Military, financial and diplomatic backings were given to Islamist forces, which had forced an amazing Soviet military withdrawal. Pretty soon, these forces had organized themselves into 'jihadi' outfits, ready to strike the Western targets.
After the so called 'jihad' in Afghanistan, Britain had cover dealings of one kind or another, with militants in various terrorist organisations, including Pakistan's Harkat ul-Ansar, the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, and the Kosovo Liberation Army. All of these outfits had strong links to Bin Laden's 'al-Qaida'. Secretly, actions had already been undertaken with these and/or other forces in Central Asia, North Africa and Eastern Europe.
Although the case in the point is that Britain had historically contributed to the development of global terrorism, the current threat to Britain was not simply a 'blowback'.
We know that Whitehall's collusion with radical Islam had continued in order to bolster the British position in the Middle East. Planners not only continued with their special relationships with Riyadh and Islamabad, but they were also found to be conniving recently, with the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and Islamists and their supporters in Libya. In a different way, the British are now also collaborating with elements of the Taliban, in Afghanistan in a desperate effort to find an exit from an increasingly disastrous war.
The roots of British collusion with radical Islam go back to 'divide and rule politics', promoted during the Empire, when British officials regularly sought to cultivate Muslim groups or individuals, to counter emerging nationalist forces challenging British hegemony. It is a well known fact that British planners helped create the modern Middle East, during and after the First World War, by placing rulers in territories drawn up by the British planners. Hurriedly drawn straight lines on the desert maps, defined the boundaries of nations of the Middle East.
However, the British policy also involved restoring the Caliphate, the leadership of the Muslim world, back to Saudi Arabia, where it would come under British control. This was a strategy which had tremendous significance for the future Saudi kingdom, and the rest of the world. After the Second World War, British planners were confronted with the imminent loss of their colonial Empire, and the rise of two new superpowers (the United States and Soviet Union), but were determined to maintain as much political and commercial influence in the world, as possible.
Although Southeast Asia and Africa were important to British planners, by virtue of their raw material resources, it was the Middle East, due to its colossal oil reserves, over which London mainly wanted to exert influence. Yet here, a major enemy arose in the form of popular Arab nationalism, led by Egypt's Gamal Abdel Nasser, which sought to promote an independent foreign policy and end Middle Eastern states' reliance, on the West.
To contain the threat, Britain and the US not only propped up conservative, pro-Western monarchs and feudal leaders, but also fomented clandestine relationships with Islamist forces, notably the Muslim Brotherhood, to destabilise and overthrow the nationalist governments.
As Britain withdrew its military forces from the Middle East in the late 1960s, Islamist forces such as the Saudi regime and, once again, the Muslim Brotherhood, were often seen as proxies to maintain British interests in the region. They had continued to destabilise communist or nationalist regimes or were promoted as the 'muscle', to bolster pro-British, right-wing governments.
By the 1970s, Arab nationalism had been virtually defeated as a political force, thanks to the Anglo-American opposition; it was largely replaced by the rising force of radical Islam, which London again, often saw as a handy weapon to counter the remnants of secular nationalism and communism in key states, such as Egypt and Jordan.
After the Afghanistan war in the 1980s spawned a variety of terrorist forces, including al-Qaida, terrorist atrocities began to be mounted first in Muslim countries and then, in the 1990s, in Europe and the US. Yet, crucially for this story, Britain continued to see some of these groups as useful, principally as proxy guerilla forces in places as diverse as Bosnia, Azerbaijan, Kosovo and Libya; there, they were used either to help break up the Soviet Union and secure major oil interests, or to fight nationalist regimes.....this time, those of Slobodan Milosevic in Yugoslavia, and Muammar Qadafi in Libya.
Throughout this period, many jihadist groups and individuals found refuge in Britain, some gaining political asylum, while continuing involvement in terrorism overseas. Whitehall not only tolerated but encouraged the development of 'Londonistan'- the capital city, acting as a base and organising centre for numerous jihadist groups - even as this provided a de facto 'green light' to that terrorism.
I do have a feeling that some elements, at least, in the British establishment may have allowed some Islamist groups to operate from London, not only because they provided information to the security services but also because they were seen as useful to British foreign policy, notably in maintaining a politically divided Middle East--the long-standing goal of imperial and postwar planners --- and perhaps, as a lever to influence foreign governments' policies.
Radical Islamic forces have been seen as useful to Whitehall in five specific ways: as a global counter-force, to the ideologies of secular nationalism and Soviet communism, in the cases of Saudi Arabia and Pakistan; as 'conservative muscle' within countries to undermine secular nationalists and bolster pro-Western regimes; as 'shock troops' to destabilise or overthrow governments; as proxy military forces to fight wars; and as 'political tools' to leverage change from governments.
Although Britain had forged long-standing special relationships with Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, it had not been in strategic alliance with radical Islam as such. Beyond these two states, Britain's policy had been to collaborate with Islamist forces as a matter of ad hoc opportunism, though it could be said that this has been rather 'regular'. Time and again, the declassified planning documents have revealed that British officials were perfectly aware, that their collaborators were anti-Western and anti-imperialist, devoid of liberal social values or were simple the fanatics (terrorists).
Whitehall did not work with these forces because it had agreed with them, but simply because they were useful at specific times of need. Islamist groups appeared to have collaborated with Britain for the same reasons of expediency, and because they shared the same hatred of popular nationalism as the British.
These forces opposed British imperialism in the Middle East, just as they did their current occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan. However, they have not generally opposed the neo-liberal economic policies pursued by the pro-Western, British-backed regimes in the region. Crucially, British collusion with radical Islam had also helped promote two big geo-strategic foreign policy objectives.
The first had been the influence and control over key energy resources, always recognised in the British planning documents, as the number one priority in the Middle East. British operations to support or side with Islamist forces had been generally aimed at maintaining in power or installing governments, that promoted Western-friendly, oil policies.
The second objective had been maintaining Britain's place within a pro-Western global financial order. The Saudis had invested billions of dollars in the US and British economies and banking systems, and Britain and the US had similarly, large investments and trade conducted with Saudi Arabia; hence, these were protected by the strategic alliance with Riyadh.
Since the period of 1973-75, when British officials secretly made a range of deals with the Saudis to invest their oil revenues in Britain, there has been a tacit Anglo-American-Saudi pact, to maintain this financial order, that entailed London and Washington, to turn a blind eye to whatever else the Saudis spent their money on. This had been accompanied, on the Saudi side, by a strategy of bankrolling Islamist and jihadist causes, and a 'Muslim' foreign policy aimed at maintaining the Saud family in power. That was the power of the Middle East paradox!
In promoting its strategy, Britain had routinely collaborated with the US, which also had a history of similar collusion with radical Islam. Given the declining British power, Anglo-American operations changed from being genuinely joint enterprises, in the early postwar years to ones where Whitehall was the junior partner, often providing specialist covert forces in the operations managed by Washington. At times, Britain acted as the de facto covert arm of the US government, doing the dirty work which Washington could not, or did not wish to carry out.
The British use of the Muslim forces to achieve policy objectives, goes back to the days of the Empire...thus predating the United States. Equally, in the postwar world, Whitehall had sometimes acted independently of Washington, to pursue distinctly British interests, such as the plots to overthrow Nasser in the 1950s or the promotion of Londonistan in the 1990s.
I will not say that radical Islam and violent jihadism are British or Western 'creations', since this would overstate Western influence in regions like the Middle East and Southeast Asia, where numerous domestic and international factors had shaped these forces, over a long period of time. British policy had contributed to the present threat of terrorism, although this dare not be mentioned, in mainstream British culture. It is only the anti-Soviet jihad in 1980s Afghanistan that is well-known as contributing factor, to the emergence of terrorist groups.
Even here, much more attention has been paid to the covert US role than the British. As for the rest of history, there is virtually complete silence, similar to the darkness that prevails over other episodes in Britain's recent foreign policy, where less than the noblest of intentions were in evidence. The British public has been deprived of key information to understand the roots of current terrorism and the role that government institutions, which pose as our protectors, had played in putting us all in harm's ways.
My understanding of Islamic radicalism is based on the definition of the respectable French expert, Olivier Roy. In that, it involves a return of all Muslims to the true tenets of Islam (usually called 'Salafism' - 'the path of the ancestors' - or 'fundamentalism') and a political militancy that advocates jihad, in the sense of a 'holy war' against the enemies of Islam.
These adversaries could also include Muslim rulers. Roy defines Islamism as a brand of modern fundamentalism that seeks, through political action, to create an Islamic state by imposing Islamic ('sharia') law, as the basis for all society's laws. Islamists see Islam not merely as a religion, but as a political ideology, which should be integrated into all aspects of society.
In this write up, I have endeavored to Ireveal the unreported attempts by Britain, to cultivate relations with the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, particularly, after the fall of Hosnie Mubarak, the military intervention on the side of Libyan rebel forces which include pro-al-Qaeda elements, and the ongoing reliance on the region's ultimate fundamentalist state, Saudi Arabia. All this was executed with a purpose to safeguard its interest in the Middle East.
In my humble efforts, this narrative reveals the undercover (hush hush) history, of British collusion with radical Islamic and terrorist organizations. This is also a story of how Britain helped nurture the rise of global terrorism.... a story that has perhaps, never been accurately told! (Concluded)
The author is a former educator based in Chicago
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