The use and abuse of British Muslims
Using the specter of “ISIS terrorism” as cover, David Cameron is pushing through the latest chapter in the British state’s ongoing crackdown on civil liberties. But he is doing nothing to stop the terrorism he has helped to create.
The British state has been facilitating and promoting terrorism in Syria and Libya for the past four years. Since the beginning of the Syrian insurgency, the British government has been calling for its victory, meeting its leaders (including those openly allied to al-Qaeda), providing it with military equipment, training its forces, and has even chipped in to a £30million project to improve its public relations techniques.
Bombarded with lurid, misrepresented, and sometimes simply fabricated, stories about Assad’s brutality – and equally whitewashed accounts of the rebel forces – from the British media, hundreds of British Muslims responded to the propaganda campaign by going to join the valiant “freedom fighters” Cameron had been applauding so loudly. The British intelligence services openly facilitated their passage, as the revelations at the recent trial of Moazzam Begg made abundantly clear.
When the volunteers arrived, however, they discovered that the real situation in Syria was nothing like the image they had been fed by the BBC, ITN and Al Jazeera. The simple narrative of an oppressed people rising up against a hated dictator was muddied by the sectarian violence common amongst the insurgents, their gratuitous targeting of civilians, and the widespread support for the government still clearly evident amongst huge swathes of the population, including the supposedly oppressed Sunnis who continue to make up the majority of the Syrian army. Some of those who went to fight became disillusioned –as was perhaps the case with the two brothers jailed last week – whilst others were influenced by - and even developed a taste for - the sectarian brutality they found themselves a part of. Over time, the disillusioned either returned home, or, if they were Syrian themselves, even began to “critically support” the government, seeing it as the “lesser of two evils,” leading what had effectively become an existential war of national defense against a Western-backed terror campaign. In the process, the insurgency became increasingly stripped of its liberal veneer, and ever more openly a war of extreme religious chauvinism, targeting entire sections of the population on the basis of sect and race as much as political affiliation.
Of course, there was always the danger of “blowback” for the British state – the danger that those young Britons who had been “radicalized” in Syria (establishment double-speak for brainwashed, traumatized and initiated into a life of violence) would return to practice their new skills back home.
But rather than admit that its campaign of destabilization against Syria has been a murderous disaster and reversing it, the British state has launched yet another round of “counter-terror” measures, which implicitly point the finger of blame at the British Muslim community itself – precisely the section of British society who have suffered most from the government’s abuse of their youth as cannon fodder for their proxy war against Syria. Indeed, it is the parents of those youngsters lured into fighting in Syria who have been most angered by the British state’s effective endorsement and facilitation of the misguided activities of their children.
No one should be fooled into thinking that either the new “counter-terror” bill or the recent prosecution of two Britons returning from Syria actually represents a change of heart. It is worth noting that, far from discouraging terrorism, both the legislation and the court case create an incentive for British Muslims in Syria to stay there and keep fighting. When Moazzam Begg – who had admitted to making frequent trips to Syria in order to help the insurgency – was put on trial, MI5 eventually came to his defense and admitted they had given him the “green light”’ for everything he was doing, ensuring the collapse of the prosecution case. No intelligence agencies sprang to the defense of the two brothers last week, however, and both were given sentences of several years. Yet the judge had admitted that not only was there no evidence of their planning terrorism in the UK, but also that there was no evidence they had even been involved in the fighting in Syria. Was this, perhaps, what they were really being punished for – for refusing to co-operate with MI5 and fight in Britain’s proxy war? Is this why no one in MI5 spoke up for them? Either way, the message being sent to Britons in Syria is clear - stay and fight, because if you dare to come back you will be punished; a message clearly backed up by the new bill’s proposals to give the government the power to ban its citizens from returning home at all. Those British Muslims in Syria and Iraq who might have might have come to their senses and realized that they were conned by the Cameron/ Hague/ Al Jazeera/ BBC “freedom fighter” narrative, are now effectively being told by the British state that desertion is a crime and they must stay and finish the job. The Begg case shows that the only way to guarantee their immunity from prosecution is with MI5 protection, and the only way to attain that, it seems, is by being able to demonstrate some real service to the destabilization campaign. Try to return without even have fired a shot, and the fate of the London brothers awaits you.
It is in this light – of the British state’s use of Muslims to act as proxy soldiers for their campaigns of destabilization against independent third world states such as Libya and Syria – that we should view the “anti-terror” legislation. The strategy of recruiting British Muslims as foot soldiers for Britain’s wars is obviously fraught with danger. Unlike sending in ground forces as an occupying army, there is no direct chain of command from the British state, there is the danger that they will turn against their handlers, and so on. Therefore by granting new powers of house arrest, seizing passports, banning return home etc, this gives the intelligence services a very real additional power in terms of controlling and manipulating the fighters involved. Refusal to co-operate can get you put under house arrest, or ensure that your passport is removed. But co-operation can be rewarded with MI5 protection. And all of it can be presented to the public as the precise opposite – as the intelligence services diligently working to crack down on terrorism.
Of course, none of this means that the threat of terrorism within Britain is not real. But this week’s trial of a far-right British soldier for possession of a nail bomb suggests it does not emanate solely from the Muslim community. Indeed, the largest ever haul of explosives in Britain – along with a rocket launcher - was discovered by police in the house of a BNP member in 2006, and according to Europol data, only 0.4 percent of terrorist attacks between 2006 and 2008 were carried out by Islamists. Likewise there has yet to be a single prosecution of anyone returning from Syria planning attacks on British soil. Yet the presentation of the threat in the media always associates terrorism with Islam. This serves a double purpose - not only does it serve to scapegoat a vulnerable and under-represented community for Britain’s promotion of terrorism abroad, but it also deludes the white, non-Islamic, majority into thinking that anti-terror laws are not also aimed at them. We have already seen how existing “counter-terror” legislation has been used to crack down on protest and other misdemeanors totally unrelated to terrorism – from the arrest of 82-year old Water Wolfgang following his violent eviction from the Labour party conference, to councils spying on people’s dustbin habits. The reality is that once the police, the Home Secretary, and other state agencies are given “anti-terror” powers, they will use them as part of their everyday toolkit. And there is a good reason for them to beef up this toolkit against dissent right now – the imminent prospect of another financial crash.
David Cameron himself is but the latest establishment figure to admit that another crash is very likely on the way; others have gone further, with Martin Wolf of the Financial Times arguing that it is inevitable. When it occurs, it will massively deepen the existing economic crisis, and lead to unprecedented job, benefit and wage cuts, dwarfing even the already unprecedented cuts of the past few years. The social unrest, dissent and revolt this will produce will be huge, and the ongoing waves of “counter-terror” legislation will ensure that the state has the legislative framework already in place to launch massive crackdowns without the need for legal niceties of evidence, courts, trials etc. The current bill’s proposal to lower the burden of proof for imposing house arrest (now known as Terrorism Prevention and Investigation Measures) from “reasonable belief” to “balance of probabilities” is a particularly contemptuous snub to the entire basis of the British legal system. But it is not one without precedent, following on from other measures over the past fourteen years which have extended detention without charge, banned “unauthorized” protests outside parliament, and allowed the government to strip dual nationals of citizenship, amongst many others.
Once again, the specter of “Islamist terrorism” has provided the popular acquiescence necessary to push these measures through. The media’s complicity has been absolute. The proposal to allow the mass government snooping of internet data – already standard practice, albeit currently illegal – was justified largely by a well-timed “revelation” that one of Lee Rigby’s killers, Michael Adebalajo, used Facebook to communicate his intentions to a colleague. This tidbit, revealed in a report by parliament’s Intelligence and Security Committee, was front page, top of the hour, news across pretty much all British-based channels and newspapers. What was almost universally ignored from the same Committee report, however – or at least relegated to the inside pages – was the revelation that MI5 had been in frequent contact with Adebelajo for over ten years, and in particular during the run up to Rigby’s murder, during which time they had been attempting to recruit him to work for the organization. Indeed, according to his friends and family, it was precisely this MI5 pressure and harassment which largely motivated his fatal attack on Rigby. In other words, whilst the media were pushing the line that Facebook was responsible for the killing – implying that it could have been prevented if only state agencies were given greater powers of surveillance – they were sitting on a story which suggested the exact opposite – that Rigby’s murder was carried out by a man driven to it by the British state in its desperate attempt to extend its collaboration with “Islamist terrorism.”
By presenting the matter in the way they did, the media helps to ensure that the majority white, non-Muslim, British public is lulled into the idea that the tearing up of civil liberties is something that will only affect Muslims – so therefore the rest of us have nothing to worry about. The British state is promoting and tapping into a latent Islamophobia in order to tear up the civil liberties of the entire population – even whilst it continues to rely on “Islamist terrorism” to fight its proxy wars against independent third world states abroad. This is cynicism at its purest.
The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.