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  • Talking to al-Qaeda

    by Rumbold
    21st March, 2011 at 9:01 pm    

    Baroness Eliza Manningham-Buller, the former head of the Security Service (also known as MI5), has suggested that the British government should be talking to al-Qaeda:

    The baroness said she hoped people were trying to talk to “people on the edges of al-Qaeda”. “There won’t be a Waterloo or an El-Alamein,” she added.

    Critics of the “war on terror” have argued that the torture of terror suspects and the continuing use of Guantanamo Bay for detainees has led to a propaganda victory for al-Qaeda. Baroness Manningham-Buller says hearts and minds are critical in combating terrorism.

    “I think making sure we hold to our values, our ethical standards, our laws, and are not tempted to go down a route which others, in my view have made the profound mistake of going down, means in the longer run we’ll have a chance from that moral authority of addressing some of the underlying causes of these problems,” she said.

    There are some reasonable arguments against this. Some see talking to an enemy as akin to surrendering (thanks to events like Neville Chamberlain’s disastrous attempt to negotiate with Nazi Germany). Other might feel that treating with al-Qaeda legitimises a gang of criminals and murders. There is also the question of whether a group of people willing to blow themselves up can be reasoned with, or that what they want can or should be granted. Even if negotiations were successful, would the cells around the world listen to a leadership who many believe have limited control over them?

    Yet it is still worth a try. Al-Qaeda is not a monolithic block; clearly the commanders (including Bin Laden) aren’t too keen to join their suicidal followers in the afterlife. Nor has Al-Qaeda been crushed by military force, and, as the Baroness says, it is very unlikely that there will a decisive battle. Negotiation should just be one more weapon in the arsenal in the fight against al-Qaeda and affiliates. Detaching some of them with acceptable promises (whatever they may be) weakens the organisation.

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    1. Shamit — on 21st March, 2011 at 9:34 pm  

      Interesting post Rumbold- the question is who do you negotiate with?

      If Al-Qaeda is not a monolithic organisation - how do you know who is Al-Qaeda and who is not?

      The problem so far it seems has been by the time someone is spotted as a dedicated terrorist they are all ready to brain washed to retract.

      Who recruits them? If we know that it would be easier to do.

      How do you stop someone like Qasab who was the lone gunman caught alive after the 26/11 attacks - the leaders along with their ISI handlers were in Pakistan in comfort while they sent 5 uneducated petty criminals to do their dirty job promising money for their families and eternal bliss for themselves.

      And their leaders like every other terrorist group - rejoice at the blood of those who sacrificed as long as they don;t do the sacrificing.

      You might wean away some people -but how do you challenge the orthodoxy of ideas and the emotive appeal of religion?

      What is there to negotiate - what terms are you seeking from them - does that mean even if an Islamic regime slaughters all unbelievers - the World has to stand by.

      Or do we give into more idiocies like we have on Universal Declaration of Human Rights where the Arab League and some Association of Muslim nations claimed that freedom of religion is not a human right.

      Should security services Chiefs even former ones make these sort of suggestions and undermine their successors? Or was it done in coordination with the current head of MI5 - shouldn;t this advice be given to government in confidence with appropriate avenues to explore.

      I am not questioning Baroness Eliza Manningham-Buller rights or knowledge or expertise - I am just saying the suggestions seem great but the devil is in the detail.

    2. Rumbold — on 21st March, 2011 at 9:58 pm  


      Good points. It is an interesting one- on whose authority could someone from al-Qaeda negotiate? What could you offer these people? I am sure that Baroness Eliza Manningham-Buller (whether right or wrong), knows the detail of what she says (from the security services’ point of view, they are realistic enough to enough that in the short term containment in the key focus, that is to say stopping another attack).

      The IRA can be used as a partial comparison- once the leadership was sated with funds and offices, the violence declined, even if the ordinary IRA terrorist didn’t benefit in the same way. Yes, this threat is not the same, but there are some parallels.

    3. Shamit — on 21st March, 2011 at 10:23 pm  

      You are right - but the IRA always had a political goal of United Ireland.

      And Sinn Fein hasn’t given up that goal but they realised that terror is not going to deliver that for them.

      But Al Qaeda does not have a political goal - in fact any terms they would suggest we would have to reject - unless they renounce violence and their objective to bring the entire world under Islam.

      Getting rid of US troops from the middle east - annihilation of Israel and the US and the UK - what is their political goal that can be reconciled with the world.

      I do not see any - so who do we negotiate with and on what basis? They don’t believe women should be educated - don’t believe anyone but a Muslim has any rights and even then only their kind of Muslims.

      May be I am missing something - but you cannot negotiate with those who do not have a political agenda and willingness to compromise.

      So how do we go about it - the provisional IRA is probably a better analogy.

    4. joe90 — on 22nd March, 2011 at 1:33 am  

      discussion idea is a red herring who exactly would they like to discuss with? the afghan people will not accept foreign occupation or be dictated to on how to live their lives, especially from countries that have given them such gifts like torture chambers of baghram airbase,guantanamo bay, shock and awe, and mass slaughter of their civilians. .

      history shows britain failed, russia failed and america will eventually tire of this misadventure will also fail.

    5. douglas clark — on 22nd March, 2011 at 5:13 am  


      History will also show that you failed.

    6. Rumbold — on 22nd March, 2011 at 8:34 am  


      Well, this is the unknown quantity. Although it seems odd, that is one of the best reasons for talking to them. Because we don’t know what they would accept which would be reasonable, it is worth asking. And talking to someone doesn’t mean you can’t drop bombs on them either.

    7. Kismet Hardy — on 22nd March, 2011 at 1:00 pm  

      Reminds me of that fella you may have heard of who not so long ago branded the al-qaeda ‘mentally ill’…

    8. Kismet Hardy — on 22nd March, 2011 at 1:04 pm  

      Al-Qaeda is a disease. And like any disease, they don’t all hang out in the same disease club, united or speaking for one another. One disease sitting in wait in sudan has got nothing to do with the one in Pakistan. It’s idiotic to think targeting, vaccinating or having a nice cuppa with one over there will make a difference with one all the way over there. Even if this disease, like many modern diseases, cough cough, was created by America…

    9. Refresh — on 22nd March, 2011 at 1:20 pm  

      ‘Even if this disease, like many modern diseases, cough cough, was created by America…’

      One reason why I’ve always insisted on reparations for the affected countries.

    10. boyo — on 22nd March, 2011 at 1:51 pm  

      AQ is not an organisation but an idea! Blimey, this is like Wikileaks, I can imagine Ms Double-Barrelled of British Intelligence working out in 2020, it has come to our attention that even though OBL fell off a tricycle disguised as a clown in Milton Keynes in 2008 and died as a result of his injuries, that AQ remains. It possibly may be an idea and not, as we first thought, a criminal gang…

    11. boyo — on 22nd March, 2011 at 2:00 pm  

      Hm if anything this was created by the British who engineered the Wahabbi Saudi state post-1918 to prevent a powerful Jordan. After that AQ was always going to happen.

      However it is utterly misguided to think America or anyone else really created AQ but AQ itself - conflict between Islam and the West has always been and always will be. It lasted for 1000 years until the Caliphate was forced on the back heal, and it will always crackle and fizz because the two ideologies are both so similar and so different. That doesn’t mean there will be always (or indeed, one day, ever) be war, but some cultural friction is inevitable, and this will create the occassional nutter from either side.

      Remember, the Muslim Brotherhood has nothing to do with AQ and was founded following its creator’s hysteria at a church dance.

      That’s not a value judgement (or maybe it is?) but an observation. I’d like to think I was wrong. I’d add that modernity makes the friction much, much more likely - with the internet, affordable travel and immigration. A paradox seems to be (in respect to the West and Islam at least) people are mixing more and but not necessarily liking what they find. Global media also means they can live “in” a foreign culture but make little effort to assimilate.

      Again, although the majority will always fit in/ prefer a quiet life, this nonetheless appears creates a trend that seems to me to be more likely to increase rather than decrease conflict.

    12. Kismet Hardy — on 22nd March, 2011 at 2:16 pm  

      All I know Boyo (and I don’t know much but you have to bear with me because I represent the majority who’s opinions and knee-jerks and votes change things and most of my lot don’t know fuck-all and decide what to believe through the sun, but at least I know how to log onto yahoo answers) is that before 11/9, no one had heard of al qaeda, meaning no one could join even if they wanted to (or had reason to suddenly decide to be allah’s soldiers in their droves).

      History goes way back, and there’s all sorts of evidence to create a pattern, but what’s happening now, and what people believe and get so darn het up over, all started with America’s need for giving the world a brand new bogeyman

    13. platinum786 — on 22nd March, 2011 at 2:21 pm  

      Is this lady after some media attention at the moment? First she did her bit on the “Secret War on Terror” and now she says we should talk to Al Queda.

      It’s a common sense approach, now that the western worlds military might has fallen flat on it’s face when trying to defeat Al Queda by bombing anyone but Al Queda, they’ve finally decided that war isn’t the best option.

      If we can do business with tyrannical states like KSA, how much worse were the Taliban? The Taliban shot women dead in football stadiums as half time entertainment, the Saudi religious police prevented fire fighters from rescuing girls from a burning school building, as they might not have been covered. I don’t see a great deal of difference.

      A guy living in FATA once told me, a great deal of the crimes done in the name of the Taliban, are not actually done by people who are the Taliban, but often robbers etc, who use the label for “rep” purposes. An example he gave me was highway men would stop cars, beat the drivers, take the stereos, stating music was haram blah blah, their accomplices would then be selling the same stereos in markets a few towns away.

      The same can be said of Al Queda. I’m not saying that Al Queda is entirely a myth, but it seems to win brucie bonuses for all involved to make all terrorism, Al Queda activity. Terrorists get a rep, local militias may not challenge them if they know they have backing, those fighting terrorists get access to US funds if they say they are fighting Al Queda. Even the US military plays that game.

      A lot of the groups worldwide commiting acts of terrorism may be Al Queda inspired, perhaps even fan boys, maybe learning tactics etc, but it’s unlikely OBL and Co are the CEO’s of Terrorists R Us Inc. They probably have no direct contact/link with many we label as part of them.

      Some of these sub-groups might be convinced to lay down arms, for various reasons, from cash, to political legitimacy, maybe even to avoid arrest.

      What worked for the IRA could work for Hamas or Hizbollah, Pakistan has successfully used this tactic for many tribes who were aligned with the Taliban.

    14. IbnHazm — on 22nd March, 2011 at 2:40 pm  


      After that AQ was always going to happen.

      Why so?

      Also, AQ is a Qutubi takfeeri organisation; Qutub is of the Muslim Brotherhood

    15. boyo — on 22nd March, 2011 at 3:30 pm  

      Well yes, but Islamic terrorists were attempting to demolish the twin towers as far back as 93. My point is that friction is a constant. AQ may have a specific Saudi twist (as the Taliban is Afghan) but violence by groups both repelled by and prepared to utilise Western modernity are somewhat inevitable, just as the Western bigotry and overkill in response.

    16. Dr Paul — on 22nd March, 2011 at 6:44 pm  

      Will al Qaeda be considered anything more than a footnote in history? I remember attending a talk by terror experts at King’s College London in late 2001, and, amidst the blood-curdling descriptions of al Qaeda and its global messianic pretensions, I said that if it wasn’t for their inadvertent igniting of the First World War, who other than Balkan obscurantists would have heard of the Serbian Black Hand? Who remembers the Russian Socialist Revolutionaries, who were disposing of thousands of Tsarist officials each year? The Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organisation? I further suggested that the remarkable footage of the World Trade Center might in 50 years be just a televisual spectacle like the Hindenberg blowing up.

      Hard-line Islamism will continue for some time, after all, it is not exactly out place in such inhospitable places as Saudi Arabia and Afghanistan, it has a social base, and its various strands may well resist modernising trends for decades. Stupid Western policies may well give it sustenance now and again. But broadly speaking, most Islamists have their own nationally-based organisations and currents, and are not with al Qaeda.

      But al Qaeda is already a busted flush. Its only real, long-lasting spectacular was a one-off. When it didn’t follow up the World Trade Center affair with regular medium or large-scale spectaculars, I felt that it was totally incapable of doing anything other than an occasional atrocity here and there. One can venture that Bush’s rash attack upon Afghanistan gave it some additional time, as a careful diplomatic and police operation might have led to the seizing of its senior cadres.

      Al Qaeda lacks something that every successful political movement requires — a national state as its base and a mass membership or base of support. It is a very loose agglomeration of tiny numbers of isolated ultra-frum Islamists who occasionally have a go at organising an atrocity, and once in a while are successful. It cannot build a mass movement, nor can it seize state power, let alone build its proclaimed aim of a world caliphate.

      The only place it has managed to gain a social base is — oh, the irony — Iraq, where it took advantage of the collapse of the Ba’athists (who, it should be remembered, dealt with Islamists in a robust manner) and the general chaos to establish themselves on the ground. If the current imbroglio in Libya leads to social collapse, al Qaeda might be able to step in, it should be noted that a disproportionately large percentage of al Qaeda cadres were Libyan. It’s not likely, it would a last gasp, but it is possible.

      Negotiate with al Qaeda? It’s rather difficult to envisage how one might organise talks with an almost non-organisation. Negotiations can always be useful, but the practical aspects in this case — not least the topics to be discussed — would, I feel, pose some difficulties.

    17. Dr Paul — on 22nd March, 2011 at 6:47 pm  

      Sorry, in penultimate paragraph, text should read: ‘… it would be a last gasp…’

    18. Zac — on 22nd March, 2011 at 7:26 pm  

      I think this clip sums it up really;

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