Opinion: the biggest threat to global security

Free Syrian Army rebels fighting against Assad militias on the outskirts of the northwestern city of Maraat al-Numan, Idlib - SyriaThe Arab spring has receded into the nightmare that is Syria today; continuing instability in Libya and Yemen and death penalties by the hundreds in Egypt. We have been shocked by the atrocities of Boko Haram in Nigeria; Al Shabab in Somalia; conflict in the Central African Republic, Mali and Chad.

Tony Blair, in a recent speech reminded us Why the Middle East matters

What is presently happening there, still represents the biggest threat to global security of the early 21st C. The region, including the wider area outside its conventional boundary – Pakistan, Afghanistan to the east and North Africa to the west – is in turmoil with no end in sight to the upheaval and any number of potential outcomes from the mildly optimistic to catastrophe.

At the root of the crisis lies a radicalised and politicised view of Islam, an ideology that distorts and warps Islam’s true message. The threat of this radical Islam is not abating. It is growing. It is spreading across the world. It is de-stabilising communities and even nations. It is undermining the possibility of peaceful co-existence in an era of globalisation. And in the face of this threat we seem curiously reluctant to acknowledge it and powerless to counter it effectively.

Maajid Naawaz, PPC for Hampstead and Kilburn says, “Islamism uses political grievances to alienate and then provide an alternative sense of belonging to vulnerable young Muslims. Preying on the grievances of disaffected young men is the bedrock of Islamism. …the only way to try and prevent radicalisation is to give angry young Muslims another outlet.” He has founded a youth movement called Khudi, in Pakistan, which tries to counter extremist ideology through discussion and debate.

Last year he predicted we would see the blowback we are currently experiencing from Syria here in the UK ( Syria, Radical Islam and Boston bombings). The security services have recently taken steps to enlist the help of Muslim mothers in persuading their sons to steer clear of Syria. But what of those who go nevertheless? Crispin Black provides some thinking in What can Britain do about jihadists returning from Syria, suggesting the simplest, commonsense solution would be to prevent anyone who has borne arms in Syria from returning to these shores.

I remain cautious that we do not undermine our unequivocal commitment to basic universal rights in favour of apparent stability and transient security. I do, however, acknowledge Crispin’s view that the the arrogant brutality of the jihadist worldview as displayed at the trial of Fusilier Rigby’s killers is not one that we can treat with in any but the most determined and forceful manner.

It is adherence to the principles of natural justice, democracy and religious freedom that hold the key to determining whether the 21st Century is to be the ‘Clash of Civilizations’ as envisaged by Samuel P. Huttington – or a world in which vegetable sellers like Mohamed Bouazizi can go about their daily business unmolested.

* Joe Bourke is an accountant and university lecturer, Chair of ALTER, and Chair of Hounslow Liberal Democrats.

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53 Comments

  • Blair is mostly right but no religion has a “true message”, they are all interpreted by different people to justify different things; many of them crimes, as the Catholic Church demonstrates very well. Maajid Nawaz said it best when he said “Islam is not a religion of peace, Islam is not a religion of violence, it is a religion”.

  • Richard Dean 2nd May '14 - 2:57pm

    I disagree with Maajid Naawaz’s idea of only one way. His idea seems to be that those angry young people are angry because they have energy that they don’t know how to control or use, and this may certainly be part of the answer. But the core issue is “why are those angry people angry?”

    One answer is that they have been taught, by Islamic teachers as well as other, to have expectations which are too constraining in the modern world, or which do not subsequently materialize. A prime example is the expectations that boys and girls are taught to have about their relationships and roles when they become men and women, and the constraints that come with these expectations and roles. If society doesn’t turn out to be like they expect, or if the constraints block people too much, then there’s an awful lot of natural sexual energy available for exploitation by already-radicalised extremists.

    Of course there are other issues too, such as poverty, social immobility, and the natural reaction of populations to threats that may not be real, but which become real as a result of reactions to those reactions. And there is the fundamental fracture of Islam into Sunni and Shia.

    So, as well as Maajid Naawaz’s sticking plaster solution, I’d suggest that a fundamental evolution in mainstream Islam is also needed, IMHO, a modernisation and a healing. Which of course will itself be contentious and disruptive in the short term, but is the best hope for the long-term.

  • Lucas,

    I think when Tony Blair says “At the root of the crisis lies a radicalised and politicised view of Islam, an ideology that distorts and warps Islam’s true message.” he is not so much reflecting on the ‘true message’ of Islam, but rather recognising that ‘Political Islam’ is an ideology that has little to do with religion and is in fact rooted in the age old system of control and power politics in the middle east .

    Later In his speech he appears to be referencing Saudi Arabia and some Gulf states when he says:

    Consider this absurdity: that we spend billions of $ on security arrangements and on defence to protect ourselves against the consequences of an ideology that is being advocated in the formal and informal school systems and in civic institutions of the very countries with whom we have intimate security and defence relationships. Some of those countries of course wish to escape from the grip of this ideology. But often it is hard for them to do so within their own political constraints. They need to have this issue out in the open where it then becomes harder for the promotion of this ideology to happen underneath the radar. In other words they need us to make this a core part of the international dialogue in order to force the necessary change within their own societies.

    The fundamentalist Wahhabi ideology of Saudi Arabia is often cited as a central source of radicalisation and Islamic extremism. Saudi Arabia builds centres and schools throughout the UK and provides its books free to all Sunni muslim schools in the UK. In October 2012, Robert Bernstein, who founded Human Rights Watch, serves as a chairman of Advancing Human Rights, and was a former chairman and CEO of Random House, and various other book publishers, expressed their “profound disappointment that the Saudi government continues to print textbooks inciting hatred and violence against religious minorities.” By way of example they cited an 8th grade textbook which writes, “The Apes are the people of the Sabbath, the Jews; and the Swine are the infidels of the communion of Jesus, the Christians.” The publishers explained that “hate speech is the precursor to genocide. First you get to hate and then you kill.”

    Perhaps the government investigation into the so called ‘Operation Trojan Horse’ in Birmingham schools can help organisations like the Muslim Council of Britain, engaged in thwarting radicalisation among their community, to “have this issue out in the open where it then becomes harder for the promotion of this ideology to happen underneath the radar.”

  • Melanie Harvey 2nd May '14 - 3:28pm

    When will the west wake up? Time after time the west interfers for nothing but money and resources/land.. It stirs the pot boils it over and then blames the pot and its ingredients for not adjusting the heat !!!

  • All societies since the dawn of time have had people with grievances. In the 20 C Communism and Nazism has attracted people wit an inferiority complex , who are resentful , embittered , twisted and , hateful and wish to destroy that which demonstrates their inadequacy. Inflicting torture , pain and death on people in order to boost one’s self regard was practiced by The Cheka under Lennin and the various executions squads under Hitler.

    The vast majority of physically tough men , who embodied the warrior code never undertook executions lightly. People with a sadistic blood lust who enjoy murder and torture are just perverted and should be ridiculed as inadequate humans. It is time we ridiculed all people who display enjoyment at inflicting murder and torture on others.
    I doubt these jihadis would ever be able to pass the physical selection to join the Royal Marine Commandos or Parachute Regiment or even last 80 minutes of hard rugby. The reality is that the execution squads used by the Communist or Nazis were always th runt of the litter- the jihadis are no different..

  • Isolating extremists and dealing with Jihadi’s returning from Syria is an immediate and pressing issue.

    Crispin Black has advocated the following:
    Pass a law forbidding any British subject from travelling to Syria – unless registered with a charity authorised by the Foreign Office…. Anyone suspected of making an unauthorised trip to Syria would not be re-admitted to the United Kingdom. Put up posters to that effect at every airport and seaport… “If you travel to Syria illegally, you will not be allowed to return here.”
    Preventing any more of these jihadists coming ‘home’ would be the simplest solution. Dealing with an attack by such men once it kicks off will be difficult. Terrorists on shooting sprees of this kind inflict damage quickly, relying on a shock effect to cow their intended victims. No doubt the SAS or SBS will arrive, but even they will be lucky to arrive in time.
    The butcher’s bills have been quite severe. Mumbai: 153 killed and more than 600 wounded. Nairobi: 67 dead and 175 wounded. In both cases hundreds of millions of pounds worth of damage were also caused to property. Imagine if something similar were to happen in London.

    Proposed solutions have to respect both UK and International law and human rights. With the advent of British suicide bombers and allegations of torture by British Jihadi’s, the threat to the British population (in particular the British Muslim population) is severe and must be prioritised over the individual rights of the Jihadists. Many of these fighters may have been traumatised by their experiences and/or be suffering from post-traumatic stress syndrome.

    I would advocate a joined-up approach, using Terrorism Prevention and Investigation Measures (TPIMs) to focus on ideological engagement, through de-radicalisation, rehabilitation and reintegration; and as Maajid Nawaz has said, “Civil society-led human rights-based counter-extremism to challenge extremist ideology and narratives.

    In the specific case of British Jihadist fighters returning from Syria and other conflict zones, subject to appropriate safeguards to protect the rights of suspects, this might be achieved by resurrecting the Foreign Enlistment Act of 1870, making it a crime for any British subject to enlist in the military of any organisation engaged in a war on the territory of any state with which the UK was at peace.

    We would bar return to the UK (to both British passport holders and dual citizens) until a two year period of reintegration and mental health assessment had been satisfactorily undertaken. I would suggest that this period of reintegration, rehabilitation and mental health assessment be undertaken within the scope of the UK and UN missions to deliver humanitarian assistance to Syrian refuges in Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey. For those deemed capable, the escort of aid workers through UN humanitarian corridors to deliver relief to internally displaced refuges within Syria may also be a means by which such individuals can re-engage with the fundamental values we seek to protect. Where there is sufficient evidence that individuals have committed atrocities or war crimes, however, then they must face the justice of the courts and accept the consequences of their actions.

  • Richard Dean 2nd May '14 - 5:03pm

    I wonder what we would have done to George Orwell and the many other British nationals who fought against Franco in the Spanish Civil War? They were traumatized too, and a hard right establishment could have regarded them as dangerous radicals.

    Crispin Black’s proposals are simply not consistent with our heritage or principles, nor is acting simply on suspicion, nor are they any form of good sense. A free Brit in need of healing, but refused entry to Britain, is unlikely to be amused by the experience.

  • Richard,

    with respect to our heritage or principles, we know what was done during the Spanish Civil War. From Crispin Black’s piece ” On 9 January 1937, keen to stem the flow of British volunteers intent on fighting in the Spanish Civil War, Stanley Baldwin’s government announced that it intended to invoke the Foreign Enlistment Act of 1870. The Act made it a crime for any British subject to enlist in the military of any foreign power at war with any state with which the UK was at peace. …No successful prosecutions were ever brought because it proved impossible to get proper evidence of enlistment – even in an era without human rights lawyers.

    We will likely face the same problem with those returning from Syria. Nonetheless, no responsible government can ignore the threat arising from the spread of radical Islamism in this country and an indigenous cadre of veterans from groups like Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), the Al-Nusra Front and Islamic State in Iraq and the ash-Sham (ISIS),

    Only this week there are reports of a possible British Jihadi executing a prisoner http://news.sky.com/story/1253567/british-fighters-filmed-in-syria-war-crime and this same group (ISIS) crucifying members of other rebel groups shttp://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2616694/Horrifying-scenes-Syria-Islamic-extremists-CRUCIFY-two-fighting-against-Muslims.html.

  • Richard Dean 2nd May '14 - 6:14pm

    @JoeBourke,
    I always enjoy your history lessons. But your present and future tenses are being overwhelmed by your own panic – an inappropriate reaction that cedes victory to the terrorists.

    I imagine and hope that the events described in your last paragraph are war crimes, so there should already be legislation in place that will allow British authorities to try to deal with those perpetrators. What’s more, if Sky or the Daily Mail have pictures, then that’s evidence that could stand up in a court of law.

    Most returning radicals are likely to be very shocked and exhausted. A real threat comes, not from exposure to these people, but from being pre-programmed to accept radical ideas. That’s something that would not be addressed at all by Crispin Black’s proposals – and those proposals would probably make that real threat worse.

  • Richard,

    I think a distinction needs to be made between “being pre-programmed to accept radical ideas” and the threat posed by those already radicalised and intent on causing harm.

    Measures that might aid in protecting young men and women from radicalisation might be along the lines of Nawaz’s Khudi youth movement in Pakistan; and similar efforts by the British Muslim community that Nawaz describes as “civil society-led human rights-based counter-extremism to challenge extremist ideology and narratives.”

    If Intelligence reports currently appearing in the media prove credible – that some returning Jihadi’s have been given orders to carry out attacks in the UK, then we are well beyond such preventative efforts and need to have in place effective counter-terrorism measures.

    Blair appears to be right when he says “…in the face of this threat we seem curiously reluctant to acknowledge it and powerless to counter it effectively.”

    That reluctance is something which we will need to address as the violence intensifies across the Islamic world. Orwell was a member of POUM, the Trotskyist organisation fighting in the Spanish Civil War and was no doubt familiar with the quote attributed to Leon Trotsky “You may not be interested in war, but war is interested in you. “

  • Richard Dean 2nd May '14 - 7:21pm

    The Eastern World, it is exploding,
    Violence flarin, bullets loadin,
    You’re old enough to kill, but not for votin
    But even the Jordan River has bodies floatin
    But you tell me
    Over and over and over again, my friend
    Ah, you don’t believe we’re on the eve of destruction.

    “Eve of Destruction”, written in 1965 by PF Sloan, famously sung by Barry McGuire. 50 years ago, and we’re not yet on the eve of destruction, we’ve survived, but the thing that will get us there is the panic that leads us to abandon principles and over-react to the media-hyped threat that we are.

  • Richard,

    Maajid Nawaz has expressed his views last year in Syria, Radical Islam and Boston bombings that Syria could be the new Afghanistan and we could expect to see attacks here in the UK as a consequence – echoing Tony Blair’s more recent warnings.

    The home secretary last year issued 20+ ‘deprivation of citizenship’ orders in respect of dual citizens fighting in Syria. This recent Telegraph article http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/middleeast/syria/10757598/Syria-is-now-the-gravest-terrorist-threat-to-Britain.html confirms that the views of Nawaz and Blair are shared by Theresa May and JTAC:

    The danger posed by them was highlighted this week by Theresa May, the Home Secretary, when she published her annual report on the Government’s strategy for countering terrorism. “The growing threat from terrorist groups in Syria,” she said, had been the most significant development in the fight against terrorism in the past year.
    Mrs May’s remarks neatly summarised the conclusions reached by the Joint Terrorism Analysis Centre (JTAC), which coordinates the work of our intelligence agencies, whose latest assessment says that the threat to the UK from returning jihadis is equal, if not greater, to the long-standing threat posed by al-Qaeda terrorists based in the lawless tribal areas on the Afghan-Pakistan border.

    There is no panic there, just a sober rational analysis of an existing threat to the first priority of government – security of the realm.

  • Richard Dean 2nd May '14 - 10:59pm

    @Joe Bourke

    How many agents does JTAC have in Syria? How many Telegraph reporters are there? There are surprisingly few facts about jihadi’s behaviour in Syria in the Telegraph article you quote. And there is a reason for this. Here is what they write:

    “In Afghanistan and Pakistan, constant surveillance by drones and other monitoring devices means al-Qaeda activists … are limited in their ability … In Syria, however, such constraints do not apply. The country’s Russian-made anti-aircraft missile systems mean that drones are unable to monitor … the activities of Islamist[s] …”

    This suggests that the JTAC assessment is not “a sober rational analysis of an existing threat”. Rather it is probably an imaginary scenario based on a sober and rational analysis of their absence of knowledge.

  • Richard,

    The Joint Terrorism Analysis Centre, or JTAC, is the UK’s centre for the analysis and assessment of international terrorism. They analyse and assesses all intelligence relating to international terrorism, at home and overseas. The establishment of JTAC brought together counter-terrorist expertise from the police, key government departments and agencies, ensuring that information is analysed and processed on a shared basis, with the involvement and consensus of all relevant departments. Within the Security Service JTAC works especially closely with the International Counter Terrorism branch, which manages investigations into terrorist activity in the UK. This enables it to assess the nature and extent of the threat in this country. JTAC is responsible for assessing the level and nature of the threat from international terrorism.

    Their information page on foreign fighters reads as follows:

    UK nationals travelling overseas to serve with extremist groups as ‘foreign fighters’ present a number of potential threats to the UK, both while they are overseas and when they return to the UK. The nature of these threats can differ depending on the country in which they are fighting or the terrorist group which is hosting them but there are a number of common themes.

    While overseas, these fighters can help terrorist groups to develop the ability to carry out attacks by linking up with extremist networks in the UK and providing information about potential targets. In addition to English language skills, which can help these groups with media outreach, some foreign fighters may also have other specialist skills (e.g. scientific, IT) that can be useful to overseas terrorist groups.

    Foreign fighters can gain combat experience, access to training and a network of overseas extremist contacts. The skills, contacts and status acquired overseas can make these individuals a much greater threat when they return to the UK, even if they have not been tasked directly to carry out an attack on their return. Experience of fighting overseas with terrorist groups can also promote radicalisation.

    In recent years, we have seen UK nationals travel to a number of countries to fight and to obtain terrorist training. In particular, a number of plots in the UK have involved participants travelling to the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) of Pakistan for training. We have also seen UK nationals travel to Yemen to join Al Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and Somalia to fight with al Shabaab.

    Over the last two years, we have seen Syria become an attractive destination for UK extremists wishing to engage in violent jihad. The nature of the conflict in Syria and the emergence of the Al Nusrah Front, which has declared its allegiance to Al Qaida leader Ayman al-Zawahiri, is leading to the country becoming an increasingly significant potential source of future threats to the UK and UK interests overseas.

  • Richard Dean 3rd May '14 - 2:08am

    @Joe Bourke

    Can we try to be a little more realistic? There is little hard information in the text you quote, nothing there that’s really checkable in hard terms by a free press, let alone a press that needs to sell itself, and nothing that mightn’t be the product of an over-active imagination.

    I’m sure that JTAC personnel are earnest, but JTAC and its sources have to justify their funding, and if JTAC hasn’t got information it has some problematic options to choose from. Those earnest people won’t be thinking that a politician’s decision to that reduce their funding is good for security. So they need to be right, and they need to be needed, and without information the easiest way to do that is to over-emphasise the seriousness of a threat. That case can be difficult for others to deny. If the threat doesn’t materialize they can claim credit on the basis that increased vigilance prevented it. If the threat does materialize they can say “I told you so”.

    There’s nothing sinister about this, it’s the way that things can happen. Information that is secret can be very difficult to verify and very easy to misinterpret. The problem is that our subsequent actions to address a threat that has been over-estimated can itself generate the threat that it seeks to counter – which is just playing into the hands of the convinced extremists.

    Our response has to be rational. principled, and implemented in a way that does not generate more problems than it solves.

  • Richard,

    the ongoing daily slaughter in Syria cannot be described as the product of an over-active imagination.

    The extract from the Telegraph article you highlight goes on to read:”The freedom of movement and action foreign extremists enjoy in “liberated” areas of northern Syria has not been lost on the traditional al-Qaeda leadership in the tribal areas, which is believed to have sent several emissaries to the region to assist with training and instruction in terrorist skills, in the hope that a new breed of sophisticated extremists will return home equipped with the know-how to orchestrate a new round of attacks.

    But while it may be harder to track the jihadis when they vanish into the Syrian cauldron, that does not mean the authorities are not waiting for them when they emerge. At least a dozen of the 250 or so British jihadis who have returned home so far have been detained on terrorism-related charges, while others have been relieved of their passports to stop them joining overseas terror groups.

    If measures like this show we are on the jihadis’ case, they are by no means foolproof. For the chilling reality is that, so long as the Syrian conflict continues, vigilance must be our watchword.”

    As to a rational response – how to deal effectively with the problems posed by Jihadist’s returning to the UK is just one small element of the overall threat. Blair’s speech in making the following proposals, highlights the areas/countries that should be currently prioritised for attention/support:

    Egypt: Support the new president.

    Syria: Push for a peace settlement, even if that involves President Assad staying “in the interim”. If Assad refuses, there should be “active measures to support the opposition”, including no fly zones.

    Tunisia: More investment to help the new government.

    Libya: Military help to support the government.

    Libya is not Iraq or Afghanistan. It is not impossible to help and NATO has the capability to do so. However reluctant we are to make this commitment, we have to recognise the de-stabilising impact Libya is having at present. If it disintegrates completely, it will affect the whole of the region around it and feed the instability in Sub- Saharan Africa.

    Yemen: Help with security sector reform.

    Iran: There should be a “push back against their use of power to support extremism”.

    Middle East peace process: Support John Kerry’s peace initiative.

    In the round, they represent a useful reference of conflict areas requiring a coherent foreign policy response.

  • Richard Dean 3rd May '14 - 3:43am

    @Joe Bourke

    The ongoing slaughter in Syria is not the subject of the discussion you initiated – the subject was a supposed threat to the UK. If the Telegraph had any evidence at all, they would not be using phrases like “is believed to”. The “new breed of sophisticated extremists” is so obviously a piece of media hype that it’s laughable. How can people be taken in by such stuff?

    Blair’s speech may have some good elements to it, but basically it’s saying that the West made a mistake in supporting what they hoped would be an easily achievable Arab Spring, and now needs to do some more meddling in the hope of stabilizing things. Is that realistic? Is it a plan? The threats he cites have been there ever since the West switched from coal to oil. We’ve survived.

  • Richard,

    the intelligence agency charged with assessing the threat to the UK is the source of evidence. The telegraph is just one of many media outlets reporting on the same issue over the past year,

    JTAC has been specific with respect to Syria when noting “Over the last two years, we have seen Syria become an attractive destination for UK extremists wishing to engage in violent jihad. The nature of the conflict in Syria and the emergence of the Al Nusrah Front, which has declared its allegiance to Al Qaida leader Ayman al-Zawahiri, is leading to the country becoming an increasingly significant potential source of future threats to the UK and UK interests overseas.”

    The theme of Blair’s speech is that the understandable inclination to wash our hands of the Middle East would be a mistake and cites four reasons why the Middle East remains of central importance and cannot be relegated to the second order.

    “First and most obviously, it is still where a large part of the world’s energy supplies are generated, and whatever the long term implications of the USA energy revolution, the world’s dependence on the Middle East is not going to disappear any time soon. In any event, it has a determining effect on the price of oil; and thus on the stability and working of the global economy. (Of increasing importance since we switched from coal to oil)

    Secondly, it is right on the doorstep of Europe. The boundary of the EU is a short distance from the Levantine coast. Instability here affects Europe, as does instability in North Africa, in close proximity to Spain and Italy.

    Third, in the centre of this maelstrom, is Israel. Its alliance with the USA, its partnership with leading countries of Europe, and the fact that it is a Western democracy, mean that its fate is never going to be a matter of indifference. Over these past years, with considerable skill, the Israelis have also built up relationships with China and with Russia. These aren’t the same as their long standing Western alliances but they have significance. Were the Israelis to be pulled into a regional conflict, there is no realistic way that the world could or would want to shrug it off. For the moment, Israel has successfully stayed aloof from the storm around it. But the one thing the last few years has taught us (and them) is that we can expect the unexpected.

    Finally and least obvious, is a reason we are curiously reluctant to admit, in part because the admission would throw up some very difficult policy choices. It is in the Middle East that the future of Islam will be decided. By this I mean the future of its relationship with politics. This is controversial because the world of politics is uncomfortable talking about religion; because some will say that really the problems are not religious but political; and even because – it is true – that the largest Muslim populations are to be found outside the region not inside it.

    But I assert it nonetheless. I do so because underneath the turmoil and revolution of the past years is one very clear and unambiguous struggle: between those with a modern view of the Middle East, one of pluralistic societies and open economies, where the attitudes and patterns of globalisation are embraced; and, on the other side, those who want to impose an ideology born out of a belief that there is one proper religion and one proper view of it, and that this view should, exclusively, determine the nature of society and the political economy. We might call this latter perspective an ‘Islamist’ view, though one of the frustrating things about this debate is the inadequacy of the terminology and the tendency for any short hand to be capable of misinterpretation, so that you can appear to elide those who support the Islamist ideology with all Muslims.”

  • Richard Dean 3rd May '14 - 2:05pm

    @Joe Bourke
    Little of what you quote from Blair is new. Little of it makes the Middle East or the Islamists into the greatest threat to global security. I agree that there is a major struggle between old and new Muslim ideologies, and that its vital for the Muslim world as well as everyone else that the new ideology wins and continues to develop. As an atheist I se Moses, Jesus, Mohammed, and others as innovators who would be major critics of the ossified ideology Blair calls “Islamist”. But I don’t like the term “Islamist” because it confounds the two ideologies.

  • Richard,

    the Syria expert, Joshua Landis, has likened what is happening in the middle east to the widespread forced relocation of populations in central and eastern Europe after WW2.

    The sectarian conflict between Shia and Sunni, the struggle for political control between minority administrations and the majority populations as in Syria, Iraq, Israel and Lebanon; and the influence of political Islam – i.e. is it religion or citizenship that is to determine equal rights before the law – have brought the region to a state of chaos.

    As regards the UK, our role is largely limited to political and diplomatic support for the modernisers i.e. those who would call for an enlightenment in the Islamic world and an inclusive political settlement that protects the rights of minorities.

    With respect to the preservation of our own security and values, I believe that there is a middle-ground between legitimate security concerns and maintaining the rights and civil liberties of British citizens. That middle ground involves a relatively short period of rehabilitation and reintroduction to civil society for those returning from military activity in conflict zones and avoids the more draconian measures of deprivation of citizenship or passport withdrawal as highlighted in the attached article.http://www.thebureauinvestigates.com/2013/12/23/rise-in-citizenship-stripping-as-government-cracks-down-on-uk-fighters-in-syria/

  • Richard Dean 3rd May '14 - 5:40pm

    @Joe Bourke
    You start with a panic and you use Blair, Naawaz, Crispin Black, JTAC, and now Landis to support your panic. It’s not a credible way to argue. Authority doesn’t come from claiming someone is an “expert”, then quoting the bits of their work that you like. Landis just has one set of eyes, and mostly they seem to look on safe places like a university hall. There’s a problem, ok. Let’s not amplify it to such an extent that it defeats us.

  • Richard,

    its the only credible way to present an argument. Landis and others engaged with the subject matter gain that credibility by undertaking research, attending conferences, visiting the region to see with their own eyes and speak with people on the ground, writing and speaking extensively on their subject matter. I find evidence based argument far more persuasive then polemic and idle rhetoric.

    Individually, they may not have all the answers, but each makes a useful and intelligent contribution to the debate in his own way.

  • Richard Dean 4th May '14 - 3:10am

    @Joe Bourke
    … and they each have agendas, prejudices, cultural blindnesses, and self-interests, and it is dangerously naïve to pretend otherwise.

  • Paul Reynolds 4th May '14 - 3:56am

    I find it hard to square Tony Blair’s warning about Islamic extremism with his support for Islamic (and other faith) schools in the UK.

  • The debate about faith schools in the UK is perhaps for another time. I think the issue of hate speech that Robert Bernstein has noted about schoolbooks provided by the Saudi government is a serious concern that needs to be addressed.

    All religions are religions of peace, but we know from bitter historical experience in Europe of how sectarianism and faith based conflicts can erupt into the most violent internecine wars and tear a region apart.

    Islamic extremism only really came to the fore in the west with the rise of Al Qaeda in the early part of this century, although it has long been a feature of the middle-east along with the Arab-Israeli conflict. The rise of Al Qaeda spread the ideology of political Islam and we began to see foreign Jihadi’s from all over the Islamic world travel to conflict zones in Afghanistan, Kashmir, Iraq, Syria and elsewhere as well as the rise of domestic terrorism and home-grown extremists.

    Many commentators have noted that the issues raised by Tony Blair are valid ones of deep concern. The problem is that it is Tony Blair delivering the message and post-Iraq he no longer has the international credibility to coordinate the necessary policy response.

    Helen, the reference to ‘Clash of Civilisations’ is by way of contrast with the promise of a popular backlash against dictatorial control and the constraints of conservative religious ideology on democratic freedoms raised by the Arab spring that began in Tunisia with the self-immolation of Mohamed Bouazizi, as a last desperate protest.

    Huttington thesis that people’s cultural and religious identities will be the primary source of conflict in the post-Cold War world is looking increasingly like the direction of travel at present – with Orwellian economic and military blocs consolidating across the world from the middle-east to Russia, China, Iran and India and Pakistan.

  • Simon Banks 4th May '14 - 5:13pm

    Well said, Richard.

    Joe: I suspect the main reason why no successful prosecutions were brought for enlistment in Spanish armies was that very soon after the Spanish Civil War ended, it became obvious there might be a world war, and then there was one. People who had fought for the Spanish Republic were then welcomed into British armed forces, and as for the smaller number who fought for Franco, they were regarded with some suspicion, but if they were willing to fight Hitler, they were not prevented. Another factor will have been that prosecuting idealistic young men for going to fight Fascism would have been extremely politically divisive, especially as the accused would have used the court to put the government on trial.

    In the case of Syria, not everyone who volunteers to fight Assad will be a jihadist, especially among those with Syrian family connections. And where would British citizens attempting to return to the UK be sent to – Guantanamo?

  • Simon,

    it is estimated that 37 deprivation of citizenship orders have been issued in respect of dual citizens during the Syrian conflict to date , 20 in the last year alone, without any judicial oversight. The home office statement on this says: ‘Citizenship is a privilege, not a right, and the Home Secretary will remove British citizenship from individuals where she feels it is conducive to the public good to do so.’ Other British citizens returning from Syria are subject to arrest, TPIM’s, withdrawal of passports and ongoing monitoring by the security services.

    No government can ignore the advice of the security services with respect to terrorist threats. As complacency is not an option, we therefore require an equitable policy that balances the legitimate security interests of the country with the civil liberties of this group of individuals.

    Where a determination has been made that it is “conducive to the public good to do so” barring a return to the UK for a maximum of two years allows for a period reintegration, rehabilitation and mental health assessment be undertaken. This may be undertaken within the scope of the UK and UN missions to deliver humanitarian assistance to Syrian refuges in Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey; and may include the escort of aid workers through UN humanitarian corridors to deliver relief to internally displaced refuges within Syria.

    The appropriate safeguards to protect the rights of individuals would be principally a requirement for the courts to endorse a determination that it is conducive to the public good to do so and to set the length of time that would be applied to a bar on return to the UK.

  • Malcolm Todd 5th May '14 - 12:36am

    Joe Bourke
    As far as I can see, you are slipping between talking about barring British citizens from returning home and depriving people with dual citizenship of their British citizenship.
    It would, I believe, be contrary to various international treaties to deprive anyone who does not have dual citizenship of their British citizenship, thereby rendering them legally “stateless”. It would be, I think, quite unheard of to refuse a citizen entry to their own country. Really, where are they supposed to go?
    If all you’re arguing for is for people with dual citizenship to be deprived of their British citizenship if they fight in Syria then could you please say so? I still think it’s a bad idea, but at least we could have clarity and stop arguing about irrelevancies.

  • Richard Dean 5th May '14 - 1:29am

    My passport says I am a British Citizen with the right of abode in the UK. That right isn’t limited by what I might do when abroad. Whichever side I might fight on, or whichever humanitarian organization I might work for, I still have the right of abode. I also have a few other rights, guaranteed inter alia under the ECHR, including the right to due process. I see no way at all that the proposed 2-year detention overseas would be consistent with those rights.

  • Malcolm,

    Deprivation of citizenship orders can be made with no judicial approval in advance, and take immediate effect – the only route for people to argue their case is through legal appeals. In all but two known cases, the orders have been issued while the individual is overseas, leaving them stranded abroad during legal appeals that can take years.

    The only restriction on the Home Secretary if she is acting on ‘conducive’ grounds is that she cannot make an individual stateless, so in effect the orders can only be used on dual-nationality individuals. However. an amendment to the Immigration bill currently going through parliament proposes to extend the Home secretary’s power to deprive naturalised citizens of their status rendering them stateless. This Guardian article discusses the issue http://www.theguardian.com/law/2014/mar/03/immigration-bill-terror-suspects-stateless-human-rights-committee-theresa-may.

    I am arguing that these measures are excessive and dis-proportionate to the threat. In place off such draconian measures, the security objectives can be realised with temporary bars on a return to the UK for individuals that have joined proscribed terrorist organisations overseas. Once they have satisfactorily completed a period of reintegration, rehabilitation and mental health assessment within a humanitarian effort in Syria or elsewhere they would be free to resume their life in the UK without further monitoring or restrictions on their freedom of movement.

    A period of service in a humanitarian mission overseas is a voluntary alternative to the anti-terror legislation that will otherwise be applied to individuals associated with terrorist organisations overseas. Those anti-terror laws may involve deportation where applicable, detention of those regarded as posing an imminent threat, passport withdrawal, TPIM’s or other restrictions within the anti-terror legislation.

  • Richard,

    As a British Citizen you are subject to UK ant-terror legislation. If you join or otherwise associate with a proscribed terrorist organisation whether in the UK or overseas your freedom of movement in the UK may well be restricted – either by way of detention at Her Majesty’s pleasure or by way of TPIM’s.

  • Richard Dean 5th May '14 - 11:57am

    @Joe Bourke. I just might join one if the government was to refuse me entry on the grounds that I already did. Citizenship is not a privilege for me, it’s a right. Being in government for Mrs.May is not a right, it’s a temporary priviledge given by voter citizens..

  • Richard,

    we all have Citizenship rights and privileges. With rights come responsibility including the responsibility to respect the rights of others and refrain from doing them harm.

    There are estimated to be something in the order of 500 British Jihad’s in Syria that are associated with groups that promote a violent ideology antithetical to human rights and the British way of life. They are not Syrians fighting against a tyrannical dictator, they are there to promote an agenda that is as dangerous to Syrians – Muslim, Christian or non-religious – as it is to any other people that wish only to live in freedom and peace.

    They seek to control territory and populations to further their own psychopathic ends and engage in war with any group that gets in their way, whether it be Assad’s forces, Free Syrian army fighters, Kurds in their homelands or other rebel forces in Syria.

    Those that subscribe to such an ideology and undertake violent acts to further their aims need to be dealt with in a determined and forceful manner. Foreign Jihad’s in Syria are as much of a problem for Syrian’s trying to bring about a democratic society that respects the rights of all citizens as the Assad regime is. Whether these people join Al Qaeda affiliated groups in Syria, Iraq or Afghanistan, Boko Haram in Nigeria or Al Shabab in Somalia is irrelevant. They all share one thing in common – a disdain for the rights and freedoms for anyone that does not subscribe to their own narrow and perverted worldview.

    Such Jihadi’s returning to the UK should be refused entry until such time as they are able to demonstrate that they do not represent a threat to the rest of society. In the absence of voluntarily undertaking such a program of rehabilitation, they will need to be detained where there is sufficient evidence to do so, stripped of British citizenship rights in the case of dual nationals, or made subject to a TPIM orders for the protection of society at large.

  • Jayne Mansfield 5th May '14 - 3:19pm

    @ Joe Bourke,
    I couldn’t agree more.

  • Richard Dean 5th May '14 - 6:03pm

    @Joe Bourke

    Your last paragraph suggests to me that you should join some extremist far-right nationalist organization. The measures you suggest would shame any normal human being.

    The first problem is the word “jihadi’s”. You appear to assume that a government agency knows who is a jihadi and who isn’t, and you appear to assume that the decision about who to imprison should be made without any of the due legal process that a British citizen has a right to expect. You appear to suggest that, in order to enjoy normal freedoms and rights, a person should first demonstrate something whose assessment involves a highly subjective, probably secret, and easily corruptible judgment. You suggest that the “voluntary” choice not to submit to brainwashing by the secret service is tantamount to an admission of guilt and justifies force being used. How you can call that voluntary I don’t know.

    Many soldiers return from war traumatized. Experience particularly in the US suggests that some of those traumatized people can be dangerous to society, so the logical conclusion from your proposals is that all soldiers should be locked up for a couple of years or until they can prove they’re harmless. What utter rubbish! One difference with jihadi’s is that many will in fact already be traumatized before they even go off to war. The idea is laughable that two years of psychiatric counselling s likely to do anything but further traumatize them, and make them more dangerous to the society you claim to want to protect.

    As wall as bringing shame on any political party that was to adopt them, your proposals will do absolutely nothing to solve the real problem. Instead, they will likely exacerbate it, because for every jihadi you imprison, ten more free people will be so incensed that they’ll start going down that road too.

  • Richard,

    the act of joining, funding, promoting or bearing arms for a proscribed terrorist organisation is an illegal act for very good reason There are already safeguards within the system (some brought in by the current coalition following the review of anti-terror legislation) to protect the innocent. As I have suggested above those safeguards can and should be enhanced by judicial oversight. I believe much of the intelligence on British Citizens serving with such proscribed groups comes from contacts within the Syrian National Coalition/Free Syrian Army units operating in rebel held areas.

    Soldiers returning from war zones have the medical infrastructure of the military for ongoing support and psychiatric counselling. There is no such system in place for Jihadist’s returning from conflict zones.

    Detention without trial is a rather draconian and illiberal measure. I would much prefer to see voluntary reintegration within a humanitarian mission. That is simply a proportionate response to a relatively recent phenomenon of significant numbers of British citizens joining terrorist organisations overseas. To ignore the issue or capitulate to threats of violence for fear of enraging others susceptible to radicalisation, as you suggest, would be an unforgivable dereliction of duty to protect the British public from a known and manageable threat.

    Former Foreign Office minister, Denis MacShane responding to Blair’s speech writes “Just read Blair speech. Ignore headlines. This is Fulton Mark 2 (Churchill’s Iron Curtain Speech) Bien pensant left then refused to challenge Stalinism. Orwell knew better.”

    Russians were the greatest victims of Stalinism and Muslims are the greatest victims of Islamic extremism. We should be prepared to challenge the misguided orthodoxy that makes us hesitant to confront head-on the spread of violent extremism in this country and around the world.

  • Richard Dean 5th May '14 - 10:43pm

    We should certainly be hesitant in adopting terror tactics against terrorists. We don’t beat an enemy by becoming the enemy.

  • Richard,

    We know from the trial of Lee Rigby’s killers that MI5 knew Adebolajo was involved with terrorists – yet it did nothing to stop him. After he was arrested in Kenya in 2010 for trying to join Al Shabaab, a Somali terrorist group, MI5 tried to recruit him as an informant. That failed. But MI5’s response was to ignore any threat he posed. At no point was any action taken to stop him – bizarrely, given how much the security services knew of his actions, he was allowed to keep his passport. He wasn’t prosecuted for attempting to engage in terrorism overseas and there was no attempt to impose a control order. Had the security services acted to enforce the law, Fusilier Rigby may well have been alive today.

    There are hundreds of Adebolajo’s and Adebowale’s returning from Syria and other extremist training areas today. Are we going to hesitate to enforce the law again – repeating the same mistakes that led to the butchering of Lee Rigby on the streets of London?

  • Richard Dean 6th May '14 - 1:44am

    No, Joe, and we are not going to use Lee Rigby to make cheap points either. “Hundreds of Adebolajo’s and Adebowale’s” is obvious scaremongering.

    One of the things that a responsible government should not do is make panic into policy.

  • Jayne Mansfield 6th May '14 - 12:26pm

    @ Richard Dean,
    Would we really be utilising terror tactics to prevent terrorism? I think that anything that gives the men and women who travel to Syria either to deliberately become involved in the conflict, or find themselves drawn into the conflict when there a positive thing.

    I have to confess t that I actually believed that Labour’s control orders were also good thing. I was prepared to believe the findings of the Liberal Democrat Peer Lord Carlile.

    For the record, I am appalled at the abuse that Muslims have heaped upon them. I remember that 80 Muslims lost their lives in the 9/11 terror attack, and I remember reading the grief of one woman who lost her father and was struggling to comprehend that someone who claimed to be followers of her religion were responsible for the act. Some of the bereft famiiies of Muslim victims also had to cope with anti-Muslim abuse in the streets by idiots who failed to see that those trying to impose their views on others are a danger to anyone who does not share their warped world view irrespective of faith.

    When I listened to the statements of the two British men whose barbaric mindset led to the death of a British soldier, but who had nevertheless been found to be ‘sane’, I realised the enormity of the threat facing us. I am pleased that Joe, whether one agrees with his solution or not, is seeking to find solutions to a very real threat to all of us.

    I would like a clear terminology for the psychopaths and sociopaths who commit barbaric acts of torture and murder, because I think it unfair to those who simply want to follow their faith to go about their lives in peace instead of being associated in any way with those who

  • Jayne Mansfield 6th May '14 - 12:30pm

    use religion as an excuse for their psychopathy. Islamists or radical Islamists still seems to link the terrorists to mainstream, peaceable followers of Islam.

  • Richard Dean 6th May '14 - 1:16pm

    @Jayne Mansfield.
    It’s certainly a serious problem, but Joe’s solution is to throw away our principles and be as lawless as the people we face. And a British Guantanamo will give an enormous boost to those who want to radicalize vulnerable people, making the UK more of a target than it is already. Will the electorate like that? Some other solution is needed.

  • Jayne Mansfield 6th May '14 - 3:22pm

    @ Richard Dean,
    So what is the other solution Richard ?

    In the short term, how is our government going to protect us?

  • As I have been at pains to point out the anti-terror measures are already being used by the coalition government – detention without trial, passport withdrawal, deprivation of citizenship from dual citizens (now proposed to be extended to naturalised citizens) and TPIM’s that are for all intensive purposes identical to Labours control orders – imposing a form of house arrest and bans on associating with other known terrorists or use of radical internet sites.
    Barring the return of known terrorists pending a period of rehabilitation does not require throwing away our principles – it merely requires prioritising the safety of potential victims over the inconvenience to those that have joined or otherwise supported proscribed terrorist groups.

    Richard becomes part of the problem with naive and lazy armchair rhetoric based not on the facts and the evidence before our eyes, but polemic for the sake of polemic; and hoping the problem will go away if only we are careful not to anger these terrorists. We are allowing terrorism to thrive by failing to act.

    There have been a series of plots by Islamists associated with the banned group Al Muhajiroun and its fellow organisations, Al Ghurabaa, Saved Sect, Islam4UK and the London School of Sharia. Associates have been imprisoned for planning attacks on Royal Wootton Bassett and a Territorial Army base in Luton.

    Lee Rigby’s stepfather was quite right to say “It’s not Islam that’s to blame,They’re using religion as an excuse for whatever they’ve been brainwashed with.”

    One in five of those convicted of Islamist-related terrorism offences between 2001-2011 in the UK was linked with the banned group Al Muhajirounm, that continues to exist under a series of different names. Since 2011, at least nine other people associated with it have been convicted of three further bomb plots. The leader of this group Anjem Choudary remains one of the most active and notorious hate-preachers in the country, commenting after the murder of Lee Rigby that the soldier will “burn in hellfire” and that Adebolajo is “a nice man”. As long as we fail to curb this kind of hate preaching that leads to radicalisation and fail to act decisively against known terrorists returning to this country, then Islamic terrorism will continue to thrive in the UK.

    I am pleased to see that our government and the US have offered assistance to the Nigerian government in finding and returning to their families the 270 schoolgirls abducted by Boko Haram. These vile Islamist groups are a scourge on humanity the world over and it is incumbent on any freedom loving people to aid muslim and non-muslim governments around the world in combatting this international evil.

  • Richard Dean 6th May '14 - 3:45pm

    @Jayne Mansfield

    My impression is that Joe’s panic has caused him to miss the point entirely. Islam isn’t a major threat, it’s a major opportunity. It’s a civilized religion which just needs to modernize, educate, and adapt to the modern concept of human rights and freedoms – certainly hard but certainly necessary. Islam underpins civil society in many parts of the world, and only the criminal would benefit from its collapse.

    But Islam is weak. The actions on Boko Haram in recent weeks cannot possibly be regarded as consistent with Islam. They show instead how it has been possible for people to confuse their own selfish desires with the will of Allah. Islamic leaders need to start leading, and we need to help them.

    Given that a UK Guantanamo is unacceptable, ineffective, traumatic for the population as well as detainees; and given that refusing entry to British citizens is likely to be illegal as well as achieving nothing, I suggest that a first and fundamental principle in seeking a short term solution

  • Richard Dean 6th May '14 - 3:52pm

    … is to work with Islamic leaders and within civilized law and within the concepts of human rights and freedoms that we seek to support.

  • Richard,

    as noted above – naive and lazy armchair rhetoric based not on the facts and the evidence before our eyes, but polemic for the sake of polemic; and hoping the problem will go away. There is no suggestion of a British Guantanamo – these are not POW’s, they are British nationals, subject to British Law, that can be tried in British courts.

    There is nothing in the article or a single commentator on this thread that suggests Islam is a major threat – on the contrary it is represented as part of the solution to combating the impact of a warped ideology that usurps the Islamic religion to its own end. Anti-terror legislation is within the gift of parliament as is resurrecting the provisions of the Foreign Enlistment Act of 1870 to deal with the immediate issue of British Citizens enlisting with proscribed terrorist organisations overseas and who are unwilling to undergo a period of rehabilitation and reintegration prior to their return to the UK.

  • Jayne,

    “I have to confess t that I actually believed that Labour’s control orders were also good thing. I was prepared to believe the findings of the Liberal Democrat Peer Lord Carlile.”

    While control orders have gone, the Government has retained the right to reintroduce more stringent measures in situations it deems an emergency. As a result of this position, and in response to the Counter-Terrorism Review’s conclusion that, “there may be exceptional circumstances where it could be necessary for the Government to seek parliamentary approval for additional restrictive measures”, the Government has prepared the ETPIMs Bill. This Bill would introduce an additional security measure which could be placed on individuals: the Enhanced TPIM (ETPIM).

    ETPIMs are distinct from TPIMs. An individual cannot be subject to both a standard and an Enhanced TPIM simultaneously and the conditions that must be met before the Government can impose an Enhanced TPIM are more stringent than under the current regime. There is much correlation between the operation and policing of TPIMs and ETPIMs (as there is between TPIMs and the former control orders), but ETPIMs are generally tougher, both in terms of the restrictions to liberty an individual under an ETPIM would face, and in the threshold the Government must meet before an ETPIM can be imposed on an individual. ETPIMs differ from standard TPIMs in the following ways:

     – A strengthening of the legal test to be met before imposition from “reasonable belief” under a TPIM to “balance of probabilities” under an ETPIM;
     – Under an ETPIM, the Secretary of State could impose a curfew for up to 16 hours on an individual. Under the existing TPIM Act an individual can only be compelled to reside overnight at a specified residence;
     – ETPIMs allow a complete—as opposed to partial—ban on electronic communication devices;
     – Individuals under an ETPIM can be prohibited from entering a defined area and from associating with any individual without the Secretary of State’s prior permission; and
     – The Bill would allow the Secretary of State to require an individual to reside at any residence specified by the Government (i.e. relocation), unlike the existing TPIMs Act, which makes no such allowance.

  • Jayne Mansfield 7th May '14 - 3:49pm

    @ Joe Bourke,
    Thank you for taking the time and trouble explaining that to me.

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