Part Four: The Military and the Paramilitaries
“A key difference between the Troubles and our Muslim Troubles is that there will be no hinterlands, no rural areas, in which Muslims can operate with a minimum of attention being paid to them… This will be quite a disadvantage for Muslim paramilitaries, to put it mildly.”
This is the fourth of a five-part series by El Inglés comparing and contrasting the Troubles in Northern Ireland with the coming Muslim Troubles in Britain. Previously: Part One, Part Two, and Part Three.
The entire series will be made published as a single document in pdf format after the final part is posted at Gates of Vienna.
As I have reminded readers before: El Inglés’ scenarios are descriptive, not normative. This is not advocacy, but an analysis of the likely future for Britain.
Our Muslim Troubles: Lessons from Northern Ireland
by El Inglés
VIII. Paramilitaries: Core Objectives
We have considered how the descent into violent conflict is likely to take place, and attained some familiarity with how Irish republicanism terrorism compares with loyalist terrorism on the one hand and Muslim terrorism on the other. Thus prepared, let us consider what we can expect of British and Muslim paramilitaries when our Muslim Troubles begin in earnest.
In the early stages of the conflict, violence is likely to be spontaneous, disorganized, and relatively low in fatalities due to the lack of availability of weapons and the vigorous riot control efforts of the authorities. However, once the Rubicon has been crossed and it has become clear to both sides that any sort of peaceful coexistence is impossible, cooler heads on both sides will start asking themselves what their long-term objectives should be and how they are most likely to be achieved.
We should first dispense with that which is relatively trivial and easy to predict and describe: the likely nature of Muslim violence towards the British. Muslim terrorist violence is so commonplace these days that its basic nature is perfectly clear. It is not complacent to suppose that Muslims will direct a type of violence at the British very similar to that that they already direct at people who provoke their ire. Muslims will be looking mainly to consolidate geographically, establishing zones within which they have control, within which the police cannot operate, and through which people considered to be outsiders cannot pass. They will accomplish this by rioting and attacking the police as and when they try to enter ‘their’ areas. Meanwhile, hard-line Muslims will undoubtedly work to enforce their own versions of sharia law within these enclaves. These efforts will be complemented by a heightened degree of terrorist activity of the type Muslims are already engaged in.
In short, Muslims will simply be doing more of what they are doing already, and trying to do it more consistently and with greater and more permanent effect. Far more worthy of detailed analysis is the likely nature of the violence of the British paramilitaries which have not yet emerged and whose activities are therefore, at present, the great unknowns ahead of us. The only obvious precedent we have in this regard is the loyalist terrorism we have already glanced at. During the Troubles, there were two paramilitary ‘teams’: republican paramilitaries (most obviously the PIRA, but also the OIRA, INLA, etc.), whose aims were to bring an end to British rule in NI and bring about a united Ireland of whatever sort, and loyalist paramilitaries (most obviously the UDA and UVF), whose aims were to keep NI in the United Kingdom and maintain Protestant political dominance there.
Core Objectives of British Paramilitaries
We point out here that we are focusing primarily on the early and middle stages of this conflict. The permanent departure of the bulk of the Muslim population of the UK may well be the ultimate strategic objective of many British paramilitaries, but it is not something that they can reasonably work towards in the short or, probably, even the medium term, so we will put it to one side here and ask what plausible short- and medium-term objectives British paramilitaries will likely establish for themselves. The only way to try and do this is to: a) assume that they will adopt sensible objectives, b) assume that we have the insight required to determine what would actually be sensible objectives, and c) to conclude that British paramilitaries will therefore adopt the strategies we consider to be sensible. Of course, this is a great arrogance on our part, but we cannot proceed without it.
What then, would constitute a viable, reasonable set of strategic objectives for a British paramilitary organization or organizations to formulate after a descent into the widespread ethno-sectarian violence we predict here? Most obviously, it would include the following:
- Geographical consolidation
- Establishment of the principle of retaliation
- Assassination of key Muslims considered hostile
- Assassination of key non-Muslims considered hostile
- Establishment and display of technical expertise required to pull off ‘spectaculars’
We will take these five objectives as being core objectives, the absolute bare minimum that any self-respecting broad-reach paramilitary organization could settle for in the early stages of a conflict. We will explore each in turn.
1) Geographical Consolidation
At the outbreak of our Muslim Troubles, we will have an archipelago of Muslim-dominated areas of towns and cities loosely strung out across the Greater London area, the West Midlands, and the North West of England. Some of these areas will be in a state of outright hostilities with the surrounding British populations, some relatively peaceful but in a state of high tension and on the verge of hostilities. There is a crucial point here that must be understood if one is to have any grasp of the basic strategic situation that will obtain between British and Muslims: if one cannot extend numerical control over the enemy population in a tribal conflict of the type we are headed for, then extending geographical control over that population becomes a matter of overriding importance. In other words, if one cannot wave a magic wand over the Muslim population of the UK and make it disappear, then one must confine it to certain areas of the country, outside of which the ability of its members to contaminate and degrade the lives of the British people is reduced virtually to zero. Growing Muslim numbers combined with a lack of geographical control will create such an intolerable situation that it must and will be violently rejected sooner or later.
Let us divide the whole of the UK up into three non-contiguous zones, Zones A, B, and C. Zone A refers to all those locations out of which, in a tribal conflict, Muslims could not be driven by force without driving them out of the UK, such as parts of London, parts of Birmingham, Bradford and so on. Muslims could not meaningfully flee these places for other destinations in the UK as all other destinations (Penzance, Canterbury, the Scottish Highlands, etc.) would only leave them even more exposed. Zone A is concentrated in the Greater London area, the West Midlands, and the north-west of England.
Zone B refers to areas out of which Muslims could meaningfully be driven without being driven out of the UK, but within which they have sufficiently large numbers, geographically concentrated to a sufficient extent, that they are not an atomised presence whose people, homes and businesses can be attacked on an isolated basis. There will be countless towns and cities across the country whose Muslim populations are such that they meet this description, such as Cardiff, Bristol, and Nottingham. These places form Zone B, which exists in a scattered, pinprick fashion across virtually the whole of England, and parts of Scotland and Wales.
Zone C consists of every other part of the UK, where Muslims exist not at all or only in very small numbers, and are of necessity scattered throughout the surrounding population in terms of where they live and work. They do not exist in large enough numbers to dominate neighbourhoods, and cannot seal themselves off from the outside world to any significant extent at all. Zone C, by definition, includes everywhere in the UK outside of Zones A and B, and accounts for the overwhelming majority of the land mass of the country.
Geographical consolidation, in a nutshell, consists of forcing Muslims in Zone C to Zones A and B, and, eventually, Muslims in Zone B to Zone A. We note that Muslims in Zone C are, by definition, few and scattered. Furthermore, they will often be running catering businesses that serve the public in the area they live in, and that are open to being disrupted by anything from a brick through the plate glass front window to an arson attack staged in earnest. Restaurants tend to take a disproportionate fraction of their revenue on just a couple of days of the week, so disruption on these days would be the most obvious way of driving them out of the area in question. This could probably be done without actually having to hurt or kill anyone, which would be useful from a propaganda point of view.
If Muslims in Zone C prove resistant to this sort of coercion, then attacks on their homes or persons will likely be resorted to in order to up the stakes. Again, readers should bear in mind that we are talking here about rural areas, with low concentrations of CCTV cameras and other elements of the surveillance state. A small group of dedicated and disciplined people, familiar with the strengths and weaknesses of the Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR) system and similar law enforcement tools, and with the discipline to maintain a degree of discretion about their activities, could probably exert considerable relocation pressure on Muslims across hundreds of square miles of Zone C. If they were prepared to use violence up to and including the lethal as and when they deemed it necessary, then it is hard to see how isolated Muslims could continue to function at all in that part of Zone C to which the paramilitaries had turned their attentions. Would one really fancy the chances of a hypothetical Pakistani trying to run a curry house in Swaffham, Norfolk (population 6,935 according to the 2001 census) when the hard men of that good county had committed themselves to burning said curry house to the ground by hook or by crook, with its proprietor inside if necessary?
We say again that it is hard to see how the police could respond to a team of the type we have already described. We are not talking here about a bunch of drunken yobs putting the odd brick through a window after a hard night’s drinking. We are talking about ruthless and organized people who are part of larger organizations with specific, even nationwide, strategic objectives, one of which is the complete expulsion of Muslims from Zone C. Short of having a permanent police presence outside every Muslim home and establishment, which is obviously impossible, it is difficult to see how the police could take any effective action at all.
As we will discuss in more detail later, a descent into tribal violence between British and Muslims will so overwhelm the apparatus of state that trying to protect isolated Muslims in Zone C is likely to prove a project that the state will abandon quickly. This will render these operations relatively cost-free for the British paramilitaries engaged in them. Given that they will require little in the way of technical or operational expertise (contrast with, for example, the PIRA’s mortar attack on Downing Street in 1991), there will be no obvious operational barriers to engaging in them, and they will probably attract people we shall euphemistically refer to as freelancers as well.
As a consequence of the foregoing considerations, the Muslim presence in Zone C must be expected to fall very quickly if British paramilitaries seriously apply themselves to bringing it down. What of Zone B? This is the hardest zone to define, but let us take Cardiff as being the most obvious Zone B location in Wales. Cardiff has a population of about 340,000 people, of whom 11,000—12,000 seem to be Muslims. The brick-through-your-window-and-then-a-petrol-bomb-if-you’re-stubborn modus operandi of those pushing Muslims out of Zone C will almost certainly be ineffective in the context of a Zone B city like Cardiff. When Muslims are concentrated in certain neighbourhoods, their ability to keep an eye on those coming and going will obviously increase, as will their ability to riot in response to violence or intimidation. In addition, the greater concentration of CCTV and similar technologies in larger towns and cities will make the process more operationally demanding and prone to result in the incarceration of would-be geographical consolidators. This makes pushing Muslims from Zone B to Zone A a qualitatively different process to pushing them from Zone C to Zones A and B, and one that probably cannot be achieved without the ability to inflict damage widely and indiscriminately in Muslim areas of Zone B. To be blunt, this means bombing them, a matter we will discuss later. Suffice it to say here that pushing Muslims from Zone B to Zone A would be a much more difficult and bloody process than pushing them from Zone C to Zone B.
The relative costs and benefits of forcing Muslims out of Zone C and into Zones A and B, and, gradually, out of Zone B into Zone A will be such that it is hard to imagine British paramilitaries not doing it. This form of broad geographical consolidation will have massive effects. It will make it clear to Muslims that Britain is not their country, and that that portion of it that they can freely access without fear of violence is actually very small. It will also have a huge morale-boosting effect for the British themselves, in that it will substantially bring to a halt the conversion of the urban UK into Pakistani, Bangladeshi, and Somali enclaves, and restricting the growth of Islam to those areas it has already most contaminated. Readers can consider this a quarantine if they so desire. Either way, it is the conversion of a vast swathe of the UK into a fully-fledged no-go zone for Muslims, which will be a huge step forward in its own right. It will also be a huge challenge to the authority of state itself, and one which will demonstrate its impotence.
If all Muslims were to end up in Zone A, then geographical consolidation would be complete. Muslim population growth will presumably result in them putting demographic pressure on currently non-Muslim areas in Zone A, but that is another matter. Getting Muslims out of Zone A and back to their countries of origin would, in principle, require massive paramilitary violence and/or the intervention of the state itself and is therefore outside the scope of the essay.
2) Establishment of the Principle of Retaliation
This principle is largely self-explanatory, but is still one of the core objectives, and must therefore be discussed here. Most British paramilitaries would, given the opportunity, presumably focus their violent endeavours on those members of the Muslim community who were out to do the British people harm in some fashion. However, identifying and acting against these people is a task which taxes the resources of the security apparatus itself, and which is therefore certainly not going to be achievable by paramilitaries. However, given that Muslims will certainly inflict violence upon the British, the matter of prevention arises, and it is virtually guaranteed that British paramilitaries will respond as loyalist paramilitaries did during the Troubles: by killing random Muslims.
Acknowledging the strategic sense in killing random civilians during tribal conflict is not the done thing during these times of relative peace and civility, but the underlying logic is as unassailable as it is brutal. If Muslims detonate a car bomb in the centre of London and kill 100 people, and if the perpetrators of such attacks cannot be identified in advance, then the only obvious way of trying to deter them from conducting similar attacks in future will be to have them understand that every time they kill one British person, they are also killing one or more Muslims. This is no different to what the loyalist paramilitaries were doing during the Troubles when they would kill randomly-selected Catholics.
How effective such a strategy would prove in deterring further killings is impossible to determine in advance. But the possibility that this strategy might not succeed does not render it ill-advised or foolish. Given that wars tend to have losers, there is always some group of people whose strategies are being proved inadequate in some sense. During the Pacific War, the Japanese strategy was to launch lightning attacks throughout south-east Asia, secure a huge resource base, and build up a strong enough naval deterrent to inflict such casualties on an American counter-attack across the Pacific as to force America to seek terms rather than fight the war to a conclusion. The fact that this strategy failed does not mean that it did not make any sense. It simply means that it did not work, which is not necessarily the same thing.
Exactly how far retaliatory killings go will be dependent on how many British people Muslim paramilitaries can kill, and therefore, substantially, on the efficiency of the security service and the vigilance of the British public. It is clear that, in principle, there is no limit to the amount of violence that could be perpetrated to obtain this strategic objective.
3) Assassination of Key Muslims
Britain already contains all sorts of Muslim organizations and individuals who are, to a greater or lesser extent, outspoken in service of their religious tribalism and at the expense of Britain and the British people. From Anjem Choudary (whose probable violent demise no great foresight is required to predict) to the Muslim talking heads who tell us that drawing cartoons of Mohammed should be banned on grounds of community cohesion, Britain during our Muslim Troubles will be a breathtakingly target-rich environment even for those British paramilitaries who have a hands-off policy with respect to ‘normal’ Muslims. Like a child in a sweet factory, the main difficulty will be in deciding where to start.
Ruthlessly cutting down those Muslims who are seen as being hostile, subversive, or seditious will serve to impress upon Muslims that the days of multicultural genuflection to their sensitivities are over. Though the numbers of people assassinated in this manner would probably be relatively low compared to the numbers who could be killed in spectaculars (discussed below) aimed at mass civilian targets, the psychological and morale effects would be huge. Note also that should it be the case that the British government responds to the violence we predict by looking for a ‘partner for peace’ in the Muslim community to make concessions to, the assassination of the key Muslim players will have a salutary effect in persuading said government of the obstacles such a road is likely to present them with. Partners for peace are of little use if they are dead, and their deaths will likely serve to impress upon both government and Muslims the foolishness of attempting to further undermine the British people and their way of life.
4) Assassination of Key Britons
Following on closely from the previous objective, the assassination of key British traitors and collaborators will be an obvious goal for British paramilitaries. Such ruthless folk as the paramilitary types we envisage here will have little compunction about killing people perceived to be on the other side, most obviously politicians, public intellectuals, far left activists, and journalists. Activities of this sort will help impress upon the British public as a whole that British paramilitaries believe themselves to be in a war, and that war requires that traitors and enablers of the enemy be acted against ruthlessly.
5) Spectaculars — Technical Expertise and Display
Though the core objectives do not include attempts to persuade government to act in any particular manner, they do include the demonstration, to government and other interested parties, of the capacity to act in such a manner as to utterly disrupt the normal function of society in Muslim areas, and the inability of the government to do anything to prevent this from happening. This will in turn allow the paramilitaries in question to put a great deal of pressure on government to act in the required fashion later on, when specific actions are required of it.
When we talk of spectaculars, we are, of course, making reference to the spectaculars pulled off by the PIRA in the 1990s in London and Manchester. These huge bombings, at the Baltic Exchange in 1992, Bishopsgate in 1993, and Canary Wharf and Manchester in 1996, caused devastation in the areas where they took place, some causing damage to the tune of hundreds of millions of pounds. In keeping with our earlier observations about IRA strategy, these bombings did not kill many people, especially when one takes into account their huge size: three people were killed at the Baltic Exchange, one at Bishopsgate, none in Manchester, and two at Canary Wharf. Their main objective was to cause financial damage and disrupt the everyday function of the areas they targeted.
We have already mentioned geographical consolidation, which is, of course, essentially a euphemism for ethno-religious cleansing. In this context, we discussed the relative ease of pushing Muslims from Zone C to Zone B, and the relative difficulty of pushing them from Zone B to Zone A. This objective would probably have to be achieved, at least in some cases, by car bombings, as Zone B Muslim areas are, by definition, too large and robust for isolated attacks on single targets to be able to uproot them with consistency. Of course, these attacks would have the potential to kill large numbers of Muslim passers-by if conducted without warnings. This large-scale killing is not one of the core objectives (except in the hypothetical case in which it takes place as a retaliatory attack), so we assume that British paramilitaries will try and avoid it at the stages of the conflict we are describing here. Nonetheless, this objective and the geographical consolidation objective may end up dovetailing with the use of car bombs against Muslim residential or commercial areas either at night or with warnings to limit casualties.
IX. Paramilitaries: State Response
An Outline of the Problem
If the collapse of civil order accompanying the onset of our Muslim Troubles is on the scale that we predict, deploying the British Army will be the only way the government can try to restore a semblance of order in the worst-afflicted areas. Though the police will of course be playing a supplementary role, by themselves they will be utterly overwhelmed by the scale of what confronts them, just as the RUC was overwhelmed by the rioting in Belfast and Derry in the summer of 1969.
According to standard counter-insurgency doctrine (which seems to derive substantially from British military experience around the world), there should be one soldier or policeman on the ground for every fifty people in the population throughout which the insurgency is taking place. The population of Northern Ireland during the Troubles was about 1.5 million, a number which necessitated 30,000 troops and/or police. At the height of the violence in the early 1970s, 21,000 soldiers of the regular army were deployed in Northern Ireland. They were supplemented by the RUC, which had 8,500 members at its peak and a reserve of 4,500, and the UDR, whose strength grew from about 1,600 in 1970 to 6,000 (3,000 part-time and 3,000 full-time) in 1990. Taken together, these three forces satisfied the 1-to-50 troop-to-population ratio that counter-insurgency doctrine apparently calls for in pacifying an area, during the height of the violence in the early 1970s.
However, the situation is more complex than this summary makes it appear. A tour of duty in NI for a regular army regiment was six months, after which it would be rotated out and to other duties in other parts of the world. This means that each regiment would spend only one fifth of its time in NI. More sustained exposure to counter-insurgency or other high-intensity duties would have placed unsustainable burdens, in terms of morale and psychological strain, on soldiers. What this means is that sustaining 21,000 soldiers in counter-insurgency operations requires 105,000 soldiers in total to be rotated in and out of the insurgency zone as described. The regular army currently has about 106,000 soldiers, which means that a violent conflict across a population of 1.5 million (roughly equivalent to the populations of Birmingham, Bradford, Burnley, and Oldham today) would be the upper boundary to the type of counter-insurgency campaign the regular army could fight, if supplemented à la Troubles by equivalents to the RUC and UDR that allow the 30,000 troop-equivalent figure to be made up. In other words, the current regular army would be at full stretch dealing with the Troubles at their peak.
How do things stand at present? As we have stated, the regular army has 106,000 soldiers. It can, in principle, be supplemented by the 33,000 members of the Territorial Army, and the 134,000 soldiers of the reserve for a total of 273,000 troops. Under standard counter-insurgency calculations as described above, this would allow a counter-insurgency force of 54,600, capable of fighting a standard counter-insurgency in a population of 2.73 million people. Our key assumption in this document (erring on the pessimistic side though it probably is) has been that our government(s) will keep us on a steady course towards Islamization until a crisis occurs. We have argued that this crisis cannot be more than twenty years away, so let us assume that it is exactly twenty years away. The Muslim population of the UK has risen by about 60% in the last ten years, to 2.9 million people. If we extrapolate this growth trend for another twenty years, there will be approximately 7.4 million Muslims in the UK. If we assume that the core conflict zone contains this population and a British population twice as large, then the conflict zone will contain about 22 million people. A counter-insurgency operation fought in this zone would require 440,000 troop-equivalents, which would necessitate a 2.2 million-strong force. We have already shown that the entire British Army, including reservists and the Territorial Army, has only 273,000 troops, almost exactly one eighth of the required number. If we assume that the logistical and psychological advantages of fighting so close to home (i.e. in our home) would allow troops to spend one half of their time in theatre rather one fifth (six month tours of duty alternating with six months elsewhere), then we would still have only 136,500 troop-equivalents out of the desired total of 440,000, or about 31% of the whole.
This line of reasoning makes it clear that a violent conflict spread out through those areas of the UK populated by the 22 million people we mentioned above will massively overwhelm any conceivable efforts of the state to control it. This will not only facilitate the emergence of paramilitaries, it will make their emergence absolutely certain. Indeed, government may accept, legitimise, and cooperate with at least some of the more organized paramilitaries that do emerge in an attempt to retain some influence over them.
Deployment of the British Army
The horrendous difficulties the state will encounter in trying to restore and maintain order notwithstanding, the army is still the only tool it will have at its disposal when it attempts to do so. It therefore behoves us to discuss how it might go about doing so, at least to the extent that it can.
One of the peculiar truths of the Troubles was that the regular Army, certainly from about late 1974 and the start of the PIRA’s temporary ceasefire onwards, saw very little in the way of actual combat with republican paramilitaries. When this year-long ceasefire broke down in early 1976, the war moved quickly from its earlier insurgency phase (during which the PIRA sought to force British forces out of NI outright through relatively open warfare) into its ‘Long War’ phase (during which the PIRA adopted more ‘classic’ terrorist/guerrilla tactics to inflict attrition on British forces over the long term). Engaging in open gun battles with soldiers was no longer a PIRA objective. As a consequence, the duties of regular soldiers now consisted largely of patrolling, manning checkpoints, and standing guard. During the commission of these duties they would occasionally be attacked by bombers, snipers, and the like, but very rarely engage in shooting matches with them. Nearly all of the PIRA volunteers killed by British security forces after this transition were killed by the SAS, 14 Intelligence Company (of whom more later), or the RUC.
In essence, the main role of the regular army was to deny the PIRA the ability to move and operate with ease and impunity. Taking the fight back to them was something that required the unique abilities of special forces and proactive intelligence-gathering services: to carry out surveillance in republican areas (14 Intelligence Company’s speciality), to bug houses of known republicans, to stage ambushes when intelligence of forthcoming attacks was available (most notoriously at Loughgall in 1987, when the SAS shot dead eight PIRA men), to stake out weapons caches, and to capture or kill terrorists who went to retrieve weapons from them. Broadly speaking, we expect a similar pattern to emerge with respect to the deployment of army units during our Muslim Troubles, with the regular army used to patrol and man checkpoints, and with special forces used to conduct intelligence-led surveillance and armed operations.
Army patrols and checkpoints will be located and conducted, of necessity, in urban areas with large Muslim populations. Muslims being what they are, this will undoubtedly be seen as a war against all Muslims, the army laying siege to Muslims, an attempt to exterminate Muslims, or some combination thereof. In contrast, relations between the army and the British public must be expected to be largely peaceful. No conceivable British paramilitary would take the targeting of the army as an objective, not only, or even primarily, because it would be strategically idiotic, but because they will simply not countenance inflicting casualties on it. This does not mean that there will be no expressions of anger or frustration in the streets about actions the army might take, but that they are unlikely to turn to violence in either direction.
To the extent that the regular army comes into violent conflict with either side, it is overwhelmingly likely that it will be with the Muslims, who will probably take to the streets to confront the army quite quickly, rioting, burning, and, as the conflict progresses, shooting and bombing as well when they can. Given the opinions that those in the British Army are likely to have of Muslims in general, and given the violence and hostility they are certain to experience from Muslims, they are unlikely to interact smoothly with them even in the absence of violence. Irrespective of the multicultural guff that senior figures in the army will undoubtedly be spouting, the sympathies of the troops and junior officers will, of course, lie entirely with their own people, and their hatred of Muslims will grow by the day.
British soldiers on the ground in Northern Ireland, after the honeymoon period between them and the Catholic population ended in the spring and summer of 1970, developed a fierce hostility towards the nationalist population of NI that was returned in spades. If this was true during the Troubles, how much truer will it be during our Muslim Troubles? All of the hard fighting that the British Army has taken part in in the last twenty years has taken place against Muslims. There is an entire generation of young soldiers coming through who have never fought anyone else, and who will be painfully well aware of the fact that the Muslim ‘Britons’ they face on the streets would have been at best ambivalent about, and at worst psychologically on the other side during, those conflicts. The hostility shown returning British soldiers on the streets of the UK will not be quickly forgotten.
The likelihood of collusion between elements within the British Army and British paramilitaries is so high as to be a virtual certainty. Collusion can mean many things, and operate at many levels, but the illicit supply of weapons, ammunition, equipment, and intelligence to British paramilitaries by troops on the ground is a sure thing, and something that it will be impossible for more senior officers to clamp down on even if they want to, which is by no means a certainty itself.
More generally, the numerical inadequacy of the British Army relative to the size of the task confronting it (even in the most optimistic scenario) will force it to deploy at only a small fraction of the locations it would otherwise like to. Zone C will be written off by the army early on, if they pay any attention to it at all, and the army presence in much of Zone B will probably be marginal. Only Zone A, in the Greater London area, the West Midlands, and the north-west of England, is likely to see troop numbers even roughly proportional to the scale of the problem. This will have great significance for the British paramilitary core objective of geographical consolidation we discussed earlier. Whether or not British paramilitaries can push Muslims from Zone B to Zone A is one of the great unpredictables of the conflict. If the British Army is largely restricted to operating in Zone A, this objective is probably attainable, and the state may well be forced to facilitate the process to reduce the violence used to bring it about. If the army can maintain a presence in Zone B, then events will be much harder to predict.
There were two main units of special forces used in the Troubles, as we have already noted: the SAS, and 14 Intelligence Company. The SAS was used against republican paramilitaries on intelligence-led missions that required relatively small numbers of men to operate under difficult or unusually demanding circumstances. Reading about the Troubles leaves one with few illusions in this regard: when it comes to lying, soaking wet, in a field for days on end waiting to shoot an IRA man, the SAS have few equals. More interesting though, from our point of view is 14 Intelligence Company, which was just as crucial to the fight against the IRA, albeit in a very different way.
During the early years of the Troubles, army attempts to gather intelligence in republican areas were a fairly hit and miss affair. The need to put matters on a more rigorous footing led to the creation of an undercover army company trained specifically for the task of putting under surveillance republican paramilitary members in nationalist areas of NI where uniformed soldiers and policemen could not operate. This company, 14 Intelligence Company (also known, and subsequently referred to here, as the Det) was to prove its effectiveness time and time again. However, there will be no equivalent in our Muslim Troubles, a point the explication of which will shed some light on the nature of the conflict that awaits us.
One of the most intriguing details regarding the training regime of the Det is that which pertains to their training in the Ulster Irish accent. Though the Det recruited widely across the whole of the armed services, its recruits were mainly from outside of Northern Ireland, and this of course was clear from their accents. As such, they had attain at least some ability to pass themselves off as being men (or women) of Ulster, but it is hard to believe that many of them were particularly accomplished in this regard. Insofar as one can discern from reading about their exploits, most appear to have limited themselves to a few grunts when some sort of response was absolutely called for, as being identified as an Englishman with a gun in a republican area was a good way to end up in a ditch in South Armagh a day later, bound, gagged and shot through the head.
This was a surmountable operational difficulty presented by the linguistic differences between people who were visually indistinguishable. But when we consider the nature of our Muslim Troubles, we see immediately that operating undercover in this fashion is not going to be possible to any significant extent. Nearly all of the Muslims in the UK are something other than white, and nearly everyone in the British army is white. This means that putting together a Det-style army unit to go and prowl around in Muslim areas will be impossible, as there will be no significant pool of suitable people in the army to recruit from for the purpose. It will surely not be beyond the ken of Muslims to see that mysterious white converts to Islam who start coming into their areas may not be exactly what they seem. This is what we will call the mutual impermeability problem, a problem which will bedevil the efforts of all parties to the conflict one way or another. It will be one of the biggest and most significant differences between the Troubles and our forthcoming Muslim Troubles.
Let us explore this point a little further. During the Troubles, it was impossible to tell who was on which side simply by looking at them, which is to say that the parties to the conflict suffered from the mutual permeability problem. This problem, the mirror image of the mutual impermeability problem, sometimes had remarkable consequences. Loyalist hit squads targeting republican paramilitaries would take over houses in nationalist areas and tell the occupants that they were the IRA to gain their cooperation. Johnny ‘Mad Dog’ Adair of the UDA would go jogging in nationalist areas to gather intelligence until his personal notoriety reached such levels as to make this impossible. IRA members would take workmen off a bus and have to ask who the Catholics were and who the Protestants were before opening fire. INLA members could walk into a Protestant pub, plant a bomb, and walk out again. The Shankill Butchers would pick up victims in Catholic areas of Belfast only, as they had no other way of identifying them. A great deal of the violence during the Troubles, and the way it was carried out, only makes sense if one bears in mind the mutual permeability problem.
In contrast, the protagonists to our Muslim Troubles will suffer, as we have said, from the mutual impermeability problem. As such, we can be sure that one of the most effective weapons against the PIRA will not be available in the army’s attempts to reconnoitre Muslim areas and put Muslim paramilitaries under surveillance. This will increase the dependence of the army and security services on informers within those communities and the use of technical and electronic surveillance, all of which have their own drawbacks.
After the descent into violent conflict, there will be vast swathes of the country that have no unusual military presence at all, and that will be free zones for British paramilitaries to move, train, and organize as they deem appropriate. Only ‘normal’ police attention will be brought to bear on them. This will allow these areas to play a role similar to the one which the Republic of Ireland played for the PIRA during the Troubles, allowing them to operate with a minimum of scrutiny. Of course, the RUC could not operate at all in the Republic, and it was difficult if not impossible for the British government to have terrorist suspects extradited to the UK, two advantages that British paramilitaries will not have during the conflict in their own hinterlands. Nonetheless, they will still enjoy huge freedom of movement and action in this area, and the police will find it very difficult indeed to disrupt it. The more vicious the conflict becomes, the less willingness there will be a) on the part of local people to report suspicious events, and b) on the part of the British police to act against British paramilitaries anyway.
A key difference between the Troubles and our Muslim Troubles is that there will be no hinterlands, no rural areas, in which Muslims can operate with a minimum of attention being paid to them. There will certainly be no equivalent of the Bandit Country of South Armagh, which the South Armagh PIRA turned into a virtual no-go zone for the British Army for most of the Troubles, through the attentions of the South Armagh sniper and others. It will be as if every single rural area in NI had been utterly dominated by loyalist populations and paramilitaries, republicans had been entirely boxed into ghettoes, there had been no Republic of Ireland to act as training ground or sanctuary, and republicans would have been immediately identifiable as such if they were so foolish as to venture out into the countryside to try and test a bomb. This will be quite a disadvantage for Muslim paramilitaries, to put it mildly.
Part V: A Discredited State
|11.||We ignore here the possibility of collusion between security services and British paramilitaries, which could, in principle, result in those paramilitaries being able to target specific Muslims to a much greater extent.|
Previous posts by El Inglés: