Nick Palmer: The Syrian Position, And How To Tackle Domestic Terrorism

Nick Palmer writes: Last week, I argued against joining in the Syrian war but promised a separate piece on domestic terrorism, which you’ll find below. I’m glad to see signs of MPs thinking carefully, before this week’s vote. Cameron presented his case to the Commons in a calm and non-partisan way and has convinced many Labour MPs, and Corbyn has put the alternative case equally soberly (see http://new.spectator.co.uk/2015/11/jeremy-corbyn-is-more-sensible-about-syria-than-david-cameron/ for a Conservative view of his position). Both deserve a hearing: ultimately, we need to decide this issue separately from the day-to-day party political stuff. But I still think personally that the project is fatally flawed by the absence of a credible plan for what we hope to achieve in Syria.

On domestic terrorism in Europe, the Paris attacks, like the 7/7 attacks in London, are a reminder that there are people who are perfectly willing to kill as many civilians as they can in pursuit of religious craziness. It doesn’t matter what your faith is (if any), how you vote or whether you have any view on the Middle East – if you happen to be around when they start shooting, you’re a potential victim. I don’t agree with those who say they are motivated by this or that Western policy – the terrorist position is not as rational as that.

It’s important to stress, though, that this is not only insane but very, very rare. Paris, 7/7 and 9/11 were all horrific, but they are so familiar because they were exceptional. There are not many people who are quite that fanatical, and they tend to stand out, enabling the security services to do a generally effective job. The danger from terrorists in statistical terms of walking around in London or Paris or Brussels is negligible. It’s horrible, but it’s literally the activity of a lunatic fringe. I don’t say that just to offer reassurance, but to note that we shouldn’t rush into changing our society in fundamental ways because we think that the terrorist threat justifies everything.

What about wider sympathy? Do the madmen swim in a sea of people who passively support them? Do Muslim Britons think differently from non-Muslim Britons? There is some polling on this – not about the terrorism itself, but about people who go to Syria to fight on one side or another. The pollster Survation did a survey on this. They say:

“A clear majority of British Muslims, 71%, say they have “no sympathy with young Muslims who leave the UK to join fighters in Syria”. 5% had “a lot of sympathy” and 15% had “some sympathy”. These figures represent a significant drop in sympathy since March, from 8% and 20% respectively. In total 8% fewer Muslims have any sympathy for Muslims leaving for Syria than they did in March. Interestingly, when we polled the remainder of the British population in March, 4% of non-Muslims expressed “a lot of sympathy with young Muslims who leave the UK to join fighters in Syria” and 9% expressed “some sympathy”, suggesting that attitudes held by the Muslim and non-Muslim populations are not that different.”

Survation has complained to the Sun, which wrote up the survey as “20% of Muslims support ISIS”, which is wildly misleading, since the survey didn’t ask about ISIS and a lot of people fighting in the Syrian quagmire are not in ISIS (according to Mr Cameron’s controversial estimate, 70,000 are fighting against both ISIS and Assad).

So if the terrorists are both rare and isolated in both Muslim and non-Muslim circles, do we need to do anything? Yes, I think we do. I’m more open now to intelligence-gathering of a kind that in normal times I’d resist – for instance, I think it’s of legitimate interest to the security services if someone repeatedly visits extremist websites or corresponds with known extremists, and I’d accept that they should be able to monitor it. Sometimes, there will be a perfectly legitimate explanation – journalistic research, for instance – but in the current situation it’s reasonable that a closer look should be taken. This should be subject to independent review, to ensure that the power is not used disproportionately.

It’s important, too, to encourage active support for counter-terrorism. If you had reason to think that someone you knew was planning to help terrorism, you shouldn’t just shake your head dubiously: you should report it at once. Schools, religious leaders and politicians can all play a part in encouraging this, while separating it clearly from hassling people who simply have a different religion. We do not have a problem with people peacefully attending mosques; we have a problem with terrorism.

Terrorists would like everyone to see the situation as Muslims vs everyone else. We need to be careful not to feed that idea, because the reality is different: it’s terrorists vs everyone else. If we work together, calmly and proportionately, they will be defeated.

Best wishes

Nick

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29 Responses to Nick Palmer: The Syrian Position, And How To Tackle Domestic Terrorism

  1. Steve Carr says:

    There is more than just a Conservative and Corbynite view Mr Palmer!

    There is a LibDem view, a Green view, a UKIP view and a moderate Labour view. You know the people you used to belong to.

    I know Mr Palmer wishes Lib Dems were not still around but we are! Lol

    http://www.libdems.org.uk/five-tests-syria?utm_campaign=151123_syr&utm_medium=email&utm_source=libdems

    • Joan Wade says:

      Tom Fallon needs to raise his public profile if the Liberals are to once again become a force in British politics.

  2. patrickratcliffe says:

    You are absolutely correct Mr Carr. There is a LibDem view and a Green view and a UKIP view, but in parliamentary terms they are statistically insignificant.
    Sadly, also, you don’t seem to appreciate current political politeness. Perhaps you need a lesson from Mr Corbyn in how to express political opinion without resorting to insult.

    • Steve Carr says:

      I see no insult. The uncomfortable truth yes. Perhaps you could do with a lesson in not being patronising!

      Yes Mr Corbyn is very polite. Judging by what moderate Labour Party MPs are saying, he leaves the insulting to his Momentum supporters!!!!

  3. Howard Shakespeare says:

    The United Kingdom has a responsibility to play its part in policing the world.
    No doubt Jeremy Corbyn, and others of the extreme left, would also have voted against taking arms against the Nazis.
    After Labours disastrous performance in Thursday’s by election, there is little doubt that the civil war in the party will accelerate.

    • Joan Wade says:

      The thinking is so very muddled here. The US are already bombing Syria and have been for over a year now. They have more planes at the ready than they have targets. The last time the Government put forward proposals to bomb it was the other side we were going to bomb! In any event does dropping bombs on children in Syria really stop terrorists from coming out of Belgium and attacking Paris. Bombing is the easy thing to do but would it have made things better if we had bombed Dublin in response to the IRA? Mr Corbyn has a long history of getting matters right. He may or may not be right this time but at least he is applying logic and reasoned argument. Simply lashing out without first having a strategy is such utter folly.

    • Ian Blakeley says:

      Which by election would that be Howard, the various District and Council one(s), or the Elections in Poland?

      • Howard Shakespeare says:

        Ian. Oldham West & Royton by-election. That’s the one that matters and is in the media. Polls close in nine hours time.

      • Ian Blakeley says:

        Oh you mean today’s by election Howard. I thought that you meant one held last week – “After Labours disastrous performance in Thursday’s by election,” Methinks that you are a little previous, maybe they will get trounced, maybe they won’t, maybe they might just win. Have a good day ;-X

      • Howard Shakespeare says:

        Ian.
        Its simple logic. Corbyn is a disaster for Labour. He goes from crisis to crisis. UKIP are the beneficiaries of Labours collapse in towns like Oldham.
        I hope that Corbyn doesn’t go too soon. He is doing a magnificent job in accelerating the inevitable end of Socialism in the UK.

      • Joan Wade says:

        As you say Howard – The Oldham by election is the one that matters and the public gave Mr Corbyn an overwhelming vote of confidence and an increased share of the vote. If you stopped the party political rhetoric and started to debate with people you would begin to see why you are getting so wrong so often.

      • RichHartman says:

        Howard – Labour wins the by-election; Cons come third. What say you now?

      • Ian Blakeley says:

        What no reply Howard, you surprise me. If you look into your crystal ball old son you might find that last nights result may well be repeated up to, and including 2020. Have a really nice day. ;-D

      • Howard Shakespeare says:

        In fact it wasn’t a good result for Corbyn’s Marxist-Labour.
        Leaving aside the matter of postal votes.
        The Conservatives never had a chance of winning Oldham. It would be like Labour winning Kensington & Chelsea. It couldn’t happen.
        Labour had its majority reduced by 4,000 in the Oldham by-election.
        UKIP increased its share of the vote from 20.61% to 23.30%
        But the big loser was Comrade Corbyn. Within the parliamentary Labour party, Corbyn has few allies. One of those few was Michael Meacher. He has now been replaced by a Social Democratic Labour MP, who voted for Liz Kendall in the leadership contest.

      • Joan Wade says:

        Howard – Mr Corbyn would have fitted in well in the Cabinet of many post war one nation Conservative governments. Your references to Comrade Corbyn and Marxists once again shows your unwillingness or inability to debate the issues. If winning with an increased share of the vote is bad news then I am sure that Mr Corbyn will be happy with more bad news.

    • Joan Wade says:

      It is easy for those who advocate more war to insult those who are asking questions over the rush to war. It is a pity that they are unwilling to put as much effort into debating the issues.

      • Howard Shakespeare says:

        The time for debate is over.
        Procrastination will do no more than permit the atrocities of IS to continue.

      • Ian Blakeley says:

        What you don’t seem to understand Howard is the fact that many people do consider Daesh to be as bad, if not worse than the Facists of the 1930’s and agree that they have to be stopped. However there is a great amount of feeling that civilian casualties will be enormous. Make no mistake Howard, Daesh will, just like Saddam, put their military hardware within the grounds of schools, hospitals, mosques and many other non combatant places. Not only to try to protect them but for the propaganda gains when a hospital gets flattened. That’s one of the reasons for discussion Howard, there are others.

    • RichHartman says:

      Howard – ‘civil war in the party’ – you were talking about Labour, but it’s no different to the ‘civil war’ within the Conservatives: many of them defied Cameron and voted against their leader.

      • Joan Wade says:

        Interesting to see that local MP Ken Clarke did not support the vote for action. I wonder how he takes to being called a terrorist sympathiser.

  4. Barry Morrison says:

    Methinks you spoke too soon Howard..OK,Labour won with a reduced majority but it was far better than they expected.

  5. patrickratcliffe says:

    Just briefly, Mr Shakespeare.
    Labour did indeed win, with a reduced majority, but with an increased percentage of the vote, I believe. I think the time for debate on that by-election is well and truly over.

  6. patrickratcliffe says:

    I’m not sure there is any useful comparison to be made between the brave men and women who went to Spain to fight Franco’s Nazis, and returned respected, and the struggle against Daesh, other than to note the response of the British state towards those brave men and women who volunteer to fight for the Kurdish Peshmerga. They are treated like terrorists, when they return and are prosecuted as such.
    It seems it is acceptable for the state to bomb an enemy, and potentially kill innocent civilians, but not acceptable for the individual to put his or her life on the line fighting the same enemy directly.

    • Howard Shakespeare says:

      “All it takes for evil to flourish, is for good men to do nothing”. Edmund Burke.

      Thank god that many MPs on the Labour benches know that, as well as an overwhelming majority of Conservative members of the house.

      • patrickratcliffe says:

        Perhaps those few on the Labour benches, those many on the Tory ones, or those Liberal-Democrats on the fence, should have considered this:
        ‘Any man can make mistakes, but only an idiot persists in his own error’. Marcus Tullius Cicero.
        We really must learn from past mistakes, Mr Shakespeare: Afghanistan – FAILURE; Iraq – FAILURE; Libya – FAILURE; Syria – guess the sequence!

  7. Joan Wade says:

    It looks as if we might have more by-elections soon. The Independent and the BBC have been reporting on a Tory MP who has been found out faking a death threat from a constituent. The MP claimed that she had received the message after the Syria vote.

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-35027252

    http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/tory-mp-defends-faking-death-threat-over-syria-air-strikes-vote-a6764766.html

    • Howard Shakespeare says:

      Whilst the debate continues, IS continue to carry out their satanic operations.
      No more talking. Hit them!
      Perhaps you should have taken note of Hillary Benn’s speech. He received admiration from both sides of the house.
      Should you ever attend the Oxford Union, you will see that the debates do not continue indefinitely.
      The only way to defeat Nazis, be they in the guise of IS, or National Socialists, is to destroy them. Talking to them achieves nothing.

      • Joan Wade says:

        “Hit them” – But that is the issue Howard. The reason why people are saying that Hillary Ben’s speech lacked substance is precisely because it did not deal with that point. Islamic State and the Syrian people are not the same entity. People are decrying Donald Trump for proposing a ban on all Muslims and yet by lashing out indiscriminately we are also displaying the same level of stupidity.

      • patrickratcliffe says:

        This is not a debate in the sterile inner sanctum of the Oxford Union, Mr Shakespeare. This is about state sponsored murder of innocent civilians in their homes, their schools and their hospitals in search of Daesh scum, by bombing.
        No real attempt appears to have been made to strangle the funding of Daesh, or to counter their vile anti-Islamic propaganda messages, except by ‘Anonymous’, and it isn’t possible to bomb or hit them out!

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