“I ended up running for my life, barefoot and handcuffed, while British jihadists — young men with south London accents — shot to kill. And not a Syrian in sight. This wasn’t what I had expected.” â€” John Cantlie, British photographer.
All it takes is a cheap air ticket to Turkey, and then a ride over the border into northern Syria.Â
That is the route being taken by British-based jihadists from London and the Midlands, who are making their presence felt in the fight against Assad.
The week before last, two British and Dutch photojournalists had a narrow escape when they were taken prisoner by 30 such people. Note that in the eyes of the British jihadis, it isÂ westernersÂ who are the real enemy, westerners who were rescued by the Syrian opposition.
Their true loyalty is to the global MuslimÂ ummaÂ – the community of believers – which transcends any single country. This enables them to romanticize their small selves, otherwise confined as they are to life above a chip shop or curry house in the Midlands. They don’t have any loyalty to this country either, and could just as easily be crying ‘Allahu Akhbar’ amidst the embers of Birmingham, should it come to it. Although they are militarily incompetent, that can quickly be rectified in camps in Syria, where improvised bombs are the weapon of choice for the rebels against Assad’s armour.
And what does the British government do about it? It is ‘not keen on British subjects going there’ we are told. This is not just irresponsible, it is criminally negligent. The government could not even put up a spokesman on theÂ TodayÂ programme this morning to explain what it plans to do about this scandal.Â
Instead, we had Noman Benotman, a reformed Libyan jihadist from the shoestring Quilliam Foundation, learnedly explaining why these British subjects are acting as mercenaries in a conflict that does not involve us at all. They are disciples, he said, of Sayyid Qutb, the ‘thinker’ who inspired Al Qaeda, a sort of Egyptian Lenin, for his ‘religion’ is really a political ideology They don’t care, he explained, about ‘nationality’. How very fascinating. Actually, those insights have been available to anyone who has even casually studied this problem since 9/11 if not before.
The UK, he explained, is one of the big supporters of the revolutions in the Arab world. We should therefore get behind a process whose main regional winner seems to be the Muslim Brotherhood. After all, avers Hague, these are just the Muslim equivalent of 1950s European Christian Democrats. If you are skeptical about the rebels, you must be supportive of Assad’s tyranny. Subtle these people are not. In fact, in the real world they can all include baddies, something only shouty juvenile neo cons and Sir Malcolm Rifkind, eager for a war they will not fight themselves, find hard to grasp.Â
Meanwhile, in the real world, there are ominous signs that sectarian conflict is reviving in neighboring Lebanon, where the Sunnis and Shias are split in their support for the rebels and Assad. There have been tit-for-tat kidnappings, and the Gulf states and Saudi Arabia have urged their nationals to leave. There are also some 160,000 refugees from Syria, who are upsetting the delicate political balance inside Jordan. Things are not looking good in Turkey either, which does not want another semi-autonomous Kurdish state inside northern Syria, which will be magnetically drawn to the similar set up inside northern Iraq.
Instead of giving the Syrian rebels body armour and comms equipment, thereby escalating the fighting, the British government (as part of the international community) should be searching for a way to bring about a ceasefire inside Syria, up to and including a solution which enables antagonistic ethno-religious groups to live in statelets of their own. There is no reason why the botched up colonial state that is Syria should survive at all, except in some loose federal form, particularly if the Assad family relinquishes power.
Since we are so prominent in backing the Syrian rebels, surely the government can pressure the Free Syrian Army to expel these British jihadists tout suite? Surely the comms eequipment and body armour gives us some leverage? The government should also immediately remove the passports of anyone who has fought in Syria, for surely our Â£2 billion a year intelligence services are capable of establishing their identities? If they can’t, then what are we paying them for, since these returning jihadists are surely a major security threat to this country?
It would also be good, once in a while, to know that our government is concerned about the interests of this country and the people who live in it, rather than allowing the likes of Noman Benotman to set the agenda. If it doesn’t, then we in that part of the press that does not cravenly idealise such lightweight figures as Hague will have to probe more deeply and persistently as to why this is the case.