Friday, 4 April 2014

The Muslim Brotherhood Is Not 'Brotherhood Of Mankind'

In Rosemary Hollis's article* in The Guardian yesterday we saw a quintessential example of all those people in the UK who, when speaking about militant Islam, have the backbone of a paramecium. Hollis says:

"David Cameron's Muslim Brotherhood inquiry could well backfire. If the investigation leads to a ban it may appease the Saudis, but it would also alienate the millions who never espoused violence. Cameron will come to regret his call for an investigation of the Muslim Brotherhood. The move is opportunistic and set to backfire on him. The impetus reportedly came from British intelligence, not from the Foreign Office, where there is greater awareness of the dangers of alienating the rank and file of an Islamist movement hitherto identified as relatively moderate and nonviolent. The prime minister has created a trap for himself. If his investigation finds grounds to proscribe the Muslim Brotherhood it will alienate millions who never espoused violence in the first place."

So let me get this right, the authorities shouldn't investigate the dangerous, deranged fanatics of this man-made falsehood because it might upset the milder, more socially innocuous proponents of this man-made falsehood?

Not only is this the worst kind of craven journalism around, it inadvertently attempts to rob the moderates of the very integrity they wish to retain by joining us in repudiating fanatical nutters like those of the Muslim Brotherhood. One cannot help but think of Iago's famous line in Othello (ironically spoken by a man whose reputation deserved to be on the line):

“Good name in man and woman, dear my lord,
Is the immediate jewel of their souls:
Who steals my purse steals trash; ’tis something, nothing;
’twas mine, ’tis his, and has been slave to thousands;
But he that filches from me my good name
Robs me of that which not enriches him,
And makes me poor indeed.”

In imputing to moderate Muslims a reactionary outburst of indignation and dissonance in response to David Cameron's investigation, Rosemary Hollis irresponsibly tries to filch from them the good name they would want to attain by disassociating themselves from the bad elements of the faith. The true moderates, pertaining to be good citizens and able to integrate and assimilate into UK culture, would presumably welcome the investigations as much as the rest of us. To suggest otherwise would be as ill-judged as suggesting that the majority of Catholics don’t want Catholic paedophiles brought to justice because they happen to be of the same Christian denomination.

What about investigations into terrorism in the UK?
When a gardener wants to get rid of weeds, he or she must ensure they are dug up at the root with no traces left in the soil, lest they grow back. Leaving aside terrorism for a second, this is the policy the police use for tackling certain crimes. When an act is criminalised the authorities usually want to go after the suppliers rather than the consumers - that is, they want to get to the root of the problem, dig it up, and remove all traces of it. Think guns and drugs and stolen cars - it is generally the providers in whom the police are most interested, not the consumers or users. Their logic seems to them to make sense - if we get to the root of the problem (say, locking up drug dealers) we reduce the chances of further growth (number of users).

Perhaps that is a good strategy, but perhaps not. Maybe going after the suppliers is actually less effective than going after the consumers. By locking up consumers they leave fewer customers for suppliers, which decreases demand - and unless those sellers find new clients there will be a superfluity of goods with a scarcity of buyers. Bear in mind too that if suppliers look for new customers they increase the chances of getting caught dealing because new customers are unknown, and could be informers, mindful citizens, or undercover police officers.

So with those sorts of crime it's possible that the 'get to the root' ethos may have a negative effect on prevention, because incarcerating providers creates scarcity, which creates rising prices, which may entice more providers to try to enter the market.  If the authorities focused more heavily on buyers as well as providers they'd probably have more success.

When it comes to terrorism in the form of Islamic extremism, though, I think the opposite might be true - here the authorities probably need to focus more heavily on the roots. Unlike drugs or guns, Islam fundamentalism is sold in the form of propaganda and brainwashing, where influential figures are able to penetrate the minds of impressionable young men and convince them to become 'freedom fighters' for the Islamic cause. Lock these people up and keep them away from society and you'll probably find fewer people there to replace them, because demand for suppliers of extremism isn't niche-filling in the same way that demand for suppliers of drugs is niche-filling.

Even failed terrorism is costly
Finally, another reason to toughen up on Islamic fundamentalism is that terrorism brings about huge costs on society even when its attempts are unsuccessful (actually most attempted crimes are costly even when unsuccessful, but terrorism more so). Imagine the sheer number of stop, searches, regulations, airport controls, security checks and so forth that occur because of terrorist threats. Let's just do a very quick conservative estimate based on a few major airports in busy cities to make the point. Over 60 million passengers visit Heathrow every year, so let's say with other UK airports that totals 150 million (a generously low estimate). If heightened counter-terrorism security costs every passenger 3 minutes per trip then that makes a total of 450 million minutes of lost time every year, which equals 31,2500 days, or 856 years of human time lost every year. With UK life expectancy being averaged at 81 years, that's the equivalent of losing 105 lives every decade purely on terrorism-precaution.

So I hope Rosemary Hollis and those like her will forgive us if we don't pay much regard to fears of upsetting the people who might not be upset enough by counter-terrorism and anti-extremism. As far as I'm concerned, Islamic extremism is a dirty lake into which we can throw as many large boulders of opposition as we can muster.

* See the full article from Rosemary Hollis here

** Photo courtesy of