Sunday 4 June 2017

Theresa May's Counter-Terrorism Shambles

It takes chutzpah to suspend national campaigning and then give a political speech about Saturday night's terror attack. But this is Theresa May and the modern Conservative Party has no qualms when it comes to turning a crisis into an opportunity. Naturally, May and her advisors are wily enough not to play the big P politics card but you have the genesis of a simple, touch-sounding black and white position they will use to browbeat voters into backing them as we enter the final stretch.

This morning May said "enough is enough", implying that Britain has been a soft touch for Islamist radicalism which, if that was the case, means she oversaw a dereliction of duty for the last seven years. But she doesn't mean that at all, it signifies a serious and potentially calamitous switch in direction when it comes to counter-radicalism and anti-terrorism. This is plain to see in all of her proposed four changes to policy. She said:
They [the terrorists] are bound together by the single evil ideology of Islamist extremism that preaches hatred, sows division and promotes sectarianism ... it will only be defeated when we turn people's minds away from this violence and make them understand that our values - pluralistic British values - are superior to anything offered by the preachers and supporters of hate.
Well, yes. But no. The problem is this comes from the Douglas Murray/Henry Jackson Society's Islamism for Dummies guide. As Murray is bound to say something on this topic again soon, we'll save up a polemic until then. For the time being, it is enough to note that showing off British values to a bunch of befuddled thugs and telling them they are superior to the idiocies of Islamism isn't going to work. May is firmly on the terrain of the ideas delusion, that ideas in terms of elaborate and sketched out ideologies are the prime motivators of jihad. Yes. No. Why does a minuscule subset of Muslims find these views compelling and convincing? What is it about them that makes sense according to their everyday life? How are emotions - anger, frustration, anxiety, companionship, hope - fermented by Islamist ideas into intoxicating zealotry? Why is it men, and young men in particular, are the ones carrying out acts of violence informed by this crackers creed? After all, no women have undertaken Islamist terrorism in the West. And what of those who turn to Islamism without becoming ideologues, without chowing down on the virgins-in-the-afterlife hook? Homing in on just the ideas effaces individual biographies of jihadis, of the material circumstances of their life and their positions in the fabric of social life. We make our own history, but not under the conditions of our choosing as someone once said. Focusing on just Islamism is tantamount to saying Islamists are Islamists because Islamism. Not helpful, and it doesn't bode well for May's first "change".

Her second argument flows from the first. Islamism should be denied the safe space it needs to incubate, and that means governments should work in tandem to "regulate cyberspace". She'll be calling for traffic stops and toll booths on the internet superhighway next. Retro (out-of-touch?) buzztalk aside, this is more evidence of the ideas delusion. Jihadi content is easy to access with a little bit of Google wizardry. The violent imagery and propaganda vids of IS certainly act as bridging tools for some would-be Islamists. However, it's not the case that an exposure to this material causes Islamists. If you start watching this stuff rooting for IS indicates something else has already gone on. Mobilising people for any kind of politics is a process. Ideas have efficacy if, as we've already noted, it speaks a truth about someone's individual existence. Of crucial importance are the networks and relationships one has, and real or imagined grievances. The reason jihadi propaganda slides off most people is because those things do not align. Indeed, for a large number of young people who watch them, IS propaganda vids are merely an edgy subset of gross out videos. In short, for all sorts of reasons governments want tighter control of the internet and bedroom radicalisation offers a handy pretext.

Third, May wants to take on the real world safe spaces in which Islamism thrives. That means more bombing abroad, because that is sure to kick away a grievance prop jihadism draws upon, and taking the fight to Islamism at home. She said "there is - to be frank - far too much tolerance of extremism in our country. So we need to become far more robust in identifying it and stamping it out across the public sector and across society." What on earth does this mean? Is she thinking about the Birmingham Trojan horse scandal, which was shown to be rubbish? Is she expecting educators to police the classroom to root out would-be jihadis from among the student body? And how about the safe space she reserves in Downing Street for delegations from Saudi Arabia, whose largesse for Wahhabism in the West is so well known that the EU officially regards it as the primary wellspring of Islamist terror. This is just incoherent and hypocritical nonsense playing to the gallery of newspaper editorials and the inchoate notion that "they", the public sector lefties, the cultural Marxists and the race relations professionals are destroying the fabric of Britain with liberal tolerance. Getting tough here is code for kicking experts and intellectuals, traditional hate figures for Tories and right wing hacks.

Her last pledge is to review the counter-terrorism strategy, which is just about the only thing I do agree with. Though you might have thought what with the security of the people at stake, this would be under constant monitoring and review. Therefore May would look at introducing new powers for the intelligence services and police, which takes us back to more monitoring, more surveillance. However, there is something very clearly missing from her pledge: more police. With 20,000 fewer coppers on her watch and firm refusal to rule out more recruitment or even further cuts, this is not a serious strategy for dealing with the problem. As former Met officer Peter Kirkham argued this afternoon, the government are lying about the number of armed officers and their funding, and no full well the removal of community constables has hampered the intelligence capabilities of our counter-terrorism efforts.

In short then, May's proposed strategy from the off is not interested in understanding the radicalisation process, thinks clamping down on the internet will fix it, and giving the security services new powers - and presumably new responsibilities - without reversing the cuts she personally oversaw and implemented. It's a bloody shambles, offers no improvements over what already exists that I can see, and one doomed never to work. A recipe that promises security, but will do nothing to stymie Islamism.


Speedy said...

The actual problem with Douglas Murray et al is that their debate is historical - yes Islam is different to Western society, yes this difference causes problems, and yes immigration is to blame, but that's done now. There is, literally, no going back.

The Left is also immersed in talking about history (both sides echo the adage of the British army - prepared to fight the last war) - they claim it wasn't the fault of immigration, and to say so makes you "racist" (their mindset stuck even further back to when most people were actually racist).

Equally, your clever-clever argument about ideas delusion seeks to make all ideas, and all religions, equal. But some ideas are more equal than others. What separates the children of Muslim immigrants from, say, Hindus, is the role of the idea not only in Heaven but here on Earth and how this shapes the environment they grow up in - one that strongly encourages the day-to-day "otherness" of others. it is also an idea which, unlike any other religion, integrates violence as part of its identity: the Arab Conquest remains a celebrated article of faith.

Within there is the personal context, without, the modern Western one. It is therefore inevitable that some young people will be dazzled by the "glamour" of violent Jihad. And, incidentally, this applies in Muslim societies as it does in Western ones (because few Muslim societies are entirely free of the "taint" of the West). The difference is that Muslim societies tend to accept the reality of this, whereas Christian ones refuse to do so.

Oh, and you're wrong about women and terrorism - plenty of women have been convicted in the West.

Phil said...

With you right up to the last sentence. "Islamism" per se only needs to be "stymied" if you're going down the Hitch/Dawkins rationalist route and denying that any religion has a place in public life. I think we should go the other way. An active, campaigning Muslim Democratic Party - whose programme would probably be a weird combination of anti-imperialism and social conservatism - would do more to delegitimate the jihadis, and demonstrate to British Muslims that this is their home, than any number of concerts. (Shame about Respect, really. Wrong leader, wrong cadre.)

Not only are Muslims not our enemy, Islamism is not our enemy - although it may well be our political opponent.

Ben Philliskirk said...

"An active, campaigning Muslim Democratic Party - whose programme would probably be a weird combination of anti-imperialism and social conservatism - would do more to delegitimate the jihadis, and demonstrate to British Muslims that this is their home, than any number of concerts."

How on earth is it an advantage for Muslims to be encouraged to isolate themselves politically from the rest of British society?

From the Muslim point of view it would put them in a political ghetto and be an easy target for the far-right. It could also provide a boost for parties trying to organise on British nationalist or 'ethno-religious' grounds.

For working-class people in general it would be a disaster by exacerbating any existing divisions within the working-class and putting Muslims even more firmly under the control of their own bourgeoisie, petty-bourgeoisie and religious figures.

Speedy said...

"whose programme would probably be a weird combination of anti-imperialism and social conservatism"

Voila - the racism of low expectations.

Robert said...

It's both because of Daesh impotency in general and their rapidly shrinking territory in particular as well as their hatred and fear of liberalism. It goes deeper than liberal democratic societies being so hard to recruit from. It is the flagrant ease with which we empower women, atheists and homosexuals etc and various other cultural aspects which are prohibited by the Koran. It is the success and popularity of what they oppose which so enrages and mystifies them.

Knowing they cannot appeal to more than a minority of misfits and those of limited intellect through argument they resort to violence. We don't obey their rules and assertions so they throw their toys out of the pram. Their actions are of course futile and Quixotic because their ambition to dominate everyone is unachievable as their motive is absurd.

On the 26th May a Daesh militant told a researcher:

"Their kufr against Allah is sufficient of a reason for us to invade and kill them. Only if they stop their kufr will they no longer be a target."

Our way of life is a conspicuous reminder of how the "kufr" is not going away and that the world is not organised according to their twisted interpretation of God's Will. Like any psychopath, sociopath or control freak they can't bear reality so they lash out. It points to how they are losing both the propaganda and military war and their sporadic and senseless attacks will change nothing.

We are not going to become a police state, most British people will not blame all Muslims and hedonism and libertarian social expression will continue to be pursued with enthusiasm. Not since the Puritan excesses of the Commonwealth and the repressive centuries of Roman Catholic sanctimony before them has enjoying yourself been so appropriate as an symbolic gesture of political expression!

Anonymous said...

"Why does a minuscule subset of Muslims find these views compelling and convincing?"

I'm not sure it is minuscule. The security services have identified something like 3,000 people they are particularly concerned about, with another 20,000 on the periphery. This isn't just a few nutters, but a very serious number of potential terrorists with a level of support that we should find deeply troubling.

If we are going to tackle this problem - and doing so means a mixture tough, focused and intelligent measures both here and abroad - then we first have to face up to exactly what is is and the scale of threat it poses.

May didn't hit all the right notes for sure, though I bet it went down well with large sections of the electorate. I'm not convinced Labour's response covered all the bases either, preferring to focus on Police numbers and possible funding from Saudi Arabia. Valid enough issues in themselves, but that wont cover it and some real honesty from us about the considerable challenge ahead would be very welcome.


MikeB said...

I'm not going to expand upon the reasons why encouraging religion-based political parties is both reactionary and mind-bogglingly foolish, on the assumption that commenter Phil was having some kind of temporary hallucination when he wrote that, and will soon be back to normal.

It's all very familiar, isn't it? With each new outrage, I find myself experiencing deja-vu from the days of the IRA's mainland bombing campaigns - internment without trial, racist commentary, an enemy within sheltered by a subculture hostile to the British way of life, the rhetoric of "no surrender". Based on that experience, we have a way to go yet before we see a government admit that policy based on violence to people and their rights (which means all our rights) is counterproductive.

Baden said...

I do feel more bombing/more terrorism from our government is done in the full knowledge that this will increase terrorism. There is overwhelming evidence for this. Be it from events, declassified documents, CIA statements etc.

Secular nationalism will continue to be crushed in favour of radical Islamism with 'our' help in order to uphold tyrants or install the previous regimes with new faces.

The nature of ISIS should not be the key focus but the 'real' conditions/circumstances by which it develops.

Sadly none of these three points form a dominant part of the discussion and are so far outside the media beltway that 'our' terrorism and 'their' terrorism will not only continue but flourish. Even more so should Mays proposals be adopted.