The British government is trying to scrap the Human Rights Act of 1998 by continuing its foreign policy in the Middle East, and tightening domestic “anti-terror” laws under the facade of “fighting terrorism”, writes Abdullah Noorrudeen.
In my previous article, I highlighted how Moazzam Begg and his ordeal signalled the death knell of the counter terrorism and counter extremism agenda. His presence, words and actions were and still are a thorn in the side of the neocon government’s intentions.
As saddening and condemnable Alan Henning’s death was, from the government’s point of view, frankly it was the best thing that could have happened for the neocons to continue the onwards march of the war on human rights, and continuation of the foreign policy agenda. It is a means of accelerating the recuperation from the damage dealt by the release of Moazzam Begg.
Neoconservatism – a “Mode of thinking”
Neoconservative policies are driving much of British politics today, but aside from a light mention of what neocons really stand for on this blog, the understanding of the intricate play of neoconservatism with the politics and the people requires a deeper analysis of the writings of the neocons and the sources from which they derive. I have already mentioned Douglas Murray, a man who does exert an influence over the current direction of UK’s frankly absurd policies. Murray in his book cites Leo Strauss, and academics like Shadia Drury have described their thoughts as “Machiavellian”, abusing democracy to achieve their own ends. For many, this serves little meaning in terms of everyday life. In order to fully understand the implication of the neoconservative mind-set, one needs to delve further into the neocon “mode of thinking”.
The Henry Jackson Society, which is a key influence on UK domestic and foreign security policy, proudly imports (and exports) the American neoconservative “persuasion”. The focus on America is why Douglas Murray has passionately spoken in defence of American policies, for instance defending the use of US drone attacks and shockingly, even torture in the form of water-boarding.
It is also why William Shawcross has defended Guantanamo Bay and the Iraq war and why Michael Gove pursued his “ideological” military-esque foray into the Muslim minority vis-à-vis Trojan Hoax, and why now the ground has been prepped for the neocons in Government to pull the plug on the Human Rights Act, to the disdain of various rights groups such as Liberty and Amnesty.
The “fathers of neoconservatism” are Irving Kristol and Leo Strauss. I will focus on Irving Kristol and other contemporary “leading lights” like David Brooks as it was Kristol who brought out the writings of Strauss and wrote in defence and promotion of neocon “persuasions” (as opposed to principles) whilst contemporary neocon thinkers have built upon what has been written.
Neocons and the Acquisition of Power
The aim of the neocons is to firstly get into power, and once in power, stay there. They fundamentally do not believe in liberal “principles” as they do conservative ones. This notion allows for the easy dispelling of other principles, such as the rule of law. As Kristol explains, there are moments when it is “wrong to do the right thing”.
“There are occasions where circumstances trump principles. Statesmanship consists not in being loyal to one’s avowed principles (that’s easy), but in recognizing the occasions one’s principles are being trumpeted by circumstances…”
In other words, the principles should be done away with depending on the dominant public opinion using among other things, the notions of pragmatism, or “prudence” in neocon-speak. To not do so would be “ideological fanaticism” and “extremism”. The neocon does this for power. In the words of the American academic C. Bradley Thompson: “The pragmatic neocon covets power – or rather the power to acquire power. That is what counts”.
We can see this wishy-washy, (philosophically) Machiavellian thought-process in the example of the Conservatives. Back in 2007, the Lib Dems proved a legitimate threat against the Conservatives in winning the elections and certainly had the Muslim-bloc vote. As such, his views on integration were much softer: “Integration has to be about more than immigrant communities, ‘their’ responsibilities and ‘their’ duties… I found myself thinking that it is mainstream Britain which needs to integrate more with the British Asian way of life, not the other way around.”
Islamist? What Islamist? As Irving Kristol wrote, in the allying with evangelical Christians, “If the Republican Party is to survive, it must work at accommodating these people”.
Once in power, that shifted with the rise of the EDL (incidentally defended by extremist neocon ideologue, Douglas Murray), the far-right and the information that the majority of voters still regard themselves as “Christians”. Thus we had David Cameron talking about Jesus inventing the Big Society, whilst his Home Secretary Theresa May was calling on Muslims to adopt her British values, and exercising their rights with the condition that they “respected British values”, a first in the human rights discourse.
The emergence of UKIP brought light to the “social” issues: with difficulties in getting jobs, the focus shifted on the various brown and European people who were “taking our jobs” (ignoring for instance, the fact that large corporations fuel “foreign” immigration due to the cheaper labour). Thus, in order to stay in power, the rhetoric of the Conservative party has further pandered to the far-right, attempting to negotiate the EU “Free Movement” principle, as they fight to keep their party members and even donors.
These are neoconservative tactics in play. They are not based on rationality, or reason; they appeal to the emotions of the public. And with the public, lies the vote.
Dispensing with Justice and Human Rights
This focus on emotion is not surprising. David Brooks argues this in the context of American judges, in that they should base their decisions on the basis of empathy rather than reason. According to him, “people with social emotions like empathy are not objective decision-makers,” for those who use reason, are most likely to be “sociopaths who sometimes end up on death row”.
It is neocon mentality like this which restricted the rights of a man for several years without charge only to be vindicated once tried. It is this “persuasion” which resulted in an incoherent judgment of Michael Adebelajo, who as his brother claimed was not a threat to public (various reports show him conversing with members of the public) being sentenced for life whilst white-supremacist Pavlo Lapshyn who stabbed an 82 year old Muslim man to death, attempted to blow up mosques and wanted to start a “race war”, was given a minimum sentence of 40 years.
Could it be that it was this need for emotion and lack of rationality, which failed to negotiate the release of Alan Henning, despite them having the best help they could get? After all it, provides for an emotive pretext to further continue the perpetual war in the UK viz. PREVENT (especially after the disruption of the Strategy caused by Moazzam’s release) and in Iraq.
In the case of Abu Qatada we saw a hindrance to the control of the “wise men” à la neocons. Human Rights is what was preventing a potential miscarriage of justice by a thuggish UK government which was pandering to the emotions of the far-right to maintain popular opinion of the Conservative party and therefore stay in power.
We are now witnessing a complete onslaught on human rights by the Conservatives with the greatest of ironies in that David Maxwell-Fife (a Conservative) was one of the drafters of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), and to the sharp criticism of rights groups such as Liberty and Amnesty International.
However in the above lies the clue to why the human rights is such a big “no no” for the current neocon government. In short, it limits the paternalism inherent in neoconservative control through a statist governance of the people.
As Kristol wrote (in the context of the welfare state), “they [the neocons] know that 19th century idea, so neatly propounded by Herbert Spencer in his ‘The Man Versus the State,’ was a historical eccentricity.” The neocons, including Irving Kristol propose a guiding elite who can only truly decide for the masses their decisions and choices.
Taken further, another neocon thinker, Michael Leeden suggests to American political leaders to adopt “Machiavellian Leadership”, arguing that sometimes one may need to resort to doing evil actions like being a dictator in order save freedom, presenting the model examples of Mao and Hitler.
The combined result of the above is the rejection of the ECHR, regardless of rationale. It is what results in some people being treated as sub-human, second class citizens. Neocon ideologue Douglas Murray writes,
“Under Article 2 of the ridiculous and newly invented European Convention of Human Rights, European countries are “forbidden” from deporting or rendering culprits if their lives may be in danger… To win this war lives of terrorists and inciters to terrorism should be considered as pitilessly on our streets and within our society as they are on foreign battlefields… The rights of the West’s people override those of the Islamist’s in their midst. And extradition should also include sending suspects away from our shores.”
And so we have the blatantly discriminatory extradition of Talha Ahsan, the extradition of Abu Qatada who was detained potentially indefinitely in the UK but then acquitted in Jordan, and more recently, the detention of Moazzam, which according to Craig Murray was on the orders of Theresa May herself.
Human rights thus, get in the way of neocons doing what they want, and if Douglas Murray and the likes of Michael Gove are anything to go by, to hell with human rights if it means they cannot get their way with those pesky Muslims. Or troublesome journalists for that matter.
The tactics of subterfuge to maintain the status quo of the neocons is now emblematic of British Government policy. Whenever an apparent crisis which conveniently fits the neocon narrative permeates the media, we are told time and again, that there is an enemy who wishes to snatch our freedom. That they are a threat to the security of Britain.
However, through the years of neocons being in power, it is they who have pushed policies criminalising religion and dissent; it is they who have continually pushed a policy creating a surveillance state and encouraged the invasion of privacy at the same time; it is indeed they who have minimised government scrutiny; and it is they who have threatened the security of Britain. It is for this reason, now more than ever, that the Human Rights Act is needed.
It is time to root out this dangerous malignancy which has spread its influence across the government. If not, the neocons will continue to push society into accepting the “wisdom” of the elite few who will “guide” society towards second-class citizenry.
 Douglas Murray, Neoconservatism: Why We Need It, Encounter Books: New York, 2006
 Henry “Scoop” Jackson had a prominent influence on neoconservatism, see: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Henry_M._Jackson#Influence_on_neoconservatism
 Irving Kristol, “When It’s Wrong to Be Right,” Wall Street Journal, March 24, 1993
 Thompson/Yaron, Neoconservatism: An Obituary for an Idea, Boulder: Paradigm, 2010, p.37
 Irving Kristol, Neoconservatism: The Autobiography of an Idea, New York: Free Press, 1996, p.368
 Interestingly, some amongst UKIP see their policies similar to those propounded by Douglas Murray’s neoconservatism, see https://www.thecommentator.com/article/3457/ukip_neo_conservatism_and_douglas_murray, [Accessed 06/10/2014]
 Irving Kristol, “The Neoconservative Persuasion”, Weekly Standard, August 25, 2003
 Michael Ledeen, Machiavelli on Modern Leadership, St. Martin’s Griffin, 2000, pp.173-174, pp.19-20
 Douglas Murray, Neoconservatism: Why We Need It, Encounter Books: New York, 2006, p.215