Terrorist Numbers vs Effectiveness

This tweet has been doing the rounds, and it’s actually pretty funny:

I have heard a few people expressing this same sentiment, i.e. that Trump’s restrictions on immigration will lead to an increase in terrorist numbers. Leaving aside the fact that this rather too casually assumes Muslims are prone to turn to terrorism over relatively mundane things and if this is the case then maybe restricting their movements isn’t such a bad idea, I think the point is anyway moot.

We used to hear this a lot during the American response to 9/11, first with the attack on Afghanistan to remove the Taliban and then the supposedly related Iraq War. But I grew skeptical of that argument when it was applied to Israeli policies, namely their assassination of successive Hamas leaders in 2004 and the building of the security barrier. Many commentators warned that neither would lead to peace and both would result in more Palestinians turning to terrorism.

Only I thought this missed the point spectacularly. At the time these policies were being carried out, Israel was already subject to sustained terrorist attacks carried out by Palestinians. At that point the precise number of terrorists didn’t matter but limiting their effectiveness did, and it was to limit their effectiveness that Israel enacted these particular policies. If the number of suicide attacks fell as a consequence (and they did) then the possibility that a few hundred more terrorists joined the ranks of those who already existed was of secondary importance. Many people condemn Israel policies as making things worse, but in the minds of a lot of Israelis things really couldn’t get any worse in terms of relations with the Palestinians and their supporters so they really oughtn’t to be too concerned about this when enacting policies to keep them safe. Long term Israel might have the luxury of worrying about how many terrorists it is facing, but at the time (and now) I don’t think it matters much to them whether there are 10,000 or 50,000: limiting their effectiveness becomes the priority.

I’m sure Jim Gamble knows this, but judging by his Twitter feed he appears to be more interested in scoring political points. Given the scale of what the British government faced in Northern Ireland it was probably correct to consider the effect on terrorist numbers should they crack down too hard on the Republicans: the conflict was more or less contained, except for the occasional bombing on the mainland, and there was a balance to be had between limiting the effectiveness of the IRA and seriously pissing off the ordinary nationalists. But the situation faced by Israel was quite different, and hence the balance point shifted.

Whether his policy is the right way to go about it or not, Trump is trying to keep terrorists out of the United States. I cannot read Trump’s mind but I might guess that he has looked at America’s efforts in the War on Terror over the past decade and a half and reached the conclusion that trying to eradicate Islamic terrorism is an impossible task and so limiting the ability of terrorists to inflict harm within the US ought to be a priority. Some may argue that it is better there are only 100 Islamic terrorists hell-bent on attacking the USA instead of 2,000 and they’d be right; but if there are currently 100,000 such people and policies to limit their ability to enter the USA bumps these numbers up to 120,000 it is reasonable to ask what the difference is. A cursory glance around the world will tell you there is no shortage of Islamic terrorists and their numbers will be in the tens of thousands even if Trump throws himself off his own tower and Louis Farrakhan gets installed as the Grand Mufti of the newly formed Islamic Republic of North America. At this point their precise numbers mean no more than whether Nato was facing 50,000 or 80,000 Soviet tanks at the Fulda Gap: they were vastly outnumbered, and so they needed to come up with a way with countering them.

There are people who think Muslims will interpret Trump’s Executive Order as a “war on Islam” and it will be “us against them”. Only we’ve heard this line repeated after 9/11, Afghanistan, the Iraq War, and in the aftermath of every terrorist attack since, and when something is repeated often enough it sometimes comes to be. There are a growing number of people in the West who already believe that it is “us against them” and we are already at war with Islam, only the leadership are reluctant to say so. These beliefs are harboured by a good number of those who voted for Trump and support his immigration policies, indeed this is precisely why a lot of them voted for him. If things keep heading in this direction the number of people who believe Islamic terrorism will always exist as long as Islam exists, and the priority for the West should be to put as much physical distance between Muslim populations and everyone else, will increase and will eventually become a majority.

Both Muslims and Western politicians should be a lot more concerned about that group growing than terrorist numbers.

A Rare Case of Uzbek-Kyrgyz Cooperation

I see the police in Turkey have caught the man they believe carried out the attack on the Reina nightclub in Istanbul on New Year’s Eve. He appears to have spent the interim period at a bare-knuckle boxing gym:

Abdulkadir Masharipov is believed to have mounted the assault on the Reina club which left 39 people dead.

The Uzbek national is said to have been caught in Istanbul’s Esenyurt district.

Uzbek, you say? So not an Uighur, then? Didn’t think so.

There had been fears that the gunman had managed to escape Turkey, perhaps to territory held by so-called Islamic State, which said it was behind the attack.

I must say, this surprises me a lot. One of the features of al-Qa’eda and ISIS-driven gun attacks and bombings is that the perpetrators treat it as a suicide mission and don’t make much of an attempt to escape. The Charlie Hebdo gunmen fled initially but fought to the death when cornered in a warehouse; the Bataclan attackers died at the scene; the Nice lorry driver was shot to death in the cab. The policeman who murdered the Russian ambassador in Ankara didn’t seem much interested in getting away either. The inability to capture these people alive after an attack is what makes ISIS-inspired terrorists so dangerous because, as the Western films taught us, dead men can’t talk.

The guy who drove the lorry into the Christmas market in Berlin on 19th December broke the trend by fleeing Germany to Italy via France, and only got shot and killed when policemen in Milan asked him his identity during a random stop in Milan. Where he was headed is anyone’s guess. And now you have this Uzbek fleeing the scene of the crime and attempting to lie low instead of remaining in the club and making the victim count as high as possible until his ammunition runs out or the police kill him. You’d have thought that if he was intending to escape he’d have got the hell out of Istanbul and over the border into Syria somehow, but he seems to have stuck around. This might be because the Turkish security forces are so efficient they sealed off the entire city and closed the borders so tight nobody could slip through, but I’m a little skeptical of that.

My theory is this: ISIS are finding it more difficult to recruit suicidal fanatics and are having to use slightly less fanatical people who are happy to carry out an atrocity but not so keen on committing suicide in the process. The Arab-speaking world has at this point a lengthening history of supplying suicide attackers, but Uzbeks aren’t generally known for it. Ethnic Uzbeks fought in Afghanistan, switching loyalty between various sides under the leadership of Abdul Rashid Dostum, but in a manner more akin to tribal self-interest than the religious fanaticism shown by the mujaheddin and later the Taliban.

There are certainly religious fanatics in Uzbekistan however, but their numbers and capabilities are often exaggerated either by westerners through ignorance or locals for political convenience. Following 9/11 the president of Uzbekistan, the late Islam Karimov, established his pro-Western credentials with the United States by allowing them to use the Karshi-Khanabad airbase in the south of the country to attack targets in Afghanistan. He also promised to root out extremist elements in Uzbekistan which pleased the US, only he used this as cover to crack down on his domestic political opponents who had nothing to do with Islamic terrorism, earning his government a reputation as a serial abuser of human. Eventually the complaints got so bad the relations between the two countries soured.

My guess would be that ISIS has successfully recruited a few thousand Uzbeks to their cause but their levels of fanaticism and commitment are questionable, at least in comparison to their Arabic comrades.

Police reportedly found the suspect along with his four year-old son at the home of a Kyrgyz friend in the city. Turkish media say that his friend was also detained, along with three women.

This surprises me as well. Despite being close neighbours and sharing an insanely complicated border which completely (and deliberately, thanks to Stalin) dissects ethnic groupings, Uzbeks and Kyrgyz are widely different peoples. The main difference is that Uzbeks are Turkic people who are settled, meaning they live in towns and villages. The Kyrgyz, like the Kazakhs, are traditionally nomadic and more akin to Mongolians. From my own experience and readings, Uzbeks tend to be more aggressive and take their religion a little more seriously. You rarely hear of Kazakhs or Kyrgyz throwing their lot in with al-Qa’eda or ISIS, although no doubt some do. My guess would be they’d number in the low thousands at most, if that.

Despite their common Soviet history, the Uzbeks are hardly natural allies with the Kyrgyz and Kazakhs. In September 2015 I attended an Uzbek wedding near Shymkent in Kazakhstan, close to the border with Uzbekistan. The town of Shymkent is 14% Uzbek, and the village where the wedding took place was pretty much 100% Uzbek. I noticed that there were a few ethnic Russians at the wedding but no Kazakhs; and I happened to be in the venue of a Kazakh wedding the day before and didn’t see any Uzbeks (after a while you can tell them apart by looking at them; of course the locals can do this from a mile away). I asked my friend, who was the one getting married, if there is much mixing between Uzbeks and Kazakhs and he said there wasn’t. You occasionally see some mixing with the Russians and sometimes the Korean minorities, but not between Uzbeks and Kazakhs. I’ve not been to the Ferghana Valley region where Uzbekistan borders  Kyrgyzstan, but I would guess much the same thing applies there.

Ethnic tensions between Uzbeks and Kyrgyz came to a head in 2010 when the two groups clashed in the Kyrgyz cities of Osh and Jalal-Abad, leading to around a thousand people being killed and over a hundred thousand displaced during the fighting and the aftermath. In short, the Istanbul gunman hiding out at the home of his mate appears to be a rare case of Uzbek-Kyrgyz cooperation rather something to be expected.

One would hope that now the Turkish authorities have captured him alive we’ll find out some answers as to who he was working for and his motivations. I doubt they’ll get much useful information out of him regarding ISIS as a whole, if it was indeed they who put him up to it. They’d have known he wasn’t keen on dying at the scene and as such wouldn’t have given him any information that wasn’t pertinent to the job in hand, and as an Uzbek of questionable commitment he would unlikely be included in high-level meetings. I don’t know what methods the Turks use to extract information from foreigners who have murdered 39 people in Istanbul nightclubs, but I suspect he’ll spill whatever he has and then some. Whoever is in charge of the translating might want to spend the day brushing up on Uzbek phrases such as “Please take these crocodile clips off my bollocks!”

More on the Turkish Nightclub Shooting

I’m not convinced by this:

Turkey has arrested a number of people of Uighur origin over a deadly nightclub attack that killed 39, the state-run news agency reports.

Those detained are believed to have come from China’s Xinjiang region with ties to the attacker, Anadolu says.

Deputy Prime Minister Veysi Kaynak also said the suspect was probably Uighur, and acted alone but may have had help.

Bombings and shootings aren’t normally the modus operandii of the Uighurs, who prefer to appear out of nowhere in a large group, attack people with knives, and then disperse (see here and here, for examples).  If the attack was indeed carried out by ISIS, which is most likely, rounding up Uighurs isn’t going to do very much.  ISIS aren’t generally too fussy as to where their terrorists come from; an insane level of commitment is what they look for in team members, not shared ethnicity or nationalities.  However, what arresting hapless Uighurs might do is deflect attention from the obvious failings of the Turkish security services.

The authorities have reportedly tightened security at Turkey’s land borders and airports to prevent the attacker from fleeing the country.

Turkish media have run images of a suspect, saying the pictures were handed out by the police. But the police have given no official details.

The Turkish foreign minister has said the authorities have identified the attacker, but has not given further details.

In other words, we don’t know if he’s an Uighur or not – something which could be ascertained in ten seconds flat by the name alone – but the Deputy PM is fuelling rumours that he is.  I’d say that if he was an Uighur then the government would have confirmed this by now: what reason could they have for not saying so?

Special forces made the early morning arrests at a housing complex in Selimpasa, a coastal town on the outskirts of Istanbul, after police were reportedly tipped off that individuals linked to the attacker were in the area.

Uighurs were among those arrested – the number was not confirmed – on suspicion of “aiding and abetting” the gunman, the Anadolu news agency reports.

It is usually the case in the wake of a terrorist attack that the local minorities get dragged over the coals as the authorities scrabble around trying to catch the perpetrator.  Us Brits did just that with the Guildford Four and Birmingham Six, so it’s not just limited to places where the traffic lights are advisory.  It’s probably not much fun being an Uighur in Turkey right now.

At least 39 people were already in custody over suspected links to the attack, many of whom were picked up in an earlier police operation in Izmir, western Turkey.

Several families had recently travelled there from Konya, a central city where the main suspect was said to have stayed for several weeks before the attack.

No fun at all.

Separately, Deputy Prime Minister Veysi Kaynak told Turkish broadcaster A Hamer that the authorities knew where the suspect, who he described as “specially trained”, was hiding, without giving further details.

Presumably they’re waiting for him to finish his lunch.

Witnesses to the new year attack said more than 100 rounds of bullets were fired which, the BBC’s security correspondent Frank Gardener says, indicates the gunman had at least some rudimentary military training.

Which narrows it down to 100% of men over the age of 15 in the nations surrounding Turkey.

Previous media reports incorrectly suggested the culprit was a national from Kyrgyzstan, after a passport photo claiming to show the attacker was circulated.

Rumours persist that several of the terrorist attacks in Turkey have been carried out by people who come from the countries of the former Soviet Union.  I have no idea whether this is true, but I suspect the rumours stem from the fact that a lot of the ISIS military commanders and their most experienced and competent fighters are Chechens, Russian converts to Islam, and the Central Asian states.

It later emerged the passport belonged to someone unrelated to the attack.

I bet he was happy about that.

All in all, it seems to be a bit of a clusterfuck, doesn’t it?

UPDATE

Just as I published this post, this news broke:

Two attackers, a policeman and a civilian have been killed in a car bomb and gun assault on a courthouse in the Turkish city of Izmir, state media say.

At least 10 people were reportedly wounded in the explosion.

Images showed two cars ablaze and the body of one man carrying a weapon. Reports say a third attacker is sought.

Word is that this is the PKK who are behind this latest attack, though.

Of Posters and Murders in Turkey

The picture below is of a poster which appeared in Istanbul in the run-up to Christmas, and a Turkish friend has confirmed its authenticity after I saw it on Twitter.  The writing is to the effect of “We’re Muslims, we don’t want Christmas and New Year celebrations!”

It is safe to say that such a poster would not have been tolerated by the Turkish authorities prior to Recep Erdoğan’s ascension to power and his subsequent efforts to move Turkey away from the secularism of Ataturk and towards some sort of Islamic theocracy.

On  New Year’s eve a gunman murdered 39 people in a nightclub in Istanbul that was popular with secular Turks and foreigners.  News is breaking that ISIS is claiming responsibility.  Following the murder of the Russian ambassador to Turkey a couple of weeks ago by a Turkish policeman, I said:

What must now be causing Erdoğan to break out in a cold sweat is whether by neutralising all threats from the secualrists in Turkey he has overlooked the threats posed by extremists, who are now seeing opportunities to make inroads into that country which didn’t exist before.

Erdoğan has shifted Turkey to a position where large posters promoting violent Islamist intolerance against secularists are permitted on the streets of Istanbul (and presumably other cities) because his political power is strongest with the nation at this point on the spectrum between secularism and religious fundamentalism.  However, in doing so he has severely weakened the institutions which protected Turkey from fundamentalist religious elements such that he might now be unable to stop any slide along the spectrum from the position of his choosing to one much worse.  In short, Erdoğan has allowed the extremist camel to stick its nose inside the Turkish tent.

According to the news reports, the perpetrator of the nightclub attack is still at large.  In my earlier post I speculated as to what degree Turkey’s security forces have been infiltrated by extremists like the one who shot the Russian ambassador:

It’s all very well him chucking secular journalists in jail and kicking professors out of universities, but this isn’t going to make Erdoğan any more secure if Turkey’s riot police has been infiltrated by ISIS.  And what about the army?  Who replaced all those secular officers that were purged?  Officers who were on board with Erdoğan’s programmes, presumably.  But were they screened for extremism?  I doubt it.

I wonder how many Turkish policemen are helping the nightclub gunman to evade capture?

Russian Ambassador Murdered in Turkey

In November 2015 I wrote a post about how Russia ought to tread a little more carefully now they had decided to get embroiled in Middle East conflicts.  My post came shortly after a Russian passenger plane had seemingly been bombed on its way to Saint Petersburg from Sharm el-Sheikh in Egypt, and I said:

It ought not to have escaped Putin’s attention that while he envied America’s occupying the role of sole global superpower, as with all superpowers before them this position comes at a price.

It has taken a while, but Americans have slowly hardened up to this.  Getting anywhere near an American embassy – even in a benign location like Singapore – is extremely difficult these days, and American companies, businessmen, and tourists are flooded with security advice which has led to an overall heightened awareness.

One would hope that Putin thought about this before he intervened with great fanfare in Syria, but in doing so he has now opened up Russia to terrorist attacks by the most fanatical people on the planet.  At home, Russia is probably geared up to deal with this: they inherited the security apparatus from the Soviet Union and have plenty of experience dealing with Chechen terrorism over the years, albeit with mixed results at first.  But abroad, Russia must look like a very ripe target for jihadists based overseas.  I’ve walked past Russian embassies and they are often protected by a crumbling breeze-block wall with a rusty coil of barbed wire fastened on top.

For the first time in a long time, Russians are now seen as the bad guys by a whole swathe of the Middle East, and among their ranks are no shortage of nutcases – including ISIS.

If it turns out this Russian plane was indeed brought down by a bomb put aboard in Sharm el-Sheikh airport (a soft target if there ever was one), then there will probably be more such attacks, and Russia is ill-equipped to prevent them.

I post this now because this story is breaking:

A gunman has shot dead Russia’s ambassador to Turkey, Andrei Karlov, apparently in protest at Russia’s involvement in the Syrian conflict.

Several other people were reportedly also injured in the attack, a day after protests in Turkey over Russia’s military intervention in Syria.

The camera pulls back to show a smartly dressed gunman, wearing a suit and tie, waving a pistol and shouting.

He can be heard yelling “Don’t forget about Aleppo, don’t forget about Syria” and uses the Arabic phrase “Allahu Akbar” (God is great).

I don’t think I can add much to what I’ve already said, other than there is no way an American ambassador would be in a room with people who haven’t gone through a metal detector and been screened for weapons.

More Jihad Fatigue

Another day, another Islamist atrocity in France.  Cue the usual hashtags, cutesy cartoons, “nothing to do with Islam” speeches from heads of state, and the lighting displays on prominent monuments worldwide showing the Tricolor.

It occurred to me this morning that our glorious leaders will never tackle this problem unless and until they themselves are targeted by the jihadists.  While it is Joe Public getting butchered, they are happy to sit behind their armed guards and security apparatus and not give a shit.

Jihad Fatigue

I haven’t got much to say about the terrorist attacks in Brussels, mainly because I said everything in the wake of the Paris attacks in November 2015 and January 2015.

Last time I was angry.  Now I stifle a yawn.  It seems a regular attack on a major European city is just going to become part of modern life.  I have jihad fatigue.  Wake me up when a politician that matters says something new on the subject.

Paris Attacks Round 2

I am in Exeter this weekend visiting a friend, so fortunately I wasn’t anywhere near Paris when those fuckers were on the rampage last night.

I think it’s high time we saw some leadership and governance from Western leaders. Not rallies, vigils, politics, prayers, electioneering, hashtags, empty words, and more restrictions on our own freedoms: leadership and governance. They’ve taken the job, they have failed to protect the people whose liberty they have eroded in the name of their security and disarmed in the name of their safety, and this has happened on their watch. They need to respond, or in the near future those lamposts might be put to a use their designers never intended.

No, I don’t have the answers, I thought that’s what our so-called leadership was paid to provide.

I am seriously fucking angry.

Russia gets in The Game

There’s a scene in an episode of Season 1 of HBO’s The Wire where Wendell “Orlando” Blocker, a “clean” front man for the Barksdale gangsters’ club, is sitting in jail on drugs charges.  Orlando was on the books of the club precisely because he had no criminal record, but having seen the alleged glamorous lifestyle of the gangsters in his bar each night, he harboured ambitions of stepping up into drug dealing, or getting in “The Game” as the series’ characters called it.  The hapless Orlando gets busted trying to buy cocaine from an undercover policeman and gets tossed in jail, whereupon he calls the Barksdale gang’s dodgy lawyer Maurice Levy to get him out.

Unfortunately for Orlando, things didn’t go as he’d hoped.  Instead of bailing him out, Levy hands him documents transferring his liquor license and the club to somebody else, explaining that “a front has to be clean, and right now, you aren’t that”.  With Orlando sat in his cell facing a lengthy prison sentence, Levy leaves him with the remark:

“You wanted to be in the game. Now you’re in the game.”

I was reminded of this yesterday when I read that evidence is mounting that it was a bomb which brought down the Russian airliner earlier this week.

Perhaps the cornerstone of Putin’s foreign policy has been that Russia needs to get more assertive in global affairs, protect its interests abroad, and earn “respect” from the rest of the world as it takes its rightful (in Putin’s view) place at the top table alongside the USA.  In other words, Russia wanted to “get in the game”.  In this respect, Russia has been steadily increasing its assertiveness abroad, most obviously in Ukraine but more recently in Syria in support of Putin’s ally Bashar al-Assad, the country’s besieged president.

It ought not to have escaped Putin’s attention that while he envied America’s occupying the role of sole global superpower, as with all superpowers before them this position comes at a price.  9/11 did not happen because America enjoys baseball, they were targetted specifically because of America’s involvement in affairs outside its borders, particularly in the Middle East.  This was not the first time Americans have been attacked by people who don’t like their interference in Middle Eastern affairs: from the blowing up of the Marine Corps barracks in Lebanon to the embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania, Americans have been the target of terrorists ever since they themselves “got in the game”.  It has taken a while, but Americans have slowly hardened up to this.  Getting anywhere near an American embassy – even in a benign location like Singapore – is extremely difficult these days, and American companies, businessmen, and tourists are flooded with security advice which has led to an overall heightened awareness (which often borders on paranoia and results in abominations like the TSA, but that’s by the by).  The 9/11 attacks took advantage of a complacent American population where people hopped on and off planes as if they were buses and who (largely) cooperated with a couple of guys armed with box cutters because they had no idea what was about to happen next.  That all changed of course, and now many American interests probably make for “hard” targets whereas previously they were “soft”.

One would hope that Putin thought about this before he intervened with great fanfare in Syria, but in doing so he has now opened up Russia to terrorist attacks by the most fanatical people on the planet.  At home, Russia is probably geared up to deal with this: they inherited the security apparatus from the Soviet Union and have plenty of experience dealing with Chechen terrorism over the years, albeit with mixed results at first.  But abroad, Russia must look like a very ripe target for jihadists based overseas.  I’ve walked past Russian embassies and they are often protected by a crumbling breeze-block wall with a rusty coil of barbed wire fastened on top.  Several prominent Russian companies have offices overseas, not to mention thousands of tourists who concentrate themselves in a handful of locations.  Russia has got along so far by being the polar opposite of America, opposing whatever Uncle Sam was doing in the Middle East (and everywhere else) in a zero-sum game whereby what was good for America must, by definition, be bad for Russia and vice versa.

With their intervention in Syria, this is no longer the case.  Bashar al-Assad is detested by many, and the Gulf countries are fearful that an Assad-controlled Syria propped up by Russia and Iran could pose a serious threat to their own security.  For the first time in a long time, Russians are now seen as the bad guys by a whole swathe of the Middle East, and among their ranks are no shortage of nutcases – including ISIS.

If it turns out this Russian plane was indeed brought down by a bomb put aboard in Sharm el-Sheikh airport (a soft target if there ever was one), then there will probably be more such attacks, and Russia is ill-equipped to prevent them.  Maurice Levy’s parting words to Orlando ought to be ringing in Putin’s ears right now.

There Was Once a Road Through the Woods

Perry de Havilland at Samizdata has linked to a piece in the Christian Post written by somebody apologising for being an ardent defender of Islam in recent times, somebody who now feels the critics of Islam were right all along.  This paragraph in particular nudged me into writing a post I’ve been meaning to for a while:

Though we claim the mantle of human rights, free speech and equality, we lack the courage of our convictions when it offends someone. We make the cowardly lion look like Churchill.

Principles are strange things in the sense that they do not necessarily have to be pleasant to be attractive, and that even appalling principles can be more attractive (to some) than none at all.  I recall a section in David Hackworth’s book About Face where during the Vietnam War he interviewed an NVA prisoner to try to understand what made them fight.  Once the prisoner realised Hackworth wasn’t going to torture him, and in fact wasn’t after military information at all, he opened up.  It transpired that the prisoner was four-square behind the idea of Communism and the principles that the leadership in Hanoi was preaching and practising.  Hackworth remarked that although he didn’t agree with the cause the man was fighting for, he could not help but admire the fact that his prisoner was willing to endure extreme hardship in order to do so, and noted that he had a fist-sized hole somewhere on his person (I forget where) that was a result of some battlefield injury incurred earlier in the war.  Hackworth contrasted his prisoner’s dedication with those of the feckless ARVN who generally lacked the motivation to fight, were happy to dodge the action and let the Americans do the (literal) grunt work, and represented a regime that was morally bankrupt, corrupt, brutal and stood for nothing whatsoever other than not being Communist.  He concluded that unless the South Vietnamese get off their arses and start fighting in the way his prisoner was, they would ultimately lose the war.  And he was right.

I am about as far from a Communist as it is possible to get, yet there is no denying the ideas and principles attracted – and continue to attract – millions of people.  I have read enough Cold War history to know that the Chinese fought with fanatical, suicidal dedication to the Communist cause in North Korea, that millions of Russian soldiers died with Stalin’s name on their lips, and that a huge percentage of the Soviet people worked willingly in support of the Socialist cause for decades.  These people might be brainwashed, and they might be complete idiots, but the fact is that having been presented with a set of principles – however warped both in theory and practice – millions of them followed with unflappable dedication.

So how come the Commies lost the Cold War?  Theories vary, but one crucial element in the Western victory was the upholding of certain principles which the Communist Bloc didn’t recognise: free speech, liberty, property rights, the right to a fair trial, freedom of assembly, freedom of movement, freedom of artistic expression, etc.  Granted most, if not all, Western countries upheld these principles imperfectly at various times but this does not equate to an absence of principles any more than the largesse of the Politburo meant an absence of collectivist principles in the Soviet Union.

By upholding these principles that were alien to the Communists, the West was able to achieve two things:

1. Demonstrate how they were fundamentally different from the Communists in a positive way, i.e. better than them.

2. Provide an alternative set of principles for those in the enemy camp who wished to reject the Communist principles.

Convinced of its own superior system of government, the West thought nothing of blasting the populations trapped behind the Iron Curtain with propaganda, urging them to convert to its own way of thinking.  An American president – the leader of the free world – called the Soviet Union an evil empire not only because it was, but also because he knew those living under its rule against their will would take great heart from his words and continue to struggle.  The conviction of the West in shamelessly and incessantly promoting its own principles over the Communists’ likely did as much to inspire internal resentment over the Soviet leadership as their own degeneracy: without the former, against what standard could the Soviet leaders and their own circumstances be measured?

This brings me onto what I want to talk about, which is a thought that first started churning in my head in the aftermath of the Charlie Hebdo massacre.  That is, the question as to why moderate Muslims don’t speak out and condemn the atrocities carried out in the name of Islam.  It is tempting to say that many probably agree with the atrocities, leading one to question just how many moderates there actually are.  But shortly afterwards I read a comment in a blog by somebody who suggested putting yourself in the shoes of a moderate Muslim and asking whether you yourself would speak out.

And in doing so it became a lot clearer why they don’t.  What we are asking moderate Muslims to do is speak out against those whose actions are incompatible with our way of life.  But what we really want is confirmation that moderate Muslims have themselves accepted our way of life and the principles that underpin it, and will therefore reject the extremists in their ranks.  In theory, this isn’t much different than hoping citizens of Communist countries would accept our way of life and make things difficult for their overlords by seeking change.  But whereas during the Cold War we had clearly defined principles that we genuinely believed were superior and were not afraid to advertise them, what principles are we supposed to be waving in front of Muslims?

And that’s a question I can’t answer.  Whatever free speech we currently enjoy is fast being eroded: when citizens can be jailed for offensive Tweets or nasty Facebook comments, and homophobic remarks are grounds for arrest as a matter of course, then we can probably say that this isn’t solid ground on which we can fight a battle of ideas.  Individual freedom is rapidly disappearing as a concept now that refusing to bake a wedding cake is a matter in which the full force of the law is brought to ensure conformity: I’d not fancy my chances arguing that individual freedoms in the West are nowadays sancrosanct in a way that they are not in the Muslim world.  The state is becoming ever more intrusive, particularly into family matters: with Scotland now setting up a truly Stalinist system of shadow parenting by state officials (H/T Samizdata) it would take a brave soul to try to win over a Muslim by pointing to our superior methods of running a family.

That’s not to say the West has nothing to offer Muslims, because it clearly does.  But the differentiator which enabled them to offer all people – not just Muslims – something better was the society that resulted from first fighting for, and then upholding, the principles on which it was based.  The West appears to have forgotten that it was these principles that made its society attractive in the first place, and it doesn’t seem to realise that if it abandons those principles then it won’t be the same society; and if it’s not the same society, who is to say it will be an improvement on any other, particularly one that’s been aroud awhile?

To repeat what I quoted from the Christian Post:

Though we claim the mantle of human rights, free speech and equality, we lack the courage of our convictions when it offends someone.

If our leadership – and I use that term loosely – lacks the conviction to uphold the principles which supposedly define the West, why the hell should we expect Muslims to come out in support of them?  I suspect for many, faced with a choice between leaning towards Islamic principles and Western principles, many moderate Muslims are choosing the former because they are unconvinced that the latter even exist.  Hell, I’m not convinced they exist in any meaningful sense any more, so why should somebody who comes from a culture where they have been historically absent?

As the aforementioned blog commenter asked, if you were a young Muslim living in Britain over the last few years, which way would you lean?  Which way is the wind blowing?  When you have elected officials condemning the publication of blasphemous cartoons, and newspaper columnists suggesting Charlie Hebdo was probably at fault, would you stick your head above the parapet and argue that insulting the Prophet is a fundamental right?  When any atrocity is immediately followed by politicians mumbling vague approximations of supposed bedrock principles which they contradict in the very same sentence through use of the word “but”, and fall over themselves to assure you – a Muslim – that this is nothing to do with your own principles and faith, and then an utter headcase is invited for an interview on the state-owned TV channel where he defends the bloodshed and nobody says a peep: which way are you going to jump?

As the Christian Post article goes on to say:

In reality, those who criticize Islam, especially reform minded Muslims, are the bravest of the brave. They are literally putting their lives at risk by the simple act of criticizing the Quran, Muhammad, and Sharia.

It’s hard enough as it is to get Muslims to question aspects of their faith they might find distasteful and risk the opprobrium of their family, friends, and community.  But it was equally hard to get Russian citizens to criticise their own people and system as well.  Back then, we realised the importance in upholding our own convictions and demonstrating our principles in the struggle to convert people away from Communism and to adopt our way of life.

But today we have abandoned our principles, yet at the same time we expect Muslims to start questioning theirs.  Somebody with principles will not abandon them – even if they are appalling – unless there are alternatives on offer.  And although I see much merit in the principles on which Western society was based, the past decade or two has seen them eroded to such an extent that their function as an alternative which others can adopt has diminished to the point that few appear to be taking them up any more.  What’s more worrying, as David Hackworth’s prisoner demonstrated, those with principles – regardless of what they are – tend to prevail over those who are operating with none.

If the West wants its way of life to continue its citizenry had better rediscover the principles on which it developed and not only start upholding them, but demanding their leaders do the same.  They’d be wise to consider that the Muslims they are hoping to convert already have principles, they’ve been following them faithfully for hundreds of years, and there is very little they would have seen in recent years which would make them do otherwise.