Good aim, bad target

Admiral Sir Alan WestAdmiral Sir Alan West, the new security minister, informs us, citizens of the UK, that the ‘terror fight’ may take fifteen years’ . I have no idea of how this estimate has been done. Yet I can praise the Admiral for his clear criticism of the foolish Bush-Blair terminology, such as ‘War on Terror’. Indeed, who better than an Admiral can understand that war has at least an enemy with a face and possible veins from which to drain blood? Terror is an emotion; and fighting an emotion is a task for psychiatrists rather than soldiers and security forces. So, I admired the Admiral when publicly today he stated, “I hate that expression. It demeans the value of a war and it demeans the value of a lot of things.”

I have the impression, however, that if the ‘terrorists’ had the possibility of controlling an army and achieved a recognized status, they would have engaged with pleasure Admiral Sir Alan West in the ancient art of killing with honor, which we call war. Instead, globalization and radical changes in what it means to be an army, as well as the way in which war is fought, gift us with this new and unprecedented form of universal violence, which many call ‘terrorism’. I leave this reflection for future consideration.

Admiral Sir Alan West, who surely is a good strategist and a man who can take calculated rational decisions (what we actually need) does not seem very erudite and knowledgeable in two further (today more relevant than yesterday for a new security minister) disciplines: Islam and the understanding of Muslims.

Indeed, after scoring a good point with his criticism of the label ‘War on Terror’, he made this second, and unfortunate, remark


Calling for a “very careful” use of language, the former first sea lord cautioned against “talk about ‘the Muslim community’ and this sort of thing”. He added: “I have a lot of Muslim friends and they see themselves as British.”


I wonder if, at the time of the IRA, the Admiral would have cautioned people to refer to the ‘Catholic Church’. Although the meaning of ‘Muslim community’ is different from the idea of the Catholic Church, it also shares some similarity in the idea that a religion can unite its members as brothers and sisters.

I suggest the Admiral Minister to phone some of his Muslim friends and ask them what ‘Muslim community’ or better ‘ummah’ really means for them, if it can be compared and contrasted with the concept of British citizenship or if it is a challenge to it. I also offer the minister the opportunity of attending my course Understanding Islam: An Anthropological Approach. I can reassure the minister that since I am teaching in Scotland, he would not have to pay any top-up fees!


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