THE threat by British-born Isis jihadists to bring the war in Syria back home to this country is only the latest symptom of the West’s failure to find a definitive answer to the threat of Islamic extremism.
In many ways the Isis threat to peace and stability seems new. This is a group that compiles annual reports of its brutality. It even has a Twitter feed and a PR strategy.
But despite its veneer of sophistication, Isis is as cruel, as vicious and determined as the tribal Taleban fighters who spent years holed up in the caves of Tora Bora.
In recent years there has been a temptation in Britain and the US to believe we were finally extricating ourselves from the war on terror. Hasty – some would say over-hasty – withdrawal from Afghanistan and Iraq had contributed to the feeling that we were finally turning the page.
In these countries, and in others such as Syria, the battles raging were predominantly sectarian in nature. They were Sunni versus Shia. Muslim versus Muslim. The bloodshed was awful, but nothing to do with us. A new isolationism born out of disgust at the loss of British soldiers’ lives far from home fed into a feeling shared by the public and politicians alike that conflagrations in the Middle East were now somebody else’s problem.
Today that attitude is revealed as the sham it always was.
The threat from the Syrian front line could not be clearer, and it is a threat Downing Street – privy to secret intelligence – is treating with seriousness.
David Cameron is all too aware of the political danger in making alarming noises about threats to this country based on secret intelligence. The ghost of Alastair Campbell and his “dodgy dossier” still haunts Downing Street. And yet the Prime Minister has not held back in underlining the seriousness of the threat this country now faces from jihadists returning from Syria.
Thirteen years after the first foray into Afghanistan to close down jihadist training camps and remove the threat to the West, how much safer can we really claim to be, as a horrific sectarian war which is ripping apart the Middle East heads our way?
For some time there has been a serious question-mark over whether the West has a credible long-term strategy for countering jihadists, or whether we are witnessing a policy failure of historic proportion.
Last night, President Obama promised new troops to the Iraqi government to train its military, promising there would be no “mission creep” but inevitably echoing Vietnam – a war that also began with the provision of US troops for “training”.
Caution is required here, and a wider fight for hearts and minds across the region. Obama talked about encouraging Iraq to be more inclusive. The West needs to do all it can to address the sectarian divides that sit at the heart of this terror threat to have any hope of a long-term solution.
Searching times for the police
ONE of the consequences of the creation of Police Scotland has been to provide new and welcome scrutiny of some rather questionable police practices.
It was frankly astonishing, earlier this year, when it was revealed that Scottish police conduced many more “stop and search” operations than their counterparts in the Metropolitan Police in London.
And it was especially disturbing that Scottish police were stopping and searching children as young as eight.
The debate about whether or not these searches were with or without consent was largely a red herring. Do we really expect children to know their civil rights, and to refuse a police search request by asserting their protection under statute?
In the year since the creation of Police Scotland, it has sometimes seemed unwilling to admit it may have been wrong – its “we know best” attitude to Edinburgh’s saunas being a case in point.
So it is heartening that the force appears to have recognised that such routine treatment of children is unacceptable.
Assistant Chief Constable Wayne Mawson told a Holyrood committee yesterday that “from here on in”, police would not be searching young children under the age of criminal responsibility unless they had good cause to suspect criminality. It was, he said, a “strong statement” of a new approach by the national force.
What he did not say was that it was also a blow against the “Strathclydisation” of policing across the country, and a warning shot to senior officers that policing techniques common in the old Strathclyde force cannot automatically become the Police Scotland norm.