Greater Surbiton

The perfect is the enemy of the good

A Russian war against Israel ?

Hezbollah’s secretary-general, Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah, has reportedly gloated over the Russian crushing of Georgia as a defeat for Israel. ‘[Israeli brigadier-general] Gal Hirsch, who was defeated in Lebanon, went to Georgia and they too lost because of him’, said Nasrallah; ‘Relying on Israeli experts and weapons, Georgia learned why the Israeli generals failed… what happened in Georgia is a message to all those the Americans are seeking to entangle in dangerous adventures.’ This opinion is endorsed by Ali Abunimah of Electronic Intifada, who writes in the Tehran Times : ‘The collapse of the Georgian offensive represents not only a disaster for that country and its U.S.-backed leaders, but another blow to the myth of Israel’s military prestige and prowess.’

Nasrallah is not the only sworn enemy of Israel and the US to feel heartened by the Russian victory. According to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad: ‘It is not possible for the United States, which even failed to protect its ally Georgia, to attack Iran. The US could not even protect its own ally. US clout in world politics is decreasing. Moreover, it is in a major economic depression.’ He went on: ‘We will see that the US empire will crack and eventually collapse. There is nothing that the US can do against Iran.’

Meanwhile, Moscow is reportedly planning to establish large-scale military, naval and air-bases in Syria, including nuclear-capable Iskander missiles, and to supply previously withheld advanced weapons systems to Iran.

Until the outbreak of the current conflict in the Caucasus, Israel and Georgia had enjoyed close, friendly relations. Israel armed and trained Georgia’s armed forces, apparently supplying Georgia with some $200 million worth of equipment since 2000. Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili, for his part, has been a staunch ally of Israel. As Brenda Shaffer, an expert on the Caucasus at Haifa University, writes in Haaretz : ‘One of the first telephone calls I received from overseas in the summer of 2006, while missiles were showering on Haifa and the north, was from a senior adviser in Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili’s bureau. He said the president had instructed him to call me and say he was willing to fly over immediately to display solidarity with Israel in its hour of need.’

Now, however, Russia appears to have scared Israel away from continued support for Georgia, by the threat of increased military support for Iran and Syria. The Israeli foreign ministry has recommended suspending further military cooperation with Georgia, reportedly on the grounds that ‘The Russians are selling many arms to Iran and Syria and there is no need to offer them an excuse to sell even more advanced weapons’, in the words of an Israeli official. This, indeed, was the Russian intention. According to Theodore Karasik, director for research and development at the Institute for Near East and Gulf Military Analysis, ‘with immense strategic implications, Russia is also trying to send Israel a clear message that Tel Aviv’s military support for Tbilisi in organizing, training and equipping Georgia’s army will no longer be tolerated… Further, Israel’s interest in Caspian oil and gas pipelines is growing and Russia seeks to stop this activity at this time.’

The failure of the West to respond effectively to the Russian assault on Georgia, and Israel’s retreat before Russia’s threats, are nevertheless likely only to strengthen the confidence of other enemies of the US and Israel, including the regime in Tehran. As Shaffer writes: ‘Tehran is learning from the crisis in the Caucasus. If the U.S. fails to help its ally in Tbilisi, Tehran’s power will increase. On the other hand, serious American activity in Moscow’s back yard would teach Tehran a completely different lesson.’

Quite. Russia has opted to fight a new Cold War against the West, so there is no point in labouring under the delusion that it will join with us to contain the Iranian nuclear threat, while our failure to resist Russia in Georgia is emboldening Iran. To sacrifice Georgia – a loyal ally of Britain, the US and Israel, and the third-largest contributor of allied troops to Iraq – in the naive belief that a sufficient amount of grovelling will dissuade one sworn enemy from joining with another, can only strengthen and encourage both enemies.

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Wednesday, 20 August 2008 Posted by | Abkhazia, Anti-Semitism, Caucasus, Former Soviet Union, Georgia, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Jews, Middle East, Red-Brown Alliance, Russia, South Ossetia | 1 Comment

Czechoslovakia 1938 – Georgia 2008 ?

This autumn will mark the seventieth anniversary of the Munich Agreement, when the democratic powers of Western Europe, Britain and France, weakened as they were by the self-hating, ‘anti-war’ defeatism of wide sections of the Western chattering classes – on the left as well as of the right – allowed a fascist, expansionist imperial power to carve up a much smaller and weaker multinational state, using the excuse that it wanted to protect the rights of its co-nationals. Of course, Hitler analogies are very tired, and ‘anti-war’ activists are fond of complaining that all our enemies are ‘Hitler’ – from Nasser through Galtieri to Saddam and Milosevic. But in the case of Vladimir Putin of Russia, their best legitimate counter-argument no longer applies: that however brutal these despots may have been, the states that they ruled were not nearly as powerful as Nazi Germany.

Now, for the first time since World War II, the democratic West is faced by a brutal, neo-fascist, expansionist regime in command of an imperial state whose military might is comparable to that of Hitler’s Third Reich. Putin is an aggressive despot who came to power determined to reverse the defeat and perceived humiliation of Russia in the Cold War, much as Hitler aimed to reverse Germany’s humiliation in World War I (Putin even employed a stunt to cement his power that was highly reminiscent of the 1933 Reichstag fire – the stage-managed ‘terrorist’ bombing of Russian cities by his security services, that could be conveniently blamed on the Chechens). He then used weapons of mass destruction against his own Chechen civilians, destroying the European city of Grozny. He has waged campaigns of persecution against Jewish magnates (‘oligarchs’) and Caucasian ethnic minorities. He has established a fascist-style youth movement (‘Nashi‘). He has suppressed the free Russian media, murdered independent journalists and effectively abolished Russian democracy. He has threatened and bullied his neighbours – even NATO-member Estonia. His state assassins are the likely culprits in the murder of his critic, the British citizen Alexander Litvinenko. And now he has invaded a sovereign state in an attempt both to overthrow its democratically elected government and to annex part of its territory. His own supporters view this act of military aggression as a strike against the US; The Independent‘s Matt Siegel quotes one Russian volunteer: ‘This war is absolutely a war between Russia and America. The biggest mistake was in underestimating us. Now you’ll see what happens.’

At this moment of danger, democratic Europe is paralysed by the same kind of political, intellectual and moral malaise that brought our continent to ruin in the 1930s. Today, fashionable left-liberal hatred of the liberal-democratic order expresses itself not merely in opposition to military intervention abroad and to our own governments, but frequently in a readiness to solidarise with anyone with whom our governments come into conflict – be they Iraqi and Afghan Islamist rebels, Sudanese genocidal murderers, Iranian and Venezuelan demagogues, Chinese Communist apparatchiks, Serb nationalists, Lebanese Shia fundamentalists, and so on. All this is filtered through a self-indulgent anti-Americanism of unparalelled virulence – naturally, the concerns about invading a sovereign state without UN Security Council authorisation that have so fired our left-liberal intelligentsia over Iraq are not being manifested quite so strongly over Russia and Georgia. Meanwhile, our armies are stretched in Iraq and Afghanistan and our publics are war-weary.

This already toxic brew contains another dangerous ingredient – the most likely candidate for a twenty-first century Neville Chamberlain in the form of France’s Nicolas Sarkozy. With France holding the EU presidency, Sarkozy travelled to Moscow to reassure the Russians: ‘It’s perfectly normal that Russia would want to defend the interests both of Russians in Russia and Russophones outside Russia.’ No doubt the French president would have been equally tactful if Putin had invaded France to protect ‘Russophones’ in Marseilles or Nice, but this kind of language highlights the EU’s unreadiness to oppose Russian aggression. This is particularly so given Sarkozy’s disgraceful record of pursuing narrow French national interests at South East Europe’s expense, which involved, among other things, denying Georgia a NATO Membership Action Plan in order to appease Moscow. Sarkozy has joined with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev to impose a six-point plan on Georgia, that requires Tbilisi to ‘agree to the start of international talks on the future status of South Ossetia and Abkhazia’, as the Moscow Times puts it, but which makes no reference to Georgian territorial integrity. With Medvedev openly advocating the dismemberment of Georgia, Sarkozy may be preparing the ground for a new Munich Agreement.

Some may ask whether we have any choice but to acquiesce in Russia’s geostrategic coup, given our existing military entanglements in Iraq and Afghanistan, and our concerns with Iran, North Korea, Zimbabwe, etc. Some may ask why we should care about distant Georgia and its territorial integrity. The best way to respond is to turn this question around, and ask whether we can afford not to care, and not to respond to Russian aggression. If we cannot afford to defend Georgia because of our existing military commitments, we presumably cannot afford to defend Ukraine, or NATO-member Estonia, should Putin decide to build upon his success by moving against one of these countries – something which, given his past record, is not unlikely. At what point do we decide that, however costly it may be, we cannot afford to stand idly by as Russia rampages across Eurasia ?

As was the case in the late 1930s, the longer democratic Europe waits before responding to the aggressor, the more difficult and costly the eventual confrontation will be. Putin has successfully crushed and humiliated a staunch Western ally that contributed two thousand troops to Iraq. We cannot legitimately expect our allies to stand by us in Iraq, or in Afghanistan, if we do not stand by them when they are under attack. The states of Eastern and South Eastern Europe – both those inside NATO, and those wanting to join it – are closely watching the Russian operation against Georgia. They may decide that a NATO unable or unwilling to protect a country whose desired future membership it has itself loudly declared is a NATO it cannot rely on, and which is not worth joining or upholding. The Balkans are finally drifting toward stability, as the dominant elements of the Serbian political classes appear finally to have turned away from destructive nationalism – a turn spectacularly demonstrated by the arrest of Radovan Karadzic. Some of them may now feel, as they witness the West’s weak response to the crushing of Georgia, that their turn has been premature, and that they can afford to be a bit more aggressive than they had thought until a week ago. In which case, we may be faced with another front opening up against us in the Balkans.

I write these words, not with any confidence that democratic Europe is likely to take an appropriately firm stance against Russian aggression in the immediate future, but with full confidence that the attack on Georgia is only the beginning, and that we will see further acts of Russian aggression in the months and years to come. Putin is an unreconstructed product of the Soviet intelligence services; a sworn enemy of the liberal-democratic order at home and abroad; an autocrat whose mission it is to reverse Moscow’s defeat in the Cold War.

Let there be no mistake: we are in for the long haul. It is time to prepare a long-term strategy of resistance to the new Russian imperialism so that, if we were caught unprepared this time, we will not be unable to respond next time. Britain must join with the US in sending troops to Georgia, even if these troops at the present time have a purely symbolic deterrent value. We must massively increase our financial and military assistance to our beleaguered ally, and reassure it that it is not being abandoned. Georgia’s accession to NATO and the EU must be accelerated – as, indeed, must the EU accession of Turkey, which will be a crucial ally in the coming confrontation; one that we cannot afford not to have on our side. We must insist that the precondition for any negotiations over the disputed territories of Abkhazia and South Ossetia is an acceptance by Moscow of Georgia’s territorial integrity. But this conflict is not just about Georgia, and it will not just be played out over Georgia.

Cold War II has begun. Western leaders must begin to prepare their publics for this reality, which means countering the defeatist and anti-Western currents of thought that are popular among wide sections of the chattering classes, and preparing the publics for the consequences of economic warfare with an enemy that supplies a large part of our energy. Full-scale sanctions against Russia may soon be necessary, and though this will hurt Moscow more than it will hurt us, it will hurt us too. Western leaders must state very loudly and clearly that any further military attack by Moscow against any other state in Eastern or South Eastern Europe will invite a military response from us.

There are several ways in which Moscow’s aggression can be immediately punished. We should expel Russia from the G8 group of industrialised nations, veto its accession to the World Trade Organisation and the Organisation of Economic Cooperation and Development, suspend the EU’s Partnership and Cooperation Agreement with Russia, abandon all negotiations for a new EU-Russia agreement, suspend the NATO-Russia Council and announce a boycott of the 2014 Winter Olympics at Sochi. Given Moscow’s shameless promotion of the secession of Abkhazia and South Ossetia from Georgia, it is time to raise openly the question of Chechnya which, in terms of size, national homogeneity and viability as an entity, has a much stronger case for independence than either of Georgia’s enclaves. Since Moscow is demanding ‘self-determination’ for South Ossetia, let us openly challenge it to recognise the same right for the much larger Ossetian population in North Ossetia. Finally, our strategy vis-a-vis Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran and other trouble-spots must be modified to take account of the new geopolitical front-line; this does not mean we should surrender the battle on any of these fronts, but we cannot continue to fight them as if the Russian threat did not exist.

Dangerous ? The real danger will come from burying our heads in the sand and hoping Putin will go away and leave us alone. It is better to adopt a tough but non-violent stance against Moscow now, than to encourage further Russian expansionism that will compel us to adopt more drastic measures in the future, measures that we may not be able to limit to the non-violent. Toughness in 1938 might have stopped Hitler without war; appeasement in 1938 led to war in 1939.

This article was published today on the website of the Henry Jackson Society.

See also John McCain’s excellent article, We are all Georgians

Thursday, 14 August 2008 Posted by | Abkhazia, Afghanistan, Balkans, Caucasus, Former Soviet Union, Former Yugoslavia, France, Georgia, Iran, Iraq, Jews, Kosovo, Middle East, NATO, Red-Brown Alliance, Russia, Serbia, South Ossetia, Transnistria, Turkey | 3 Comments

With its nose bloodied, democratic Turkey needs our support

Yesterday, Turkish democracy received a bloody nose, but not a knock-out blow. Turkey’s constitutional court voted six to five in favour of banning the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) – to which Turkish President Abdullah Gul also belongs – and banning its leading figures from politics. The court vote fell short of the seven-vote majority needed for a ban. Nevertheless, the court voted to cut the AKP’s state funding. Hasim Kilic, the court chairman and chief justice, described the ruling as a ‘serious warning’ to the AKP: ‘I hope the party in question will evaluate this outcome very well and get the message it should get,’ he said; ‘The verdict on cutting treasury aid has been given because of members who decided that the party was the hub of anti-secular activities’, although ‘not seriously enough’ to ban the party.

This attempt to bully democracy is taking place in an EU candidate country with the seventh-largest economy in the Council of Europe and the fifteenth-largest in the world, and which has pursued a for-the-most-part highly progressive foreign policy in recent years. Under the AKP, Turkey has been attempting to broker a peace agreement between Israel and Syria. The Turkish government has attempted to restrain the hawkish voices favouring an onslaught against the Kurds of Northern Iraq. Turkey was one of the first countries to recognise Kosova, and was alone among the larger NATO countries in staunchly supporting a Membership Action Plan for Macedonia at the April NATO summit in Bucharest. It has sincerely worked for a resolution of the Cyprus dispute and for rapprochement with Armenia.

The AKP government has also pursued a reformist policy at home, improving Turkey’s democratic and human rights credentials to the point where the EU, despite strong opposition from some of its members, was compelled to start accession negotiations. And it has presided over an unprecedented expansion of the Turkish economy. All the more poignant, therefore, that the court’s move to ban the democratically elected party of government appears to have been triggered by the latter’s attempt to push through a democratic freedom for Muslims that is already enjoyed across Christian Europe: the right of women students to wear headscarves while attending university. The readiness of the Turkish Kemalist establishment to wreck its country’s democracy and economy and to plunge it into constitutional chaos, and possibly civil war, simply in order to maintain its exclusive grip on state power at the expense of the new Muslim middle class represented by the AKP, indicates the difficulties Turkey faces in its journey toward full democracy.

Turkish democracy is not under attack only by the secular establishment, but by fascist terrorist elements – both from the ranks of the secular ultra-nationalists and from the ranks of the Islamists. Earlier this month, Turkish police foiled preparations for a violent coup d’etat by members of the Ergenekon clandestine organisation; those arrested included three retired Turkish Army generals. This was followed by an Islamist terrorist attack on the US consulate in Istanbul, and then days ago by a terrorist bomb attack on a civilian target in Istanbul that the government and police have blamed on Kurdish PKK separatists but which some observers suggest was more likely to have been the work of Ergenekon. There have been credible suggestions that the apparently antithetical Kemalist and Islamist extremists have, in fact, been coming together on the basis of the values they share: opposition to the West, the US, ‘Zionism’, democracy and liberalisation. As Mustafa Akyol writes in the Turkish Daily News: ‘I can’t say anything about whether there are indeed criminal links between these groups, but the ideology they share is all too similar. Their aim is simply to keep Turkey as a closed society cut off from the world and ruled by an authoritarian state. What they fear and abhor is democratization and liberalization.’

With the constitutional court’s verdict, Turkish democracy has been shaken but not toppled, but the dangers facing the country remain, as do the dangers facing the Western alliance in relation to Turkey. Turkey’s political classes have been increasingly disillusioned in recent years, both with the EU and with the US. The slowness of Turkey’s EU accession process, coupled with the apparent outright refusal of some EU countries such as France and Germany ever to allow Turkey to join, have reduced the EU’s appeal among Turks. Meanwhile, Turkish relations with the US have been strained by the apparently ‘distabilising’ policy being pursued by Washington in the Middle East and the former Soviet Union: the war with Iraq; the possibility of an attack on Iran; support for regional democratisation and ‘colour revolutions’; and above all the US’s alliance with the Iraqi Kurds. Conversely and consequently, Turkish relations with both Russia and Iran have been improving. Indeed, the Kurdish issue has strained Turkey’s relations not only with the US, but also with Israel, which is also unhappy with Turkey’s broadening cooperation with Iran in the field of energy.

In the current Turkish political constellation, it is the AKP that is the EU’s and US’s best friend. Indeed, Turkey’s Public Prosecutor Abdurrahman Yalcinkaya, responding to Western criticisms of his attempt to close down the AKP, denounced the EU and US as ‘imperialists’ seeking to erode Turkey’s national sovereignty by using ‘collaborators’ such as the ‘fundamentalist’ AKP and Turkish liberals who ‘claimed to be intellectuals’. While we may wish to retain good relations with Ankara irrespective of which regime holds power there, our inability to remain silent in the face of assaults on democratic freedoms, coupled with the inevitably anti-Western outlook and rhetoric of those launching such assaults, will ensure that a potential future replacement of the AKP regime with a more authoritarian Kemalist one will inevitably damage Turkey’s relationship with the Western alliance. Conversely, a more authoritarian Turkey will find authoritarian Russia, Iran and even China as increasingly congenial partners.

The lingering threat to Turkish democracy is a threat to the West’s relationship with a crucial member of its alliance; indeed to positive stability in the Middle East, Balkans and Black Sea region in general. The failure of the constitutional court to ban the AKP has averted a still worse danger – that the suppression of the democratic, moderate Islamic political option would have driven disillusioned AKP supporters into the arms of the Islamists, laying the basis for an Algerian-style civil war in Turkey. But so long as the secularist establishment remains determined to curb the AKP, this is a danger that has been kept at bay, not ended permanently.

Turkey resembles Serbia, in that it is a Balkan country undergoing a long-drawn-out transition to full democracy, in which there can be no quick or easy success. But Turkey’s size, strength, geographic location and geostrategic importance make it much less amenable to pressure than Serbia. Indeed, with Turkey at the height of its power as a country, but with its internal divisions stretching it to breaking point, the Turkish Kemalist establishment may increasingly feel rather like the Serbian Communist establishment under Milosevic in the late 1980s and early 1990s: ready to gamble on an extreme solution, on the assumption – probably correct – that the West would lack the will to resist it. In this context, although Brussels was correct to indicate that Turkey’s EU accession process would be halted in the event of the ruling party being banned, nevertheless the carrot may prove more effective than the stick in advancing the cause of Turkey’s democratisation. This, however, cannot mean unprincipled concessions over the Kurdish or Cyprus questions that would damage the West’s moral standing.

Keeping Turkish democracy alive requires keeping Turkey’s EU accession process alive, for it is EU membership that has provided the crucial motor to Turkey’s democratisation. But at present, it is Turcophobic EU leaders such as France’s Nicolas Sarkozy who are dominating public discourse in Europe over the Turkish issue. If Turkey is to be saved for democracy and for the West, the UK has to fight back in the arena of public opinion – both at home and in Europe. The UK has traditionally supported Turkey’s EU accession; quite apart from the geostrategic arguments in favour preserving Turkey’s pro-Western alignment, an EU containing Turkey would be less dominated by the Franco-German axis and more resistant to centralisation, therefore more congenial to the inclinations of both Britain’s political and its popular classes – and indeed to the inclinations of some other EU members – than an EU without Turkey.

The British government must fight a sustained public campaign in favour of Turkey’s EU membership, to persuade the Turkish people that they have a European future, to bolster the fortunes of our friends in the AKP, and to convince the British and European publics of the crucial importance of the Turkish connection. Sarkozy is pursuing a thoroughly unprincipled and damaging policy toward South East Europe, but to his credit, he is not afraid to be outspoken and assertive in pursuit of what he perceives to be France’s national interests in this region. We must not be afraid to be similarly outspoken and assertive. If the present trends in EU politics continue, we shall lose the battle for Turkey. And with it, we shall suffer a major defeat in the battle for both the Balkans and the Middle East.

This article was published yesterday on the website of the Henry Jackson Society.

Friday, 1 August 2008 Posted by | Balkans, Former Yugoslavia, France, Iran, Iraq, Islam, Israel, Middle East, NATO, Russia, Serbia, Turkey | Leave a comment

Britain’s mistreatment of immigrants plays into al-Qaeda’s hands

This is a guest post by Nadja Stamselberg

For the past eight months I have taught English as a second language to teenagers coming form Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, Ethiopia, Eritrea and Iranian Kurdistan. Out of the ten pupils, three were girls and seven were boys. Aged between sixteen and nineteen, all but one were here without their families. Two boys from Afghanistan and a boy from Pakistan are orphans, whilst another three Afghan boys and an Ethiopian girl don’t know where their parents are or whether they are still alive.  Most of them have been trafficked to England. Put on a lorry by a relative who couldn’t afford to look after them, they were sent off to a better future. They survived weeks of inhumane conditions, cramped at the back of airless containers, their limbs numb, their hearts brought to a standstill each time a lorry slowed down or stopped. Some of them even saw their friends and fellow passengers die of exhaustion and dehydration.  Nevertheless, when talking about their perilous journey, their faces light up as if they are remembering a great adventure. Perhaps it is a privilege of youth to gloss over most the horrendous experiences and refer to them with nostalgia, or perhaps a mean of survival. One of the boys often talked about Rome, a city he spent a week in whilst the local mafia negotiated with the traffickers before letting them continue their journey. The city made quite an impression on him. It was the first sight of Europe that he saw. The ancient squares and churches were as beautiful, if not even more so, than the ones in his hometown of Herat in Afghanistan. More importantly he was able to experience a place he read and learnt about in school in Iran. Growing up in a refugee camp outside Tehran, he would often imagine these faraway places, and now he was in one of them.

Once in the United Kingdom they applied for asylum and were housed either with foster families, or were put in shared accommodation with other adolescents from similar backgrounds. Each one was assigned a social worker to help them to adjust to their new life. They were also enrolled at a college where they would study English, basic numeracy and IT. With few exceptions, most of them had never been to school. Growing up in war-torn countries robbed them not only of their childhoods and their parents, but of their education as well. Nevertheless, most of them could read and write in their own languages, with a number of them being multilingual, able to speak several languages and dialects. Literacy, however limited, was courtesy of the madrasas. Religion in fact has been the only stable, positive factor in their lives. It provided them with discipline; purpose and most importantly hope that better times were to come. Many of them battle depression and have anger issues and difficulties coping with their new lives. The Afghan boy, whose trafficking experiences took him on an unwilling yet fascinating journey across Europe, broke down in one of the tutorial classes. Only sixteen at the time, he felt that his life was not worth living. He was alone, his parents were killed by the Taliban upon their return from exile in Iran; an only child, he had no one to lean on. Coming from a Hazara background, most of his family has been killed and displaced. The only living relative, his aunt’s husband who paid for his journey to England, was never heard of again. He would often miss college to go to the Refugee Council. A French lady who worked there became like a surrogate mother for him. He spoke of her with so much tenderness, always mentioning that she said that he was like a son to her. Humane contact and genuine emotions are what these children crave the most.

The ones who have successfully been placed with the foster families often thrive. However, as soon as they turn eighteen they are no longer allowed to stay with the families, nor in the shared accommodation. Upon reaching legal adulthood they, often with as little as fifteen minutes notice, have to move. We had cases where the key worker would call the college and ask for the student to be sent home to move as a cab was coming to his place to pick up his stuff. If they did not make it in time, their things would be packed by the key worker and sent to the new address. They were promised that their relocation to hostels and B&Bs was temporary until they were allocated a more permanent abode. Very often they would spend months living in minimally furnished rooms, sometimes not even having bed sheets. Robberies were regular occurrences, their rooms broken into and their few precious possessions stolen. 

Unfortunately, these are not the only insecurities they face. Their long-term stay and settlement in the United Kingdom is questionable, with their right to remain reconsidered once they turn eighteen. In fact, for the duration of their stay in the United Kingdom they face uncertainty and the possibility of being sent back to their country of origin. Since quite a few countries are now seen as ‘safe enough’, a number of the adolescent asylum seekers will most certainly face deportation.  Having to deal with these issues manifests in different ways. Some of them resolve to self-harm, some get in trouble with the law, others grin and bear it making the most of their lives here. Sadly, they are often expected to transgress. The overworked and jaded social workers tend to have little sympathy for their plights. At a parents’ meeting, I had one student’s social worker refer to him as a ‘little sod’ who keeps getting into trouble with the law.  Upon inquiring further I was told that he was booked for dodging the bus fare and for sitting in the driver’s seat of a car without having a licence. Furthermore, their life stories are not believed. The Home Office regards most of their asylum applications as fabrications designed to fool the British system. Their dates of births are also often dismissed as fakes and many are given new ones, the most popular being 1st of January.

At the same parent’s meeting, another social worker told me that I should be careful with believing everything the students tell me as they come form a culture, in this particular case form South Asia, where it is a norm to tell people what they want to hear instead of the truth. He was trying to show understanding for my naiveté, but stressed that I will soon realise myself that this student’s story was questionable, constructed for the benefit of staying in this country. The story that his parents were killed by his uncle in a dispute over land was questionable. His subsequent crime of beating the same uncle to death by a wooden stick whilst sleeping could not be confirmed and the account of both him and his brother spending two years moving from one place to the other all over Pakistan running from relatives was unsubstantiated. Furthermore, he was illegally in this country for two years before applying for asylum. Having turned eighteen, the Home Office is due to reconsider his case. Aware of this, he was filled with terror by the prospect of being sent back to Pakistan. Ever since he was twelve years old he has been on the run. He had a deep hatred and fear of the country where he found no protection from the law and saw no justice served. He was so grateful to be able, for the first time in his life, to go to school and have some semblance of a normal life, and was looking forward to making his life here.

My initial reaction when he told me that if he gets sent back home he will join al Qaeda was to dismiss it as another provocative remark. Looking for a reaction, some of the students would talk about al Qaeda, Taliban and Osama Bin Laden, boasting about their support for their cause and playing up to the stereotypes imposed on them by society. However, I was soon to realise that his statement was not a childish attempt at attention seeking, but an option he was seriously considering. His motifs were neither a religious fervour nor a dislike of the West and its values. On the contrary, they were a frantic plea for some structure, direction and security, whatever that might be. Feeling let down by his own family, country and eventually by the United Kingdom, which had supposed to provide him with a safe haven and another shot at the normal life and education he so desperately craved, he would be a perfect target for recruiting. Preying at disillusioned youth with no jobs and no hope, al Qaeda offers to fill the vacuum left by poverty, lack of education and displaced and destroyed family units. Youth, inexperience and feelings of hopelessness make al Qaeda’s newfound followers susceptible to all sorts of anti-Western sentiments disguised as ‘anti-imperialist’ ones.

Back in the United Kingdom, Islamophobia (systematically promoted by some sections of the political elite and the media); poor treatment of the immigrants; and attempts to manage community diversity to suit certain economic interests best, all deepen divisions within the popular classes, creating more resentment toward the young asylum seekers. Consequently, some of the students are faced with bigoted comments and insults. Many of them also complain about their treatment by the Home Office officials. All of this in turn provides a valuable service to reactionary political Islam, giving credibility to its anti-Western discourse. This makes it possible to lure and draft the deported asylum seekers. Despite everything, most of them love living in the United Kingdom and are very grateful for the freedoms and opportunities it offers. Casualties of the wars we waged on their behalf, our broken promises and their own societies’ inability to provide them with protection and a future, these vulnerable young people need our help.  Instead of treating them as parasites on our economy and a threat to our society and values, the Home Office should recognise these young persons’ strengths and potential. Giving them an opportunity; a much-deserved chance to rebuild their shattered lives; we will not only gain valuable members of our society, who will enrich and contribute to it, but also deprive various terrorist organisations both of their mission and of many of their potential followers.

Nadja Stamselberg has recently finished a PhD in Cultural Studies at Goldsmiths College, University of London. She wrote her thesis on practices of exclusion and European identity. She is currently working on a book, which traces the historical precursors of exclusion in Europe, connecting it to the subsequent concepts of hospitality and cosmopolitanism.

Tuesday, 8 July 2008 Posted by | Afghanistan, Immigration, India, Iran, Islam, Kurds, London, Middle East, Pakistan, Racism | 1 Comment