Saturday, 24 January 2015

Britain's Foreign Policy Dilemma-Israel, Qatar and Baroness Warsi.

Baroness Warsi has criticised the British government for its policy of not 'engaging' with Muslim groups in its 'counter-radicalisation' strategy. This she says has led to a sense of fear and suspicion which is not conducive in the British government's struggle against 'extremism'.

Then again, the dividing line in this pseudo-debate between 'extreme' Islamism and 'moderate' Islamism is seldom very clearly drawn: the very words used indicate there is a broader power game going on with not just domestic but also global ramifications among the political elites.

In practice 'extremist' means any Islamist radical force that is ranged in opposition to British interests in the Middle East. Throughout 2013, Sunni militants in Syria were considered 'moderate rebels' before they defected to ISIS and became 'extremists' in turning their terror towards the West.

While ISIS was fighting Assad in Damascus the threat of 'extremism' went unmentioned The Friends of Syria Group set up in 2012, including the US, Britain, France, Turkey and Qatar, had made it plain, as sententiously repeated by Foreign Secretary William Hague, that 'Assad must go'.

It was only when ISIS stormed into Iraq in 2014 and menaced global oil supplies that Western politicians started arguing over ISIS and the blame for what has created it and the danger of terrorist blowback from Western-born jihadists who had been allowed across the Turkish border for 3 years.

None of this bickering is ever much set within the context of geopolitics and divisions over whether Britain's energy security would be better served by aligning with Israel ( which discovered huge gas reserves in the Eastern Mediterranean in 2009) or Qatar which supplies it with LNG exports.

'Democracy Promotion'-The Geopolitics of Islamism, Israel and Turkey

The Conservative Party returned to power in coalition with the Liberal Democrats. Far from abandoning the failed policies of the previous New Labour government, most evident in Blair's backing for the US invasion of Iraq in 2003, it continued with "liberal" military interventionism.

The Arab Spring in 2011 promised to bring democracy to the Arab Muslim World and that was cautiously supported by the British government where it hoped that might assuage the resentment in the region that the Western powers backed dictators in the interests of 'stability' and energy supplies.

The arguments within Britain about whether democracy and Islam were compatible led to the idea that in decisively swinging support behind Sunni Arab democratic forces in Libya and Syria in 2011, Britain could prove that British values were also Muslim values in sharing democratic aspirations.

This policy, one supported by President Obama's Democratic administration in Washington, was not one shared in Israel by Netanyahu and Zionists insinuating that Arabs were incapable of democracy and where it was tried it would replace secular strongmen with totalitarian Islamist theocrats.

That is not the position of Baroness Warsi. She wanted the government to be more open in its condemnation of Israel for its callous policies towards Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza and has been at conferences in the UK on Islam and democracy alongside the Islamist Tariq Ramadan.

Warsi, indeed, has shared Ramadan's view that the West has double standards towards Muslim lands in prating about democracy but not being willing to involve 'the Muslim community' in the West in having a voice in Britain's place in the world. Britain is, however, ready to defer to Jewish voices.

Critics of Ramadan's worldview accuse him of 'moral relativism' and doublespeak in comparing Islamist democratic ambitions to a sinister transnational plot to destabilise and subvert democracies by mobilising Muslims as a faith movement which wants to dictate state policies.

A more charitable view is that Ramadan wants the Arab states to be permitted to democratise and chart their own way to freedom from external intervention from Israel or Western states, though curiously he never takes into account the fact that Qatar and Turkey have meddled too.

In fact, in an interview with Qatar's Al Jazeera news channel, Ramadan tried to play politics with the Paris terror attacks in very much the same way that Zionists attempted to use the murders of Parisian Jews as definitive proof that an increasingly 'Islamised' West could provide no safe haven for them.

Ramadan mused "As much as we condemn the attacks, we need people throughout the world to give the same value to any human life... people are being killed by the same violent extremists in Syria and Iraq, it's as if this is normal?" Of course, there has never been any statement it is 'normal'

The difference is that the Western media might well emphasise the murder of Parisian journalists Islamist terrorists, more than those being killed by ISIS in Syria and Iraq, for two obvious reasons. Firstly, France is in the West and, secondly, it is allied with the US in a war on ISIS.

So are other Sunni Islamic states in a coalition to defeat ISIS. Unless Ramadan thinks it likely the war on ISIS should extend back into to France, it is hard to see what point he makes in saying.'So twelve [people] in France, [and] this is an international controversy and evokes a reaction, while the others are normal?"

Unfortunately, the deaths of other Muslims at the hands of ISIS is common in Syria and Iraq, especially where they are not Sunni Arab Muslims and are Shi'ites, Yazidis, Alawis, Christians and ethnic Kurds. If Ramadan were wholly logical he would be directing his outrage elsewhere.

For a start, Western based 'moderate' Islamists like Ramadan could redirect their ire towards Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Qatar by mentioning the finance and recruits provided to those Sunni militant groups that ended up being incorporated into ISIS. Ramadan remained silent on that.

One reason for the silence could be that Ramadan has an academic post in Doha. But, of course, outraged indignation, phoney and worked up or otherwise, is very common in those who put the politics of power and ambition before their duty to speak out while claiming the moral high ground.

Ramadan would hardly be alone in having a very selective sense of outrage, accusing those who oppose his Islamist politics as 'Islamophobic', a handy catch all term that ascribe some sort of or morbid mental derangement and irrational fear to those opposing Islamist political movements.

Warsi tries too to invest 'Islamophobia' with the same sort of power agenda that makes defenders of Israel attack their critics as being all peddlers of anti-Semitism when they criticise the Middle East's 'only democracy'. Of course, that claim would be contested not only by Turkey but also Lebanon.

The problem ( or advantage ) with the term 'Islamophobia' is it can be used to conflate anti-Muslim bigotry with critics of Islam as a religion and, even more mendaciously, of criticism of Islamism as a political ideology. Israeli propagandists, in turn, conflate all Islamists with ISIS and Al Qaida.

The word 'Islamophobia' has been deployed by President Erdogan as a tool to discredit the West's policy towards Israel as well as the EU in not alleviating the refugee problem in Turkey caused by his stoking up of the war in Syria in funnelling finance into militias aiming to overthrow Assad.

As with other regional players in Middle Eastern geopolitics, Erdogan has wanted to overthrow Assad so he could check the expansion of Iranian power through Assad and Hizbollah while posing as the champion of Sunni Arab democratic forces from Syria down into Gaza and Egypt.

In essence 'Democratic Geopolitics' does not mean that the aim of a geopolitical strategy is to promote democracy: the main aim is to promote the brand of democracy that would serve resource interests of states advertised as democratic and so to hinder the power of regional competitors.

Where democracy collides with the geopolitical interests of states, or produces the wrong results, as in Egypt in 2012, having a democracy of the Islamist variety is considered less important than restoring the stability of the system and of a military leader capable of crushing and killing Islamists.

Brutal and ruthless geopolitical struggles within the Middle East have seen what were once both Cold War allies of the West diverge and become competitors. Turkey under Erdogan has attempted to Islamise Turkey's secular democratic state. Israel under Netanyahu has become more a 'Jewish State'.

The controversial role of religion and its connection to terrorism in the West is very much a debate in which the geopolitical factors that materially contribute towards creating the spread of jihadi networks are downplayed ( not least the funding provided by rich patrons in the Gulf states).

In fact, neither side in the this sordid power game have any interest in mentioning Gulf petro-currency fuelled jihadism. Israel depends on Saudi oil and its role as a bulwark of so-called 'stability' in allying with Cairo and funding General Sisi's state so as to contain radical Islamist forces.

Turkey, on the other hand, is trying to thwart Israel's potential plan to tap huge reserves of gas in the Eastern Mediterranean and to construct a pipeline that would run via Cyprus as the island also has large reserves in the Aphrodite field claimed by Greek Cyprus to the exclusion of Turkey.

Turkey aligns with Qatar which has an uneasy relationship with Saudi Arabia but shares the same equal enmity towards Iran as a large regional Shi'ite Muslim power which is reverting rather like Turkey into a foreign policy based on its past as a Persian empire ranged against its Ottoman rival.

In this power contest, Turkey and Qatar are portraying both Iran and Israel as supporting terror while Israel accuses those prepared to work with Hamas in Gaza as essentially doing the same, including Iran which had scaled down its support to Hamas because of the sectarian warfare in Syria,

Hence Erdogan seized on the Paris terror attacks to compare them with Netanyahu's attack on Gaza after Netanyahu had compared the Paris attacks to Hamas's attacks on Israel. After the Paris rally in memory of the terrorist's victims, Erdogan claimed,
"The West's hypocrisy is obvious. As Muslims, we've never taken part in terrorist massacres. Behind these lie racism, hate speech and Islamophobia. Please, the administrations in those countries where our mosques are attacked need to take measures. Games are being played with the Islamic world, we need to be aware of this"
As far as the power games are concerned, Erdogan should be taken at his word, especially in Syria where his government along with Qatar was covertly backing Sunni jihadists read to murder and terrorise before joining ISIS-even if pointing that out would probably qualify as ''Islamophobia".

This is known as 'public diplomacy', the careful and supposedly subtle art of deploying words as rhetorical weapons that are aimed at embedding themselves in political discourse the better to draw attention to the double standards of the other while concealing one's own flagrant example of it.

The Power Agenda of Baroness Warsi. Enter Qatar into British Politics..

So concerns over the Conservative strategy to deal with the jihadi threat from Baroness Warsi are about pitching one form of 'identity politics' against another. Warsi has wanted to lobby for British foreign policy priorities being shifted away from its largely unconditional ties with Israel.

The dislike Warsi has towards Michael Gove is partly ideological. Gove is a fanatical neoconservative and member of the Henry Jackson Society, an influential lobby group for Israel in Britain. Warsi has wanted to boost Qatar's rival power lobby's claims to power in British politics.

Qatar and Israel have vied for support in the West using media soft power and slick public relations diplomacy to make them appear as bastions of 'democracy promotion'. Qatar uses Al Jazeera to promote Arab and Muslim democratic aspirations while Israel counts on political journalists.

These rival claims tend to be undermined by each state's actual behaviour: Qatar for promoting Arab democracy while remaining an absolutist monarch with a government not voted for: Israel by the fact it promotes democracy by obliterating swathes of the Gaza strip in trying to 'root out' Hamas.

Back in 2006 Warsi was prepared to give a sort of qualified endorsement to Hamas after it won elections. It then proceeded to fight a civil war against the PLO/Fatah and to try and ratchet up attacks on Israel which then obliged in return by disproportionate military strikes killing civilians.

Warsi, is a close defender of Qatar and aligned with certain policies and outlooks put forth by the gas rich state and appears at conferences in Doha alongside Al Jazeera journalists. When tensions between her and Prime Minister Cameron flared up over the use of the face veil in 2012 it was reported,
'Organisers say that Lady Warsi, who posed in traditional Islamic dress on the steps of 10 Downing Street after the general election in May, had been booked three months ago to speak at the Qatar Foundation Doha Debate on Oct 11.  
She was given free Qatar Airways business class tickets and had a complimentary room booked for two nights at the five-star Four Seasons beach hotel in Doha, the capital of the Gulf emirate of Qatar'.
Self interest has started to dovetail with a sense Israel acted too unilaterally and ruthlessly in its determination to use military force to impose its solution on Gaza. Politicians are divided on what position to take but it should not be thought voices criticising Israel are wholly about principle.

There is clearly a struggle within Cameron's government over whether to put primacy on its relationship with Israel or with Qatar. Warsi was highly critical of the Quilliam Foundation's Maajid Nawaz helping to write Cameron's speeches on counter-radicalisation and on Islamist 'extremism'.

It hardly surprising as Nawaz is scathing about Islamism and thinks it inherently opposed to democracy in the Muslim World. He criticises the Muslim Brotherhood and has even gone as far as to write of the need for a 'post-Islamist future. This is not an opinion Warsi shares.

Warsi rather likes the idea of an Islamic democracy of the kind increasingly found in Turkey and which is shared by Qatar in its foreign policy, if not domestically; it supported the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt in 2011 until 2013 when the organisation was crushed and proscribed by Sisi.

Qatar has used its enormous gas wealth to promote radical Islamist groups such as the Muslim Brotherhood as well as Hamas and Sunni militants in Syria, a reason Warsi was banging the drum for military intervention against the Iranian backed leader Bashir Assad even as late as 2014.

Warsi has been at the forefront of Cameron's strategy to suck in capital from rich Gulf states through Islamic finance initiatives, especially those promoted by Qatar alongside those like Alderman Fiona Woolf of the City who in 2014 attended a conference convened by none other than Warsi.

Woolf spelt out in plain terms the reason why Britain was starting to align with Qatar and, indeed, these could well explain why there were limited moves in the summer of 2014 within Cameron's government to criticise Israel over the pounding of Gaza. In the Gulf Times she said,
“Qatar is a very steady provider to us and we would be lost without them. They supply significant supplies to us and I think Qatar is strategically placed to increase its presence in European markets. It’s probably all a question of price and what is available, as gas is traded in competitive wholesale markets.”
Even more intriguingly, Woolf  piped up with that nice and bright phrase "diversity" with regards to sourcing gas from alternative powers than Russia. This clearly means Iran's closest Gulf rival in Qatar which, curiously enough, wants a gas pipeline through Syria to Turkey.

Woolf alludes to this in the Gulf Times interview. Qatar has aligned closely with Erdogan in Turkey, a leader of a 'moderate' Islamist party which wants to recreate Turkey as a neo-Ottoman east to west gas and oil energy hub.
“We’ve been trying to create a single market within Europe in energy since the early 1990s. It is helpful because it creates a bigger market and competition drives efficiency and puts a downward pressure on prices. It also helps with security of supply if we can import across an interconnector or through a gas pipeline. The flexibility and competitiveness that the single market would create would I think be good for Europe as a whole.”
While is wrong to claim as does the Douglas Murray that Warsi is some sort of apologist for Hamas as an 'Islamic fascist' force, it is true that she aligns with the Turkish-Qatari position on Gaza against Israel's blockade for reasons as concerned with geopolitics as with 'democracy promotion'.

Warsi is very keen to promote the Qatari line on Egypt, Gaza and Syria and to promote Qatari business interests in Britain. This is despite the fact that Qatar has also been criticised-and not only by Israel-for bankrolling and supporting Sunni jihadists across the Greater Middle East.

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