Sunday, August 13, 2006

Terrorism, foreign policy and accountability

The events of Thursday served as a timely reminder that there will probably never again be a time where the threat of a major terrorist incident is not a routine part of British life. Although you could argue that we have never lived in such a world: after all, it wasn’t so long ago that London and other UK cities were frequent targets for the IRA. But the threat we face now is an altogether different animal. The IRA, at least, had a political face (of sorts), a stated, tangible objective and, more often than not, gave an advance warning to clear the targeted area of civilians before detonating their bombs. Now the biggest domestic threat we face is predominantly home grown and wishes to inflict the highest death count possible in the name of medieval religious fanaticism. Was anybody surprised to learn that the people arrested in those police raids are all British citizens? After 7/7, I certainly wasn’t.

What is attracting young British Muslims to such murderous ideology? Many speak of the ‘alienation’ they feel, but why should it be more acute in this particular minority? Where are the Sikh suicide bombers? The Hindus? The Buddhists? The Mormons? There are fewer barriers to integration in British society than ever before and racism, while still undoubtedly a problem, is far less common in the UK than in many other countries in Europe. Look at France, where racism manifests itself in many more pernicious ways than here (they only got their first black TV newsreader this year – it was a huge national story), and they have the largest Muslim population on the continent. Last year saw the huge outbreaks of riots by a frustrated and dispossessed underclass, but still no suicide bombers in their midst. Moreover, a far higher percentage of French Muslims place their national identity before their religious affiliation than here in Britain. According to a recent Pew poll of Muslims worldwide, 81% of Muslims in the UK identify themselves by their religion above their country of residence; in France the figure was 46%. Only in Pakistan was this figure higher than the UK, AT 87%.

Meanwhile, British Muslim groups (among them, three Muslim MPs) have written to the Prime Minister calling for a reassessment of British foreign policy towards the Middle East which, they claim, is exacerbating unrest and putting British lives in danger. Well, British foreign policy over the last five years has been predominantly a response to post-9/11 reality, so this would appear to be a cart-before-horse situation. I’d take this letter a lot more seriously if it unequivocally condemned the actions of Muslim extremists who see the murdering and maiming of civilians as a divine mission. If it showed some sort of commitment to tackling the cancer within their own faith. But there is no mention of this, other than the bland platitude that “Attacking civilians is never justified”. Moreover, while urging the PM to “do more to fight against all those who target civilians with violence, whenever and wherever that happens”, it doesn’t occur to them that the Prime Minister believes he is pursuing such a strategy. They clearly disagree with the methods employed, but offer no alternative vision, nor any clarification of how a change to British foreign policy might make any difference to the civil war that is raging within the Islamic faith between the forces of moderation and the deranged fantasists intent on killing all non-believers. Foreign Office minister Kim Howells has responded to the letter, calling it ‘facile’. I’d go one further and say they are making a casual assumption and dressing it up as fact that there is a direct link between government policy and young men blowing themselves up. Such an argument is dangerous and counter-productive. This critique of British foreign policy seems to be based purely on the war in Iraq and Afghanistan too, both comparatively recent events. This leader in The Observer was a surprise to read, arguing (correctly) that there is no ‘war against Islam’ being raged by Britain and the United States and that, in fact, two of the highest profile international policies of the last ten years were undertaken to protect Muslims: the NATO interventions in the Balkans to protect Muslims from genocide in Bosnia and Kosovo (something that Tony Blair was instrumental in, to his credit); and the ongoing diplomatic efforts of the Clinton administration to forge a workable peace settlement between Israel and the Palestinians. Neither of which made any difference to the planning and implementation of 9/11, so where is the evidence of a link between foreign policy and Islamic terrorism there? Such acts have occurred and will continue to occur regardless of British and American foreign policy. Any claim to the contrary is specious in the extreme.

Going back to that Pew poll, another interesting statistic is shown: only 22% of the British Muslims polled want to adopt national customs, 64% wish to remain distinct from society. This is the real problem here. Far from being ‘alienated’ from the rest of the country, nearly two-thirds of Muslims in the UK wish to live exclusively in their own communities amongst followers of their own faith, and to resist the characteristics of life in a modern liberal democracy. Another failing of the orthodoxy of modern multiculturalism.

Lord Stevens, the former commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, has today written in the News of the World that the issue of Islamic terrorism is a problem for the Muslim community to deal with, and that it is time to take some ownership. These words will undoubtedly provoke cries of anguish from politically correct mandarins, but there is a lot of truth to his argument. This is not to condemn the entire Muslim community in this country – far from it. But the best way to stamp out this kind of extremism is within the very communities from which they emerge. Based on the hand-wringing letter sent to the prime minister by senior members of the Muslim community, we are a long way from seeing that happening.


Devil's Advocate said...

Lord Stevens' article - harsh though its language was - I would be lying if I said it did not speak what I have been thinking.

Anonymous said...

Well informed and very thought provoking. I really enjoyed reading this.


ph said...

Ah the wonders of multiculturalism - which of course we have to celebrate!!!!.
I think that in any population there is a a small number of (mainly young men) who have it within them to commit atrocities in the name of some ideal or other. In most cases the society they exist within exerts a pressure that stays their hand until they mature and find that growing chrysantamums is more appealing.
Unfortunately it seems that within Islam this pressure is not always there. This is where the host community (British) should have stepped in to teach their values, where needed, but unfortunately the hand-ringing Liberals would never have allowed that. Their view was that the dominant community should change its behaviour to accommodate the views of the minority, rather than the minorities change their behaviour to fit in with the views of the majority.

Citizen Sane said...

Much of that Lord Stevens article was fair comment. I don't agree with profiling though - it would just foster even more resentment and, more importantly, create a loophole for terrorists to exploit.

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