Terrorists and Teenagers

Today’s headline on the front page of The Times (January 19 edition) reads: “Fears grow for Britons trapped in desert siege”. The story is about an apparent attack by armed militants, said by the Times to be “Al-Qaeda-linked”. According to the media, the militants attacked a huge gas plant, Tigantourine, owned by BP, in a distant and isolated part of Southern Algeria. They are said to have made hostages out of some of the workers at the plant (numbers range from thirty to seven), some of whom are thought to be British.

The Times, with its usual imperialist arrogance, describes this part of Algeria as the “new Afghanistan – a lawless terrain where terrorist groups are free to launch attacks against Western targets at will”. If anyone was wondering what was to become of all the troops that are due to be pulled out of Afghanistan in the next year or so, they don’t need to look much further than Africa – an almost limitless continent of opportunities, as all the colonialist empires of yesteryear could quickly confirm. It is extraordinarily difficult to obtain good information about anything at all when supposedly respectable and trustworthy newspapers such as The Times produce editorial comment such as this from today’s edition: “The killing of Osama bin Laden by American forces in 2011 was right and welcome.” Right and welcome? How can anyone criticise “lawless terrorist groups” in one breath then turn around and call the cold-blooded murder of someone by the biggest terrorist organisation on the planet “right and welcome”?

Anyway, I digress.

Unsurprisingly I couldn’t find anything in the paper about these supposed “terrorists” – apart from them being “al-Qaeda-linked” and setting “impossible demands, including a prisoner swap for two Islamist extremists jailed in the US”. One wonders that if asking for a prisoner swap of two prisoners is an “impossible demand”, what might The Times consider a possible demand to be?

The location of this incident is interesting. Why did the militants pick it? Just to get some hostages for a prisoner swap? Unlikely. Algeria is no stranger to extreme violence, and Algerians have been waging revolutionary war of one shade or another for over half a century. If they merely wanted to kidnap a bunch of foreign hostages, they could have done so just as easily in Algiers, possibly easier. But no, they chose a huge foreign-owned gas plant. In the absence of any proper information to the contrary from The Times, I’m guessing the attack had a little more motive than a desire to free two prisoners from US custody.

It turns out that Tigantourine is far from being the only plant of its kind in the area. There are loads of them. I don’t know, but I’m guessing that having giant foreign corporations stealing precious resources from under the noses of the people to whom it belongs might just be causing a little local peevishness, and the view of the Times that these plants are “Western targets” is unlikely to improve western understanding of what’s really going on there.

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The BBC recently screened two documentaries titled “Growing up poor”  The first programme was about three teenage girls struggling to survive on the pitiful state welfare system, and the second film focused on three teenage boys in similar circumstances. The locations were all over Britain – London, Glasgow, Birmingham. Whilst it’s true enough that these cases were fairly exceptional – most teenagers do not have as little adult support as those shown in the programme – it’s equally true that for those who are in the position of the young people shown in these films state support is wholly – even criminally – negligent.

These young people had no obvious natural problems. They seemed reasonably intelligent and reasonably fit and well. The biggest problem they face is their misfortune in being born to mothers who have not been able to provide the same material support as mothers from more affluent backgrounds. The misfortunes of their early childhoods are sad enough, but the fact that now as they approach adulthood help from the state is all but non-existent is simply unacceptable.

These kids did not want state handouts. One of them put off claiming the paltry Jobseeker’s Allowance for as long as he possibly could. The blatantly obvious truth was there’s simply no half-decent work for them. We saw one of the lasses doing “work experience”. For the six months of the state-sponsored scheme she worked 30 hours a week for the £55 she could have had by staying at home and claiming benefit. At the end of the scheme the employer sacked her (possibly for another “work experience” slave). One of the lads, a bright personable young chap hoping to go to university some day to study computing, was over the moon when he landed a job working outside some nightclub handing out fliers to passers-by. Every flier that gets returned to the club, he told the camera, earned him 25p. Just think, if a mere 36,000 of them found their way back, he could pay the £9,000 his first year of college tuition would cost.

Towards the end of the second film we followed one of the lads as he made his way towards the army recruiting office. One of the girls had been thinking of doing the same. It was the only option these kids were left with for finding some kind of permanent shelter and something that paid them a bit of money they could spend enjoying themselves.

These were not sad films. They were films that should provoke rage. If the government can find enough money to train an endless stream of desperate kids to become killers and canon fodder, it could also find enough money to train them to be engineers and farmers, bus drivers, doctors and artists instead. The fact that government deliberately chooses to turn kids into murderers rather than poets is one of the clearest indicators of the depravity practised daily by our trusted leaders.

John is a writer and political activist based in England. He can be contacted through his website. His main contribution comprises three free-to-use works-in-progress: The People’s Constitution, The School of Kindness, and EnMo Economics . Read other articles by John.