A former civil servant, Anna Stanley reports on a counter-terrorism course she attended which she found a deeply, existentially depressing experience. She argues that ‘prestigious’ educational institutions are delivering politically biased, anti-Government training, amounting to indoctrination and that extremism and terrorism are misunderstood by civil servants to the point of being a national security risk.
I recently attended a Kings College course called ‘Issues in Countering Terrorism’. Organised by the Centre for Defence Studies, it was designed for civil servants and professionals in counter-terrorism. Staff from the Foreign Office, Ministry of Justice, Ministry of Defence and Home Office attended. Facilitating this relatively new three-day course were senior lecturers from the Security Studies Department.
The civil servants were given presentations by Kings College lecturers while Visiting Senior Research Fellows and Professors also spoke. These included those formerly holding positions such as Permanent Secretary of the Home Office and Director of GCHQ, Defence Minister and Foreign Office Director.
The course was a deeply, existentially depressing experience.
‘Prestigious’ educational institutions are delivering politically biased, anti-Government training, amounting to indoctrination. It confirmed my fears – that extremism and terrorism are misunderstood by civil servants to the point of being a national security risk.
Underpinning their presentations, some of the lecturers relayed typical post-modern identity politics.
The course began with the issue of definitions. What is terrorism? Without anyone providing an opposing standpoint, we were taught the adage, “One man’s freedom fighter is another man’s terrorist.”
I posed to the room: “Surely we can acknowledge subjectivity while being able to come up with a collective understanding of what terrorism is?” Some 40 civil servants looked at me blankly. No?
I wondered why we were there.
The danger of understanding terrorism with cultural relativism is that it breeds moral apathy; the kind that says, “Who are we, mere democratic, liberal Westerners to impose our morality onto others? Who are we to say our culture is superior to others?”
These are luxury attitudes. It is easy to be sat in Kings College London and feel that all cultures are equal, when you haven’t been anally raped at a peace festival by someone shouting “Allahu Akbar” and held hostage. In the introduction to the course, labelling an organisation as terrorist was described as a problem because it “implies a moral judgement”. Nothing was said about why a moral judgement might be appropriate.
All the civil servant participants were given a topic to research and present. One attendee said her brother had been radicalised and fought in Syria for Islamic State (ISIS). Phew, I thought. At least one person here will understand the problems of extremism. Her presentation was about the U.K.’s Counter Terrorism Strategy, Prevent. She argued Prevent is inherently racist because it focuses on Islamist extremism. The mere mention of Islamist extremism makes Muslims “feel uncomfortable”, she argued. Her brother would most certainly have agreed.
I raised the point that nearly 70% of terrorist attacks in the U.K. are Islamist. Similarly, 70% of lung cancer cases are caused by smoking. It would be absurd to avoid mentioning this in the study of cancer so smokers don’t feel uncomfortable. Unsurprisingly, this comparison was not well received.
Later on, we were shown an ISIS propaganda recruitment video filmed in Syria. The same attendee’s face lit up. Laughing and pointing at the jihadi in the video, “He used to go to my school! I know him!” she exclaimed. Mouth agape, I looked around the room for responses to yet another disclosure involving personal links to ISIS terrorists. I appeared to be the only one to find this extraordinary.
There was an irony to being surrounded by civil servants who hate the concept of the state. As young professionals, they represented a microcosm of the views emanating from British universities: when it comes to extremism and counter terrorism, the state is not to be trusted.
The Head of Security Studies at Kings College read concernedly, “Problems of Definitions: Labelling a group terrorist can increase the state’s power”. The civil servants nodded in agreement.
The visiting speakers were political heavyweights. Possessing genuine expertise with interesting anecdotes, their past responses to crises like the Northern Ireland Troubles were referenced frequently. Yet I couldn’t help but feel many of their insights were lost by the audience.
One attendee provocatively asked a former head of GCHQ whether he “felt bad infringing on our civil liberties in the pursuit of terrorists”. Naïve and uninformed, the questioner had highlighted mainstream opinion that security services are routinely listening to innocent, random people’s phone calls or stalking their WhatsApps. Lacking was any appreciation the U.K. is exemplary. Protective legislation is laborious to the point of being near obstructive and investigations pursuing criminals and terrorists are rigorously audited.
Israel was referenced throughout the course. We were told some consider Hamas terrorists as freedom fighters whereas Israel was provided as a prime example when considering the question of whether a state can commit terrorism. In the introduction, one slide read “Condemning terrorism is to endorse the power of the strong over the weak”, a dangerous conclusion breeding anti-Israel positions. In this perspective, Israel is seen as a powerful aggressor and the Palestinians militarily disadvantaged in asymmetric warfare. Thus, the Palestinians are inherently oppressed an axiom that fuels the view that Israel is a terrorist state and Hamas’s atrocities are justifiably ‘contextualised’. To call Hamas terrorist – as the BBC is so pointedly resistant to doing – would be to “endorse the power of the strong over the weak”.
Another slide read, “Terrorism is not the problem, rather the systems they oppose are terrorist”, reflecting post-modern identity politics wrapped up as counter-terrorism education. Everything was viewed through the lens of power.
While the lecturer did not explicitly present the slides as reflecting his own beliefs, he said nothing to counter them.
I am grateful I attended the course before the October 7th Hamas terrorist attacks. I have no doubt the pogrom would have been contextually justified as “merely the oppressed countering the oppressor”, with Israel’s response described as morally equivalent (or worse) to the atrocities.
None of the counter-terrorism lecturers (bar two) posted about the attacks on their otherwise informative social media platforms. Of these two, one Professor wrote a RUSI Think Tank commentary, saying Israeli “crisis meetings could be affected by a desire for revenge” and why “restraint in counter-terrorism is so important”.
During the span of the course, there was no mention of immigration being relevant to terrorism in the U.K., except as a view “given by the right wing”.
The course’s overriding emphasis was that Islamist extremism is exaggerated. Right-wing extremism was given more weight than is proportionate. This is in direct conflict with William Shawcross’s findings, in the latest Government commissioned review of its anti-radicalisation programme, Prevent.
One lecturer derogatorily described Shawcross as “the type of person who would say all current counter-terrorism professionals are woke… He is of that ilk”. This of course discredited Shawcross to the course attendees.
The lecturer further argued that Douglas Murray and Joe Rogan are both examples of the far Right. “To what extent should Joe Rogan and Douglas Murray be suppressed?” he asked. “They have millions of followers. To de-platform them would cause issues.”
Concluding his talk, the lecturer told a room full of Government professionals, “so, society needs to find other ways to suppress them”.
First published by Fathom.
Stop Press: Watch Douglas Murray react to the news that counter-terrorism experts want to ‘suppress’ him on Julia Hartley-Bewer’s show on TalkTV.