Beware of beetles and radicals especially in Hexham

by georgehep

The real star of the film ‘Eye in the Sky’ is the lifelike surveillance beetle that flies into the terrorists’ lair. It upstages the redoubtable Helen Mirren who plays a steely military commander  in charge of a Coalition drone strike against terrorist leaders.

So I was not surprised when Taliban leader Mullah Akhtar Mansoor  was killed by  a drone  in Pakistan ten days ago. These are now everyday operations. It was unusual for the U S military to disclose details of a top secret mission over sovereign airspace. There was no mention of a beetle but I now regard anything flying around my head with great suspicion.

This is the irregular warfare of the future according to Paul Rogers,  Professor of Peace Studies at Bradford University and the darling of the Hexham Debates, where he was back lecturing  by popular demand a fortnight ago.

In the wake of the Iraqi and Afghan wars, the United Sates is developing ‘remote control’  techniques that avoid putting ‘boots on the ground’. They include special forces, private armies, cyber warfare and drones. 60 countries are developing armed drones and 15 exporting them, said Rodgers, so it is only a matter of time before they fall into the arms of ISIS and other extremist groups. Shoulder launched versions are now available using off the shelf components and possibly beetles too.

One day soon, enemy drones could pick off generals, politicians and innocent bystanders in this sceptred isle. We will have no right to scream and shout with indignation. ‘Eye in the Sky’ highlights the moral dilemma of so called ‘collateral damage’ from pin point bombing. There have been about 500 civilian deaths from Coalition airstrikes in the last two years.

In a compelling world view, Paul Rogers coupled the failures of the world economic system and the increasing effects of climate change to explain the attraction of terrorist activity.   He talked of the  indifference of the western world to the  2008 financial crash and the failure  to deal with widening economic divisions especially in countries where young people were excluded from increased prosperity.   This “revolution of frustrated expectations” of an educated minority was behind the Arab awakening. Tunisia has 140,000 unemployed graduates and is the greatest recruiting ground for ISIS.

In 2003 President Bush gave his triumphant “mission accomplished” speech , aboard the aircraft carrier Abraham Lincoln  but 13 years later  the United States is still fighting  the axis of evil whether the Taliban, Al Qaeda or ISIS.   The attempts to supress a series of insurgencies, what  Rodgers called  ‘lid-ism’,  plainly has not worked. The West needs to radically change its understanding of security.

The world will also be faced with the mass migration of desperate people in search of their fair share of food and water.  Wild fires in Canada are increasingly common even if they have only come to our attention since Fort McMurray was evacuated . The boreal forests of North America and Russia are the great carbon sinks of the world and their destruction speeds up global warming.

Climate change is asymmetric, Rogers claims, having a much greater impact in the near arctic and the sub tropics and reducing the capacity of the land to produce crops and feed the hungry who will be liable to take extreme action.

The Rodgers thesis, to be developed in his forthcoming book ‘Irregular War’, is that “the fundamental problem for the future is not a clash of civilisations between Islam and the West  but a revolt from the margins in an increasingly divided and constrained world”. We will continue to be faced by insurgents, Rogers maintained, unless we can address the underlying problems and find an economic and an ecological route to a fairer world.

Not for the first time at a Hexham Debate, I ended  up feeling very gloomy about the future. But Paul Rogers said that, even  after 35 years work, he is still optimistic.  He pointed to increasing interest from the military to find an alternative approach to  tackling terrorism; to initiatives elsewhere in the world like the growth of co operatives and mutuals, advances in alternative technology  and  the rapid development of  solar batteries in Africa. He encouraged the audience to spread the word. Listen to his talk, gentle reader, at

Three years ago I was invited to chair the Hexham Debates on justice, peace  and democracy. To my surprise, this did not involve finding the speakers, cooking the scones or putting out the chairs. All these jobs are brilliantly undertaken by the highly committed organising group, mainly drawn from the Hexham Quaker Meeting.  I just turn up to handle the torrent of questions that are unleashed as soon as the speaker sits down.

My term as jocular front man came to an end with the Paul Rodgers debate. Just like Doctor Who,  I give way to a younger incarnation. There is one more debate in this series on Saturday 25th June when the speaker is Maurice Wren, Chief Executive, British Refuge Cuoncil. If you thought Hexham was a sleepy market town, discover the depth of radicalism for yourself.  The debates take place at St Mary’s Roman Catholic Church, Hencotes, Hexham at 11am.

Published in Newcastle Journal Tues 31st May