Garvan Walshe: Macron is against the clock defending French Republican values after the latest terror attack

22 Oct

Garvan Walshe is a former National and International Security Policy Adviser to the Conservative Party.

Last week Samuel Paty was beheaded in another Islamist terror attack in Europe. He was killed after showing his class pictures of the cartoons of the prophet Mohammed that had motivated other Islamist terrorists to attack the offices of the satirical Charlie Hebdo magazine, and in the middle of a campaign by President Macron to reinforce France’s concept of republican secularism.

What we call religious fundamentalists are in French known as integristes, a term that derives from nineteenth century Catholic attempts to insert (or perhaps maintain) Catholic doctrine into civil government. The French term gets to the core of the issue. The problem integrisme poses is not, in itself, that these people hold very tightly to the tenets of their religion, but that they try to integrate it into the country’s politics in a way that weakens or threatens the rights of other citizens.

It is also a different from understanding it as extremism; that is, as a view held with excessive intensity. Islamist ideas create difficult challenges for liberal democracies, just as fascist and communist ideas did. They are all based on dividing people into the elect and the damned based on something other than their own actions. A racially-hierarchical government, or one that prevented private enterprise, would still be objectionable even if it came to office by gradual constitutional means.

Macron understands that the French state, and not just the government of the day, needs to argue for republican principles. Where this needs skill is knowing which battles to pick. Even France should not elevate food to a constitutional principle: the minister who professed to be “shocked” by ethnic food aisles needs a stronger stomach).

Because there is one area in which what we probably should not refer to in this context as the Government’s new bête noire, critical race theory, has a point. The main culture in France or Britain exercises power over minorities, and sets norms they are forced to comply with by social convention as well as legislation. This dominance means it needs to seduce them into the mainstream if it’s not to become overbearing and create resentment for the integristes to exploit.

For all our faults this ought to be something that Britain and France should be able to do. They are far better places to live than — indeed better places for Muslims, the working class, and even blonde blue-eyed Germans to live in — than any Islamist Communist or fascist society has ever been.

Robust counter-terrorism measures are essential, and of course they need to be extended to force social media platforms to take pro-terrorist content as seriously as they take copyright infringement. It is not a violation of freedom of speech to require them to limit even inflammatory content that is not in itself illegal. This is not censorship any more than a bookshop choosing not to stock inflammatory radical texts is. Inflammatory, but legal, content would still be available, but only to the smaller number of people willing to put in extra effort.

These steps however need to be accompanied by a campaign of persuasion and education about liberal democratic values richly expressed in national contexts, that learns from two major mistakes made so far.

The first has been to make the argument that people should believe in certain values because they have come to a certain country. This is first of all unpersuasive to a native British or French Islamist. It also doesn’t provide a reason in itself to accept the principles of liberal democratic society (and in any case in France is not consistent with the universalist ideals of the French Revolution). Rather, the arguments for liberal democracy need to be made on their merits.

The second has been to target this effort at, to use the language of the government’s PREVENT strategy, groups deemed “vulnerable.” Though this appears efficient, it is actually shortsighted. Most obviously because the people singled out feel targeted not helped, but also because long dormant radical ideologies, like right- and left-wing extremism can make a new appearance. The task ought to be to strengthen people’s general resistance to them. A strict analogy to infectious disease, where an “antibody” against Islamism would not work against communism, is wrong. The positive argument for liberal democracy works against them all.

Nowhere is this more necessary in France, where the popularity of Islamist ideas is outmatched by that of both the extreme left and the extreme right, and Macron has less than two years to prevail against all three.

Where is the Conservatives’ Constitution, Democracy and Rights Commission?

17 Jul

The Shamima Begum legal proceedings are a culture clash and a timely warning.

The clash lies in the gulf between metropolitan and provincial Britain.  The former’s take is audible, sophisticated and always liable find a sympathetic audience at some point in the courts.

At its core is the conviction that Begum is British – and that she should be tried here for any crimes she is alleged to have committed.

Those who hold it tend also to say that she was a child when she left the country to join ISIS; that she has renounced it, and that she is not a security risk.

The provincial view is less openly expressed, instinctively and reflexively held – and one to which the courts would resist.

It is that Begum betrayed her country when she travelled to support a terrorist group that seeks to destroy our way of life.  She therefore has no human or other right to the citizenship that the Government removed.

That’s not to say that the Supreme Court will necessarily find in her favour when it considers Ministers’ appeal against yesterday’s ruling by the Court of Appeal.

Sajid Javid argued when as Home Secretary he removed Begum’s citizenship that she would not be left stateless because would not be stateless because she could claim Bangladeshi nationality through her parents.

The Court of Appeal ruled yesterday that she should not be sent to Bangladesh or Iraq, where she was involved with ISIS, because she might face ill treatment.  You can imagine how that will go down in the Red Wall and elsewhere.

The Special Immigration Appeals Commission took a different view, and we will now have to see what the Supreme Court has to say.

Javid suggested yesterday that Begum is a threat to national security; that she is unlikely to be prosecuted in the courts if she is allowed back into Britain; that she will become a poster girl for Islamist extremism if this happens.

He also said that “the judgements and precedents set in this case could bind the hands of the Government in managing past and future cases”.

That some British citizens and others who also went to join ISIS have already returned here doesn’t mean that Javid is wrong.  It isn’t hard to see how yesterday’s judgement has wider implications.

It’s claimed that appeals are now likely to be lauched on behalf of 30 British women and 60 British children detained by the Kurdish authorities in Syria.

All of which raises the question of what is happening to the former ISIS terrorists who have already re-entered the country.

Some will be subject to Terrorism Prevention and Investigation Measures (Tpims) – one of which may be slapped on Begum if she returns here.

These haven’t been proved to be watertight: readers may remember the case of Mohammed Ahmed Mohamed, who while disguised in a burka escaped the police tasked with monitoring him.

It’s tempting to believe that were the Human Rights Act to be recast and Britain’s membership of the ECHR revoked, judgements like yesterday’s wouldn’t be made.

The point can’t be proven one way or the other, but we suspect that any British court would be capable of making it whether we were signed up to the ECHR or not.

None the less, reforms to ensure that there is “a proper balance between the rights of individuals, our vital national security and effective government” would doubtless have an effect on the courts.

The words in quotes are from the Conservative general election manifesto.  We hope that they are acted upon.  Where is the Constitution, Democracy & Rights Commission it promised “in our first year”?

At any rate, it is far from certain that Begum will actually return, whatever the Supreme Court decides.  So her story has more chapters to come.

The timely warning is bound up with a point we made only two days ago: today’s papers cover not only Begum’s court case, but Russian espionage claims – that it tried to hack into our Coronavirus vaccine research.

The timing is doubtless connected with the impending publication of the report next week into claims that Russia interfered with the 2016 general election and the 2017 EU referendum.

Our argument was that government shouldn’t focus on the threat to our security from China to the exclusion of those from Russia and Islamist extremists – who, as Gerry Adams once said of the IRA, “haven’t gone away, you know”.

Hugo de Burgh: We owe it to future generations of Brits to work with China

6 Jul

Professor Hugo de Burgh is Director of the China Media Centre. He is the author of China’s Media in the Emerging World Order, has held office in three Conservative associations, and stood in unwinnable seats several times.

China is our third largest market and the one with the greatest potential. China is the country with which we must work if we are to have any impact on the resolution of global problems from environment to nuclear proliferation. China can accelerate the development of African and Central Asian economies, mitigating the risks to Europe that come from population explosion there without adequate economic growth. China is the largest economy in the world and already influential in a majority of countries.

For all these reasons, it is patriotic and reasonable for British leaders to find a way to work with China, which they will only do if they understand China as it is. Among other eminent Brits who started with a morbid suspicion of China, I have accompanied Boris Johnson and Jeremy Paxman on extended visits, and watched the scales fall from their eyes as they understood the enormity of the challenges facing Chinese government and the absurdity of imagining that its leaders wasted a moment thinking about conquering the world.

The reverse is the case. They are determined not to be conquered by the world. In the past, China built a Great Wall to keep out foreigners; today China is initiating the Belt and Road initiative to secure their back as they restore their civilisation, threatened from the east.

Fantasising about regime change in China, some US politicians make outlandish accusations. Had they talked to a few Chinese punters, followed social media or watched chat shows on TV, they could not possibly claim that China is a totalitarian country. Had they read Pew’s surveys of public opinion they would realise that the Chinese are, overall, more satisfied with their governance than European citizens, to say nothing of the USA. And are you surprised? While Europe and the USA are beset by economic and political troubles, Chinese people see ahead of them only more wealth, health and social mobility.

We need to recognise that demonisation of China is a weapon with which some US politicians deflect attention from their own failings and reflect their commercial jealousy. Both our National Cyber Security Centre and GCHQ have maintained until now that Huawei’s involvement in the UK poses no security risk that cannot be managed. Otherwise why would the US trade Department last week reauthorize US companies to work with Huawei, even as Donald Trump bullies other countries not to?

Robert Zoellick, a US former Deputy Secretary of State, is among the calmer heads to remind us just how positive a collaborator China is: that it recognises climate change issues, is in the forefront of environment innovation and has worked hard on endangered species; cooperates with the IMF over stimulation; provides more UN peacekeepers than the other members of the Security Council combined.

He points out that between 2000 and 2018 China supported 182 of the 190 Security Council resolutions imposing sanctions on nations which violated international rules or norms; China collaborated on the Iran and North Korea proliferation treaties.

Zoellick is not given to dire warnings about how dysfunctional it will be if the West really manages to ‘cut China off’, but they are implied in his general remarks about China, restated at a recent Henry Jackson webinar. China, he reminds us, is the biggest contributor to global growth; the fastest growing market for United States products; no longer manipulates the exchange rate; and, in response to our pleas, has improved its legal system. All in all, Zoellick tells us that cooperation with China “does produce results” but we should not take China’s cooperation for granted, “it could be very different”.

At home in Blighty, those calling for “a reckoning with China”, demanding a COBRA-like committee to mull over retaliation, wanting to “hold China to account” should ask themselves whether our businesses, for many of whom China is their most important market, want matters to become “very different”.

As to Hong Kong, the whole world must be astounded at the descendants of nineteenth century imperialists sending out paper gunboats commanding that China order its affairs according to our desires. A long time ago as a student, I demonstrated against colonial rule and police corruption in Hong Kong, and can still feel the truncheon on my back. In the face of much more vicious violence than anything we democracy activists attempted, Beijing has been restrained. In Northern Ireland, when security deteriorated, the UK imposed direct rule and fiercely rejected US interference on the IRA side. Over Hong Kong, we should try to see how interfering former imperialists look to most Asians, let alone to Chinese.

There are aspects of Chinese policies that we do not like, just as there are aspects of US policies that we abhor. The China Research Group is right to be concerned about cyber security and human rights. The way forward is to deal with China as a partner in the solution of common issues, such as terrorism in Xinjiang and Afghanistan. We have always worked with regimes with different standards when it suits our national interest. And respecting and being respected by China is in our national interest.

In the words of Kevin Rudd, the former Australian Prime Minister: Over 30 years China has pulled off the ‘the English industrial revolution and the global information revolution combusting simultaneously and compressed into not 300 years but 30’. There is a lot to learn and if we are to develop and prosper in the world ahead, we must be part of this. We should also celebrate that China’s rise is bringing better nourishment, greater life expectancy, education and security to hundreds of millions around the world.

Fulminating at China’s internal affairs and rejecting Chinese investment in order to please its commercial rivals will have no effect beyond signalling our impotence and arrogance; they are of no benefit to Britain and have no place in a long-term plan for Britain to prosper in the Asian century. Our government must develop a strategic approach to China. We owe it to future generations of Brits to work with China.