opposite: rather than advancing profiles and improving visibility for the candidate, mistakes have been noted, and previous misbehaviour drawn out as grave errors of judgment.  Bad speech has been picked up and prosecuted by the machine men and women of various parties.  Resignations have been encouraged, and, in some cases, forced.

These instances have provided marvellous distractions from policy, fitting for those who do not have any.  “The offensive remarks,” noted The New York Times, “have forced at least six candidates for Parliament to quit, while many more linger like zombies – most of them from the conservative governing coalition and other parties on the right.”

The range of comments, for all the unsavoury nature, would not have seemed out of place in previous elections.  Susan Harris-Rimmer, a law academic at Griffith University, expressed amazement “that these people are being asked to resign, because a lot of this stuff would have been seen as normal a few years ago.”  It was “a bit of a sign of success that they’re being forced to leave.”  Harris-Rimmer ignores that obvious point that such individuals do not leave so much as retreat to the party undergrowth.

Has Australian politics suddenly become righteous?  A sense of proportion is in order, and social media is precisely the medium that distorts it.  Rage is magnified, as are errors.  Idiotic behaviour, probably mandatory for a teenager, is rendered immutable if it touches on rape humour or sexual observation.  Luke Creasey, an urchin-looking Labor candidate running in Melbourne, expressed contrition at doing so but ultimately fell on his sword.  He acknowledged making “those awful comments many years ago and they in no way reflect the views I hold today,” claimed Creasey in a statement.  He understood “especially as a member of the LGBTIQ community, that we need to be careful about what we share or like on social media.”

Others have been somewhat fresher in their sins.  Jessica Whelan, formerly a Liberal candidate running in the seat of Lyons, came undone with the airing of various social media posts in the Tasmanian parliament.  In 2017, Whelan’s response to a woman regarding public housing waiting lists was piquant: “Given that your profile states that you went to college at ‘never lose hope in Allah’… I hope you’re not bloody on our housing waiting list.”  Another, addressed to a Facebook video purportedly showing American Muslim and non-Muslim women praying together, was similarly direct.  “Round them up Donald, cut their clitorises off and sell them to Muslims in Muslim countries and cancel their passports.  You’ll make a mint.”

Jeremy Hearn, also of the Liberal Party, was binned for anti-Muslim remarks made in 2018.  Those sinister warriors of Allah (“people of bad character”), he said pointedly, had been insinuating themselves into the landscape, concealing their true intentions in wishing to overthrow the Australian government.

Not to be outdone, Peter Killin, another Liberal candidate, resigned after attacking his own colleague and member for Goldstein, Tim Wilson, in a comments thread of a blog post by Christian conservative blogger Bill Muehlenberg.  While contesting the seat of Wills in Melbourne’s inner-north, Killin made no secret of the fact that he was against the pre-selection of Wilson for Goldstein, who had won by “one lousy vote” in 2016.  “Many of us will recall [Wilson] was the openly homosexual who proposed to his boyfriend in parliment [sic].”

One of the last holdouts – and there are no doubt a few more lurking – was Gurpal Singh, Liberal candidate for Scullin.  What eventually pushed him?  Not remarks made in 2017 equating same-sex marriage with paedophilic tendencies.  It took Facebook comments to an SBS article written in 2018 expressing disagreement with an allegation of rape made by a Punjabi woman against her husband.  “Based on new information that has come to light,” explained a Liberal party spokesman, “Mr Gurpal Singh has been asked to resign as candidate for Scullin.”  Singh called it “shameful that a married woman suffering family violence can go to such extent” having “skimmed her lover, husband and father of her two children for all these years.”

Perversely, in an era characterised by episodic Twitter deluges by a US President, many bruising and scornful of political correctness, Australian politics shows a far more regulated concern for the red mist of online commentary.  The social media scrubbers within the parties have gotten busy.  Tweet and be damned; share, and face the consequences.  In Creasey’s own warning, “this is a really important lesson for young people that your social media footprint will follow you.”

Lowering Standards: Australian Universities, English Requirements and Student Cash Cows

There are no protests on the streets and no effigies of university officials being burned by protesting students today.  There are no protests outside the offices of the over-remunerated Vice Chancellors and their various hench persons.  It is business and malpractice as usual after revelations by Australia’s national broadcaster that Australian universities have been adjusting admission requirements to boost student numbers.  Standards have been cooked, if not waived altogether, on the issue of English proficiency.  Student bodies are the university equivalent of lebensraum: the expansive steppes of the Asian student market, to be exploited and leeched.

Since Australian universities first started entering the foreign market of education in 1986, a dependency on international students has taken a clenching, and corrupting hold.  Such students mean one thing: revenue.  Between 1988 and 2014, the number of international students at Australian universities climbed 13-fold.

Issues such as fudging results on language proficiency, false documents and online sites plump with ready-made material for submission, have proliferated.  But these instances enabled universities to play dumb: they were the ones facing unscrupulous students desperate to get an Australian minted education.  Universities could still claim that they, somehow or rather, were maintaining appropriate standards of admission, whatever those sly applicants might be up to.  A few might get through, but they would be found out and weeded into oblivion.

This façade has been comprehensively holed in recent years, and the brackish water is making its way through the system.  Universities, hungry and operating like famine stricken urchins, have been seeking more students than ever.  In 2015, the New South Wales Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) raked through the university system in that state, finding what it modestly called “corruption risks”.  To “intertwine compliance and profit rather than separating them, and to reward profit over compliance, can be conducive to questionable and corrupt behaviour.”  ICAC is almost sympathetic to the insidious behaviour of university apparatchiks: “Students may be struggling to pass, but universities cannot afford to fail them.” Wither standards!

The recommendations by ICAC were hardly upending in nature, going to, amongst other things, limiting the number of overseas agents with which universities are engaged; divorcing the issue of compliance from the issue of development “where feasible, which may include moving the admission functions out of international student offices that are responsible for marketing and recruitment”; and “considering the full costs associated with international students of different capabilities when making marketing decisions”.

As with other overgrown and self-serving bureaucracies, the modern university resists with a fanatic’s zeal, always happy to doff the cap to such suggestions while happy to expand, and in some cases refine, the abuse.  Which brings us to the Four Corner’s Report.

The picture painted is bleak for those believing in academic standards.  Since 2016, the Federal Government made a cardinal error: granting universities greater scope in determining the credibility of applications from students from certain countries, notably in such areas as English proficiency.  This was the equivalent of giving a bellicose military full scope and decision in making war, removing any civilian controls.

Education departments were cut out of the picture; universities were granted full dispensation to waive standards deemed unnecessary or onerous for the applicant.  Given the value of the education industry – $34 billion per annum – and a reduction in federal funding – this was a license to manipulate and omit.  Approvals from universities, submitted in visa applications, have ensured a smooth, and rapid approval process.  Andrew Durston, former employee of the Immigration Department, was adamant that the practice was yielding unsatisfactory, and spoiled fruit.  “I think there’s evidence to show that there are students who are being granted visas who haven’t actually undertaken an English language test.”

The practice of accepting “medium of instruction” (MOI) letters for postgraduate students from India and Nepal, for instance, stating that students have previously studied in English, has also caught the eye of the Home Affairs Department.  Such a letter would “not meet the legislative requirements” as evidence for a visa application.

This is an act of mutual harm. It denies the student a worthy assessment while also prostituting the application and any requisite standards of offered courses.  What matters is the issue of cash funnelled into corporations that, for the most part, have ceased achieving their public purpose.  They have become ungainly, mismanaged amalgams run by individuals who refrain from performing those dirty tasks of researching and teaching, preferring the cocktail circuit, spreadsheets and boardrooms.

University commissars have come out to deny the existence of any problem.  The Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency sees “little evidence to suggest there is a systemic failure regarding compliance with English language requirements.”  Professor Margaret Gardner, Chair of Universities Australia, has access to “overall statistics” revealing that, “international students… pass successfully at about the same rate as domestic students.”  It has been years since the good professor taught a class let alone graded a paper; ignorance is such merry bliss.

There was one exception, if only a minor one.  The University of Tasmania was sufficiently alarmed by Monday’s program to consider a review, despite its Vice Chancellor Rufus Black suggesting how much the institution “intrinsically” cared about “international students”.  (Abusers always feign a degree of necessary caring.)  UTAS had featured in the investigation in a rather damning fashion: a staff member had sent an email outlining the money lust of a recruitment drive.  “As a part of our last-mile efforts to encourage acceptances for July 2018, the university will be waiving the English condition in order to assist the students who have yet to meet their English conditions.”  The true spirit of a standard-free recruitment drive.

When universities speak of an independent external review, both words tend to be suspect.  Pick your investigator, pick your result.  Importantly, pick a person of like mind and background to eliminate room for error and space for disruption.  In this case, the individual selected by the task of examining admission practices in UTAS is Hilary Winchester, director and principal of a company bearing her name, an expert, we are told in “higher education quality assurance”.

Combing through the exploits of Winchester reveals a pedigree that is bound to resist revolt and revolution; brooms and mops will be kept at home.  She is, after all, one of them, greasing the ranks and attaining the appropriate position in the managerial strata of higher education: formerly Pro-Vice Chancellor (Academic) at Flinders University and Deputy Vice Chancellor (Academic and Research) at Central Queensland University.  As universities have been seized by such very types, Vice Chancellor Black and his PVC guards should have little to concern themselves about.  Assurances, if lacking in quality, are guaranteed.

Disproportionate Sentences: Julian Assange, Bail, and Extradition

Should journalism ever have a deity worth His, Her or Its salt, looking down upon the recent proceedings against Julian Assange will provide endless choking fits of confusion and dismay.  The prosecution continues in the twisted logic that engaging a source to disclose something secret while also protecting anonymity is somehow unnatural in the world of journalism.  Most prosecutions in this regard tend to be ignorant of history and its various contortions; theirs is to simply fulfil the brief of a vengeful employer, in the now, in the falsely clear present.  If their reasoning could be extended, the likes of those in press land would spend far more time in prisons than out of them.

The savagery being meted out to Assange is evident by receiving the maximum sentence for skipping bail.  Fifty weeks may not seem like much in the scheme of things, but when you consider relative punishments, it smacks of a certain state vindictiveness.  What the decision also ignores is the entire context of Assange’s escape to the Ecuadorean embassy in 2012. Since then, Britain has abandoned that beastly instrument known as the European Arrest Warrant, the Swedish allegations against him for sexual assault have been withdrawn and he, importantly, was found to be living in conditions of arbitrary detention by the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention.

The refusal to take the decision of the UN Working Group seriously has been a hallmark of British justice, one skewed in favour of handing out to Assange the worst treatment it can find.  In 2016, the body, chaired by Seong-Phil Hong, found that “various forms of deprivation of liberty to which Julian Assange has been subjected to constitute a form of arbitrary detention.”  The Working Group further maintained “that the arbitrary detention of Mr. Assange should be brought to an end, that his physical integrity and freedom of movement be respected, and that he should be entitled to an enforceable right to compensation.”

The UK Government, for its part, decided to rebuff the decision.  “The original conclusions of the UN Working Group are inaccurate,” came a scoffing statement, “and should be reviewed.”  Foreign Office minister Hugo Swire insisted at the time that the working group had erred for not being “in possession of the full facts.”  Assange had remained in the embassy purely on his own volition, a fantastic form of reasoning that denied the broader context of US efforts to seek his scalp, and the prospect of extradition should he have been sent to Sweden.  On this issue, WikiLeaks and Assange have proven to be right, but critics remain deaf and dumb to the record.

The same Working Group also expressed bafflement at the stiff sentence, noting that the Swedish allegations had been withdrawn, meaning that the original bail terms be negated as a result.  The entire treatment “appears to contravene the principles of necessity and proportionality envisaged by human rights standards.”  It was also “further concerned that Mr. Assange has been detained since 11 April 2019 in Belmarsh prison, a high-security prison, as if he were convicted for a serious criminal offence.”

Kristinn Hrafnsson, who currently holds the reins as editor-in-chief of WikiLeaks, told gathered press members that Assange had been confined for periods of 23 hours a day at Belmarsh.  The publisher was, effectively, keeping company with the less savoury while facing the damnable conditions of solitary confinement.

Only a day after the rough determination, Assange faced an extradition hearing in which the UK legal system, pressured by US lawyers and officials, will again have a chance to display its ignominious streak.  The hearing, lasting a few minutes, took place via video link in Westminster Magistrates Court.

“I do not wish,” Assange told the court, “to surrender myself for extradition for doing journalism that has won many, many awards and protected many people.”  (Perhaps Assange might have eased off on his accolades, but history has its callings.)

Assange’s legal team is clear: focus the issue on publishing, thereby bringing the work of their client within the ambit of free speech and traditional journalism.  As his lawyer Jennifer Robinson has explained, to accept the validity of the US charge would result in a “massive chill on investigative journalism.”  Assange’s involvement with Chelsea Manning was “about a journalist and a publisher who had conversations with a source about accessing material, encouraged that source to provide material and spoke to that source about how to protect their identity.”

The prosecution team, aided in the wings by hundreds of press vultures who seem intentionally malicious or keen to distance Assange from such protections, are obsessed by the hacking argument.  Even left as it is, the effort here seems skimpy at best.

Hrafnsson, on a worried note, does not shy away from the consequences to Assange’s own being.  “What is at stake here could be a question of life or death for Mr. Assange.”  And more than that, it involved “a major journalistic principle.”  The former point is salient: the moment Assange is rendered into the clutches of the United States, the prosecution is bound to bloat with various charges.

With Assange being treated as a felon of grave importance; and Manning’s continued detention for her ongoing refusal to cooperate with the investigative grand jury in the United States, the press corps of the world should be both revolted and alarmed.  What a delightful World Press Freedom Day it turned out to be.

Islamic State Celluloid

Nothing turns on the charlatan class of terrorism expertise than a video from an elusive, unknown destination, adjusted, modified and giving all the speculative trimmings.  In reading, E.B. White suggested the presence of two participants: the author as impregnator; the reader as respondent.  In the terrorism video, the maker consciously penetrates the shallow mind of the recipient, leaving its gurgling DNA to grow and mutate.

When Islamic State began its gruesome foray into the world of terrorist snuff videos, experts resembled overly keen cinephiles seeking the underlying message of a new wave.  The burning of Jordanian pilot Muath al-Kasaesbeh in a cage in 2015 caused a certain rapture amongst members of a RAND panel.  Was this, perhaps, a celluloid standoff with rival al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, whose affiliates had just slaughtered the staff of French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo in their Parisian offices?

Senior Adviser to the RAND President, Brian Michael Jenkins, could not “recall a single incident in modern terrorism where terrorists deliberately killed a hostage with fire.”  There was “no religious basis for it this side of 17th century witch burning.”  Senior political scientist Johan Blank turned to scripture, finding “at least one specific prohibition of death by fire in the ahadith literature” on “the grounds that it resembled hellfire.”  The inspiration had to stem from somewhere, and Blank’s judicious offering was Ibn Taymiyyah, “fountainhead of much current jihadi reinterpretation of longstanding Islamic orthodoxy.”  Andrew Liepman, senior policy analyst, saw the video as a lucid moment of proof. “I wonder how much more evidence we need to confirm that ISIS is acting outside the norms of Islam.” Not modish, it would seem.

Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of Islamic State, has begun to resemble, in no small part, previous heads of franchise terrorist groups who have become reproductions and simulacra of themselves.  Terrorism is big business, stage sets and props, all tweeted for good measure; it is bestial theatre that draws out the voyeurs, the google-eyed analysts, and the lunatic converts.  Whether such heads are dead or not is of little consequence past a certain point: Baghdadi had supposedly been dead yet his corpse seems more than capable of putting together a presentation for audiences.  It is also incumbent on those seeking his capture or death to claim his general irrelevance.  Everyone did know one thing: the last time he gave a public performance was the al-Nuri Mosque in Mosul in July 2014.

The video, aired on the Al Furqan network, is filmed in appropriately Spartan surrounds, but that is neither here nor there.  Iraq Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi thinks otherwise linking, erroneously, the making of the film with the current location of the protagonist.  “Regarding the location of Baghdadi, we can’t give intelligence information right now but it’s clear from the video that he’s in a remote area.”  As is the fashion, neither the date nor the authenticity of the recording is verifiable.  All else is a wonder, and even the Middle East Monitor is careful to suggest that the speaker was “a bearded man with Baghdadi’s appearance”.

Baghdadi lacks complexity in his message, never straying from the apocalyptic line.  “Our battle today is a battle of attrition, and we will prolong it for the enemy, and they must know that the jihad will continue until Judgment Day.” He is mindful of the fruitful carnage inflicted by the Easter Sunday bombers in Sri Lanka, and thanks them.  Such acts, he reasons, were retribution for the loss of Baghouz in Syria.

The speculations duly form a queue, and talking heads have been scrambled into studios and Skype portals.  This video may have been a retort, and reassurance, before the potential usurping moves of another ISIS figure of seniority, Abu Mohammed Husseini al-Hashimi.  Hashimi had staked a claim in stirring up discontent against Baghdadi’s more extreme tyrannical methods.  Not that he is averse to the application of hudud punishments (stoning for adultery excites him), and the quaint notion that the ruler of any Islamic State caliphate is bound to be a successor to the prophet Muhammed.  Modesty is a drawback in such line of work.

Colin P. Clarke, senior fellow at the Soufan Centre, aired his views that Baghdadi’s “sudden appearance will very likely serve as both a morale boost for ISIS supporters and remaining militants and as a catalyst for individuals or more groups to act.”  It was a reassurance that he remained the grand poohbah, atop “the command-and-control network of what remains of the group, not only in Iraq and Syria, but more broadly, in its far-flung franchises and affiliates.”

The teasing out and ponderings on minutiae are not far behind.  Resting upon a flowered mattress, and leaning against a cushion with an assault rifle by his side (nice touch for the old fox), it was bound to have an effect. The expansive beard caught the eye: The Washington Post noted that it “has greyed since his only other video appearance”. Previously, the paper noted, it had been “tinted with henna”.  Then there was the AK-74 prop, a rather popular Kalashnikov variant reprised from previous showings in the video work of Abu Musab Zarqawi and Osama bin Laden.

Such superficial renderings, the stuff of terrorism kitsch, lends itself to fundamental fact that Baghdadi might be somewhere, anywhere, or nowhere, a nonsense figure, to a degree, in a nonsense medium.  The modern terrorist franchise is fluid and far-reaching.  Followers need not feel estranged.  They can use social media, cosy-up and wait for eschatological endings.

The pioneer of this terror mania (global yet local) was al-Qaeda’s Osama bin Laden, a figure who, along with his sparring counterpart US Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, formed a perfect symmetry of simulative nonsense, the gobbledygook of post-2011 security.  Each time US forces and their allies sought to target the slippery Saudi, he vanished.  The raid and bombing of the Tora Bora complex in Afghanistan yielded no returns; the man was nowhere to be seen, having escaped, possibly, in female garb. Sightings, and rumoured killings, remained regular till the penultimate slaying in Abbottabad in May 2011.  The man, declared dead on numerous occasions, was Lazarus in reverse.

Rumsfeld, for his part, insisted on those known knowns, known unknowns and “things we do not know we don’t know”. Unwittingly, he had given the age its aptly absurd epitaph, and with that, much work and fare for the witch doctors of terrorism keen to gorge upon the next video offering from their beloved subjects.  Ignorance in this case, not knowledge, is power.

Corporate Joe: Biden Enters the Presidential Race

Values, values and more values.  Another dreary dish added to the smorgasbord of Democratic hopefuls for the White House.  This one is a bit cured and worn, smoked by history.  Biden, having performed the role of Vice President for Barack Obama and senator for Delaware, is making his third attempt to not so much gallop as crawl into the US executive.

That said, there was initial promise, a teaser sent out to media outlets that the venue of his launch on Wednesday would be Charlottesville, Virginia.  Memories of August 2017, with the death of protestor Heather Heyer at the white-supremacist riot, hung heavy. “That’s daring,” thought Joan Walsh at first blush, writing in The Nation.  “Maybe he’s going to run a campaign that’s in step with the new, multiracial, progressive Democratic Party.”  Not so, as Walsh and the rest of the campaign watchers found out.  First came the video launch on Thursday.  Then it was Pittsburgh. Unions; blue-collar focused.

His video was far from impressive.   For one, it did the inexplicable by actually giving a platform for the very individuals he wished to condemn: far right, torch-bearing yahoos which he associated with the vile history of 1930s Europe.  Then he did what many a US politician has done: thrown in good lashings of Thomas Jefferson and the Declaration of Independence.  Taking such a moral high ground suggests that he has little intention of winning Trump supporters so much as seducing them; they remain, in Democratic-speak, that thatched “basket of deplorables”. (Biden’s own words referred to President Donald Trump’s “very fine people”.)

Another term of Trump, he warns, “will forever and fundamentally alter the character of the nation.”  This is undue flattery, given that the inexorable decline of the US Republic was well and truly fast-tracked by Biden’s own legislative record across a range of social policies, one that left the ground rich for Trump’s debut.

Then comes the more insidious element to the Biden campaign.  To woo the unions, he will have to tantalise and deceive by enlisting the bidding of corporate America.  He will throw in references to the spirit of D-Day and Iwo Jima while embracing, warmly, the robbing titans on Wall Street.  For Biden, USA Inc. is a political home from which he can speak to distant, blue-collar folk who are less people than electoral units.  In his 2008 campaign, he gave a prototypic example, fed by Washington lobbyists and PACs nourished by the likes of T-Mobile, eBay and Bank of America.

His love affair with credit and its agents is known and, if not, should be run on incessant loop through the advertising campaigns of his opponents.   MBNA, a financial services company with Delaware origins, has been particularly keen to oil the wheels of Biden’s efforts. In 2008, the company had already been supplying largesse to the then Senator for two decades.  Mutual back scratching extended to Biden’s son, Hunter, gaining a position at MBNA and becoming a lobbyist for the company.  But that was not all.

As is a matter of legislative record, Biden threw in his lot with the Bankruptcy Abuse Prevention and Consumer Protection Act of 2005.  He was one of the first Democrats to the plate in supporting it, and added his vote four times through the course of its final passage in March 2005.  The bill made it harder for consumers to file for bankruptcy protection, a measure cheered on by those in the financial services industry concerned that profits were being eaten into.

David Wade, a spokesman for then Senator Barack Obama suggested that the level of enthusiasm shown by the Delaware senator for the bill was constructive, designed to blunt its sharper edges in the name of accommodation.  (Obama, for his part, did oppose the legislative measure.)  “Senator Biden took on entrenched interests and succeeded in improving the bill for low-income workers, women and children.”  But Wade did not stop there, adding a few more fictional baubles to his sale: “Senator Biden has a 35-year record fighting for people against powerful interests, whether it’s drug companies, oil companies or insurance companies.”

Such obfuscation did not trick The New York Times.  His voting record was more than amenable to those “entrenched” interests he had supposedly battled with avid courage; Biden “joined Republicans to defeat attempts by his Democratic colleagues, including Mr Obama, to soften the bill’s impact on those same constituencies.”  In one instance, Biden, along with five other Democrats, voted against a proposal mandating credit companies to more effectively warn consumers about paying only the minimum due each month.  Protections for those forced into bankruptcy by being deep in medical debt, and even those in the military, were also deemed unnecessary.

The tradition is set to continue.  On Thursday, Biden kept company at a fundraiser in with Comcast Senior Executive Vice President David Cohen and health insurance executive Daniel Hilferty.  Within twenty-four hours, he had netted $6.3 million in contributions, $700,000 of which came from the Philadelphia fundraiser.

His appearance as a contender for the Democratic nomination stirred rival Senator Elizabeth Warren to tell those attending an event in Iowa that, “Joe Biden was on the side of the credit card companies.”  Her 2014 autobiography broadened that claim.  Split in the Senate, “Democratic powerhouse Joe Biden” and a few other Democrats were keen to back the bill.  “Never mind that the country was sunk in an ugly recession and millions of families were struggling – the banking industry pressed forward and Congress obliged.”

Biden’s entry into a race that now chokes with some 20 Democratic contenders is unlikely to put President Trump off his stroke.  It is another sign that the Democrats will, when the time comes, consume themselves in acts of self-mutilation and saturnalia, something they have become rather adept at doing.  With Biden weakening the progressive line, the likes of Warren and Senator Bernie Sanders have herculean feats to perform.

Lethal Bungling: Sri Lanka’s Easter Bombings

The number of dead is bound to rise, already standing at more than three hundred.  The bombs, worn by seven suicide bombers, struck at three churches during the period of Easter Sunday worship, and three hotels.  As the dead were counted and the wounded accounted for, the situation through the glass darkly was a troubled one.  Information relayed had either been ignored or discounted. In some cases, it never reached necessary recipients.

While the individuals behind the bombings were hardly forthcoming about their handiwork, there were suggestions as early as April 4 from Indian security sources that one group was readying to initiate various attacks.  National Thowheeth Jama’ath, an Islamic group, had piqued the interest of police enough to lead to the identification of members and their addresses on April 11.

One of the suicide bombers, it transpired, had also been arrested some few months prior on suspicion of vandalizing a statue of Buddha.  Such acts of serious desecration were not alien to the NTJ; the use of bombings on such scale was, however, not their forte.

On Monday, Health Minister Rajitha Senaratne, confirmed what had already been a fast held suspicion: even after the warning of April 4, the prime minister and his associates had been “completely blind to the situation.”

The picture painted by the minister seemed a gruesome admission of defiance in the face of detailed warnings.  Intelligence agencies had “informed, from time to time, starting from April 4, 48 hours before the attacks and finally ten minutes before the tragedy struck.  They gave warnings about a possible attack on April 4 for the first time.”  From then on, the National Intelligence Chief Sisira Mendis kept the Inspector General Police (IGP) abreast of the “imminent attacks” having “actually informed that an organisation called ‘Thowheed Jamath’ planned suicide attacks and had even mentioned their names.”

Scenes of confusion and dangerously comic dysfunction unfolded in the government.  Despite various organs being informed about the threat – the ministerial security division (MSD), the judicial security division, and security divisions of former presidents and the Diplomatic Security Unit, there was a failure, according to Senaratne, “to warn the Prime Ministerial Security Division (PMSD) and the Presidential Security Division (PSD) of the attacks.”  When the PM attempted to convene a security council meeting, no one turned up.  When the President had made a previous effort to do the same thing, there was a delay of 20 minutes.  He had to “sit in the State Defence Minister’s room for some time.”  Nor was the Tourism Minister, John Amaratunga, briefed.  “Unfortunately, I did not know anything about it.”

Efforts to minimise, contain and deflect have become standard fare, with blithe ignorance forming the central defence.  Rich lashings of blame are also in full circulation.  This gives the air of monstrous acceptance: we bungled, but haven’t we before?  Defence Secretary Hemasiri Fernando, on Monday, felt that the intelligence assessments had not warranted a serious, full security response, despite the level of detail supplied, and their frequency.  “Intelligence,” he stated disingenuously, “never indicated that it’s going to be an attack on this magnitude.  They were talking about isolated incidents.  Besides, there is no emergency in this country.  We cannot request the armed forces to come and assist as we can only depend on the police.”

Having claimed the received intelligence pointed to mere potential “isolated incidents” (the suggestion here is that a monstrous act, when seen as an isolated one, can be rationalised according to a security and ethical calculus; in short, more permissible), Fernando proceeded to normalise the entire episode.  “It’s not the first time a bomb went off in this country.  During the height of the war, when emergency regulations were in force and roadblocks installed at every two kilometres, bombs went off.  Why are you trying to isolate this unfortunate incident?”

At the highest levels, the Sri Lankan government has suffered political sclerosis.  President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, have been waging wars cold and hot against each other for some time.  When Wickremesinghe was re-appointed after being sacked by the cranky Sirisena in December last year, in turn replacing a cantankerous Mahinda Rajapaksa, the President extolled his own democratic credentials.  While he held a personal dislike for his appointee, he also respected “the parliamentary tradition”.

The post-attack reaction is also proving to be an unhinged affair.  Sri Lankan authorities immediately imposed a social media blackout.  Dazed and confused as officials are, the idea of not containing an agitated public as inquiries are conducted seemed a grave threat.  Besides, a country bathed in the blood of decades of communal violence continues to teeter before the next provocation, the next inflammatory message of inspired retribution.

There was little pride in asserting that the group was “a local organisation”, with all suicide bombers having been Sri Lankan citizens.  But not wishing it to be an entirely indigenous affair, Senaratne wished to speculate that, “there was an international network without which these attacks could not have succeeded.”  Another source of blame had been identified.

As Fernando surmised, it would be foolish to put too much stock in future efforts on the part of the government.  Yes, assistance was being sought from Interpol, the FBI and the Australian Federal Police. But he could not “take confidence with terrorism.  No country in the world can assure that it’s not going to happen.  But we are trying our best.”  A brutally frank response, though hardly a cleansing exculpation.