I have sadly missed the Comics Unmasked exhibition at the British Library, which closed on August 19th.
You can gain some insight into what was missed by looking, whilst you can, at the relevant section on the British Library website. There is also a book written to accompany the event, and an excellent summary appeared in the May issue of Fortean Times, courtesy of Paul Gravett.
As a long term observer of that curiously puritanical streak which runs through the British left, I was immediately drawn to this paragraph in Gravett's article:
It’s ironic that the first exhibition devoted to comics was probably the touring display of so-called ‘horror comics’ - imports, reprints and imitations of uncensored American comic books like the notorious Tales from the Crypt - organised by the National Union of Teachers. This display toured the country and was the basis of a film strip projected in schools. While these were intended as part of their campaign to raise alarm about the effects of this shocking material, it probably also gave many youngsters their first exposure to these tempting terrors. Pressures on the government to take action came from many sides, including the unlikely alliance of the Church of England, right up to the Archbishop of Canterbury himself, and the anti-American Communist Party who discreetly ran the Comics Campaign Council. The result in 1955 was the Children and Young Persons (Harmful Publications) Act. Very few prosecutions resulted but it is still in force and the stigma against comics has never entirely gone away.
It is worth re-capping on that. A major trades union, the NUT, the Communist Party of Great Britain and the Church of England all campaigned against the presence in the UK of American comics. And this resulted in legislation being enacted against 'harmful publications'. Legislation that has never been repealed!
Just skimming through the various histories I have on my bookshelf of the CPGB, I cannot find any mention of the Comics Campaign Council as a prominent 'front-group.' Then again sympathetic histories may be very likely to avoid the subject.
I have never actually got round to reading Melanie Phillips' critique of the education system, All Must Have Prizes. However, judging by this recent announcement on the staff email list at the University of East Anglia, it has some predictive value:
We will have two extra seminars on 23/07 and 30/07.
Patricia Esteve (Universitat Rovira i Virgili) will present “Affirmative Action through Extra Prizes” on 23/07 from 4 to 5 pm at ARTS 3.15. The following is the abstract.
Abstract: Some affirmative action policies establish that a set of disadvantaged competitors has access to an extra prize. Examples are gender quotas or a prize for national competitors in an international competition. We analyse the effects of creating an extra prize by reducing the prize in the main competition. Contestants differ in ability and agents with relatively low ability belong to a disadvantaged minority. All contestants compete for the main prize, but only disadvantaged agents can win the extra prize. We show that an extra prize is a powerful tool to ensure participation of disadvantaged agents. Moreover, for intermediate levels of the disadvantage of the minority, introducing an extra prize increases total equilibrium effort compared to a standard contest. Thus, even a contest designer not interested in affirmative action might establish an extra prize in order to enhance competition.
If you want to know why community relations are poor in some parts of the UK, and negative attitudes expressed towards Islam in Britain, this is as good a place as any to start:
1986 - 2007 Activists from organisations such as the Islamic Foundation and Muslim Council of Britain produce a series of pamphlets setting out how Muslim school children living in Britain should be educated
2007 - 15/07/14 - Activists attempt to implement these strategies in some Birmingham schools
2014 - Media exposure of accusations of a Trojan Horse approach to schooling at some Birmingham state schools emerge. As well as anonymous documents (probably fake) these include accusations made by former head teachers from a range of ethnic backgrounds. The NASUWT is representing several
- Muslim community representatives, the National Union of Teachers and some left leaning journalists, dismiss the accusations, and state they are rooted in Islamophobia and racism
- Across three seperate inquiries, many of the accusations are substantiated
- 15/07/14 - Some of those involved in allegedly seeking to push Islamist agendas in Birmingham schools, resign
- 23-25/07/14 Academics and political activists in the Birmingham Muslim community complain that the Trojan Horse affair has damaged community relations. They make no mention of their own role in any damage done, and conduct no critical self analysis.
Last weekend saw the most succesful leader of a British fascist organisation, Nick Griffin of the British National Party, leave its leadership, for the undefined role of 'President'. He has been replaced by Adam Walker, a former teacher from County Durham.
In a quickly written but detailed analysis of these events, Larry O'Hara of Notes From the Borderland magazine has given a wonderful summation of Griffin's 15 years in charge of the BNP:
"For some time now, Griffin has been a politically dead man walking, but this should not blind us to the strategic breakthrough he made in far right politics. Despite his European dalliances (and those closer to home with CI8/Blood & Honour in the past) he has never been a Nazi, seeking to develop a non-Nazi fascism that combined both electoralism and extra-parliamentary politics. Sadly for him (though not anti-fascism) he could never convince enough BNP members of the nuances and salience of this strategy."
Do read the full article, "The BNP's Nick Griffin Gets Booted Upstairs".
Whilst Islam struggles to bend with the times, the Christian church in England leans like a weeping willow in the breeze. As the Church of England's General Synod votes to accept female Bishops, consider the gem below from Rachel Treweek, Archdeacon of Hackney:
This is a significant moment in history and for me the overwhelming emotion was one of liberation: for me this is about stating that from now on men and women can use their gifts in the Church in whatever way they are called. This is about God-given equality.
Rachel Treweek, the i paper, 15/07/2014, p.7
The last thing changes in the Christian church this century have been about is 'God'.
What demand for an equal role for women, or changes in the status of homosexuality means is pressure from society has forced the Chuch of England to shift on positions it has held for centuries. If this desire for equality were 'God-given' one might have expected followers of the holy book to have enacted it hundreds of years ago?
Apart from a few traditionalists (i.e. most of those who actually believe the Bible) this probably does not matter. But we should not let the likes of Rachel Treweek get away with claiming these contemporary changes are consistent with her religion. They have never been before, and they are not now.
And that is a failing, not of the Chuch of England, but Christianity full stop.
There was an interesting blast from the past at the "Putting Birmingam School Kids First" public meeting on the 26th June.
Who should be amongst the concerned parents but Helen Salmon. Both Ms Salmon, and her five year old son Ben, spoke at the event.
When the Respect party split in 2007-8, in Birmingham the dispute centered on the inability of the organisation to field diverse slates of candidates. Muslim men, one of them a recent defector from the Conservative Party, predominated. Helen Salmon of the SWP objected. Salma Yaqoob inferred she was racist, and things got very nasty indeed.
As divisive and damaging as the 'Trojan Horse' affair, and the behaviour of Islamist educationalists which preceded it has been, clearly a reconciliation has occured between Helen Salmon and Salma Yaqoob, who organised the public meeting.
Is it me, or is there not something slightly sinister in seeing children giving speeches in this way? Especially as the words were almost certainly written by his mother? Where once the individual confessed to thought crime and pledged to take the correct path in future, now it seems, they get their children to accompany them............
Amongst the flurry of World War One related posts and comments, there seemed little point in adding my own - it is not my field. I do though want to share the words of Atatürk on the graves of those Allied soldiers who fell in what is now Turkey:
"Heroes who shed their blood and lost their lives! You are now lying in the soil of a friendly country. Therefore rest in peace. There is no difference between the Johnnies and Mehmets to us where they lie side by side here in this country of ours. You, the mothers, who sent their sons from far away countries wipe away your tears; your sons are now lying in our bosom and are in peace. After having lost their lives on this land they have become our sons as well.”
― Mustafa Kemal Atatürk
The article below is one I wrote yesterday, for the Harry's Place website. It considers a new initiative from the former leader of the Respect Party, Salma Yaqoob, in the wake of the scandal about Islamist influence at state schools in Birmingham.
Thank you to Mehrdad Amanpour, who first compared the promotional poster for "Putting Birmingham School Kids First" to the old Benetton adverts, and thus inspired me to pick up my pen.
Putting Birmingham Children First?
Islamists can certainly be slick when it comes to propaganda. Salma Yaqoob is busily promoting a public meeting tonight in the second city entitled "Putting Birmingham School Kids First".
Two issues of the many which emerge from this. Firstly consider the remarkable picture used to advertise this event - a dozen or so mixed race school children in a circle, with boys and girls holding hands. As might be expected with children so young, there is not a hijab to be seen. The kids appear to be wearing sports kit, and if so, are taking part in mixed games.
That should be unremarkable. Except this is Birmingham, and the above image is being used by one of the Park View school's staunchest defenders. Whilst the image used is uncontroversial to most, is that the vision Salma Yaqoob has for schooling in her city? Is that the vision of the Muslim Council of Britain or the Association of Muslim Schools? It hardly seems to be an image Islamic educationalist Tahir Alam and his colleagues have been working towards.
The second oddity with regards to this meeting is the presence of the National Union of Teachers. Concerns raised by teachers have featured in many of the revelations in Birmingham this year - it is after all educational professionals who are placed between the rock of government requirements and the hard place of determined Islamist lobbyists.
Yet the NUT response to OFSTED's critical report, was deeply conservative - its leader Christine Blower lazily playing the race card rather than looking critically at the substantive challenges some stripes of British Islam present to both education and the rights of her members.
One might have expected a trades union to be concerned about staff being forced from their jobs, but not in the brave new world of Ms Blower. When OFSTED commented on the monitoring of staff email by an outside agency employed by one school under investigation - the NUT appeared unconcerned. So one question for panelist NUT Deputy General Secretary Kevin Courtney - are you representing your members in Birmingham, or are you representing the Association of Muslim Schools?
For all the Benetton style imagery of happy multi-culturalism and children's play evoked by this meeting, its participants - and in particular Yaqoob and Courtney -need to be reminded of an important point. You will be judged on what you do, not on the imagery you present.
You cannot run with the fox, and hunt with the hounds.
Paul Stott is an academic based at the University of East Anglia.
The article below is a report I wrote for the The Backbencher webite last year, following a Northampton University conference. Whether it was something I said or not, I was not invited back for the 2014 follow-up! Anyway, as The Backbencher lost my original article when they swapped servers, here it is.
Assessing the Far Right and the Ground It Stands On?
Friday 28 June saw a conference at Northampton University entitled “The Far Right in Transition”. This brought together approximately 100 people to hear speakers discuss the contemporary and historical far right, its activities and some of the responses to it. The conference had one slightly different tack – me – as I was invited at the last minute to discuss the Woolwich terrorist attack and to put it in some historical context.
Northampton University runs the Radicalism and the New Media research centre and the first part of the morning was devoted to its centrepiece – the launch of the archive of the anti-fascist magazine Searchlight. Searchlight has been a controversial presence in the British anti-racist movement for over 50 years – Anti-Fascist Action (of which I was a supporter) and Antifa (of which I was a founder) both proscribed their members from working with Searchlight, because of its relationship with the police and security services. Such history was not on the agenda in Northampton – indeed much of the day was about the legacy of Searchlight and its now elderly editor Gerry Gable, as he gifts Searchlight’s vast archive to the University of Northampton for future research.
For all the past bitterness, this may well prove to be Gable’s legacy – the opportunity to view the hundreds of boxes of far-right material that includes books from as far back as the 1880s, magazines from the 1930s, and thousands of fascist leaflets. Some 200 boxes of material have been catalogued by curator Dan Jones, with some 300 to follow. There are complete runs of some material – for example Searchlight itself, and Spearhead, the magazine John Tyndall ran for much of his political life.
Conferences like this tend to bring together a slightly curious mix of participants – academics, past and current political activists, community leaders, the police and in this case a sizeable contingent of counter terrorism officers, something that perhaps reflects the concern about events post-Woolwich. Podcasts of all eleven presentations are available, although not the Q and A’s which followed. Of the talks if you only have time to listen to a handful I would firstly pick out Alexander Meleagrou-Hitchens who examined the EDL in terms of the international counter jihad movement. It is often stated that the EDL has kick-started a whole series of like minded groups across Europe, but this does not appear to be the case, indeed the EDL actually rather trails in behind groups abroad. Hitchens travelled to Defence League demonstrations in Aarhus and Stockholm, and found that activists there tended to be more middle class than their English counterparts, older and sometimes with political backgrounds on the left, rather than the right. My instinct is that there may be very different local reasons that bring people into such movements in different countries – and even different cities within those nations. It may be that further research across a greater number of countries will answer my hypothesis in time.
Fiyaz Mughal of Tell Mama spoke of his organisations work monitoring anti-Muslim hatred on Twitter. Interestingly, whilst recent media articles have seen Tell Mama referred to as an organisation monitoring both anti-Muslim hatred and intra-Muslim tensions, the later role was not mentioned. Tell Mama has the software to pick out key words in abusive texts, and grooming cases now appears to be a bigger issue in such material than terrorism.
There was some discomfort about where this work can lead – a 15 year old girl ‘Nicole’ was cautioned by the police after she had made 8 months worth of tweets that Tell Mama had monitored, and it seems this police route is the most likely response to such material. Mughal stressed Twitter believe firmly in the First Amendment, and have heard and ignored Tell Mama’s concerns about the platform they provide.
The third talk of interest was Will Baldet of the St Phillips Centre in Leicester, who has responsibility for the government’s anti-extremism platform Prevent, in Leicestershire and Rutland. Here it was obvious how keenly broader ‘anti-extremist’ narratives are running in police and government circles. Anti-fascist demonstrations were identified as a drain on public resources, counter-productive and unwise, as they do not achieve anything. I kept expecting someone in the audience to shout out ‘Cable Street’ but no one did. More seriously, I suspect Will Baldet does understood how much anti-fascists mythologise their history, and see themselves in a life and death struggle against an enemy. To the government and police though, they are just a public order problem.
Baldet identified some key elements in the make-up of far-right ‘extremists’ – anger management issues, anti-authoritarianism, identification as the under-dog, defiance, recklessness, a failure to handle inner conflict, attention seeking and an intolerance of ambiguity. Whilst this type of psychological approach is always interesting, where it gets us is another matter. I asked if a similar chart could be drawn up of Islamist actors, and was told that this typology was in fact an amalgam of the characteristics of neo-Nazi and Al Qaeda members, plus would be suicide bombers in Iraq. Fascinating stuff, but reading through it again, much of it could equally apply to any 18 year old in a street gang or football firm, and arguably to a much wider number of 18 years olds full stop.
On this evidence at least, the answers to assessing the far right and the ground it stands on do not lie in cod psychology.
Paul Stott is an academic in the field of Terrorism Studies, based at the University of East Anglia. He tweets @MrPaulStott
I wrote the article below almost exactly 12 months ago - 0n 22 June 2013. It is re-published here as it is was since lost from The Backbencher site where it originally appeared, and I never got round to pubishing it in full on this blog. Hopefully it has stood the test of time over the past twelve months.
A Strange Kind of Glory: Life Undercover
Monday 24 June sees a Dispatches documentary on Channel 4 at 8pm. From its scheduling, the programme will examine the use of undercover police officers by the Met, and some of the resultant sexual scandals that are now coming to light.
Over the past few years, The Guardian and Observer have run a series of revelations about Special Demonstration Squad operations infiltrating far-left, anti-racist, anti-fascist, environmental and green organisations, mostly via the pen of Paul Lewis. What is noticeable about the police investigations, all of which appear to have run for several years, is the comparatively small beer that resulted in terms of prosecutions for criminal offences and/or prevention of serious crime. In the case of Peter Black, known as Officer A, who infiltrated an organisation protesting against deaths in police custody, one is left with the rather unpleasant impression that the police were not investigating criminal activity, or developing advance indications of public disorder, but instead were looking to find out what dirt protestors had developed on the Metropolitan Police.
Perhaps the most prominent of the undercover officers to be exposed is Bob Lambert, who was known as ‘Bob Robinson’ when he infiltrated a series of peace, ecological and animal rights organisations in the 1980s. Since retiring from the Metropolitan Police he had forged himself a successful career as an academic, where his research focused on Islamophobia and British counter terrorism initiatives. It was this high profile that was to be Dr Lambert’s undoing – some of those he had spied upon realised that Bob Lambert and Bob Robinson were one and the same, and exposed him when he attended an anti-racist conference in October 2011.
The details of his time undercover include entering into a long term relationship and fathering a child with a woman who had no idea as to his real identity. Both were abandoned. On 13 June 2012 the Green MP Caroline Lucas used parliamentary privilege to allege that whilst an activist in the Animal Liberation Front, ‘Bob Robinson’ had carried out the firebombing of a London department store in 1987.
Having met Bob Lambert in the course of my own academic research, I can say he is one of the most personable and considerate individuals I have known. His slightly bumbling, Sergeant Wilson out of Dad’s Army act belies a sharp mind. The problem of course is it is precisely those qualities that undoubtedly made him such a successful operator when spying upon his fellow citizens, many of whom will have given him their friendship, camaraderie and indeed love in return. Bob’s career in the Special Branch brought him the Queen’s Police Medal and an MBE. But when placed in the context of the ambiguities and indeed personal betrayals he engaged in along the way, those baubles arguably represent a strange kind of glory.
Similar sentiments may be expressed when considering the life of the late Duncan Robertson. On Thursday 20 June along with the writer Larry O’Hara I attended his inquest, at St Pancras Coroner’s Court. Mr Robertson was a long term activist in the British fascist movement, and his death in March this year was marked by a flowing tribute published on the British National Party’s website on 29 April. Croydon BNP Branch Organiser John Clarke was quoted as saying “Nationalism has lost a real friend with the passing of Duncan. Rest in peace mate”.
On 19 May the parapolitical magazine Notes from the Borderland broke the news that far from being a ‘friend’ of ‘nationalism’ Robertson had been working undercover for the anti-fascist magazine Searchlight for nine years.
Subsequently Searchlight dedicated much of the May issue of their magazine to his work, rather grandly referring to him as a ‘Searchlight intelligence officer’. There was no explanation of how a man aged only 48 had died, although reference was made to his struggle with ill health. The frightening physical decline in the pictures of Duncan Robertson over the years certainly indicated a man with considerable issues.
The inquest confirmed that Duncan Robertson had passed away on 19 March 2013, having taken 140 paracetemol tablets the day before, whilst staying on his own at a central London hotel. Prior to his death, at one stage he was drinking 150 units of alcohol per week, whilst wrestling with severe pain resultant from a surviving a train accident many years previously. In evidence to the court, Searchlight Editor Gerry Gable described Robertson as a ‘Research Journalist’ saying nothing about the undercover life he had led in the BNP (and other fascist currents) on Searchlight’s behalf. As such, the Court did not consider the pressures forming close relationships with the fascists he was informing on may have had on his mental state.
On 20 June the Coroner recorded a verdict of suicide whilst suffering from depression. The court had been unable to trace any of Duncan Robertson’s family, and he appears to have had few close friends. The current edition of Searchlight salutes him as a comrade, but as with Bob Lambert, one is left with the strong impression that a life undercover is a very strange kind of glory.
Paul Stott is an academic in the field of Terrorism Studies, based at the University of East Anglia. He tweets @MrPaulStott
This is an article I wrote on the 13 June 2013, and had published on The Backbencher website. As it was lost due to some technical issues, for the record I re-prooduce it below.
Domestic Terrorism in the UK – Time To Calm Down Dear?
The murder in Woolwich of Drummer Lee Rigby refocused attention on the United Kingdom’s issues with both terrorism and radical elements within British Islam.
Woolwich was new on certain levels. For the first time since 2005 terrorists had killed in mainland Britain (there were several murders by dissident Republicans in Northern Ireland in that period) The run of unsuccessful attempts – 21/7, the Haymarket nightclub attack, Glasgow Airport, the attempted murder of Stephen Timms MP – had served as a reminder that for now the UK’s Jihadis lack the tradecraft that the Provisional IRA in particular developed. The Four Lions style attempt to attack the EDL in Dewsbury last June, where would-be holy warriors turned up late, then got nicked on the way home for driving an uninsured vehicle, and a plot to blow up Luton’s Territorial Army base using a bomb under a toy car, had even added a slightly comic element to British Jihadism.
Woolwich was a reminder that a deadly threat does still exist. The added difference was that unlike an attack on a transport interchange or bar, in Woolwich there was no attempt to inflict mass casualties –civilians were free to go about their business whilst the two alleged murderers delivered monologues to anyone with a camera phone.
In recent decades several terrorist strands have existed in the United Kingdom. The Good Friday Agreement did not bring a total end to violence related to the Six Counties/Ulster/Northern Ireland (delete according to your allegiance) but went a significant distance towards doing so. With the Provisional IRA and Loyalist groups de-commissioning, and broad public support holding, those fringe elements who rejected the peace process took some time to re-constitute themselves.
2013 sees Derry/Londonderry (delete according to your allegiance) as the UK’s City of Culture. Derry, alongside Lurgan, is one of the stronger areas for dissident Republicans, who also have a major opportunity to remind the world they have not gone away with the G8 summit held in the province this month. Then again, speculation in July 2012 that dissidents coming together under one umbrella would see an attack at the Olympics came to naught.
For Britain’s stuttering forces on the far right, the murder of Drummer Rigby served as a shot of adrenaline. The extent to which cooler heads have departed the English Defence League was demonstrated by balaclava clad demonstrators throwing bottles in Woolwich. For all the blood curdling talk which sometimes accompanies the EDL (from some of its supporters and some of those monitoring it) the pattern of response to this killing mirrored 7/7 – some unpleasant expressions of racism, petty violence, arson attacks and vandalism – but with no sign of an anti-Muslim uprising or pogrom.
Keep Calm and Carry On?
As well as keeping politically inspired violence in perspective, we need to keep terrorism in some form of context. In 2012, terrorist cases were falling, prompting David Anderson QC, the Independent Reviewer of Terrorism Legislation, to comment you are as likely to die from a bee sting as a terrorist:
In terms of our way of life, more long term threats may actually come from needless legislation to ‘protect’ us – something former Home Secretary John Reid and ex-Reviewer of Terrorism Legislation Lord Carlile shamelessly promoted in media interviews post Woolwich.
The recent PRISM revelations should serve as a reminder that the function of all security services is to collect data on its own citizens, and that new technology allows greater intrusion than ever before. What was lacking from Reid or Carlile was any evidence that increased monitoring powers could have prevented Woolwich, just as those in the Labour party who wanted to introduce ID cards after 7/7 could not produce a shred of evidence that such legislation would prevent a domestic terrorist conducting a suicide bombing.
The Why Question?
The debate about why people are radicalised is at times circular – it is now unfashionable in liberal circles to play up religious elements, and de rigueur to raise our foreign policy – but at least here in the UK we are having the debate. Surveys from the Pew Research Center suggest in no Muslim country does a majority believe 9/11 was carried out by Arabs. The US, the Jews, Israel or any combination thereof cops the blame. How can terrorism – and counter terrorism – be rationally debated in such environments?
We need to carry on debating these issues. Yes foreign policy is cited repeatedly by Jihadist actors, but equally central, in their literature and statements, are religious issues. If anyone thinks our foreign policy is solely to blame, perhaps they would like to explain why author Salman Ruhdie was in hiding for so long?
Paul Stott is an academic in the field of Terrorism Studies, based at the University of East Anglia. He tweets @MrPaulStott
Last summer I had three articles on security, policing and the far-right published on The Backbencher, a UK based libertarian website which deserves a wider audience.
It was recently pointed out to me that the articles had now been taken down, which happened as The Backbencher had switched to a new server. Checking on this blog, I had not put all the articles on here either, which was an oversight.
I will put each article on this blog, over the next three to four days, and hopefully The Backbencher will also do the same. As ever, comments are welcome, especially as, twelve months on, it is also interesting to see how any analysis stands the test of time.
A decade or so ago, I was thrown out at Stonehenge, having climbed over a fence with my then girlfriend and walked over towards the stones.
English Heritage then expected individuals to pay £4 or £5, to view what is our national heritage. Yet the stones existed long before this 'custodian', its board or its paper shufflers - and will be around long after they are forgotten. On BBC2 tomorrow evening at 8pm, some of the controversies and debates around this most important of sites are discussed in The Culture Show: The Battle for Stonehenge.
According to the write-up in The Sunday Times, this will include 'astonishing' film of police brutality towards travellers attempting to reach the stones in 1985. Any round-up of the many shameful events in the 1980s must include reference to the Battle of the Beanfield, a classic example of what can happen when the state believes it can act as it pleases to those on its margins.
Happy Summer Solstice everyone.
This is from Michael Scheuer, a former CIA officer best known for heading the agency's anti-Bin Laden unit. He states:
"For now, however, the beginning of wisdom is to look at what is going on in Iraq and Syria and see it clearly. In both places all of those folks that multiple U.S. administrations have identified as enemies of America are killing each other. In Syria, the Assad regime, Iran, and Lebanese Hizballah are killing Sunni mujhaedin from all over the world, as well as their local allies and supporters. In turn, the Sunni Islamists in Syria are killing Assad’s troops, Iranian Revolutionary Guards, and Hizballah fighters. This is a perfect circumstance for the United States, all our enemies are killing each other and it is not costing us a cent or a life."
And this conflict is increasingly occuring in Iraq, and to a lesser extent in Lebanon.
It is too early to say if we are approaching a sort of Islamic version of Götterdämmerung, where Islamism and Jihadism are taken to their logical conclusions by opposing elements in an intra-Islamic war. It is however far from impossible.
If so the United States, and indeed the United Kingdom, has no business intervening.
The historian Niall Ferguson has recently picked up one of the more dishonest intellectual batons around - the claim that Margaret Thatcher would have 'seen off' radical Islam.
Speaking at the Centre for Policy Studies inaugral Margaret Thatcher Liberty Conference, Ferguson as good as sank the project before it began, by making the bizarre claim that Mrs Thatcher would have 'whole heartedly' have fought radical Islam.
In fact, Mrs Thatcher empowered radical Islam. Most disastrously via our support for the Mujahideen in Afghanistan (who of course a few years later begat the Taliban, providing the sanctuary to Al Qaeda which enabled 9/11) and secondly via her cosy relationship with the Islamising military dictator of Pakistan, General Zia. One wonders what Zia would have made of the liberty conference?
And that is without even mentioning her deep relationship with the primary state sponsors of Sunni terrorism, Saudi Arabia, or that the first person to propose an Islamic school in Britain was ...........Margaret Thatcher.
It is fashionable, and indeed correct, to flay Tony Blair for the encouragment his foreign policy gave to Islamist actors. But let us not forget that Britain has been getting it very wrong on Islamism for a very long time. And that despite the myopia of her supporters, Mrs Thatcher was up to her neck in those blunders.
Take a walk around the EC1 and N1 areas of London and you will see - these fashionable postcodes are home to many of our biggest charities.
Even I was surprised though at the news that Greenpeace has lost £3million in currency bets. To quote from Simon Neville in the i newspaper yesterday:
"Greenpeace has lost €3.8m (£3m) of public donations on a series of blundering currency bets that went wrong, the charity has admitted".
The Independent's excellent Defence Correspondent, Kim Sengupta, has an editorial in the i paper today on the latest developments in Iraq.
It serves as a reminder, compared to all the waffle on the motivations of fighters in Syria, Iraq and elsewhere, of the motivations of ISIS:
The jihadists have created what their name suggests - the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria - winning control of Iraq's Sunni heartland and the bloodiest of the rebels fighting Bashar al-Assad's regime.
When discussing jihadist fighters - from Afghanistan to Algeria to Zanzibar - we would do well to remember not just who these groups are fighting against, but what they are fighting to create. Until we do that, our debates about such conflicts will continue to be partial, restrictive and dominated by references to past blunders.
Julie Burchill once said that the thing which made her most proud to be British was our pop groups - I think she was talking specifically about the brilliantly named St Etienne.
With that in mind, and for the start of the World Cup, it seems appropriate to turn to Russian Linesman.
Tuesday evening sees a debate in London on developments in the Basque country, as the conflict between ETA and the Spanish state reaches another stage.
Endgame for ETA: Elusive Peace in the Basque Country: Book launch and discussion
Free Word Centre, 60 Farringdon Rd, London EC1R 3GA
Tuesday 10th June 6:30 pm
The violent Basque separatist group ETA took shape in Franco's Spain, yet claimed the majority of its victims under democracy. For most Spaniards it became an aberration, a criminal and terrorist band whose persistence defied explanation. Others, mainly Basques (but only some Basques) understood ETA as the violent expression of a political conflict that remained the unfinished business of Spain's transition to democracy. Such differences hindered efforts to 'defeat' ETA's terrorism on the one hand and 'resolve the Basque conflict' on the other for more than three decades.
This discussion will address questions explored by Teresa Whitfield in her new book, Endgame for ETA: Elusive Peace in the Basque Country. What led ETA to last so long? And what factors contributed to its decision to end its violence in 2011? What is ETA, and where is the Basque conflict, today? Are there lessons from the Basque experience that may be relevant elsewhere?
Teresa Whitfield is a Fellow of New York University’s Center on International Cooperation and the author of Paying the Price: Ignacio Ellacuría and the Murdered Jesuits of El Salvador and Friends Indeed? Groups of Friends, the United Nations and the Resolution of Conflict, in addition to Endgame for ETA.
Jonathan Powell is the Chief Executive of Inter Mediate; as Chief of Staff to Tony Blair he was the lead British government negotiator on Northern Ireland 1997-2007. He is the author of Great Hatred Little Room: Negotiating Peace in Northern Ireland; The New Machiavelli: How to wield power in the modern world and Talking to Terrorists, How to End Armed Conflict published in October.
The discussion will be introduced and chaired by Andy Carl, Director of Conciliation Resources
The link to the Eventbrite page is here.
I have submitted the letter below to the Evening Standard, which should appear in todays edition. Back in January and February the Standard's letters page, and Channel 4 News (amongst others) featured a debate on to what extent our security is threatened by the Britons who have gone to join some of the rebel factions in Syria.
That discussion featured people like Asim Qureshi of Cage arguing we have nothing to fear from those taking up arms against Assad. Others compared the Syrian fighters to those who left these shores in the 1930s to fight fascism in the Spanish Civil War. As delegates at the G7 conference meet in Brussels to discuss (amongst other issues) the Syrian fighters, that is a position which looks silly:
Your leading article, Syrian Blowback, is timely. Last week saw not only the arrest in France of a returning jihadi for the alleged massacre in the Brussels Jewish Museum, but Stratford resident Mohommod Nawaz's guilty plea to smuggling ammunition into Dover on his return from Syria. There have been three convictions of Britons for travelling to Syria to attend camps, with more cases pending. The debate on this Letters page and elsewhere earlier this year that foreign fighters pose no threat to their home nations now looks fatuous.
The PM is in a tricky situation. With most Britons entering the conflict via Turkey, he needs to face the reality that a significant threat to our security is facilitated by a NATO ally. Yet Cameron himself gave succour to the Syrian rebels, seeking to intervene against Assad until public opinion forced him back. If he hopes for international action against travelling jihadis, he would do well to remember we are now in the third decade of a small number of British Sunni Muslims joining Mujahideen groups, with a disastrous effect on our security and community relations. What kept him?
Paul Stott, University of East Anglia.