LibLink… Paddy Ashdown: It’s not a fight against “us”, it’s Islam vs Islam

Mali rebel - License Some rights reserved by MagharebiaIn an article in today’s Times, Paddy Ashdown concedes that David Cameron is probably right that the so-called War on Terror (a term Paddy dislikes) will go on for another decade. Paddy argues that we need to recognise that the way western countries have been operating doesn’t work. What is needed now is to recognise that the fight is between different factions of Islam. It should be our job to help out moderate governments where we can.

He outlined why the “invasions, main battle armies and occupation” of the last decade isn’t appropriate for the next:

But it would be a strategic blunder to use what happened in the past decade as a template for the next. There are three reasons for this. The way we have done it these past ten years hasn’t worked; Western defence cuts and public aversion to further conflict mean that we can’t do it that way any longer, even if we wanted to; and with the old orders in the Middle East fragmenting and Western models being increasingly rejected, we are now engaged in a totally different kind of conflict.

He outlined the sort of things we should be doing in the future:

The next phase will need to be regional in scope and based on partnership, intelligence, anticipation, political subtlety, close Western co-ordination and, perhaps most important of all, the judicious use of aid and assistance to enable threatened governments to cope for themselves. Where military action is required it will best be tightly targeted and small-scale. Boots on the ground should be a last resort because we have failed to act earlier — as in Mali where Islamic extremism, its causes, consequences and connections, have been very visible for ages. Watch Nigeria next.

And showed where that sort of approach has been successful:

There are no neat or comfortable ways of doing this, but enabling domestic governments in the Muslim world to fight this battle for themselves is likely to be better, safer and more effective than Western governments trying to do it for them. Look at Somalia, where careful, patient Western action (with Britain playing a key part) has enabled a democratic Somali government to begin to recover its country from the ravages of al-Shabaab extremism. It is far, far too early to declare a victory there. But in a region where there are few bright lights, Somalia at least provides a hopeful glow.

Paddy said that world leaders needed to understand the nature of the threat:

The underlying drive for most of what is happening in the world of Islam at the moment is not a war against the West but a widening religious conflict between the Sunni and the Shia for the soul of Islam. We have had such religious wars in Christianity, too. We can still see their distant echoes in Belfast and the Balkans. We should understand how destructive they can be.

You can read the whole article here (£)

* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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This entry was posted in Europe / International and LibLink.


  • Charles Beaumont 23rd Jan '13 - 7:27pm

    Paddy is only half right. ‘Fitna’ (the Arabic term for the sectarian struggle between Shia and Sunni) is a major problem, particularly in the Gulf region, across to Iraq and in Pakistan. But what happened in Algeria and Mali (and, for that matter, in Somalia) didn’t involve a Sunni/Shia divide. It is a struggle based on different interpretations within Sunni Islam and the actions of non-Muslim powers (mostly the West) in relation to that struggle. In Algeria a decade of conflict followed a western-sanctioned military coup against an Islamist political movement; the official union of the Algerian militants with Al Qaeda in 2007 giving further boost to the ongoing terrorist cause there. In Mali, the proximate cause was the fall-out from the collapse of Gadaffi’s Libya, resulting in Tuareg mercenaries fleeing Libya back into their native Mali. In Somalia the collapse of the central state since 1991 was a direct outcome of the end of the Cold War. The rise of the militant Islamic Al-Shabaab movement a reaction to the US sponsored Ethiopian invasion of 2006. It is simplistic to claim the “underlying drive for most of what is happening” is an internal sectarian divide within Islam.

  • Richard Dean 24th Jan '13 - 12:41am

    Can the types of consequences of events that Charles helpfully highlights be predicted so that steps can be taken in advance to mitigate or avoid them?

  • Charles Beaumont 24th Jan '13 - 10:21am

    It’s a good question, but I think the answer is that Western govts often have fewer choices than we give credit for. Take Syria for example: there is increasing clamour for outside intervention as over 50000 are estimated to have been killed. But everyone knows the risks of liberators becoming occupiers. If nothing is done, we end up handing the initiative to Saudi Arabia whose motives and objectives in Syria are quite sinister. But if we take action we end up being another western occupying force in an Arab country.

  • Richard Dean 24th Jan '13 - 10:45am

    There is always a way, we just have to find it!

  • Matthew Huntbach 27th Jan '13 - 9:06pm

    Paddy Ashdown

    The underlying drive for most of what is happening in the world of Islam at the moment is not a war against the West but a widening religious conflict between the Sunni and the Shia for the soul of Islam

    This is not really fair, or at least not a helpful comment, as the division between liberals and authoritarians with Islam seems to cut completely across the Sunni-Shia division.

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