Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Interview with former MI6 agent

Alastair Crooke is a former official with Britain's MI6 intelligence agency and I have picked up this recent interview with al-jazeera that makes fascinating reading .Considering his previous position it is probably fair to presume that his view mirrors that of MI6 and therefore makes the interview more interesting still. The fact that his views are not as extreme as those i so often come across is something of a comfort . Alastair spent many years in the Arab and Muslim world and engaged in dialogue with Hamas and Hizb Allah, as well as facing paramilitary forces and drug cartels in Latin America and militias in Africa. During this time, Crooke helped end the Israeli siege of the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem in 2002 and worked to mediate the summer 2003 ceasefire between Palestinian armed groups and Israeli forces. So he knows his stuff , If only more people could see the bigger picture

How do you explain the apparent increase in bombings taking place around the world, most recently seen in London and Egypt? What is happening?

What I think we see is a division in views that is taking place. I think we have on the one hand groups like the Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas and Hizb Allah who are trying to build a Muslim society, and to get a stake in society and in power, by working through the electoral process, by trying to work or to try to contrive the reforms that will allow them, if you like, from the bottom up, popular Islamism.
You see that very clearly taking place in Egypt, where there is a process of drawing on a popular desire to see elections, changes and reforms - and trying to mobilise that popular support in order to get a stake in power, whereby they can bring about the changes that conform with what their constituencies are looking to.
On the other hand, I think there is a different trend which sees the project of decolonisation after the last European war having been incomplete and having failed, and amongst some of this trend, you get the sense that you have to break the system in order to make the system. You've actually got to bring down the structures in order to start again.

That accommodation ultimately will fail because the West won't allow groups like Hamas, Hizb Allah and others to participate fully in the electoral process. So they are looking to another way of doing that, in which they are challenging, if you like, completing the process of decolonisation. They believe you have to pull the structure down and start again.

I think this dichotomy was elegantly described by Muqtada al-Sadr [a Shia Muslim cleric in Iraq] in a recent interview, in which he said, 'Look, there are some of my brothers who believe that by working with the provisional government, they can work to bring about an end to the occupation of Iraq. Well, I wish them luck with that, but I believe ultimately they will fail because the United States will not allow it. That is why I believe that first by resistance we must bring about the end of occupation, and only then will it be possible to create a state, a Muslim state, in Iraq'.

And I think that is something of the dilemma we are facing, that I think what we saw in Egypt is [both trends] taking place at the same time. On the one hand, you have the Muslim Brotherhood and the other groups working politically, challenging for power through the electoral process, and we see the bombs that took place in Sharm al-Shaikh - we don't yet know the full motivation - which may represent the other trend, which says, you've got to collapse the system before you can really rebuild a fair and just society.

You make a distinction between the Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas and Hizb Allah, and al-Qaida or al-Qaida related-groups, that are more global in their actions?

I think there is a big difference between the two, in that what you have is Hamas, Hizb Allah, Jammat Islamiya, Muslim Brotherhood and these groups.
They may be seen on the one hand through the optic of using resistance or violence, in support of their objectives, but these groups all favour elections, they look for reform, they're looking for constitutional change in their society, and that is an important difference between these groups and some of the other Salafi, Takfiri, extreme radical groups who are looking for polarisation.

So what does al-Qaida want?

Well, I'm afraid I'm one of those people in the West that thinks this title, al-Qaida, has become so overused and used so widely, that I mean that's it's impossible any longer to say.
I don't think there is that organisational structure that is so often presented in the West, but I think it is quite clear the main objective is the removal of Western armies from Muslim lands and an ability to create a just society in Muslim lands. But their methodology is very different.


This is to oversimplify it, but it has some objectives which were evident in 1998 [the year Osama bin Laden declared a fatwa calling on his followers to kill American nationals and allies of the US, and the year of the East Africa embassy bombings] which was about polarisation and radicalisation and a short circuiting of the route to an Islamic society by an act of "shock and awe" that would radicalise the ummah [global Muslim community] and bring about an instant change.

But for many Muslims and many groups - including the Islamists - they would say it has alienated much of the ummah by the type and nature of the violence that has been used to radicalise the situation. And also some would say that it has made the conditions for Muslims worse off because of "the war on terror".

And certainly, some groups might point to the situation of the Palestinians as an example and say it has greatly deteriorated. So what have these acts achieved?

Do you think America is waging the ''war on terror'' in an effective manner?

You have to go back and say, what is a war? "Terror" -whatever that means - I don't use that word because I don't think it's necessarily helpful to understanding what we're dealing with.
And certainly, if we are, it's why I prefer to use such words as political insurgency - an incipient political insurgency - because an insurgency is basically about psychology and politics and that's what we have been trying to understand, and that's what we have to deal with.
But I think there are two things that are very important to understand. One is that in dealing with the situation we have now, the first thing is the West often muddles together things that are so completely different. They group Hamas and Hizb Allah and put them in the same box and say all of this is "Islamist terrorism".
They couldn't be more poles apart. Just [recently] for example, I heard that there is an assassination list put out by some of these radical groups which contain Hizb Allah names on it, proposing that they should be assassinated. There is a world of difference between bunching them together - the struggle and the difference between [these] groups.

The other thing that is important to understand is we often talk about anger and hostility, but there is also a feeling in the West that it is just anger and hostility to the West and that, if only things settle down in Iraq and if Muslims are more educated and get a little bit more money, it will all go away and vanish and things will become stable again. I think that is to miss the point.

There is anger, and there is this hostility, but there is also beneath that a substantive critique of Western policies, of Western economic structures of our financial system, of our trade policy, of our development policy, of our foreign policies and also an alternative view of how a society should be. In other words, the challenge that they are not necessarily universal values. So I think we should just not regard this as a froth of anger that will be dissipated, if only a little more money and investment is poured into the [affected places].

I think the anger may diminish, but there beneath this, a substantive and real critique needs to be addressed by the West and not denied by them.

US President George Bush says that extremist groups like al-Qaida hate the democracy and values the West represents. Is this a correct view and understanding of what motivates such groups?

This is completely wrong. Muslims everywhere - and the polls underline this very clearly - reflect the same values: They do not hate our values, but they do hate our policies.

Polls show very clearly that Muslims support elections, they want popular participation in government. They want effective and good governance and they want reform. And these are the same values as European and American societies. Muslim values expressed in the polls represent no threat to our societies.

Perhaps they will look for a society that is underpinned with ethical values not only in a personal sphere but in an institutional sphere, and in a sphere of governance in order to avoid what they see as some of the weaknesses of a secular liberal democracy, but that is not a challenge, or an existential threat to our societies.

Why do you believe it is important to talk to groups that use such tactics as suicide bombings?

I don't want to imply that that is a condoning of these tactics, but what we are looking at is we are talking to those groups that have sometimes used political violence, but these are groups that should also be seen, on the other hand, [as groups] who do support elections, who do support positive reform and change, and who reflect significant Muslim constituencies. They have a real legitimacy. They clearly have many people who support their activities and vote for them and express their support. So they do have a real legitimacy, which the West must not sweep under the carpet and pretend it's not there.

With the other groups [such as al-Qaida], there is no indication of whether they have a clear legitimacy. Maybe some arguments that they make have some resonance, perhaps or not within the whole of Muslim societies, but some sectors of it. There's no formal way of judging the degree to which there is legitimacy for their views, as opposed to some ephemeral resonance that some arguments have within Muslim society, so there is a big difference, I believe. The other difference is, if they're looking for polarisation and radicalisation, then I'll doubt if they want to talk to anyone.

Should governments not take the principled stand that they should not negotiate with those who use such indiscriminate carnage?

We need to find the most effective way to break a cycle of violence and we need to address it in a number of ways. One of the clear things I'm saying is that once you look and understand that this is also about politics, it means we have to have a political approach, as well as a need to protect our societies too. Every society has to protect its citizens, that is the duty of a government.

But it is also important to look at it more widely and to understand possibly that by labelling and lumping together groups like Hamas and Hizb Allah and others that clearly are wanting to participate ... to try to deny them political space, to isolate and demonize them and disempower their discourse is the wrong way to go about it.

You have moderates and young people - even people here in the camps in Lebanon - who would say to their political leaders, "Look, see where your moderation has got you? See what you've succeeded in? Your still labelled a terrorist, you are still hunted down and killed and it has achieved for you nothing." If that continues, it would be not surprising if people - young people - will say there's no point [in positive participation].




4 Comments:

Blogger G_in_AL said...

“I don't want to imply that that is a condoning of these tactics, but what we are looking at is we are talking to those groups that have sometimes used political violence, but these are groups that should also be seen, on the other hand, [as groups] who do support elections, who do support positive reform and change, and who reflect significant Muslim constituencies.”

B.S. H, none of the groups that we consider extreme or radical only “sometimes use political violence”, and they never support elections, positive reform or change. They believe in a religious Theocracy where all subjects will follow their narrow interpretation of Islam. This particular quote goes to the heart of why Liberals would loose any fight for a society against these people. You cant talk them out of what they want. You can either beat them, or join them, but there is no compromise. What he terms as “sometimes use political violence” is a vastly different description than I would use for daily suicide bombings, decapitating hostages, and killing children receiving candy.

August 10, 2005 5:36 pm  
Blogger _H_ said...

I think your confusing al-qaeda with these other groups G , the point is there not the same and it a simplistic view to just clump them all together

more importantly this opinion comes from a ex representive of MI6 , they know there stuff G , it would be like me telling you how to be a Marine .. you have to listen to those that know G , even if you dont agree

August 10, 2005 6:34 pm  
Blogger G_in_AL said...

I was in the intelligence (is there such a thing?) field when in the Marines. The part I quoted was in response to this question

"Why do you believe it is important to talk to groups that use such tactics as suicide bombings?"

So I am not clumping groups together. This was his response about actions that do insane things. Political violence was a patty-cake word used to sugar coat hienous acts of brutalism.

August 10, 2005 7:51 pm  
Blogger _H_ said...

sadly G , and i really would rather not .. you have to talk to them ...

like sinn fien they have a small percentage of the people that support them ,

it is the same point as ever .. you can not defeat a terrorist army by force alone .. it never has worked and never will

my sentiments are the same as yours in the fact that this people are the scum of the earth

but so are child murderers,rapists etc .. and the police have to speak to them

without opening dialogue , we will never win

we even had dialoge with the nazis

August 10, 2005 8:32 pm  

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