LibLink: Paddy Ashdown: Britain’s best defence to the terror threat is international action

In today’s Observer, Paddy Ashdown cautions against knee-jerk reactions to the prospect of radicalised Jihadists returning to Britain and wreaking havoc on our streets:

He says, basically, that we’ve dealt with this before, in more difficult circumstances and we know how to do it:

On Friday, the government announced that the imminent danger of jihadi attack meant Britain’s threat level should be raised to “severe”. Then, from the prime minister downwards, Tory ministers took to every available airwave to tell us how frightened we should be and why this required a range of new powers for them to exercise. For the record, the threat level in Northern Ireland has been “severe” for the past four years – as it was in all Britain for many years in the 1980s and 1990s, when the IRA threat was at its greatest.

I say this not to deny the threat from returning jihadis – though as the former head of counter-terrorism for MI6, Richard Barrett said on Saturday, this should not be overestimated. But rather to make the point that this is not a new threat. It is one we have faced before and one we know how to deal with – effectively, without panic and without a whole new range of executive powers that could endanger our liberties. Indeed, when it comes to facing threats, it was surely far more difficult to cope with IRA terrorists slipping across the Irish Sea than it is to stop jihadis returning from Iraq?

He says it’s natural for security forces to demand more powers:

 But it is the job of politicians to act, not as cheerleaders for those demands, but as jealous protectors of our liberties who measure any demand for their reduction against necessity, supported by evidence.

He takes particular issue with the sort of language David Cameron has been using:

Here it is not Cameron’s proposals that I fear, it is his rhetoric. He recently told us that this fight was about defending “western values”. I cannot think of any phrase, short of those used by George Bush during the Iraq war, which more damages our ability to win this battle. For it at once confirms the jihadis’ Manichean view that this is indeed a struggle between the west and them, while at the same time alienating those very Islamic moderates whose help we need most in defeating Isis and its cohorts. The truth is that this increasingly brutal and dangerous battle will not be won for our “western values” but for the universal values which underpin and unite all the world’s great religions and philosophies – including, perhaps especially at this moment, Islam.

Working together with other countries is the way to find a long term solution:

What we should be seeing from the government, rather than just domestic measures to protect ourselves, is a co-ordinated international strategy to defeat those who threaten us, along with the rest of the civilised world. This should match judicious military action (eg, in protecting the Kurds as a northern bulwark against Isis) with a broader diplomatic effort to first isolate and then defeat the jihadis.

I suspect that in this struggle, diplomacy will play a larger part than military action. This should include the closer engagement of Turkey, a rapprochement with the new reformist government in Tehran, support for moderate Arab states such as Jordan, and strong international pressure on Saudi Arabia and Qatar to stop funding the extremists. And, finally, some action at last to extinguish the burning coal at the heart of the Middle Eastern conflagration – the illegal Israeli settlements on the West Bank which strangle at birth the only peace Israel and the Palestinians can have; one based on a two-state solution.

You can read the whole article here.

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16 Comments

  • Little Jackie Paper 31st Aug '14 - 2:24pm

    ‘I suspect that in this struggle, diplomacy will play a larger part than military action.’

    I’d dearly love to believe this. Unfortunately however the stark truth is that these people are not going to wake up one morning and subscribe to world views and international norms that are palatable.

    ‘He recently told us that this fight was about defending “western values”. I cannot think of any phrase, short of those used by George Bush during the Iraq war, which more damages our ability to win this battle. For it at once confirms the jihadis’ Manichean view that this is indeed a struggle between the west and them, while at the same time alienating those very Islamic moderates whose help we need most in defeating Isis and its cohorts.’

    The wording is pretty clumsy, and probably was meant as a media soundbite rather than anything else. But I feel that the point might hold. Again, Isis and their cohorts unfortunately don’t subscribe to a cosy notion of sovereignty, self-determination and human rights. Mr Ashdown is, bluntly, giving these people too much credit and assuming to great a degree of internal cohesion in the Islamic world per se. If, ‘moderate muslims,’ (and frankly I can’t think of a term more likely to make people disengage) wish to not like ISIS very much then I can’t see ISIS losing too much sleep. I have absolutely no idea how to deal with this situation – but let’s not get too hopey-changy here. It might not be western values, but western way-of-life is probably not that far wide of the mark here. Much though I wish it were different.

  • Sadie Smith 31st Aug '14 - 2:59pm

    Levelheadedness from Paddy as usual.
    I was doing a lot of travelling while the IRA was active on the mainland. Having a Government which did not panic too much was helpful. Certainly fellow rail passengers did not panic and my work was not affected. There were minor irritants only.
    I want a Government which does not panic and which trusts the good sense of the population.

  • Richard Dean 31st Aug '14 - 3:20pm

    In what way is Israel a “burning coal” that caused the Islamic State?

    From Herod’s actions against the firstborn, to Ibn Saud’s conquest of what is now the repressive state of Saudi, to Saddam and Assad and IS’s atrocities, the entire region seems to exist in the pre-Dark Ages, as it was and hopefully won’t ever shall be.

    There’s been a couple of thousand years of diplomacy and military action. Something else is needed too, it seems.

  • Melanie Harvey 31st Aug '14 - 5:03pm

    So under threat are we that the public still are not allowed firearms and cannot carry any weapon (i.e a knife,) to defend themselves just in case because that could land them in jail….!!!! England has truly become the home of mixed messages. Welfare reform is the most likely thing to have tipped some if not all of them over the edge as somehow I cant see many of the alleged Jihaddi’s british born would just leave a decent paid job to do so.

  • Alan E Locke 31st Aug '14 - 5:22pm

    To begin to understand what is happening around “the Islamic State” don’t we have to think in the same terms as the people of “the Islamic State”? Which I believe is, for them, profoundly and sincerely religious. As I understand the religion of Islam, as practised by Muslims, devoted actions are based on putting into practice the undeniable words of God, as found in the Quran, following the examples set by the lives of the prophets. Muslims focus most of their attention on the life of the profit, Muhammad.

    I don’t profess to begin to understand either the Quran or the life of Muhammad but from what little I have read and digested I can see how UK Jihadis could justify their actions, including the beheading of captives, making sexual slaves of women captives and more , all as highly moral and deserving, for the perpetrators, a hero’s place in heaven.

    To my mind anyone wishing to counter the threat of “the Islamic State” first has to get an understanding of the way that the devoted Jihadis think, and then talk to them in a common language that is mutually understood. One way might be to use the words of God, as found in the Quran, and demonstrate that far from committing holy acts on behalf of God, many Jihadis have been led astray (by Satan?) and are actually committing grave sins that will incur God’s wroth and will result not in a place in Heaven, but instead in the everlasting fires of Hell. Far from condemning our UK Jihadists we should be praying for them and their souls, That it is never too late to repent and make amends, in the eyes of God.

    You don’t have to believe all this yourself but I, for one, am convinced that this is the language that should to be used to achieve an eventually peaceful solution. A little more knowledge of “the enemy” will go a long way. A lot more knowledge would be even better. Read the Quran! Or at least some unbiased precise.

    And, as an aside, although I agree that Israel is still “a burning coal” and part of the problem, I also understand that the true Jewish religion is viewed as Islamic by Muslims, so in the end Israel could be part of the solution.

  • Alan E Locke has an idea. Certainly, it can’t do any worse than preaching to the soon-to-be victims of the caliphate about ‘western values’, because they clearly don’t self-identify as sharing them. Even if, really, they generally mostly do.

    It would also be a big help if our political leaders had that knowledge so that they could more effectively counter the ‘religion of evil’ rhetoric that we’re going to see being ramped up by the hard right, xenophobic nationalist fronts across Europe. UKIP here, but there are plenty of other neo-fascist gangs operating elsewhere too.

  • Richard Dean 31st Aug '14 - 10:05pm

    The ISIS siege of Amerli has been broken. It was broken by Iraqi forces with some humanitarian assistance and military air-strikes by the US.
    http://edition.cnn.com/2014/08/31/world/meast/isis-iraq-syria/index.html?hpt=hp_t1

    More successes are needed like this, and eventually we probably need to assist the Iraqis in laying siege and liberating IS-held towns and cities in Iraq. It won’t be an easy or clean thing, but it ought to be something the LibDems can support.

  • David Allen 1st Sep '14 - 12:39pm

    If a British jihadi wants to come back to the UK from Iraq or Syria, is it productive to stop him doing so?

    Granted, we would like to keep dangerous people off our streets. However, impressionable young men do all sorts of stupid things, and they often then grow up and learn to behave more sensibly. There are probably a lot of young people who have tried the jihadi life and become disillusioned, or have just decided that they have “been there, done that”.

    The safe thing to do with them is to let them come back home – interview them, watch them, but try to help them settle down and abandon “radicalism”. The stupid thing to do is to stop them returning – because then, all they can do is stay in the Middle East and stick with the jihadis. Hey presto, we’ve got someone fighting for ISIS for five years, when he could have given it up after a couple of months. Triumph for British knee-jerk reaction!

  • Alan E Locke 1st Sep '14 - 4:49pm

    “It would also be a big help if our political leaders had that knowledge . . ” from TJ
    I couldn’t agree more.

    Most moderate Muslims say that the true “non radicalised” Islam is a religion peace. So why don’t I hear from Muslims about how the Jihadis “radical” version of Islam is corrupt, with reference to the Quran and where the corruption has occurred?

    I found the website en.knowquran.org to include a helpful English translation of the Quran, with all 114 chapters and 6237 verses indexed and referenced to, for example, verses promoting:
    helping others – 69 verses
    violence and brutality – 180 verses
    religious tolerance – 11 verses
    hatred of non-Muslims – 349 verses
    Gives a bit of context to what is going on – especially when we understand that many (most?) Muslim children, start learning the Quran by heart from a very early age and are told that this is the literal word of God.
    So God help our Muslim brothers – and maybe us all. (If only . . )

    Alan

  • To be honest, I have never read so much nonsense. It’s like the Lib Dems are good natured wishful thinkers that can’t quite see that the world is not what they want it to be. A couple of examples –

    Paddy: “Here it is not Cameron’s proposals that I fear, it is his rhetoric. He recently told us that this fight was about defending “western values”. I cannot think of any phrase, short of those used by George Bush during the Iraq war, which more damages our ability to win this battle. For it at once confirms the jihadis’ Manichean view that this is indeed a struggle between the west and them, while at the same time alienating those very Islamic moderates whose help we need most in defeating Isis and its cohorts. The truth is that this increasingly brutal and dangerous battle will not be won for our “western values” but for the universal values which underpin and unite all the world’s great religions and philosophies – including, perhaps especially at this moment, Islam.”.

    There is no such thing as a set of universal values that under pin and unite all the world’s great religions and philosophies. David Cameron is correct, we need to defend western values from religious lunatics with the values of the 7th century Arabian desert. Our belief that radical Islamism that tells people they must convert, pay a tax and live as 2nd class citizens or die is a fascist and unacceptable ideology that cannot be allowed to flourish is a western value, not a universal one. Western values are the values of cultures that have gone through a scientific and rational enlightenment and those values are in direct conflict with religious fascism and theocratic ideas.

    Alan E Locke: “To my mind anyone wishing to counter the threat of “the Islamic State” first has to get an understanding of the way that the devoted Jihadis think, and then talk to them in a common language that is mutually understood. One way might be to use the words of God, as found in the Quran, and demonstrate that far from committing holy acts on behalf of God, many Jihadis have been led astray (by Satan?) and are actually committing grave sins that will incur God’s wroth and will result not in a place in Heaven, but instead in the everlasting fires of Hell. Far from condemning our UK Jihadists we should be praying for them and their souls, That it is never too late to repent and make amends, in the eyes of God. ” – Again, I think this is incredibly naive. These religious fanatics are certainly not going to let a bunch of ‘infidels’ interpret the meaning of their scriptures for them. There are loads of different brands of Islam that each interpret the religion in their own way and they have already rejected them all in faviour of their own brand of barbaric religious fascism. British Imams have already condemned the Islamic State in the strongest possible terms, if they won’t listen to them or all the other different ‘brands’ of Islam that oppose this sort of thing they’re not going to listen to us. Also we shouldn’t be telling Islamists more nonsense like their actions will earn them a place in everlasting hellfire, saying things like that just perpetuates the myth that such a place even exists when there is not a shred of evidence to suggest it does. Why not tell them that following the path of Islamic Jihad will most likely result in them being dead within a couple of years wasting the only life they have and ruin life for millions of other innocent people in process? I doubt that they’ll accept that either mind you, but at least what you’d be telling them was likely to actually be true.

    Alan E Locke: “I don’t profess to begin to understand either the Quran or the life of Muhammad but from what little I have read and digested I can see how UK Jihadis could justify their actions, including the beheading of captives, making sexual slaves of women captives and more , all as highly moral and deserving, for the perpetrators, a hero’s place in heaven. ” – I think you’re probably right there. I believe that in early Islam non-muslims were essentially 2nd class citizens forced to pay a special tax if they didn’t convert and that Muhammad did order the beheading of 100’s of people that his forces defeated in battle. Fortunately, most Muslims in Britain have no desire to see such things happen in the 21st century.

    Unfortunately I think the only thing that will work against the Islamic State terrorist group is arming the Kurds (both in Syria and Iraq) to the teeth and attacking the Islamist fighters with drones and overwhelming fire power.

  • Richard Dean 1st Sep '14 - 10:07pm

    I agree with David Allen.

    Returning jihadists will be a rich source of intelligence. Not all of them will have served as IS troops. Some may have been involved in the supply chain supplying materials to the troops – clerks and manual labourers and so on. Others may have been involved in the administration of occupied towns. All such people will have valuable information about how the IS war machine is organized.

    And the people who did serve as troops will have information about how the military side is organized, how morale is supported, whether supplies are plentiful or inefficient, etc, as well as who else is there..

  • A couple of commenter’s here seem rather laissez-faire about the risks.
    We’re not talking about a few people who have been on some youthful kind of paint-balling weekend, nor the kind of twisted minds that could be simply sat down and counselled with some kind of Cognitive Behaviour Therapy, back to ‘normal’
    ~ Can you be so confident that 10 or so returning ‘sleeper jihadists’ would not bide their time for a year or so, before re-forming and take over your local primary school, or a tube station full of commuters?
    ~ Can we afford to tag and monitor 500 or so, tracking their every movement and personal associations for the next 30 years(!) of their life.? ( Better invest in G4S shares now)
    How can we deal with the warped minds of a group of people who individually and collectively see death in pursuit of their cause, against infidels, as a passage to heaven? I truly fear ISIS is the Black Swan event, that Taleb warned might come. And I have to be frank and say I have *no clue* how to deal with this threat on the international macro scale, but for sure, these are very dangerous individuals, who pose a serious long term threat. We can’t stop them from going to that region as free individuals, but if we have evidence of their ‘input’, to the IS cause, we cannot possibly let them back into the country.?
    And before you ask the obvious question ~ To Hell with their Human Rights!

  • Richard Dean 2nd Sep '14 - 4:12am

    I wonder if part of the solution Dave Page seeks is to provide more information, not less, about the reality of life for jihadists in IS-held territory.

    Life there can hardly be rosy for jihadists. The area is very poor, the internet is unlikely to be as accessible as here, jihadists are likely to be used as cannon fodder rather than as commanders, health services are likely to be pretty rudimentary if you’re injured – maybe IS even shoot their injured rather than submit to the local medical care!

    And it’s not as if UK jihadists will find freedom there. They probably won’t have much choice in what they do – they’d be used for whatever purpose the local IS commander felt like – as indeed the reluctant Chechen seems to show. http://news.sky.com/story/1327867/captured-is-suicide-bomber-reveals-threat

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