By David Cameron, Prime Minister of Britain
Review by David T. Jones
On 29 August, in an 1,800 word address, British Prime Minister David Cameron detailed the terrorist threat in the United Kingdom and globally. The “take away” media moment was his elevation of the terrorist threat to “severe” (the highest level in three years). This announcement received international attention due to its proximity to the beheading of U.S. journalist James Foley and the unmentioned potential for “9/11” anniversary terrorist attacks.
But Cameron’s speech was much more than another terrorist alert. It was a sophisticated, nuanced appraisal of the challenge of Islamic terrorism, now epitomized by ISIS, but with deep roots prior to 9/11 and the prospect for a long counterterrorism struggle lasting perhaps for generations.
Cameron made it clear that the standard countermeasures are peripheral: “This threat cannot be solved simply by dealing with the perceived grievances over Western foreign policy. Nor can it be dealt with by addressing poverty, dictatorship, or instability in the region…” He identified the problem as the “poisonous” Islamic ideology condemned by all faiths; he (perhaps disingenuously) claimed it was “a battle between Islam on the one hand and extremists who want to abuse Islam on the other a poisonous political ideology supported by a minority”
Nevertheless, he was blunt in stating that there was domestic terrorist threat, both from resident extremists and those returning from combat overseas. He outlined specific measures to thwart such terrorists inter alia stopping international travel, canceling passports, removing citizenships, jailing hate propagandists, and eliminating Islamic extremist websites/postings.
Cameron identified ISIS as a new variety of threat: a terror organization seeking to create a new state, not simply secure sanctuary in an existing nation state. ISIS expansionism, if unchecked, could absorb Jordan and Lebanon, ultimately border on the Mediterranean and Turkey.
His conclusion was blunt: “…we cannot appease this ideology. We have to confront it at home and abroad.” To do so, Cameron outlined a “tough, intelligent, patient, and comprehensive approach.” “Tough” requires military response (and he endorsed U.S. strikes against ISIS); “intelligent” combines political, economic, diplomatic, public relations action; “patient” and “comprehensive” are self explanatory (building democracy, working with neighbors).
Domestically, Cameron emphasized the need to combat “extremism” in all forms, not just violent extremism. This effort requires vigilance throughout British society, i.e., in schools, religious institutions, etc. Noting traditional British tolerance and openness, he concluded nevertheless, “we cannot stand by and allow our openness to be confused with a tolerance of extremism… and allow people to behave in ways that run completely counter to our values.”
This attitude reinforces action London has already taken to prevent repetition of terrorist events such as the “7/7” 2005 subway bombing. There is clear potential for restrictions on British civil liberties and human rights. We can anticipate Amnesty International/Human Rights Watch criticism.
In the United States, he might have said, “The Constitution is not a suicide pact.”