The lead story in the Indie today is this:
British soldiers are engaged in “a surreal mini civil war” with growing numbers of home-grown jihadists who have travelled to Afghanistan to support the Taliban, senior Army officers have told The Independent.
Interceptions of Taliban communications have shown that British jihadists – some “speaking with West Midlands accents” – are active in Helmand and other parts of southern Afghanistan, according to briefing papers prepared by an official security agency.
The document states that the numbers of young British Muslims, “seemingly committed jihadists”, travelling abroad to commit extremist violence has been rising, with Pakistan and Somalia the most frequent destinations.
MI5 has estimated that up to 4,000 British Muslims had travelled to Pakistan and, before the fall of the Taliban, to Afghanistan for military training. The main concern until now has been about the parts some of them had played in terrorist plots in the UK. Now there are signs that they are mounting missions against British and Western targets abroad. “We are now involved in a kind of surreal mini-British civil war a few thousand miles away,” said one Army officer.
The article goes on to discuss the case of “a 21-year-old Briton of Somali extraction, who had been brought up in Ealing, west London, [who] recently blew himself up in the town of Baidoa, killing 20 people”, Brummies accented Taliban fighters, and “Taliban explosive devices containing British-made electronic components”.
Afghanistan and Somalia are, for some British Muslims, as the Spanish Civil War was for some British Socialists. Except, this time round, the lads are fighting for the fascists. In Afghanistan, they’re working as hard as they can for the re-enslavement of an Afghan people who, in poll after poll, express their utter dread at the prospect of the return of the Taliban.
So, this is where we are.
I hope, later today, to have seen the full text of Hazel Blears’ speech at the LSE on Contest 2: the new “anti-extremism” strategy. There have been two reports of the speech.
One suggests that:
Ministers should be ready to draw a clear “dividing line” between groups which they will and will not talk to, excluding those whose views and practices sit outside the “core values” of mainstream Britain, the Communities Secretary will say.
The other says this:
Ms Blears insisted, however, that while ministers would continue to avoid contact with those who supported terrorism, engaging with other radicals could achieve positive results.
She said that efforts to combat extremism in Britain would not succeed if the Government talked only to a “select few” and claimed instead that a better approach would be to confront directly those with unsavoury views with the aim of defeating their arguments.
Ms Blears insisted that the new strategy did not amount to ministers “letting our guard down” by appearing to condone radical views and said that “engagement” with hardliners was not the same as endorsing their ideas.
The revised approach raises the prospect of ministers sharing public platforms with Muslim radicals whose views on the treatment of women or homosexuals, for example, would be unacceptable to the vast majority of Britons.
Now, I’d like to read Hazel Blears’ speech in full before reaching any conclusions on it. However, from these reports, my reaction is as follows.
First, I would applaud the sight of Government ministers “taking on” extremists.
A low point for this Government was when Stephen Timms turned up at the Global Peace and Unity Event, organised by convicted terrorist, Mohammed Ali, and stood on a platform that had hosted Holocaust deniers, 9/11 Troofers, supporters of terrorism and the assassination of Salman Rushdie, and gave the following speech:
“When parts of our society are so deeply secular, so hostile to the acknowledgment of God, I want today to express appreciation and thanks to Muslims in Britain for insisting on faith,” said the Minister for Business and Labour MP for East Ham at the Global Peace and Unity Event organized by Islam Channel last week.
“(I want to thank Muslims) for helping put faith back today at the centre of Britain’s national life and debate in a way that it wasn’t for a very long time. You are part of the reason for that change, and I warmly welcome it,” he added.
“We need more people taking up politics from the starting point of faith. Because faith is the source of decent values (like) honesty, commitment to family, generosity, support for peace,” Timms said. “(We need such) decent values which the Muslim community shows in abundance.”
“Those are the very values which we need in our politics, and which this event can help us to promote,” he added.
What a betrayal of liberals and democrats that moment was. When Stephen Timms failed to confront the bigots and extremists I was ashamed to be a Labour Party member; particularly when the Tory’s Dominic Grieve actually did take them on.
If Hazel Blears’ new policy means that Timms’ disgraceful conduct will not be repeated, then this is very good news. If, however, what it will mean in practice is that the likes of Stephen Timms will be able to use the figleaf of Contest 2 – “I’m building bridges to combat violent extremism” – to justify their hobnobbing with advocates of jihad and repression, then I’m dispirited. We’ll see.
Secondly, we shouldn’t forget that the only reason that the Government is even considering ‘engaging’ with non-violent extremists, is because we’ve very very frightened of violent extremists. Nasty and previously marginal Islamists – supporters of jihad abroad but not in the United Kingdom – have had the Government’s ear, because there are some who are convinced that by treating with them, we can forestall terrorism. In other words, the close ideological cousins – and often associates of – violent extremists are the political beneficiaries of jihadism.
Finally, we must not fool ourselves. There is no clear dividing line between so called “non-violent” extremists and those who preach violence in the United Kingdom. Think of the writings of Azad Ali – the “non violent” extremist par excellence, who a member of the “non violent” Islamic Forum Europe who operate out of that citadel of “non violent” extremism, the East London Mosque/London Muslim Centre.
Britain’s “non violent” extremists believe that although jihad against civilians in Britain is not permissible, it is obligatory for Muslims to engage in jihad on the “battlefield”. Here’s the jihadist, Huthaifa Azzam – approvingly quoted by Azad Ali – on the distinction:
“If I saw an American or British man wearing a soldier’s uniform inside Iraq I would kill him because that is my obligation. If I found the same soldier over the border in Jordan I wouldn’t touch him. In Iraq he is a fighter and an occupier, here he is not. This is my religion and I respect this as the main instruction in my religion for jihad.”
The young men who are being encouraged by this ideology to go and fight British soldiers, for the cause of imposing a theocracy on the Afghans, will return home to this country in due course. We cannot stake our security on fine theological judgements about the proper territorial limits of jihad. We cannot rely upon agreements and arrangements between Government ministers and the clerics and political leaders who inspired those young men to volunteer, to keep us from harm.
If this really is a civil war, we should think very carefully about who our friends really are. We should hold them close and give no succour to their enemies.