Let’s not panic over Mali and Algeria
In response to the attack by an “al-Qa’ida franchise” on the gas installation in south-eastern Algeria, Melanie Phillips has popped up with another exhortation to get tough on both Muslims at home and terrorists abroad. She does not mention Israel, but as anyone who has been watching her for a few years knows, that is her real interest when talking about any issue involving Muslims here or abroad, hence the demand to treat “the Muslim Brotherhood as a deadly threat to freedom everywhere, rather than embracing them within Whitehall as helpful to the West”.
Interspersed with her rant is a series of pictures of the terrorists, of the plant attacked, the weapons recovered, and the attack itself. Early on in the piece, she praises the Algerian response and encourages western security forces to behave more like the Algerians:
For it is not just that the Algerians’ response in that hideously complex situation cannot be judged without understanding precisely what they thought the hostage-takers were about to do. It is also that the ruthless Algerian approach acknowledges a reality on the ground that the West seems incapable of grasping.
The Algerians refuse to negotiate because they know that the Islamists’ position is simply non-negotiable …
Only a display of uncompromising strength — including, most importantly, strength of resolve — has any chance of being a deterrent. The Algerians understand this very well. The West does not — instead assuming that everyone on the planet thinks like it does and is thus similarly governed by self-interest.
The Algerian response is rather reminiscent of the storming of the theatre in Moscow during the 2002 “Nord-Ost” siege, in which the police pumped gas into the theatre ostensibly to sedate the hostage-takers, but which in the event killed several of the hostages. It reflected a desire to get the siege over with quickly rather than save as many hostages’ lives as possible (though in this case, the hostages who died were murdered by their captors rather than killed in the rescue attempt, but this action was entirely predictable). The government no doubt intended to get the plant running again as quickly as possible, to avoid a fall in oil or gas revenues to prove to the world that their oil industry was not in crisis and avoid any oil price rise. Western methods of dealing with such sieges generally involve either paying ransoms or playing a long game so as to wear down the attackers’ resolve but to make sure the hostages are released alive.
The Algerian response is that of a government with a long history of terrible human rights violations; a report by Amnesty International from 2007 (that is after the end of the civil war but well before the Arab Spring was ever thought of) notes that the organisation had received “dozens of allegations of torture and ill-treatment of detainees held by the DRS” (the security police), the torture including beatings, electric shocks, being forced to swallow large amounts of dirty water or urine, being undressed and humiliated (the police also threaten to arrest and rape detainees’ female family members); the security forces use such methods to extract information about armed groups both in Algeria and abroad. Although Algerian law defines torture as a crime, there is no recorded incident of security personnel being prosecuted. Human rights lawyers have been subject to harassment and prosecuted for such offences as “bringing the judiciary into disrepute”.
She then criticises western government’s responses to the Arab Spring:
Failing to deal firmly with terrorist regimes such as Syria, Iran or North Korea, which pose a mortal threat to peace and freedom, Western governments instead helped remove admitted tyrants in the Muslim world who were nevertheless allies (however fragile) of the West.
Blundering about with their asinine belief that elections are the antidote to holy war, they have merely produced chaos in which Islamic fanatics and terrorists have been the main beneficiaries.
Only one useful western ally was removed during the Arab Spring (Mubarak). None of the uprisings were Islamist in nature: in Tunisia, the impetus was the suicide of a trader whose livelihood had been disrupted by Ben Ali’s officials. Ben Ali and his family, besides running a dictatorship that masqueraded as a western democracy for show to the tourists, were kleptocrats. Their régime was on the same model as a number of fake democracies in southern Africa (like Hastings K. Banda or Kenneth Kaunda). Qaddafi of Libya had previously supported terrorists and had caved in on his nuclear ambitions only after 2001. The West did business with him, but as we live in a democracy with a free press, what we as a nation thought of Qaddafi revealed itself as soon as it looked likely that he would be removed, and once that happened, making sure he was removed became vital. We never forgot that he was a tyrant, and we never forgot that he was a terrorist.
As far as Syria is concerned, the West has shown its customary ham-fistedness when the risk of getting involved in a “real country” with real divisions and landscapes other than flat plains and desert appears, and where there is no oil or other major mineral resources (Bosnia springs to mind). We neither support Assad (because that would appear to be supporting tyranny) nor the opposition (because we fear there might be Islamists among them). Thus we can still do business with whoever takes power after the civil war is over. I would hazard a guess that the French involvement in Mali has little to do with keeping terrorists off the streets of Paris — if anything, it is more likely to increase that risk. Certainly there are major mineral interests in other west African countries (like Niger’s uranium) and keeping them flowing is seen as important, and as France is the former colonial power, protecting the régime is its responsibility. That would be true whatever the preference of Mali’s people.
In a bitter irony, advanced Libyan weaponry that fell into terrorist hands after Colonel Gaddafi was ousted — courtesy of the UK, France and the U.S. — has been used against the French in Mali.
In Egypt, where the U.S. and UK helped lever out President Mubarak, his replacement, Mohamed Morsi, is a member of the Muslim Brotherhood which increasingly appears committed to holy war against the West.
In similar vein, Western governments have soft-pedalled Iran through fruitless negotiations and slow-burning sanctions, thus giving it time to build its nuclear bomb with which it hopes to finish off the West.
Phillips seems to have a burning desire to link any attempt by Muslims to rule their countries according to Islam with “holy war against the West”. The fact is that since the 1980s, the main impetus for that has come from groups other than the Muslim brotherhood, or rather, opposed to it. The only armed group which is still linked to the Muslim brotherhood is Hamas; al-Qa’ida, although they drew some influence from Muslim Brotherhood figures in the 1950s, are no longer connected to it. There is no evidence that Morsi himself has this intention, or at least, intends to use the Egyptian state to launch any such action, or even turn Egypt itself into a Shari’ah state. As for Iran, it is not proved that it has developed a nuclear bomb; it is a ‘suspicion’ of the US and Israel; the country is surrounded by its enemies’ bases and has good reason to want to defend itself against them. They are also deeply ideologically opposed to al-Qa’ida (and vice versa, as anyone who has been around Wahhabis or read their websites will know).
Worse still, those governments have themselves shown a lack of stomach for a fight. This has been demonstrated by the ignominious way they scuttled from Iraq, and fought a war in Afghanistan which — despite the unquestioned courage of the soldiers fighting it — often appeared so half-hearted it all but guaranteed what historians will surely regard as defeat.
By contrast, Islamist fanatics play the longest game in town. With their heads still stuck fast in the seventh century, they think nothing of fighting at least until the end of the 21st.
What inspires them to further violence is their perception that the West is wide open for the taking — because it simply doesn’t have the will to fight for what it believes in.
Muslims regard the conquest of the West, or at least part of it (before the Second Coming of Christ, peace be upon him), as a given. It is not a given that the conquest of Europe is the goal of the force that has taken over northern Mali. Their aim is to consolidate Islamic rule in the Muslim world itself. They are not “stuck in the seventh century” because, when they have access to it, they are not averse to the use of modern technology and some of their methods (such as having “Shari’ah enforcement squads” and requiring women to wear all-concealing veils) are not part of early Islam. They are inspired by Saudi Arabia, a state that has its origins in the 18th century and only came into being as we know it today in the 20th. When the early Muslims conquered a country, they did not immediately attempt to Islamise its people and impose their own customs. These are all well-documented historical facts.
The West (or rather the British and Americans; Europe mostly declined to participate) did not “scuttle from Iraq”; they were engaged there for nearly ten years.
This is demonstrated not just in the military sphere, but in the way in which it has allowed the radical Islamist agenda to make inroads into its own societies, courtesy of the perversities of human rights culture and the craven willingness to silence all such concerns on the grounds that they are ‘Islamophobic’.
This lack of will is on show in the U.S. no less than in Britain. Indeed, one of the most devastating blows to the defence of the West is that President Obama, having helped the Muslim Brotherhood to power in the Middle East, has in effect pulled up the drawbridge by declaring that his interests now lie across the Pacific instead.
America may be committing a few drones to the fight in Mali or the badlands on the border of Pakistan. But with its strategic shift and planned defence reductions, the Obama administration is signalling that the U.S. is no longer willing to lead the defence of the West against its most deadly enemy. And that should terrify us, because without America we are lost.
The reason the American government appears to prefer to strenghten its ties with Asia rather than Europe has much to do with the propaganda which has spewed out of the same media that Phillips and her fellow-travellers like to publish in over there: that America stands alone, that Europe is too soft, that European countries are welfare states, that its population has pro-Arab sentiments, is eager to make deals with belligerent Muslims and is anti-Semitic, and that it relies on America for defence. There has been much talk on the American blogosphere in the past ten years about “Eurabia” and “Europeons”. Europe actually has been attacking its Muslim minorities with laws that would be unconstitutional in the USA. Meanwhile, most of the goods that feed the American desire for cheap electronics and other luxuries are made in Asia. This trend in globalisation is something British and American governments (less so those of Europe) have readily encouraged, because it cuts out irritating trade union agitation. Unlike South and Central America during the Cold War, not all of these countries are not clients (Taiwan and South Korea maybe, but certainly not China). The United States needs to maintain good relations with China and protect South Korea and Taiwan more than it now needs to defend Europe now that the Soviet threat is gone.
But that’s not all. There is a seamless connection between jihadi movements abroad, the blind eyes turned to polygamy or the oppression of Muslim women in the UK, and debacles such as the failure to extradite Abu Qatada.
To win this great civilisational battle of our time and protect all our citizens —including Britain’s many moderate Muslims — Britain must abandon its current incoherence. That means holding the line against Sharia law in Britain, and tearing up human rights law in order to deal properly with the human wrongs of Islamic terrorists.
It means treating the Muslim Brotherhood as a deadly threat to freedom everywhere, rather than embracing them within Whitehall as helpful to the West.
It means a steely resolve to act against the whole continuum of extremism that links British boys in Tower Hamlets or Sheffield to Al-Qaeda in the Sahara. And it means no soft-pedalling or negotiation with those threatening violence against us or our interests abroad.
Only if we display such moral clarity and unwavering resolve will this menace ever be defeated, both at home and abroad. Otherwise, we are all hostages now.
There is a huge difference between West Africa and any of the places where British Muslims have been involved in jihad before. Connections between the Muslim community in the UK and west Africa are weak, with only Nigerians significantly represented in terms of mosques and other institutions controlled by them. The West African Muslim community in the UK is fairly small and not known for involvement in jihadism, a few individuals excepted. There are strong family connections between parts of the British Pakistani community and pro-Taliban elements in Pakistan; that is not the case for West Africa. The Taliban were native to Afghanistan; there is no native contingent to the “Islamist insurgency” in Mali, only the “Salafi” internationals who have travelled down from Libya. They are not liked or trusted by local Muslim populations because they always attempt to impose an entirely alien culture, and they destroy the people’s heritage, as we have seen with the destruction of tombs (and possible burnings of books) in Mali and Libya.
(And there is another element to Mali that is inconvenient to Phillips’s world view: Mali is part of the drug route from South America to Europe, and given that Moktar Belmokhtar, one of the leaders of the Islamist insurgency, is already known to be involved in the cigarette smuggling business, it should not be surprising that he should get himself involved in other forms of drug trafficking. Re-assessing the way we deal with the problem of drug addiction in the West and the policy of prohibition is, of course, not on Phillips’s or her Daily Mail paymasters’ agenda, but the fact remains that the policy provides a nice little earner for Belmokhtar’s gang, and a whole lot of other violent criminal gangs across the world, right now.)
I have dealt with Phillips’s attacks on the Human Rights Act on this site in my review of her book Londonistan. Before it was passed, this was one of the few modern democracies where Parliament could pass laws without having to worry that it would fail a test of respecting the rights of citizens. This is true in most of Europe and in the USA. It is weaker, really, than any written constitution; it is a legal headache for the government and fodder for tabloid-fuelled annoyance among the ignorant.
Phillips’s article is an attempt by an Israel-firster to egg the British government on against the Muslim community at home and the Muslim world in general by overstating the threat of the Islamists in west Africa, so that more money might be poured into weapons, building up armies, maintaining bases abroad and, of course, pouring more money into the defence of Israel on the spurious grounds that it is a “western” country. The Islamists in west Africa have little or no connection here, the people they might want to recruit have no connection to west Africa, the terrorists and insurgents are weak and despised by the populations they occupy, and their leadership and membership has been sapped by defeats in Afghanistan and Chechnya. There has not been a massive upsurge in Islamist terrorist attacks around the world; there has been one incident of hostage-taking — certainly nothing along the lines of 9/11 and no attack on the general civilian population (yet), and if there is one, it is more likely to be in France than the UK as long as British involvement is much less than theirs. We should not panic and leap into a conflict that, right now, has nothing to do with us.
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