“Terrorism” and moral truisms – an exchange with Jamie Bartlett

Further to an unconvincing response from Lord Carlile regarding the assumptions underpinning the government’s Prevent Strategy, I thought it would be interesting to get the views of an independent expert

Dear Jamie,

To what extent do you agree with the government’s premise that “terrorists… set out to destroy our values”?

When I asked Lord Carlile a similar question, he seemed to get rather confused and referred me to Hizb-ut-Tahrir…

Look forward to hearing from you.

Best wishes,

Joe Sucksmith

—–

I think it depends on the terrorist group. It’s hard, for example, to deny that radical neo-Nazis, for example, do not want to destroy our values – they certainly do in my view. At the very least, by virtue of trying to change political decisions through acts of violence against innocent civilians, then they are certainly guilty of transgressing most fundamental basis of our values, yes.

Best wishes,

Jamie

—–

Thanks, Jamie.

What about attacks by Islamic radicals? Does the available evidence suggest these have been motivated by a desire to “destroy our values” or by a desire to alter the course of western foreign policy?

Regards “changing political decisions through acts of violence against innocent civilians”, isn’t this precsiey what WE do (Afghanistan, Iraq, drone strikes etc.)?

Kind regards,

Joe

—–

We do not intentionally target civilians with the express purpose of influencing their political decisions – if and where we do, then you could make a strong case that is an act of terror.

On Islamic radicals, it depends who you think ‘we’ are. Some Islamist radicals do wish to use terror to introduce Sharia Law and repressive religious theocracies in countries across the world, albeit mainly in countries historically part of the Muslim empires.

This of course is my view – and one that is not without it faults of course.

Best,

Jamie

—–

>We do not intentionally target civilians with the express purpose of influencing their political decisions – if and where we do, then you could make a strong case that is an act of terror.

So you don’t consider the invasion of Iraq, Afghanistan, drone strikes etc. to be consistent with the definition of terrorism then?

>On Islamic radicals, it depends who you think ‘we’ are. Some Islamist radicals do wish to use terror to introduce Sharia Law and repressive religious theocracies in countries across the world, albeit mainly in countries historically part of the Muslim empires.

But what about attacks that have occurred inside the UK – does the available evidence suggest these have been motivated by a desire to “destroy our values” or by a desire to alter the course of UK foreign policy?

Many thanks,

Joe

—–

I have nothing more to add to the first question – I think I answered that.

For the second, again, it depends. Some terrorists – neo-Nazis – do certainly want to change our way of life, yes. For the majority of Islamist terror attacks in the UK it is partly to change our foriegn policy, but that also includes reversing support for democratic change, Israel (they nearly all would like to see Sharia law in Pakistan for example) which I think does attack ‘our’ way of life, given I consider ‘our’ way to be democratic liberalism wherever it is found.

—–

Many thanks, Jamie.

>I have nothing more to add to the first question – I think I answered that.

Ok, so I take this to mean that you do not consider the invasion of Iraq, Afghanistan, drone strikes etc. to be consistent with the definition of terrorism. Right?

>For the majority of Islamist terror attacks in the UK it is partly to change our foriegn policy, but that also includes reversing support for democratic change, Israel (they nearly all would like to see Sharia law in Pakistan for example) which I think does attack ‘our’ way of life, given I consider ‘our’ way to be democratic liberalism wherever it is found.

I’m not sure I fully understand this paragraph. The phrase “but that also includes reversing support for democratic change” seems to suggest that you consider UK foreign policy to be about promoting democracy. Have I understood this correctly? In addition, the reference to Israel looks odd – could you clarify its significance please?

Many thanks,

Joe

—–

>Ok, so I take this to mean that you do not consider the invasion of Iraq, Afghanistan, drone strikes etc. to be consistent with the definition of terrorism. Right?

Correct.

>I’m not sure I fully understand this paragraph. The phrase “but that also includes reversing support for democratic change” seems to suggest that you consider UK foreign policy to be about promoting democracy. Have I understood this correctly? In addition, the reference to Israel looks odd – could you clarify its significance please?

Part of the aim of Islamist terrorist groups is to spread Sharia in the Islamic world, and fight against the spread of democracy there. I do believe that is an effort to attack ‘our’ (meaning those who believe in liberal democracy) way of life. I don’t believe it to be UK policy to help spread Sharia law by force around the world at present.

I’m not sure there is going to be anything more I can add to this discussion!

—–

Hi Jamie,

Some brief thoughts by way of closing…

1) One of the more succinct definitions of “terrorism” currently in use by the Home Office, that is faithful to section 1 of the UK Terrorism Act 2000, reads:

Terrorist activities are any act committed, or the threat of action, designed to influence a government or intimidate the public and made for the purposes of advancing a political, religious or ideological cause and that involves serious violence against a person; that may endanger another person’s life; creates a serious risk to the health or safety of the public; involves serious damage to property; is designed to seriously disrupt or interfere with an electronic system.”

Is the invasion of Iraq consistent with this definition of terrorism? Let’s take a look…
act committed“? Check
designed to influence a government“? Well, “overthrow” is arguably more accurate, but Check
made for the purpose of advancing a political… or ideological causeCheck
involves serious violence against a person…” A very obvious Check (remember Shock and Awe?)

Conclusion? The Iraq invasion quite clearly meets the UK government’s own definition of terrorism. To acknowledge this is simply to accept the most basic of moral truisms: that we are subject to the standards we apply to others.

2) You haven’t explained the reference to Israel in your response, but I do agree that Israeli terrorism should be thrown into the mix, not least because the Islamists who have committed acts of terrorism in the UK explicitly stated that their actions were (at least in part) a response to the UK government’s support for Israeli terrorism.

3) You write: “I don’t believe it to be UK policy to help spread Sharia law by force around the world at present.” I appreciate this was intended to be sardonic, yet there’s an irony here isn’t there, since the world’s “leading” Sharia state, Saudi Arabia, is a close ally of the UK. How do you reconcile this with your view that UK foreign policy is about spreading democracy?

Many thanks for your engagement.

Joe

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