Scottish Daily Mail
We need a strategy stronger than the Left’s ‘hope it goes away’ to beat terror
‘Between the idea And the reality Between the motion And the act Falls the Shadow…
Between the conception And the creation Between the emotion And the response Falls the Shadow’ TS Eliot, The Hollow Men
WHAT saves us again and again is the Shadow. Be in no doubt: across the country today there are would-be jihadis devising outlandish ways to inflict death and terror on fellow Britons.
Often, the Security Services will get to them in time. Often, they won’t, and what will save us is the Shadow.
It’s a psychological impediment that is not easily overcome: taking another human’s life and knowing that you are almost certainly ending your own. It’s one thing to watch grisly videos and inflammatory speeches that make you burn with rage; to hunt around the internet for the methods of effective mass murder; to feel your breast swell with excitement as the charismatic older guy at the mosque suggests you visit a training camp overseas.
But the gap between the thought and the act, the theory and the reality and the consequences, remains. Especially if you live a relatively comfortable life in, say, Luton or Bradford and you like Coca-Cola and Adele and Grand Theft Auto.
But what if you don’t – or don’t any longer? The Security Services believe that at least 700 people have travelled from our shores to support or fight for jihadist groups in Syria and Iraq. Most are thought to have joined Islamic State. Around half have since returned to Britain.
These are facts that potentially change the game, that remove the Shadow from the equation – the presence in our society of individuals who hate us, who are now battle-hardened, who have seen or risked or inflicted death and who have shaken off the ‘softness’ of Western existence. They have handled weapons and feel the loyalty that exists between those who go to ‘war’ together. They have put theory into practice and now everything is different.
These are the ones who would take machine guns into a shopping centre, or grenades into a football stadium. Remember: Mohammad Sidique Khan, leader of the 7/7 suicide bombers, trained at Al Qaeda’s Malakand camp in Pakistan.
We will learn as the days pass whether this process of Islamist brutalisation and dehumanisation played a part in Friday night’s awful events in Paris. From early reports, it would seem so. Omar Ismail Mostefai, a French-Algerian gunman identified via a finger found at the Bataclan concert hall, where 89 people were murdered, is said to have been radicalised in 2010. The authorities say that before Friday, he had ‘never been implicated in an investigation or a terrorist association’. They are now investigating whether he took a trip to Syria last year.
Belgian police have arrested several people over alleged links to the attacks, all in the Brussels district of Molenbeek, which has been linked to several other terror plots in Europe. Returnees from Syria are known to have made their home in Molenbeek in recent years.
Until recently, Islamic State hadn’t often pursued the kinds of attacks on foreign shores which were the trademark of Al Qaeda. The Paris attack, with its militarystyle co-ordination, carefully selected targets and lust for death (both the victims’ and the murderers’ own), would seem to be clear evidence of a change in strategy. It is ludicrous to suppose it will be a one-off or that France will be the only country to suffer. The question is: what do we do in response?
The West remains profoundly traumatised by Iraq, its confidence wholly unnerved by Afghanistan. The limits of our military power have been exposed to us, the willingness of our populations to support the use of force hugely reduced. The seemingly unshakeable taint attached to the reputations of Tony Blair and George W Bush serves as a warning to their successors that adventurism in foreign policy carries a heavy risk.
This is one reason for the act of selfhumiliation committed by Britain in 2013, when Parliament forced the Government to abandon plans for military measures against Syria’s President Assad, despite his suspected use of chemical weapons. At that time, Ed Miliband (remember him?) said the Commons had spoken ‘for the people of Britain’, and the UK ‘doesn’t need reckless and impulsive leadership, it needs calm and measured leadership’.
The consequence was that Barack Obama (among the least reckless and impulsive political leaders in history) was made to step back from action. The West’s reputation has never recovered and our enemies are emboldened like never before.
As George Osborne said at the time: ‘I hope this doesn’t become a moment when we turn our back on all of the world’s problems.’ It seems to me this is largely what happened – and happens still.
The rise of Jeremy Corbyn and his gang of dim extremists, whose grotesquely naïve view of foreign policy seems based on lachrymose sympathy for even our vilest enemies and a loathing of any attempt by the West to defend itself, is a tragedy. The smug complacency of the Left in the face of the challenges we face – in short, ‘show tolerance and it’ll all go away’ – defies belief.
The murderous Islamic State is growing in strength, reach and ambition. It exists to defeat the values on which Western democracy is based – freedom of expression, equality before the law, prosperity and opportunity.
Our retreat to what might be described as spooked nervousness, to a posture equivalent to watching a scary movie from behind a cushion, does us no credit. Even if we choose not to care as men, women and children are enslaved, raped, tortured and killed in North Africa and the Middle East, will our spines remain unstiffened when the killing hits closer to home?
We would all prefer to live in a world in which difficult choices – even situations in which there are no good options – did not exist and peace and tolerance reigned. But as much as we might wish it, that is not our world. There is no peaceful way out of the conflict with radical Islam. They mean to defeat us. If we are unwilling to fight back in any meaningful way, to stand up for that for which our ancestors died, we will soon be confronted by a very different and much darker shadow indeed.