Islamic State’s ‘radicalized’ British volunteers: a useful threat?

I feel sorry for the Bradford husbands and other British Muslim families whose children and relatives have absconded to join Islamic State’s savage utopia, but I don’t feel any sympathy at all for the ‘radicalized’ volunteers themselves who have gone to Syria.  It isn’t as if you have to look very far to know what ISIS is like.

We are, after all,  talking about an organization that believes it has a divine right to rape women from religious minorities; that beheads and buries alive children and adults; that murders prisoners of war and hostages en masse in exemplary execution-spectacles; that recruits even eight year old children to carry out suicide bombings; that forces homosexuals to jump off buildings; that has casually wiped out even the most ancient historical artefacts and remains in its attempt to establish an Islamic year zero at the heart of Syria and Iraq.

All this has been done in plain sight, and no amount of ‘grooming’ can conceal facts that ISIS doesn’t even begin to hide, because it is actually proud of its barbarity.   In short, this is a gang of fanatics driven by bigotry and sectarian hatred, that rules through the gun, the knife and the whip, whose language is blood and death, and which has trampled even the most basic and elementary laws of mercy and decency in war and peace that humanity has evolved over thousands of years through various religious and secular traditions.  Such an organization deserves only universal contempt, and those who go and fight for it deserve the same.

All this doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t try to understand how this monster came into being, or the socio-psychological motivations that have attracted so many young men and women to such an inherently repulsive and malignant political phenomenon.  But there is an essential contradiction at the  British government’s clumsy, ineffective and increasingly authoritarian attempts to counter pro-ISIS ‘radicalization’ amongst British Muslims that rarely receives the analysis it deserves; namely, that in Syria at least, these ‘radicals’ are fighting on the same side as the government that is trying to prevent their radicalization.

This isn’t just an accidental or coincidental relationship originating from the fact that ISIS and the West have the common objective of overthrowing Assad.    ISIS receives logistical and financial support from the UK’s main allies in the Middle East.  From very early on in the Syrian conflict, US intelligence services regarded the creation of a ‘Salafist principality’ in Syria as a strategic asset.  There is abundant evidence to suggest that Western governments have provided weapons and training to same extremist pool that gave rise to ISIS’ current ‘principality.’

Earlier this month, this relationship flitted briefly through the mainstream media, when the Swedish jihadist Bherlin Gildo was acquited of terrorism charges at the Old Bailey, after his lawyers successfully argued that British intelligence agencies were providing weapons and ‘non-lethal’ help to the same ‘terrorist’ groups that he was allegedly supporting.

Gildo’s lawyers based their defence on the grounds that he was helping these unnamed rebel groups before the emergence of ISIS, and cited press articles referring to Western armed supplies to Syrian rebels in 2013 that suggested that the West was doing the same thing in the same period.  The notion of a cut-off point before and after ISIS is misleading; Gildo had apparently worked with Jabhat al-Nusra, an organization with a very similar ideology and modus operandi to Islamic State, which the crown prosecutor as a ‘proscribed group considered to be al-Qaida in Syria.’

The startling suggestion, in a British court, that British intelligence services had been assisting ‘al-Qaida in Syria’ ought to have raised a few questions about the UK government’s anti-extremism agenda, such as why the UK has been supporting some of the same groups that it has described as a threat to British national security.

These relationships are hardly a historical novelty.  Western governments have often collaborated with extremist jihadist groups that they have regarded as useful foreign policy tools, no matter how often these groups have bitten the hand that feeds them.  In Afghanistan in the 1980s, the US and its allies favoured the most violent and extreme mujahideen groups in order to ‘make Russia bleed.’  NATO’s allies in Libya also included individuals and militias that belonged to the al-Qaeda franchise.

For all the talk about a ‘moderate’ opposition in Syria, such groups have received similar support from the Middle Eastern states seeking Assad’s overthrow for the same reasons,  and these efforts have received the tacit or direct support from the same Western governments, including our own, that also want to bring Assad down.

Some might call this policy ‘shortsighted’, but it really isn’t.  It’s a question of priorities.  For the time being, the reactionary Sunni states of the Middle East see sectarian war against Shi’ism as a tool of counter-revolution and a geopolitical lever that can be used to counter Iranian influence.  This dovetails neatly with the West’s determination to ‘rollback’ any regime seen as a) a potential obstacle to Western strategic domination over the region’s resources b) an ally of Russia, China or Iran and c) as a threat to Israel.

Of course these ambitions may leave a trail of devastated states and potentially destabilising political chaos, in which organizations like ISIS and Jabhat al-Nusra can thrive. But that is a risk that our governments have clearly considered is ‘worth it’, as Madeleine Albright once said in a very different context but for very similar reasons, perhaps in the belief that the West and its allies will ultimately be able to reshape the wreckage in its favour.

So ISIS isn’t only a threat; it’s also a convenient threat.    Its savagery and barbarity acts as yet another justification for the endless projection of military force abroad, and a new domestic threat that can be politically mobilised to produce evermore authoritarian governance at home, and an increasingly McCarthyite attempt to eradicate a Muslim ‘fifth column.’

These are the calculations that have helped paved the way for the ISIS nightmare.   So let’s by all means talk about why young British Muslims are so drawn to an organization that ought to be an absolute pariah, but when we talk about ‘radicalization’ we ought to remember these ‘radicals’ may also have their uses – and not only for ISIS.

After Cage: 10 Steps to prevent ‘radicalization’

I’m grateful to the British media and political establishment for the typically rigorous, balanced, and honest debate that has taken place over the last week, which has now enlightened me about the true objectives of the Muslim advocacy organization Cage.  I now understand that Cage’s purpose was not to defend Muslims who may have been unjustly imprisoned or harassed as a result of the post-9/11 directives of the war on terror, but that its members are in fact closet jihadists and fellow-travellers with al-Qaeda.

Admittedly I had my doubts about whether Cage might be overstating its case in this instance.  But I now know that Cage’s admittedly tactically maladroit attempts to suggest that the radicalization of ‘Jihadi John’  may have been in part due to his treatment at the hands of the British security services meant that the organization was in fact  an ‘apologist for terrorism’ waging stealth jihad against the secret services who are trying to keep us all safe.  It’s now blindingly obvious to me, thanks to the Daily Mail‘s forensic investigative journalism, that its director Asim Qureshi is in fact a ‘very privileged apologist for evil’ whose only motive is to destroy the country that welcomed him.

I’m not the only one to be enlightened.  Because now the Joseph Rowntree Trust and the Anita Roddick Foundation have pulled their funding, following pressure from the Charities Commission, and Amnesty have said it will no longer participate in joint campaigns with Cage.

So thank you to all those who have removed the blindfold from my eyes and stripped away the delusions that I have had in the past.    And now that I can see again I would like to offer some modest proposals and principles by way of compensation,  to suggest how we might repair the terrible damage that Cage has already inflicted on our national community – and our national security – and prevent other organizations from taking advantage of my politically-correct naivete in the future:

  1. It should be understood as an absolute and unquestioned principle that Muslims never have been and can never be victims of state anti-terrorism policies under any circumstances.   At no point during these last fourteen years has any Muslim been unjustly arrested, extradited, imprisoned, tortured, harassed, blackmailed or subject to control orders.    Anyone who suggests otherwise should be immediately neutralised or shut down. The government should only engage with Muslim organizations that uncritically support British foreign policy and the British security establishment. Any criticism of either is unhelpful and divisive and hinders the attempts of the latter to keep us safe.
  2. Such organizations should be approved and vetted beforehand by a ‘de-radicalization committee’ made up of experts chosen for their deep understanding of terrorism, radicalization and the lived experience of Britain’s Muslim communities.  May I suggest Douglas Murray, William Shawcross, Nick Cohen, Maryam Namazie, Boris Johnson, and any representative of  the Quilliam Foundation.
  3. We should encourage the publication of memoirs, books and public statements by former Muslim radicals who have repented their extremist views, and ensure that they are checked by Whitehall officials beforehand and rewritten if these officials deem in necessary.
  4. We should increase funding to the Quilliam Foundation – an organization with massive and overwhelming support amongst the UK’s Muslim communities.
  5. We cannot and should not engage at any level with any ‘Islamist’ organization whose members may have religiously conservative or reactionary social views because it has been scientifically proven that these views lead inevitably to terrorism.   For this reason we should recognize that the Muslim Brotherhood is a terrorist organization or at least an ‘ideological precursor to terrorism’ and ban it.  Our liberal democratic allies in Egypt and Saudi Arabia both want us to do this, and we should do as they ask, because driving the Brotherhood underground will definitely help our outreach efforts with British Muslims both in the UK and beyond.
  6. We should be more assertive and even coercive in ensuring that British Muslims learn British values.  Suggestions that these values should be taught to Muslim toddlers don’t go far enough.   There is no reason why pregnant Muslim mothers shouldn’t also attend prenatal de-radicalization classes in which tapes of the Magna Carta and Churchill’s speeches can be played to their unborn children.   Anyone refusing to do this may be considered vulnerable to radicalization and susceptible to extremism.
  7. We should punish universities that invite ‘hate preachers’ to speak at their institutions, regardless of whether these speakers are doing anything illegal.   There is no more need to define  or explain ‘hate preacher’ than there is to define ‘hate’, ‘radicalization’ or ‘extremism’- the meaning of these words is self-evident and any attempts to impose an objective definition will only inhibit our efforts to prohibit them.
  8. We should transform all the organs of the state (schools, Ofsted, nurseries, job centres) into instruments of surveillance and regulation so that we may know what British Muslims are thinking and doing at all times, and immediately punish or exclude anyone who may be thinking thoughts that we don’t approve of.   These efforts should include a CCTV camera in every mosque.   Any complaints about the impact of these procedures should be ignored or perhaps taken as evidence of radicalization and extremism.
  9. We should create a website called ‘ I condemn…’ followed by the latest atrocity perpetrated by Islamic State or any other similar organization.   All Muslims must be obliged to click it.  Every Muslim neighborhood in the country should support these efforts with a public display of condemnation and anyone who fails to do this should be expected to explain themselves, otherwise their passivity may be regarded as evidence of radicalization and extremism
  10. Children who are in danger of being radicalized by their parents should be taken into care, as the mayor of London has wisely suggested.  They should then be fostered out to good British families while their parents are deported to where they or their grandparents came from.

These measures are only part of a blueprint that I hope will put an end to the climate of  division, suspicion, and false victimhood which has done so much to hinder our counterterrorism efforts over the last fourteen years, and will surely lead our country to a brighter, more hopeful and above all safer future, defined by the British values of rule of law, justice and democratic accountability.

I hope readers will accept these suggestions as a gesture of genuine repentance.

And by the way, just so you know, I also condemn Jihadi John.