June 4, 2017 by Paul Goldsmith
Those who know me, talk to me, read my blogs and even those taught by me will know that I am happy to change my mind about something or someone if I read facts or opinions that are more persuasive about a debate. I have done so about many things, unburdened as I believe myself to be by an attachment to any political or economic dogma apart from what works, or how I might want the world to work if I were ignorant about the fortune or misfortune of my birth.
Yesterday I read something that made me think again about Donald Trump. Yes, it was written by Niall Ferguson, who is very much of a centre-right persuasion, and whose wife, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, has campaigned against Islamist extremism for many years. But rather than dismiss what he is saying, I acknowledge that when this Harvard Professor writes, he does so from a position of having talked about and thought about this issue for a long time. Ferguson has spotted some sense in the international relations work Donald a Trump just did, and I would like to share and acknowledge it (you can read the whole article here, although it is behind a paywall).
Ferguson starts out by pointing out the obvious, and something that should be uncontroversial. There is at the moment a global movement that uses religious texts to encourage young men and women to believe that violence against unbelievers is so legitimate and praiseworthy that it calls a 22 year old who detonates a suicide bomb that kills 22 concert-goers, including an eight year old girl a ‘soldier’. Ferguson notes that ISIS kills more Muslims than anyone else, but are hitting the West with increasingly depraved acts.
Ferguson then homes in on Salman Abedi, the Manchester terrorist. Abedi’s parents were granted asylum by Britain in 1994. His father, Ramadan, had been part of the Libyan Islamic fighting group. When Gaddafi was overthrown in 2011, he returned to Liby, supporting Jabhat al-Nusra, an al-Queda offshoot that operates in both Syria and Libya. Ramadan Abedi spoke out last week before his arrest. “My message to the world is [that] there are hidden hands that want to tarnish the image of Muslims who live in the West.” He also said: “We don’t believe in killing innocents. This is not us.”
All very well, but on his Facebook page Ramadan Abedi says he does believe in killing “the infidels”. His page also shows a picture of Salman Abedi’s younger brother holding a gun with the caption. “The lion Hashem…in training.” So, rather than the hidden hands Ramadan Abedi talks about, the image of Muslims in the West is actually being tarnished by extremist families like his. Salman Abedi was a product of this family, and part of a Jihadi network in Greater Manchester that was connected to similar networks in Syria, Libya, Turkey and Germany, countries he had visited in the week before he committed mass murder.
There are, according to Ferguson, tens of thousands of young men like Salman Abedi in Europe. Yet there is very little we can do about them whilst we don’t even know what to call their movement and when we ridicule the one leader who has pledged to eradicate this movement from the face of the earth.
When Donald Trump went to Saudi Arabia he was laughed at. Why wasn’t Saudi Arabia named in his ‘travel ban’ when most of the 9/11 bombers came from there. How could Trump go there when Saudi Arabia has been the main source of funding for the export of Sunni fundamentalism for years?
The answer is in the picture above. Everyone also laughed at that picture of Trump and the Saudi King laying their hands on that glowing white orb. But so desperate are the media to ridicule Trump that they decided to ignore what the orb actually was. It was the official launch button for the new Global Centre for Combatting Extremist Ideology in Riyadh. This was a massive departure for the Saudi regime and a major contribution to the ‘ideological warfare’ on radical Islamist terrorism that Trump promised during the campaign last year.
Trump then spoke: “A better future is only possible if your nations drive out the terrorists and extremists,” Trump told leaders from Muslim-majority nations. “Drive. Them. Out. Drive them out of your places of worship. Drive them out of your communities. Drive them out of your holy land. And drive them out of this earth.”
Trump didn’t say this in Pennsylvania. He went straight to the source. He knows there is a quid pro quo, which will include confronting Iran’s regional and nuclear ambitions, stabilising Syria, Libya and Iraq, and rethinking his policy on Muslim immigration (although he will probably point out that Salman Abedi travelled openly around and out of two of the countries in his travel ban last week, and look what happened). But Trump seems to in part be prepared to do what he has to do.
Barack Obama tried something different. He went to Cairo and called for a ‘new beginning’ and a ‘reset in relations’ with the Muslim world. He was rewarded with a Nobel Peace Prize and the rise of ISIS. Trump is trying something different, and he isn’t paddling around the problem, he has gone straight to the heart of it, even armed it, but given it encouragement to police itself. It is RealPolitik in the extreme, but it might just work.