Hitchens_peter_2Tomorrow on the interviews blog we will publish all of Peter Hitchens’ answers to ten recent questions posed by ConservativeHome visitors.  Most of Peter’s answers are substantial but one answer, in particular, to a question posed by ‘MagicAldo’, ran to 2,000 words.   MagicAldo’s question and Peter Hitchens’ answer are therefore published below (with Peter’s permission) as a Platform piece.

Peter Hitchens is a columnist on the Mail on Sunday and recently started his own blog.

MagicAldo: "Peter, your "realistic" foreign policy stance has maintained an admirably consistent focus on the national interest sadly lacking in many of the arguments of the new internationalists.  But I’ve never heard you actually confront the issue of Islamic terrorism head on. Is it a threat to the British national interest?  How should the UK respond, if not by way of destabilising regimes that support it? Is there not a pattern of events and ideology across the world that represents a lethal threat to the West? Are there no lessons to learn from 9/11 and the appeasement of the Clinton era?"


"Several issues are involved here, hence the very long answer.  The first is over Israel, the real cause of the dispute between the Western (ie Christian) world and the Muslim world. I have written and spoken often and at length about this, and my position is that the policy of ‘land for peace’ is directly comparable to 1930s appeasement in that it is both weak, unwise and ultimately certain to fail. This is the central question. One could argue for centuries over whether the Balfour Declaration was a good thing. But it would not change the fact that a Jewish state now exists in the Middle East or that its extinction would be a grave blow to civilisation and probably fatal to the standing and power of the European and North American nations. The ‘land for peace’ policy has handed over a great deal of strategic territory in return for unreliable promises, and has convinced the Arab world of our ultimate weakness under pressure.

Then there is the issue of terrorism. From Edward Heath’s 1970 release of Leila Khaled (under US pressure) to the British, Continental European and then American recognition of Yasser Arafat as a legitimate politician, the Western powers have signalled that they will ultimately give in to terrorist threats, thus making terror the favoured weapon of anyone who seriously seeks to alter the policy of a major Western power.

It would be a mistake not to recognise that this slow motion surrender
still continues even now.  It is an even greater mistake to imagine that
September 11 2001 was a moment of western strength, rather than an
opportunity for further weakness. The outrage followed immediately
after the terrifying UN conference on ‘anti-racism’ in Durban, at which
the USA and Israel were treated as pariahs and virtually driven from
the hall.

It is important also to recall that the Manhattan murders were
celebrated actively in the disputed territories, with dancing in the
streets in Nablus (film of this was suppressed by the PA, who
threatened the agency involved (AP) until the film was withdrawn) and a
near-uprising in Gaza. The Arabs of the region knew very well what
September 11 meant and what lay behind it. And so, apparently, did
George W. Bush, the supposed warrior against terror, who suddenly
announced that he supported a Palestinian State (after years of
official US opposition to this idea) and then despatched first Anthony
Zinni and then poor Colin Powell to Ramallah to see if they could find
someone to appease.

Happily for the West’s self-respect, these ignominious missions
crumbled because the Arabs tactlessly continued to set off suicide
bombs while Zinni and Powell were there, so making it impossible for
them to be seen talking to Arafat. They also failed because the cunning
Ariel Sharon managed to couple Israel’s conflict with America’s in the
public mind, so making a betrayal much harder. Those who doubt the
cowardly nature of the US in this moment should note that it also chose
– just then – to pay the many years of back dues that it had rightly
refused to give to the awful anti-Western UN, and to withdraw its
remaining troops from Saudi Arabia.  It is interesting that the
neo-conservative supporters of the Iraq war are so anxious to deny any
connection between September 11 and the Israel question. I suspect this
is partly because they are obsessed with a generalised Islamic ‘threat’
to the West( see below) and with the largely fictitious monster of ‘Al
Quaida’ which they claim to be fighting. As Jason Burke points out ‘Al
Qaida’ is an ideology far more than it is an organisation. There are
Islamist terrorists, but the idea that they are centrally directed by
some James Bond villain in an Afghan cave is fanciful, as is the idea
that they are motivated by some vague ‘hatred of our free way of life’.
They may well dislike our way of life, but the quarrel is far more


Admitting the centrality of the Israeli question would also make
nonsense of their belief that the question will be solved by creating
Arab democracies sympathetic to the West, and undermine their claims to
be resolute and tough. Any true Arab democracy would be dedicated to
the destruction of Israel, and it was hardly resolute or tough to
respond to September 11 by accepting demands for a Palestinian State,
funding the anti-Western UN or launching the Zinni and Powell missions.

I must add to this the importance – in the eyes of anyone searching for
signs of weakness in our polity – of the British surrender to the IRA
and its equivalent Protestant murder gangs at Easter 1998. This
collapse – supported by the leaders of all major parties and even
personally endorsed by HM the Queen –   clearly demonstrated to any
interested party that the British state was vulnerable to terrorism and
would alter its policy if pressed hard enough. Careful observers would
also have noted the major role the USA played in this cave-in – first
under Bill Clinton, who cynically laundered Sinn Fein and granted them high status in Washington, and
then under George W.Bush, who – despite silly media suggestions of a
change in view since September 11 or the McCartney murder – continues
to entertain Sinn Fein at the White House every St Patrick’s Day, on
one recent occasion actually changing his schedule because Adams was
too busy to see him at the originally agreed time.

There is no total security against any kind of warfare, and terrorism –
since it takes the form of surprise attacks against non-military
targets – is perhaps the hardest sort of warfare to prepare for or
defend against. It is unrealistic of politicians to pretend that they
can offer complete protection from it. It is downright wicked of them
to use terrorism as the excuse for an assault on the liberty of the
subject, as they are now doing.  It is equally misleading of them to
use it as the pretext for such adventures as the invasions of
Afghanistan and of Iraq, since neither country really had much to do
with the issues involved and, as we now know, invasion is only the
beginning of a much longer and more complex process, very likely to end
in withdrawal and a situation worse than the one we faced before we
invaded. Coupled as it is with a continued pursuit of a foredoomed and
appeasement-based ‘peace process’ in Israel itself, it is worse than

Honest leaders would admit that a certain amount of danger is
inevitable if your country is a modern world power, especially one that
defends its friends. It would be a strange war in which your own side
sustained no casualties at all. Modern military and intelligence
experts well understand the nature of disproportionate warfare, in
which our advanced civilizations present horrifically easy targets to
ruthless enemies. A literate explanation of the issues involved, and of the costs of maintaining national honour in a hard world, would surely be better than the
official panic now being encouraged. But the best defence against
terrorism is the knowledge – in the head of the potential terrorist –
that his actions will fail to change the policy of the government
against whom he fights, and that it will all be for nothing. Terrorism
is the force that it is because, in contrast to their rhetoric about
"evil killers", the leaders of the law-governed nations have been all
too ready to treat with terrorists and their sponsors, and to encourage
them to believe that outrages lead eventually to concessions. In which
case, of course, the concessions will lead to outrages, as they do.
The IRA’s motto was always ‘Our day will come’. And it did, at Easter
1998 to the shame and disgrace of all who supported the Belfast
agreement. I have no doubt that the Jihadists say something similar. So
far, the Western powers have been anxious to prove them right and we
live with the consequences. The answers to this are obvious, resolve,
always resolve and yet more resolve,  but like so many of my answers,
not specially pleasant or easy in practice. I recognise this.  But
those who do not like these answers must understand that the other
choice is defeat, or as a notable Frenchmen once said, it is often
either Verdun or Vichy. I hope the choice isn’t that hard in fact. But
it will always be hard.


Finally, I’d like to mention the problem of Islam. Islam is an
impressive religion, which engenders a powerful and often very moving
faith in its adherents. Because we have become a secular society, too
many of us do not understand its force. Our properly spiritual
allegiances are squandered on such things as football teams or rock
bands. But we are a civilization based upon Christianity, a wholly
distinct religion from Islam. People don’t realise how much of our
thought, our law, our education, our family relations, are founded on
Christian rules and practice (they would realize it pretty quickly if
they were replaced by rules based upon Sharia). Yet we abandon these, while expecting the civilisation based upon them to
continue unscathed. It doesn’t. Many Muslims, with good reason, look on
our societies as debauched, immoral and soulless, marvelling at and in
some cases pitying us for our empty churches and feeble clergy, our
broken families, neglected old people and general social chaos. What is
our answer to be? To continue to place our faith in weapons of war,
which may fail, in ‘security’ which will certainly fail, and in
consumer wealth, which may shrivel away? Or might we be better able to
withstand the shocks of conflict, and more able to define our purpose
in doing so,  if we accept that the Muslims have a point, and that the
spiritual is important?

And then, are we to accept what I regard as
Islam’s far less free, far less open prescriptions for society because
we have a religious vacuum in our own lands? Given that we are about
due for a sharp swing of the moral pendulum, perhaps comparable to that
in the early Victorian era – and given Islam’s already powerful
presence in Britain and Europe –  I sometimes wonder if Islam may not
be rather well-placed to gain many adherents, both among intellectuals
and the poor in this country.

I am an Anglican Christian, who disagrees
in detail and profoundly with many of the precepts of Islam. But I have
never yet met a Muslim I did not like, could not get on with and debate
with, at least partly because of a shared understanding of the
importance of faith. If the Christian west wishes to win, or even
survive, a battle of ideology with the Islamic world, or (preferably)
to reach a civilised accommodation with it and to influence it towards
reformation and tolerance, it will only do so if it rediscovers its own
moral foundations and begins to respect them again. Islam rightly
despises weakness. It is even more contemptuous of the sort of ignorant
indifference to faith which is common in Britain.  My fear is that
secularism and consumerist optimism, combined with temporary military
superiority, will be our only answer to Islamic passion. And they, like
elaborate ‘security’ measures, will fail against an opponent of this
sort.  Kipling’s ‘Recessional’ remains a powerful warning of the fate
of empires and powers which have no guiding belief.

No proper conservatism can be divorced from religion and the morality
and self-discipline which are founded on it. It is all very well posing
as the fierce enemy of foes abroad – we had enough of that during the
Cold War, when we supposedly stood firm against the Red threat while
the radicals gnawed and burrowed through our society at home.
Ultimately, the enemy is at home, among us, in the shape of secularism
and cultural Marxism, which weaken all the good things about Britain.
None of the threats to our civilisation can be fought without an
understanding of the importance of morality as the upholder of the
ordered freedom we seek."