I’m sure the lads and lasses at GCHQ and the “Ms” and “Qs” of our intelligence services want more and more “tools” to combat the army of world terror which confronts us. But I was very struck by one of the metaphors used by MI5’s boss Andrew Parker this month. He was waffling on to chosen journos about the dangers of accepting that privacy was “so absolute and sacrosanct that terrorists … can confidently operate behind these walls without fear of detection”. If MI5 lost the ability to identify these dastardly enemies – “if parts of the radar go dark” – then public safety is reduced.
Hear, hear. Couldn’t agree more. However, I was much struck by the image of the radar screen, into which Andy’s sleuths are no doubt staring 24 hours a day. And you can see the problem. A bit of the screen starts shading into grey, becomes a little patchy, “goes dark” – and then Isis, al-Qaeda, the Muslim Brotherhood, the al-Nusrah Front, Bashar Assad’s “Mukhabarat” intelligence boys, Iranian “terrorists” (if they still exist) and all manner of other chaps will be plotting to destroy us without Andy being aware of it.
The problem with all this is not that MI5’s radar might grow dark. It’s that any sane intelligence officer in the UK knows well that the “terrorist” threat grows not in proportion to the clarity of his or her radar screen, but to the hypocrisy and brutality of British, US and other Western policies in the Middle East.
For if Mr Parker and his crew really want to protect us, they have only to look at the plight of the occupied Palestinians, the statelessness of the Kurds, the imprisoned tens of thousands of Arabs in the jails and torture chambers of the Arab world whose dictators we have supported – and in the case of Egypt and much of the Gulf – still do support and protect. The atrocities which we allow to be perpetrated – in effect, in our own name – would drive any Islamist young man or woman to violence against his or her oppressors. Indeed, there is ample proof that al-Qaeda’s original inspiration was nurtured in ex-President Hosni Mubarak’s Tora prison complex where Islamist prisoners were sometimes given female names before being forced to sodomise each other.
Please note, I am not even mentioning the regime of torture we ourselves instituted in Afghanistan and in Guantanamo and in Iraq after our savage and illegal invasion. Nor am I writing about the slaughter of Palestinian children – more than 300 last summer – in Israel’s regular bombardments of Gaza. Yes, I know that Hamas is wicked and Isis is the most-frightening, “apocalyptic”, “end-of-the-world” enemy we have faced since Hitler, the Kaiser, Tamburlaine or Genghis Khan, that the “Muslim Brotherhood” wanted to create a caliphate in Egypt (which I don’t believe), that al-Qaeda attacked America in 2001 and Britain in 2007 and – if its apostles in Yemen were behind the killings in Paris – in France in 2015. But beyond this field of blood there is a history of massive injustice which must be recognised, and a vital need for good people to speak out about the iniquities we have unleashed or permitted in the Middle East.
What, for example, were those who have suffered so grievously at our hands – or at those of our supposed allies – to have thought when they read not many weeks ago of General Martin Dempsey’s preposterous remarks about the extraordinary restraint of the Israeli army. General Dempsey is chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, the highest-ranking military officer in America, and – making no reference to the compelling evidence of war crimes committed by Israeli troops when they killed 2,100 Palestinians, most of them civilians last August – claimed that Israel went to “extraordinary lengths to limit collateral damage and civilian casualties… They did some extraordinary things to try and limit civilian casualties, to include … making it known that they were going to destroy a particular structure”. He dismissed Palestinian civilian casualties – to whom Human Rights Watch accused the Israeli army of showing “callous indifference” – as “tragic”.
Why, General Dempsey even packed some senior and non-commissioned officers off to Israel after the Gaza bloodbath to learn more about the operation. Let us hope that his warriors do not plan to put their knowledge into practice in the next air strikes in Syria and Iraq.
Not that Isis or al-Qaeda will care. They have long insisted that the US and Israel are essentially the same nation with the same military objectives and the same, vicious tactics. And along comes General Dempsey to help Isis with their propaganda. This is the stuff from which “terrorism” is made.
But none of this seems of much – if any – interest to the director general of the Security Services. For what must appear on any radar screen at MI5 – the “tool” to “root out” all “terror” – is the key word: injustice. But I fear this would be regarded as a technical malfunction, a sudden darkening of the screen rather than a powerful illumination which could help our security services to protect our lives. For I’m sure I know what Andy’s orders would be if that dreaded word appeared on the radar at MI5: Switch off the screen!
The opaque language of peacemaking
I have always admired the work of the Glencree Centre for Peace and Reconciliation, housed within the grim walls of an old barracks from which 18th-century British soldiers would ensure the obedience of the people of Co Wicklow: a fit meeting place for the Northern Ireland antagonists of the 1990s, Dublin civil servants and British diplomats. The centre even managed to arrange a meeting between Peter Robinson of Paisley’s DUP, Martin McGuinness of Sinn Fein and Afghan parliamentarians. Glencree was a “peacebuilder”.
But I sighed when I read the words of Wilhelm Verwoerd, the brave son of apartheid’s architect who joined the ANC and worked for the South African truth commission. It wasn’t his politics, I took exception to. It was his language. For in a book about political reconciliation, Verwoerd describes Glencree as “a residential space … guided by values of inclusivity and non-judgementalism as part of a carefully facilitated process of deepening understanding and cultivating humanising connections”. I can see why Robinson and McGuinness got on well – it was mutual linguistic self-protection.Reuse content