Somewhere in Deepest England. 7 October. Humanitarian Alan Henning died a hero at the hands of Islamic State (IS) thugs this weekend. He died as he lived trying to reach up and over a deepening cultural and religious divide. It is a divide between Muslims and non-Muslims in European societies that IS is ruthlessly exploiting to attract alienated young people in Western societies to their cause, and to further destabilise Western European societies already destabilised by hyper-immigration. In spite of attempts by politicians to cover their political tracks that divide is nowhere more apparent than here in Britain.
Now, I am no bleeding heart liberal. Ten years ago I left the Labour Party which I had hitherto supported all my life horrified at the complete disconnect between Tony Blair’s immigration and security policies. It made no sense to me as a strategist and analyst to send large numbers of British troops to Afghanistan to keep Islamism at bay whilst the government actively encouraged large numbers of deeply conservative Muslims from some of the most traumatised parts of the world to immigrate into Britain. Sadly, my fears were justified as Labour’s insane experiment in multiculturalism led to today’s ghettos of mistrust and mutual incomprehension that are all too apparent in many of England’s broken cities.
Many Britons of my generation look on aghast at what our once secure country has become and the refusal of politicians to face up to the mess they have made of a society once renowned for its balance. This disconnect with the ordinary people – both immigrant and non-immigrant - who have to live with the consequences of a failed political experiment and the politicians fighting each other in the out-of-touch Westminster bubble helps explain the rise of parties such as UKIP in England and the SNP in Scotland.
For all that my job as a strategist is to consider where ‘we’ are and look at ways forward to a better future. Alan Henning showed us a different Britain which I CHOOSE to hang onto and believe in. Henning showed us a Britain in which compassion can reach across cultural dividing lines. That good people irrespective of faith or ethnicity can come together. He also showed me the need for understanding of communities under intense pressure from fear-fuelled racism and the tensions caused within by trying to preserve traditional cultures in a country that has abandoned so much of its own.
Here in deepest England there is much talk of quick fixes. “Send in the SAS”, one man said to me. “They will sort out ‘Jihadi John’”, the man believed to be responsible for the murder of several Westerners captured by this murderous group. Not only is such a plan unworkable such action in and of itself will not even begin to deal with the challenge to regional and world order that is Islamic State. No, the best way for all of us to confront Islamic State is to honour Alan Henning and the many other victims of IS by reaching out to each other and to actively march across the divide that separates us and which IS exploits.
As I sit here and write this I am remembering the Muslim cleric who stood in front of IS forces as they took Mosul and pleaded for the lives of his Christian fellow Iraqis. He was martyred for his courage. My thoughts also turn to the young British Muslims who serve their country in the armed forces, in the police and in a whole host of other ways that offer a picture of hope rather than the despair that so many indigenous English people now feel about their society and their country.
In recent days I have spoken to Muslim friends. They feel they are under siege from quiet but forceful distrust, even hatred is very English here in England. They are blamed for acts which they detest as much as the rest of us and feel trapped in a no-man’s land between cultures and identities. There is no future at all for such a society.
The simple truth is that IS and their fellow-travellers, including the irreconcilables in British society, will never be defeated by RAF bombs, ever more liberty-sapping counter-terrorism laws or ever more freedom of speech killing racism and hate laws. IS will only be defeated by strong societies built on mutual respect and tolerance which is organised, established and integrated on the fundamental values of liberal-democracy. If any group rejects liberal-democracy then they have no place in British or indeed wider European society. Therefore, finding an accommodation between Islam and liberal democracy is now the challenge for Government and governance not just here in Britain but across Europe. Indeed, the rejection of liberal democracy is after all the rallying cry of Jihadism and which is causing so much tension within Muslim communities within Britain.
In the wake of Alan Henning’s murder Imams across Britain stood up to condemn IS. In so doing they honoured Alan Henning by offering a bridge to the rest of a society of which British Muslims are now an important part. The greatest defence against Jihadism will be the creation of a liberal-democracy in which the millions of decent, patriotic and law-abiding Muslims can feel comfortable and welcome. Such a goal will be a challenge but it is by no means impossible because it is the very idea of freedom for which many people came to Britain.
Yes, my old Britain is dead but long live the new Britain in which mutual respect, mutual understanding and mutual tolerance act as the strongest of shields against radicalisation and fanaticism.
Alan Henning showed in his simple but righteous life that defeating IS begins not just at home but in the mind and demands of all of us the need to reach out and beyond our own prejudice. That includes me. The strange thing is that once we are start speaking to each other as a conscious effort to build the new society it might be far easier than many of us think. Just make the effort, for Alan.