Tag: theresa may

Why religion can’t be absolved of all responsibility for violence

By Daniel Margrain

Stock photo of surveillance cameras

In light of the recent spate of terror attacks, it’s worth reminding readers to this blog of a speech that former UK Prime Minister, David Cameron made in Birmingham a year ago this month. The speech, which was ostensibly low on substance and high on rhetoric, unveiled what could loosely be termed as a less than coherent strategy to tackle Islamist extremism. Cameron’s nonsense would have almost certainly gone down well with many of his core Friends of Israel Tory MPS, some of whose constituents have left the UK to fight for Israel against the occupied and oppressed Palestinian’s whilst others have gone to fight alongside the Kurdish Peshmerga.

Are we ever likely to have a future UK Prime Minister talking condescendingly to the Jewish community in the Golder’s Green district of North London about strategies to tackle Jewish-Zionist extremism? Moreover, is a future leader likely to debate in leafy Surrey, the Christian-Zionist fundamentalism of Blair and Bush which resulted in the deaths of at least half a million Iraqi’s on the basis of a pack of lies? The questions of course are rhetorical since we know the answer.

Unlike the Tory-voting wealthy middle classes and Friends of Israel, mostly anti-Tory Muslims within a de–industrialized urban landscapes like Birmingham are regarded as political fair game for Tory shenanigans. Ignoring many of the causal factors that drive a small minority of mainly young Muslims to ISIS, such as the Wests endless wars in Muslim lands, Cameron outlined the Tory five-year vision to defeat home-grown extremism. The former PM set out four major areas that needed attention: countering the ‘warped’ extremist ideology, the process of radicalisation, the ‘drowning-out’ of moderate Muslim voices and the ‘identity crisis’ among some British-born Muslims.

The then PM spoke about the need to enforce British values citing “equal rights regardless of race, sex, sexuality or faith” as a core aspect of these values despite the fact that he voted in support of the homophobic Clause 28 as recently as 2003. Cameron then claimed that Islamic extremism can have nothing to do with Western intervention since the invasion of Iraq came after 9/11. He appears to be unaware of a century of imperial intervention before that. In the Tories vision ISIS popped out of thin air. It had nothing to do with a vacuum left as a direct result of US-British intervention in Iraq.

The most hypocritical thing is how the establishment pick and choose their Muslims. A well-worn narrative is that Muslims are incapable of coping with modern values. However, a succession of British Foreign Secretaries – including the latest, the pathological liar, Philip Hammond – are only too happy to be photographed and dined alongside the Saudi royal family who don’t accept any of the values the establishment call British. And when the likes of the current PM, Theresa May, talk about the British values we should accept, she’s not talking about the values her lot used to build an empire on.

In his speech, Cameron went on to conflate what British values were not by referencing forced marriage and female genital mutilation. The implication being that these manifestations of ‘un-Britishness’ are unique to Muslim culture which of course they are not. “No more turning a blind eye on the basis of cultural sensitivities”he said. Fine! I’ll now wait in eager anticipation for a similar speech by Theresa May to the Jewish community in Stamford Hill.

Cameron continued, “I want to work with you to defeat this poison [of Islamist extremism]”he said. Presumably, ‘defeating’ ISIS doesn’t involve the counterproductive action of bombing to smithereens yet more innocent civilians as the justification for mission creep or unconditionally supporting the Sunni authoritarian regimes, the ideology and funding of which helped spawn the likes of Al-Qaida and ISIS in the first place.

The one (unintended) positive that emerged from his speech was when he talked about the differentiation between Islamist extremism on the one hand, and Islam the religion, on the other. As such he brought into focus the wider questions regarding the differing interpretations seemingly inherent to religious doctrine.

Jon Snow of Channel 4 News quoted the Muslim Council of Great Britain saying:

“We need to define tightly and closely what extremism is rather than perpetuate a deep misunderstanding of Islam and rhetoric which invariably facilitates extremists to thrive.”

Do we know what Islamic extremism is exactly? Is there a distinction between Islam and extremism peddled in the name of Islam? Can a distinction be made between the Wahabbi version of Islam in Saudi Arabia and extremism? Surely the former is indistinguishable from the latter?

In order to tackle the problem associated with certain extremist interpretations of Islam, it makes sense to want to tackle the problem at source. But crucially, this was the aspect missing from Cameron’s speech. For if he was to highlight it, he would have been cutting off his nose to spite his face. That’s because Britain has a an extremely cozy relationship with the oppressive totalitarian states’ of the Arab Gulf Peninsula, all of whom without exception, adhere to the extremist theocratic Islamic ideologies.described but nevertheless represent extremely good business for Great Britain PLC.

Is it the duty of Muslims living, in say, Birmingham to defend other Muslims living, in say, Baghdad? Conversely, can the killing of innocent people in Western liberal democracies’ ever be considered justifiable on the basis that theoretically the populations within these nations often elect governments’ who initiate wars of aggression against Muslims in their name? Can violent acts in these circumstances ever be justified? Does this, in the minds of extremists, justify Jihad against Westerners by Muslims irrespective of where either reside in the world?

Some moderate Muslims like Baroness Warsi insist that Jihad is about “self-improvement, self-evaluation, questioning injustice and being prepared to raise your voice when you see injustice.” This contrasts with the more extreme interpretation of Jihad in which external factors like the taking of arms are seen as the precursor to the kind of self-evaluation outlined by Warsi. How can these seemingly irreconcilable differences be reconciled?

One of the main problems that needs to be addressed, but tends to be constantly evaded, relates to the contradictory aspect of religion itself. Christians, Jews and others of all denominations will often claim piety with one hand but adopt the role of arm-chair generals holding a metaphorical grenade with the other. Moreover, irrespective of whether one is a follower of ISIS, or whether one is a part of the vast majority of the wider Muslim community of Sunni or Shia, all groups and sects will self-identify with, and hence, claim they are the true representatives of Islam and all will justify their opposing positions by cherry-picking appropriate verses from their religious book.

These contradictory positions, in turn, are exploited politically by racists and Islamophobes. Islamophobia is not just a human reaction to cultural difference. It has been purposely perpetuated as a result of the politicisation of religion of which the creation of an Islamophobia industry is a reflection. The governments Prevent Strategy and the policies of the Henry Jackson Society are integral to the functioning of this industry. Cage, the London-based advocacy organisation, wrote of the Prevent strategy:

“Prevents causal analysis and theory is fundamentally flawed. According to the strategy, the cause of violence in the Muslim world is rooted in ideology. Whereas in reality the cause is the political struggle of Muslims in response to unrepresentative regimes, often aided by Western policy and occupations.”

This assessment appears to be consistent with the analysis of Stephen Holmes, who in relation to the attacks on New York and the Pentagon, implied that the goal of ISIS and Al Qaida is no different from other national liberation movements – to achieve independence by forcing the imperialist powers to retreat:

“The vast majority of Bin Laden’s public statements provide secular, not religious, rationales for 9/11. The principal purpose of the attack was to punish the ‘unjust and tyrannical America’. The casus belli he invokes over and over again is injustice not impiety. True, he occasionally remarks that the United States has declared war on god, but such statements would carry little conviction if not seconded by claims that the United States is tyrannising and exploiting Muslim people… Bin Laden almost never justified terrorism against the West as a means for subordinating Western unbelievers to the true faith. Instead, he almost always justified terrorism against the West as a form of legitimate self-defence.”

According to Holmes then, whilst political objectives maybe expressed in religious terms, in essence, the goal of ISIS/Al Qaida is the same as previous secular-nationalist movements in the Middle East—the defeat of US imperialism and its allies in the region.

However, as I will outline below, to claim that that all instances of jihadist violence do not have religious rationales is misleading. Nevertheless, the anti-Muslim ideology of the right-wing Henry Jackson Society, alongside the creation of the illiberal Prevent Strategy, meant that the establishment have been quick to exploit the media’s often sensationalist reporting as well as the fear and panic Muslim’s generate for their own narrow political propaganda purposes.

The former, for example, set up Student Rights which produced a report that manufactured panic around gender segregation on campuses. Cameron weighed in. Though strangely he never spoke about gender segregation at Eton. Catherine Heseltine of the Muslim Public Affairs Committee UK spoke of how growth in the fear of Islam has gone along with policies pushed by governments. She said:

“Immediately after 9/11 only 10 percent of people in Britain saw Islam as a religion as a threat…Since then that figure has just about tripled.”

According to Bob Ferguson, teacher and convener for Newham Stand Up Against Racism, since the passing of the Counter-Terrorism and Security Act in February last year, Islamophobia has been taken to a new level. Teaching staff at universities and schools now have a statutory duty to report people who may be vulnerable to “Islamic non-violent extremism”. One clause that is particularly pernicious, requires teachers and lecturers to report discussions on ‘Grievances to which terrorist organisations claim to have a solution’. That one clause wipes out any possibility of discussing imperialism.

Ferguson says :

“There was a minute’s silence for the victims of the beach attack in Tunisia. All the Muslims I know at my school thought those murders were a vile, reactionary crime. Many also regard the slaughter of three boys playing football on the beach in Gaza by Israel as a vile, reactionary crime. Expressing the first sentiment proves you are a good Muslim, but expressing the second could get you seen as an extremist.”

In conclusion, the issues are complex and multifaceted and not one aspect by itself is the reason why some young people join up with groups like ISIS. Although many moderates would deny to their last breath the religious rationale that underpins the violence of groups like ISIS and Al Qaeda, these groups would make similar claims against them. Whether moderate and peaceful Muslims disagree with their violent counterparts is a moot point since all groups self-identify as Muslims and justify their respective actions as Muslims based on the interpretation of passages contained within the holy book.

In Iraq, religious Sunni/Shia sectarian violence was unleashed following the illegal allied invasion of that country. Saddam had kept a lid on it up until that point. That’s just one example where religion is a major contributory cause of violence. Similarly, Zionist Jews justify continued illegal settlement building predicated on the Biblical imperative, and Bush and Blair were alleged to have got down on their knees in the name of their Christian God prior to the invasion of Iraq.

Some religious followers who interpret their books literally, cherry pick certain violent quotes from them in order to justify to themselves their beliefs, mainly for political purposes. This is true of religious extremists whether they be Salafist Muslims, Zionist Jews or Christian fundamentalists.

 

 

Addressing the motivations that drive Islamist obscurantists will help defeat them

By Daniel Margrain

Motivation guides behaviors

“The first step to combating Isis is to understand it. We have yet to do so. That failure costs us dear.” (Anthropologist, Scott Atran).

The murder of 85-year-old parish priest, Father Jacques Hamel during morning mass in Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray,  northwest of Paris, by two adherents to the religious-based cult ISIS was yet another illustration of not only the depravity that this cult represents, but of the failure of domestic and international strategy of governments to deal with them. The lesson from almost a decade and a half of fighting terror with bombs is that the strategy has been an epic failure.

After the mass killings by ISIS in Paris, each subsequent attack on French soil has been marked by familiar-sounding televised addresses of condemnation of the perpetrators by president, Hollande followed by a determination to defeat them militarily. Meanwhile, French foreign policy in the Middle East continues along the same trajectory, presumably based on the premise that only through fighting fire with fire will the war against ISIS be won.

However, it would appear that with the exception of world leaders like Hollande and Britain’s Theresa May, most rational thinking people believe this eventuality to be an unrealistic proposition. ISIS are not like a traditional army and therefore can’t be fought as though they are one. Indeed, it’s the unpredictability and the random nature of their attacks in an era of globalisation which transcend the limitations associated with the traditional armies embedded within the structure of the nation-state, that sets them apart.

Although repeating the same failed foreign policy objectives undertaken by state actors in order to address the threat posed by an international terror network and ‘lone-wolf’ killers may be regarded as a sign of insanity by most, it nevertheless doesn’t appear to deter those who are motivated by the need to satisfy the financial interests of the lobbyists who profit from war.

Although it is widely understood that bombs and drones are counterproductive, it’s perhaps less understood that the establishment appear to want it that way on the basis, it would seem, that terrorist retaliation justifies the further use of bombs and drones. Ken Livingstone was surely correct in his analysis on BBCs Question Time programme last November when he suggested that bombing Raqqa will play into the hands of ISIS from a propaganda perspective enabling them to bolster their number of recruits on the back of it.

Indeed, it is clear that the aim of the religious-based cultists is to provoke an international bombing campaign precisely in order to achieve this objective. The ‘strategy’ of indiscriminate bombing of transnational ‘targets’ as a means of ending the cycle of terrorism and counter-terrorism is a policy of despair. What is needed is a total rethink that involves, in the first instance, a serious attempt at addressing the ideological motivations that drive ISIS as an organisation as well as the reasons why mainly young people are driven into the hands of this murderous cult.

The motivations seem to be varied and complex, embracing historical, theological, psychological and ideological factors. The first of these relates to the injustices meted out to the people of the region by the imperial powers. These injustices primarily originate from a series of secret meetings during World War 1 in London and Paris between the French diplomat, François Georges-Picot and the British politician, Sir Mark Sykes.

During these meetings, straight lines were drawn on a map of the middle east intended to effectively outline the control of land that was to be divided between the two countries. The French were to get Syria, Lebanon and parts of northern Iraq, while the British decided on southern Iraq, Jordan and Palestine. The idea was that instead of giving independence to the Arabs which was promised following the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, the imperial powers would run them on their behalf.

The ensuing chaos has largely stemmed from this agreement. What drives ISIS is their need to fill power vacuums in a post-colonial world in which the artificial imperial borders created by Sykes-Picot are collapsing. Robert Fisk made the astute point that the first video ISIS produced was of a bulldozer destroying the border between Syria and Iraq. The camera panned down to a piece of paper with the words “End of Sykes-Picot” written on it.

The wider “Arab Awakening,” as Fisk puts it, represents a rejection of the history of the region since Sykes-Picot during which time the Arabs have been denied freedom, dignity and justice. According to Fisk, ISIS is a weapon that’s not primarily aimed at the West but at the Shia which the Sunni Gulf States’ want to keep at bay. This explains why the funding for ISIS is principally coming from the Sunni states’ of Saudi Arabia and Qatar.

The possibility of closer U.S-Iranian ties in the future will likely result in pressure being put on these states’ to ‘switch off’ their funding to ISIS which Fisk claims was one of the main topics of discussion at the Geneva nuclear talks between the two countries. A couple of months ago, the goal of ISIS was to maintain the Caliphate, but they now realize that this objective is in jeopardy. Consequently they are attempting to re-organise. This involves them reverting back to a guerilla-style organisational structure. The purpose of directly commanded attacks, is to prove to their followers throughout the world that despite the set-backs described, they still remain a strong fighting force.

French-American anthropologist, Scott Atran, widens the net further by suggesting that the young are motivated more by excitement and a sense of belonging than theology or political ideology:

“When you look at young people like the ones who grew up to blow up trains in Madrid in 2004, carried out the slaughter on the London underground in 2005, hoped to blast airliners out of the sky en route to the United States in 2006 and 2009, and journeyed far to die killing infidels in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen or Somalia; when you look at whom they idolize, how they organize, what bonds them and what drives them; then you see that what inspires the most lethal terrorists in the world today is not so much the Koran or religious teachings as a thrilling cause and call to action that promises glory and esteem in the eyes of friends, and through friends, eternal respect and remembrance in the wider world that they will never live to enjoy…. Jihad is an egalitarian, equal-opportunity employer: …fraternal, fast-breaking, thrilling, glorious, and cool.”

Atran posits that the appeal of ISIS seems to be their offering of a Utopian society and the sense of belonging and empowerment that the religious obscurantists claim is lacking in Western society. The narrative is a future of peace and harmony, at least, under their interpretation, but with the recognition that brutality is also needed to get there.

The underlying aspect of this Utopianism is the retreat from the kind of unconditional freedom where many young people feel pressured into certain social actions, towards a different kind of freedom free from ambiguity and ambivalence that, for those concerned, enhances a form of creativity that restraint helps nurture. ISIS exploits this dichotomy by outlining a way towards significance in a society that treats the alienated as insignificant.

Maajid Nawaz depicts ISIS as akin to a brand that in order to be defeated needs to be discredited as part of a long-term strategy. This involves the creation of alternative narratives and the engendering of alternative forms of belonging and identity. Nawaz argues that the mission statement, as part of a generational struggle, has to be that the kind of obscurantist ideology that ISIS adhere to, is made as un-appealing as Stalinism or Hitler fascism is today. “We’ve got to be careful that we don’t become fixated about destroying the organization itself as part of a long-term strategy, but rather to focus on destroying the ISIS brand”, he says.

Irrespective of whether the discourse emanates from either the left or the right of the political spectrum, Nawaz argues that it needs to be more nuanced than has hitherto been the case:

“We seem to focus too much on binary approaches which on the one hand suggest that no problem exist within Islam [the perspective of many within the political left], or on the other, where all Muslims are perceived as the problem [the perspective of the far-right]. I would argue that to address the root problem we need to find a pathway between sensationalism and denialism.”

This approach will surely need to be run alongside a recognition by Western governments that their foreign policy strategies are not working. Instead of spending billions on ineffectual and counterproductive war, the money would be far better spent on effective prevention programmes on the ground. This could involve, as middle east scholar Ed Husain has argued, employing former jihadists to reach out to help educate young people about the dangers of ISIS and other extremists.

At some point, channels of communication will have to be opened up with radical Muslim groups who are willing to engage with experts outside the Muslim world to come to some kind of compromise agreement. This might even involve the formation of an Caliphate-type enclave based on ISIS lines. What is certain is the current path we are on is the wrong one.

The lack of any meaningful attempt to implement an effective strategy to weaken or destroy radical Islamism is self-evident. Ideologies cannot be defeated by bombs. Any U.S insistence that it’s dictatorial regional allies and proxies – Saudi Arabia and Qatar – deplete ISIS of funds, will go a long way to achieving desired short-term goals.

The West might have to come to terms with making a short-term pact with the devil as part of a long-term strategy that undercuts the kind of psychological and ideological motivations that drive young people into the arms of religious obscurantists in the first place.

 

 

Why Trident is a useless waste of public money

By Daniel Margrain

Monday evenings vote by the UK parliament to renew the Trident nuclear weapons programme which is planned to begin in the early 2030s at an estimated cost of £205 billion, speaks volumes about the malaise at the heart of British parliamentary democracy. The disconnect between Labour members and the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP) is, in part, indicative of this broader schism in liberal social democracy more generally.

This is highlighted, for example, by the fact that the democratically-elected leader of the Labour party, Jeremy Corbyn, who commands a 20 point lead over his rival, Owen Smith in the renewed challenge to his leadership set for September, voted against the renewal of Trident, while 60 per cent of Labour MPs, the vast majority of whom are opposed to Corbyn’s leadership, voted in favour.

The replacement of the current stock of nuclear submarines is predicated on the 2006 White Paper, The Future of the United Kingdom’s Nuclear Deterrent, which asserts that the UK needs nuclear weapons in order:

to deter and prevent nuclear blackmail and acts of aggression against our vital interests that cannot be countered by other means.

The assumed logic underpinning this reasoning is that nuclear weapons provide states with the protection they need against potential adversaries. On the basis of this reasoning, it is impossible to avoid the conclusion that theoretically and, as an issue of consistency, every state should be allowed to obtain nuclear weapons. But contrary to state propaganda, this eventuality will inevitably make the world less, not more, safe. As Caroline Lucas eloquently and succinctly put it when she addressed PM, Theresa May, during the parliamentary debate:

“If keeping and renewing our nuclear weapons is so vital to our security and safety, does she accept the logic of that position must be that every other single country must seek to acquire nuclear weapons? And does she really think that the world would be a safer place if it did? Our weapons are driving proliferation, not the opposite.”

One only needs to look at the example of Iraq, which was attacked on the basis that Saddam was said to have had in his possession a functioning weapons programme that could be used to attack Britain within 45 minutes, in order to underline the truth of Lucas’ argument.

Secondly, both the Conservative and New Labour establishments’ claim that the Trident system is an ‘independent’ nuclear deterrent doesn’t stand up to scrutiny either. The reality is that Britain is currently only one among nine states ­in the world that does not possess an independent functional nuclear weapons system and the means to deliver it.

The notion then, that a U.S-supplied UK missile system is free to strike any target in the world is fanciful, particularly as its functionality is dependent upon the vagaries of US-UK relations at any given time. Of course, all of this is underscored by the fact that under the terms of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty Britain has an obligation to disarm.

The third illustration why Trident renewal is unsound, relates to the nature of the threats societies’ face in the 21st century. The 2015 National Security Strategy sets out the tier-one threats faced by the UK. These are international terrorism, climate change and cyber-crime. The obvious reality is that nuclear weapons are not a deterrent against any of these threats. How is it the case that over 180 countries in the world don’t feel the need to acquire this ‘deterrent’?

As the governments own Strategic Defence Review suggests, the threat of nuclear war is rated a two-tier level risk below international terrorism, climate change and cyber crime. It’s precisely because we live in an uncertain world where more countries aspire to get nuclear weapons, that the opportunity for terrorists to get hold of nuclear material becomes greater. The fact that nuclear weapons make the world less safe is the central premise which determines an ongoing UN process involving some 130 countries who are engaged in discussions about banning nuclear weapons. Unsurprisingly, the UK government is not a party to these discussions.

The arguments for maintaining Trident fall like a house of cards whose foundations are built on sand. The theory that having nuclear weapons makes the country safer is an entirely unproven one, and nor can it be proven. In logic, one cannot prove a negative insofar that doing something causes something else not to happen. The reason why nuclear attacks haven’t happened since the U.S attack on Japan, may be the result of any number of factors, or simply may be due to exceptionally good fortune. Indeed, many military experts argue that nuclear weapons make the country less safe, primarily because it increases the likelihood of them being used.

Britain’s possession of nuclear weapons exacerbates uncertainties and leads to the very scenario it is designed to avoid. If Trident is so effective in protecting the British people, why is it also not the case for every other country in the world? How can the UK government possibly try to deny the right of other countries to acquire them under circumstances where the UK government upgrades its own nuclear weapons?

The one argument that the proponents of Trident renewal frequently cite is the supposed loss of jobs that would allegedly result from any decision to de-commission or not to renew Trident. But, as SNP MP Mhairi Black argued in an erudite and passionate speech to the House of Commons, there is no evidence to suggest, given any political will to examine likely alternative employment opportunities, that job losses would inevitably be the result in any decision not to renew.

The billions that the government is proposing to spend on Trident renewal could conceivably be spent on utilizing the skilled engineers, scientists and other workers elsewhere by investing in energy, engineering and other alternative specialist areas. In addition, greater sums could be invested in preventing climate change. This latter diversification alternative would, as Black emphazises, seem to be particularly pertinent given that climate change is a tier-one threat. The notion that the Trident renewal argument as a defence against a two-tier threat trumps the threat posed by climate change which is a tier-one threat, defies all logic. As Peter Hitchens put it:

“Trident is like spending all your money on insuring against alien abduction, so you can’t afford cover against fire and theft.”

Furthermore, the decision to renew is both counter-intuitive and counter-productive. This is because such a process, as Caroline Lucas contends:

“gives out an incredibly negative message to the rest of the world that if you want to be secure then you have to acquire nuclear weapons. To that extent this vote will drive nuclear proliferation.”

Britain’s nuclear weapons capability does nothing to tackle the real threats the country faces. Rather, it has more to do with augmenting the perception throughout the rest of the world that a faded imperial power is still a significant player on the world stage. Maintaining a nuclear ‘deterrent’ is, in other words, about sending a message to the rest of the world that the projection of power by any means is necessary. Central to maintaining this illusion, is the assurance that the UK secures its permanent member status on the UN Security Council. The Trident nuclear weapons programme serves no other purpose than to satisfy the ego of the British establishment and the propping up of the arms industry.

In the context of an era of welfare retrenchment and austerity, the public are constantly being told by politicians that ‘difficult decisions’ have to be made in terms of the ‘necessity’ to cut disability, unemployment benefits and pensions, while the spending of billions on Trident is essential for their safety and security. The conservative political commentator and television personality, Michael Portillo, manages to cut through the spin as the graphic below illustrates:

As Portillo correctly implies, spending obscene amounts on what are frankly useless, unnecessary and immoral weapons of mass destruction, is an indefensible act of self-serving and short-sighted political narcissism.