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UK between real and imagined enemies

Neil Berry
In the UK this February, the threat of “Islamic” terrorism has yielded to the reality of a very different brand of terrorism – that of ungovernable natural forces. Thanks to rainfall of epoch-making severity, thousands of British people have been flooded out of their homes, with many made painfully conscious that in this much privatized country, public help is often not at hand.
Britain’s extreme weather meant that there was sparse media coverage of the latest “Islamic terrorism” story: That of Abdul Waheed Majeed, the British Muslim who is believed to have driven a truck packed with explosives last week into a prison in Aleppo, having left his wife and children in England six months ago, apparently to join an aid mission to Syria. As it was, the story occupied a lowly position in news bulletins dominated by images of rushing water and Britons in distress.
Majeed, 41, was described as “Britain’s first suicide bomber,” though this ignored the perpetrators of the 2005 “7/7” London bombings. What ought to have been stressed is that he seems to be the first Briton to have taken part in a foreign war and become a suicide bomber. The misnomer was revealing, exposing the compulsion of the British media to ratchet up the threat posed by terrorism. The suggestion appeared to be that here was a nightmarish new development, one which confirmed intelligence service concerns that hundreds of Britons have been going out to the Middle East to fight on behalf of Syrian rebels and that some may return as trained jihadists bent on carrying out terrorist attacks on British soil.
That possibility can scarcely be discounted, though there is surely something a little odd about emphasizing such a forecast on the basis of the actions of an individual who, in the nature of things, will never return to the United Kingdom. The truth is that the British media routinely frames stories bearing on Islam in ways designed to appeal to the most negative, not to say paranoid, perceptions of Muslims as murderous extremists. That British Muslims have gone to Syria not to fight but to furnish humanitarian aid has figured but little in news coverage. And now, following the “revelations” about Majeed, many will take for granted that Muslims who claim to be traveling to Syria in a humanitarian capacity are in fact jihadists in disguise.
Much is being made of claims that Abdul Waheed Majeed was a follower of the formerly London-based “hate preacher,” Omar Bakri Mohammed, who has been banned from Britain. Meanwhile, the British government is warning Britons against traveling to Syria for any reason. Henceforth, British Muslims who seek to go to Syria for ostensibly humanitarian purposes will be hugely at risk of being detained by border officials as would-be terrorists, however innocent their motives.
As for those who have already gone there and try to return to the UK, they are bound to incur grave official suspicions that they are public enemies.
In the light of all this, it is strange to recall that in 2012 the British Foreign Secretary, William Hague, formally recognized the National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces as the “sole legitimate representatives of the Syrian People.” Indeed, had not Parliament voted against intervention in Syria, the British government would now be formally involved in providing military support to Syria’s multifarious rebels, with the prospect of eventual direct military engagement in the effort to topple the regime of President Bashar Assad. London’s policy pronouncements on Syria have in the meantime become altogether more equivocal.
The other day, Guardian columnist George Monbiot compared the predicament of Britons fighting in Syria with that of the British writer George Orwell, who went to fight on behalf of the Republican cause during the Spanish Civil War in the late 1930s. Monbiot observed that if this legendary literary freedom fighter came home from Spain today, he would be liable to arrest under UK anti-terrorist legislation. He could have added that the terms that Orwell coined to satirize state mind control in his dystopian novel, 1984, most notably “doublethink,” remain as pertinent as ever.
— Arab News

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