An Open Letter to Britain’s Leading Violent Extremist: David Cameron
By Nafeez Ahmed
This open letter to the Prime Minister is published by INSURGE INTELLIGENCE, a new crowd-funded investigative journalism project.
Dear Prime Minister David Cameron,
It is with deep disappointment that I read excerpts of your speech provided by Downing Street to the press, purporting to set out a five-year strategy to tackle fundamentalist terrorism, which — whatever its intentions — is thoroughly misguided, and destined to plunge this country, as well as the Middle East, into further chaos and misery.
I am writing this open letter to request you, as a matter of urgency, to abide by your obligations as a human being, a British citizen, a Member of Parliament, and as our Prime Minister: to undertake proper due-diligence in the formulation of Britain’s foreign, counter-terrorism and security policies, based on the vast array of evidence from scientific and academic studies of foreign policy, terrorism and radicalisation, rather than the influence of far-right extremist ideology, and of narrow vested interest groups keen to profit from war and fear.
In your speech, you say:
“It begins by understanding the threat we face and why we face it. What we are fighting, in Islamist extremism, is an ideology. It is an extreme doctrine. And like any extreme doctrine, it is subversive. At its furthest end it seeks to destroy nation-states to invent its own barbaric realm. And it often backs violence to achieve this aim….
And like so many ideologies that have existed before — whether fascist or communist — many people, especially young people, are being drawn to it.
We need to understand why it is proving so attractive… The root cause of the threat we face is the extremist ideology itself.”
But this is already incoherent. You state that the threat is Islamist extremism, an ideology. You then claim that we need to understand why that ideology is so attractive, and you answer the question by claiming that the “root cause” of this threat is the “extremist ideology itself.”
So essentially, the threat is the extremist ideology, and the root cause of the extremist ideology is the extremist ideology.
This is incoherent nonsense.
There are always factors outside ideology that push and pull people to that ideology. No one is suggesting ideology should not be tackled — but a strategy premised primarily on tackling ideology, which is what the government has been doing already for more than a decade, has already failed.
Your own government and intelligence counter-terrorism experts have been trying to convince you and your Cabinets of this, for years. Why do you not listen to them?
Charles Farr, Director General of the Home Office’s Office for Security and Counter Terrorism (OSCT), last month repudiated your previous ill-conceived rhetoric implying that extremism is being “quietly condoned” in parts of local British Muslim communities.
He noted that only several hundred Britons have joined the ‘Islamic State’ (ISIS), out of 2.7 million Muslims in Britain, and that rather than insinuating that a threat is hiding amorphously amongst British Muslims, we must recognise that in reality Muslim communities on the whole have proven quite resilient to extremism:
“It’s not to say the challenges they pose are not significant, they are. But … the more we overstate them the more, frankly, we risk labelling Muslim communities as somehow intrinsically extremist, which actually despite an unprecedented wealth of social media propaganda, they have proved not to be. So I think we need to be cautious with our metaphors and with our numbers.”
Farr had also repudiated your claim that the “root cause” is “extremist ideology”:
“The background of broken families, lack of integration into what we might call mainstream society, some level of criminality, sometimes family conflict, are all more than normally apparent… People join terrorist organisations in this country and in others because they get something out of them beyond merely satisfaction of an ideological commitment.
Sometimes it’s about resolution of personal problems, sometimes it’s about certainty in an environment which has deprived them of it, sometimes it’s about excitement and esteem, and we should not omit the last two factors.
This is the reality in Syria and Iraq but also many other contexts we’ve worked on over the past five or 10 years.”
In other word’s Theresa May’s top security official in your government is saying that ideology is not the main reason that people join terrorist organisations. While there is no doubt ideology plays a role in defining the nature of the terrorist group, its self-justification and actions, it is not the main driver of radicalisation.
Why do you not heed the words of your government’s own top counter-terrorism official?
You go on to say:
“Some argue it’s because of historic injustices and recent wars, because of poverty and hardship. This argument, the grievance justification, must be challenged…
So when people say its because of the involvement in the Iraq War that people are attacking the West… we should remind them: 9/11 — the biggest loss of life of British citizens in a terrorist attack — happened before the Iraq War.”
The thing is, Prime Minister, is that what you call “the grievance justification” was endorsed by the British government and British intelligence services.
Just three weeks before the 7th July 2005 London bombings, the Joint Terrorism Analysis Centre (JTAC) — which examines intelligence from MI5, MI6, GCHQ, Scotland Yard’s Anti-Terrorism Branch, the Foreign Office, and so on, warned in no uncertain terms:
“Events in Iraq are continuing to act as motivation and a focus of a range of terrorist related activity in the UK.”
In 2006, one year after 7/7, a report prepared for the Ministry of Defence’s internal think-tank, the Defence Academy, concluded — contrary to your dishonest or wilfully ignorant announcements — that the Iraq War had acted as a “recruit sergeant” for al-Qaeda.
The MoD paper, authored by an official linked to MI6, found:
“The war in Iraq… has acted as a recruiting sergeant for extremists across the Muslim world… Iraq has served to radicalise an already disillusioned youth and al-Qaeda has given them the will, intent, purpose and ideology to act.”
Nevertheless, you go on:
“When they say that these are wronged Muslims getting revenge on their Western wrongdoers…
…lets remind them: from Kosovo to Somalia, countries like Britain have stepped in to save Muslim people from massacres…”
Ah, Kosovo. It’s convenient that your understanding of the history of British foreign policy is so selective. You omit to mention that the destabilisation of the former Yugoslavia — which set in motion the ethnic conflicts across the Balkans of the 1990s — was planned and fostered by the US, Britain and German governments, setting in motion the events that led to the Srebrenica genocide.
And guess what! We used al-Qaeda fighters to finish the job.
You should really know this, given your job.
No, this is not a conspiracy theory. Although the US originally hoped for some decades to sustain Yugoslavia’s territorial unity and integrity, this changed as it became clear that the impact of escalating economic crises would likely result in the republic’s dismemberment.
As the late Prof. Sean Gervasi, an expert in Yugoslav affairs who was an economic advisor to John F. Kennedy in the White House, explained at a conference in Prague on NATO enlargement, the West:
“… carefully planned, prepared and assisted the secessions which broke Yugoslavia apart… And they did almost everything in their power to expand and prolong the civil wars which began in Croatia and then continued in Bosnia-Herzegovina. They were involved behind the scenes at every stage of the crisis. Foreign intervention was designed to create precisely the conflicts which the Western powers decried. For they also conveniently served as an excuse for overt intervention once civil wars were under way… It is nonetheless true that Germany and the US were the principal agents in dismantling Yugoslavia and sowing chaos there.”
Gervasi quotes the Jane’s Information Group publication, Intelligence Digest, which, citing Western intelligence sources, observed in 1995: “The original US-German design for the former Yugoslavia [included] an independent Muslim-Croat dominated Bosnia-Herzegovina in alliance with an independent Croatia and alongside a greatly weakened Serbia.”
Whether by design or default, German pressure on the EU/EC to recognise Slovenia and Croatia “incontrovertibly hastened the disintegration of Yugoslavia” in a manner with distinctive “economic advantages” for Germany.
US-backed macro-economic restructuring also played a key role in exacerbating inter-ethnic tensions and fuelling nationalist sentiments. Internal economic mismanagement was already deeply problematic, but Yugoslavia’s economic woes were compounded by the US-backed pro-market doctrines.
Through the 1980s, IMF stabilisation programmes and debt restructurings had left Yugoslavia unable to service an expanded external debt exceeding $21 billion. In her seminal study published by Cambridge University Press, Reading Humanitarian Intervention (2003), Prof. Anne Orford of the University Melbourne Law School examines the literature arguing that IMF reforms contributed to the crisis. She concludes:
“The social impact of IMF economic liberalisation and shock therapy stabilisation programmes also had unacknowledged political effects. These programmes arguably fuelled the nationalist dynamic by rapidly restructuring republican and federal levels of government, by implementing policies with divisive social consequences, and by advocating the removal of mechanisms that provided some state support to individuals who would suffer under unrestrained economic liberalism.”
Several scholars have documented this process including historical sociologist Prof. Robin Blackburn of the University of Essex, Catherine Samary of Paris-Dauphine University, and the late Peter Gowan who was professor of international law at London Metropolitan University.
A declassified top secret CIA assessment dated 18th July 1990 noted that Yugoslavia was “making headway” on Western-backed market reforms, but warned that as a consequence:
“Unrest is likely to reach worrisome levels as reforms cause voters to lose their jobs or suffer sharp drops in purchasing power. This will prompt asking the West for more financial support.”
Despite a “bold stabilization campaign” scoring “significant successes,” the CIA report warned:
“These gains came at high cost, including falling industrial output, rising unemployment, and declining real incomes.”
According to a restricted 2010 internal memo from the private intelligence firm, Stratfor, obtained by Wikileaks, senior Eurasian analyst Marko Papic told Stratfor analysts: “Don’t forget, the IMF austerity measures imposed on Yugoslavia was [sic] in part to blame for the start of the war there. We need to be aware of any economically motivated social discontentment.”
As early as October 1990, the CIA’s National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) — circulated to senior White House officials —concluded that:
“Within a year the federal system will no longer exist; within two years Yugoslavia will have dissolved as a state.”
The report also admitted that “economic reform offers little chance of staving off political dissolution” even if successful.
As expected, the NIE offered glowing praise for market reforms, but in an extraordinary analysis acknowledged in detail that the IMF stabilisation programme, combined with local mismanagement, was contributing to dramatic inflation. The report noted that “one third of economic activities would have no justification for existence under market conditions.”
Essentially, the report conceded that the preceding years of IMF reform had created an economic point-of-no-return. Noting that “Monetary authorities can squeeze inflation out through restrictive monetary policies,” the assessment found that Yugoslavia had tried this in 1989, but failed: “The result was deep recession. Infusions of money to ease the recession immediately reignited old inflationary pressures.”
Most importantly, the CIA assessment reveals that by late 1990, before the outbreak of hostilities, US and European officials had firmly adopted a policy of attempting to manage a “dissolution” of Yugoslavia:
“European powers will pay lipservice to the idea of Yugoslav integrity while quietly accepting the dissolution of the federation. West European governments share Washington’s hope that Yugoslavia’s transformation will be peaceable, but they will not provide much financial support. Austrian officials fear possible consequences from a breakup of Yugoslavia but say, nonetheless, that they favor democracy and self-determination above unity. Bonn, with its influence in the region greatly enhanced by unification, will continue to foster individual contacts between German state governments and the emerging Yugoslav successor states.”
Thus, in 1990, years before the outbreak of conflict, the US and Europe were already jockeying to position themselves in preparation for the break-up of Yugoslavia.
The CIA assessment also predicted that the most likely source of violence would come from Serb efforts to “reincorporate disputed territory into greater Serbia.” It assessed that Slovenia and Croatia as “independent democratic market-oriented states” would be most easily integrated into Western Europe, but that Serbia — due to “nationalism and statism” — would be inhibited from such integration due to its “failure to adopt similar political and economic reforms,” to agree to settlements, and its human rights record.
Nevertheless, as Balkans expert Tim Judah documented in his book, Serbs: History, Myth and the Destruction of Yugoslavia (2008), the US effectively gave the “green light not only for the conquest of Srebrenica but of Krajina too” with a view to facilitate the carve-up of Bosnia and corresponding “simplified” population exchanges. The Srebrenica massacre in July “could not be ignored,” found Judah, but “it could nonetheless be used…
“Immediately after the massacres took place, the Americans had satellite pictures showing the location of mass graves but these were released in the UN Security Council only on 9 August, at such a time as to distract attention from the exodus of Krajina’s entire population which was then taking place.”
The US was also arming Bosnian Muslims through an alliance with Islamists.
According to British intelligence historian Prof. Richard Aldrich, summarising intelligence files exhibited in the official Dutch government inquiry into the Srebrenica massacre, the Pentagon, with tacit support from MI6, literally flew in al-Qaeda mujahideen into Bosnia from 1992 to 1995, in violation of the UN arms embargo. The so-called ‘black flights’ carrying arms and military trainers were undertaken largely by Turkish and Iranian planes, and later by unidentified black C-130 Hercules aircraft — all facilitated under Pentagon control of Yugoslav airspace.
The Dutch report, by intelligence expert Prof. Cees Wiebes, estimates the mujahideen presence in Bosnia to have been around several thousand, thanks to the Pentagon operation. The intelligence files show that the US and Britain were aware that multiple Muslim regimes were dispatching mujahideen fighters to Bosnia.
According to investigative journalist JM Berger, also a Brookings Institute fellow, “illegal arms ran through the UN embargo like water through a sieve, with the implicit or explicit blessing of the US government, and arms and other supplies frequently ended up in the hands of known al Qaeda members.” Berger added that this “US support for the arms shipments…continued even after a high-profile member of the Bosnian network was convicted of plotting to blow up UN headquarters in New York City.”
A declassified State Department cable obtained by Berger shows that the black flights documented by Wiebes routinely carried Islamist mujahideen fighters into Bosnia. One plane from Iran (out of hundreds) was intercepted by the Croats. Apart from being “fully loaded with arms,” there were also “20 to 40 mujahideen fighters on the plane… these were probably not all (or even mostly) Iranians. Iranian nationals in Bosnia functioned more as trainers and intelligence agents, but Iran helped smuggle in fighters from around the Muslim world.” Berger also reported that: “American military veterans were also flying into Bosnia to serve as trainers to the Bosnian mujahideen during the same period.”
The Croats, according to Berger, contacted US embassy staff — obviously not privy to the top secret Pentagon operation — who, perplexed, told them to send the plane back.
Wiebes’ survey demonstrates that the mujahideen were integrated into the Bosnian Armed Forces, receiving significant arms and logistical support, although they operated with considerable autonomy.
While the culpability of Serb forces in genocidal violence against Bosnian Muslims is well-documented, less known is the role of these foreign Islamist militants in carrying out massacres and atrocities.
A report from the International Centre for Counter Terrorism (ICCT) in The Hague notes tensions between local Muslims and the mujahideen entering Bosnia with Pentagon support. Far from ameliorating violence, the mujahideen committed decapitations and mutilations of both soldiers and civilians. Jan Willem Honig and Norbert Both, in their Srebrenica: Record of a War Crime, acknowledge that, emboldened by these forces, Bosnian Muslims had “conquered and ethnically cleansed a vast area” — though they remained severely outmatched by the better armed Serb forces.
After Dayton, the Bosnian government issued thousands of passports, birth certificates and other documents to the mujahideen fighters, some of whom became implicated in terrorist activity.
A classified US State Department report leaked in 2001 showed that officials believed Bosnia had now become “a staging area and safe haven” for terrorists linked to Osama bin Laden.
Even one of your own senior Tory figures — Sir Alfred Sherman, top adviser to Margaret Thatcher and co-founder of the Centre for Policy Studies — noted in 1997 that:
“The US encouraged and facilitated the dispatch of arms to the Moslems via Iran and Eastern Europe — a fact which was denied in Washington at the time in face of overwhelming evidence…
The war in Bosnia was America’s war in every sense of the word. The US administration helped start it, kept it going, and prevented its early end. Indeed all the indications are that it intends to continue the war in the near future, as soon as its Moslem proteges are fully armed and trained.”
The NATO operations in the Balkans were about expanding US hegemony into Eastern Europe and rolling back Russian influence, according to Sir Sherman.
A year later, then US energy secretary Bill Richardson agreed with him in reference to US interests in Caspian oil and gas:
“This is about American’s energy security. It’s also about preventing strategic inroads by those who don’t share our values. We’re trying to move these newly independent countries toward the west. We would like to see them reliant on western commercial and political interests rather than going another way. We’ve made a very substantial political investment in the Caspian and it’s very important to us that both the pipeline map and the politics come out right.”
In 1996, MI6 had according to American intelligence sources begun working with Islamist extremists Omar Bakri Mohammed, Abu Hamza and Haroon Rashid Aswat to recruit British Muslims to fight in Kosovo. Among the factions Britain and the US supported as part of the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) were al-Qaeda units linked to Ayman al-Zawahiri, bin Laden’s deputy at the time.
Ironically, the 1999 NATO bombing campaign which you claim was perpetrated to support Muslims in fact accelerated the violence and precipitated the ethnic cleansing of Kosovan Albanians. The OSCE inquiry noted “the pattern of the expulsions and the vast increase in lootings, killings, rape, kidnappings and pillage once the NATO air war began on March 24… The most visible change in the events was after NATO launched its first airstrikes.”
Then NATO Commander Gen. Wesley Clark admitted at the time that it was “entirely predictable” that Serb atrocities would intensify due to the bombing: “The military authorities fully anticipated the vicious approach that Milosevic would adopt, as well as the terrible efficiency with which he would carry it out.”
So why bomb? Not to save Albanians, according to Gen. Clark, who even pointed out that the NATO operation planned by:
“… the political leadership…was not designed as a means of blocking Serb ethnic cleansing. It was not designed as a means of waging war against the Serb and MUP [internal police] forces in Kosovo. Not in any way. There was never any intent to do that. That was not the idea.”
Saving Muslims in Kosovo from ethnic cleansing was “not the idea” according to NATO’s commanding General at the time — but you know better?
None of this justifies “wronged Muslims” taking “revenge” against the West.
The terrorists who killed and maimed on 7/7 and 9/11 and so on, are not “wronged Muslims.” They are despicable criminals. But the despicable nature of their savagery does not erase the fact that Western wrongdoing plays a role in fuelling the grievances that permit extremist ideology to fester.
The funny thing is, Prime Minister, that it’s not mad conspiracy theorists that disagree with you on this: it’s British government counter-terrorism experts.
According to a joint Home Office and Foreign Office study based on survey evidence, information from British intelligence services, and academic research, foreign policy grievances are critical.
The report concluded:
“It seems that a particularly strong cause of disillusionment amongst Muslims including young Muslims is a perceived ‘double standard’ in the foreign policy of western governments (and often those of Muslim governments), in particular Britain and the US…
Perceived Western bias in Israel’s favour over the Israel/Palestinian conflict is a key long term grievance of the international Muslim community which probably influences British Muslims.
This perception seems to have become more acute post 9/11. The perception is that passive ‘oppression’, as demonstrated in British foreign policy, eg non-action on Kashmir and Chechnya, has given way to `active oppression’ — the war on terror, and in Iraq and Afghanistan are all seen by a section of British Muslims as having been acts against Islam.
This disillusionment may contribute to a sense of helplessness with regard to the situation of Muslims in the world, with a lack of any tangible ‘pressure valves,’ in order to vent frustrations, anger or dissent.
Hence this may lead to a desire for a simple ‘Islamic’ solution to the perceived oppression/problems faced by the ‘Ummah’ — Palestine, Iraq, Chechnya, Kashmir and Afghanistan.”
So British intelligence, along with senior civil servants and experts in the Home Office and Foreign Office, are all basically deluded?
But you and your Cabinet have somehow developed a special insight missed by counter-terrorism specialists in the Ministry of Defence, MI5 and MI6?
“…it’s groups like ISIL, Al Qaeda and Boko Haram that are the ones murdering Muslims.”
While entirely true, it is false to claim that these despicable groups are the only ones “murdering Muslims.”
The scale of death wrought by successive British and American governments in Iraq and Afghanistan alone — both before and after 9/11 — is truly colossal, by any standard.
Even taking on the lowest possible numbers — Prof Stephen Walt of Harvard University calculates very conservatively 288,000 Muslims killed by US forces, compared to 10,000 Americans killed — Western violence in the Muslim world far outweigh deaths of Westerners due to Islamist terrorism.
Prof. Walt, a founder of one of the core theories of International Relations, structural realism, has pointed out that:
“Our real problem isn’t a fictitious Muslim ‘narrative’ about America’s role in the region; it is mostly the actual things we have been doing in recent years.”
Over the last 30 years (thus including decades before 9/11), he wrote, the US and UK have “killed nearly 30 Muslims for every American lost” — a ratio that “is probably much higher” in reality.
How much higher? A number of scientific estimates suggest that the total number of people killed in Iraq and Afghanistan by US and British covert and overt interventions, since 1990, approximates 4 million.
Wherever the real figures are between these higher and lower estimates, the upshot is that what you call “the grievance justification” is not, in fact, about “justification” at all.
It is about motivation.
And there can be no doubt that British government and intelligence counter-terrorism experts for the last decade largely agree that Britain’s dismal foreign policy record in the Middle East, North Africa and South Asia has stoked resentment and provoked anger, thus fuelling the grievances that terrorist groups use to attract disillusioned recruits.
Why are you ignoring them?
You condemn the narrative of a ‘war on Islam’ while ignoring how our foreign policy has contributed to that narrative.
If you want to change the narrative, Prime Minister, you need to acknowledge the facts of history, and change your policy.
“Others might say: its because terrorists are driven to their actions by poverty.
But that ignores the fact that many of these terrorists have had the full advantages of prosperous families and a Western university education.”
The same Home Office and Foreign Office report had also highlighted economic disadvantage as a critical factor in radicalisation.
Not, however, in the simplistic straw-man sense that you knock down, but in the more important sense that the deprivation experienced by the majority of British Muslims contributes to the formation of a general sense of identity associated with social exclusion, even for those who are not themselves excluded:
“Muslims are more likely than other faith groups to have no qualifications (over two fifths have none) and to be unemployed and economically inactive, and are over-represented in deprived areas. However, this is largely associated with the disadvantage of the Pakistani and Bangladeshi communities, whereas the experience of Indian and Arab Muslims is much less disadvantaged…
There is still low Muslim representation in mainstream institutions of influence, especially for women — eg in public appointments, volunteering and mainstream politics (although the Home Office Citizenship Survey 2001 suggests that low Muslim participation rates largely reflect non-faith factors such as education, economic empowerment, age and gender).”
When a wider community experiences deprivation and unemployment — and 70% of British Muslims of South Asian ethnicity are in poverty — all the social science literature confirms that this has a detrimental impact on general identity formation in those communities, and exacerbates a sense of exclusion.
No one is saying that this alone makes a terrorist. The reality, though, is that this sense of exclusion contributes to the grievances that terrorist groups like al-Qaeda and ISIS exploit to recruit to their cause.
You also insinuate that Muslims in particular suffer disproportionately from a lack of integration within Britain, which contributes to their disloyalty to Britain, and even hostility to its citizens.
“For all our successes as multi-racial, multi-faith democracy, we have to confront a tragic truth that there are people born and raised in this country who dont really identify with Britain — and feel little or no attachment to other people here.
Indeed, there is a danger in some of our communities that you can go your whole life and have little to do with people from other faiths and backgrounds.
So when groups like ISIL seek to rally our young people to their poisonous cause, it can offer them a sense of belonging that they can lack here at home leaving them more susceptible to radicalisation and even violence against other British people to whom they feel no real allegiance.”
Your contempt for facts, Prime Minister, is astonishing.
For despite the social exclusion that British Muslims suffer from disproportionately, it is not British Muslims who are failing to integrate with people from other faiths and backgrounds — it’s people like you.
In February, a ComRes poll of British Muslims for the BBC found that 93% believe they should always obey British laws; 95% feel loyalty to the country; 84% would not leave Britain to live in a Muslim state; 85% feel no sympathy towards those fighting against Western interests; 85% did not agree that organisations publishing depictions of the Prophet Muhammed should be attacked.
The poll also revealed that the risk of radicalisation was very much bound up with grievances. It showed that 30% of British Muslims aged 18 to 34 had some sympathy with the motives of the Charlie Hebdo attackers. So despite overwhelming opposition to the Charlie Hebdo attacks, a firm belief in their lack of justification, and unswerving loyalty to Britain, just over a quarter of young British Muslims felt some affinity with what they thought to be the grievances that motivated the attacks.
The latest poll corroborates previous polls. In 2009, Gallup found that 77% of Muslims say they “identified with the UK,” compared with only 50% of the public at large.
That is despite 75% of British Muslims also identifying with their religion. Religious belief, then, is not a barrier for the 82% of Muslims who say they are loyal to the UK.
The barrier is coming from outside Muslim communities. The Gallup poll showed that only 36% of the general public would consider Muslims loyal to the country: in other words, a disturbing majority of the general British public — 67% of Britons — are suspicious of Muslims in general.
Prime Minister, it seems, you are among that majority. Are you not ashamed?
Poll after poll, study after study, consistently prove that British Muslims are more integrated into British society than their compatriots. Many of the latter, beguiled by the constant association of Muslims with terror thanks to poorly researched and ill-informed speeches such as yours, rarely come across people of other faiths, barely know any Muslims (or other members of other minority communities), and therefore find it easy to swallow stereotypical fear-mongering promoted by politicians.
The Gallup poll, also pointed out that another major factor in inhibiting Muslims from reaching their “full potential” in Britain was economic. The poll found found that only 7% of British Muslims were considered “thriving” compared with 56% of the general population, and only 38% said they had a job, compared with 62% of the general public.
It’s worth noting here that the joint Home Office/Foreign Office report cited above, which drew on British intelligence, showed that the perception of anti-Muslim hostility is another major factor in radicalisation:
“Perceived Islamophobia (particularly post-9/11) in society and the media may cause some British Muslims including young Muslims to feel isolated and alienated and in a few cases to reject democratic and multi-cultural values…
Lack of understanding of Islam — insensitive use of language and perceptions of Islam and an ill-informed assumption that Islam’s teachings are inherently extremist. Media coverage of extremist fringe groups increases this…
Muslims’ perception of bias in the way counter-terrorism powers are used to stop, detain and arrest people, both at ports and in-country.”
So, Prime Minister, you have successfully reinforced the overwhelming perception among British Muslims that they are a problem community requiring special measures, thus vindicating the bigotry of far-right neo-Nazi extremists, and feeding the victim mentality that extremists prey on to exploit and recruit.
Why is your government so intent on ignoring the consensus in the academic literature on terrorism and radicalisation, which has proven your ideological presumptions about both to be fanciful theories, promoted by ignorant American neoconservatives?
Indeed, I am appalled but sadly not surprised to hear that instead of listening to experts with years of direct experience in the field, you are still taking advice from the laughably inept group of misfits who operate under the nomenclature of “the Quilliam Foundation.”
On Sunday afternoon, Quilliam’s founding chairman Maajid Nawaz tweeted:
“PM Cameron @Number10gov gives major policy-defining speech on extremism tomorrow. I helped with it. It’s significant.”
“…. his speech will acknowledge this has something, not everything, but something to do with Islam.”
What advice did you receive from Maajid Nawaz? And why is it that you and your government take the Quilliam Foundation so seriously?
I ask this because of your statements as follows:
“But you dont have to support violence to subscribe to certain intolerant ideas which create a climate in which extremists can flourish.
Ideas which are hostile to basic liberal values such as democracy, freedom and sexual equality.
Ideas which actively promote discrimination, sectarianism and segregation.
Ideas — like those of the despicable far right — which privilege one identity to the detriment of the rights and freedoms of others…
We believe in freedom of speech, freedom of worship, equal rights regardless of race, sex, sexuality or faith. We believe in respecting different faiths but also expecting those faiths to support the British way of life.”
Does your government not vet the people it calls into No. 10 Downing Street?
Are you not aware that Maajid Nawaz and the ‘experts’ employed by his ‘thick-tank’, Quilliam Foundation, completely lack even a shred of meaningful academic expertise (not a single contribution to the peer-reviewed academic literature at all) and are largely devoid of any meaningful, concrete experience of actual counter-radicalisation/counter-terrorism practice?
Are you not aware that Quilliam is merely a tool of far-right violent extremists in the US?
If not, why not? Surely the government vets the people it calls into Whitehall?
You claim that freedom of speech is a British value, but you take advice from a man who appointed to the board of Quilliam an American neoconservative bigot, Chad Sweet, a former US Homeland Security official under the Bush administration who now sits on the board of the FBI’s InfraGard, which facilitates spying on the public for corporate interests. The American Civil Liberties Union has criticised InfraGard for eroding freedom of speech and political dissent—both of which are integral to democracy, no?
During his tenure as an American director of Nawaz’s Quilliam Foundation, Chad Sweet was campaign manager for Senator Ted Cruz — the far-right neocon bigot who is openly homophobic, racist, and misogynist, as well as being a climate denier.
As a Quilliam director, Sweet happily promoted Cruz and his Republican brand of homophobia, racism and misogyny to his heart’s content, without a peep of protest from the ‘liberal’ Nawaz, who is clearly happy to harbour the very same bigotry he publicly opposes, on his very own Board of Directors.
Chad Sweet was and is part of a wider US network of white supremacists who see anti-Muslim hatred as their ticket to political victory.
Also on Quilliam’s US board is Courtney La Bau, who is Vice President of a bank not only linked to the repressive regime of Hosni Mubarak in Egypt, but which also has a joint partnership with Saudi Arabia’s largest private bank, al-Rahji, described by US intelligence as a “conduit for extremist finance” — al-Rahji’s founder is a member of Osama bin Laden’s ‘Golden Chain’ of al-Qaeda financiers.
Over the last few years, Quilliam has received a million dollars in funding from a Republican front charity — Gen Next Inc. — which essentially operates to raise money for Republican political candidates, and for political causes and issues close to the hard-right of the Republic circuit: much of this involves promoting politicians who promote war — war and regime-change in the Muslim world.
The network’s members include senior members of the Bush administration who spearheaded the invasion of Iraq, which alone killed nearly a million people (according to last year’s study by the Nobel Prize-winning doctors group, Physicians for Social Responsibility).
These violent extremists pull the strings of the unqualified morons you are inviting into the heart of government, to advise you on your speeches and policies.
Given your professed concern with tackling “entryist” violent extremism, this is quite alarming.
The Home Office/Foreign Office report mentioned above even referred to how the government’s reliance on such crony organisations, with no grassroots credibility or expertise, is alienating and radicalising people:
“Some young Muslims are disillusioned with mainstream Muslim organisations that are perceived as pedestrian, ineffective and in many cases, as `sell-outs’ to HMG.
The government must make a more concerted effort to persuade the Muslim community that it is trusted and respected. That requires a change of language. Public challenges to Muslims to decide where their loyalties lie are counterproductive.”
It’s been over 10 years since that internal government study, and no lessons have been learned. To the contrary, you are repeating and reinforcing the incompetent, self-serving mistakes of your predecessors.
Your far-right promoters
Worse, Prime Minister, you are associating with people who stand for the very illiberal anti-British values you claim to oppose.
I am thinking, for instance, of one of your closest confidents and ad hoc advisors, Lord Daniel Finkelstein, who sits on the board of the Gatestone Institute, a notorious US think-tank that promotes far-right extremism and racism. This is the same think-tank that hosted Geert Wilders, who your Home Secretary previously banned for his racist incitement. Wilders not only promotes hatred of Muslims, he has openly called for ethnic Moroccans to be depopulated from the Netherlands.
Yet Finkelstein has promoted Wilders’ anti-Muslim bigotry and racist calls to depopulate Europe of its Muslims by, along with his other Gatestone board members, approving the publication of screeds sanitising and defending his far-right extremist ideology.
Finkelstein, in the same capacity at Gatestone, promotes the very same blogger who was cited 111 times by far-right terrorist Anders Breivik in his manifesto, and who has stated:
“Islam and all those who practice it must be total and physically removed from the Western world.”
Lord Finkelstein disavows that he personally advocates or believes such things. But he insists that such ideas deserve to be heard and platformed, and himself actively ensures they are heard and platformed. And he appears to have your ear.
Why do you cavort with a man who gleefully promotes racism and xenophobia, a man who publishes through the Gatestone Institute absurd narratives of “Muslim no go zones,” which you yourself described as idiocy?
Prime Minister, please disclose in the public interest the nature of your conversations with faux-liberals like Finkelstein and Nawaz, and please explain why your opposition to far-right extremism does not extend to rooting out the promoters and sympathisers of violent far-right extremism whom you are harbouring in your own private advisory sessions.
You go on to suggest that those who criticise your government’s flawed and misguided counter-terrorism policies are engaged in malevolent conspiracy theories:
“And ideas also based on conspiracy…
..that Jews exercise malevolent power…
…or that Western powers, in concert with Israel, are deliberately humiliating Muslims, because they aim to destroy Islam.
In this warped worldview, such conclusions are reached…
…that 9/11 was actually inspired by Mossad to provoke the invasion of Afghanistan…
…that British security services knew about 7/7, but didnt do anything about it because they wanted to provoke an anti-Muslim backlash.”
Why is it that in 2007, when Tony Blair dismissed the need for an independent public inquiry into 7/7 as it would “undermine support” for the security services, you condemned his stance and demanded a full inquiry as only that would “get to the truth.”?
Let’s cut to the chase, Prime Minister — this not about “conspiracy theories.” It’s about your utter contempt for the 7/7 families and survivors, who after having suffered the worst terrorist attack in Britain since WW2, had to endure your government’s backtracking of your promise to hold an independent public inquiry.
It was the 7/7 families and survivors who were asking the hard questions that, before your rise to government, you disingenously supported to win votes.
Urgent questions like — why did MI5 lie by claiming it had not identified any of the 7/7 bombers prior to the attacks?
Why did the government lie by pretending that no warnings whatsoever of the attacks had been received by the intelligence services, when in fact, as we now know from leaks published in the press, dozens of warnings were received?
Why, despite urging an inquiry into the “preventability” of the attacks while hoping for votes, do you now effectively mock the 7/7 families and survivors, and the lawyers and experts who supported their call for an inquiry, as conspiracy theorists, complicit in extremism?
Prime Minister, this is disgusting behaviour, and it does not represent British values.
“The world is not conspiring against Islam; the security services arent behind terrorist attacks; our new Prevent duty for schools is not about criminalising or spying on Muslim children.”
As usual, your straw-men are irrelevant.
Your government played a key role in creating the murdering, rapist, tyrannical scum rampaging across Iraq-Syria under the banner of the ‘Islamic State.’
In your self-serving drive to destabilise the regime of Bashir al-Assad in Syria, and to rollback Iranian influence in the region on behalf of your allies in the Gulf, you and the US supported those despicable Gulf regimes in supplying arms and aid to al-Qaeda in Iraq, al-Qaeda in Syria, the Muslim Brotherhood, and Salafi-jihadist groups: groups that you now conveniently claim to oppose.
In 2012, the intelligence community was fully aware that the core of the rebel insurgency being supported by the West, the Gulf states and Turkey was overrun by al-Qaeda. We were warned that continuing this strategy would spawn a “Salafist Principality” in eastern Syria, which would in turn trigger the eruption of an “Islamic State” entity across Iraq and Syria.
Yet you, in alliance with the Obama administration, accelerated the strategy. You accelerated it knowing full well that British and Western Muslims were being recruited by extremists to fight in Syria, knowing full well that many of them would return to the West and pose a threat to our national security — yet in your noble pursuit to topple Assad the dictator, you helped other dictators support the extremists that would become ISIS, and you turned a blind eye to the radicalisation of a minority of our young people here as a result.
Even now, while you pontificate obscenely from your pulpit about “extremism,” British military intelligence officials are on the ground in Turkey and Jordan, working with the Gulf states and Turkey to supply arms and aid, and to coordinate operations, for al-Qaeda forces in Syria — purportedly to counter ISIS.
But you’d rather we don’t ask questions about that, right Prime Minister?
You’d rather we scrutinise the views of Muslim children — even when your own Parliament’s inquiry into the ‘Trojan Horse’ school allegations concluded that your Education Minister, Michael Gove, had severely overreached:
“One incident apart, no evidence of extremism or radicalisation was found by any of the inquiries in any of the schools involved. Neither was there any evidence of a sustained plot, nor of significant problems in other parts of the country.”
You have claimed on NBC news to be committed to working with the US “to destroy the caliphate” in Iraq and Syria, but you are working with some of the most extremist, corrupt and violent regimes in the region — Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the UAE, Turkey, Israel — supposedly to promote democracy and human rights.
These are the very same regimes which, by the admission of your American colleague, Vice President Joe Biden, funded al-Qaeda in Iraq (which became ISIS) and its rival al-Qaeda in Syria (many of whose members went on to join ISIS).
Now you are working with them to “destroy the caliphate,” despite failing to investigate and shut-down the same funding networks to these violent extremists that your government helped establish.
Your war, Prime Minister, is a farce.
You, more than any other British citizen, are complicit in the rise of ISIS, and the radicalisation of a minority of Britons. You have helped create the militant groups which, you rightly acknowledge, are murdering not just Westerners, but Muslims in Iraq, Syria and beyond.
The only people that will benefit from all this are giant defence contractors, many of which are closely connected to your party, and which hold overbearing counter-democratic influence on your foreign policy.
“Whether you are Muslim, Hindu, Jewish, Christian or Sikh, whether you were born here or born abroad, we can all feel part of this country — and we must all now come together and stand up for our values with confidence and pride.”
I don’t need you to tell me stand up for our values, or to feel part of my country, thank you very much.
I’m British-born and bred, and unlike you, I’ve been standing against violent extremists of all stripes, Muslim and Western, for much of my working life.
I’m standing up for British values right now, and taking this opportunity to demand that you stand up for British values by denouncing the violent extremism that you have been perpetrating, harbouring, and allying with through your own government.
I look forward to hearing from you soon.
Dr. Nafeez Mosaddeq Ahmed
Dr Nafeez Ahmed is an investigative journalist, bestselling author and international security scholar. A former Guardian writer, he writes the ‘System Shift’ column for VICE’s Motherboard, and is also a columnist for Middle East Eye.
He is the winner of a 2015 Project Censored Award, known as the ‘Alternative Pulitzer Prize’, for Outstanding Investigative Journalism for his Guardian work, and was selected in the Evening Standard’s ‘Power 1,000’ most globally influential Londoners.
Nafeez has also written for The Independent, Sydney Morning Herald, The Age, The Scotsman, Foreign Policy, The Atlantic, Quartz, Prospect, New Statesman, Le Monde diplomatique, New Internationalist, Counterpunch, Truthout, among others. He is a Visiting Research Fellow at the Faculty of Science and Technology at Anglia Ruskin University.
Nafeez is the author of A User’s Guide to the Crisis of Civilization: And How to Save It (2010), and the scifi thriller novel ZERO POINT, among other books. His work on the root causes and covert operations linked to international terrorism officially contributed to the 9/11 Commission and the 7/7 Coroner’s Inquest.
This article was amended on 23rd July 2015 to ensure a more accurate and detailed reflection of the Balkans conflicts. The previous version had stated that the Dutch inquiry into Srebrenica showed al-Qaeda fighters were flown into Bosnia by the Pentagon. This was amended to show that the evidence of fighters being flown in by various Muslim states with Pentagon approval is supported by a range of sources, including the Dutch inquiry. Other sources are also cited to supplement the wider analysis of the West’s role in aggravating these conflicts and fuelling terrorism.