UK Prime Minister David Cameron is not only in complete denial about his role in facilitating the rise of ISIS, but his “response” to last Friday’s attacks will facilitate it even further.
Last week’s attacks by Islamic State (formerly ISIS/ISIL) and Al-Qaeda killed almost 300 people across six countries: Syria (145), Somalia (over 50), Tunisia (37), Kuwait (30), China (18) and France (1). Another 70 were killed in Egypt earlier this week.
That ISIS is now in a position to launch such coordinated attacks is a direct consequence of the policies pursued by Cameron and his predecessors in Syria, in Iraq, in Somalia, and most of all in Libya. Unsurprisingly, his article in The Telegraph the following Monday reflected on none of this. Instead, he suggested a series of measures that will boost their capacity even further.
Firstly, he said, “we must give our police and security services the tools they need to root out this poison.”This might make sense if the police and security services were genuinely committed to tackling the death squads. Unfortunately, it is becoming increasingly clear that it is precisely the security services that have been facilitating the passage of fighters to Syria.
Moazzam Begg’s trial for terrorism offences collapsed spectacularly last year when MI5 admitted they had given him the “green light” for his training of fighters in Syria. The Guardian noted that MI5 had“extensive contacts with him before and after his trips to Syria” during which “he discussed his travel plans and explained he was assisting opposition fighters in their war against Bashar al-Assad’s regime.”
MI5 then assured Begg that “no attempt would be made to hinder him if he wanted to return to Syria.”According to Begg, around half a dozen other trials have collapsed since then, and for the same reason – that the fighters had left with the full approval of the security services. That the intelligence services should be playing the role of facilitating British Muslims to fight in Syria is, of course, no surprise, given that it was government policy to support the Syrian insurgency from the very beginning, providing it with diplomatic support, finance, training and military equipment, and downplaying the brutality and sectarianism of the fighters.
In November 2012, William Hague, then British Foreign Secretary, met with rebel leader Moaz al-Khatb, an anti-Shia sectarianwho has described Al Qaeda’s Syrian wing, Jabhat al-Nusra, as an important ally in the struggle to destroy the Syrian government. Four days later, the British government officially recognized Khatb’s organization, the Syrian National Coalition for Opposition and Revolutionary Forces, as the sole legitimate representatives of the Syrian people, despite overwhelming hostility to the insurgency across large swathes of Syria.
There is no way that Britain was unaware of Al Qaeda’s leading role in the insurgency they were supporting and arming. Last month, US courts ordered the declassification of documents issued by the Defence Intelligence Agency – widely distributed within the US at the time and almost certainly shared with the British government – which highlighted the leading role of Al Qaeda in the Syrian insurgency back in August 2012.
The documents even predicted the rise of a “Salafist principality” stretching from Syria into Mosul and Ramadi in Iraq – predicting, in other words, not only the formation of Islamic State, but also the precise extent of its territorial conquests. It also noted that such a principality was “precisely what the supporting powers to the opposition want.” Yet, following this report, the British state greatly increased its support to the rebels. Since then, the British government has been implicated in the supply of 75 planeloads of heavy weaponry to the insurgents via Croatia, much of which has ended up in the hands of Al Qaeda. Britain later successfully lobbied the EU to end its arms embargo on Syrian rebels, and directly provided millions of pounds worth of military equipment as well as contributing to a joint British-US$30 million program to train the rebels in public relations. If anyone ever wondered where ISIS learnt their slick video production techniques, this program may provide part of the answer.
It should be no surprise, then, that another terrorism trial collapsed last month when Bherlin Gildo’s lawyers pointed out that the groups he was fighting for in Syria were being armed and trained by British intelligence.
But it is not just British intelligence that has been supporting terrorism in Syria. Lawyers for the families of three sisters from Bradford who were suspected of joining ISIS last month claimed that the North-East Counter Terror Unit of the British police were “complicit” in the “grooming and radicalizing” of the sisters by “allowing, encouraging and promoting contact with somebody believed to be in Syria”.
All this adds up to nothing less than a scandalous level of collusion between British security services and police and the various terror cells in Syria. Quite how giving “increased powers” to these agencies is supposed to help stem the rise of the terror groups they have been supporting is unclear. Indeed, what is more likely is that the security services and police will be able to use their ever-more draconian powers as tools of entrapment to aid their recruitment of young British Muslims into the death squads. After all, it is already known that MI5 use existing anti-terror laws to blackmail British Muslims into working for them: the Independent reported back in 2009 that MI5 have been threatening to treat those they approached as “terror suspects” unless they worked for the organization, and it has subsequently been revealed that they had tried to recruit both “Jihadi John” and Michael Adebolajo, one of the killers of Lee Rigby. Giving more power to the police and security will simply make it easier for them to continue with their recruitment of young Muslims as tools of Britain’s foreign policy of destabilizing the independent states of the Arab world.
Cameron’s next concern is with the “ungoverned spaces…in which the terrorist groups thrive”. This requires governments, he argues, to “strengthen weak political institutions and tackle political instability.” Once again, to someone from Mars without the faintest knowledge of Cameron’s actual political record, this might sound quite plausible. But the undisputed, universally known and blindingly obvious reality is that it is precisely British wars or British-backed insurgencies – every one supported or even led by Cameron – that have created these “ungoverned spaces” – from Afghanistan to Iraq to Syria to Libya.
So is this admission a sign of humility from the prime minister, an admission that his policies of destabilization have been a disastrous failure which have paved the way for ISIS? Not a bit of it. Rather, he is proposing more of the same. Just this January he announced that 400 British troops would be sent to help train another 5,000 Syrian insurgents, which even the BBC admits are likely to be “linked to… extremist groups such as the al-Qaeda affiliate the Nusra Front.” Cameron is also pushing for a further bombardment of Libya, under the guise of a “war against people smugglers.” Following the model of the “war against drugs” – a militarized approach to the supply of a criminal enterprise for which there is an almost limitless demand – it is likely to have much the same effects: namely, the monopolization of the trade by the most vicious and well-armed groups; the sky-rocketing of the prices and profits of the enterprise; and its widespread geographic dispersal. In other words, the war on “people smuggling” is likely to massively increase the violence, capacity and spread of ISIS and Al Qaeda throughout North Africa. Thoroughly in line with the last decade and a half of British foreign policy, this is a recipe for spreading, not stemming, the “ungoverned spaces…in which terrorism thrives.”
Cameron’s final and “perhaps…most important” proposal is “confronting the poisonous ideology that is driving terrible actions like those we saw on Friday.” One might suspect he is referring to Wahhabism, the viciously sectarian ideology followed by both ISIS and Al Qaeda that considers the Shia – 10 percent of the world’s Muslim population – to be infidels, and largely blames them for all the woes of the Arab and Muslim world. The sect is named after its 18th century founder, Abd al-Wahhab, who wrote that“any doubt or hesitation” by a Muslim over Wahhab’s personal interpretation of Islam should “deprive a man of immunity of his property and his life.”
According to Alistair Crooke, al-Wahhab “argued that all Muslims must individually pledge their allegiance to a single Muslim leader (a Caliph, if there were one). Those who would not conform to this view should be killed, their wives and daughters violated, and their possessions confiscated, he wrote. The list of apostates meriting death included the Shiite, Sufis and other Muslim denominations, whom Abd al-Wahhab did not consider to be Muslim at all.” In many ways, Wahhabism is the mirror image of European fascism – a supremacist response to military defeat and humiliation, which blames defeat on an internal enemy weakening society from within, which must therefore be purged in order for that society to rebuild its strength. “Confronting” this “poisonous ideology” is indeed an excellent idea.
Once again, however, Cameron’s words are the exact polar opposite of his actions. The world’s biggest sponsor of Wahhabism is Britain’s number Arab ally, Saudi Arabia. This state – established between the wars with the help of Winston Churchill – has spent no less than $70 billion promoting Wahhabism worldwide over 25 years, according to a US Congressional Committee. Every conceivable means has been adopted to spread the Wahhabi message of vicious sectarianism to as many Muslims as possible, and from the youngest age possible – from the creation of satellite channels, radio stations and magazines, to the establishment of mosques and madrassas. Is Cameron, then, proposing an end to the alliance with Saudi Arabia? Of course not. Indeed, his government has surpassed even its predecessor in the spectacular quantities of weaponry it sends to the Saudis every year, last year reaching £1.75 billion. And the Saudis remain honored VIPs at every exclusive event held by the British royal family, from weddings to birthday parties.
As it turns out, Cameron was not talking about Wahhabism. Indeed, what is notably absent from his definition of extremism is anything relating to hostility to Shias: that is, the actual supremacism that drove not only the suicide bombing in Shia mosque in Kuwait, but is also a major driving force of the entire British-supported insurgency in Syria (the very insurgency which, as it happens, also radicalized the Tunisian gunman). Nor does Cameron mention anything about violent hostility toward black Africans, one of the prime motivations of the rebel movement he brought to power in Libya. His definition of “extremism” is in fact extremely vague: the first indicator of extremism he mentioned, for example, is – I kid you not – saying “that the West is bad.” Other indicators include saying that “freedom is wrong,” that “women are inferior” or that “homosexuality is evil,” particularly ironic given that these last two criteria would probably apply to half of his own backbenchers.
Indeed, this vagueness is precisely the point; by keeping the definitions vague enough, it gives the government blanket authority to act against almost anyone they choose; after all who has not criticized at least some aspect of “the West” at some point? And only anarchists believe in total, unrestricted freedom. The other 99 percent of the country, then, do indeed believe that at least in some cases, that “freedom is wrong.” This sloppy definition, then, is nothing less than a blank check for cracking down on dissidents. And what happens once the Home Office labels you an extremist? Here are some of the things that have been proposed:
Here are some of the things that have been proposed:
• The ‘blacklisting’ of extremists by the Home Office – meaning they will be banned from publishing, broadcasting or speaking at Universities.
• ‘Extremist disruption orders’ to restrict the movement of ‘extremists’
• Powers to close down premises used to host extremist meetings (likely to intimidate venues into shying away from hosting political meetings at all)
• TV programs to be “vetted for extremist content” before they are broadcast
• Local authorities, prisons, NHS trusts, schools, universities and further education institutions to be placed under a new statutory duty to prevent extremist radicalization taking place within their walls.
• Universities to give the government “sufficient notice of booking [of external speakers] (generally at least 14 days) to allow for checks to be made and cancellation to take place if necessary”, including the submission of any talks to be given and any presentations to be shown.
• A ‘snoopers charter’ to allow the government blanket access to all online activity of the entire population.
This raft of measures to use against extremists, then, could potentially be used against anyone; it is a blatant attempt by the government to use public revulsion at the very terrorism it itself has sponsored, to ram through measures giving it unprecedented power to repress views it does not want to be aired. At the same time, it will give that much more leverage to the very security agencies recruiting vulnerable Muslims to the Syrian insurgency. A greater cynicism would be hard to imagine.