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What to do with British IS fighters?

Isis recruitment videoThe execution of James Foley by a British-accented Islamic State (IS) fighter is utterly sickening. The murder of non-combatants is a war crime, but for ISIS, ISIL or whatever this bunch of barbaric thugs are calling themselves today, killing for mere propaganda underscores their nature as the world’s most socially regressive movement.

Historical parallels with the Nazis often obscure more than they highlight, which is why I avoid them as a rule. But I cannot help noting the similarity between IS and the brutality meted out in Russia by the Wehrmacht and the Einsatzgruppen following in their wake. The only real differences are IS are less efficient, and will spare “apostates” and “heathens” should they convert at gunpoint. Apart from that, an identity exists between the death squads of yesterday, and those running amok in Syria and Iraq now. Whether the black uniforms of the SS or the black flag of ISIL, this is humanity at its very worst, at its most appalling.

In the wake of Foley’s murder, the Prime Minister said his government will redouble its efforts to dam the trickle of British IS sympathisers joining with them in their desert hell. Quite rightly, speaking for Labour Yvette Cooper points out how, like so many other things, the Tories slashed funding for anti-radicalism projects. Lax on security. Lax on the causes of insecurity, it would seem. Nevertheless, now the horse has bolted at least the government, in concert with France and the US, have belatedly woken up and are shipping arms to the Kurds. Yes, as I noted last week, the real reason might have more to do with UK geopolitical interests than ostensible humanitarian concerns. But acting in this instance, may well avert a blood-stained catastrophe. The struggle for socialism needs people, not dead people.

Tracking social media from the plains of Nineveh, British jihadis might take pride in being branded IS’s “most brutal” – if pride wasn’t a mortal sin, of course. Coming from a “decadent” nation and having led a “coddled” existence, at least compared with fighters from Middle Eastern states, these are men with something to prove. And should they be crushed militarily, some surviving units will find their way back home, understandably touching off another panic about Islamic terrorism and all the ugliness that entails. Hunting down and offing them might be popular among armchair generals and tabloid editors. It might even be unofficial policy already. But IS fighters aren’t Pokémon. You’re not gonna catch ’em all. Besides, summary execution is hardly an advert for British civilisation vs the IS barbarians anyway.

Similarly, the Tory right sentiment tending to the stripping of IS fighters of citizenship (demonstrated by this exchange) is stupid. It shows how far so-called libertarian sensibilities have colonised rightwing psyches. Just as they wish to divest business of any kind of responsibility to the very workforce that makes them their money, so they want to jettison any responsibility Britain has to citizens who fight and commit crimes under an enemy flag. Apparently, stripping IS Brits of their rights is entirely justifiable. Really. Declaring an IS fighter stateless isn’t going to do anything but keep them in the field. Is that in anyone’s interest but IS? Yes but no but.

What they have in mind is the removal of due process for captured fighters because, apparently, it’s really hard to prove who did what in a war zone. We don’t want to run the risk of highly dangerous individuals running around our cities because a case couldn’t be proven. This argument doesn’t wash. At a time when celebrities are getting successfully prosecuted for sex offences committed decades ago on the basis of probabilities, I am quite sure a jury of peers is more than able to sit in judgement on cases of British IS war crimes. Not that that matters. What they want is a rerun of internment, of removing rights to allow for a UK Guantanamo Bay because this is being seen to be tough on British jihadis. That it wouldn’t work is so much a minor point, as is the possibility our hypocrisy would add fuel to radical Islam’s fire.

My favoured method is the standard method. The arrest and prosecution of suspected fighters, followed by lengthy prison sentences. I argue for this because British jurisdiction recognises that wherever in the world a UK citizen commits a crime, they are liable for it under the law. In other words, our legal system recognises that Britain has a responsibility to the rest of the world for its citizens. Dragging back British jihadis, giving them a fair trial, and locking them up is about the best way we have of removing them from circulation without generating more grievances and more radicalisation. When dealing with a barbarism that, unfortunately, was tempered on these shores, it’s all the more important we keep clear heads and stick with sound principles.


  1. George says:

    I’ll write this reason and then I will never read a single word you say afterwards. The brutality and sheer butchery that ISIS inflicts upon innocent men, women and children has been well established for quite some time. If a UK passport holder travels to Syria and Iraq and is identified as supporting ISIS then a judicial trial against them will be impossible. Your fantasy requires the collection of evidence, witnesses (survivors of massacres) to be able to identify individuals who cover their faces in cloth, amongst a war zone of complete anarchy and chaos.There would never be a trial under these circumstances because we would never be able to prove their guilt except through guilt by association. They would be given short jail terms by supporting a terrorist organisation but they would escape punishment for butchering men, women and children there. That is why your lofty statements of liberalism and “responsibility” are completely disgusting and repugnant considering what is taking place there.

  2. Dan says:

    I’d imagine that many of them are just going to end up dead anyway.

  3. Dan says:

    “I’ll write this reason and then I will never read a single word you say afterwards.”

    In other words, you can’t handle the thought someone might disagree with you. Man up!

  4. swatantra says:

    If they return, quarantine them in our own internment camps, and bring them to trial, and then guillotine them. No, you’re not creating martyrs, you’re giving them what they deserve.

  5. Andy Newman says:

    “The only real differences [compared to the Nazis] are IS are less efficient, and will spare “apostates” and “heathens” should they convert at gunpoint.”

    No, Phil, this just doesn’t do.

    The Nazis were the government of what I beleive was then the world’s second largest economy, and disposed of a military force that could credibly conquer the whole of the Eurasian continent West of the Urals; and supported by major German industrial corporations, and grudgingly by the Prussian Junker class.

    Islamic state, in contrast, is an unstable warlord polity parasitic upon the economy, dependent upon permanent warfare, personal patronage and the military charisma of al Baghdadi.

    The barbarism of Islamic State is undoubted; but it is also a house of cards, because the system of patronage, charisma and extortion that warlordism relies upon requires anarchcy to grow in, and perpetual small to medium scale victories against other non-state military forces, or demoralised armed forces of non-functional states.

    ISIS seems to have incubted in particular circumstances, from what I gather, largely fighting against other opposition forces in Syria to gain hegemony; so that it did not test itself against Assad’s own army, and benefitted from the overlap of anti-Assad sentiment from both Islamists and liberals, legitimising the idea among some deluded individuals that fighting the Syrian government was a noble cause. It is revealling that the barbarism of ISIS has only gained manistream media traction after they crossed the border into Iraq.

    The worst possible approach from the West would be to intervene in such a way that Islamic State gains association with the sectional defence and prosecution of Sunni influence and interests in the region. This would further polarise, spread and inflame conflict.

    I do however agree with you that British citizens participating in, or advocating criminal acts in connection with Islamic State should be held to account by lawful process.

    1. David Pavett says:

      I agree.

  6. Andy Newman says:

    “If they return, quarantine them in our own internment camps, and bring them to trial, and then guillotine them”

    A suprisingly symetrical sentiment in its bloodlust with the barbarians of Islamic State.

    Do you have the same view of British citizens who may have volunteered for the IDF and particpiated in the massacre of civilians in Gaza recently?

    1. David Pavett says:

      And with that too.

    2. swatantra says:

      Mercenaries and soldiers of fortune must take their chances when they participate in other peoples wars. We had this debate in the 30’s when idealists went to fight in the Spanish Civil War, which in the event they weren’t able to turn around; Franco’s dictatorship still won, and the wounds have still not healed.

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