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British jehadis and the definition of war

British jehadis and the definition of war

Author: Farrukh Dhondy
Publication: The Times of India
Date: November 5, 2001

There is growing anxiety in Britain about what Bush, Blair, Osama bin Laden and Mullah Omar, the leader of the Taliban, are all agreed is a war. Bush and Blair say it's a war against terrorism and consequently a war against the Afghan State which shelters it. Osama writes an open letter contending that it's a war between Islam and Christianity and Omar declares it be a holy war though he is not specific about the religion against which it is being fought.

Some Brits are of the opinion that since war hasn't been declared, as Churchill declared it, then it isn't a war. Others are of the opinion that a war can only be defined as one army fighting another and Al-Qaida doesn't constitute an army and American and British bombardment from the air is not terribly chivalrous and so doesn't count. The Northern Alliance and the Taliban, facing each other as armies are not taken into account. The definition seems to matter for an unforeseen reason.

It is reported that several hundred British youths have made their way and are even now making their way to Afghanistan to fight alongside the Taliban against America and Britain. According to an Act passed in 1351, it is high treason to give comfort to the enemies of the Queen and fighting British soldiers anywhere in the world would qualify. The government has consequently issued a circular to the effect that if British citizens who have fought on the side of the Taliban attempt to return to Britain they will be put on trial for high treason.

It any of these traitors survive, my guess is they will try and get back into Britain rather than flourish in Afghanistan, Pakistan or some other delightful Islamic society. They'll take their chances. Britain is a country in which some freedom lovers are bound to side with them and argue that trials for treason are outdated or even that these young men are entitled to fight for their beliefs and should now be allowed to return to civilian life.

A TV producer of my acquaintance tracked down eight or ten of these young men who were preparing to make the journey and proposed that he'd make a documentary about them. At first some of them agreed to be filmed. They had second thoughts when the treason argument hit the press but still said they'd appear if their faces were disguised and names changed. They must have been thinking about hedging their bets - martyrdom in paradise or, failing that, a council flat in Dewsbury. The commissioning editor at the TV channel to which the programme was put refused it, not on the grounds that it wouldn't make interesting or important observational TV, but because she didn't want to be implicated in the apprehension and trial of the traitors. I don't suppose she believes in treason.

There begins to be something of an active backlash in Britain against the groups, one of them calling itself Al-Mahajiroun, who distribute the recruitment literature and boast that they have sent people to Kashmir and Afghanistan to fight on the side of the Taliban, the Jaish-e-Muhammad and other groups.

They have so far enjoyed the protection of the British police who ensure that they have the freedom to distribute their poison outside mosques. I am of the opinion that the British state ought to give them free one way tickets to Afghanistan out of the defence budget if they ask for them. In Luton, these pamphleteers were severely beaten by Muslim youths who asked them to move on and to stop giving Islam a bad name.

It may have nothing to do with this war or not-war, but this week David Blunkett, the home secretary, has put forward plans for testing new immigrants to Britain on their competence in English and to give them instruction in British citizenship.

The Indians and Pakistanis with whom I have discussed the proposals seem satisfied that this measure is not aimed at us, but has been brought in to ensure that ex-Balkans asylum seekers learn the language. But still, once the measure is in, the government won't make a distinction and everyone will receive the instruction and be put through the test.

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