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…

  • Harry Flashman

    Interesting, so if rapists or muggers or burglars or child molesters got together into a single organisation and presented a manifesto would the peeler-in-chief suggest holding talks with them to find out how best to accommodate their demands?

    What would be the grounds for legitimate compromise?

  • Dave

    Gonzo, this is a side-effect from all the supporting hype that was used to tell folks in NI that is was a blueprint for Nirvana to accept all the compromises and affronts to law, democracy and justice that were needed to allow a bunch of sectarian murders to surrender (after the state has infiltrated their organisation) without being seen to surrender, thereby minimising the possibility of violent backlash or the formation of splinter groups from members of those murder gangs who actually believed in the aims of the group, foolishly believing that the leaders of those gangs shared those aims.

    Politicians love the attention they can get from being associated with all of that hype (and the whiff of a Nobel Prize or a lucrative career on the lecture circuit) so they continue the hype, failing to mention that they engineered the hype to serve a specific political purpose of encouraging the decent to accept the unacceptable.

    If the leadership of al-Qaida are looking for political careers or if their supporters can be pacified by assurances that their aims can be facilitated by politics, then hoodwink them by offering them a place in a mandatory coalition in the UK government or in whichever countries they operate in for all I care. If they’re not, then don’t dignify their methods by treating them as legitimate political groups that have even a cursory respect for human rights or law. Much like kidnappers, you only promote their enterprise when you pay the ransom.

  • The Serpent

    Gonzo.. You’re becoming cynical !!!

    I do agree that our particular situation is not a blueprint to counter Islamic terrorism.

    However the Foreign & Commonwealth Office will be working their wily ways no doubt. Diplomacy comes in many forms does it not?

  • TUV Historian

    SF held their noses and talked to the British. Admittedly it only produced an imperfect interim solution, at best, but it got Brit troops off Irish streets and brought a re-unified Ireland closer to realisation. Nobody condems them for that now, although plenty objected at the time.
    If talking to the Brits worked then why wouldn’t America talk to Al Quaida?

  • Rory

    The geographical constraints of Sir Hugh’s remit might prompt us to wonder whether he considers that there might be influential Al Quaeeda schools in Cullybackey, or Kilkeel or Poyntzpass of which we need to take notice. If however he is merely offering advice to the great and the good of the wider world (i.e. effectively the U.S.) then I have to stop and ask myself why on earth does anyone think that these people would have any reason to trust the Great Satan and its minions given their behaviour of late.

    The US and Britain in particular need to establish some bona fides first particularly in regard to Israel/Palestine before any semblance of trust is likely. I don’t see it happening myself.

  • BfB


    Fortunately Rory nobody gives a shit what you think.

  • There’s a very interesting article by Peter Bergen in the New Republic on this agenda.

    It’s notable that it quotes Inspector Bob Lambert, the former head of the Met’s Muslim Contact Unit, and seems to support his policy of engaging with the Muslim Brotherhood.

    This is exactly the policy that the British neocons have been fighting for the last few years. It was one of the reasons for their hatred of Ken Livingstone.

    It may be significant that the article appeared in the New Republic. A number of people connected to the magazine signed the American version of the Euston Manifesto a few years ago.

    Along with Orde’s intervention, it may be a sign that the neocons are not having the debate all their own way at the moment.

  • BfB

    ‘Although Benotman’s public rebuke of Al Qaeda went unnoticed in the United States,’
    Don’t expect the US msm to report ANY positive news re: the war on terror…they want the US to LOSE..

    More bad news

    Here’s why you don’t see the GOOD news…
    ‘The widespread conviction among Democrats that we are destined to fail in Iraq was the key to Barack Obama’s emergence as Presidential front-runner. He postured himself as the candidate who had opposed the war from the beginning. But what helped Obama in the Democratic primaries may prove his undoing in the general election. Through the months when Obama’s dedication to failure was bringing him closer to the nomination, conditions in Iraq were improving, not worsening. This contradiction is now becoming acute, and Obama faces it squarely as he tries to decide whether, how and when to go to Iraq.’

  • Harry Flashman

    Still no one has explained what the talks would be [i]about[/i]?

    Where would the room for compromise be? Driving only half of the Jewish sons of pigs and monkeys into the sea? A partial restoration of the Caliphate in Spain, let’s say Costa Brava and Majorca as a starter? Giving adulterous whores of women anaesthetic before ripping out their painted finger nails? Just shooting the sodomites instead of burying them under a brick wall?

    If Orde is going to make such fatuous statements he should at least clarify them.

    Furthermore there is an election due in two years time what is stopping Al Queda from forming a political front and standing in all 650 constituencies? We could then see just how popular the idea of a sharia state is among British voters and thereby see how necessary it is to negotiate with them instead of just killing them (my favoured option admittedly but I’m an old romantic at heart).

  • Dave

    Harry, I think what is needed is a set of international protocols that permit targetted assasination of those who organise terrorism. That will require that Article 2 (1) European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms be amended. Why should those who violate human rights, such as the right to life, be protected by human rights, such as the right to life? It needs to be amended so that it is not self-defeating in its purpose of protecting the right to life. As it stands, governments have to move in mysterious ways in order to remove terrorists without being seen to violate Article 2 (1). Let’s amend it, and form an international anti-terror group for the purpose of wiping out the godfathers.

  • Rory

    Great idea, Dave! Let’s legalise murder – but only when it suits us (or should that be when it suits U.S.?). Any chance you might throw a bit of rape and pillage into the mix while you’re at it? At my age rape becomes less attractive but I do so like a bit of pillage every now and then. But only if it’s legal you understand.

  • Belfast Gonzo


    If the logic of the Peace Process (according to Powell, Blair et al) is followed through, it doesn’t really matter what you talk about, as long as you keep talking.

    On the other hand, it is difficult to see what States like the US or UK would concede to a non-state terrorist group in return for it not carrying out attacks.


    Interesting article. Perhaps if there are parallels between NI and the fight against al-Qaida, it is that often pressure to stop terrorism comes from within, or that it is better to negotiate with those committed to a cause but not through using terrorism?

  • Dave

    Rory, it wouldn’t be murder if it is legal. Killing is already lawful in a plethora of cicumstances. What I am proposing is an extension of the doctrine of anticipatory self-defence from hostile states to include threats from terrorist groups, specifically the godfathers who organise those groups.

  • BfB

    Would this fruitcake Orde want to talk to these AQs? I’m sure a hearty thanks is on the way from the AQs for this bit of media hype…
    Tsk, tsk….

  • BfB

    PCSO? Maybe PSNI in training…..Hmmmmmmmmmmmm

  • Rory


    Who would decide under international law which states are percieved to be “threatening” and to which “non-threatening” states? If a state could determine that an individual was a “terrorist”, or group of individuals were “terrorists”, might it not be reasonable for any individual or group to deem such a state in itself terrorist and act accordingly, as on what is called “9/11”?

    Isn’t that really where we are today and indeed where we ever appear to have been? Pre-emptive strikes are not after all the prerogative of the mighty. Indeed they are most often the necessary tactic of a weaker force.

    Legislation against regicide did not stop an angry carpenter from building a scaffold for the guillotine.

    You may also wish to stop and think about the terrible psychic destruction you would be imposing on those young men (for it is always young men) that you demand commit these murders on your behalf in order that you might pretend to have security.

    Why, I ask myself, do you uncomfortable people not do your own killing if you must?

  • Dave

    Rory, what constitutes a threat is already codified under international law, specifically Articles 2(3) and 33 of the United Nations Charter. If the two states that are in dispute cannot reach a settlement, then they should refer the dispute to the UN’s Security Council. Article 2(4) imposes an obligation of states to “refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state” but there are exceptions. The exception that the US used to attack Libya in 1986 is the doctrine of anticipatory self-defence, arguing that Libya promoted state-sponsored terrorism against the US and that terrorist training camps in Libya presented a threat to the US.

    What is not codified is threats from international terrorists groups that are stateless. For example, the US attack on Libya was an attack was against a state, and not against an extra-territorial terrorist group. However, we now have international terrorists groups that pose a significant threat to the citizens of various states. The murder of several thousand people (and the damage to the global economy) at 9/11 showed how significant this threat is. These mobile threats present a new type of risk that international law was not designed to counter. Because the threat originates with individuals rather than states, the threat enjoys a level of protection that is not afforded to hostile states – specifically the requirement restated in the European Convention on Human Rights as “No one shall be deprived of his life intentionally save in the execution of a sentence of a court following his conviction of a crime for which this penalty is provided by law.”

    The problem is that much of the evidence against terrorist godfathers is in the form of intelligence, which, although valid, often does not stand up in court. Other problems are that it where evidence is available, it is often impossible to secure the arrest of the godfathers but is correspondingly often easy to assassinate them. To this end, I would like to see the UN form an anti-terror task force with the specific intent of neutralising terrorist threats by the most expedient means. This would require an amendment to the right to life to allow summary execution of individuals. International protocols should apply to allow inter-territorial operation of the task force. Obvious safeguards would be built in by compiling a list of proscribed terrorist groups with a list of individuals who are sanctioned for assassination. In these groups, it is usually a very small number of individuals who organise the terror. These are the individuals who should be targeted for assassination. Under the present maladapted system, these godfathers operate with impunity and thousands are murdered at their whims. Just as the terrorist groups have adapted to the US’s application of the doctrine of anticipatory self-defence by becoming stateless, we need to adapt our approach to the changing nature of the threat by becoming proactive and pre-emptive.

  • runciter

    Obvious safeguards would be built in by compiling a list of proscribed terrorist groups with a list of individuals who are sanctioned for assassination.

    Perhaps we should do away with trial by jury altogether… Just get the police to make up a list of people they’d like to kill, and let them get to work.

    After all, with such “obvious safeguards” in place, who needs a legal system?

    Your obsession with murdering people is kind of weird.

  • Belfast Gonzo

    Dave’s theory works well until you get to the de Menezes case. Then, when you realise that inevitably someone completely innocent like, say, Dave could end up with a bullet in the head, it kinda looks inhuman.

  • very intersting.

  • Interesting that Orde’s comments have been picked up by Alistair Crooke.