Why Dominic Sandbrook is the jihadists’ new best friend

saud war 2

Dominic Sandbrook’s column in The Daily Mail has been the subject of comment on this blog previously when he started the ball rolling with the ‘Ed Miliband’s dad hated Britain’ story.  Since The Daily Mail is not my newspaper of choice, much of Dominic’s musings in this paper pass me by.  But in a recent column, The Coming Apocalypse (23/8/2014) he has been sucked further down into the quicksand of right-wing yellow journalism.  Here a picture of Britain twenty years hence is painted, caught in a Eurabian clash of civilisations.  It is as unpleasant as it is unoriginal.  Anyone who knows the writings of the US ‘journalist’ Mark Steyn will be familiar with this kind of apocalyptic vision wherein a lack of political will on the part of the West leads to it be overrun by the Muslim hordes.[1]

Dominic is a fan of science fiction (indeed he has a forthcoming BBC TV series on the subject,[2] one can only hope that the quality control is better than in his series about the Cold War).  He should know that the basis of any dystopian vision is the extrapolation of some existing tendencies from the world as it now is.  As an historian, he should attempt to do that from a strong factual base.  Unfortunately, Dominic’s dystopia seems to be based on an ill-formed understanding of everything, from public transport systems, British Muslims and Middle Eastern politics.  It is difficult to find something that he has understood correctly, rather it is an outpouring of paranoid hysteria in a particularly Daily Mail form.

Getting the Middle East wrong

The premise of the article is that if the Western powers do not do more now to eradicate the Islamic State’s foothold in northern Iraq, everything that The Daily Mail’s readership holds dear will be destroyed.  Thus, in his dystopia there is a war in the Middle East but this picture is highly confused.  Dominic’s future-story is as follows:

First, this 2030 war is the result of what the West fails to do now: not going full out to defeat Islamic State in northern Iraq and Syria.  As a result Islamic State consolidates its hold, turns back to Syria which it conquers, and then invades Lebanon (and possibly Jordan) into the  bargain.  This results in the breakup of Iraq into a Sunni part, a Kurdish part and a Shia part closely allied to Iran.  Certainly, the break-up of Iraq is plausible enough although the ability of Islamic state to push through Syria without any strong supply lines to the rear is questionable.

Second, this leads to conflict between Kurds and Turkey, and while this is plausible it underestimates the degree to which the USA could bang the heads of Kurds (reliant on the existence of their autonomy on US air cover since the first Gulf war in 1991) and the Turks (members of NATO and more than ever wanting the guarantees that that brings with it) together until they reach a compromise.  Both, sharing a common enemy in Islamic State on their borders would probably see the virtues of compromise.

Third this is added to by the collapse of the state in Libya and in Egypt.  The collapse of the state in Libya is certainly plausible based on what has been happening in recent weeks, but is no means inevitable.  The collapse of the Egyptian state is quite another matter.  The military have successfully reasserted their power against the Muslim Brotherhood with minimal resistance, with even the Saudi aligned Salifists supporting the return to authoritarian rule.  There is little violent jihad type resistance to this within Egypt.  There is no reason to think that this will become strong enough to destroy the existing Egyptian state in the near future.

Four, Dominic suggests Islamic State’s Caliphate ethnically cleanses the north of Iraq, Syria and Lebanon thus turning the region into one where 40 million live without law or currency and 70 per cent unemployment (although what this means in an economy of scavenging and barter is entirely unclear, presumably everyone does what they can to scrape a subsistence).  At the same time Dominic suggests that c.2017 Iran decides that it will have to deal with the Caliphate, and crosses the border into Iraq to deal with it.  This then leads the West to fund and arm Saudi Arabia and Qatar as its proxies against Iran, with the Saudis acting to stop Iran’s ambitions to unite the Shia population under its rule (which mainly means the south half of Iraq).  There is much wrong with this.  Saudi Arabia has historically been reliant on US military might in the region.  Thus in the first Gulf war of 1991 Saudi Arabia was only part of the US led coalition which expelled Iraq from Kuwait, and it is unlikely that it could have done it on its own.  It seems improbable that Saudi Arabia (population around 20 million when all the foreign workers are discounted and especially Qatar (population of 250,000 Qataris without the ex-pats) would pick a fight with its larger neighbour, Iran (population 77 million).  Being outnumbered four-to-one is not a good ratio.   Second, this means that the West is backing the Saudis, while the Saudis (Dominic tells us) tacitly support Islamic state and are thus attacking Iran.  This would appear to be seriously wrong.  There is certainly evidence that the Saudis, and even more Qatar, have given support to conservative Islamist forces and some Sunni fighters in the region (for example, in Syria) and that some of these resources may have ended up with Islamic State.   But this was not their intention.  It is not difficult to work out why, since the House of Saud and the Qatari royal family have the most to lose from extreme Sunni jihadists.  Obviously, there are parallels in Saudi Arabia supporting the Mujahidin in Afghanistan in the 1980s, and this spawning the jihadist forces that led to al-Qaeda.  But al-Qaeda’s number one enemy is not the USA, but the corrupt House of Saud that controls the holy places in the Gulf and allowed the infidel armies of the USA onto that hallowed soil in the first Gulf War of 1991.  Islamic State, one can only assume, would share these views.  And anyway, all of the indications for the USA are that that they would, on balance, prefer Iran to prevail over Islamic State.

Five, Dominic suggests that in some unspecified way on the economic base of a collapsed economy, Islamic State continues to arm itself and raises fearsome armies to the degree that by 2022 it is able to launch a war against Israel, the outcome of which is not clear, but it appears that Israel holds out at a terrible cost.  How, precisely, does a state that has no allies in the world arm itself and then put up a fight against Israel (which, one must assume, would still have the support of the USA)?  Dominic’s dystopia has disintegrated into hysterical nonsense.

Six, to add to the confusion, Dominic states that by 2030 NATO is fighting the forces of Islamic State in Egypt.  This, it should be highlighted is despite the West having washed its hands of Islamic State in Iraq and Syria to the degree that they in effect aid it by backing the Saudis to fight Iran.  It is also unclear what the forces Islamic State in Egypt are, have they defeated Israel and come through?  One would assume a hugely weakened force?  Has the West now decided that Islamic Sate, not Iran, is its main enemy?  Who knows.

Seven, the degree to which Dominic is throwing the kitchen sink at this in a fact-free way so shown by his claim that Islamic State will be an area where female genital mutilation is rife.  But FGM is not the Sunni militants’ issue, rather it is mainly isolated to sub-Saharan Africa and Egypt, and is by no means solely a Muslim practice.  It is far less common across the Arabian Middle East.  Indeed its only concentration outside of Africa is in Kurdistan, home to the anti-Jihadists good guys in this narrative.[3]

Getting oil wrong

This is merely the background.  Dominic asks us to believe that this regional conflagration has a number of consequences.  One is that it has disrupted the world’s oil supplies through a series of oil shocks much like those orchestrated by OPEC in the 1970s.  How is this?  There is no suggestion that there is war in Saudi Arabia, nor is there much suggestion of war disrupting production in Iran.  Most of the trouble is projected in Iraq (although not so much the oil wells in the Kurdish north of Shia south).  The main problems are projected as being in Syria, Lebanon, Jordan and Egypt but these are not major oil producers.  So where do Sandbrook’s three oil shocks come from?  It is not clear.  Rather, he is re-running the 1970s in his head with Arabs as the bogeymen who cut off ‘our’ oil supplies.

So Dominic wants us to believe that the West will encourage a major conflict between Iran and Saudi Arabia and, without the West seeing this coming, disrupt the oil supply form Iran and the Gulf.  For this to make this conflict must be a protracted one starting from 2020 that the neither the warring parties nor the West seek to bring to end quickly.   this is a long-term stretching over a period of more than ten years from c.2020.  Iran and Saudi Arabia supply 22 per cent of the world’s oil production, so say this capacity has been halved causing an 11 per cent drop in world oil supplies, then on this basis Dominic suggests that there is a long slump in the West.  So in order to create this oil slump necessary for his ‘apocalypse’ outcome Dominic has had to create a conflict between Saudi Arabia and Iran (one which, in his scenario, has been encouraged by the West) which has no basis on what is going on in Syria and Iraq now.

If this were to happen, would it have the serious consequences Dominic suggests, a prolonged fall in production and a commensurate increase in price that Dominic suggests? It is certainly possible that a severe oil shock of a fall of 11 per cent could cause a global recession, in Britain Dominic suggests a long depression starting in 2024 and still continuing in 2030.  I would not want to rule this out if it is combined with other factors, for example if it tipped the Chinese banking sector into crisis.  But in itself it is doubtful whether higher oil prices could have this impact, anymore than the long term increase in oil prices from less than $20 a barrel in 1999 to over $130 in 2008 limited economic growth in that period.  If there was serious disruption to Gulf oil supplies, lower levels of supply and higher prices would become the new normal, at some point recession would bottom out and economic growth would start albeit from a lower point than pre-recession.  There would be less of certain things, fewer petrol driven cars, international flights would decline, maybe sea cargo would reduce, certainly oil powered heating would be out and there would be some issues with plastics and other goods made from petrochemicals.  But in each case somewhere around 10, or perhaps 20, per cent less than would have been the case otherwise.  It is probably not the condition for a depression lasting many years.

I have no economic model that would suggest what a 10 per cent reduction on oil production would be, but one way of putting this into perspective is to look at the 1980s slump as the process in reverse.  This caused a drop in the demand for oil approaching 20 per cent and it took 15 years for demand to return to its 1980 level.  The lesson of this reverse case is not clear, but it does suggest that 10 to 20 per cent drop in oil production could be associated with a period of recession and low growth such as the early 1980s, but that growth returns without the demanding for oil increasing.  One could suggest that the scenario of $300 a barrel might come about by 2030 anyhow with a decline in oil production and demand for developing economies in China, the BRIC states, CIVETS and the next 11.  A major war impacting on oil production in the Gulf would not create new problems in terms of oil, but exacerbate existing ones.

Nor is the situation static.  Just because there is a reduction in oil from Iran and the Gulf, increased prices might encourage others such a Venezuela to increase production or the more careless exploitation of tar sands in Alberta.  Oil might be replaced by bio-fuel production or using coal as a source of oils.  Electric transport and a myriad of other technologies might be deployed relatively swiftly to mitigate the effects of less oil.  States might put controls on the use of petrol by, say, banning new cars with engines larger than 1400cc and encouraging the scrapping of existing gas-guzzlers  as well as imposing speed limits on motorways.

Dominic has none of this, but his bleak picture is simply a fantasy collage of images from the past.  So he has both a fuel rationing and long queues at petrol stations.  For an alleged historian he is very careless, it was not rationing that caused queues in the 1970s, but the threat of rationing.  Once rationing is in place there will be fewer people going to petrol stations, the queues will be shorter.

More likely, less fuel will lead to a necessarily rapid economic restructuring which while not comfortable probably would not cause a long term depression.  After the initial oil shock which could create a very serious recession, the economy would have to adapt to changed circumstances.  The car industry and aviation would be hit.  Moving goods long distances would become less attractive and it would become more efficient to produce goods locally.  The range of cheaper fruit and vegetables would be hit, the idea that some of them might be seasonal would return.  Even if the initial shocks before 2020 meant that living standards did not fully recover before 2030, there is no reason to suspect that growth would not start again after a painful (for some at least) economic restructuring.  People will get used to their life with fewer cars and bananas, and more cabbages and bicycles.  They might even be healthier, although the return of the British seaside holiday might mean that they may not be happier.

Getting refugees wrong

Dominic has more cards to play in his apocalypse now scenario.  There are refugees on the South Downs and they are rioting.  Again, this does not make sense.  Now we all know that for The Daily Mail asylum seekers are the very devil, huddled but dangerous masses.   But why have there been riots in refugee camps?  These would appear to be detention camps for asylum seekers, not refugee camps.  One can only assume that Dominic does not want to make the UK the bad guy by imagining the internment of those who have fled violence in the Middle East.  If these were really refugee camps why should the people in them not be relived to be safe?  In reality, most of the refugees would not be in northern Europe but in the states nearest the conflict, Turkey, Iran, Israel and southern Iraq.

Getting British Muslims wrong

Dominic’s real sucker punch is, of course, the impact this will have on British Muslims.  Here, again, we have a series of hints rather than a fully elaborated picture.  The first is that there will be an increase in domestic terrorism by British Muslims.  The second is that Muslims will take control of some local councils in Britain which will be under militant Islamist control.  This is, I would suggest, a particularly unpleasant eliding of two different issues.  The first is the idea that British jihadists who are fighting with Islamic State or other jihadist groups will be likely to return to the UK and continue their struggle.  The second is that British Muslims would grow in number enough to take over councils (and Dominic is clear that these would be in the North) with Islamist leadership which one might assume (Dominic is not clear on this) would be sympathetic to such jihadists.   Dominic is, I would argue, extrapolating from limited evidence which is supplemented by a racist fear of Muslims as an undifferentiated and dangerous brown mass.  Further, the complicated picture of British Jihadists is dealt with in a simpleminded way that moves us not one inch closer to understanding it but rather suggests our reaction should only be fear and reaction.

To start with the strongest evidence for his case (which he does not use): Islamists can take control of councils in Britain.  One has to careful with the evidence here, but it is difficult not to see the Tower Hamlets First group and Tower Hamlet’s mayor, Lutfur Rahman, as a partial fulfilment of this.  Rahman was previously the leader of the Labour group on Tower Hamlets Council.  However, he lost this position in 2010.  The same year he was selected as the Labour candidate to stand as the directed elected mayor of Tower Hamlets before being removed by the party’s NEC.  The reason for him losing both positions were accusations that the Islamic Foundation of Europe (IFE) had signed up some hundreds of members to the Labour Party to advance Rahman’s cause.  The IFE is part of a network of groups around the East London Mosque aligned to the Jamaat-e-Islami (aka Maududists), which has its origins in India but is now more significantly is a force in Pakistan and were chief amongst the anti-secessionist forces in the civil war that created Bangladesh.  They are Islamist in that they support an Islamic state based on Sharia law, but are (on the whole) social conservatives not jihadists.

Rahman won the 2010 mayoral election as an independent although Tower Hamlets is by no means a majority Muslim borough, less than 40% are Muslims but they do constitute the bulk of Labour’s electoral base and once Rahman was able to win this no-one could beat him.  Rahman’s position was strengthened by the party formed around him, Tower Hamlets First (THF), winning 18 of the 45 council seats in2014 and under the mayoral system Rahman can run the administration drawing on only these councillors.  THF is entirely drawn from Tower Hamlets Bangladeshis (and one would assume, Muslims), although six have previously been councillors of both the Labour Party and Respect.  One of these, Abjoi Miah, was a key member of Respect and appears to have been the key link person between Respect and IFE/Jamaat.  He is now the central organiser of THF and a power behind Rahman’s throne.  The turn to the Labour Party and Rahman appears to have been because IFE/Jamaat lost confidence in the Respect MP for Bow and Poplar (in Tower Hamlets), George Galloway, after he made a complete fool of himself on Celebrity Big Brother.


There are three important points to make about the Rahman/THF rule in Tower Hamlets and the possibility of other councils becoming Muslim run.

First Rahman and THF do not present as Islamists.  For example, the council maintains an LGBT policy.  It might be the case that Rahman and many of the THF councillors are not Islamists but communalists who wish to promote the interests of those of Bangladeshi origins, something that is not without precedent in local government politics in Britain.  The most notable feature of Rahman/THF rule is not the establishment of an Islamic state in the East End, but the creation of a version of the millet system that existed under the Ottoman Empire whereby everyone is related to as a religious group.  It is common for local councils to run a layer of social services through local voluntary groups and charities.  In Tower Hamlets these are becoming increasingly demarcated on religion lines, that strengthens the link between people of Bangladeshi origin.  Through its Community Faith Building Support Scheme the council gives direct support to faith based groups, the budget for 2014 being £1.3 million.  Of the 2013 funding, although funding went to a variety of Christian, Jewish, Buddhist, Hindu and Sikh groups, two-thirds went to Muslim groups.[4]  It is such communalism and setting of religious identity into policy structures that is most problematic here, not any overt militancy.

Second, what is notable about Tower Hamlets First is their relative youth and this is related is new political associations.  These are not bearded elders in traditional attire, but suits and beards that are either neatly clipped or absent.  In sharp distinction to older generations, there are women amongst THF’s councillors.  This group has coalesced around three factors: the shutting down of channels in the Labour Party to their advancement, the rise of Respect in Tower Hamlets showing the potential to mobilise Muslim voters in a new way, and the organisation hub of Jamaat-e-Islami based on the East London Mosque.   The last of these is probably the most important, but one that might not be readily replicated elsewhere.  As Innes Bowen has shown in her recent book, Medina in Birmingham, Najaf in Brent, while most mosques in Britain are affiliated to the conservative quietism of the Deobandi and Barelwi strands of Sunni Islam, the East London Mosque is affiliated to the Islamist idea of Jamaat-e-Islami, with IFE being part of this stable too.[5]

Third, success for Tower Hamlets First was tied up with the mayoral systems.  Tower Hamlets First do not have the spread across the borough to win the majority of the council seats, and have only 40 per cent.  Their control is thus based on winning the direct elections for mayor that Rahman did comfortably in 2010 where he took much of Labour’s vote, and more tightly in 2014 against a strong Labour challenge.  In areas such as Bradford, without a directly elected mayor, it would be more difficult for a challenge in the style of Tower Hamlet First.  It would also be difficult for a majority Muslim council to emerge in Bradford because it includes suburban and semi-rural areas with low Muslim populations.

What lies behind Dominic’s assertion that by 2030 there will be Muslim run councils lies another item on the right-wing paranoia list, that (in Mark Steyn’s unpleasant phrase) ‘Muslims are breeding like mosquitoes’.  It has long been a staple of the sensationalist headlines that some towns and cities will become majority Muslim in coming years.  The only problem is that the evidence does not back it up.  These (and a range of other statistics) have been surveyed by Nissa Finney and Ludi Simpson in their ’Sleepwalking to Segregation’?   Here they show that although some local authorities areas are already plural, with no one group constituting over 50% of the population,  white-British will remain the largest group.  Thus Brent and Newham in London are already ‘majority minority’.  Birmingham is predicted to become so in 2024, Bradford in 2031 and Leicester in 2019.[6]  But white-British will remain the largest group.  For example, in Bradford 46% of school aged children were classified as white-British compared with 34% Pakistani in 2011.[7]

It is by no means clear that Muslim populations will become more concentrated.  The standard population models suggest that these populations will disperse away from inner city areas in search of better (or more affordable) housing.  The evidence in Tower Hamlets does not entirely support this view where between the 2001 and 2011 censuses the number of people who identified themselves as Muslims grew in absolute number, but as a proportion of the total population, it fell slightly. [8]  Over the same period the proportion of people of Bangladeshi descent in Tower Hamlets fell from 33 per cent to 32 per cent.[9]  The area is becoming more diverse and not a Bangladeshi-Muslim monoculture.

In areas of West Yorkshire the picture is slightly different.  Looking at religion across all the local authorities in West Yorkshire, the picture of a moderate increase in the number of Muslims, particularly in Bradford, and a decrease in the number of people indentifying as Christian, is in large part due to these people reporting that they have no religion.  But even in the Bradford Metropolitan District Council area, the council in West Yorkshire with the biggest Muslim population, this has risen only to 25 per cent.  Even if this growth continues it is difficult to see how it would create the electoral base necessary for electing militant Muslim councils.

Getting British Muslim opinion wrong

It is not simply necessary for there to be high concentrations of Muslim voters to create militant Muslim councils, such voters have to vote for such political formation.  But is there evidence that British Muslims would vote in this way?  The first thing to say against Dominic’s crude caricature is that what he sees is an undifferentiated brown mass, but in reality there are divisions within British Muslims.

In Tower Hamlets, whatever the truth, Tower Hamlets First do not present themselves as militant, rather they pursue a faith-based multiculturalism, possibly with a communal bias towards Muslim groups.  Opinion poll data on the attitudes of Muslims in Britain does not suggest that there is much basis for anything more.  There is a close correspondence between the result of the glut of polls taken in the wake of the 7/7 bombings in 2005.  A number of polls are considered here: YouGov[10] and ICM[11] and Populus[12] polls from 2005, and an ICM poll from 2006.[13]   All have results that reflect differences and graduations of opinion within British Muslims.  The majority were moderate and accommodating in their views.  99 per cent thought the bombing wrong; somewhere between 77  and 91 per cent felt loyalty towards Britain; 88 per cent thought that Muslims should do more to root out extremism in their communities; 58 percent agreed with Tony Blair’s view that the bomber’s ideology was ‘perverted and dangerous’; 56 per cent, believed ‘Western society may not be perfect but Muslims should live with it and not seek to bring it to an end’ with the same percentage feeling optimistic about their family’s future in the UK; 41 per cent opposed the introduction of elements of Sharia law in Britain; and 40 per cent thought that Muslims needed to integrate more into British society.

Those with a more critical stance are not necessarily militant, but socially conservative.  Thus the 32 per cent who agreed with the statement ‘Western society is decadent and immoral and that Muslims should seek to bring it to an end’ would have opinions that overlap with many readers of the Daily Mail.  Muslim reactions to this are not, however, channelled through feelings of British nationalism, but a sense of ethnic belonging centred on religion.  Thus around 40 per cent believe that Sharia law should (in some unspecified way) be introduced to part of Britain.  18 per cent thought that Muslims had become too integrated into British society, and between 9 and 18 percent reported that they felt little or no loyalty to Britain, 6% thought the bus bombings were justified in some way, but only 1 per cent that they were ‘right’.

One notable result of these polls is the degree of dissatisfaction that Muslims feel with their political leadership.  The ICM poll shows that an even split with 46 per cent either very or quite confident and 46 per cent either not very confident or not at all confident in their political and religious leaders.  The Populus poll asked about the awareness of a variety of Muslim organisations, and only the Muslim Council of Britain had a strong awareness factor, with the Islamic Council of Britain showing a weak positive recognition factor (although given the organisation’s low profile, this result needs to be taken with a pinch of salt).  With the vast majority of organisations more Muslims were unaware or only vaguely aware than were quite/very aware.  There was no organisation that rated positively for Muslims believing that these organisation represented their views and most very negatively.  Since most of these political groups are dominated by  groups that are marginal to British Islam, both the Islamic Society of Britain and the Muslim Council of Britain are run by an alliance of members (or former members) of Jamaat-e-Islami and the Muslim Brotherhood.[14]  It is thus unsurprising that they inspire little confidence amongst British Muslims.  While the success of Tower Hamlets First shows that it might be possible for a more militant and political Islam to win political leadership, this evidence is far from conclusive.

Getting the jihadists wrong.

Dominic also argues that his predicted conflagration in the Middle East will lead to an increase in British jihadism, with young British men queuing up to join the jihad in the Middle East and them bringing it home to Britain.  But here his narrative is highly confused.  This dystopia is Dominic’s view on what will happen if Britain does not move against Islamic State, but here he argues that there is ‘furious response’ against military action against Islamic State.  One can only assume that it is against Britain’s related moves under the NATO banner against Islamic State in Egypt.  But in this scenario, if the British state washes its hands of the Middle East in the coming years, does that make it less of a target for jihadists?  And will the thing that Dominic is arguing for, military action against Islamic State now, not create a ‘furious response’ now?  There is simply no logic in his argument.

Of course, young British Muslims have already gone off to join the jihad in Syria and Iraq.  The evidence here is patchy and anecdotal, but a number of themes are coming through.  First, this does not appear to be part of a concerted Jihadist recruiting campaign within Britain such as the one that is alleged to have been co-ordinated by Omar Bakri Muhammad and Anjem Choudary’s Al-Muhajiroun in the 1990s.  Many appear to be self-recruited with help from internet sources.  According to prosecution evidence in their court case, Yusuf Sarwar and Mohammed Ahmed, looked at online material, took part in militant online chat-rooms and bought copies of Islam for Dummies and The Koran for Dummies before joining Al-Qaeda affiliates to fight in Syria in May 2013.[15]  This is in line with a consensus within the security services and between academics that it is not the religious devout that are pulled to extremism but those who are disaffected, looking for esteem while feeling undervalued in the overlapping worlds in which they live.  Being devout is thought to be a protection against such radicalisation.[16]

The evidence that Kenan Malik marshals in his book From Fatwa to Jihad is that the route to radicalism of the leader of the 7/7 bombers, Mohammed Siddique Khan, was more related to an unreligious gang activity than religious enlightenment.[17]

There is also evidence emerging that the impact of the real jihad might sober up some would-be martyrs.  There have been reports that some British Muslims who have gone to fight in Syria have become disillusioned and are looking for a path to return to Britain and are willing to go through deradicalisation programmes but have found that it is easier to get into Syria and Iraq than out again.[18]

Getting the impact of terrorism wrong

Dominic argues that although Britain will not be involved in much of the campaign against Islamic State which will be carried out by Iran.  This intevention by Iran will be opposed by the West through its proxies Saudi Arabia and Qatar.  Islamic State will continue its Muslim-on-Muslim slaughter, destroying of the economies and societies of Syria and Lebanon.  For some reason, this will cauase a wave of terrorism to be unleashed in Britain that would make the IRA’s  mainland campaigns between the 1970s and 1990s like a tea party.   Even so, he inflates the impact that such terrorism would have in an unrealistic and sensationalist way.

It is possible to see elements of what Dominic presents as Britain’s future around us.  Since 9/11 there have been stricter security measure such as metal detectors on some USA commuter services, particularly around New York and since the 2004 Madrid bombing people have had their bags screened on Spanish train services.  What Dominic paints is just silly.  He suggests a ring of check points around all city centres with queues of vehicles suggesting a sustained car bombing campaign and queues at underground stations equipped with full body scanners, suggesting a sustained bombing campaign on the underground.  The only possible response to a sustained car bomb campaign would be to ban all non-essential vehicles from city centres.  Full body scanners in airports are to detect weapons for hijacking and the relatively small amount of explosives necessary to bring down airplanes by causing structural damage.  To do damage on the underground would need relatively bulky bombs in bags or vests that would not need such elaborate checks.  Even in Israel at the height of the bus bombing campaign during the Second Intifada 2000-2005, which led to 1,084 deaths from 257 attacks, checks were random, not systematic.[19]  There is a recognition that even in a period of heightened danger that in Europe and the USA more than this cannot be realistically maintained.[20]  So what is lacking here is any sense of proportion or any form of realistic assessment.

Getting the anti-war movement wrong

In the context of a long and bloody war in the Middle East it is difficult to know how to place Dominic’s prediction of a huge peace camp in Hyde Park and associated violence other than this being the kind of lefty/smelly/mint-tea-drinking thing that really riles readers of the Daily Mail (and nice touch with the mint tea, these peaceniks can’t even drink a cup of tea in the morning without making it a bit too foreign or even, shiver, Arabic).  I am not sure what part of current reality is being extrapolated here.  A couple of tents in Westminster aside, there have been no peace camps as part of the current anti-war movement, nor have any anti-war demonstrations been accompanied by violence.  The model here appears to be anti-capitalist demonstrations combined with the Occupy movement.

The point which is completely undeveloped is how the leaders of the existing anti-war movement would react to sectarian civil war in the middle-east.  On current evidence they are not interested at all.  There have been demonstrations against ISIS/Islamic State in London over this summer of 2014, but the Stop the War Coalition has played no part in them.  Their politics is to only oppose what they style as western imperialism, to the point where they refuse to condemn Russian annexation of parts of the Crimea and its evident military involvement in Ukraine.  They instead suggest that this is a necessary move against Ukrainian fascism.[21]  In Syria they have opposed western intervention and largely ignore the real civil war and, implicitly at least, side with Assad.  Their forerunners marched with the Serbs against NATO’s intervention in the splintering Yugoslavia rather than with the Bosnians.  It is unlikely that this movement could adapt to a sectarian war in the Middle East.  Faced with a bloody conflict in which US/British imperialism could not be portrayed as the only enemy it is unlikely that such a left could build a mass movement.

Getting Anti-Semitism wrong.

Dominic also implies that there will be a rise in anti-Semitism as part of this conflict.  It is easy to understad what he is generalising here.  There are reports that the recent conflict in Gaza led to a spike in anti-Semitism in Britain and France.[22]  The jihadist mindset is one primed for extreme anti-Semitism, the man charged with the shooting dead of three people in the Brussels Jewish Museum last May having fought in Syria.[23]  I certainly would not wish to under-estimate the degree of anti-Semitism present in political Islam in general and its more radical fringes in particular, but is it the case that it would rise during a Middle Eastern conflict where Israel is not likely to be seen in the role of the aggressor?  The idea that there will only be a few synagogues left because of attacks has very little basis in terms in evidence.

Being part of the problem.

I don’t much care for the term Islamophobia.  It is tied to the assertion of an Islamic identity to opposition of racism against Muslim.  Nonetheless, there is something phobic about Dominic’s article. The dark other of Islam in London and Bradford is not simply loathed, it is also feared.  It lumps Muslims together into a militant pro-jihad mass.  The promulgation of such ideas is part of a racist backlash that has been stuttering on since 2001, if not earlier.

It runs the danger of being a self fulfilling prophesy.  Radical Islam calls on British Muslims  to put their identity as Muslims first, but it needs the bogie of Islamophobia to make their case.   Without stupid rants such as Dominic’s, radical Islam is the sound of one hand clapping.


[1] See, in particular, his America Alone: The End of World as we know it (Washington: Regency, 2006)

[2] http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p01yqk7d

[3] UNICEF, Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting:L A statistical overview and exploration of the dynamics of change (2013), http://www.unicef.org/media/files/FGCM_Lo_res.pdf

[4] http://www.towerhamlets.gov.uk/lgsl/601-650/faith_buildings_grant.aspx

[5] Innes Bowen, Medina in Birmingham, Najaf in Brent (London: Hurst, 2014). pp4-7, 88-89.

[6] Finney NIssa and Ludi Simpson, Sleepwalking to Segregation?: Challenging Myths About Race and Migration (Bristol: Policy Press, 2009), pp145-147.

[7] Tony Sinkinson, Demographic Changes in Bradford –The impact on Education Provision (Bradford MDC, 2012)/ http://www.bradford.gov.uk/NR/rdonlyres/FA677914-55A4-4AA5-B171-D81953D5C09C/0/PFEDemographicChangesinBradfordandtheirimpactoneducationprovion.pdf

[8] Tower Hamlets Council (2013) Religion in Tower Hamlets 2011 Census: Key Facts (Briefing 2013-03)

[9] Tower Hamlets Council (2013), Ethnicity in Tower Hamlets: Analysis of 2011 Census data.

[10] Anthony King, ‘One in four Muslims sympathises with motives of terrorists’, The Daily Telegraph, 23rd July 2005, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/1494648/One-in-four-Muslims-sympathises-with-motives-of-terrorists.html

[11] Vikram Dodd, ‘Two-thirds of Muslims consider leaving UK’, The Guardian 26th July 2005, http://www.theguardian.com/uk/2005/jul/26/polls.july7

[12] Populus, ‘Mulim poll’, http://www.populus.co.uk/Poll/Muslim-Poll-/

[13] Patrick Hennessy and Melissa Kite, ‘Poll reveals 40pc of Muslims want sharia law in UK’, Sunday Telegraph 19th February 2006, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/1510866/Poll-reveals-40pc-of-Muslims-want-sharia-law-in-UK.html

[14] Bowen,  Medina in Birmingham,, pp89-94;   Brigitte Maréchal (ed),  The Muslim Brothers in Europe: Roots and Discourse, (Brill: 2008), p65.

[15] Nick McCarthy. ‘Birmingham terrorist’s mum handed his ‘goodbye’ martyr letter to anti-terror cops’, Birmingham Mail, 9th Jly 2014, http://www.birminghammail.co.uk/news/midlands-news/yusuf-sarwar-mohammed-ahmed-birmingham-7394132

[16] Mehdi Hasan, ‘What the jihadists who bought “Islam for Dummies” on Amazon tell us about radicalisation’, The New Statesman, 21st August 2014, http://www.newstatesman.com/religion/2014/08/what-jihadists-who-bought-islam-dummies-amazon-tell-us-about-radicalisation

[17] Kenan Malik, From Fatwa to Jihad: The Rushdie Affair and its Aftermath (Brooklyn NY: Melville, 2014 (originally published 2009), p81-83. 98, 10. 108-109.

[18] ‘European Jiahdists: it aint’ half hot, mum’, The Economist 30th August 2014.

[19] Bruce R. Butterworth, Shalom Dolev, Brian Michael Jenkins, Security Awareness For Public Bus Transportation:  Case Studies Of Attacks Against  The Israeli Public Bus System (San José CAL Mineta Transportation Institute, March 2012), http://transweb.sjsu.edu/PDFs/research/2978-israeli-bus-public-transportation-attacks.pdf

[20] Charles Sahm, Hard Won Lessons: Transit Security (NEw York: Manhattan Institute, October 2006), http://www.manhattan-institute.org/pdf/scr_05.pdf

[21] http://daryamalyutina.wordpress.com/2014/06/20/have-a-look-at-the-russian-propaganda-at-work-the-british-left-are-hilariously-delusional-about-ukraine/

[22] James Fletcher, “Is there a ‘rising tide’ of anti-Semitism in the West?’, BBC News Magazine (online), 21 August 2014;

[23] Anne Penketh, ‘French jihadists arrested in wake of Jewish museum detentions’ theguardian.com, 2nd  June 2014.


About Matthew Cooper

This blog is written by Matthew Cooper.
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One Response to Why Dominic Sandbrook is the jihadists’ new best friend

  1. Pingback: Why Dominic Sandbrook is the jihadists’ new best friend | Todd DeanTodd Dean

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