Jonathan Mendel

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February 09, 2010

Peter Taylor's Generation Jihad: are we in a golden period of British security?

I've just watched the first episode of Taylor's documentary Generation Jihad. Some interesting discussion of radicalisation, but I almost spilled my coffee when the programme started by stating that

a small group of radicalised [Islamist] young men now constitute the single biggest threat to our national security

If this is correct, British security is remarkably little-threatened at the moment. Certainly, Islamist terrorism is a genuine and non-trivial threat: Islamist groups have killed too many British citizens, residents and visitors, and will very likely kill more. However, compared to previous threats (for example, the risk of nuclear war if the Cold War went 'hot') the risk posed by the tiny minority who are prepared to kill in the name of Islam seems strikingly mild.

It is therefore important, as Scheier argues (focussing on the US):

to convince the public to refuse to be terrorized. What frustrates me most about Abdulmutallab is that he caused terror even though his plot failed. I want us to be indomitable enough for the next attack to fail to cause terror, even if it succeeds. Remember: terrorism can't destroy our country's way of life; only our reaction to terrorism can.

London did not stop after the 7/7 attacks, horrible as they were. Whereas a Soviet nuclear attack might have destroyed most human life in Britain, future Islamist terrorist attacks will be on a much smaller scale than any such nuclear attack and will cause significantly fewer casualties. While preventing such attacks is important - and it is tragic when people die and are injured in terrorist attacks - if this is really the biggest threat to our security then I would view this as cause for celebration.

For what it's worth, I do think there are more significant threats to British security (at least in the medium-term) than small groups in the UK who are prepared to use violence in the name of Islam: climate change and geopolitical issues around British foreign policy both raise significant concerns, for example. It is also important to consider how 'security' is defined: according to some definitions, issues such as poverty and domestic violence would also be significant concerns. However, I very much hope that Taylor is proved right here: if these small groups are our most significant security threat, then these are remarkably safe times to live in.

Posted by jon_mendel at February 9, 2010 10:37 PM

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