The new magazine Standpoint, published by the Social Affairs Unit, sounds like an excellent initiative: potentially a right-of-centre New Statesman, perhaps. Certainly it has managed to attract a lot of advance publicity, mainly for an article by Michael Nazir-Ali, the bishop lefties love to hate (especially 'cos he's Asian). Nazir-Ali blames the loss of public Christianity since the 1960s for the demise of western civilisation, an argument straight out of Mary Whitehouse or the later Malcolm Muggeridge, though spun as yet another rant about Islam. Actually, he deals with Islam in a few sentences and even has positive things to say about Sharia law, which ought to be a warning for complacent secularists (who have sometimes seen him as some sort of ally) as to where he's really coming from. Governments, he thinks, "will have to be increasingly open to religious concerns and to make room for religious conscience, as far as it is possible to do so." He doesn't explain why.
All mildly deluded stuff, which reaches a strange climax with his last sentence. The bishop writes that we need the Christian faith "to guide us to where we are going, and to bring us back when we wander too far from the path of national destiny." National destiny? Nurse!
Equally demented, and perhaps more dangerous, is the essay by Michael Burleigh entitled "How to Defeat the Global Jihadists". Burleigh is the author of one of the best books ever written in English on the Third Reich, but he seems to have lost all sense of perspective when facing the utterly different and much smaller "threat" posed by the small bunch of loons who seek to wage global Jihad.
Burleigh's main aim is to contrast the seriousness with which terrorism is treated in the US with the wishy-washy multiculturalist surrender found in Europe (especially in Britain). Thus he was impressed recently to discover the "intellectual seriousness, and the global scope of their concerns" of the Pentagon officials he spoke with. He recalls a Senate hearing in April about the likely effects of a nuclear attack on Washington DC - the sort envisaged in that ridiculous film The Sum of All Fears, presumably.
The chairman, Senator Joe Lieberman, said, "The scenarios we discuss today are very hard for us to contemplate, and so emotionally traumatic and unsettling that it is tempting to push them aside." What was Lieberman talking about? A 10-kiloton bomb left in a truck by the White House would kill about 100,000 people and erase a two-mile radius of mainly federal buildings downtown. Most casualties would be burn victims, the majority of them African-Americans who work for the federal government. About 95 per cent of them would die an agonising death, because current capacity to treat such cases is limited to about 1,500. Since the winds blow west to east, the ensuing radioactive plume would drift towards the poor black neighbourhoods of the capital’s South East where there is only one hospital. Lieberman concluded, “Now is the time to have this difficult conversation, to ask the tough questions, and then to get answers as best we can.”
Burleigh adds: "One wonders what preparations for such a nightmare scenario are being made here in Britain. Are our parliamentarians asking these questions and enabling us to have this conversation?"
Should they be? Rather than speculating about the likely impact of a major city being nuked by terrorists, would the senators not have spent their time better considering the chances of such a thing happening at all? Since all the available evidence suggests that it would be almost impossible for Al Qaeda to get hold of a nuclear weapon, and absolutely impossible for them to transport it to the United States, the Senate might as well hold hearings into the effects of the White House being blasted by Martians.
A far more rational analysis I came across recently was written by John Mueller, an American academic whose most notable work in 2006's Overblown: How Politicians and the Terrorism Industry Inflate National Security Threats, and Why We Believe Them. In a new essay, entitled Terrorphobia, he confronts the central paradox: most people are well aware that the chances of them being personally killed by terrorists are vanishingly small, yet they continue to believe the myth of an overarching terrorist "threat" and punish politicians who downplay it. He thinks that the War on Terror has become "a popularly supported governmental perpetual-motion machine", akin to the earlier structural paranoia about "reds under the bed" or the endless and unwinnable "war on drugs".
Key to this dynamic is that the public apparently continues to remain unimpressed by several inconvenient facts. One such fact is that there have been no al-Qaeda attacks whatsoever in the United States since 2001. A second is that no true al-Qaeda cell (or scarcely anybody who might even be deemed to have a “connection” to the diabolical group) has been unearthed in this country. A third is that the homegrown “plotters” who have been apprehended, while perhaps potentially somewhat dangerous at least in a few cases, have mostly been either flaky or almost absurdly incompetent.
In Britain, of course, there has been one major attack. But otherwise Mueller's analysis holds true. While terror suspects continue to be arrested and put on trial, they are not agents of a large international network but are almost entirely self-sustained. Which makes them, perhaps, more difficult to keep track of than a traditional, organised terrorist movement would be. But equally it proves them to be amateurish and relatively unthreatening. In the immediate aftermath of 9/11, there was a widespread assumption that this was merely the opening salvo in a sustained terrorist campaign that would wreak increasing havoc. In fact, it was the most they could do, and it's unlikely that they could do such a thing again.
The British official response to the perceived terrorist threat is just as exaggerated as the American, but in a different way. Here, Burleigh has some good points to make about what he calls the government's "alternation of appeasement with knee-jerk authoritarianism."
In dealing with the Muslim Council of Britain, the British Government unwittingly accepted as “community” interlocutors men who, in line with salafi-jihadi propaganda, blamed Islamist terrorism primarily on British foreign policy, while failing to condemn unequivocally suicide bombing outside the UK. Virtually nothing is being done to stem the flow of Wahabist money (and the attendant intolerant ideology) not only into mosques but university “Islamic studies” programmes, whose ideologically-slanted nature has been exposed in a report published last month by the Centre for Social Cohesion.
I agree. It is the precise combination of appeasement and repression that has caused the problem. The government has been far too keen to dispense with age-old civil liberties, which has led to a siege mentality among many young Muslims. Yet it has combined this with cack-handed attempts at reaching out to "the Muslim community" by giving free reign, and access to power, to the likes of the MCB: not terrorists, but political Islamists and cultural separatists. Put the two together and you have the conditions most likely to produce the thing that the government presumably wants to avoid: more radicalisation, less social cohesion, more "terrorist" plots.
Where Burleigh gets it wrong is in thinking that this disastrous policy results from the government being half-hearted about the terrorist threat. On the contrary, it is a result of their absurd over-estimation of this threat, and their desperate scratching around for some means of countering it. Oddly, Michael Nazir-Ali makes a similar mistake when he fears that "Radical Islamism" will flourish in the vacuum created by the collapse in Christian observance. Binge-drinking, trash television and porn might, but that is another matter.