British Jihadis

At some 8,000 words Mary Anne Weaver’s recent article in the New York Times Magazine, “Her Majesty’s Jihadists”,  is the most detailed attempt yet to “understand the pull of jihad” for Muslims in the UK. The subtitle boldly states that more British Muslims have joined Islamist militant groups than serve in the British military. Why this is so is worth asking, I suppose, though one could alternately ask why so few British Muslims are willing to serve in a military that has, quite literally, been at war in one place or another for more than a century. As Guardian reported last year, “Next year may be the first since at least 1914 that British soldiers, sailors and air crews will not be engaged in fighting somewhere – the first time Britain is totally at peace with the rest of the world.” That belated peace was not to be as the British Parliament “voted overwhelmingly” to authorize air strikes against the Islamic State in Iraq. In our political culture we are not supposed to ask why individuals would willingly risk their lives for geopolitical or corporate aims. Their heroism has to be mindlessly celebrated.

In any case, Weaver’s article does not address that question. It wants to “understand the pull of jihad” for British Muslims. Her article is perhaps less interesting for what it says than for what it leaves out. There are interviews with scholars belonging to the International Center for the Study of Radicalization (ICSR), a man whose three son left to fight in Syria, and Moazzam Begg–an activist and a former prisoner at Guantanamo Bay. Weaver begins her investigation by asking Shiraz Maher, a senior research fellow at ICSR, if he could draw a “typical jihadist profile” for her. Maher explains that the “average British fighter is male, in his early 20s and of South Asian ethnic origin” with “some university education and some association with activist groups.” Some go for humanitarian reasons and others are adventure seekers, “students of martyrdom,” and the “die-hard radicals.”

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Nuclear Deal with Iran: The Wrong Defense

Most sensible people allowed themselves to breathe a sigh of relief when Iran and six other countries announced their agreement on key parameters of a nuclear deal. It was no surprise to discover that Israel and the Republicans in the United States did not belong to this category of sensible people. Illinois Senator Mark Kirk promptly declared “that Neville Chamberlain got a lot more out of Hitler than Wendy Sherman got out of Iran,” referring to a top State Department negotiator. Ignoring that a deal reduces the chances for a US-led military attack on Iran, Kirk nonetheless maintained that lifting sanctions (as the deal would require) “dooms the Middle East to yet another war” and it would all end “with a mushroom cloud somewhere near Tehran.”

Kirk wasn’t alone in his frustration. Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, who once compared organized workers to the Islamic State, declared that “Obama’s dangerous deal with Iran rewards an enemy, undermines our allies and threatens our safety.” Walker doesn’t explain how a deal that limits Iran’s nuclear capacities, subjects them to international inspection, and reduces the risk for another war in the Middle East manages to do all of that. For Walker, Kirk, and others the contents of the nuclear deal are simply not relevant, which makes sense considering some of the sources of their funding. The are only interested in depicting Iran as an irredeemable evil requiring a military response. As Walker put it, “The Islamic Republic of Iran — the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism — is on the march throughout the Middle East.” Not to be outdone, Texas Senator and presidential-hopeful Ted Cruz said that the Obama administration “doesn’t understand the people they are dealing with. They support death and suicide.”

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A War of Ideas: Terrorism and Ideology

For those of us who have ever felt a serious lack of hackneyed and discredited ideas in our political culture, James K. Glassman has done us all a service by writing this article in Politico. Glassman was a former chairman of the U.S. Broadcasting Board of Governors in the George W. Bush administration and is currently a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute. With his recent article, he follows an illustrious pedigree on the right that has expressed effusive praise for Obama’s war efforts against The Terrorists.

Specifically, Glassman congratulates Obama for finally appreciating the importance of “ideas” in the War on Terror (as demonstrated by the recent Counter Violent Extremism Summit) and volunteers his own expertise to help the Obama administration formulate a strategy. After all, a “war of ideas” is not like other wars, you see. It relies less on blunt force and more on delicate diplomatic manoeuvring. Fortunately, Glassman is willing to guide us through it.

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