Conservatives and the ‘clash of civilisations’….

Conservative Home has this story attacking Labour and John Denham for ‘restoring links with the Muslim Council of Britain’. Meanwhile, elsewhere it has a piece on the ‘gathering storm of militant Islam‘; before this we have seen David Cameron play the ‘extremist appeasement’ card at Prime Ministers Questions.

I would not be surprised to see this become a familiar ‘Conservative refrain in the upcoming election campaign. The Conservative Home piece on the ‘gathering storm’ condemns Britain as being ‘sleepy’ and likens militant Islamism to Nazism;

Efforts by groups such as The Centre for Social CohesionPolicy Exchange and the Quilliam Foundation, and by individuals such as Michael Gove and Baroness Cox, to draw our attention to the threat of rising radical Islamism reminds me of Winston Churchill’s warnings about Nazi Germany, as documented in The Gathering Storm.

The reason for the historical comparison is obvious but it is completely historically illiterate. For one thing Nazism had the support of the organised power of a state; the same cannot be said of Al-Quaeda or their ilk. It had a standing army; infrastructure etc, etc where as a terrorist group is as much a body of ideas and an ideology as a formally organised presence (hence its adherents can and do act autonomously). Nazism is an ideology too but it was much more closely tied to the state-form than the ideology of Al-Quaeda. This is why things like the interventions in Afghanistan and Iraq were fundamentally flawed in their premise; while it may have damaged some structure (in the former, not the latter) the actual results have been a net gain for the *ideology* espoused by Al-Quaeda.

When you read the pieces on Conservative Home and thoughts of the likes of Michael Gove you realise that the Conservative Party implictly supports the theory of a ‘clash of civilisations’ espoused by the likes of Samuel Huntington. Western civilisation is fundamentally threatened by the Islamic one even potentially in its ‘moderatre’ form (hence the overwhelming support of Conservative members for ethnic screening). Liberals and left-wingers are potentially traitors and appeasers who, implicitly, could also be the legitimate target of state action.

It would be wrong of Labour to  ‘hang-tough’ and try to sound tougher than the Conservatives. Instead we should argue that the Conservatives world-view is totally flawed and potentially dangerous in its conclusions (the conclusions are not more civil liberties but radically less). Also, it is my belief that we should argue that the ‘war on terror’ be ended (the Conservatives only take this ‘war’ to its logical conclusion): the vast majority of anti-terror legislation should be repealed and withdrawal from Afghanistan undertaken. Radical? Yes. Popular? Probably not. The right thing to do? Unquestionably yes.


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2 responses to “Conservatives and the ‘clash of civilisations’….”

  1. mommsen says :

    Being a German, perhaps I know a thing or two about the Nazis and German history. You wrote that “Nazism had the support of the organised power of a state” and that “the same cannot be said of Al-Quaeda or their ilk.” When you wrote this about the Nazis, you were certainly right with regard to the time from 1933 onwards. However, the Nazi party was not founded in 1933, but 14 years before Hitler came to power. In 1919 the Nazi party had only a small number of members. After the failed Munich Beer Hall Putsch (1923), Hitler and the Nazis even became outlaws in Germany and their political party was banned, though party members continued to operate under another name.

    You also wrote that “Nazism is an ideology”. May I therefore quote from a book which was published in England in 1940? The book was written by Sebastian Haffner, a German anti-Nazi who came to Britain as a political asylum-seeker in 1938. In his book ‘Germany. Jekyll & Hyde. A Contemporary Account of Nazi Germany’ he wrote that there was an important point which “must be grasped because otherwise nothing can be understood. And all partial acquaintance with the facts is worthless and misleading until it is thoroughly digested and absorbed. It is this: Nazism is no ideology but a magic formula which attracts a definite type of men. It is a form of ‘characterology’ not ideology. To be a Nazi means to be a type of human being.”

    So I’m less sure than you whether comparing the Nazis with Al-Quaeda makes sense or not. However, I do agree with your statements regarding civil liberties. I think that each curb on civil liberties is a reason to be worried. This is true for each and every European country. Unfortunately, the current British Labour government has curbed civil liberties so extensively in recent years that Shami Chakrabarti, the head of Liberty (“The National Council for Civil Liberties”) says about the last decade in Britain: “We have lived under one of the most authoritarian ages in living memory”.

    By the way, I know that this is a political blog about British politics. It’s also evident to me that it’s written for British readers. As I’m not British, please let me know should my comments not be welcome here.


  2. darrellgoodliffe says :


    Thanks for the comment. You make a valid point about the Nazi’s pre their ascension to state power however you have actually reminded me of another key difference. The Nazi’s while being a movement were also a political party. Now its true that terrorist groups sometimes do have ‘political wings’ (Hamas, IRA spring to mind) which makes them easier to deal with in many ways because they have quantifiable demands that can be negotiated with; though I believe AQ does have these (withdrawal of Western troops from Islamic countries) I dont think any government is in a frame of mind to even countenance these.

    I think what you write about Nazism as an ideology could also be said to be true of AQ too but I think to be honest the point made could also apply to any ideology. This is what gives Al-Quaeda (ism) such a non-state form; the terrorist attacks in Britain for example, were perpetrated not under the direction of AQ but more the ideological inspiration by.

    I think the more civil liberties we give away in the name of a war that I believe should not fought as a war at all the more pointless and futile the whole exercise is. Paradoxically, it is also the erosion of civil liberties that aids AQ (this is after all the aim of terrorism, to achieve victory not by military deed but the affects of fear) and further advances its aims. After all, what sort of message does allowing ethnic screening at airports send to Muslims?

    I agree the government response has been wrong; counterproductive even though I think any of the three parties in power would have seen similar responses; the Conservatives will certainly increase authoritarianism and with the Liberal Democrats the difference would have been in degrees because the internal logic of fighting a ‘war on terror’ would have compelled them to take some measures. In other words, the state has responded as it usually does when it feels threatened.

    Dont worry; all your comments are welcome here 🙂


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