Leaders: Extremism threat must be fought globally

SUCH was the callous brutality exhibited in the beheading of James Foley, it is understandable an intense investigation is under way to identify “Jihadi John” – the hooded terrorist with a London accent who appeared in the video footage.
Jihadi John is but one of an estimated 500 UK sympathisers who have travelled to support the IS cause. Picture: PAJihadi John is but one of an estimated 500 UK sympathisers who have travelled to support the IS cause. Picture: PA
Jihadi John is but one of an estimated 500 UK sympathisers who have travelled to support the IS cause. Picture: PA

Would that the threat posed to the West by Islamic State (IS) ended there. In truth, “Jihadi John” is but one of an estimated 500 UK sympathisers including, it is thought, up to 30 from Scotland, who have travelled to the Middle East to support the IS cause. And the threat posed to our security is by no means confined to those who return. The problem is bigger than the Scottish or British aspect. Take the UK nationals out of the equation and there are countless others who will continue the work. Jihadi trainees have been recruited from across Europe and North Africa.

Those countries and regions that have sought in recent years to ease travel restrictions across borders now find themselves exposed to infiltration by those briefed and trained to inflict horrific terrorist outrage. It by no means stops at “Jihadi John” and “UK” followers of IS, and extends to those foreign-born who could slip into this country with relative ease.

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Over the past few days Home Secretary Theresa May has unveiled a list of proposed changes in the law to tackle extremism in the UK. The measures sound sensible enough, but similar to those proclaimed after previous outrages, including the daylight murder of serviceman Lee Rigby on a London street. Even assuming that these measures are indeed new, and that they will make good lapses in the extensive legislative powers that the Home Office already enjoys, there are several immediate difficulties.

One is in enforcing existing border controls. Around three quarters of immigrants who absconded after being stopped at the border for carrying fake passports or false visas are still at liberty. Many others have been able to enter at ports and harbours where security checks are rudimentary. In dealing with those considered to pose a threat, legal objections can make it difficult to secure deportation. More-over, stripping alleged jihadis of their British citizenship will only transfer the problem elsewhere – not an effective way to deal with a global problem.

Difficulties also arise on the definition of “extremist” websites. Labour’s Yvette Cooper has called for compulsory de-radicalisation programmes. But it is by no means clear that IS recruits are a product of intensive radical indoctrination. Many may have travelled to Syria on some warped romantic perception of life as a jihadist and the instant fame it confers on adherents.

More effective border controls would help, but the main effort must lie in supporting a more inclusive Iraqi administration to remove the causes of IS extremism, and in the immediate term, more help for those fighting the IS threat at first hand.

Gardyloo! Cold water is not enough

NOW that First Minister Alex Salmond has taken the ice bucket challenge thrown down by actor James McAvoy, where will it all end? Mr Salmond has now nominated Prime Minister David Cameron for a dousing. His deputy Nicola Sturgeon, also game for a soaking, has nominated deputy prime minister Nick Clegg, Scottish Labour leader Johann Lamont and Scottish sports secretary Shona Robison.

Why stop at these – or at ice buckets? A weary Scottish public submerged for the past two years in a torrent of dodgy statistics, may now be baying for more. It surely won’t be long before all the main characters in Better Together and the independence campaign are packed off to the Big Brother house or into the jungle for a special edition of I’m A Politician, Get Me Out of Here.

Once you start down the road of humiliating public pranks, where can you draw the line? Is it becoming of the First Minister of Scotland to be pictured as a victim of the kind of prank that normally belongs on TV shows like Noel’s House Party?

Many will feel that, whatever one’s views about Mr Salmond, the office he holds surely deserves more dignity than this public humiliation. They have a point.

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But the deed is done, with the First Minister taking the soaking in good spirit, as did Alistair Darling. And it is for a good cause. The social media craze is aimed at raising awareness and money for the neurodegenerative disease ALS, or motor neurone disease. And such publicity is priceless.

Now both will be trying to throw the proverbial bucket of cold water over each other in tonight’s TV debate. Stand well back. This could get messy.