UK’s Fight Against Terrorism Complicated by Presence in Iraq
by Manuel L. Quezon III
Earlier this week, the prime minister of Great Britain met with Muslim leaders, even as two thirds of the electorate view Tony Blair as responsible for the London bombings. While London authorities try to get things back on track (an apt phrase considering the damage to subway stations), they only expect to begin getting service coverage back to normal by early next week.
It may be that British authorities, in trying to continue waging their version of the war on terror, are faced with a peculiar problem. In past conflicts, the instinctive response of beleaguered governments has been to round up and detain enemy nationals. In World Wars I and II, for example, Germans were rounded up and detained, or kept under watch, for the duration. During the decades of trouble with Irish terrorists, the British enforced martial law in Northern Ireland and kept a watch on visitors from Ireland.
In fighting Islamic extremism, the problem is much more difficult, not least because Britain must fight a particular interpretation of a religion, while avoiding the persecution of an entire faith. The suspects so far named, who range from people from the Middle East, East Asia, to the Caribbean, indicates a further problem, which is, that Islam is a global religion, one that cannot be totally defined by skin color, ethnic origin, or language. A Muslim, like a Protestant, or Catholic, or even a Buddhist, could come from virtually anywhere in the world.
And yet, the British remain saddled with a problem: By fighting a particular interpretation of a religion, they need the help of that religion’s co-religionists in order to fight fellow members of the same faith. In trying to stamp out terrorism, they cannot afford to bear down heavily on ethnic minorities, because this entails running the risk of alienating those minorities. In fighting terrorism, then, they cannot avoid, or it is very difficult to avoid, actions that can be misconstrued as being tantamount to launching a crusade.
With millions of followers of Islam in Britain and its former colonies, what can the government, then, really do? Do what it is doing, which is, to enlist the Islamic community in the fight? This brings up unsettling questions, however. When a person is asked to help in the surveillance of his co-religionists, or fellow members of a minority, does it ultimately help the majority in that country, or drive the minorities further away?
The imams against terrorism have condemned extremism time and again; surely the mosques amplify those condemnations. Communities composed of peace-loving, God-fearing people, surely, do what they can to discourage more radical elements. The British people themselves, long known and respected for their toleration and courtesy, are doing what they can. Even one of the finest security and police systems on the planet, with all the active and moral support of the citizenry, can’t stop the dedicated terrorist — at least not all the time.
Which brings us to why two thirds of the British people blame Tony Blair for the London bombings, because, indeed, he is to blame. It was his policy, his arguments, his support, that brought Britain to the Middle East as an essential partner of the United States. It is his insistence — to the extent that scandal after scandal has erupted over the manner in which he enforced his insistence — that has made Britain a target of extremist terrorism.
Proponents of Blair’s policies might ask, at this point, if the only alternative is surrender. That is to pose the question in a manner guaranteed to get the answer Blair wants. The larger question is whether the current British military policy in the Middle East serves the interests of Britain or of the Middle East, of Western democracies, or the nations in which Islam is the majority religion.
The best demonstration of the validity of British ideals, of their way of life, is the manner in which foreigners find a way to live decently, and with dignity, in that country. The best antidote to radical extremism is British reasonableness, and politeness, as demonstrated at home. To tie the validity of the British way of life, with adventures abroad, necessarily puts that way of life in direct conflict with other ways of life, which simply want to be left alone to chart their destinies according to their own principles.
I abhor the use of terrorism as a political weapon. I wish it would go away, and that those who believe in it would stop plotting horrible events. But I can understand their motivations, because their religious motivations are also nationalistic ones; but while their nationalistic concerns might be best resolved within their own nations, in dialogue with their own governments, the involvement of foreign governments involves those foreign peoples in the plans of the terrorists. That does no one, anywhere, any good.