Islamist threat to the West is ‘exaggerated’

Just ignore them: British recruits to ISIS ask others to come and join them.

The West is no longer a major terror target, says the former head of MI6. But the UK still spends a vast amount of time and effort tackling this much diminished threat. Does he have a point?

On July 7 2005, during London’s hectic morning rush hour, four British Islamists detonated bombs on crowded underground trains and a double decker bus. The horrific attacke killed 52 people and injured more than 700. It was the first and only suicide bombing in British history.

Along with 9/11, the attack fed the UK’s anxiety over the threat of extremism. Yet in the week of 7/7’s ninth anniversary, the former head of MI6, Sir Richard Dearlove, surprised officials by saying the British government and media have 'overstated' the terrorist threat and given it the ‘oxygen of publicity’.

Dearlove argued that there has been a shift in Islamic fundamentalism since the Arab Spring began in 2011. Whereas 13 years ago, Al-Qaeda targeted the West, the most powerful fundamentalist groups now concentrate on fighting other Muslims in the Middle East. Britain will only be ‘marginally affected’ by the conflict.

Recently some security experts have worried about the threat posed by the return of UK Islamists, currently fighting in Syria and Iraq. Last month, three young Britons appeared in a video for ISIS, calling on other Muslims to join their cause. But in a TV interview, one of those men said he had no plans to return to the UK. Dearlove says they are deluded and pathetic and we should ignore them rather than offer the ‘oxygen of publicity’.

ISIS, which has renamed itself the ‘Islamic State’, has taken over a vast swathe of territory between Iraq and Syria and declared its leader the ‘caliph’, the heir to the prophet Muhammed to whom all Muslims owe their allegiance. The group’s primary target is to overthrow governments in the region and establish a fundamentalist state, not to battle the West.

Dearlove also noted that the UK’s intelligence agencies devote over half of their resources to fighting fundamentalism. Yet even at the height of the Cold War, monitoring the Soviet Union and its allies only absorbed around 38% of resources.

An al-Qaeda breather

Some agree with Dearlove that the British government and media worry too much about an unlikely threat. Security services must of course remain vigilant, but constant anxiety about terrorists only helps them in their aim to spread fear. As Dearlove says, ‘It is surely better to ignore them’.

Yet this flies in the face of warnings from the current leaders of the security services, who say returning jihadists are a real danger. While fundamentalists might be engaged with the Middle East now, their malign gaze will return to the West soon enough. Britain has been relatively safe thanks to our vigilance, but all it will take is another attack like 7/7 for us to realise how vulnerable we really are.

You Decide

  1. Does we spend too much time worrying about the threat from fundamentalists?
  2. ‘Terrorism has achieved its goal of making the West live in fear.’ Do you agree?


  1. In groups, design a poster either warning people about the threat of terrorism or advising them not to worry so much and relax.
  2. Using the links in ‘Become an expert’, research ISIS and al-Qaeda. List the differences in their thinking.

Some People Say...

“How do you defeat terrorism? Don’t be terrorised.’Salman Rushdie”

What do you think?

Q & A

Why did fundamentalists attack the West?
For al-Qaeda the real enemies have always been the secular states in the Middle East, obstacles to its creation of a single Islamist caliphate. The US was ‘the far enemy’ and was attacked on 9/11 because of its support for these states. Then many fundamentalists saw the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq in 2001 and 2003 as an attack on Islam itself.
Will there be an end to the threat?
The USA invaded Afghanistan because the Taliban was allowing terrorist groups to use the country as a base to attack the West. But the invasion only caused more resentment towards the West. Experts say if there is to be peace, it must come from within the Arab world, and the moderate majority of Muslims must fight the fundamentalists who also oppose their way of life.

Word Watch

MI6, or the Secret Intelligence Service, is responsible for gathering information on overseas threats. MI5 monitors domestic threats, and GCHQ is the Government Communications Headquarters.
ISIS, which follows the Sunni strand of Islam, opposes Shia Islam. Dearlove says that the Saudi Arabian security head, Prince Bandar, told him before 9/11 that a major war between Sunni and Shia was on its way.
Experts say that it has surpassed al-Qaeda to become the leading terrorist threat.
The man in the ISIS video who was raised in Aberdeen said he does not want to return to a country that is not Muslim.
This is a huge and highly arrogant claim for the Islamic State to make. It will not do them any favours with other fundamentalist groups like al-Qaeda, which has existed for longer. It shows that even within Sunni fundamentalism, there are divergences in beliefs and objectives.

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