This has not been a good year. From the start of January when gunmen walked into the offices of Charlie Hebdo to last month when suicide bombers walked into a concert hall in the same city, the terror and bloodshed may have returned to France but in the meantime it circled the entire globe. From California to Tunisia and Texas to Mosul this year has been one of atrocities and barbarism of a scale almost too appalling to consider.
At the same time our politicians have struggled to even get some consensus on what to do about the human tide which has flowed across the continent and begun a process of change which will take decades to play out. In the Middle East we have prevaricated and then patted ourselves on the back for doing little and late. In the international arena we have seen Vladimir Putin begin to look like a world leader, while the President of the United States has been reduced to something like a global commentator. Everywhere the world looks more unstable and uncertain and the future more troubling than it has at any year’s end for a long time.
In such a situation one has to look for points of light. One such point came this week in a small but important victory in the UK. It is a year and a half since David Cameron ordered a review into the activities of the Muslim Brotherhood in the UK. Since the conclusion of that report’s findings and its writing-up earlier this year the Brotherhood has three times tried to stop the report’s findings from being released. They have attempted injunctions in March, in the summer and then again this week, just one day before the publication of the findings, though not the full report.
That such an organisation can even think of being able to use the British courts to silence the British government says much about why the global battle against Islamic extremism is going backwards. But the UK government won out and its findings are immensely helpful to pushing back the tide of extremism at home. While deciding that the Brotherhood does not meet the level of violence required to justify outright proscription it does find that the group is one that possibly leads to extremism and that new measures should therefore be put in place to tackle those groups and individuals associated with the movement.
When the review began a team of our top researchers at HJS were invited in to give evidence about the activities of the Brotherhood in the UK and in Europe. It was a great pleasure and honour to do so and to be able to name some of those who have been named and identified in the final report’s conclusions. This makes the fight against the group’s affiliates in the UK very significantly easier. Much of the challenge in this area in recent years has been fighting to ensure that extremist groups are identified as such by the authorities so that it cannot be lowered to a ‘he-says, she-say’ debate between non-governmental organisations.
Much more will be needed to turn events around globally, but keeping our own stable clean in the UK and Europe is a very important part of changing around that global tide. This is a very long conflict, and although the set-backs can be swift, progress is always arduous. Nevertheless, some progress there is and for that we can at least reflect on a year which has ended with a modest victory.
FROM THE DIRECTOR’S DESK
This week, yet another bit of hope in the world was extinguished by the Obama Administration. In this case, that the USA would attempt to stick by some principles – as well as sound strategic sense – in its decision making over Syria.
Speaking in Moscow following a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin, US Secretary of State John Kerry uttered the fatal words that “The United States and our partners are not seeking so-called regime change” in Syria. In short, that the Butcher of Damascus, Bashar al-Assad, could stay in power after all, and despite both destroying his country and occasioning the rise of Islamic State through his murderous behaviour.
This is disappointing, but not surprising. The Obama Administration has after all flunked pretty much every foreign policy test thrown at it, ranging from Russia in Ukraine to the Iranian nuclear agreement.
But it is also a decision that will have serious consequences going forwards. If our declared intention is to defeat Islamic State by bringing the remaining non-jihadist forces together in a political settlement, then keeping Mr Assad will make that harder, not easier to achieve. Syrian rebels who have spent the past few years seeking his removal on account of his dictatorship will not now suddenly rush to embrace him, although they could have been persuaded to ally with Assad’s regime minus a few figureheads. Instead, they will continue their struggle, even if it looks ever more forlorn.
Assad has become a symbol of oppression. And in acquiescing to that symbol’s survival, the US has betrayed its principles as a bastion of liberty in the world. You can be certain that Islamic State will use this declaration to pump propaganda material out to its Muslim targets in the West, entreating them to join its jihad because the Western powers have shown they are happy to tolerate repression.
But the true victors from this policy shift will be the Iranian revolutionary regime. Assad’s dependency on Iran is well-established. If his regime wins, then so does Iran. And if Iran wins in Syria, it will be able to extend its push for dominance in the region through territorial control linking Lebanon to Iran through a direct land corridor that will take in Syria and a Shia dominated Iraqi state. Which will be bad for Western allies in the region, and ultimately for the West itself.
Congratulations therefore to President Obama and Mr Kerry. It is a rare feat to be both strategically shortsighted and morally bereft. But they have managed it and in some style.
Dr Alan Mendoza is Executive Director of The Henry Jackson Society
Follow Alan on Twitter: @AlanMendoza