Thursday, November 17, 2011

Germany's neo-Nazis killings & the "Brown Army Faction"


During the period 2000-2 I travelled to Germany several times for research during the writing of my book, "HOMELAND", an exploration and personal account of my time with extreme Right groups, worldwide.

With news of a neo-Nazi organisation, the National Socialist Underground, now turning Germany upside down - accused of 10 filmed murders of immigrants, of bank robberies, hit lists and more - I thought I would share the final segment of "HOMELAND" which sees me step inside a former Nazi castle just-purchased by a violent and fanatical neo-Nazi leader in east Germany.

To read more, you'll need to download or buy a hard copy of the book.

* NPD = Nationaldemokratische Partei Deutschlands a controversial, neo-Nazi linked political party in Germany (with links to Britain's BNP)

*kameradschaften = "comradeships", loose alliances of extreme Right social clubs and movements

* Horst Mahler = a former member of the leftwing terrorist organisation, the Red Army Faction, who crossed sides after leaving prison and joined the NPD (I met him and you can read that encounter, too, in "HOMELAND")

****

HOMELAND - 'NEW REICH' final chapter

This is it. Really it. Back to where it all began.

We’re three hours southwest of Berlin, in the heartland of the East. Trebnitz village is a remote hamlet sunk in a wilderness of fields. The drive here has been tense, pregnant with expectation.

“Look, I think that’s it,” whispers my journalist colleague, even though there’s no-one else in the car with us. I follow his finger. Over the farm courtyard, past what seems to be a church, looms a large, stately presence. Looms is the right word. The grey stone and brick lurks, massive and half-seen, behind a spread of trees.

It’s silent. A calm breeze stirs the back of my neck, as I step out of the car and move over to the wall surrounding the property. Broken windows stare back from the crumbling mansion. My translator calls it a “castle”. We both glance around, then take out our cameras, snapping a few pictures before anyone arrives.

After a few moments, an old guy with a pot belly pulls up on a bike. We pretend we’re shooting the surrounding vista. He asks what we’re doing, scratching his sideburns, glaring suspiciously.

My colleague does some fast talking, explaining our mission. The caretaker grunts, then clicks open the huge, rusting gate. We’re in.

Would we like a tour? he asks, as we walk into a tradesman’s entrance. Not believing our luck, we agree, stepping past building materials, rows of discarded radiators, moving through thick motes of dust drifting in the air. The rooms sweep up, eerily quiet. I’m left wondering what once went on here, my imagination supplying dire scenarios.

We wait for Steffen Hupka to arrive.

Hupka is a regional leader of the Kameradschaften and an important figure on the national scene, who’s clashed frequently with the authorities. He’s recently been expelled from the NPD, following a failed putsch. A close associate of Christian Worch, his expulsion seems to represent the end of the Kameradschaften’s dreams of dominance within the NPD. My colleague mentioned that Horst Mahler had been one of Hupka’s main opponents.

The caretaker ushers us into a room bare except for a table, a few chairs, and a newly-connected fax. I sneak out and look around upstairs, as my colleague makes small talk with the old man.

Arriving a few minutes later, Steffen Hupka dabs a sweating brow and apologises for his delay. “I had a meeting with some other journalists, from Stern. They wanted to know all about this place,” he smiles.

“Oh, why’s that?” I ask. My colleague has already told me the press are desperate to get pictures of the building and find out its purpose.

“There’s two thousand square metres of living space,” he gestures, seating himself at the table. “It will make a training centre for us, one which is unique in Germany. We’ve been looking for something like this for three or four years.” He leans back and smiles through prominent teeth.

I smile in return, thinking this is not someone you would pick out in a crowd: smart shirt, rolled sleeves, expensive watch, slacks, loafers. A bland, elongated face with blue eyes and a large nose, dusted with blackheads and topped with dark, greying hair drawn towards a receding hairline.

Shifting, and seeming still a little nervous, he links his fingers together and coughs self-consciously. “I was in the NPD until a month ago,” he says, “and then I and my colleagues left the party because we think it’s not enough a, er, national party, yes?” He makes a reference to recent reports of government informers within the party’s ruling body. “So I think the NPD is an organisation for the enemy.”

Hupka curls his lip and rolls his eyes up when I ask about his current relations with Horst Mahler. “I don’t make work with him, I think he’s not a nationalist, not honest.” We’ve obviously hit a sore spot, as he spends the next five minutes detailing his battles with the man.

I raise my eyebrows. “So who will you work with?”

“In Sachsen-Anhalt [this region] we have many free comradeships from about five to 20 [people]. We do demonstrations, renovate this house,” he points, making me laugh, thinking how this place could ever be described as just a house, “but there’s no party, no association or institutions.”

“Why?”

He listens as my colleague translates, nods, then smiles again. I can sense him relaxing, even as he turns to stare without blinking into my eyes.

“Because the danger is very big that the state will ban an organisation and then the state will confiscate the property.” In a rather telling comment, he adds: “And the owner will be a private person in the future, so nothing can be confiscated.”

He draws in a breath. “Next month, you know, we’ll found an association for German culture in this house.” My colleague’s body language, a subtle shift and slight cough, tell me this is something significant. “Why?” he asks Hupka, in English, then in German.

Hupka tells us he’s spent five years in the NPD and is sorry to leave. He’s remarkably candid, as though chatting with old friends. He describes the circumstances surrounding a failed attempt by his supporters to oust the old leaders.

“Does that mean you’ve given up on building a party?” I ask, innocently.

“In the last 12 years, the state has banned 13 organisations from national opposition, so many people think they can’t found a party or big organisation and so decide to make little groups.” My gaze is continually drawn to his thin arms, cocooned in a dark matt of hairs. “We will make a new central organisation, but I think we must prepare this organisation very well, and we must have one.” This seems a significant point. It appears he’s suggesting the development of a new party and movement, beyond what’s gone before. Something to take over from the NPD.

With a sneer and a little laugh, he dismisses the DVU and REP. Then he claims that all the best NPD people will come over to their new organisation. “But we don’t want to fight against the NPD.”

“Well, what is it that will unite you and your new comrades?”

“The most important thing, I think, for us is to be a German nation in a white Europe, together with the other people of the other nations. The EU destroys these nations, cultures that have stood up in the last 10,000 years.” His voice is gradually picking up speed. “It is God’s will that these nations stand.”

I draw breath to interrupt, but he carries on. “International capitalism will destroy this, and Wall Street, because they want a world with people who have no identity and no culture.”

I already know the kind of people behind all this. The Bilderbergers, the Freemasons, the Jews, he replies, asking if I know Bill Clinton’s administration had 53 Jews. “We want a New World Order, and these people want a new One World government, and I think this nearly exists already. You can see the powers of the USA in all areas, such as political, military, and economic.” His brows draw together, and he hunches his thin shoulders forward, a transformed figure full of passion. “We need a strong organisation with cadres, and in the future I think in Germany, and in other lands too, we will have a situation which we had in the GDR [East Germany] in 1989.”

“What situation?”

“When the Wall came down. And this will happen in the next 10 years in Germany. It’s then that we must have our strong organisation, and I hope there is the same development in other European nations.”

His face has shifted into an expression of earnestness. A new Reich movement. He talks of developing ties and appreciation with other groups around Europe – “What happened in France is important” – although he doesn’t mention anything specific. One reason is that the Kameradschaften are seen as neo-nazi in their beliefs, and these other groups are not. National Socialism is illegal under German law. I decide to press the point: "Are you a National Socialist?”

He laughs. “Ahem, ahem, yes, yes, yes. But you write this in the English magazine?"

It’s only later that I realise the significance of this comment.

We move on to his background, how he read a book as a child that told the story of the Native Americans - “their tradition, nation, courage, and culture” – which proved inspirational for his interest in the extreme right and desire to save Germany. David Irving was another one he enjoyed: “He has a standing for his opinion.”

Now 39, Hupka started his career in the JN in 1980, then moved through a variety of groups such as the HNG prisoner solidarity movement, and working with individuals such as Friedhelm Busse, the same neo-nazi I’d seen on May Day. In 1985 he established the NF, which was banned in 1993. He denies it was a militant, violent organisation, but Searchlight’s German sister magazine, Antifaschistisches Infoblatt, has photos from the party’s internal archive showing people training with guns and military clothing. One of the reasons for its ban was the idea to build up hit squads (Einsatzkommandos) for street battles. From 1996 until last month, Hupka was in the NPD.

“So why have you stuck with these groups?”

“Good question!” he replies, chortling. “I think it’s in the genes.”

“What, you mean you’re born with it?”

“Yes, nationalist views are in the genes.” My colleague raises one eyebrow at me. I can see he wants to say something, but he holds his tongue. “We live in a war against our German people and against the white race in Europe, and against all culture in the world. It’s a war without weapons. We must work so hard because we have a war. We need people to fight for ideas.”

“A physical struggle?”

“No. Well, perhaps in the future. I don’t know.”

Strong stuff, I think to myself, glancing at the grounds outside. Here we are in a mansion confiscated by the Soviets – were its former owners Nazis, I wonder? – soon to be a training centre for a new political movement of the extreme right, in a country with high social tensions in the east, and which gave birth to Nazism. It’s a heady, disturbing mix.

He ruefully admits that this battle means he has little time to spend with his two young children and partner, “but I make the fight for my children to have a good future, for our culture, for Germany.”

“Does this mean others have to get out?”

“Yes, all!” he exclaims, later claiming some attacks on foreigners have been by agents of the state. Young whites assault foreigners because they don’t come to the Kameradschaften’s meetings, apparently, not the other way around. “But this is the fault of the state, of society,” he maintains. “In this fight, the enemy has the same aims as 60 or 70 years ago.”

“Which is?”

His face twists into a sneer: “International capitalism.”

His own family were involved in the last war, which he describes as “a fight by good people against bad.” His father signed up in 1945 at age 16, and his uncle was a lieutenant in a bomber – a leader of the Hitler Youth, shot down and killed over England. Hupka remembers reading his diaries. His eyes take on a wistful look. “He was a model for me.”

His words trail off. I wait for him to continue.

“There were some bad things in the Third Reich, but generally it was right, and I think Hitler and his government want to make good things for the people and Europeans. And this was the cause for the war against our nation.”

I can hardly believe I’m hearing this. But that’s not all.

“What they say in the paper about us and the Holocaust was not true. We think there were concentration camps, but the people must work, and they died by the work. That is right, I think. But there was no mass annihilation.”

"Do you think the issue of the Holocaust is used by Israel and the international Jewish community in some way for punishing German people?”

“There were many reasons for these lies,” he continues, lecturing me. “To put Germany down, they got millions from us in the past, and they will have money in the future and the next thousand years.” Bitterness drenches his words. “They destroy our self-consciousness because of what they say we’ve done. But I don’t think it’s so.”

I realise how quiet it’s become. Dusk is drawing down. The lazy drift of sunlight is dipping below the horizon. Suddenly, the ghostly presence of the past seems to linger around us. I have a flashback to the children’s mental hospital I saw in eastern Croatia, a huge old building just like this one, but full of bloodstains and bullet holes where the kids had been dragged out in the snow and shot by Serbs.

The shrill call of Hupka’s mobile phone disturbs the reverie. He moves to the window, voice booming in the high room and, without realising I’m taping, starts speaking with one of the Kameradschaften’s street generals, “Steiner”.

“I’ve got to go, sorry,” he smiles professionally, cold and formal, as he re-pockets the phone.

“Okay.” I’ve got more than enough. Enough this last six years to last me a lifetime.

Outside, Hupka poses for one last photo, a stark figure against the old Nazi stone. Then we’re off.

***

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

Children of the Abyss: 'Fighting Frank'

One of my occasional (true) stories from my future book, set in the East End of London ...

I met Frank running his jellied eel store on the outer fringes of the East End of London. It was a cold night. Winter had dropped hard on the outer London/Essex borders. He was a cheerful soul, silver-haired and walnut-faced; small; full of easy recourse to cursing and cussing.

Frank had also led a fascinating life. One of 10 kids, he grew up poor, was bright but never had the chance to study. He became a boxing star as a teenager then drifted into the murky world of 'door work', policing clubs for the various villains operating in the late 1950s and 1960s, through to the early 1970s. He became part of a gang hi-jacking lorries, living in the East End during the Kray Twins period, serving jail time for one notorious heist, becoming pals with parts of the Kray family (Charlie Kray welcomed him out of prison), saw people shot, got stabbed himself, ran country clubs, and earned a reputation as a 'hard man', a-la Lenny McLean ('The Guv'nor').

Frank was also an unlicensed fighter. He took part in numerous violent contests for pay. One infamous bout took place on a barge on the Thames, as he battled an 'unbeatable' Australian fighter flown in specially for the event. There were Arabs all around as the men fought, betting on the event: he won.

"I've seen some terrible things, terrible Nick," he said in his guttural Cockney accent. "I've watched two grown men tear at each other, big blokes, villains, like they want to kill each other – biting, gouging – horrible. Then my friend just pulled out a gun and shot the guy, in front of me."

No angel himself, Frank has been on the run but his life turned around when he happened to be training in a famous London boxing gym. The American actor Mickey Rourke was there (filming A Prayer for the Dying) and asked to spar with him. Suitably impressed, Rourke's agent called Frank the next day and asked him to come to work for Mickey. That was the start of a close relationship between the two men which lasted for several years.

Frank became Mickey's minder, almost a mother and father-figure in certain ways, for the next five years. He saw the tantrums, the difficulties, the women whom Rourke had relationships (like Daryl Hannah), and watched as the actor threw away his talents. Frank was Mickey's closest friend in that time, but he finally quit after Rourke admitted giving £3 million to the IRA.

Frank shakes his head. "I took him down the Falls Road [Belfast] once, when he was making A Prayer for the Dying, and he shat himself. He had to leave after five minutes. He still got that bloody [IRA] tattoo though..."

Also a minder for other stars such as Frank Sinatra (having befriended Sinatra's bodyguard/minder, another famous US mafioso) and Yul Brynner, the money from his various activities afforded him enough to buy few properties in east London and Essex. But when I met him he was living very unostentatiously with his eel store, in a comfortable semi-detached house, with a rather nice-seeming wife whom others, uncharitably, suggested had once been known for her 'availability' with men over the years.

That was the last I saw of Frank, seven years ago – though I've since heard he met and ran off with a rich woman, and has set himself up with the life of Riley in Spain. And why not? It would make a fitting coda to a rather extraordinary life.

You can read more on Frank's story, and other extraordinary lives, in my future book on the East End of London.

Tuesday, August 09, 2011

London's Burning





There was a riot the night I moved into my house in Brixton, south London. A burning police motorcycle lay abandoned where it had been dragged, about 250 yards from my front door. Many years later there would be bricks through my window, my partner mugged by a crack addict, Portuguese squatters 'shooting up' inside phone boxes next to the town hall, and angry young black men who shoved me aside in the street.

Of course, my friend Kieran Creagh, a Catholic priest working in South Africa, witnessed his first riot at age eight: Catholics and Protestants were tearing themselves apart, a herald of The Troubles emerging as he returned home from summer holidays to the Crumlin Road in north Belfast. But the disturbances now blanketing parts of London, and other inner-city areas in Britain, are more confusing.

London has grown into a strange kind of city-state, a mix of communities of rich and poor, haves and have-nots, aspirational middle classes and wannabe gangsters wedged side by side often in the same streets. Unlike Paris, which has shoved its poorest (often African) communities out into the banlieues away from the centre, or the great American cities where tens of miles separate projects from gated communities, there is no vast gulf of distance protecting London's middle classes from the terrible ennui of dispossessed youth – youth who in some ways are as reviled by their own communities as by others. But, by and large, these groups do not mix. They live side-by-side in separate lives.

South London's heavily Afro-Caribbean community was notorious among white middle-class Britons for much of the 1980s. Even today people still talk about the days of carnage in 1981, when local black youths rose up and took over the streets of Brixton in protest at the Metropolitan Police's heavy-handed stop-and-search tactics.

Traditionally riots in London – there have been many down the ages – have been linked to sectarian tensions, poverty or mass reaction to police brutality. The Poll Tax riots of 1990 were a wake-up call to the then-government of Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, the "Iron Lady". Some say these riots were the beginning of the end of her rule. In Brixton in 1981, in Toxteth in Liverpool in the same year, then Tottenham in 1985, black youths went on the rampage against widely-known police abuses. Major inquiries and reforms ensued in intervening years. Surely we had learned the lessons of that past?

True, the shooting of a 29-year-old man, Mark Duggan, by armed police in north London on Thursday evening did cause an outburst of disgust from some sections of the community. But the wanton – almost random – destruction; the looting; the use of social media to organise attacks up and down the land (instant messaging on Blackberry phones, Twitter, etc.) suggest other forces at work.

Many of the attacks have now spread to prosperous suburbs such as Ealing (west London), yuppie inner city ghetto Clapham (south London) and other areas and cities where there is no link to any shooting. Political leadership has been absent until today [Tuesday 9 August], when Prime Minister David Cameron returned from his Tuscan villa to try to take charge of a situation that has caught everyone off guard. In the streets of east London, local mosque-goers have seen off youths from Hackney, just north, whilst Turkish shop owners have been patrolling their streets in Dalston (near Hackney) armed with baseball bats. A joke is doing the rounds: Where is the (far-right) English Defence League at a time like this? It is the immigrants protecting the yuppies next door, not the police or the white so-called working-class heroes from the EDL.

As I've written often, and elsewhere, we live (as the Chinese would say) in interesting times. Communities and communal ties are shifting fast; there is a whole generation or subculture of young men growing up wedded to criminality. I predict mass crackdowns and court cases within the coming weeks: there is little sympathy as far as I can see for any of the rioters, most of whom seem bent on random violence and a crazy shopping spree. Worryingly, according to the latest reports, the young guys taking to the streets on Saturday are now joined by older, more organised criminals. But it is still the hooded youth - young men and women - doing the looting on a massive scale. What does it say about a society when minors effectively control its streets?

The Right are calling for no mercy; the Left are groping for answers amid the narrative of dispossession. I meanwhile will be wondering what the silver-tongued estate agents who have made so much commission from selling London's crowded apartments and tenements will be saying to their potential clients next week on Northcote Road in Clapham, or Brixton Hill, Bethnal Green, or Hackney Road.

Nick Ryan is a British journalist, author of the exposé of extreme Right groups, HOMELAND: Into a World of Hate.

Monday, July 25, 2011

'I Knew The Boy Next Door Killers': comment on Norway


The tragic events in Norway should serve as a reminder to our politicians and pundits (as well as voices in the blogosphere) of the dangers of ignoring far-right movements and individuals. Our obsession with the 'Islamist' peril has meant taking the eye off the ball on domestic terrorism - and has even driven it. The bombs and shootings of many dozens of teenagers in Norway should shatter that complacency.

It was summer 2002. I was nearing the end of an exhausting journey. My nerves were hanging on a thread and my bank balance was running on empty. Through many countries in Europe, down into the Middle East, Australia and then over much of the eastern and southern parts of the USA, I had spent six long years meeting, in some cases living with, the men and women of the extreme Right. Some of them were boy-next-door-killers just like the Norwegian mass-murderer Anders Behring Breivik.

I put these recollections into my book, HOMELAND: Into a World of Hate (Mainstream/Routledge) and much of the research ended up in a BBC One drama called England Expects (written by Frank Deasy, and for which I was creative producer) shown in 2004.

In Denmark and Sweden, I tracked a Danish-American neo-Nazi by the name of Thomas Nakaba, working on behalf of a renegade faction of the British neo-Nazi gang, Combat 18 (C18). He tried to send letter bombs to targets both in the UK and Scandinavia, but was caught during a sting operation. Another C18 sympathiser in Sweden also sent a letter bomb to the Swedish Justice Minister. I then watched as C18 itself dissolved into murder. I followed the case of the baby-face killer David Copeland, the London nailbomber, who killed three (including a pregnant woman) and wounded 165 others across Brixton, Brick Lane, and Soho in 1999 as he sought to ignite a race war. Like Breivik belonging to the populist anti-immigrant Progress Party in Norway, Copeland had once belonged to the British National Party (BNP) in the UK. Both had become impatient with the slow path of democracy. (The man who had sought to inspire Copeland - a former monk, Islamic convert and die-hard Nazi called David Myatt - later threatened me to a duel to the death for revealing his links to the case.)

A few years later on the grey plains of Illinois, I sat on the porch of Matt Hale's house. Hale was a third-class lawyer who ran an operation worthy of a Louis Theroux documentary: the World Church of the Creator ('our race is our nation'). Hale wore a cheap suit and spoke in earnest terms of the white revolution to come. Laughably surreal. Yet two years earlier Hale's chief lieutenant, Ben Smith, another law graduate, had gone on a shooting spree across Illinois and killed two, whilst injuring many more: all were people of colour. As we sipped our drinks and chatted, one of Hale's followers recorded us. I didn't know that he was an undercover FBI informant. Hale was later arrested and sentenced to life imprisonment for trying to get this follower to assassinate a federal judge.

Like Anders Behring Breivik, many of these men would garb themselves in different names - ultra-nationalist, white nationalist, patriot, paleo-conservative, or in some cases merely anti-EU or anti-immigration (itself clouded with lots of sub-terms) - but what they all had in common was a deep-seated obsession with race and nation, obsession with homosexuality, fear of the 'Other', rose-tinted glasses about the glorious past, sense that things were on the state of perilous collapse, and strong anti-Semitic roots. Today, add 'anti-Muslim' to that mix and blend anti-Semitic views with (in some cases) strong pro-Israeli sentiments instead. Strange, and disturbing times.

I had met these lone wolf killers, entered the illegal music scene dominated by networks such as Blood and Honour, talked with the ideologues who inspired bombers and random shooters, was invited to Holocaust denial conferences in Washington DC and Beirut, and met politicians of every ultra-conservative hue: from US Presidential candidate Pat Buchanan, to Jörg Haider's Freedom Party in Austria (Haider later died in a car crash after leaving a gay bar, intoxicated). I met a former Baader-Meinhoff leader who has since become a lawyer for a neo-Nazi party in Germany. One of the people who aided me in my task was the now-dead multi-million bestselling Swedish author, Stieg Larsson. Another was Nick Griffin of the BNP who allowed me deep access into his international networks, perhaps hoping to use a liberal journalist to unknowingly promote his movement.

If there was one thing my journeys for HOMELAND revealed, it was the deep ideological, physical and internet links and friendships that united much of the Far Right. I lived with Nick Griffin's man in America, Mark Cotterill, who ran the American Friends of the British National Party and had infiltrated Pat Buchanan's presidential campaign. Cotterill's associates took me to the national meeting of the white-supremacist supporting Council of Conservative Citizens; to meet the leadership of David Duke's organisation in Virginia; and to Ku Klux Klan BBQs in the deep south. I attended polite dinner evenings with gentlemen sporting bow ties and discussing racial eugenics (one attendee was a reporter who had witnessed Timothy McVeigh's execution). In the Ozark Mountains of Arkansas (scene for the film 'Deliverance'), I spent three disturbing days and nights with one of the leading proponents of Christian Identity, a heretical sect of Christianity that holds that Jews are Satan's children and race slaying is permitted on Biblical grounds. Strong Christian, as well as pagan views, are common among the Far Right - as again with the Norwegian killer, Anders Behring Breivik.



Ironically, it was at the end of my six years of journeying that the populist gay Dutch politician, Pim Fortuyn, was gunned down by an animal rights extremist. Fortuyn was very much the herald for the equally-controversial anti-Islamic politician Geert Wilders dominating Dutch politics today. Then I received notice that William Pierce had died: Pierce was a former physics professor who established his own neo-Nazi movement, the National Alliance, which had inspired race slayers and Oklahoma bomber Timothy McVeigh in carrying out acts of violence. I had met many who worked with, or knew, Pierce. His writings (in The Turner Diaries, among others) on 'leaderless resistance' (inspiring lone wolves to carry out race attacks, thus provoking minorities to respond, and in turn then provoking mainstream society to retaliate) are still widely read among extremists of the Right and I suspect Breivik might have seen them, too.

Both men - Fortuyn and Pierce - were heralds of the future in Oslo and the terrible events which unfurled on the idyllic island of Utoeya last week, in which over 90 people have now died. Anders Behring Breivik admired them.

When my book was first published in 2003, editors still thought the Far Right was a joke. A planned serialisation in The Daily Mail (ironic, given that paper's stance on Muslims and immigration) was cancelled because the editor felt "the Far Right are irrelevant". Yet soon the landscape was changing. Political parties of the extreme Right were marching across the European dream, reflecting fears and tensions about rapid change, economic uncertainty, rising immigration and shortage of housing. Only the BNP's shambolic organisation, dodgy accounting and Nick Griffin's dictatorial tendencies have hampered its rise. The popular narrative has changed, however. Anti-immigrant sentiments are strong, almost mainstream. Multiculturalism is dead: undoubtedly some got it wrong on the Left by not understanding the dynamics of separation and isolation within certain minority communities. Then after 9/11, and 7/7, everyone it seemed was talking about Muslims. Not just violent Al-Qaeda but quite clearly 'Islam' itself - as if everyone who followed a religion was somehow swept up into an ideology which transformed their brain and would ultimately lead them to attempt world domination (or return of the 'Khilafah', the Islamic Caliphate). The rise of the violent thugs from the English Defence League (EDL) showed a new form of protest growing: violent, anti-Muslim, with echoes of Combat 18 a decade before it. It was a movement much admired by the Norwegian killer Breivik, who remained in contact with its followers via the internet.

As I watched and listened to the self-appointed pundits and commentators on the TV, radio and web confidently speculating that the Norwegian massacre was most likely Al-Qaeda inspired, I shook my head. Angst about 'Islamism' has blinded us. Now these same commentators are shamefacedly backtracking; security 'experts' who are more schooled in talking about so-called 'Islamist terror' are now urgently trying to sound knowledgable about a far more dangerous threat lurking in their own backyard. Charlie Brooker in The Guardian wrote of his reaction to these self-same wafflers on the mainstream networks.

Ahmed Moor writing on Al-Jazeera got it right, too:
"Anders Behring Breivik, Mohammed Atta and Baruch Goldstein are all cut from the same rotten cloth. Anwar Al-Awlaki and Glenn Beck - the peddlers of the faith - all share the same core afflictions."

"These men are insecure, violently inclined, and illiberal. The outside world scares them. They hate homosexuals and strong women. For them, difference is a source of insecurity. Their values are militarism, conformism, chauvinism and jingoism. Worst of all they seek to pressure us into compliance while they work frantically to destroy themselves - and the rest of us with them."
We are facing an identity crisis, a shift in the way we associate, where online identities are sometimes stronger than those we feel to those around us. In this time of great change it is easy to be inspired by hate-filled ideologies and conspiracy theories. That Breivik was a keen internet user (he even played a popular fantasy game online called World of Warcraft, which I know well) is no surprise. Online forums are swamped by those with axes to grind. Some authors and documentary makers have made a good living lampooning these 'bedsit weirdoes' - but they are the boy-next-door-killers. Those of us who wrote or spoke of their threat in the past have mostly been ignored.

Certain national newspaper columnists, right-wing think tanks and allied blogs should be ashamed they have spent so long attacking only Islamists and not been focused on the dangers of their rhetoric. I have witnessed this myself, researching a book involving many different Muslims (though when called, I too have exposed the hypocrisy and radicalism of Muslim groups). Frequently I have seen how facts are twisted to represent a better story. The world is shades of grey, yet we like our leaders to tell us it is black and white.

Even today, the neo-Nazi forum Stormfront (whose leader I met in 2001), is still going on about a ludicrously sexed-up Daily Mail report into Tower Hamlets and other inner city boroughs of Britain becoming mini-Islamic Caliphates. Utter rubbish yet dangerous. It is true that the Far Right and elements of the Islamic world have found common cause: I saw this in Holocaust denial circles first hand, or when talking to elements of Hezbollah in the southern suburbs of Beirut. Yet there is not one Muslim community or takeover: there are many communities. The idea they all want the same thing is as laughable (they spend much of their time fighting each other) as it is reminiscent of the simplistic 'Red Scare' anti-Communist feelings of the 1950s.

If we are to face down the threat of future Norway massacres, we must grow up, confront the hate-filled discourse on both Muslims and the extreme Right, and entertain less conspiracy theories and twisted media accounts. Only by seeing the truth can it set us free.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

HOMELAND available on Kindle

My book on the extreme Right, HOMELAND: Into a World of Hate, is now available as both a UK and US Amazon Kindle purchase (currently $7.99).

The Daily Mail hailed the book as its Critics Choice, whilst The Independent called it a "tremendously scary exposé" and The Guardian congratulated the courage and dedication which had gone into making it.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Witchdoctors & Toothaches

More stories and more client placements this month.

Africa: Where a Toothache Can Kill

Dentist Ian Wilson fights witchdoctors, leprosy and dental pain to help the people of rural Tanzania. For The Telegraph, on behalf of Bridge2Aid.

Want to try being a 'Muslim for a Month'?
The Telegraph interviews Ben Bowler, boss of 'Muslim for a Month' and 'Monk for a Month' programmes.



Watch out for a special series of BBC reports on 'Muslim for a Month', coming soon.

Other news:

Homeland – You'll soon be able to buy the original UK edition of my exposé inside white supremacist groups, HOMELAND: Into a World of Hate, via Amazon Kindle. Watch this space.

Reader's Digest – Keep eyes peeled for my upcoming interview with Tom Hart, the Northern Irish Protestant man who became a Mayan spiritual guide in Guatemala.

Friday, April 29, 2011

PRAYCATIONS

Fancy being a Buddhist for a month? Or a Muslim? Perhaps a Christian?

Then head over to the pages of Blood Foundation, a charity based in northern Thailand which is running "praycations" (prayer + vacation) for several of the world's major religions.

Monk for a Month takes place in Thailand.

Muslim for a Month (actually, only 9 days) is set in Istanbul, as will be a sister project, Sufi for a Month. You'll live in a Sufi lodge in Istanbul, pray in the famous Blue Mosque, have the option to fast for a day, eat with local Muslim families and fly to Konya to visit the tomb of the famous Muslim mystic-poet, Rumi.

Look out for Christian for a Month (probably in Scotland) and Mystic for a Month, welcoming visitors to all the three major Abrahamic faiths in Jerusalem.

Down the line, Sikh for a Week is being planned in the Punjab, in India.

New stories

New stories in preparation right now:

• Profile of Tom Hart, the Northern Irish Protestant man who became a Mayan priest in Guatemala. The Reader's Digest.

• Profile of Ian Wilson, the Christian dentist bringing relief from suffering to thousands of rural Tanzanians (National Smile Month in the UK runs from mid-May to mid-June). The Telegraph.

Monday, April 11, 2011

WHEN AFRICA SINGS: 'A Life in the Day' of Father Kieran Creagh

This is the chap whose life story I'm writing:


SUNDAY TIMES MAGAZINE – A Life in the Day
By Nick Ryan
'WHEN AFRICA SINGS'
Kieran Creagh, 48, Passionist priest and director of Leratong hospice near the Atteridgeville township, South Africa.
My day begins with the noises of the township. The taxis start beeping their horns around 4.30am, telling people they're open for business. I usually fall back asleep then wake with the radio news at 6am. Then I brush my teeth, shave, shower and pop on an African shirt, part of our hospice uniform, and I'm out of the door by 7am.

I cross the little courtyard outside my house, past our male and female wards, through to the open-plan reception where I meet up with the staff. Many, like our 70-year-old matron, Remigia Tloubatla, have been with me since I set up Leratong six years ago, in response to the AIDS crisis. It's decimated South Africa. Six in every 10 families here are now headed by a grandparent. I couldn't accept that people were dying in cardboard boxes.

At 7am we gather in a circle, somebody will start a song – what they call a “chorus” here – then we have a prayer and reading from Scripture. Once that's rounded off we get a report from the night sister who tells us how all the patients are doing.

The hospice is very bright at this time of day, very beautiful. The name Leratong means "place of love". It’s made of beige-coloured brick with an azure roof. We overlook the township of Atteridgeville, about half-a-million souls, west of Pretoria. Our end is the poorest part of town; all the accommodation is shacks. When I came here from Ireland 12 years ago as a parish priest I was so scared I didn't leave my house for two days. Then I decided to just go out and start walking around the township, meeting my parishioners.

I'll head over to the church at this point and just sit and say my own prayers for a few minutes, then check the creche next door and see how they're doing. That probably brings me up to 8am. I'll come back over to my house and fix a slice of toast and a cup of tea, or maybe a boiled egg, for breakfast. If it's a typical weekday, I'll go through my emails, read The Irish Times online and scan the local Times newspaper. I might generally go around and check how the departments are doing, but the wards are busy at this time and they don't really want me interfering. Our hospice is full of young people and women. About 90 percent have HIV-related illnesses. Some suffer from what we call Kaposi's Sarcoma: a cancer that rots the body from the outside in. It's sad when they die but it's actually a relief, too. I'm angry, aye, that the men don't change. People die because they're too poor to buy the [anti-retroviral] drugs; too poor to get to the clinics; too afraid of the stigma.

I generally do office work between 8 to 10am, then we all meet for tea in the dining room. At the weekend I'll be called on to do a Mass. Occasionally a funeral. When I was a parish priest for the township I'd be doing several funerals a day. People here "live" their faith more than back home. There is greater spontaneity during the Mass; everyone joins in the singing and with the drums. They have saying: "When Africa is happy, Africa sings. When Africa is sad, Africa sings."

At 12 we all have lunch, in two shifts. Traditional African cuisine would be a big pot of chicken's feet, boiled up with some spices, and “pap” - like solid, tasteless semolina. On days like that, it wouldn't be my favourite day in the dining room. But now they might cook something special for me. Maybe sausage and mash.

It was on the veranda outside here, in February 2007, that I stood banging for attention after a gang of robbers broke into the hospice and shot me three times at point-blank range. I was lucky to survive. I was almost naked at the time and one of the newspapers back home wrote: "It was pants down for Father Creagh"! I suppose I can laugh at that now.

Afternoons are for driving. In the early days I’d have done the cash-and-carry all on my own, as well as going to the market for fruit and veg and all the driving for the patients. I was like a one-man ambulance. Since the shooting I'm not so comfortable. I used to feel free to drive anywhere on my own into the informal settlements – the squatter camps. Now I always have an edge of worry with me.

Between  5 and 6pm I’ll be in the office, sorting out any administration stuff that needs doing. Then I generally go around the wards, visiting every patient, checking how they are, chatting with them. If they want me to pray with them I'll give them a blessing. People can die any time. When they do they're brought to a private room where I'll say a prayer, then leave them with their family. When the undertaker comes all the work stops. We all gather and take the body from the hospice with a guard of honor, singing and praying. It's very moving. And then we return to work.

By now a haze will have settled over the township – especially in winter time, like a fog – as people light their cooking fires. It'll disappear by about 7pm, but by then it's dark. There's always some noise. Mid-month people don't have much money, so there's not much happening. But at the end of the month when people get paid, and especially weekends, it can be music through the night. And it can be really loud. You worry when it's really, really still.

I'll return to my office, then to the medical room to check the night sister has arrived. By 7pm I'll be back in my house watching the local news. At about 8pm I lock the gates and either watch a bit of television or read, then I'll do once last round of the house, checking all the doors are locked, the windows are secure. It’ll be about 9.30 or 10pm when I turn off the lights, go into my bedroom and lock the door – I've a bolt on my door as well. I’ll maybe read for a little bit – I'm getting through 'Riding the Dragon' by Dr Robert Wicks at the moment – then say my last goodnight prayers, mostly along the lines of “I hope tonight's going to be okay.”

I generally fall asleep quite soon. But I might wake a couple of times, so I never really get a full night's sleep. In the dark my mind sometimes goes back to the night of the shooting. I try to shift it. If it gets bad I'll take a half a sleeping tablet; I look forward to the sun coming up and a new day dawning.
Interview by Nick Ryan