The Islamic State (IS) has succeeded in plaguing the thoughts of Western governments with doubts regarding national security since its establishment as a caliphate earlier this year. Not since the early 21st Century, when vast swathes of Afghanistan was under Taliban control, has Islamic fundamentalism caused such a headache for the democratic world. The threat from IS and the extremists it harbours has now been deemed so serious, that the British national terror threat alert level has been raised to ‘severe’, suggesting that an attack is ‘highly likely’. As expected, the tabloid papers have had a field day with this announcement, which was made by Theresa May on this weekend, churning out numerous tactless pieces on how the UK should expect to be annihilated by angry fundamentalist Muslims. As expected when stories like this make it to the press, it dampens the national mood somewhat, skyrocketing apprehensions and calling for questions to be answered. David Cameron has responded accordingly by promising to swiftly draft new legislation, providing no constitutional or legal violations are encountered, which would allow Britain to counter any potential threat posed.
Yet beyond the noise generated by shocking headlines, it is difficult to find any significant substance to support the argument that an attack on Britain is any more likely now than it has been for the past decade. Indeed, it is undeniable that IS poses a threat to the UK. As an entity, its existence is thoroughly underpinned by the desire to unleash attacks upon nations that they deem contradictive to their beliefs. As a result, the caliphate actively encourages jihad to be enshrined as a doctrine for those within its forever changing borders. It acts as a safe haven for anyone who wishes to train themselves in the art of terror, with the Sunni state openly running facilities for combat training. Thankfully it’s still early days for IS, with it yet to develop into anything that resembles a functioning state, meaning these threats are severely limited by all the problems associated with infancy.
Interestingly, what makes the menace of IS unique is that the main Western concern with regards to its existence is not the production of Middle Eastern terrorists, but rather the radicalisation of their own citizens who have chosen to join the fight in Iraq and Syria. ‘Jihadi John’, the tastelessly named British-born executioner of US reporter James Foley, has been for the public a shocking example of these indoctrinated Brits fighting abroad. The Economist provides figures suggesting that 400 of these are currently serving the IS, with this number set to increase as time goes on. The worry for the government is that upon their return, these indoctrinated fighters will aid or participate in terrorist attacks on British soil. Whilst this is a logical and certainly a very real concern, it is not an issue which the public should concern themselves unduly with. Any British citizen travelling to the regions surrounding or within the conflict zone will be closely monitored and tracked by the appropriate security forces. This process will reveal the identity of many potential terrorists who, prior to their journey would have been unknown as individuals of concern.
Pre-existing misunderstandings with regards to IS do little to help combat ignorance enshrined by many media outlets as to the reality of terrorist attacks being ordered by the caliphate. It is hard to ignore the fact that IS does indeed hate the West and all it stands for. Countless images have been released of jaded signs reading, ‘death to America’, being held by disgruntled men wielding AK47’s and frowning. By no means should this be confused as a genuine threat of attack. The main priority of IS is to establish a homogenous Sunni state within the Middle East, by abolishing all existing borders which were established by the Sykes-Picot agreement during WW1. Until this aim is thoroughly fulfilled, the West has little to fear from an IS led attack. Why would the caliphate direct essential resources away from its main struggle in order to launch sporadic and comparatively minor attacks on the West? If such attacks were to be directed, it is a certainty that any aggrieved nation would seek military retribution upon IS with such ferocity as to end its existence. Despite its appearance to Westerners, I find it hard to believe that IS and the majority of those who choose to join its fight can be considered wholly irrational with regards to risk assessment.
It is for this reason that should the UK expect any form of attack from those who have fought in the Middle East upon returning to its shores, such an event would resemble more closely the murder of Lee Rigby rather than 9/11 or 7/7; one carried out by an individual or small group who have decided to take a spontaneous course of action. Whilst sporadic incursions are a genuine cause for concern, the perils they pose hardly seem to justify raising the terror threat level to anything close to ‘severe’. The only purpose it appears to serve is to cause superfluous panic and trepidation; a decidedly counterproductive measure.