Calling for talks with al-Qaida is the easy bit…

PSNI Chief Constable Hugh Orde has become the latest public figure to call for talks with al-Qaida. But as I work my way through another book about the group, I’m left wondering how this would be done. The name ‘al-Qaida’ seems to me to be largely a Western construction for a range of militant Islamist ideology that is pretty amorphous, diverse and with differing aims, and bin Laden is probably not as central to it as we like to think, so it’s not even clear-cut who should be negotiated with and who could deliver. I’m not suggesting it’s pointless – indeed, it’s entirely likely that the UK is already doing this in some form or other. But it has become increasingly fashionable for establishment figures like Jonathan Powell to make these apparently radical, but in reality glib, statements about talking to al-Qaida “because it worked in Northern Ireland” without actually thinking about how this might be accomplished with an enemy that is nothing like Irish terrorist groups. Of course, I’m not angling to be chief constable of the Met and I don’t have a book to sell, so it’s unlikely it’ll make any Guardian headlines to point this out…