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Terrorism and Security

I recently wrote an article on the BBC website about the current situation in Yemen. As the recent experience of several Middle Eastern countries has shown, when governments break down, terrorist groups flourish. Yemen is the latest casualty. The unraveling of Yemen’s government and subsequent civil war has only increased the operational reach of al-Qaeda. A Saudi-led coalition, backed by the US and UK, is currently conducting air strikes against Yemen’s Houthi-led rebels. The latter swept into Yemen’s capital last September and consolidated their grip on power earlier this year assisted by former president Ali Abdullah Saleh, who maintained control of much of Yemen’s military apparatus. Ironically, this international military campaign is playing into al-Qaeda’s hands in several ways: by targeting al-Qaeda’s own domestic enemies; by employing sectarian rhetoric that plays up Sunni-Shi’ite fault lines previously insignificant in Yemen; by destroying Yemen’s military hardware that had been used against al-Qaeda; and by enabling al-Qaeda to exploit the lawless war-torn environment to expand its influence and build alliances among southern and eastern tribes to combat the mutual Houthi foe.

More than rights, a set of guiding principles is needed to counterpose to the reigning ideals of ‘security’, ‘growth’ and ‘innovation’. Alternative ideals, perhaps, such as democracy, health and environmental sustainability?  See part one.  The net has the potential to revolutionize democracy with an informed citizenry empowered to deliberate and decide on key issues. Yet current trends strengthen anti-democratic forces. In addition to concerns over privacy, there is an urgent need to address how the public realm is being hollowed out by corporate interests and advertisers. The ideal of democracy presupposes a shared public sphere in which citizens can construct, debate and decide on collective projects. This requires access to quality information and while the net has certainly increased the …

Under the rubric of state security on the one hand and commercial openness on the other, we are being lulled into an online world of fear and control where our every move is monitored in order to more efficiently manage us. This article launches a new section of the Great Charter Convention dedicated to debate and analysis of democracy, politics and freedom in the digital age. It is clear that we are at a crucial historical juncture. The issues around state power and surveillance raised by Edward Snowden’s revelations should be an important theme in the upcoming general election, while the symbolic double anniversary of Magna Carta (aged 800) and the web (aged 25) offers an opportunity for critical reflection on how …

Israel’s international image has suffered tremendously in the past few years. Repeated wars in the Gaza Strip, the continued construction of housing units in Jerusalem and the West Bank, and Benjamin Netanyahu’s provocative rhetoric during his most recent bid to win re-election have poisoned the relationship between Israel and the international community. 2014 proved to be the year of Palestinian statehood recognition votes in Europe. Parliaments from Portugal to Ireland, all the way to the European Parliament in Brussels have considered recognition. Though cautiously worded, the motions indicate a change in the international mood surrounding the Middle East conflict. Netanyahu’s most recent declarations of support for the two-state solution reflect the deep concern that has spread in Israel regarding what is for the first time serious international pressure on the country. But does this necessarily translate into a bright future for the Peace Process? Netanyahu’s interest in a two-state as opposed to a one-state solution should not take us by surprise. The latter would mean an Arab majority in the would-be Jewish state. At this time, about six million Jews and six million Arabs inhabit the territories of Israel and the future Palestinian state. With a higher Arab fertility rate, Jews would soon be a minority in such a state. Moreover, Palestinians seek the right of return of their over five million refugees as part of the state-creating deal, and it is to be expected that the state would attract a greater number of Palestinian refugees than of Jews eligible to return to Israel. It follows that a one-state solution spells the unthinkable for Israel.

What is it that turns peace-loving Muslims into militant Islamists? There are many answers to this complex question. One angle that might not naturally spring to mind is poetry. Yet this is what Dr Elisabeth Kendall argues in an interview for BBC Radio 4’s “The World This Weekend” with Mark Mardell.
Photo of Vladimir Putin seated at table in front of flags.

Last week, the Monkey Cage published a post by Alexander Motyl, a Ukrainian specialist at Rutgers-Newark, on the Five fatal flaws in realist analysis of Russia and Ukraine. Motyl claims that: “Realists want to have it both ways — arguing for and against rationality in general and in the Russian context in particular. Consistency can be reestablished, but only if realists finally agree that Putin is or is not rational and stick to one, and only one, interpretation.” While he identifies some inconsistencies in American realist analysis of the Ukrainian conflict, his purported cure might be more damaging than the supposed disease. I have five particular points here, but in general, I claim that a more balanced perspective reveals that, while realism doesn’t have all of the answers, it is more potent than Motyl admits.

The recent passage of Theresa May’s controversial Counter-Terrorism and Security Act has been met with a flurry of criticism, reiterating a familiar critique of the government’s counter-extremism strategy, Prevent. Responding to the growing support for ISIS among British citizens, the act introduces a range of more aggressive restrictions on suspected terrorists and new obligations for airlines and internet providers. Most controversially, the act places a “statutory duty” on colleges, schools, prisons, and councils to prevent terrorism, giving the Home Office rights to enforce its counter-terrorism guidance. Whereas the earlier Prevent program had been discussed in the language of community responsibility, the government’s counter-extremism strategy is now a legal obligation for a range of public sector institutions. The act falls short in several places and has been criticized for limiting academic freedoms and continuing to alienate Muslim communities in Britain. Perhaps more concerning, however, the act reveals the national government’s ongoing confusion about how to address the threat of terrorism. The definition of extremism remains vague and dissatisfying. The extent to which local communities can continue adapting the Prevent strategy to their local context is unclear. Finally, the bill leaves lingering questions about the strength of the central government’s commitment to its counter-extremism strategy.

Yemen continues to lurch from crisis to crisis. Last September, Houthi rebels (Zaydi Shi’ites from Yemen’s north) overran the capital Sana’a and have continued their push for geographical and political domination. After kidnapping the Yemeni President’s Chief of Staff on 19 January, in the following days they went on to besiege the Presidential Palace and demand changes to Yemen’s new draft constitution. Following failed attempts to implement a power-sharing agreement, on 22 January Yemen’s President, Prime Minister and Cabinet all resigned, stating that “we don’t want to be party to what is going on and what is going to happen”. That same day, Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah died. While the Saudi transition appears smooth and promises continuity, where is the Arabian Peninsula heading?