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Response to International Affairs Forum

posted on 2023-06-08, 08:18 authored by Shamit Saggar
IA-Forum asks: "The head of the U.K.'s domestic security service MI5 announced at the beginning of January that the threat of an immediate terrorist attack on Britain had receded. In the light of these claims how effective do you think the U.K.'s approach to tackling the terrorist threat has been?" For a serving MI5 chief to say that, in effective, there is a less of an immediate risk of terrorists successfully striking is no small thing. For starters, this kind of assertion would rarely been broadcast so openly in the past, not least because it may simply serve to incentivise current terrorist conspirators. There are three significant implications of this claim that stand out. First, it implies that the operational and tactical strength of 1,800 to 2,000 individuals actively engaged in violent conspiracies has waned. It has declined partly due to the rigour with which these individuals are covertly monitored and, where required, intercepted by intelligence and security officials. But, as importantly, the D-G’s remarks infer something positive about the supply of fresh recruits to violent radical Islamism on British soil. This inference links to the second implication, namely the idea that hardened men of violence cannot succeed on their own. Instead, their campaigns have to be sustained by the moral oxygen of those within their communities who turn a proverbial “blind eye”, not just to blatant extremism, but also to those who question the values of religious exclusion and one-sided victimhood. In Britain it is estimated, according to reliable polling, that anywhere between one and four hundred-thousand Muslims would remain on the fence when confronted with a violent conspiracy they might reasonably disrupt or defuse. The idea of such a tacit circle of support for terrorism - though at first uncomfortable - has gained currency in government and intelligence communities. This is relevant insofar as this insight was, in the experience of this commentators, openly shunned by ministers and officials in much of the period between the New York City and Madrid attacks. Finally, appreciating the centrality of fence-sitters is one thing; influencing their outlook and behaviour is another. Jonathan Evans’ message also helps to refocus on the age-old problem of how to get - and keep - moderate yet concerned Muslims on side. These mothers, siblings, neighbours and friends of potential terrorists can exert a huge, direct influence that large security bureaucracies mostly cannot. But the rub is that they can, if they come to feel that all Muslims are being targeted as would-be terrorists, also further deny, minimise or even unwittingly encourage violent extremism. So, for example, the high profile episode of raiding the “wrong house” not only highlights brutal gaps in intelligence, but also serves as a soft, yet strong, recruiting sergeant for extremism. This scenario in known, in the trade, as the risk of a “boomerang effect” that, simply put, ends up creating a much bigger problem than before. It is encouraging that Britain’s domestic security supremo is willing to examine the basic efficacy of the country’s CT levers. His recent interview demonstrates that he and his agency are beginning to understand and act upon the available levers, and, crucially, make efforts to utilise and grow new ones. The strategy is to build a new division of labour calculus, resulting in communities and security officials pulling together. Effectiveness and success will hang mainly on trust between right-minded Muslims on one hand and the nuanced actions of our security and criminal justice agencies. It is as well, therefore, that such trust is viewed - by all sides - as an output of earlier efforts - and not as a gap that is cited in disengaged frustration and anger.


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  • Published


International Affairs Forum

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  • speech

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Tackling the terrorist threat in Britain

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  • Politics Publications

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