The threat of young Isis converts may be impossible for intelligence services to stamp out

It is naïve to imagine that determined Britons can easily be prevented from joining the battle in Syria and Iraq

Share

The security services insist that the tracking of British jihadists returning from Syria and Iraq is now their top priority. Given that young men from the UK have been fighting in the Syrian conflict for months, this news raises the question: what was their top priority before?

The emergence of Isis may have changed the game for Britain’s security chiefs, but a sceptic might wonder whether the apparent recalibration has as much to do with the fact that a Western-backed government in Iraq – rather than a Russian-leaning regime in Syria – is now the subject of attacks.

Putting to one side the motivation for this apparent shift in focus, it also has to be asked whether the “tracking” efforts of the security agencies will have real impact. It seems implausible that MI5 can keep tabs on every person who returns to the UK after fighting in the Middle East – and was declared as such by a former director of global counter-terrorism  at MI6. That is not to say the task should not be attempted. Yet it feels like an old-fashioned response to a threat that has an increasingly contemporary character.

Likewise, it is all very well for the Home Office to promise that the existence of terrorist and extremist propaganda online will not be “tolerated” but what does this mean in practice? Once again, it sounds like institutional recourse to platitudes of the distant past.

Isis, conversely, has promoted its agenda precisely by presenting itself as ultra-modern. Its foot-soldiers do not march through the desert; they drive in sleek 4x4s. Recruits are not seen in grainy video footage reading from scripts; they are shown in sleek, high-definition clips. Social media and the World Cup are not ignored as Western fallacies; they are harnessed to the propaganda cause. Isis and their ilk may be opposed to modern liberal values, but they are not the enemies of modernity per se. To some young, bored Muslims in Cardiff and elsewhere, Isis must seem a lot more 21st century than anything British public life has to offer.

The UK’s security services do a hard – sometimes impossible – job and they deserve enormous credit for the fact that terror attacks on British streets have been relatively rare since the London bombings of 2005. Nevertheless, there has to be a sense of reality about the threats posed by Isis and its British followers.

It is naïve to imagine that determined Britons can easily be prevented from joining the battle in Syria and Iraq. It is other-worldly to believe that the slickly produced, cleverly packaged Isis propaganda videos can be wiped from the internet. And while tracking jihadists on their return is all very well, if the threat they pose to British security is as significant – and if they number as many – as we are warned, then it may prove as difficult a task as chasing shadows.

Isis carries a strong appeal to a tiny proportion of British Muslims. To talk of a battle for hearts and minds creates an uneasy echo of the maxim of UK armed forces in Iraq and Afghanistan. But it sums up the key imperative in all this: Isis wants to induce young Western Muslims to take up the cause of jihad; British authorities – and society more generally – must do all they can to persuade them of the moral case for not doing so. To begin with, we must change the narrative in which the individuals involved are described as “vulnerable”. They may or may not be. But the last thing they want is to be patronised.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Senior IP Opportunity at Major Firm

vary Attractive Salary: Austen Lloyd: MANCHESTER - AN OPENING AT A VERY HIGH Q...

Nursery Manager

£100 - £110 per day: Randstad Education Ilford: Nursery Manager Long term Ran...

Sales Consultant – Permanent – West Sussex – £24-£25k plus commission and other benefits

£24000 - £25000 Per Annum plus company car and commission: Clearwater People S...

SEN Teaching Assistant

£45 - £65 per day: Randstad Education Bristol: Supply SEN Support Jobs in Bris...

Day In a Page

Read Next
The Liberal Democrats leader says efforts need to be focused on cracking down on the criminal gangs  

Nick Clegg: We should to go to war on drugs, not on addicts

Nick Clegg
East German border guards stand on a section of the Berlin wall in front of the Brandenburg gate on November 11, 1989  

Twenty-five years after the Berlin Wall fell, Hungary’s PM thinks it is Western capitalism that is in its death throes

Peter Popham
The drugs revolution starts now as MPs agree its high time for change

The drugs revolution starts now as MPs agree its high time for change

Commons debate highlights growing cross-party consensus on softening UK drugs legislation, unchanged for 43 years
The camera is turned on tabloid editors in Richard Peppiatt's 'One Rogue Reporter'

Gotcha! The camera is turned on tabloid editors

Hugh Grant says Richard Peppiatt's 'One Rogue Reporter' documentary will highlight issues raised by Leveson
Fall of the Berlin Wall: It was thanks to Mikhail Gorbachev that this symbol of division fell

Fall of the Berlin Wall

It was thanks to Gorbachev that this symbol of division fell
Halloween 2014: What makes Ouija boards, demon dolls, and evil clowns so frightening?

What makes ouija boards and demon dolls scary?

Ouija boards, demon dolls, evil children and clowns are all classic tropes of horror, and this year’s Halloween releases feature them all. What makes them so frightening, decade after decade?
A safari in modern Britain: Rose Rouse reveals how her four-year tour of Harlesden taught her as much about the UK as it did about NW10

Rose Rouse's safari in modern Britain

Rouse decided to walk and talk with as many different people as possible in her neighbourhood of Harlesden and her experiences have been published in a new book
Welcome to my world of no smell and odd tastes: How a bike accident left one woman living with unwanted food mash-ups

'My world of no smell and odd tastes'

A head injury from a bicycle accident had the surprising effect of robbing Nell Frizzell of two of her senses

Matt Parker is proud of his square roots

The "stand-up mathematician" is using comedy nights to preach maths to big audiences
Paul Scholes column: Beating Manchester City is vital part of life at Manchester United. This is first major test for Luke Shaw, Angel Di Maria and Radamel Falcao – it’s not a game to lose

Paul Scholes column

Beating City is vital part of life at United. This is first major test for Shaw, Di Maria and Falcao – it’s not a game to lose
Frank Warren: Call me an old git, but I just can't see that there's a place for women’s boxing

Frank Warren column

Call me an old git, but I just can't see that there's a place for women’s boxing
Adrian Heath interview: Former Everton striker prepares his Orlando City side for the MLS - and having Kaka in the dressing room

Adrian Heath's American dream...

Former Everton striker prepares his Orlando City side for the MLS - and having Kaka in the dressing room
Simon Hart: Manchester City will rise again but they need to change their attitude

Manchester City will rise again but they need to change their attitude

Manuel Pellegrini’s side are too good to fail and derby allows them to start again, says Simon Hart
Isis in Syria: A general reveals the lack of communication with the US - and his country's awkward relationship with their allies-by-default

A Syrian general speaks

A senior officer of Bashar al-Assad’s regime talks to Robert Fisk about his army’s brutal struggle with Isis, in a dirty war whose challenges include widespread atrocities
‘A bit of a shock...’ Cambridge economist with Glasgow roots becomes Zambia’s acting President

‘A bit of a shock...’ Economist with Glasgow roots becomes Zambia’s acting President

Guy Scott's predecessor, Michael Sata, died in a London hospital this week after a lengthy illness
Fall of the Berlin Wall: History catches up with Erich Honecker - the East German leader who praised the Iron Curtain and claimed it prevented a Third World War

Fall of the Berlin Wall

History catches up with Erich Honecker - the East German leader who praised the Iron Curtain and claimed it prevented a Third World War
How to turn your mobile phone into easy money

Turn your mobile phone into easy money

There are 90 million unused mobiles in the UK, which would be worth £7bn if we cashed them in, says David Crookes