On Sunday, former UKIP leader, Nigel Farage, appeared via satellite on Fox & Friends, and made some troubling remarks:
“Over 400 known Jihadi fighters From Syria have come back into Britain, and we’ve only stopped one…The British government have been too weak. Frankly, we’ve been too politically correct…
We are, as a people, very slow to anger. We are remarkably tolerant of things, but I do think, you know, bear in mind this is now the third terrorist incident that has happened in my country in the spate of as many months — and the mood that I get now is we want some real action. We don’t just want speeches given outside #10 Downing Street. We want genuine action.
And if there is not action, then the calls for internment will grow. We have over 3,000 people on a sort of known terrorist list, and we’re watching and monitoring their activities. But a further 20,000 people who are persons of interest, namely they’re linked in some way to extremist organizations. Unless we see the government getting tough, we will see public calls for those 3,000 to be arrested.
I’m not sure that is the right approach, because the big danger with that is we might alienate decent, fair-minded Muslims in Britain. But whatever happens, we do need action.”
The idea of internment camps for Muslims brings to mind the horrors of what the United States did to Japanese Americans in the 1940’s. There are certainly other ways by which potentially radicalized individuals can be monitored without detaining thousands of individuals who may be completely innocent.
The Australian quotes the head of security and intelligence studies at the University of Buckingham, Anthony Glees:
“To have 23,000 potential killers in our midst is horrifying…We should double the size of MI5, as we did in World War II, and expand the number of intelligence-led police by thousands. We can’t go on as if this wasn’t happening.”
The publication also notes that “MI5’s capacity to investigate is limited to about 3,000 individuals at any one time. People are added to and removed from the group of ‘live’ suspects depending on assessments of who poses the greatest risk.”
The most frightful problem with the idea of internment is that we don’t know how the British government characterizes what Farage calls “known terrorists,” nor do we know how they characterize “persons of interest.” Whatever the government’s definitions, there is always a chance that individuals on the “list” are entirely without guilt. To detain 23,000 people in this way would be immoral.
This is why Glees is correct when he says that British intel needs to be augmented significantly. If the intelligence community has the resources to monitor and interact with “persons of interest” and others who have the potential to be dangerous — by whatever metric the government uses — the internment of innocents can and will be avoided, and the British people will remain secure.
Additionally, the ability of “known jihadi fighters” to re-enter the U.K. after having traveled and fought in Syria, Iraq, and elsewhere is yet another reason to increase intelligence resources. Sky News spoke with Former Scotland Yard Specialist Firearms Officer Tony Long, who noted the difficulties of snagging returning jihadists:
“Of course they’re bringing that knowledge back with them to the UK and it’s very very difficult because of the legal restrictions that are put on the security services and the police to actually monitor all of these people.”
To date, only a fraction of those returning from the battlefields of Syria and Iraq have been prosecuted, as authorities need enough evidence to put before the courts and often returning fighters go to great lengths to cover up their overseas activities.
Imran Khawaja, 29, from west London, is currently serving 12 years in prison after he faked his own death in Syria in an attempt to sneak back into the UK undetected.
The returning jihadi problem exists under the same umbrella as home-grown terrorism and other persons of interest. These are issues that must be addressed, and the best way to do that is not with internment, but with ample intelligence and follow-up capabilities.
Internment is a morally repugnant idea.