Making sense of it all: MI5, British Muslims and Syria

Briton Abdul Majeed Majid blew himself up in Aleppo

Over the past few months none of us could have failed to have noticed the warnings from politicians and the media frenzy around British Muslims “doing jihad” in Syria, writes Roshan Muhammed Salih.

Politicians have pledged that anyone found to have fought in Syria will be stripped of his/her citizenship, MI5 has warned that British jihadis will be arrested, and the mainstream media has gone into overdrive about the dangers of “radical Islamists” coming back to target Britain.

But the fact is that Britons have been “doing jihad” in Syria for three years now so why the sudden fuss and what is the agenda behind it?

I’ve been researching state spying, infiltration and disruption of the Muslim community for over a year and a half now so I hope I might be able to shed some light on British state strategy.


First of all it is important to understand that the British state has very sophisticated strategies for keeping Muslims weak, divided and the subject of public demonization. Yet the Muslim community is by and large ignorant of these strategies and completely vulnerable to be exploited by them.

One such strategy, in my opinion, is how the government has “played” British Muslims going to fight in Syria – using them to fulfill UK foreign policy as well as anti-Muslim domestic policy.

As I said, for the first three years of the uprising against Bashar al Assad the UK had no problem whatsoever with British Muslims going to fight in Syria. Why? Because British policy was to overthrow Assad and anything that facilitated that was okay.

Syrian rebels
Syrian rebels

So between the period 2011-2013 very few Britons were arrested for travelling to Syria although hundreds were thought to have made the journey. Some, in fact, may have even had their journeys facilitated.

The same was true, of course, when Britain allowed Muslims to go and fight in Libya in 2011 – again because it was British policy to overthrow Muammer al Gadhafi.

However, if British Muslims had traveled to Afghanistan, Iraq, Yemen or Somalia it would have been a different story. They would surely have been criminalized because the UK supports the governments in those countries and does not want them destabilized.

But in the last few months Britain seems to have become somewhat concerned that those who have done jihad in Syria will return radicalized and will have the military skills to target the British mainland. From London’s point of view, things may have got somewhat out of control – they are happy to see “jihadis” fight in Libya and Syria but don’t want them to cause havoc in the UK itself.

This fact has been reflected in the numbers of arrests that have taken place in the last few months as well as the huge media campaign which has been launched to warn against the “British jihadi Syria threat.”

Now obviously that threat is being exaggerated to scare the British public and government into giving M15 more resources. Perhaps the security service is looking for a new role for itself and more funding as the threat to the British mainland decreases as Britain has pulled out of Iraq and will pull out of Afghanistan by the end of 2014.

Al Qaeda

On the other hand, it is also plausible that some of the British Muslims who do return from Syria will indeed be radicalized and will indeed hold a grudge against Britain and have the means to act on that grudge. Therefore it is unrealistic for British Muslims to expect flowers when they return from Syria or expect the British authorities to treat then as if they are revolutionary heroes.

But given that the security service needs the “al Qaeda bogeyman” to secure funding for itself it is also probably quite happy to have a few “radical Islamists” in this country who will concoct plans to blow up stuff. After all, if these people didn’t exist M15 would have a lot less work to do.

So a “controllable terror threat” is a win-win situation for MI5 – they can arrest some of these people and can claim that they are “catching al Qaeda” and saving the nation from terror attacks. Moreover, they might just let some of these attacks actually succeed because that will secure them yet more funding, help deflect attention away from British foreign policy and help to demonise Muslims even further.

So to re-cap the British strategy vis-a-vis Muslims fighting in Syria serves the following agenda:

1. British Muslims fight Britain’s enemy in Syria Bashar al Assad.

2. M15 gets more funding to deal with Muslims who then return radicalized.

3. The very presence of a few radicalized British Muslims keeps MI5 in work.

4. Attention is deflected away from British foreign policy.

5. Domestic spying, infiltration and harassment activities are backed by the wider public and attention is focused back onto the Muslim community itself.

Muslim community strategy?

But what is the “British Muslim strategy” to counter the British state strategy? Well there isn’t one really.

It’s true that British Muslims are waking up to the extent of the spying, infiltration, harassment and divide-and-rule policies perpetrated against them, but they are still several steps behind the British state and its ever-developing tactics in this regard.

For example, some community leaders are saying that British Muslims who fight in Syria should not be criminalized because they are in fact revolutionary heroes. That may seem like an attractive argument to some but it won’t hold much weight with the authorities and wider public because al Qaeda and al Qaeda-linked groups are at the forefront of the fight against Bashar al Assad.

British Muslims are subject to state oppression
British Muslims are subject to state oppression

So surely we need to develop more sophisticated strategies that don’t play into the hands of British imperialism abroad and state repression at home?

Although I readily admit that I don’t have all the answers here are some of my recommendations:

Firstly, we need to educate ourselves about state manipulation strategies so that we know how to counter them.

Secondly, we should be discouraging our brethren from going to Syria to fight because a) they might end up fighting for al Qaeda. b) They will ultimately be fighting someone else’s war (eg the West and its regional proxies). c) They have no ability to affect the eventual outcome. That will be decided by the big powers as always. d) There is plenty of evidence that even most anti-Assad Syrian rebel forces do not want foreigners who don’t understand the local conditions coming there.

Thirdly, we have to do everything we can to marginalize the vocal minorities in our midst who provoke hatred and division against fellow believers. These people are playing right into the hands of state divide-and-rule tactics and are ensuring that the community stays weak.

Fourthly, we have to stop allowing politicians and media to play us off against each other by promoting the “good Muslim, bad Muslim” circus.

And finally, we need to develop or own narratives and have the confidence to put them forward in a confident way so that we aren’t always responding to someone else’s agenda. These narratives should focus on state oppression at home and abroad and target anyone that assists that oppression, directly or indirectly.


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