Guardian writer wrong on terrorism, not for the first time

Tackling Islamism requires a redoubling of effort, not an ill-advised descent into isolationism and appeasement. Close down shopping malls so they can't be attacked? For real?

Jeremy Havardi
On 23 September 2013 23:29

So another Islamist outrage is followed by yet another outrageous insult to our intelligence. It will surprise very few that it comes from The Guardian - Britain’s institution par excellence for victim blaming and anti-western breast beating.

In a short piece in Comment is Free, Simon Jenkins, often billed as Britain's top columnist, launches an ill-considered attack on Prime Minister David Cameron for his response to the Nairobi terror attack.

He claims that by ‘plunging yet again into his favourite bunker, Cobra’ Cameron has ‘helped send them (Al-Shabaab) to the top of the terrorist charts’. We should ‘stop and ask why terrorists commit outrages like that in a Nairobi shopping mall’, he says.

The answer is not so much that terrorists crave the publicity of mass terror attacks or that murdering ‘infidels’ enhances their street credibility. No, it is that the west ‘always overreacts to big, sensational gestures of extreme violence’.

One should note the change of emphasis here. Look at how the radar shifts from the gut wrenching, reprehensible crimes of bloodthirsty maniacs to a politician chairing a meeting in London. One would think that Cameron’s manoeuvres are the key part of this unfolding story.

Jenkins goes on to accuse the Prime Minister of ‘indecent haste’ for attending Cobra when it is the columnist’s own attempt to make political capital from this tragedy that is truly indecent. (However, Cameron's ludicrous denial of any linkage between al-Shabaab and Islam does merit criticism).

In any case, the premise of his argument is flawed, namely that without such ‘overreactions’, the Islamists might go for less high profile targets. Where is the evidence that Al-Qaeda cleaves to any such moral code? It would surely have carried out this barbarity, or one much worse, regardless of whether Cameron flew to Cobra.

But in any case, mass murder does require a strong political reaction, particularly in our 24/7 media age.

Jenkins’ diatribe continues in a tragi-comic direction. Surveying the many ‘publicity rich targets’ chosen by jihadists over the years (shopping malls, hotels, marathons, religious rallies), he suggests that it would be a jolly good idea if these things were not around any more. ‘Defending them is near impossible’, he declares. ‘Better at least not to create them’.

The mind boggles at how far one could go with this argument. Schools, like the one attacked in Beslan, Russia, have proved an enticing target for Muslim fanatics. Should they be closed down too with all children home educated instead? Perhaps we should construct buildings of only two storeys to prevent another 9/11 or close down the underground system to prevent another tube bombing.

If our obsession with ‘high profile events’ creates a security headache, maybe there should be a ban on all political rallies, particularly near election time.

The Jenkins model of response is one of abject capitulation instead of resolve and resilience. Securing high profile and well-attended events is difficult, not impossible, as our own experience with the Olympics demonstrated. We must help rebuild that Nairobi shopping mall, not allow it to disappear, and then we must build even more malls.

The best message to send to Al-Shabaab is one of collective defiance rather than hand wringing. Our leaders must stand firmly with the Kenyan government in a concerted, multilateral effort to take on the terrorists; defeatism is a terrible alternative.

But then for Jenkins, any western use of force is counterproductive. ‘Deploying violence against a succession of Muslim states’, he says, has simply ‘invited retaliation’ and ‘refreshed rather than diminished’ extremism. The war on terror has thus ‘failed on its own terms’.

The truth is that the limp response to Al-Qaeda’s pre 9/11 outrages, including the embassy bombings and the attack on the USS Cole, gave an enormous boost to the jihadist movement. Sensing our weakness, the radicals were emboldened to mount ever more spectacular outrages against the west.

It was only by taking the fight to the terrorists in Afghanistan and elsewhere that the west had any chance of diminishing the global Islamist threat. 

Today, Al-Qaeda’s operational capabilities have been dealt a severe blow after a decade under attack. In confrontations with coalition troops in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Yemen or Mali, Al-Qaeda’s ability to withstand assault has been much diminished, particularly as its ‘golden generation’ of leaders has been decimated. 

Jenkins is simply wrong. Properly applied, the use of force, in conjunction with a range of non-military measures, is of critical importance in the war against jihadism.

True, Islamism can be like a hydra as new Al-Qaeda-linked groups emerge, one being Al-Shabaab. But this requires a redoubling of effort, not an ill-advised descent into isolationism and appeasement. 

Jeremy Havardi is a journalist and the author of two books, Falling to Pieces, and The Greatest Briton

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