Not Saussure

October 22, 2006

Dr Reid’s new weapon — podcasts

Filed under: UK, War on Terror — notsaussure @ 5:27 pm

While it’s all going to rat-shit in Iraq, Dr Reid has got a new weapon in the battle for hearts and minds against potential al-Qaida sympathisers back home.   Just as well, since apparently

John Reid has issued a dire warning that the Government risks losing the "battle of ideas" with al-Qa’eda.

Quite how anyone knows how well or badly we’re doing in this battle of ideas, I do not know; do they have focus groups comprising young British Muslims, or ask ‘community leaders’ or what?   But, anyway, it seems

A key government weapon in the struggle to win hearts and minds is the decision to fund covertly an Islamic website appealing for moderation. A classic of New Labour terminology, it is called the Radical Middle Way. Government documents disclose that the site is "run as a grassroots initiative by Muslim organisations". However, it has "most of its financial backing from the Foreign Office and Home Office". The site uses video and podcasts to spread an "alternative message" to young Muslims. Some content is available through the iTunes website with no indication that it is effectively an arm of Government.

I’m sure the content is excellent, though I must say their self-description has New Labour’s fingerprints all over it;

The Radical Middle Way project is a Muslim grassroots initiative aimed at articulating a mainstream understanding of Islam that is dynamic, pro-active and relevant, particularly to young British Muslims. The project is managed by young British Muslims themselves, in a unique partnership between FOSIS, Mahabba Unlimited, Q-News and YMOUK. The project will make every attempt to answer questions pertinent to what it means to be young British and Muslim. The project has its roots in Islamic history, being an organic response by traditional Islam to challenges poised by extremist ideas. The project seeks to combat ignorance by spreading and empowering arguments for the ‘middle way’ and by the consolidation of the mainstream Muslim community.

An initiative aimed at articulating an understanding, begorrah; now there’s a thing you don’t often see.   And apparently this project has released some podcasts, which leave the Telegraph somewhat underwhelmed.   

I suppose it’s all to the good,  or at least doesn’t do any harm, but I can’t help wondering about the whole notion that people go out and attempt to kill themselves and murder others primarily because of a misunderstanding of their religion.   It’s all  rather reminiscent of the way governments in trouble at the polls concede that ‘we’re having difficulty getting our message across’.   And I’d have thought a former Marxist like Dr Reid should realise that ideological conflicts have matrial bases.   As the recent Chatham House report on Al-Qaeda Five Years On: The Threat and the Challenges explains,

Of course ideology and religion matter; they shape world-views and responses to politics, and they have been either largely underestimated or misunderstood by analysts and policy-makers. However, this does not mean that radical responses would not have been sought out anyway outside the realm of Islam. If we were to assume, for example, that in the Middle East secular attitudes prevailed over religious ones and that in place of radical Islamist opposition groups a secular oriented opposition came to dominate, we are still likely to have seen the emergence of terrorist groups to counter prevalent feelings of injustice and powerlessness.

They continue,

Despite religious references, since 9/11 the defining elements for al-Qaeda have primarily been political: specifically, a hostile stance towards the US and its policies in the Muslim world, as well as opposition to Muslim governments. […] While the re-education of Europe’s Muslim youth in the tenets of traditional Islam might convey the message that the use of terror is unacceptable, thus countering sympathy for al-Qaeda, the problem for European governments remains that a segment within the Muslim community is both politicized and angry at the conduct of foreign policy.

And, as the  Chatham House briefing paper on Terrorism, Security and the UK, published in the wake of last year’s attacks on London, put it,

A key problem […] is that the UK government has been conducting counter-terrorism policy ‘shoulder to shoulder’ with the US, not in the sense of being an equal decision-maker, but rather as pillion passenger compelled to leave the steering to the ally in the driving seat. There is no doubt that the situation over Iraq has imposed particular difficulties for the UK, and for the wider coalition against terrorism. It gave a boost to the Al-Qaeda network’s propaganda, recruitment and fundraising, caused a major split in the coalition, provided an ideal targeting and training area for Al-Qaeda-linked terrorists, and deflected resources and assistance that could have been deployed to assist the Karzai government and to bring bin Laden to justice. Riding pillion with a powerful ally has proved costly in terms of British and US military lives, Iraqi lives, military expenditure, and the damage caused to the counter-terrorism campaign.

Yes, I know, September 11 was before we launched the War on Terror, and yes, I know, al Qaeda were launching terrorist attacks well before that.   However, it is fanciful to try to pretend our adventure in Iraq hasn’t exacerbated the problem, and the political reasons for hostility in the Muslim world to the US and its foreign policies have been there for a long time, and blindingly obvious they are, too;   to quote Al Qaeda Five Years On again,

While Muslim anger was galvanized around Iraq it hardly ever lost sight of the Palestinian cause which could always be conjured up by any radical movement, whether religious or secular, to rally support. If there is one area of general consensus among Muslim majorities over the West’s double standards and the justification for the resort to suicide bombings, it would be in the case of Palestine. While the US and UK governments continued to deny a linkage between regional crisis and terrorism, not only al-Qaeda but also Muslims who condemn al-Qaeda continued to stress the connection. Even Muslim governments acknowledge it exists, particularly with regard to Palestine, and more recently the EU has acknowledged an implicit link between the two

and it’s going to take a deal more than podcasts and grassroots initiatives to fix that.

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