Sunday, July 17, 2005

Groping Towards Solution

Everyone knows what we should do about the danger of home-made jihadis. The Muslim community must do more to confront the extremists in their midst! And, on the other hand, we must strive to understand how these people came to commit such sickening acts. That's the robot consensus. As Tim Worstall's strapline would put it, though, it's all obvious or trivial. What is meant by "confront"? What is meant by "community"? What is meant by "extremist"?

Actually Existing Phil has been attempting to do some of this unpacking using the context of Italy's own home-made terrorist movement and the responses of the state and the analogous source community, in this case the broad Left. He estimates that the "scene" from which the Red Brigades' operatives were drawn numbered some 2,000 people, which is eerily similar to the former Metropolitan Police chief John Stevens' figure for the total number of potential jihadis in the UK. Just for that reason, that campaign should be worth studying. Here, Phil argues that, in fact, the Italian Left did exactly what was asked of it by the state, which was also what is now asked of "the Muslim community". That is to say, the Italian Communist Party launched an internal ideological campaign against those it perceived to be real or potential sympathisers. (Please bear in mind from this point that from around 1976 on, the PCI was committed to a parliamentary road to socialism and continued membership in the western security architecture, including both NATO and the EEC, or at least a European economic community if not *the* European economic community.)But, of course, the party leaders could not resist the temptation to a) include in the set of "extremists" anyone whose views did not fit their own preferences or threatened the historic compromise with the Christian Democrats and the office, funds and legitimacy it brought with it and b) to use the extremist brand to demonise their rivals on the Left.

What happened was that the Communist Party essentially wasted away, becoming increasingly beholden to the centre-right, whilst also alienating those to its Left. Extreme-Left terrorism and support for it actually increased as the party piled up new enemies. In essence, the party-base (the "leftist community") found that the official party represented their views progressively less, and that the movements that did were given a choice between joining the party in the government's boat, or be lumped in with the nutters and suffer the ostracism and police harassment that would entail.

Of course, an important point in Phil's analogy is that the similarities are still deeper. The coalition of industrial workers and intellectual lefties who made up the "leftist community" were seen by the PCI leadership as their own inalienable fief. The British Labour Party has frequently demonstrated a similar attitude towards Muslims in its Lancastrian and West Yorkshire fortress seats. Talk to the right "community leader" and they will get out the vote in the best Tammany Hall fashion. The Tories, incidentally, attempted in the 2001 election to reverse frame this by appealing to the citizens of Bradford West that they "should vote for someone from their community", or in other words that their candidate was a Muslim whereas the Labour candidate was a Sikh. It didn't happen, and Mohammed Riaz, local councillor and William Hague's "Race Adviser"/token Asian, trooped off into obscurity. (This weirdly American ward-boss political culture, by the way, showed up to worst effect in the Birmingham vote-rigging scandal.)

Phil's conclusion is that such a strategy (of tensions?) would benefit the Labour Party's partisan interests, but would undermine the fight against terrorism in the same way it did in Italy. Stepping off the kerb of reviewing Phil, one of the key points that emerges from almost all accounts of the suicide four's history is that they did not seek ideological satisfaction or inspiration in the mosque, or at least not in their mosque. There were clandestine meetings in a shutdown youth centre, and journeys of many miles to seek out particular preachers. This strikes right to the core of the problem. The "Muslim community" as non-Muslims perceive it - mosques, bearded old chaps in committees and such - which also produces the community powerbrokers of Brum could not have informed on them because they were living outside it. This is why people care about finding imams who will preach in English (I nearly wrote "in the vernacular" - there is something uncanny about exactly the same debates of the time of William Tyndale being rehearsed in 2005), and why it is necessary that they do engage with current politics. One point missing from the current blogswarm around the Guardian trainee and alleged jihadi Dilpazier Aslam is that, in his article that exercises the Right so, he made a very important point. If the mosque does not mention Iraq, that is not enough to seal it off as a topic of debate. Not letting the peasants read the Bible didn't prevent the Reformation, but it did mean that they would organise secret societies to do so.

What would a Euro-Islamic, by analogy with Euro-Communist, party look like? Or if you prefer, an Islamic Democrat party by analogy with Christian Democracy? (Don't forget that European CDs were mostly created to represent the Right in countries that had recently been fascist.)Would it be laughed out of court as an obvious sellout, drift to the extremes, or could it be more like the Turkish Justice & Development Party? Before crapping your pants, consider the definition of Eurocommunism used above. A parliamentary road to democratic socialism and no truck with the Warsaw Pact or the USSR. What might be similar minimals of acceptability for an IDP/EIP?

So, let us look at the possible strategies: 1. is the neo-Italian strategy of tensions, which we have just discussed in detail. 2. is accommodation. 3. would be some sort of Harry's Place-esque liberal-hawk British version of laicité. 4. would be pure repression. Well, we've just dealt quite harshly with 1. Some of 2. is probably essential. 3 is silly. Without getting into the debate about French hijabs, whether or not it would have been a good idea 40 years ago is irrelevant. Trying to implement it now would only fuel the fire without much benefit. However, it might be useful in selling 2. 4 is, in essence, having the police be extremely unpleasant to Muslims, and in all probability Sikhs, Italians, Greeks, Hindus and anyone else an idiot might think was one. It won't work, either, for the simple reason that it's always the one you didn't see that gets you. Has anyone else noticed that the 7th of July bombings essentially marked the bankruptcy of Blunkett/Clarke's antiterrorist strategy, which was basically that we knew who was a terrorist and all that was needed was the power to detain without trial/deny communications/monitor at all times? Why hasn't he resigned?


chris stiles said...

Your last comment also neatly explains the febrible conspiracy theories on some blogs.

It's all a form of survivor bias. Anyone loud who hangs around the local radical mosque is probably already under survelliance.

Incidentally, can you get your comments fixed at some point?

Alex said...

There is nothing wrong with the comments. Please use the main comments thread when it is operational, not the alternate. The comments link giving a number of comments is the main comments thread. The link that reads "link and alternate comments" is the alternate thread.

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