Wednesday 20 August 2014

What to do with British IS Fighters?

The execution of James Foley by a British-accented Islamic State fighter is utterly sickening. The murder of non-combatants is a war crime, but for ISIS, ISIL or whatever this bunch of barbaric thugs are calling themselves today, killing for mere propaganda underscores their nature as the world's most socially regressive movement. Historical parallels with the Nazis often obscure more than they highlight, which is why I avoid them as a rule. But I cannot help noting the similarity between IS and the brutality meted out in Russia by the Wehrmacht and the Einsatzgruppen following in their wake. The only real differences are IS are less efficient, and will spare "apostates" and "heathens" should they convert at gunpoint. Apart from that, an identity exists between the death squads of yesterday, and those running amok in Syria and Iraq now. Whether the black uniforms of the SS or the black flag of ISIL, this is humanity at its very worst, at its most appalling.

In the wake of Foley's murder, the Prime Minister said his government will redouble its efforts to dam the trickle of British IS sympathisers joining with them in their desert hell. Quite rightly, speaking for Labour Yvette Cooper points out how, like so many other things, the Tories slashed funding for anti-radicalism projects. Lax on security. Lax on the causes of insecurity, it would seem. Nevertheless, now the horse has bolted at least the government, in concert with France and the US, have belatedly woken up and are shipping arms to the Kurds. Yes, as I noted last week, the real reason might have more to do with UK geopolitical interests than ostensible humanitarian concerns. But acting in this instance, may well avert a blood-stained catastrophe. The struggle for socialism needs people, not dead people.

Tracking social media from the plains of Nineveh, British jihadis might take pride in being branded IS's "most brutal" - if pride wasn't a mortal sin, of course. Coming from a "decadent" nation and having led a "coddled" existence, at least compared with fighters from Middle Eastern states, these are men with something to prove. And should they be crushed militarily, some surviving units will find their way back home, understandably touching off another panic about Islamic terrorism and all the ugliness that entails. Hunting down and offing them might be popular among armchair generals and tabloid editors. It might even be unofficial policy already. But IS fighters aren't Pokémon. You're not gonna catch 'em all. Besides, summary execution is hardly an advert for British civilisation vs the IS barbarians anyway.

Similarly, the Tory right sentiment tending to the stripping of IS fighters of citizenship (demonstrated by this exchange) is stupid. It shows how far so-called libertarian sensibilities have colonised rightwing psyches. Just as they wish to divest business of any kind of responsibility to the very workforce that makes them their money, so they want to jettison any responsibility Britain has to citizens who fight and commit crimes under an enemy flag. Apparently, stripping IS Brits of their rights is entirely justifiable. Really. Declaring an IS fighter stateless isn't going to do anything but keep them in the field. Is that in anyone's interest but IS? Yes but no but. What they have in mind is the removal of due process for captured fighters because, apparently, it's really hard to prove who did what in a war zone. We don't want to run the risk of highly dangerous individuals running around our cities because a case couldn't be proven. This argument doesn't wash. At a time when celebrities are getting successfully prosecuted for sex offences committed decades ago on the basis of probabilities, I am quite sure a jury of peers is more than able to sit in judgement on cases of British IS war crimes. Not that that matters. What they want is a rerun of internment, of removing rights to allow for a UK Guantanamo Bay because this is being seen to be tough on British jihadis. That it wouldn't work is so much a minor point, as is the possibility our hypocrisy would add fuel to radical Islam's fire.

My favoured method is the standard method. The arrest and prosecution of suspected fighters, followed by lengthy prison sentences. I argue for this because British jurisdiction recognises that wherever in the world a UK citizen commits a crime, they are liable for it under the law. In other words, our legal system recognises that Britain has a responsibility to the rest of the world for its citizens. Dragging back British jihadis, giving them a fair trial, and locking them up is about the best way we have of removing them from circulation without generating more grievances and more radicalisation. When dealing with a barbarism that, unfortunately, was tempered on these shores, it's all the more important we keep clear heads and stick with sound principles.


Chris said...

When a British Zionist goes to Israel to take part in the massacres of Palestinians the British do nothing (other than sell arms).

When the British Islamists went over to fight Assad, liver eaters and all, the British told the fighters to be careful and not hurt themselves!

When the British slaughtered close to a million Iraqi's and destroyed that country and turned it into the model nation it is today I think it takes quite a bit of front to call for the British to now take the moral high ground!

Imperialism has ensured that the Middle East is a regressive and divided place. Every effort at progressive development (e.g. Arab Nationalism) has been ruthlessly destroyed by imperialism, all for it's own greed and lust for supremacy.

Is it too much to ask that the West shut the fuck about what to do with Iraq!

Robert said...

Could someone explain the difference between the hand chopping head cutting barbarians in Iraq that we are taking action against now and the hand chopping head cutting barbarians in Syria that we were covertly supporting last year?

If Cameron and Hague had had their way the RAF would have become an airforce for ISIS in Syria.

By indulging Saudi and Qatar and helping to prolong the Syrian civil war the West has helped create this Frankenstein's monster. Of course the West has a proud history of using jihadi terrorists ever since the proxy war with Russia in Afghanistan.

NATO used Al Qaeda jihadis in Libya to overthrow Gaddafi. Libya is now a failed state and doubtless many of the jihadis went on their merry way to Syria and elsewhere. Would a US ambassador have been murdered in Benghazi when Gaddafi was still in charge? Of course not.

When it comes to Western policy in the Middle East you can either laugh or cry.

Logically if we are serious about terminating ISIS we should ally with Iran and Syria against them not just arm the Kurds who won't be able to do much outside their area. If the West fights ISIS in Iraq but doesn't help Assad crush them in Syria they will be able to use Syria as a base and keep coming back into Iraq.

Gary Elsby said...

Whatever they call themselves now?
Islamic state of Iraq, Syria and the Levant (ISISL)appears to be the settled name.
They want a Caliphate and Bakir (Al-Baghdadi) is th self proclaimed caliph of all the Muslim world.
This is disputed by all senior Muslim heads who say a Caliph cannot self appoint.
The get-out clause for all British involvement in destroying (by all means necessary) ISISL is their intention to return to the Caliphate of the middle east and superseding KIngs and Presidents taking in Cyprus.
Remember Saddam having missiles 'capable of reaching Cyprus'?
That was Tony's get-in clause and won his parliamentary vote for WAR!! All decent socialists love a war before breakfast.
The Caliphate was a big player for half a millennia and includes our T E Lawrence of Arabia and the idea is not to be discarded as a nutters outing.
My guess is that the decision has already been made to slaughter ISISL fighters in the field and give no options of a western return to our streets.

asquith said...

What kind of "argument" is that, Chris? Has it NEVER occured to you that if people are murderous psychopaths, it might be because that's what they are, and if a movement is evil it might be because they're evil rather than because of "the west" and "Zionists"? There's a full-on fascist movement in our world, Britain is hardly heaven on earth but ISIS are a thousand times worse.

This isn't a time for whataboutery, or debate over whether ISIS should be rooted out and crushed. The only debate is over how the work can be done.

There is a debate over the merits and demerits of intervention (I am for it). But I think, and I'm sure our host agrees, that it's time to offer asylum to the victims of fascism. We are seeing the shameless and disgusting Lynton Crosby operations at work, in that Cameron won't follow Hollande in doing so.

It is an unambiguous way of helping, because the Kurds cannot take care of people half of whom are nearly dead when they're keeping the fascists from the door themselves. The only thing that we can do that is definitely good, and it's time the government stoped kowtowing to focus groups and starting to be statesmen.

After that, we must weep for the losses. The dead people, and the dead civilisations that had endured for centuries until now. When the Yezidis take their place alongside the Etruscans, the Celtic Christians and the Buddhas of Bamiyan in museums, that impoverishes the whole world.

Do you know Tom Holland? He is a fascinating source.

Chris said...

Jeffrey Dahmer was not an Islamist, neither was Ted Bundy...

The argument, to simplify even more, goes something like this:

The people who destroyed Iraq in what amounted to a seminal, historic war crime, the consequences of which are now playing out and are consequences the anti war movement said would happen, should not be the ones we call upon to put things right. When left to their own devices the people of the region ultimately find the progressive solution, imperialism crushes this progress time and again. Oppose imperialism!

“Has it NEVER occured to you that if people are murderous psychopaths, it might be because that's what they are,”

One man’s murderous psychopath is another’s liberator! You should know you are for murderous psychopaths killing their way through the Middle East, as in this comment:

“There is a debate over the merits and demerits of intervention (I am for it)”

So the mass murdering psychopaths who very recently murdered hundreds of thousands in Iraq are to be let loose once again, even as their past crime is very fresh in the memory! These murderous psychopaths were calling for Assad to be killed for attacking ISIS not that long ago. So the murderous psychopaths that you support clearly have a split personality!

“This isn't a time for whataboutery”

For you it is time for the murderous psychopaths to do what they do best, unload their lethal stockpile.

I know of Tom Holland and I don’t think very much of him. If you judge a man by his admirers then he ranks very poorly.

Speedy said...

We have been here before. As Yeats put it:

Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

"The ceremony of innocence". I think of those two niave young Italian girls currently in their clutches, or of course the hundreds of invisible innocents being subjected to horrors beyond our comprension.

In a sense Chris is right - better to do nothing than the current approach of targeted bombing here, special forces there. It is no solution, if anything, fans the flames. As do a few goverment programmes, which are drops in the Jihadi ocean.

There are nout so blind as will not see. The bishop of Mosul put it plainly:

You think all men are equal, but that is not true: Islam does not say that all men are equal. Your values are not their values. If you do not understand this soon enough, you will become the victims of the enemy you have welcomed in your home.

"Soon enough" of course is too late for Lee Rigby and the victims of 7/7. The problem is the "debate" is not a debate as such because it turns away from unpalatble truths best brushed over in polite company - the fear that this will just grow and grow because "the centre will not hold" and "mere anarchy is loosed upon the world".

Globalisation and the internet create the conditions for that anarchy. The elite, enriched by modernity calculate it is better to occupy their islands of afluence than confront the consequences - increasing terrorism and localised conflict, as between the working classes in northern ireland, is the price they would have us pay.

Robert said...

Yeats yes of course. He was haunted by guilt for the part he played in inciting violence - "did that play of mine send forth certain men the English shot?" It almost certainly did.

Into the alienation caused by neoliberal globalisation and souless materialism comes tormented Islam. If you are a young working class Muslim boy trapped in a crap job and constantly called Paki the idea of fighting for the Caliph of Islam might be seductive. From being just another loser you find meaning and purpose.

Western civilisation may have peaked and is on the way down. The historian Toynbee analysed the fall of civlisations. People stop wanting to become like the members of the dominant minority, and start aiming their hopes and dreams elsewhere. This splits their society into two unequal halves, a dominant minority clinging to power by ever more coercive means, and an internal proletariat that goes through the motions of participation but no longer shares its society’s values and goals. Finally the internal proletariat makes common cause with the external proletariat – the people of surrounding societies who are exploited by the civilization, and never had any stake in its survival to begin with – and everything comes crashing down.

Suppose the twenty something Muslim lad in Bradford or Tower Hamlets plays the game; what prizes can he expect to win? Downward mobility has become one of the most pervasive and least discussed facts of life in the US and UK today, and nowhere so much as in the options we offer young people from the lower middle class on down. It’s still popular to invoke the ghost of David Ricardo and insist that globalization is a rising tide that lifts all boats, but the hard reality is that the last thirty years have seen America and Europe's once proud and prosperous working class thrown to the wolves, so corporations could keep boosting their quarterly profits and the middle class could maintain a filmy illusion of wealth through access to cheap consumer goods. Every factory job offshored to the Third World and replaced with a McJob is one less reason for the children of working class families to embrace the values that the middle class thinks they ought to have. Add that to our wretched housing crisis and the only surprise is that we don't have more jihadi volunteers.

Toynbee argued that the fault for this “schism in the body politic” lay squarely with the elite classes, who were increasingly unfit to lead, unable to follow, and unwilling to get out of the way.

Anonymous said...

Seems perfectly reasonable to me. They are "in the field" anyway; all we are doing is prevetning them re-importing that hate back into the UK and cuttting them off from all familial, social, financial and religious support.

Robert said...

Just to clarify there is NO excuse for joining ISIS. Many people have crap lives in Britain but they don't become fascist jihadists.

I would like to apologise to Asquith for making out that liberalism is a dirty word. There is nothing wrong with liberal values; they are wonderful values. All I'm saying is that they are not sustainable without social- democratic economics.

Robert said...

Where did the Western response to the ARab Spring begin to go wrong?

It began to go wrong in Bahrain when the US allowed the Emir ofKuwait to invite in Saudi forces to crush the democracy movement. This was rationalised as necessary to secure the US base there but this is nonsense. A new democratic Bahraini government wouldn’t have tried to order the US out why would they? Especially having protected the Bahrainis from Saudi ARabia. They would have earned huge goodwill.

But the real catastrophe was Libya. We had a UN mandate to defend Benghazi but we did NOT have a mandate for regime change

Exceeding our mandate and using jihadi militias to overthrow GAddafi was disastrous. Medvedev was president then and had allowed a UN resolution through. When we abused it the Russians believed they’d been conned and Putin came back. He might have done the tandem switch anyway and taken back the Presidency but what we did in Libya was the final straw. Putin was determined to take control of Russian foreign policy and prevent us doing in Syria what we did in LIbya.

Had we played the game with a straight bat in Libya the Russians might have allowed a UN resolution to go through on Syria in 2012 and a hundred thousand lives might have been saved.

OUr regime change in LIbya was disastrous for another reason. It gave the poor Syrians false hope. They believed NATO might come in and win their war for them as we did in Libya. This may have made all the difference in encouraging the insurgency.

You can blame Putin for his use of the veto if you like but he’s not the sole villain of the piece. The West kept insisting that Assad step down as a precondition for negotiations which was a disastrous strategy. This was why Kofi Annan eventually resigned because his peace plan was being sabotaged.

This is not just my view. Peter Hain was interviewed last year and said that the West needed to change tack, insisting on regime change as a precondition was a huge error and we needed to work with the Russians and Iranians, who might be malevolent but who did have legitimate interests.

Also the West has been arming the Syrian jihadis. The idea that there are moderate rebels who can be used against both Assad and the Takfiris makes no sense. Arms sent by the West to “moderates” found their way to the jihadis either because the “moderates” are nothing of the sort or because their weapons were simply seized or bought by ISIS.

Assad might be an evil dictator and I hope he and many of his military commanders end up in the Hague but there is not time for that now. There is no TIME. Nobody hated Stalinism more than Churchill but when Hitler invaded the USSR Churchill said if the Germans invaded Hell he would make an agreement with the Prince of Darkness. We need to help Assad crush IS in Syria like it or not.

Robert said...

Sorry that's a typo. I meant to say the Emir of Bahrain. Nothing to do with Kuwait to my knowledge.

Also it's not fair to blame Qatar. They seem to have been trying to play a constructive role on the whole as far as their foreign policy goes. All those Gulf states are vile and have what amounts to slave labour but it is Saudi which is the menace.