Sunday, May 26, 2013

We need to study Islamic terrorism as a malignant sub-set of Islam

Ibrahim Mogra of the Muslim Council of Great Britain has said that the vast majority of Muslims would say that the Woolwich murder had "nothing to do with Islam" and were the “action of a minority”. Few would wish to question the sincerity of his statement – but surely we should point out its internal inconsistency? There seems to be no doubt that the perpetrators of this evil act were doing it, as they saw it, in the name of Islam. Indeed that is what one of them said “An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth. We swear by almighty Allah we will never stop fighting you.”

So acts of this sort and all the many Islamic terrorist acts over the years are of course something “to do with Islam” and it is wrong, even dangerous, to deny it. That Islam does not condone such acts was rightly emphasised by the Prime Minister when he said it was “…a betrayal of Islam and of the Muslim communities who give so much to our country. There is nothing in Islam that justifies this truly dreadful act.” But any proper investigation of the crime and its causes has to start with an acknowledgment that the start point was the Islamic faith of the killers. It may be uncomfortable for many peace-loving decent Muslims to recognise this – but it is none the less true.

Belief in any long-established ideology probably follows a Bell curve of commitment/fanaticism. The vast majority of believers will be in the around 95% that sit within two standard deviations of the median. But at the extremes will be the ultra-fanatics whose devotion to their Faith is completely dominant in their lives. This can be, and often is, comparatively benign. Haredi Jews, for example, live lives at the outer fringes of orthodoxy and whilst many Jewish people would not wish themselves to be members of a sect with such strict behavioural rules it is hardly a threat to anybody. Among Christian believers the Amish Mennonites are similar. All three of the big monotheist religions have huge variations of belief and behaviour systems and history of course teaches us that an over- zealous belief can sometimes be dangerous.

To argue that those who adhere to the more extreme forms of Islam (or Judaism or Christianity for that matter) are not acting in line with the true teaching of the Religion is subjective. The infamous call for a fatwa against Salman Rushdie came from the effective leader of Iran, Ayatollah Khomeini, not from a madman in a cave. And the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is an Islamic State which has Sharia law including the Death Penalty for Apostasy - it is not the only Islamic country to do this by any means. Fatwas and death to apostates may be rejected by Muslims in the West – although as we have seen recently some of our citizens like Anjem Choudary, the radical Islamist, want Sharia in Britain! As Atheist ideologue Richard Dawkins has said “Most of the faithful are nice, harmless, decent people. But beware the minority who are sincere and take their faith seriously”!

I would not agree with Dawkins that you need to beware all sincere and serious religionists. But from within this predominantly harmless group, who tend towards the more extreme application of the rules (as they see them) of their Faiths, are those who distort science (the Creationists) - which is intellectually dangerous - and those who preach violence in the name of their Religion. That violence may be against people (as with Al Qaeda and its ilk) or against institutions – like the Christian anti-abortion fanatics who set fire to hospitals and surgeries.

So in investigating and countering Faith-based terror it is unhelpful to start from the premise that this terror has nothing to do with the true core of the Faith. As I have said this is subjective anyway. Each of the three monotheist faiths has a wide variety of applications of its tenets and huge internal differences – the Sunni/Shia or Catholic/Protestant divisions have historically been as lethal as the higher level Muslim/Christian ones. If we see Islamic terror not as a phenomenon separate from mainstream Islam but as an extreme expression of Islam on the fringes of the Faith (albeit a grotesquely distorted one) it is likely that we will understand and counter it better.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Doing the right thing

I received my first monthly pay check from a Shell company back in October 1964. It was for £200 and I was probably a bit overpaid in truth. I started work at seventeen so the not infrequent visits to pubs and wine bars with my new colleagues during those first couple of months before my 18th Birthday were on reflection a bit dodgy. Paddy 1963067The colleagues paid of course understanding that my lowly status as a dogsbody was matched by an appropriately low wage. They were jolly times and though everyone seemed to play hard, especially at long liquid lunches, they worked together quite effectively as well. The team that played together stayed together – and there was a high level of integrity around. At no point during my “induction” months did anyone read out rules to me – and if you had used the term “Mission Statement” people would have thought that you were a Jehovah’s Witness. The rules that mattered were mostly informal – the dress code was fairly tight – dark suits and ties de rigueur.  But the idea that you needed to be told what to do with some “code of behaviour” booklet would not have occurred. And if you were uncertain someone would put you right – the informal organisation was far more important than the formal.

At a corporate level there were fewer rules as well – and far fewer laws. It was not regulation free – but the very prescriptive Health and Safety and other “conduct at work” laws wouldn't appear for a decade or so. In business life as elsewhere in society there is always a judgment call for Government as to where to regulate and where not to. The curious irony of the past couple of decades is that the more regulation there has been the worse the behaviour! Writing about modern Britain, post Thatcher,  at the beginning of the new century the late Guardian columnist Hugo Young said:


“There turned out to be no such thing as society, at least in the sense we used to understand it. Whether pushing each other off the road, barging past social rivals, beating up rival soccer fans, or idolising wealth as the only measure of virtue, Brits became more unpleasant to be with.”


The unpleasantness that Young refers to I saw in Business as well. Over the latter half of my career with Shell the geniality I saw when I first joined had disappeared. True many of us still had friendly relations with colleagues – especially the ones that we had known a long time. But the Corporate Culture changed. A friend with nearly 30 years service and one who was able and reliable was called into the office one day told to put his company car keys on his boss’s desk and was informed that, as a consequence of a reorganisation,  he was being made redundant immediately. And a year or so after I retired early in 2002 the Chief Executive of Shell, Philip Watts, was marched out of the office building by security staff – he was subsequently investigated by the authorities for misreporting Shell’s hydrocarbon reserves. These two unconnected events told me that the idea that people would “know how to behave” had long since gone. Thatcher diminished the power of the Unions so my friend had no protection from what was effectively a summary dismissal. Watts saw personal advantages accruing to him from his disingenuousness and mendacity and though the system did catch up with him many others I know behaved almost as badly and got away with it. As the regulations increased so did the rewards at the top. When a moderately capable Board Director earns in seven figures then those a tier or two lower in the hierarchy often understandably aspire to have some of the same for themselves.

Greed increased the greater the potential rewards became - and riding roughshod over colleagues to reach the top became the norm not the exception in business life. And when you do that what do you do when you make it? Well Phil Watts, Tony Hayward of BP, Fred Goodwin of RBS and all too many others will tell you. They did not “Do the Right thing” because they had all much earlier rejected the very idea that there was a “Right thing” anyway. The foot soldiers, of whom I was one in Shell, often took their leads from what they saw as ruthless and bad behaviour at the top – and, unsurprisingly, sometimes behaved badly themselves. And if they didn't and went further actually to challenge the hierarchy then they would rarely succeed. The men at the top looked after themselves. Believe me I tried!

Thursday, May 23, 2013

A one- off act of terror maybe - but we need to look deeply at the reasons for it

The boneheads of the "English Defence League" have acted with predictable ignorance and violence to the horrific crime committed in Woolwich yesterday. But whilst the EDL actions were extreme underlying them are the same fears and prejudices that have seen the rise of UKIP and significant Islamophobia in British society.

Since 9/11 and 7/7 we have a heightened awareness of the dangers presented by Islamic terrorism. That people do despicable acts in the name of Allah is not in dispute. That the vast majority of Muslims around the world live peaceful lives threatening nobody is forgotten when the terrorists strike - waving the Koran as they do so.

There is unease in the West about Islam - it would be unhelpful to deny that fact. Of the world's great religions Islam is undoubtedly the one most alien to Western values. That Muslims can live peaceful and productive lives in Western societies is undeniable - but that they do this, very often, in a manner that is separate from the mainstream culture stokes up the fires of prejudice. 

The appeal of UKIP is based on rejection of the unfamiliar. So the idea that decisions are taken "abroad" not in Britain is core to their pitch - you can't trust "Johnny Foreigner". And you certainly don't want more of them coming here. UKIP's anti immigration stance is the main reason for their rise in the polls.

The anti immigration stance of UKIP is complemented by their rejection of multiculturalism. In their view the one leads to the other - and indeed vice versa. The more immigration by those of a different cultural backgrounds the more varied our culture becomes. And the more we praise the benefits of multiculturalism the more we are likely to tolerate, even encourage, immigration.

Islam, as I have argued, is the religion most challenging to the white, Anglo-Saxon, Christian (Protestant) core culture in Britain. That challenge is rarely problematic for most of us - it presents no threat and its presence is highly localised. That parts of our cities have become predominantly Muslim - meaning that the residents look different, behave differently and worship differently is only a concern to the deeply prejudiced who find this fact offensive. If these residents obey the laws of the land then that should be enough - and for most of us it is. 

But whilst those of us who enjoy multiculturalism and see little threat from it it is also undeniable that at the outer fringes of our British Islamic communities lie some very nasty and dangerous people with views and behaviour utterly alien to us. The 7/7 bombers were born and bred in Britain. We have the preaching of extreme Islamic positions in some of our Mosques. There is a tiny but lethal minority of Muslims who want to do us harm. 

Whether the Woolwich murderers turn out to be sole agents, acting independently of any organised terrorism groups we will see. It seems likely. But to claim that their action is disconnected from their Faith is nonsense. That it is a perverted version of true Islam is no doubt true. But from 9/11 right through to yesterday "Allahu Akbar" was the cry as the evil men did their work. 

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

What should Dave Do?

How about "Put the people first"? Would it be too much to hope that the PRIME MINISTER (that's not a Party post) would say, as others have before (notably the good Lady herself) "Enough!". Enough of the Party bickering. Enough of the flip-flop politics. Enough of the acting by Focus Group. Enough of the disloyalty. Enough of the utterly disproportionate time and energy (my time and energy!) spent on secondary issues. 

The Coaltion was formed (or so the rhetoric had it) as a pragmatic mechanism to sort out Britain's problems. These problems did not, and do not, include the UK's membership of the EU - you would hardly enter into a five year coalition with Britain's most Europhile Party if you intended to put our membership of the EU at risk! They did not and do not include Gay Marriage. Of course it is morally right to give homosexuals the same civil rights as heterosexuals - it was, as with Europe, only internal Party dissidents who embarrassed the PM on this issue. Shameful. 

So Cameron needs to rise above Party and start acting as a Leader. Tell his opponents to shut up or do the other thing - bugger off to UKIP if they want to! Few if any will. They haven't the balls. Once Cameron starts acting solely in the National Interest and stops bending to the wind caused by the latest Old Right obsession - socially illiberal or obsessively Eurosceptic - then he might become credible again. It's the Economy stupid. And our duties as a member of our Alliances (Economic, Military, Historic). That's what counts. 

COUNTRY BEFORE PARTY please Dave. Dig out the Coalition agreement. Stick to it.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Stand by your man - or not in the case of the real Tory loons on theRight of the Party

Charles Moore in the Daily Telegraph raises his eyes to the heavens and despairs and seeks a new saviour. But he is disingenuous. The problem is not mainly Cameron's weakness (as Charles agrees - he's probably the best available of a very bad lot). No - the problem is with Dave's friends in the Conservative Party and their more dim-witted soul mates in UKIP. 

The "debate" - such as it is, which isn't much - over Europe is phoney, ill-judged and cynically timed. Voters agree with the premise that the UK's membership of the EU is hardly one of the key issues of the day. And yet 20 years on from John Major here come the pretentious, obsessive, dangerous, self-appointed defenders of our "National sovereignty"  to make life hell for another weak Prime Minister.

The Tory/LibDem coalition was a dubious idea. But given the perceived failures of Gordon Brown and the weariness of Labour the outcome of those five days in May in 2010 was in retrospect inevitable. The real Conservative patriot, instead of creating phoney political earthquakes over Europe,  would be 100% behind Cameron in his far more important goals of healing the economy, reforming public services and (YES) managing our relationship within (not "with") the EU. The first of these goals and the third are interrelated. Britain's economy can only prosper if we are active, engaged and genuine with our European partners. Britain standing alone from Europe is a preposterous notion - and that the very future of our Government is threatened by those peddling this snake oil is shameful.

Friday, May 03, 2013

The stench of UKIP will stay with us for a while.

Maybe it's human nature but we Brits often seek to find someone to blame when things go wrong. I don't know whether "Through no fault of mine..." translates into other languages but you certainly hear it often in Britain. The blame culture spreads by word of mouth, but especially when the tabloid press sees a target. So our concerns about our present economic malaise are directed not at the real causes (Financial institutions, greed and general macroeconomic mismanagement) but at villains it is easy to spit venom at. The European Union, say, or immigrant labour. There are aspects of our status within the EU that are less than optimal no doubt. And in some cases citizens of EU States are getting jobs which would otherwise go to British citizens. But in truth these are fringe concerns compared with our seemingly endemic failure to get growth in the economy, principles in our corporate governance and to control our national debt or manage our budget.

The appeal of UKIP is to those who (a) Feel something must be done (b) Seek to find someone to blame. Because Gordon Brown's Labour government was seen by these people to have failed Labour is not an option (and Miliband has failed to impress). Because the LibDems are in the Coalition they can't be relied upon either. And the Conservatives are beyond the pale because of their economic failures and (cue blame culture gut response) their continued kow-towing to Brussels and inability to control immigration. Remember these are perceptions, and the truth is different. But perceptions ARE reality because people believe them to be true.

Enter Mr Farage. He doesn't ask you to understand complex subjects and he's no policy wonk. He doesn't ask you to be balanced in your political judgment. Or fair. Or even well-informed. He just wants you to believe that all of our malaise can be reduced to the simplest of policy proposals, and he knows that these proposals will hit the spot of your prejudice and your search for the guilty. The EU is to blame? Lets get out. Immigrants are taking our jobs? Stop them coming. And so on. That politics is complex and that it is the art of the possible? Well that doesn't worry our Nigel. It's basically the message he's heard for years in the saloon bars of pubs in leafy Kent, his home, that he's peddling.

UKIP is a protest movement pretty much against everything the political establishment holds dear. It is the ultimate "none of the above" option. It is not an ideology and it is not a serious option. It's proposals are uncosted and the dreadful implications attached to its mainstream positions have been inadequately challenged by the main parties. UKIP will fade away sooner rather than later. In the meantime it can do untold damage to our political system and the core principles we hold dear. And when UKIP is gone the stench it leaves behind will be with us fo quite a while.