Not Saussure

October 11, 2006

Gordon Brown at Chatham House

Filed under: Al-Qaeda, Chatham House, civil liberties, UK, War on Terror — notsaussure @ 3:34 pm

Gordon Brown’s speech at Chatham House yesterday has been widely reported, primarily for his plans to use

Intelligence from secret sources … for the first time in freezing financial assets as part of a crackdown on terrorist financing designed to prevent a repetition of the 7/7 attacks,

and his renewed backing for ID cards and 90 day detention.

It’s a lengthy document and I’ll be writing about it in more detail over the next few days, no doubt.

I must say, though, that the idea of the government being able pre-emptively to freeze financial assets on the basis of secret intelligence — thus, I assume, denying those whose assets are thus frozen both access to the evidence they may wish to challenge in order to get their money back and the wherewithall to pay lawyers and accountants to challenge the forensic accounting analysis on which Mr Brown will base these seizures is pretty scary. I’m sure Gordon Brown wouldn’t abuse such powers, but what could be done with them in the wrong hands really isn’t pleasant.

At first glance, the speech seems depressingly to focus on Al Qaeda and, in effect, to ignore the sort of points made only last month by Chatham House; that Al Qaeda isn’t a monolithic organisation and that, in any case, its star seems to be on the wane in the Muslim world but, unfortunately, the grievances on which it feeds won’t go away. Gordon Brown says,

Al-Qa’ida’s message – its single narrative – aims to have global resonance – from Afghanistan to the streets of Britain, from the huts and slums of Africa and Asia to every one of the richest cities in every industrial country – a narrative that purports the West is waging a war on your religion, seeks to murder your people, steal your resources and corrupt your culture; that it is your duty and noble cause to defend your people against this attack.

However, as Chatham House put it,

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 that

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

Anyway, more later. However, one delightful absurdity has already struck me in the speech; Mr Brown informed his audience,

I believe all who live in this country should learn English, understand our history and culture, take citizenship tests and citizenship ceremonies.

Does this mean that, for example, sitting Labour MPs have to take these tests and go through citizenship ceremonies to celebrate passing? He did say ‘all’, after all.


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September 25, 2006

“The liberation of Iraq is a crucial advance in the campaign against terror”

Filed under: Al-Qaeda, Chatham House, Iraq, War on Terror — notsaussure @ 8:51 pm

The liberation of Iraq is a crucial advance in the campaign against terror. We have removed an ally of Al Qaida and cut off a source of terrorist funding.

President Bush, May 1, 2003

The news that America’s intelligence agencies apparently now believe the invasion of Iraq has boosted the threat to the West should come as no surprise to anyone other than, obviously the Prime Minister — on whom see A Big Stick and A Small Carrot — and some of his apologists such as Will Hutton, who apparently can’t tell the difference between incite and excuse, when he refers to (more…)

September 10, 2006

Chatham House (inc. Martin Amis-watch)

Filed under: 9/11, Al-Qaeda, Chatham House, hubris, Martin Amis, press, Uncategorized, War on Terror — notsaussure @ 1:55 pm

Reading Martin Amis, in today’s Observer, on

The age of horrorism (part one) I was struck by the following

Until recently it was being said that what we are confronted with, here, is ‘a civil war’ within Islam. That’s what all this was supposed to be: not a clash of civilisations or anything like that, but a civil war within Islam. Well, the civil war appears to be over. And Islamism won it. The loser, moderate Islam, is always deceptively well-represented on the level of the op-ed page and the public debate; elsewhere, it is supine and inaudible. We are not hearing from moderate Islam. Whereas Islamism, as a mover and shaper of world events, is pretty well all there is.

Hmm. I thought; not quite what Chatham House had to say in their report a couple of days ago. There, I read that

The question remains whether al-Qaeda can ever regain the sympathy it seems to have generated in the Muslim street in the days following 9/11 and somehow build on that to create a more solid longterm popular appeal. It does not seem capable of doing so, not so much because of extensive security measures against it, but primarily owing to three important factors. (pp 4-5)

These, apparently, are unhappiness at the bloody effects of Al-Qaeda’s interventions in Iraq and elsewhere in Arab domestic problems; the

heightened radicalization of the middle ground in the Muslim world. A growing number have embraced Islamist politics but will not sanction al-Qaeda’s tactics and will pursue democratic avenues when they are made available. This radicalization may itself be a worrying development for the West but it is also weakening al-Qaeda, whose legitimacy and ambition rest on approval from the Muslim masses – and these are essentially saying opposition can occur within an alternative framework that may be Islamist and uncompromising but should be non-violent;

and the fact that

traditional religious establishment (long seen as the enemy by al-Qaeda) has, by repeatedly arguing the theological case for its long-held beliefs, substantially shifted opinion against the resort to violence on religious grounds. This has been particularly evident in Egypt, Saudi and Yemen and has created a backlash which has in turn helped emphasize the polarization within Muslim communities over who has the right to interpret Islam.

This, as the report argues, may well be an uncomfortable development for the West in many ways, but, at least it seems to me, to suggest a bald statement like

The most extreme Islamists want to kill everyone on earth except the most extreme Islamists; but every jihadi sees the need for eliminating all non-Muslims, either by conversion or by execution. And we now know what happens when Islamism gets its hands on an army (Algeria) or on something resembling a nation state (Sudan).

needs to be better supported, as the comments on my undergraduate essays used to say when I’d made a particularly stupid assertion.

A stupid assertion, indeed, like ‘we now know what happens when Islamism gets its hands on an army (Algeria). Well, erm, actually, Martin, we don’t. Because it didn’t quite happen that way.

What did happen, however, is that the fundamentalist Islamic Salvation Front (FIS) won the first round of the Algerian democratic elections in 1991 and that this caused the army to step in and cancel the elections to stop FIS governing the country. This led to a continuing low-grade civil war, which both sides prosecuted pretty horribly.  Two minutes with Wikipedia would have clarified the matter for Mr Amis.

Loud cries, I think, of ‘Don’t these people have editors?’ (© Tim Worstall).
I’m sure he could have chosen other, more apposite, examples, but that he apparently just pulled one out of the air that, as it happens, was the opposite of what he wanted, doesn’t give me much faith in either his attention to detail or his grasp of the situation.   I think, on the available evidence, I’ll stick with Chatham House for the time being.

September 8, 2006

Al-Qaeda — the good news and the bad news

Filed under: 9/11, Al-Qaeda, Chatham House, UK, usa, War on Terror — notsaussure @ 9:54 pm

Chatham House, one of the world’s leading bodies for the analysis of International Affairs, has just published a paper on Al-Qaeda Five Years On (pdf).
The good news is that

the US-led globally coordinated security measures have seriously undermined Al-Qaeda’s communication, finance and recruitment networks

while the bad news is that

Al-Qaeda’s image as a global player has been unintentionally enhanced by the US and its allies

The report’s bullet point summary reads:

• Five years on, the challenge to al-Qaeda is coming from within as traditional Islam attacks the use of terror as un-Islamic and popular support wanes as terrorist attacks target Muslims.

• Nonetheless, there has been an increased radicalization of the Muslim street but this seems to be finding expression in Islamist groups who are keen to use democratic channels.

• Al-Qaeda’s main success has been to highlight the link between the West’s policies in the Middle East and terrorism.

• Despite its religious rhetoric, al-Qaeda’s strength lies in its political message which resonates with many but whose tactics have attracted only the fringe.

• The West faces a terrorist challenge that comes from within its borders and which impinges on community relations and civil liberties.

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