Seumas Milne writing in The Guardian today had an excellent piece on “how the US fuelled the rise of Isis in Syria and Iraq.” It followed the collapse of a trial at the Old Bailey when it emerged that the individual accused of terrorist activities in Syria had been working with a group armed and supported by UK intelligence agencies. Milne also highlights the role of the gulf states and points out that the, “western habit of playing with jihadi groups, which then come back to bite them, goes back at least to the 1980s war against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan, which fostered the original al-Qaida under CIA tutelage.”
The sad truth is that whilst none of this will be surprising to anyone who seeks to be informed about what is happening, these catastrophic failures will cause not even a flicker of concern to Cameron and the supposed “realists” who are responsible for managing the UK’s blundering incompetence in the region. Labour is either too scared of reopening the wounds of its Blairite past or too busy with domestic priorities. The BBC has been cowed and will ask no serious questions. Channel 4 and The Guardian can be ignored. The real costs in terms of lives lost or destroyed, and in terms of increased threats to our own security, will be conveniently glossed over.
In a sense this is also a failure of the human rights sector in the UK. Amnesty International grew and became successful during the Cold War period by taking a scrupulously non-political approach. The legacy has been a nervousness about joining the political dots. And few politicians are willing to speak about our own role in fomenting extremism for fear of being branded soft on terrorism.
Some of it is perhaps deeper in the culture. The UK never came to terms with or accepted responsibility for the crimes of empire. WW2 has been so glorified because it creates a sense of moral destiny that banishes inconvenient truths to the shadows. The establishment protects its own. The media and much of politics is in hock to a small circle of right-wing billionaires. The BBC has always been a state or establishment broadcaster, but was brought further to heel over Iraq & the sexed up dossier. And the list goes on…
There are of course no easy answers to ISIS. At the end of the day the people of Iraq and Syria will have to find their own way out of the bloody mess, even if outside forces have played a major role in bringing abut the current catastrophe. One small step forward would be for the UK to start to have an honest reflection about its corrupt alliance with the brutal, misogynist, extremist funding and exporting regime in Saudi Arabia. We might not be able to put out the fires we have helped to start, but we could at least stop fanning the flames.