A Debate in the House of Lords on
Jihadism/ Islamism and the problem
in the Middle East
Dr. Mozammel Haque
On 20 June, 2014, Lord Dykes introduced a question what is the Government’s assessment of the threats from the spreads of militant aggressive jihadism in the Middle East. So there was a debate in the House of Lords on 20 June 2014 on Jihadism and Middle East in the context of recent problems in Iraq after the ISIS attack on Iraq. I am going to look into the debate vis-à-vis the rising of ISIS. In this context, I would like to see the followings through the debate, such as definition of Jihadism; problem of Iraq through its background; Iraq war and its justifiability, rise of ISIS and its strength, sectarianism; remedy and final words from senior Foreign Minister, Baroness Sayeeda Warsi .
Illegal US-UK invasion of Iraq
Lord Dykes introduced the debate by saying: “Just over a week ago, the West as a whole realised yet again just how futile and tragic had been the originally illegal US-UK invasion of Iraq 11 years ago. Although it had to be later certificated ex post by a hog-tied and embarrassed United Nations, the invasion had left a broken country with many thousands of innocent civilians killed. The Daily Mirror yesterday, referring to Tony Blair, estimated the total now to be 650,000 since the invasion. It left a judicially murdered dictator, a demolished professional army and a deliberately wrecked civil service infrastructure. Never before, even including the humiliating defeat of the US in Vietnam, had the United States looked so incompetent in its government and military structures.”
Expansion of Jihadism
Referring to what are happening in Syria, Egypt, Libya and then Iraq, Lord Dykes mentioned, “More recently, we were able to witness common sense at last in resisting the strident calls for western military intervention in Syria—less wisdom, of course, in handling Libya, where another dictator ended up murdered without even a show trial, and the usual complete paralysis now over what is happening in Egypt. Meanwhile, the sinister expansion of militant jihadism has been fuelled not least by the geopolitical blunders of the western powers, who have all too often found it impossible not to interfere in the wrong way in other people’s countries, relentlessly telling them what to do as if our democracies were both perfect and powerful.
Speaking about Afghanistan, Lord Dykes mentioned, “it remains to be seen how this will play out in Afghanistan, where western intervention was at its most supine and foolish. I am glad that British forces are now leaving at long last. The USA was obsessed with the equally unwise invasion by the Soviet Union of that complex country and worked with the previous generation of Taliban to drive the Russians out—ironically ending, at the same time, the best civil society that women with jobs and children in schools had ever enjoyed in that sad country. In the infamous film “Charlie Wilson’s War”, those in Hollywood conveniently failed to mention the Taliban at all, yet their country is now fighting the Taliban.”
“We must for ever remember the startlingly sagacious warning of President Eisenhower in his valedictory: “Beware the inexorable rise of the military-industrial complex”. His advice was totally ignored for reasons of oil, money, imperialism and the helping of the rise of the aggressive form of Zionism which is letting down the marvellous country of Israel itself,” said Lord Dykes.
He said, “We urgently need to secure further guidance and information from Turkey in this multifaceted contextual struggle. I take no pleasure in echoing the conclusion of many western observers that somehow the errors and blunders of the West have spurred on the spread of the jihadi impetus. That conclusion seems unfair to a well intentioned western society, but we need to probe its depths.”
Palestine and The Quartet
Mentioning about Palestine and their sufferings, Lord Dykes said, “The Palestinians must have their place in the sun and we should respect, not denounce, their common Government of technocrats and Hamas. The quartet has been hopeless in this sense for many years; it has simply betrayed the Palestinians, whose elections have been postponed for far too long by President Abbas. After all, Palestine cannot be the only country in the world literally without its own Government and elections. The UN has to respond if this tragic situation continues.”
Eventual outcome in Syria
“We also need to accept that the eventual outcome in Syria will be the Syrians’ decision, not ours, and that President Assad is as legitimate, unfortunately, as most leaders in Arabia,” said Lord Dykes and added, “ I hoped fervently that the UN will act to halt the mass executions now threatened by the courts in Egypt. Has the US said anything about this?”
THE LORD BISHOP OF DERBY
Future of European Islam
The Lord Bishop of Derby also raised a question: “I also have a question that is significant to the work in which I am involved: what is the future of European Islam in the mix, across the world? We hear a lot of voices speaking for all kinds of Islamic approaches to faith. There is in Europe a sophisticated, engaged and rich tradition of Islamic thinking and practice. Are we able to engage that voice more creatively in the debate?
LORD PAREKH (Lab)
Turmoil in Egypt
Referring to Egypt, Lord Parekh (Lab) said, “With the turmoil in Egypt, I expect that something worse will happen. The army has declared war—not a virtual war, but a real one—on the Muslim Brotherhood. That simply will not work. The Muslim Brotherhood has global appeal among Muslims and, being highly ideologically motivated, it will not be crushed or put aside as easily as others might. Therefore, as far as I can gaze into my crystal ball, in two or three years’ time, we will see a situation in Egypt that will be no different from what we now see in Syria and Iraq. That will pose some very acute problems, because Egypt is one of the largest countries in the Middle East and faces some very acute problems.”
World will not be stable
Lord Parekh said, “Even if all these conflicts – including the one that I foresee in Egypt—were to end tomorrow, the world in which we live would not be stable. Historical memories of the wars that were initiated by the West, historical memories of the shady business deals in which we engaged in Iraq and elsewhere and memories of the humiliation we inflicted on a lot of people, not only in Abu Ghraib but in lots of other places, will linger, and rightly so. How can one expect people to forget what they have seen and what they have heard? As long as these memories last, we cannot afford to assume our world is entirely safe simply because that world over there is safe. It is safe now; it was not safe for 40 years, as the noble Lord, Lord Desai, said. During those 40 years we did lots of things we should not have done.”
Lord Parekh prescribes remedy
Lord Parekh prescribes remedy, “I want to prescribe my remedy. New wars, limited or unlimited, will not help. The kind of thing that Mr Blair has been trying to press upon our attention will only exacerbate the situation. We should provide help when that is asked for—that is right—but at the same time we should remember that we should not get caught up in domestic rivalry and domestic conflict. If the Government make a complete mess of the situation and alienate people and there is a civil war, as in Syria, and then ask us to help against ISIS, we need to be careful that we are not being manipulated.”
“Secondly, we must keep a keen eye on the terrorist activities in Britain but should not presume that everybody who has been to Syria, Iraq or elsewhere is necessarily a potential terrorist. That can lead to heavy-handed activities and could alienate the Muslims,” said Lord Parekh and added, “Thirdly, we should do nothing to demonise the entire Muslim community or to alienate it in a variety of ways, as we have tended to do, as in the case of schools in Birmingham. Ofsted produced one report and two or three months later there was a completely opposite kind of report. There is also the constant mistake of equating conservative views with extremism. This is also done in relation to Muslim schools. What about other faith schools where similar things might be going on? Those of us with some experience would know that it does. To single out a particular community and its schools can create an estranged, deeply alienated, deeply bitter community, and that is to store up trouble for the future.”
Lord Parekh continued, “Finally, unless the problems in the Middle East are brought under control—not solved; they will not be solved—we will not be able to find much peace there or here. If they are going to be solved, that cannot be done bilaterally by the Americans linking up with the Iranians in order to counter the Iraqis. That game has been going on for the past 40 years and it has not taken us anywhere. We should be thinking in terms of some kind of regional conference where all the parties involved are represented, where we can work out some kind of mechanism for conflict resolution and where we can lay down certain principles which no side would violate, whatever its grievances. Then we can think of an Arab peacekeeping force or an Arab reconciliation commission of the kind we have seen in other parts of the world. In other words, we need to decentralise the way these things function, try to organise a regional conference within a global context and aim for a long-term strategy based on good sense and wisdom, which I am afraid has been so rare in the past few years.”
LORD AHMED (Non-Aft)
Defination of Jihadism/Islamism
Lord Ahmed (Non-Afl) said, “I am neither an Arab nor indigenous English, and jihadism for me is difficult to understand, as “jihad” is in Arabic and “Islamism” is in English. What does it really mean? As I read it in the Koran, jihad means “struggle for justice”, and it has two main categories. First, there is the inner struggle against evil, bad habits and temptations, and to strive for good deeds. The struggle for justice means a jihad against poverty, illiteracy, sexual violence—and, yes, there is a concept of a just war, where people are suffering from brutal regimes. Some scholars say that it is a duty to rescue people from that situation. I am sure that this does not mean individuals from Croydon or Luton who could go and declare jihad.”
“Sadly, words like jihadism and Islamism are used to describe despicable violent extremists and terrorists who proclaim to be Muslims. Let us have a look at two examples. ISIS, of which we know little, although it is much talked about, is led by Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi but is made up of members of the Baathist party, former Saddam Hussein soldiers, militant Sunni fighters and Sunni youth, who have suffered from poverty and alienation, and terrorists. None of them has the same causes or beliefs, but they have two main enemies—the Maliki regime and the Assad regime,” argued Lord Ahmed.
Lord Ahmed continued, “Then we have Boko Haram, a terrorist organisation that commits the most heinous crimes. The word Boko means western culture and Haram means forbidden—so it means rejection of western culture. Then there are the terrorists in Pakistan, Tehreek-e-Taliban, which attacked the Karachi airport; all those fighters were from Uzbekistan. They are no representatives of Islam or Muslims, just as the Lords Resistance Army is not representative of Christians, nor are the RSS or VHP representatives of the great Hindu religion, nor is the Buddhist 969 movement in Burma or the activities of Buddhist monk Gnanasara in Sri Lanka, whose organisation Bodu Bala Sena, or BBS, has allegedly killed seven Muslims, including a child with a sword, in the past two days.”
Imposition of Democracy
Then Lord Ahmed spoke about the imposition of democracy. He said, “I hope that we have learnt that we cannot impose our form of democracy and expect other cultures and tribes to follow it, as was experienced by Mr Bush and Mr Blair in Iraq and Afghanistan. We are just experiencing the fallout in Libya after Colonel Gaddafi’s downfall.”
“The French rejected the legitimate elections won by the Islamic FIS Party in Algeria in 1991, the Americans refused to accept Hamas in Palestine and a large part of the world rejected the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. My point is that the international community withheld recognition of legitimate elections even while it accepted Sisi in Egypt, as well as sheikhdoms and kingdoms in the Middle East, as legitimate Governments. These are political struggles that require political solutions and invasions or bombings do not result in long-term solutions,” argued Lord Ahmed.
Lord Ahmed also recollected and said, “I was in Iraq last year and met many leaders. I also met the Speaker of the Iraqi Assembly, who told me about the isolation of the Sunni community, how Maliki had ignored the Sunnis in the north, and how he thought it was the Shias who were siphoning off all the wealth and had all the power. In most Arab countries, including Iraq, there is rough justice. If you look at some of their judicial systems, you find that confession-based evidence, forced through torture, is a norm.”
Finally, Lord Ahmed said, “I fear that unless we engage Saudi Arabia and Iran in all these states from Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Bahrain and Yemen to Lebanon, we may, unfortunately, see an even longer period of sectarian violence than Europe experienced during the 30-year war in the 17th century.”
“We should not feel threatened by any economic or trade organisation between Muslim states because in my view, if Europe can be at peace due to the creation of a common market, there is a huge potential for the Muslim world to create peace. There is potential for $4 trillion a year business between it and the rest of the world, and peace among 1.5 billion people, as well as the rest of the world,” argued Lord Ahmed.
The Senior Minister of State, Department for Communities
and Local Government & Foreign and Commonwealth Office
BARONESS SAYEEDA WARSI (Con)
Baroness Warsi said, “As the Minister at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, as the Minister responsible for communities and faith domestically, as a British Muslim with Sunni and Shia roots, and as someone who was fiercely against the Iraq invasion in 2003, many of the issues raised come to the fore in answering this debate.”
Regional responsibility should be taken for
Speaking about sectarian dispute, Baroness Warsi replied, “The noble Lord, Lord Desai, referred to the challenges as a sectarian dispute—the oft-quoted Sunni-Shia dimension. I disagree with that simplistic analysis. The vast majority of Sunnis are as appalled as everyone else at the conduct of ISIL—a group that even al-Qaeda distanced itself from last year. Where I do agree with him is that not everything can be distilled to a very simplistic view that everything is either the fault of western intervention or the fault of western non-intervention. It is right that regional responsibility should be taken for what we are seeing.”
“Overspill from the conflicts in Syria and Iraq risks destabilising the wider Middle East. However, the prime responsibility lies with regional states, which need to work together, because they are all at risk in various ways if this matter is not resolved. We must use our diplomacy to encourage regional co-operation. The strongest way to do that is to encourage, support and challenge Governments in the Middle East to be truly reflective of the people who make up their nations. We have seen this in Iraq, where the Government have to be representative of all sects, all religions and both men and women to make people feel that they are part of a nation state,” said Baroness Warsi..
Problems posed a threat to the UK
Speaking about the problems, Baroness Warsi said, “The noble Lord, Lord Parekh, gave his detailed analysis of the extent of the problem and how it poses a threat to the United Kingdom. … As the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs stated earlier this week, we estimate that the number of UK-linked individuals who have travelled to Syria to fight is approximately 400. Not all of them are fighting alongside extremist groups, but inevitably some are fighting with ISIL. We are working with community and faith leaders and charities to better understand and tackle the issues of UK-linked individuals travelling overseas to fight.”
How to deal with them
Answering to The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Derby who raised an important point: how do we deal with these individuals, either before they go out or when they come back? Baroness Warsi said, “How do we ensure the broader Muslim community is kept on board during this time? Noble Lords may be aware of Pew research and Gallup polls that show the British Muslim community’s trust in institutions, including the judiciary and Parliament, is higher than that of other groups. It is important that we preserve that element of trust, belief in the rule of law and sense of fairness that are fundamental British values. The research shows British Muslims are already signed up to those British values.”
Speaking about the Birmingham Schools, Baroness Warsi mentioned, “The noble Lord, Lord Parekh, referred to the situation in Birmingham schools. We must make sure that in this process we do not lose the governors, those who have become involved in parent teachers associations and those who have become teachers. These are the very people whom many, including me, have been encouraging over the past decade to get involved in the process. We must not do anything to disengage people from the process; we must keep encouraging them to engage.
What is the future of European Islam
Speaking about European Islam, Baroness Warsi argued,” The right reverend Prelate asked: what is the future of European Islam? The only way that I can reference that is by using an analogy that I have used many times. Islam is like a river and it takes the colour of the bed over which it flows. It is not culturally or geographically specific. Therefore, Chinese Muslims will look very different from North African Muslims, Pakistani Muslims and European Muslims. The bed over which European Islam will flow is Europe.”
Iraq is a serious issue
Speaking about the seriousness of Iraq, Baroness Warsi said, “Our wish is for the people of Iraq to live in a peaceful, stable and secure environment, and the actions of ISIL are in direct contradiction to this. Our objective is to see a prosperous and stable Iraq. As well as a strong security response by the Iraqi forces, there needs to be a strong, inclusive political solution.”
£5millions Humanitarian Support
Baroness Warsi also disclosed, “We have also responded by providing humanitarian support. Noble Lords may be aware that my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs informed the House of Commons on Monday that the United Kingdom is providing £2 million to NGOs for emergency relief following ISIL’s advances, and £1 million to the UNHCR for mobile protection teams and to establish camps. On 18 June, my right honourable friend the Prime Minister announced an additional £2 million to bring the UK’s contribution up to £5 million in humanitarian assistance.”
Definition of Jihad
Speaking about Jihad, Baroness Warsi said, “The noble Lord, Lord Ahmed, spoke about the definition of “jihad”. He raised an important point about using accurate and measured language in trying to find a solution to these matters. It is a subject that I spoke about earlier this year in a speech at the Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque in Muscat. To fight for freedom of religion or belief wherever it may be and whichever religion an individual chooses to follow or, indeed, not to follow is a government priority. Dare I say that making freedom of religion and belief my own human rights priority is my jihad?”
Sectarianism and religious intolerance
Baroness Warsi said, “In relation to sectarianism and religious intolerance fuelling the Middle East, we and our allies are committed to continuing to work with regional partners to counter this. We will not allow the violence of a minority to threaten the safety and security of those living within the region and further afield, including in the United Kingdom. We will use the full range of UK counterterrorism powers to tackle the supporters of terrorist activity linked to the region.”
“We will also continue to tackle the political and humanitarian issues that are fundamental to conflict prevention in many parts of the world. We will of course continue to make sure that we stem the flow of funds to terrorists—to which, again, the right reverend Prelate referred—and keep looking for effective ways to stop individuals from bypassing current laws on terrorist finance..”
Incredibly challenging problems
There is no easy solution to these incredibly challenging problems, said Baroness Warsi and added, “They have to be dealt with in so many ways: for example, through political dialogue, support for regimes; encouraging regimes to be representative of all people in their states; making sure that British Muslim communities are kept on board during this process; and ensuring that we use measured language. Ultimately, we need to ensure that what we are looking for is a solution. It is those basic premises that will help us find a solution to an incredibly complex problem.”