There’s a general election being fought in the UK currently, polling day is June 8th. As seems to happen all too frequently in the West, campaigning was paused in the wake (both meanings of the homophone apply) of yet another act of extreme violence against innocents.
When normal politics was resumed, the Leader of the Opposition, Jeremy Corbyn gave a speech which linked domestic terrorism with the various overseas wars (either officially-declared and otherwise). The full transcript of the speech can be found here.
Corbyn uses couched language and stresses the point that, in linking the two, he isn’t excusing suicide bombers detonating themselves at concerts for teenage girls. He isn’t the first from the political left to have made this linkage though and it is one which we wish to explore in this post.
Hypothesis: Western military intervention overseas is directly or indirectly linked to the escalation of domestic Jihadist terrorism and, if halted, the terrorism would subside or even cease.
There are two propositions in this hypothesis. Firstly one of causation and secondly that the linkage between the cause and the consequence is extant and therefore the situation can be reversed.
We will examine these in reverse order because, if the second is found to be false, there’s little practical utility in determining the truth of the first.
What is the motivation behind “home-grown” suicide bombers?
To understand this would require a deep understanding of the motivation behind each and every suicide bomber to find a common theme, if one even exists. As Tolstoy wrote, “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way”. Perhaps this is the case with those young men (and the suicide bomber demographic seems to consist of predominately very young men) and they arrive at violence from different starting points.
The only evidence we have to judge their motivation is the angry “suicide note” videos they occasionally leave behind, observations from acquaintances and the messages given from the religious instruction they received prior to their crimes.
These overwhelmingly point to two themes; a rejection of the values of the west (the culture in which they were either partially or fully raised) and an acceptance that holy war is their duty.
The first doesn’t necessarily lead to violence, countless Britons have found themselves questioning the values and systems within which they grew up and lived. The vast majority move relatively smoothly from this rejection to a different value system and certainly without resorting to building a home-made nail bomb-vest and detonating it in a crowded concert hall. George Harrison’s post-Beatles career would have been tragically short otherwise, for example.
It’s obviously the Jihadis’ chosen solution that is the problem for those of us who wish to attend concerts without risking anything more severe than tinnitus.
If a young man has followed the spiritual journey that leads to a rejection of the values of his home nation, is it possible that we might prevent the next step, that of determining that the only solution is violent Jihad?
Perhaps, but if just a single disaffected youth slips through whatever intelligence-gathering and “de-radicalisation” programmes are implemented, the consequence is tragedy.
Is it likely that the current pool of UK-residents with Jihadi thoughts would accept an immediate and unambiguous statement from the UK Prime Minister apologising for overseas invasions, wars and drone strikes and a vow to not engage in these again?
There’s a joke at the expense of the French (the best jokes often are); Q. How many Frenchmen does it take to defend Paris? A. Who knows, it’s never been attempted.
Similarly, we are highly unlikely to ever be in the position where a country such as the UK or the USA would ever make such a pronouncement. However, we could point to the example of Spain, which reacted to the Madrid terror attacks of 2004 by pulling her troops out of Iraq. Did this result in a reduction in credible threats of terrorism? That’s hard to answer with empirical data but an active cell was prevented from attacking Barcelona in 2008 and further credible threats have been reported since, so the threat clearly didn’t reduce to zero.
This suggests that, even if western military action overseas was the touchpaper for the Jihadi movement, it’s no longer the only factor in the spiritual journey that leads a 22 year old male to reject their home country’s laws and values and murder unsuspecting music fans. This movement looks to have become the religious equivalent of a parthenogenetic organism, capable of producing new recruits regardless of the external stimulus.
Thought experiment: We can wave a magic wand which will simultaneously prevent all western forces attacking Muslim countries and globally remove all Jihadi-motivation from those currently with that view. Would there be no further Jihadi attacks in the West?
If Corbyn is correct, the answer to this question should be an emphatic “yes”. There is a problem with this, however; Jihadism is “re-bootable” (this is someone else’s observation but we can’t recall whose).
By this we mean, if nothing but the holy texts of Islam survived a global apocalypse and an alien found and read these, it is possible that they might interpret the messages contained within the Quran in such a way that leads them to embrace violent Jihad. The texts themselves explicitly call on the follower to wage war on the unconverted and apostates alike.
The answer to the question posed in our thought experiment is certainly not an unqualified “yes” and, unless we could delete the various passages from all copies of the Quran and every subsequent commentary written on the subject, chances are the answer is “no, more Jihadis would replace the ones we removed with our magic wand“.
Even if the West is fully-culpable for the radicalisation of disaffected youths who are subsequently motivated to commit suicide with methods designed to take as many innocent lives as possible, the problem is not likely to go away now, regardless of any move towards pacifism or foreign non-intervention.
Our reality requires a different solution to Corbyn’s suggestion but also, it’s clear that the current mitigating actions are not effective either.