by Austin Williams
The Houthis may sound like characters dreamt up by Dr Seuss, but they are in fact a militant Islamist group currently committing acts of violent piracy against private cargo ships in the Red Sea region. Based in north-western Yemen, their terrorism is currently focused on the pinch point in the Gulf of Aden (between Yemen, Eritrea and Djibouti) where they have been attacking vessels sailing to and from the Suez canal.
Over the last few months, Houthi rebels have launched audacious attacks on a number of ships; firing on many and even filming themselves commandeering a Japanese cargo vessel. The dangers of transiting the region has caused shipping companies to redirect around the Cape of Good Hope – adding weeks to the journey – and threatening supply chains, increasing transportation costs, penalising business.
The Iranian-backed Shia Houthis formed in the 1980s to rebel against the regional dominance of the predominantly Sunni Saudi Arabia and to counter Saudi’s allegiance with the West. Houthis predominantly fought against their own Yemeni state whose leadership was and remains allied with Saudi Arabia. By 2015, in concert with the Yemeni regime, Saudi Arabia led military strikes against Houthi forces in a war that only tailed off in 2022. While notional peace-talks continued, the Houthis’ militant anti-Western, anti-Semitic, and anti-Israeli stance continued. Its recent expression – as a way of garnering more support – now masquerades as support for the Palestinians.
These rebels have issued a statement of belief: “God Is the Greatest, Death to America, Death to Israel, A Curse Upon the Jews, Victory to Islam”. Violent content aside, what self-respecting terrorist has a “slogan”, let alone a five-point plan. Indeed, a commentator from the US Brookings Institute says that “The Houthis have made fighting corruption the centrepiece of their political program” making them sound no more worrisome than aging Corbynites.
But in response to US and UK bomb attacks against Houthis strongholds, rebel forces have responded by saying that they will continue their marauding sea-piracy until Israel ceases its bombing of Gaza. Here, the rebels and the British protest groups seem even more recognisably aligned. The Houthis continue to make demands beyond any democratic mandate, intent on continuing to cause havoc, they are well-funded, and they are insisting that unless their demands are recognised and acted upon – with immediate effect – they will continue their destabilising chaos.
Have the Houthis adopted the tactics of environmental activism, albeit a vicious, anti-Semitic franchise version? The similarities are stark (although, for legal reasons, I am being ironic) but far too many militant environmental activists like XR are keen to attack civilian space with no recourse to public mandate, Greenpeace are rather proud of their piratical blockades on the high seas, practically all eco-activists hijack public space in order to impede lawful movement, 15-minute city advocates demand that we confine ourselves to local territory with penalties for straying into unchartered areas, almost all advocate restrictions on travel, endorse vandalism, and demonstrate casual disregard for the emotional and physical distress perpetrated on their victims.
When XR co-founder, Gail Bradbook told a Bristol audience of her desire to fly drones over Heathrow airport – causing maximum inconvenience, travel disruption, expense, and public anxiety – it was richly applauded by the environmental activists as an inexpensive way of causing mayhem. We now find that the Houthis rebels are sending cheap drones over US warships in the knowledge that it costs £millions for the western missile defence technology to shoot them down, but causing maximum terror, harm and real physical danger in the process.
But worse still might be that the tactics of Houthis rebels finds its way into Western protest movements. After all, the Islamist Houthis have announced that their criminal acts against what they perceive to be Western decadence will “carry on until we are listened to.” Meanwhile environmentalists, eager to reject Western carbon-centric lifestyles, insist that their criminal acts will “carry on until the government meets their demands”. While Houthis express faux concern for the deaths of Palestinians, Roger Hallam, leader of Extinction Rebellion calls climate change “an act of genocide” and demands that any action is legitimate to fight it. All bets are off, he says. Of course, most environmental activists can’t really be equated with vicious terrorists, but all the same, we should be prepared for the next phase of naïve eco-protest. At the moment, anti-war protestors are chanting “”Yemen Yemen make us proud turn another ship around.” Of course, they don’t mean Yemen, they mean Houthi. Who knows, maybe the tendency for solidarity with the enemy – seen by many as legitimate – will express itself under the guise of Just Stop Oil Tankers.