Click amount to donate direct to CounterPunch
  • $25
  • $50
  • $100
  • $500
  • $other
  • use PayPal
Keep CounterPunch ad free. Support our annual fund drive today!

Islamic Threat Inflation


When intelligence chiefs step out from behind the well worn desk and start to front more conspicuous authorities, some take notice.  Away from the dramas of intrusive surveillance and careless monitoring techniques, the chiefs can engage in rarefied thinking and look at the broad stretch of history.  We are away from the mechanists and the tool specialists.  We can talk big things.

Britain’s former M16 chief, Sir Richard Dearlove (yes, the stuff of Ian Fleming’s Bond – closed combination rooms with port, cigars, afters and gossip), current Master of Pembroke College, Cambridge struggles to see what the fuss is about.  If anything, he sees it as counterproductive, needless attention shed upon a misunderstood topic.  Some Britons might be spreading “blood-curdling” jihadist messages like soft butter, but it would be ridiculous to entertain them.  Hysteria can be so unbecoming.

His arguments, made before the Royal United Services Institute in London, is that, since the Arab Spring, the threat has shifted from being a maniacally driven project to undermine the West (whatever on earth that means), making societies such as those of Britain “marginally affected”.  The attacks of September 11, 2001 in the US and July 7, 2005 in Britain were now distant matters in the strategic landscape.  What we are instead entertained to are the rants and actions of “misguided young men, rather pathetic figures” who were obtaining exposure beyond “their wildest dreams.”

Accordingly, Dearlove sees the angry brigades of young men in ISIS as a matter of “essentially one Muslim on Muslim” (Guardian, Jul 7), suggesting that killing is not a problem as long as it takes place elsewhere, off the common green.  Let the jihadists sort it out amongst themselves. It matters not a jot what we do.

The problem with Dearlove’s assessment here is that things done to the situation in Middle East did, and do, matter.  His speech insisted that the US and British-led invasion of Iraq in 2003 had “probably small significance” regarding the creation of such groups as ISIS.  That is where his analysis is weak, refusing to believe that, under his watch as chief, Pandora’s Box was opened by a combination of carelessness and good, old-fashioned stupidity.

Dearlove had some convincing to do about his image of armed but childish attention seekers.  The neoconservatives are itching to get back into the fight. The Tories want a cause to strike at.  The have individuals such as Abdul Raqib Amin of Aberdeen keen to express on Good Morning Britain how he “left the UK to fight for the sake of Allah, to give everything I have for the sake of Allah.  One of the happiest moments of my life was when the plane took off from Gatwick airport. I was so happy, as a Muslim you cannot live in the country of kuffars (non-believers).”

This counter-current is far from soft and tepid.  Examinations of the problem in a domestic setting, specifically the threat of radicalisation or the efforts of Islamic communities in the “West” abound.  The policy brief of December 2011 from the Quarterly Journal of the Belfer Center argues that, “Despite warnings by public officials and terrorism analysts, there is little evidence that the risk of terrorist attacks in the Untied States by American Muslims is especially serious or growing.”

It also points out that, in exaggerating the threat, “serious risks” are created, among them estranging local Muslim communities who have “demonstrated willingness to expose aspiring militants”.  Information is thereby cut off, and good will lost.

Researchers at Duke University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill reached similar conclusions in a study in 2010.  Since the events of September 11, 2001, the study found that 139 American Muslims had committed violent terrorist acts (Time Magazine, Jan 6, 2010). The flipside of a negligible threat was that of a plausible one in the event of heavy-handed counter-terrorism measures. The exaggerated threat becomes an furious one. “Our research,” claimed David Schanzer, director of Duke University’s Triangle Centre on Terrorism and Homeland Security “suggests that initiatives that treat Muslim-Americans as part of the solution to the problem are far more likely to be successful.”

Dearlove’s beef, then, is with the media, who is seen to be leading the security establishment by the chain.  They provide unnecessary “oxygen”.  Certainly, the moguls and media outlets would be thrilled to have such control.   Certainly, UK Prime Minister David Cameron has a different view, as do leaders in other countries concerned about a string of recruits keen to blood themselves in the Syrian and Iraq conflicts.  “The number of foreign fighters in that area, the number of foreign fighters including those from the UK who could try to return to the UK is a real threat to our country.”

Dearlove’s summation, if rooted in an old-school appraisal of Western interventions in an area seen as a necessary playground, is more sound than most.  Keep coverage of the Middle East “as a political requirement”, he suggests, “but without putting the incipient terrorist threat to ourselves at the centre of the picture and, in particular, without demonising our own Muslim community on account of the small number of their young men who were tragically sucked into the conflict and risk returning home in an ugly and dangerous frame of mind.”  Wise words, but it remains to be seen whether they stick.

Dr. Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge.  He lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne. Email:




Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge. He lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne. Email:

More articles by:

2016 Fund Drive
Smart. Fierce. Uncompromised. Support CounterPunch Now!

  • cp-store
  • donate paypal

CounterPunch Magazine


October 25, 2016
Hiroyuki Hamada
Fear Laundering: an Elaborate Psychological Diversion and Bid for Power
Kathy Deacon
Plus ça Change: Regime Change 1917-1920
Priti Gulati Cox
President Obama: Before the Empire Falls, Free Leonard Peltier and Mumia Abu-Jamal
Robin Goodman
Appetite for Destruction: America’s War Against Itself
Richard Moser
On Power, Privilege, and Passage: a Letter to My Nephew
Rev. William Alberts
The Epicenter of the Moral Universe is Our Common Humanity, Not Religion
Dan Bacher
Inspector General says Reclamation wasted $32.2 million on Klamath irrigators
David Mattson
A Recipe for Killing: the “Trust Us” Argument of State Grizzly Bear Managers
Derek Royden
The Tragedy in Yemen
Ralph Nader
Breaking Through Power: It’s Easier Than We Think
Norman Pollack
Centrist Fascism: Lurching Forward
Guillermo R. Gil
Cell to Cell Communication: On How to Become Governor of Puerto Rico
Mateo Pimentel
You, Me, and the Trolley Make Three
David Swanson
Halloween Is Coming, Vladimir Putin Isn’t
Cathy Breen
“Today Is One of the Heaviest Days of My Life”
October 24, 2016
John Steppling
The Unwoke: Sleepwalking into the Nightmare
Oscar Ortega
Clinton’s Troubling Silence on the Dakota Access Pipeline
Patrick Cockburn
Aleppo vs. Mosul: Media Biases
John Grant
Humanizing Our Militarized Border
Franklin Lamb
US-led Sanctions Targeting Syria Risk Adjudication as War Crimes
Paul Bentley
There Must Be Some Way Out of Here: the Silence of Dylan
Norman Pollack
Militarism: The Elephant in the Room
Patrick Bosold
Dakota Access Oil Pipeline: Invite CEO to Lunch, Go to Jail
Paul Craig Roberts
Was Russia’s Hesitation in Syria a Strategic Mistake?
David Swanson
Of All the Opinions I’ve Heard on Syria
Weekend Edition
October 21, 2016
Friday - Sunday
John Wight
Hillary Clinton and the Brutal Murder of Gaddafi
Diana Johnstone
Hillary Clinton’s Strategic Ambition in a Nutshell
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Trump’s Naked and Hillary’s Dead
John W. Whitehead
American Psycho: Sex, Lies and Politics Add Up to a Terrifying Election Season
Stephen Cooper
Hell on Earth in Alabama: Inside Holman Prison
Patrick Cockburn
13 Years of War: Mosul’s Frightening and Uncertain Future
Rob Urie
Name the Dangerous Candidate
Pepe Escobar
The Aleppo / Mosul Riddle
David Rosen
The War on Drugs is a Racket
Sami Siegelbaum
Once More, the Value of the Humanities
Cathy Breen
“Today Is One of the Heaviest Days of My Life”
Neve Gordon
Israel’s Boycott Hypocrisy
Mark Hand
Of Pipelines and Protest Pens: When the Press Loses Its Shield
Victor Wallis
On the Stealing of U.S. Elections
Michael Hudson
The Return of the Repressed Critique of Rentiers: Veblen in the 21st century Rentier Capitalism
Brian Cloughley
Drumbeats of Anti-Russia Confrontation From Washington to London
Howard Lisnoff
Still Licking Our Wounds and Hoping for Change
Brian Gruber
Iraq: There Is No State
Peter Lee
Trump: We Wish the Problem Was Fascism
Stanley L. Cohen
Equality and Justice for All, It Seems, But Palestinians