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Where’s the anger in this war on terror?


LAST Monday the Government published its five-yearly counter-terrorism review, CONTEST: The United Kingdom’s Strategy for Countering Terrorism, 2023. Whatever one’s perspective, one must first salute – as Home Secretary Suella Braverman does in her foreword – the brave men and women in the field who guard us while we sleep.

One should also acknowledge the heavy responsibility of Mrs Braverman’s office. The bar is lamentably low, but she appears to be one of our more sincere ministers. Doubtless she means it when she says that ‘keeping people safe is the first and most sacred duty of government’.    

Yet there are troubling elements in this report, starting with its language. One expects a surfeit of bland prose in a government review. But when the subject matter is the heinous murder of one’s fellow citizens, a sense of indignation is also required.

In Hansard, one routinely finds Home Secretaries of the 1970s such as Merlyn Rees describe Provisional IRA violence in terms such as ‘murderous savagery’. A spade is a spade; the terrorists’ agency is never questioned.

Too often in this report, however, we find the equivocal vocabulary of the social worker. Those flirting with terrorism on the internet are ‘vulnerable’ or ‘susceptible’, such as ‘minors or those with mental health or neuro-diversity conditions’. If referred to the authorities, they receive a ‘tailored package of support’.  

Inevitably, security acronyms abound, such as CTPF, CTOC, JTAC, UKISF and MAPPA. Their prevalence and shadowiness are designed to reassure. After the debacle of SAGE, some of us may need more convincing. ‘CONTEST’ itself is a contraction of ‘counter terrorism strategy’. But for a we-mean-business report heading, couldn’t the Home Office have found something more robust?   

Then again, such is the persistence of the terrorism threat (nine attacks and 39 late-stage plots since 2018) that the UK long ago abandoned any notion of bullishness, much less decisive victory. Seen in this context, ‘CONTEST’ manages expectations, implying that the most we can hope for is to be in the game, not win it.

One can sympathise, of course. As the saying goes, the terrorist  needs to be lucky only once, the security services always. Yet we scarcely help ourselves by allowing thousands of unvetted migrants into the country, not to mention unsustainable levels of legal immigration, much of it from cultures hostile to ours.

Most fundamentally, the establishment refuses to accept that for a significant (at least, significant enough) number of believers there is a theological warrant for Islamist terrorism which, barring an Islamic Reformation, is irrevocable. In our vaunted ‘diverse’ society, this dooms us to more of the same, whatever ‘cutting-edge capabilities’ the report seeks to highlight.

As far as I know, Hungary has little need for counter-terrorism reviews, much less our £3.4billion counter-terrorism budget. I wonder why, Home Secretary.

Granted, through the Prevent programme, specialist providers deliver theological and ideological mentoring in prisons and in the community to reduce the offending risk. Unfortunately, sheer numbers render this no more than a sticking plaster over a deep, largely self-inflicted wound. As of March 2023, 232 persons were incarcerated for terrorism-related offences.  

According to the report, Islamist terrorism accounts for 67 per cent of attacks since 2018, 75 per cent of MI5’s caseload and 64 per cent of those in custody. These statistics, alarming enough as they are, could be even higher. In his independent review of Prevent earlier this year, William Shawcross criticised the programme’s too-narrow definition of Islamism and too-wide interpretation of ‘Extreme Right Wing’.

We’re in depressingly familiar territory here: officialdom’s paralysing fear of being labelled ‘racist’ and consequent desperation to even up the figures. Perhaps this helps to explain the report’s claim that ‘the most pressing national security priority is the threat from Russia to European security’.

The Home Office accepted Shawcross’s findings but evidently hasn’t yet implemented all of his recommendations. Patriotic Alternative isn’t many people’s cup of tea, but it’s hard to find justification for giving it equal billing with Hizb ut-Tahrir, which promotes the restoration of the Caliphate, and CAGE, which campaigns on behalf of convicted Islamist terrorists.

But the report does, warning that this small fringe group thinks ‘the British people are made of the English, Northern Irish, Scottish and Welsh’, and aims to ‘overturn all policy that discriminates against the indigenous people’. So, our Conservative government, bending to the will of bad-actor pressure groups and woke Whitehall, thinks these are no longer right-wing but extreme right-wing positions.

Naturally, the report pays obeisance to Equality, Diversity and Inclusion. (At least it’s ‘equality’ here, rather than ‘equity’.) We’re told that EDI is ‘critical to how we deliver’ our service. It ensures that ‘everyone is treated fairly by the counter-terrorism system, leading to a safer society overall’. If it wasn’t so deadly serious, it would be funny.

Like all government reports, this one bears the centuries-old insignia of the state, projecting legitimacy, self-confidence and power. Yet while it showcases some courageous work, it also betrays a nation being hollowed out in the life-and-death arena where it can least afford to be.        

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Stuart Major
Stuart Major
Stuart Major is an independent scholar based in Sussex.

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