Tag Archives: brussels

On The IRA, And Jihadis

As someone who remembers the Troubles in Northern Ireland that started in the late 1960s, I am beginning to see some horrible parallels with the jihadist attacks in Paris, Brussels and elsewhere.

A history lesson. During the Troubles cities like Londonderry and Belfast had substantial areas where the majority of the population were disaffected Catholics, with some genuine reason to hold grievances. These were pretty much no-go areas for police and security forces except if entered in force.

A minority of that Catholic population were active supporters of the IRA and other terrorist organisations. The majority were sufficiently alienated that they were not much inclined to help the security forces.

This meant the IRA et al were able to operate there, collecting funds, using safe houses and storing weapons.

This is exactly the situation in Molenbeek in Brussels, in some banlieues in Paris and, to a much lesser degree, in parts of the UK that have produced their own home grown jihadis. That Paris bomber who was shot in the leg and captured the other day, Salah Abdeslam, was almost certainly caught after a rare tip-off to police. He had been living, unhindered, in Molenbeek for several months.

You have a large, disaffected religious minority. You have a minority within them, and the opinion polls bear this out, who support the extremists. You have virtual no-go areas. You have terrorists able to hide among that community. The parallels are obvious.

There are three differences, all of them negatives, in my view. One, the IRA did not set out to kill indiscriminately. Two, some of those genuine grievances could be addressed.

This meant that, after the IRA was worn down by decades of attritional military action, a settlement could be reached with the Catholics to give them a greater say in civil society. The Good Friday Agreement 18 years ago.

There is still the odd idiot out there that thinks we can reach agreement with the jihadis/Isis, but I imagine their number is shrinking with each atrocity. As to wearing the jihadis down, I don’t see how, given their nihilistic mindset.

Three, and this is a long way off but the clock is ticking, the jihadis/Isis have potential access to weapons of mass destruction, and will use them.

All this suggests we face decades of terrorist action, along the lines of the IRA struggle but much, much worse. Rather than a bomb here and a murder there, we face decades of events like those in Brussels and Paris, and 7/7. On a regular basis. It is too easy to achieve, given all the above and the seemingly endless supply of jihadis.

What can be done? The jihadis cannot be beaten in a military/security context without an abandonment of their (and our) civil rights – imprisonment without trial for all sympathisers, mass deportations, worse – that is unacceptable today to the majority of the population.

How many civilian deaths will there have to be before this becomes acceptable? And do we even want this to happen?

Have a nice day.


On Business And The EU

I was listening the other day to a businessman I know rather well avoiding a straight answer on Radio 4 to the simple question of whether he favours the UK staying in or leaving the EU.

We have more than a year of this to grind through, and you might as well ask every senior UK executive who their favourite Beatle was, for all it matters. Still, every single one will be asked. The answer is that, whatever their personal views, almost all would suffer in terms of their own business from a British exit. That is a given. Not one sector of industry, services or commerce that I am aware of will do better outside the EU.

During last year’s Scottish referendum it was different. Then, substantial Scottish employers were asked how independence would affect them, and a number pointed out that it would be a negative, to the point that several had drawn up plans to relocate south of the border if this happened.

One told me that having a tariff border between two parts of what was then, and still is, a single country would be a serious encumbrance in terms of added red tape. Other financial services companies made it clear they would much rather operate in the City than in an independent Scotland. That will have had some effect on the eventual vote.

Interesting, then, those business leaders who have emerged as part of a pressure group that wants us to leave the EU, even though, by my analysis, their firms would suffer. This must be a rare example of principle trumping economics in the business world.

It still doesn’t make them right.

On The EU, And Totalitarianism

I tweeted the other day about the rudeness and aggression of a Eurosceptic interviewed on the Today programme. An old City mate tweeted back that not all Eurosceptics are aggressive and unpleasant, just sick and tired of the huge waste of money at the EU.

Fair point, though the sceptics do sometimes descend to tooth-grinding rancour. Brussels is indeed a corrupt kleptocracy utterly immune to the normal democratic checks and balances that control the behaviour of national governments.

But I think there is one element in this debate that is often missed in the UK. We have an attachment to our body politic and belief in our democracy that goes back, rightly or wrongly, a thousand years  – look at this week’s celebrations of Magna Carta.

Almost every other EU country has, within living memory, either been overrun by undemocratic, tyrannical states from outside, fascist or communist, and seen a degree of collaboration with them, or had the same imposed on it from within. Eg the Nazis, Mussolini, Spain under Franco, Greece under the colonels. Within living memory. The only exceptions are Sweden and Ireland

There isn’t the same inbuilt trust in that body politic, especially in southern European states where government and the business world may themselves be corrupt to the core – Greece, Italy, Spain to a lesser extent.

The attraction of an over-arching supranational entity that was designed to ensure that those totalitarian regimes cannot return, and which promises to ensure the maintenance of a degree of human rights, is clear enough. If it, too, is corrupt, and squanders millions, well, so what else is new?

A point, I think, often not appreciated in the country we are fortunate enough to live in. What it says about the UK’s membership of or departure from the EU I cannot say.

Complacent Eurocrats

A tale of two headlines: in the Financial Times, Mario Draghi, who is the president of the European Central Bank and so the most important man in the finances of the EU, says the recovery in the eurozone is “on track”.

In The Guardian, his bank is poised to unleash fresh measures to boost growth in the eurozone as the recovery loses steam and the risks grow that the crises in the Ukraine and the Middle East will threaten the European economy.

Perhaps both of the above are true. One is positive spin, one is more negative. Meanwhile we learn that, after one bank in Portugal almost went bust and had to be rescued by EU funds, others, in Italy, may be in trouble. The authorities are putting in place measures to prevent stock market traders making money from this. Figures this week suggest the Italian economy is in much worse shape than had been thought.

Not exactly reassuring, is it? The crisis in the eurozone is not going to go away, no matter how much reassurance comes out of the unelected Eurocrats in Brussels. My reckoning is that the next domino is Italy. And as Espirito Santo, that Portguese bank, showed, when things go sour, all sorts of wrong-doing comes out in the wash.