Greater Surbiton

The perfect is the enemy of the good

The Henry Jackson Society and Douglas Murray

Update: Since publishing this article, I have resigned from the Henry Jackson Society and severed my links with it. I have published a full exposé of the HJS’s degeneration.

Regular readers of this blog will be aware that I am the European Neighbourhood Section Director of the Henry Jackson Society (HJS), a think-tank that promotes democratic geopolitics, and of which I have been a member since its foundation. I believe that the HJS is a positive, progressive voice that has been and is listened to with respect by British politicians and government ministers, both Labour and Conservative. We were founded in reaction against the shameful conservative-realist British government policies of the first half of the 1990s, that resulted in British inaction over, and collusion in, the Bosnian and Rwandan genocides. We are guided above all by the belief that idealism is the best realism, and that British and Western interests are best served by support for, and promotion of, democracy and human rights globally. We have strongly urged Western support for the struggle for democracy in the Middle East, on the side of the people and against the dictatorships in Libya, Syria and elsewhere. We are pro-European and pro-American, strongly upholding both Britain’s alliance with the US and our close involvement in European affairs.

Readers may have noticed, however, that I have not written or otherwise worked for the HJS since March of this year. The reason for this is that I have deep reservations about the decision of the HJS, announced in April, to merge with another think-tank, the Centre for Social Cohesion (CSC), and to appoint its director, Douglas Murray, as the HJS’s own associate director. I was not consulted on this step, and learned about it only after it had been publicly announced. Had I been consulted, I would have argued against it, since I consider many of the political positions upheld by Murray and the CSC to be antithetical to my own positions and to those for which, I believed, the HJS stood. I am referring to Murray’s frequently stated views on Muslims and Islam. I have not wished to contribute further to the work of the HJS until I have had time to decide what my own response to the merger with the CSC and to Murray’s appointment should be, and to make my views clear on the matter.

I should begin by saying that I share Murray’s principled opposition to Islamic extremism, and his view that the British political classes in the past have been complacent in facing up to the threat that it poses. I agree with the views expressed by our Prime Minister, David Cameron, in the fantastic speech he gave at the Munich Security Conference in February of this year:

‘Whether they are violent in their means or not, we must make it impossible for the extremists to succeed.  Now, for governments, there are some obvious ways we can do this.  We must ban preachers of hate from coming to our countries.  We must also proscribe organisations that incite terrorism against people at home and abroad.  Governments must also be shrewder in dealing with those that, while not violent, are in some cases part of the problem.  We need to think much harder about who it’s in the public interest to work with.  Some organisations that seek to present themselves as a gateway to the Muslim community are showered with public money despite doing little to combat extremism.  As others have observed, this is like turning to a right-wing fascist party to fight a violent white supremacist movement.  So we should properly judge these organisations: do they believe in universal human rights – including for women and people of other faiths?  Do they believe in equality of all before the law?  Do they believe in democracy and the right of people to elect their own government?  Do they encourage integration or separation?  These are the sorts of questions we need to ask.  Fail these tests and the presumption should be not to engage with organisations – so, no public money, no sharing of platforms with ministers at home.

At the same time, we must stop these groups from reaching people in publicly-funded institutions like universities or even, in the British case, prisons.  Now, some say, this is not compatible with free speech and intellectual inquiry.  Well, I say, would you take the same view if these were right-wing extremists recruiting on our campuses?  Would you advocate inaction if Christian fundamentalists who believed that Muslims are the enemy were leading prayer groups in our prisons?  And to those who say these non-violent extremists are actually helping to keep young, vulnerable men away from violence, I say nonsense.

Would you allow the far right groups a share of public funds if they promise to help you lure young white men away from fascist terrorism?  Of course not.  But, at root, challenging this ideology means exposing its ideas for what they are, and that is completely unjustifiable.  We need to argue that terrorism is wrong in all circumstances.  We need to argue that prophecies of a global war of religion pitting Muslims against the rest of the world are nonsense.’

For those who have not done so, I strongly recommend that you read this speech in its entirety. Among the many sensible points that Cameron made, was the following:

‘We have got to get to the root of the problem, and we need to be absolutely clear on where the origins of where these terrorist attacks lie.  That is the existence of an ideology, Islamist extremism.  We should be equally clear what we mean by this term, and we must distinguish it from Islam.  Islam is a religion observed peacefully and devoutly by over a billion people.  Islamist extremism is a political ideology supported by a minority.  At the furthest end are those who back terrorism to promote their ultimate goal: an entire Islamist realm, governed by an interpretation of Sharia.  Move along the spectrum, and you find people who may reject violence, but who accept various parts of the extremist worldview, including real hostility towards Western democracy and liberal values.  It is vital that we make this distinction between religion on the one hand, and political ideology on the other.  Time and again, people equate the two.  They think whether someone is an extremist is dependent on how much they observe their religion.  So, they talk about moderate Muslims as if all devout Muslims must be extremist.  This is profoundly wrong.  Someone can be a devout Muslim and not be an extremist.  We need to be clear: Islamist extremism and Islam are not the same thing.’

Unfortunately, the distinction made by Cameron – between Islamic extremism and Islam – is not one that is made by Murray; on the contrary, he conflates Islam and Islamism, and attacks not just Islamists, but Muslims and Islam in general.

Murray has stated:

‘In the middle of the last century, there was an almost negligible Muslim presence in Europe [sic !] At the turn of the twenty-first, in Western Europe alone, there were 15-17 million Muslims – that’s a very fast migration, ladies and gentlemen; one of the fastest in human history, and no society would find it easy to deal with that kind of migration. As it happens, European societies, Western European societies, have, I think, dealt with this, much better than some would. Certainly, Muslims coming to live in Britain and in Western Europe enjoy more rights and better rights, among them freedom of worship, than they do in any Islamic country on the Earth here today. We do have a problem; we have a problem when the failures of Islam throughout the world; the failures of all Islamic societies come here into Britain. Their intolerance of freedom of conscience; their intolerance of apostates; their intolerance of freedom of expression and freedom of speech; their intolerance of minorities, other religious minorities, sexual minorities; their intolerance of gays; their dislike and distrust of half of the population – women; and many, many other things. And they call, what is more, for a parallel legal system within Britain and European societies. This is monstrous; no other group behaves like this – asks for parallel laws. This is a fundamental problem, and it’s one we’re going to have to deal with. It’s a problem between a society – Western Europe – that believes that laws are based on reason, and Islam that believes that they are based on revelation. Between these two ideas, I’m not sure there is very much compromise for Europe. It is not Europe that has let down its Muslims, but the Muslims of Europe that have let down Europe. … It is not Europe that has failed its Muslims; it is Islam that has failed Europe. I’d argue, Islam has failed its Muslims.’ [emphasis added]

At the Pim Fortuyn Memorial Conference of 2006, Murray stated:

‘It is late in the day, but Europe still has time to turn around the demographic time-bomb which will soon see a number of our largest cities fall to Muslim majorities. It has to. All immigration into Europe from Muslim countries must stop. In the case of a further genocide such as that in the Balkans, sanctuary would be given on a strictly temporary basis. This should also be enacted retrospectively. Those who are currently in Europe having fled tyrannies should be persuaded back to the countries which they fled from once the tyrannies that were the cause of their flight have been removed.’

Murray has described the English Defence League as:

‘an extraordinary phenomenon which, by the way, in my opinion wouldn’t have occurred if the government had got a grip on al-Muhajiroun. It only came about because the authorities didn’t do anything about the that particularly thuggish organisation. These things have consequences. The English Defence League, when they started protesting, had banners saying things like, you know, sharia law discriminates against women; sharia law is anti-gay. Well, I’m good with both of those sentiments; I’m sure most people in this room are. If you were ever going to have a grass-roots response from non-Muslims to Islamism, that would be how you’d want it, surely ?

But of course, we all know, there are awkward things around this. There have been exposed links from the EDL with-far right organisations, in individual cases, and maybe – others will know more about this – wider than that. But you know, for instance, Louis Amis wrote a very interesting piece in the Standpoint magazine some months ago, after investigation, and he said, and others have said, that as far as they can see, within the EDL, they have tried to kick out BNP sentiments. Does this mean that they aren’t racist or that they are ? I’m not making a definitive point. I’m just saying that these things are extremely complex, and we ought to be careful before dismissing whole swathes of people.’

It is true that on an earlier occasion, Murray said of the EDL, ‘In an interview, EDL “spokesman” Paul Ray said they were opposed to “all devout Muslims”. The EDL say they are not BNP, but there are certainly BNP people who have been involved with them and as a result, and because of Ray’s awful comment, I think it important to have nothing to do with them.’ Yet Murray’s subsequent comments still present rather more nuance than I consider appropriate when dealing with a fascist organisation of street thugs such as the EDL. The nuance does not appear to have deterred the EDL from promoting Murray’s comments about it on its website.

Murray also, on the same occasion, said of Robert Spencer, a director of ‘Stop Islamization of America’, that ‘I happen to know Robert Spencer; I respect him; he is a very brilliant scholar and writer’. I do not consider that an appropriate way to describe Spencer, who is the proprietor of the viciously anti-Muslim site ‘Jihadwatch‘ and a promoter of Srebrenica genocide denial.

Murray has denounced the idea of the ‘Ground Zero mosque’ as a ‘sick joke’. He has written passionately in defence of Geert Wilders, a Dutch far-right populist politician who believes that the Koran should be banned. He has described Islam as a ‘very backward ideology’, and complains that ‘Britain has already gone too far in accommodating Islamic ideology into our culture’. He has accused the Pope of having been ‘forced to pacify the Islamic beast’, and spoken of ‘the laughable, ahistorical and uniquely retrospective form of religious imperialism that Islam is’. In March of this year – immediately prior to the merger of the CSC with the HJS – Murray travelled to Athens to argue, alongside Melanie Phillips, against the opening of a mosque in that city, on the grounds that such a mosque could become a centre for Islamic extremism, and that ‘Islam when it is in a minority, is extremely good at talking about tolerance. In a minority, Islam loves to talk about the tolerance that people must show towards minorities [but] whenever Islam is in a majority, minority rights are nowhere to be seen. It’s a one-directional talk of minority rights… You better hope, ladies and gentlemen, that your mosque here is a first internationally, and that nobody with any unpleasant statements, any unpleasant ideas could possibly come to it’, before issuing further lurid warnings of the Islamic danger to his Greek audience, including a reference to the Islamism of the current Turkish prime minister. Murray said these things in Greece, a country where the Orthodox Christian nationalist right is extremely powerful, aggressive, intolerant and Islamophobic, while the Muslim Turkish minority is denied basic democratic rights.

Murray’s appointment as Associate Director of the HJS has placed me in a dilemma. I consider his views on Islam and Muslims to be intolerant, ignorant, two-dimensional and, frankly, horrifying. I condemn them absolutely and without reservation. I think it is problematic, to say the least, that an organisation that promotes democratic geopolitics, and agitates in favour of democratisation in the Middle East, should have an associate director who opposes freedom of religious worship in Western countries, and who believes that immigration into Europe and foreign residency here should be guided by religious discrimination. Yet I believe the HJS remains an important force for good in British and Western politics, and feel personally committed to it. I do not believe that Murray’s views on Islam and Muslims are representative of the HJS as a whole, or of any of its other leading members.

I am hoping that membership of the HJS will lead Murray to moderate his views on Islam and Muslims. I am not, however, optimistic that this will be the case (in a debate last month held by the Spectator magazine, he was quoted as saying that ‘Islam is not violent per se, though they’re quite good at it when they’re in charge.’) I am far from wishing to dictate what a fellow member of the HJS can or cannot say. But if Murray does continue to agitate on an anti-Muslim basis as he did before becoming Associate Director of the HJS, I shall regretfully be unable to remain a member of this organisation.

Friday, 29 July 2011 Posted by | Immigration, Islam, Marko Attila Hoare, Neoconservatism | , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

The importance of national patience

AlexSkopjeLast month, I was interviewed by the Macedonian daily newspaper Nova Makedonija. The edited text of my interview was published in the Macedonian language. I reproduce here the full interview in English.

What kind of policy steps are you suggesting for the Macedonian government to take in order to get the invitation for NATO?

The Macedonian government has to accept that, on account of the Greek veto, it will not be able to join NATO in the short term. It must therefore pursue a long-term strategy in this regard. This means showing itself to be a staunch friend of NATO and in particular of the US, for example through support for the allied military effort in Afghanistan, and playing a constructive role in the Balkan region. Macedonia must continue to reform and develop its military, maintain the Ohrid Agreement, and show itself to be a mature and responsible democratic state. This will pave the way for NATO membership in the long run.

You are calling Greece a ‘regional troublemaker’ and you ask for the Western leaders to bring a real pressure to bear on our neighbour. But it seems that not only do they not press Greece, but also they hold down Macedonia by saying we will not be able to join NATO or the EU till the name issue is resolved. In this kind of situation how real is it to expect that the veto might be overturned ? Why is there a lack of will to press Greece?

The problem is not so much that the Western leaders support Greece, as that they don’t perceive enough of an interest in supporting Macedonia. With other problems facing them globally, Western leaders find it easier to do nothing about Greece and Macedonia. And since Greece, as a NATO and EU member, has the upper hand vis-a-vis Macedonia, the Western leaders are effectively siding with Greece by default. Macedonia must be patient, and try to win the battle for European and Western public opinion, by systematic lobbying, and by developing close bilateral relations with those countries that are sympathetic to it – such as the US, UK, Turkey, Italy and Russia.

The winner of the presidential election in Macedonia, Gjorge Ivanov, said that his first priority is to resolve the name issue, stressing that direct negotiations between Macedonia and Greece could unblock the process. What do you think about this idea?

I am very skeptical that direct negotiations between Greece and Macedonia can unblock the process, because Greece is unwilling to accept any reasonable compromise. My personal suggestion for a compromise would be ‘Republic of non-Greek Macedonia’ – Mr Ivanov could try that, though I suspect Athens would think up some objection…

Greece refuses to admit that the negotiations are not only about the name, but also about the Macedonian identity. How could we resolve this problem with Greece, which is crucial for our integration into NATO and the EU and at the same time not lose our identity?

Macedonia must be patient. The Greek veto is not going to be lifted any time soon, but Macedonia cannot surrender to Greece without losing its identity. The Greek policy is to make the international community de-recognise the existence of a Macedonian nation, hence, it wants to force the Republic of Macedonia to adopt a name that turns ‘Macedonia’ into a geographic, rather than a national term. So long as Athens thinks it can bully Skopje into backing down, it’s going to try. And so long as the EU believes that Greece is more uncompromising than Macedonia, it will encourage Skopje, as the more reasonable side, to back down. That is the way the EU operates – it always rewards the stronger and more unreasonable side. So it doesn’t pay to be conciliatory.

I think it’s important, therefore, that Macedonia should not view membership of NATO and the EU as a shibboleth. Macedonia must accept that it won’t join either organisation soon, but that this is not the end of the world. It should try to achieve as many of the benefits of membership as it can, by forging a close economic and military relationship with the NATO and EU states, as well as with Russia and other countries. In the long run, Skopje must make both Athens and the EU realise that it isn’t going to back down, no matter how long it has to wait to join NATO and the EU. In the meantime, Macedonia has friends, and it isn’t going to collapse.

Are you an optimist that in the near future we could find a solution to the problem?

No. A solution depends upon the democratisation of Greece, and a shift in Greek political culture to one that is post-nationalist, rather than nationalist. It is a slow process, but it will happen eventually. We can compare this with Turkey’s attitude to the Armenian genocide: official Turkey still won’t recognise this genocide, but more and more educated Turkish citizens are willing to speak about it. Greece will gradually democratise, and as it does, educated Greeks will challenge the nationalist paradigm over Macedonia. Macedonians must be patient and accept that they must wait for democratic change to take place in their southern neighbour.

According to you, is it a good idea that the EU help Macedonia and Greece to resolve the problem in the way thay are helping Croatia and Slovenia? The negotiation process under the UN seems to be in a dead end, but on the other hand, some argue that EU mediation is not such a good idea because Macedonia is not an EU member so they will not be on an equal footing with Greece.

I am skeptical about a negotiated settlement in both the cases of Slovenia and Croatia, and of Greece and Macedonia. In both cases, the EU is refusing to distinguish between right and wrong, and negotiations will necessarily favour the stronger side; i.e., the side that is already in the EU, and that wields the veto. Ultimately, Macedonia needs to resist EU pressure to accept an unprincipled compromise – not just for its own sake, but for the sake of all Europeans. I, as a European citizen, do not want to live in an EU that supports territorial expansionism – as in the case of Slovenia vs Croatia – or that supports racism – as in the case of Greece vs Macedonia. I want to live in an EU that does distinguish between right and wrong. So, for the sake of all Europeans, I hope Croatia and Macedonia do not back down.

Do you think that Macedonia will win the process in The Hague where we are suing Greece for violation of the Interim Accord, with its veto at the Bucharest summit last year? Greece is claiming that that was the unanimous decision of all NATO members.

I think Macedonia has a reasonably good chance. But, whatever the international court decides, it is just one battle in a struggle that will continue regardless.

Beside the remarks of international organisations such as the UN and the Council of Europe in reports on Greece’s refusal to recognise the Macedonian minority in Greece, Athens keeps denying the rights of this minority. Why is there no international pressure over Greece, seeing that, as a member of the EU, it must respect minority rights?

The failure of the EU to pressurise Greece on the question of the ethnic Macedonian minority in Greece is an absolute disgrace. Again, it comes down to inertia and a lack of perceived interest on the part of the EU members.

You say that Greek determination to keep Macedonia out of NATO and the EU has been bolstered by the opportunistic support of Sarkozy and that there is no contrary support for Macedonia from within EU ranks. Why there is no support for Macedonia in the EU; is that a result of our diplomacy, or something else ?

Macedonia has been very unlucky in France’s choice of president. Ultimately, a relatively small country like Macedonia has only a limited ability to influence the states of Europe. Macedonia has not been as unlucky as some in the treatment it has received from the EU and its members – you need only to look at how Bosnia was treated in the 1990s, or how long it took for Kosovo to achieve international recognition.

Macedonian diplomats need to lobby hard, but propaganda that appeals to the educated European public is also important. The Greek position, that people speaking a Slavic language cannot really be ‘Macedonian’, is simply racist. Educated Europeans need to be reminded of this. Also, as Macedonia develops its tourist industry, more and more Europeans will visit the country and become aware of the problem. Macedonians must be firm but appear reasonable – nobody respects nationalists.

Do you think that NATO and the EU will learn the lesson that by allowing the ‘rogue NATO and EU members’, as you call them, to blackmail their neighbours by using their vetoes, is creating a dangerous precedent facilitating aggressive nationalist demands?

I hope so, but this will depend on Macedonians, Croatians and their friends making the point as frequently and as effectively as they can. The position of Macedonia and Croatia is the one that the West must uphold, rather than that of the aggressive nationalist countries, Greece and Slovenia – satisfying the latter will open a Pandora’s box, encouraging other EU and NATO members to adopt similar aggressive demands against their neighbours. Europe needs to be made aware of this.

Do you think that it is possible that the right of individual NATO and EU states unilaterally to veto the membership of aspiring members will be abolished ? Surely, for this there would have to be a new NATO agreement that could be vetoed by Greece, and even if this happens, there could be other member states close to Greece that could support her veto – France for example ?

It won’t happen soon, but that is no reason not to talk about it. Talking about abolishing the veto is the first step to achieving it. Once people begin to talk about it, even as a distant possibility, then it is on the agenda, and European and Western politicians will start having to acknowledge the issue. Then they might begin to feel that by pandering to the trouble-makers, they are simply creating more problems for themselves for the future.

What kind of risk does this kind of blackmailing bring to the Balkans ? Do you think that the peace in this region could be infringed if Macedonia remains outside of NATO and the EU any longer ?

It is in Macedonia’s vital interest to join NATO and the EU in the long term, but that doesn’t mean it’s the end of the world if it doesn’t do so in the short term. As I said, a temporary alternative would be to forge a close military and economic relationship with these bodies, and develop close bilateral relations with their friendlier members, such as the US, UK, Italy and Turkey, as well as other powers, such as Russia. Serbia could provide a model – it has strengthened its position vis-a-vis the EU by developing its friendship with Russia. Ultimately, I am afraid that if Macedonia and Croatia back down to Greece and Slovenia, it will encourage more aggressive nationalist demands by individual NATO and EU members, and that that will destabilise the Balkans and retard the region’s Euro-Atlantic integration.

You said that ‘With Albania set to join NATO and significant ethnic-Albanian minorities present in Serbia, Montenegro and Macedonia, Tirana could, if it so wished, create a veritable nightmare for the Western alliance by making issues out of the latter’. Could you please explain what do you mean by this remark?

Just imagine if Macedonia were to capitulate to Greece, and if Albania were to draw the conclusion from this that it, too, as a member of NATO, could impose unreasonable demands on NATO candidate countries, including Macedonia. What then ? I do not wish to cast aspersions on Albania, which has behaved very responsibly in its regional policy, but in principle, Tirana could for example demand that Macedonia, Montenegro or Serbia grant it border rectifications, or grant their ethnic Albanian minorities territorial autonomy, if they want to join NATO. Where would you be then ? I’m not saying that this will happen, but a Macedonian capitulation to Greece would encourage this sort of thing.

It doesn’t pay to back down to aggressors. And, as I said, the EU, as a fundamentally unprincipled body, will generally reward unreasonable behaviour and put pressure on those who appear ready to bend. Macedonia may discover that sacrificing its name and identity will increase rather than solve its problems.

Saturday, 9 May 2009 Posted by | Balkans, European Union, Former Yugoslavia, Greece, Macedonia, NATO | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment