Short-sighted Hague downplays ISIS threat to UK
Foreign Secretary William Hague informed Parliament this week: "..we estimate the number of UK-linked individuals fighting in Syria to include approximately 400 British nationals and other UK-linked individuals who could present a particular risk should they return to the UK. Some of these are, inevitably, fighting with ISIL" (Hansard, Column 852).
So, 400 British citizens (presumably Sunni Muslims, though he didn't specify) are contending for their faith (ie Jihad) in Syria, against the infidel (ie Shia Muslims and the West). Mr Hague says of Iraq's extremists:
ISIL is the most violent and brutal militant group in the middle east. It has a long record of atrocities, including use of improvised explosive devices, abductions, torture and killings. The reported massacre of 1,700 Shi’a air force recruits is more evidence of its brutality. ISIL’s aim is to establish a sharia Islamic state in the region, and it is pursuing these goals by attacking the Government of Iraq, gaining control of territory, and inciting sectarian violence between Sunni and Shi’a Muslims.Surely the 400 British citizens who are fighting with/for ISIS are now themselves terrorists?
And surely they will pose something of a threat to the UK when they return freely on their EU passports to live amongst us once again?
According to Dr Osman Hassan, Assistant Professor in the University of Warwick's Department of Politics and International Studies, it is currently estimated that nearly 20% of foreign fighters in Syria come Western Europe; predominantly France, Britain, Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands. As such, he says, it is not just the UK’s 400 citizens that will need to be closely monitored, but rather an additional 1600 EU citizens who have the ability to cross the UK’s borders (free movement of peoples, and all that).
So, that's 2000 foreign-trained, war-hardened, blood-thirsty jihadis free to return to Europe and commit terrorists acts across the borderless EU. Dr Hassan warns: "The nightmare scenario for the UK, however, is that the planning and preparation for an attack on UK soil is conducted abroad and missed by foreign security services. This is not unprecedented; for example members of the Hamburg Cell in Germany later went on to plan the September 11, 2001 attacks on New York and Washington D.C."
To those who say Iraq is theologically tribal, politically primitive, geographically distant and so 'nothing to do with us', His Grace urges you to heed the words of Tony Blair:
At its simplest, the jihadist groups are never going to leave us alone. 9/11 happened for a reason. That reason and the ideology behind it have not disappeared.Dr Hassan agrees and warns:
However more than that, in this struggle will be decided many things: the fate of individual countries, the future of the Middle East, and the direction of the relationship between politics and the religion of Islam. This last point will affect us in a large number of ways. It will affect the radicalism within our own societies which now have significant Muslim populations. And it will affect how Islam develops across the world. If the extremism is defeated in the Middle East it will eventually be defeated the world over, because this region is its spiritual home and from this region has been spread the extremist message.
There is no sensible policy for the West based on indifference. This is, in part, our struggle, whether we like it or not.
What was resounding in the Foreign Secretary’s address to parliament, however, was that the government understands the causes of the conflict in a very limited way. It is the case that leaving a security vacuum in Iraq following the UK and US withdrawal has provided ISIS with space for the occupation of towns and cities. It is also the case that the Iraqi government has helped stoke sectarian tensions between the Sunni and Shia populations, which is equally spilling over the border from Syria. However, Secretary Hague failed to mention how wealthy individuals from ally states in the Gulf, namely Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Kuwait have helped fund extremist organisations in Syria such as ISIS. He also failed to mention the growth of satellite TV stations broadcasting from across the region, but also from the UK having taken advantage of free speech legislation, are contributing to a growing sectarian conflict. The wider regional context needs to be understood if the threat is to be reduced and allies need to be called to task for their part in spreading sectarian conflict and extremism. For example, stoking sectarianism across the region has been a fundamental part of the Saudi Royal families survival strategy following the uprisings it faced in its own Eastern Province and in Bahrain in 2011. The success of ISIS is a result of the Arab Spring giving way to larger sectarian divides and a regional cold war taking place between Iran and Saudi Arabia. Iraq is just another battlefield in this regional cold war. As the conflict spreads across the region from Lebanon, through Syria and Iraq, the opportunities for fighters from Western Europe to gain expertise and training is growing. In this context, the UK government’s willingness to neglect the nature and scale of the threat, and instead rely on domestic security services in the future, is deeply short sighted.The Islamists are coming.
They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would no doubt have continued with us: but they went out, that they might be made manifest that they were not all of us (1Jn 2:19).