5 January 2011 **** Also on ZNet, 25 January 2011 **** Republished 27 May 2017

Front Page

Nafeez Ahmed writes: "Mark Curtis, the leading revisionist historian of British foreign policy and author of Secret Affairs: British collusion with radical Islam, lays out a detailed exploration of just a fraction of the evidence demonstrating specifically British collusion in Saudi Arabia's support for Islamist terror." (Our children in Manchester paid the price of business as usual, Insurge Intelligence, 24 May 2017)

Here is my review of Curtis's book.


Britain's dangerous double games

By Tapani Lausti

Mark Curtis, Secret Affairs: Britain's Collusion with Radical Islam. Serpent's Tail 2010.

WikiLeaks has made many people wonder what governments really are up to behind their façade of respectability. The leaked diplomatic cables reveal that the fine words about democracy and human rights are meant to deceive the public. The real world is all about naked national self-interest which is promoted by means beyond any decency or honesty. Lying about national motives comes naturally to politicians and diplomats.

WikiLeaks is a novelty in the way its leaks have become big headline news. However, many historians, journalists and political activists have been laboring away producing revealing material which doesn't create surges of media interest, mainly because the corporate media shares the world view of national and international power elites.

Mark Curtis is one of those truth-seekers. In several books he has pored through declassified official documents and other available material to reveal the truth behind British governmental pretense. He has opened up the murky affairs that inform what is called "international affairs" or what politicians like to refer to as "international community".

Curtis's latest book opens up a weird world where British national interests are promoted by collusion with forces which at first sight have nothing to do with those interests. This is how Curtis sums it all up: "Islamist groups have long performed a variety of key functions for British foreign policy, as we have seen earlier in the postwar period, notably as shock troups to promote unrest or coups, proxy covert forces to eliminate enemy leaders or conservative forces to help prop up pro-West regimes. The hosting of these groups in London likely provided further advantages to British policy." (p. 261)

The British public is mainly unaware of these behind-the-scenes maneuverings. Citizens would certainly be shocked to find out that their country's foreign policy is in reality not interested in democracy, human rights or even human life. The main British objectives in the Middle East and Central Asia have been to maintain influence and control of key energy resources and maintain Britain's place within a pro-Western global financial order. Indeed, ". there has been a tacit Anglo-American-Saudi pact to maintain this financial order, entailing London and Washington turning a blind eye to whatever else the Saudis spend their money on." (p. xvii)

Despite the close financial and military alliance with Britain, Saudi money has been flowing to support fundamentalist Islamic groups. In this way the unmentionable has happened: Britain has contributed in a major way to the threats to its own citizens' security. Bizarrely, British politicians, instead of feeling shame-faced about this dangerous relationship, have gone out of their way to praise the qualities of Saudi despots.

There is a logic to this. Any real democracy in the energy-rich areas would deprive the Western powers from the control of these resources. Phrases like "untrammelled democracy", "chaos" and "communism" appeared in one diplomatic analysis quoted by Curtis. He notes: "This was a neat summary of Britain's preference for repressive regimes backed by the Islamic right, rather than more popular or democratic governments — a permanent feature of British policy in the region, past and present, that helps explain the regular resort to connivance with Islamist forces." (p. 75)

Curtis further observes: ". the interests of the people in the region were irrelevant to British planners; there is barely a reference to them in the hundreds of documents surveyed for this research — the rights of Middle Easterners were sacrificed on the altar of pure geostrategic concerns, and deeply conservative ones at that, from which the region is still to recover." (p. 98)

This history offers the background to the current scenes of unmitigated disasters in Afghanistan and Iraq. British analysts did not believe that Islamic fundamentalism posed a threat to Western interests in the way Communism had done. Indeed, both MI5 and CIA had been active in helping the Islamist groups in Afghanistan fighting against the Soviets. These groups would later use their acquired fighting skills against Western targets. Curtis's conclusion is inevitable: "Al-Qaida would likely not have emerged to the extent that it did, had it not been for the infrastructure of the Afghan resistance built with US and British backing." (p. 149)

The other pilar in Britain's opportunistic policies has been Pakistan. Being "great friends" with London didn't stop the Pakistani army nurturing the Taliban in mid-90s. Pakistani and Saudi arms and money strengthened the Taliban and helped Osama bin Laden to find a base in Afghanistan. This is again Curtis's conclusion: "In this light, it is clear that 9/11 was itself a product of the Pakistani surge in Central Asia, and this, in turn, had benefited from Britain's backing of Pakistan. The deep roots of 9/11 can be traced to many causes; one of them was London's long-standing view of radical Islamists as useful to securing its foreign policy goals." (p. 205)

In the end, the leading representatives of "Western values", the US and the UK, have been destabilizing the world in a most dangerous way. The self-sanctified Tony Blair kept denying that the invasion of Iraq had anything to do with the London bombs of 7/7. Yet, available information confirms that the connection was clearly understood by British policy makers. Curtis argues, however, that even more than the occupation of Iraq, the Pakistani connection is behind the terrorist threat to Britain. London's connivance with unpopular governments — and shunning any cooperation with secular, nationalist and democratic groups — has inflamed much of Pakistani public opinion.

In a 2008 national security document, the British government painted a picture of a world where competition for energy supplies is increasing and where the risk of energy shortages is likely to create conflicts. Britain must therefore maintain "strong national capabilities", including intelligence, military forces and nuclear weapons. A priority is to keep China, and perhaps Russia as well, away from Britain's traditional client region. In other words, if you thought that British foreign policy aims to promote public interest, peace and human rights, think again. The truth is there in leaked or public documents.


See also:

My reviews of Curtis's other books:

Mark Curtis, Web of Deceit: Britain's Real Role in the World. With a Foreword by John Pilger. Vintage 2003.

Mark Curtis, The Ambiguites of Power: British Foreign Policy Since 1945. Zed Books 1995.


Visit the archive: Mark Curtis, Middle East, Afghanistan and Pakistan, Iraq, NATO, Britain, United States, International politics, WikiLeaks, Tariq Ali, Phyllis Bennis, Noam Chomsky, Robert Fisk, Moshé Machover, John Pilger, Book reviews


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