By Daniel Margrain
“Bombs exported from Britain are being dropped on Yemeni children by Saudi pilots trained by Britain. Isn’t it about time this government suspended its arms sales to Saudi Arabia?” (Jeremy Corbyn, 2016).
“The causes of the Manchester atrocity, in which 22 mostly young people were murdered by a jihadist, are being suppressed to protect the secrets of British foreign policy” (John Pilger, 2017).
“If ‘our’ violence is never a justification for ‘their’ violence, why is ‘their’ violence a justification for ‘ours”? (Mark Doran, 2017)
In a 1985 speech to the American Bar Association, Margaret Thatcher said the following:
“The terrorist uses force because he knows he will never get his way by democratic means…Through calculated savagery, his aim is to induce fear in the hearts of people. And weariness towards resistance……And we must try to find ways to starve the terrorist and the hijacker of the oxygen of publicity on which they depend.”
Starving terrorists of the oxygen of media publicity was clearly not what Prime Minister, Theresa May, had in mind on the steps of Downing Street in the aftermath of the Manchester bombing. In the hours that followed what was clearly a rehearsed and scripted speech, May made the decision to replace thousands of police by uniformed soldiers as part of an orchestrated display of defiance.
This was despite the fact that the reassuring terrorist threat level was reduced from “critical” to “severe” and troops were subsequently taken off the streets. So why did May deploy the Army in the first place other than to engender the kind of publicity the terrorists thrive on by creating an invented state of emergency?
Heartfelt and genuine
In contrast to May’s robotic and staged performance which was low on substance and high on rhetoric, the leader of the opposition, Jeremy Corbyn, in a much more low-key approach, not only came across as far more heartfelt and genuine than May, but also expressed a desire to deal with the political causes of terrorism:
“Protecting this country requires us to be both strong against terrorism and strong against the causes of terrorism. The blame is with the terrorists, but if we are to protect our people we must be honest about what threatens our security.”
The Labour leader continued:
“Those causes certainly cannot be reduced to foreign policy decisions alone. Over the past fifteen years or so, a sub-culture of often suicidal violence has developed amongst a tiny minority of, mainly young, men…No rationale based on the actions of any government can remotely excuse, or even adequately explain, outrages like this week’s massacre. But we must be brave enough to admit the war on terror is simply not working. We need a smarter way to reduce the threat from countries that nurture terrorists and generate terrorism.”
This was courageous stuff that confronted head-on the underlying issues that all leading British political figures since the bogus war on terror began in 2003 have been reluctant to address.
Predictably, the speech was followed by faux Tory outrage. Senior minister, James Cleverly, fell apart live on the BBC after journalist Emma Barnett confronted him over his false assertion that Corbyn “could make such an erroneous and casual connection between British foreign policy and international terrorism”.
Foreign Secretary, Boris Johnson slammed the Labour leader for linking terror to foreign policy. But there was a problem. Johnson had already said something similar 12 years previously: “As the Butler report revealed, the JIC assessment in 2003 was that a war in Iraq would increase the terror threat to Britain”, he said.
In a rare display of truth-telling, Johnson acknowledged the link between foreign military interventions and terrorism which is accepted as a given by key figures within the British establishment. Former director-general of M15, Eliza Manningham-Butler, for example, has admitted that “the invasion of Iraq undoubtedly increased the terrorist threat in Britain.”
In the Tories view of the world, Islamic extremism emerged out of a metaphorical clear blue sky. According to this view, the political vacuum left as a direct result of the chaotic US-UK violent interventions in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya have played no part in the growth of terrorist groups like ISIS and al-Qaeda. However, the notion that no ‘blow-back’ can be expected as the result of well over a century of Western imperialist wars of aggression and the covert support for numerous regional puppet dictators, is ludicrous.
From Afghanistan and Iraq to Libya and Syria, resource wars in the middle east continue to be a key feature of the strategy of the imperial powers, including the UK. Indeed, the corollary between UK foreign policy, the destruction of functioning states and the rise in jihadist terrorism, is supported by the evidence. As historian Mark Curtis points out:
“[The] combination of Anglo-American policies across the region has contributed to further instability and the rise of violent jihadism …While a number of factors operate to contribute to an individual’s radicalisation, it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that one of these contributory factors is British direct and covert action in Iraq, Libya and Syria.”
Corbyn’s ‘crime’ was to simply acknowledge the obvious truth that Britain’s continuing duplicitous foreign policy creates the conditions in which violence flourishes. But acknowledging the need to tackle the causes of terrorism, is not the same as condoning it. As Craig Murray put it: “If I tell you that smoking causes cancer, it does not make me a supporter of cancer.”
Predictably, the Manchester bombing issue dominated the May 25, 2017 edition of the BBCs Question Time programme. But rather than providing an opportunity for members of the panel to interrogate the government’s foreign policy, attention shifted towards addressing the symptoms. Incoherent contributions from some of the programme’s guests that totally ignored the ‘elephant in the room’ were preferred. This included a disproportionate focus on the widely discredited Prevent strategy (see below) which Craig Murray described (correctly) on twitter as providing “a major source of income to various right wing cranks.”
Rather than dealing with the root causes of terrorism, the government’s approach which is inextricably linked to it’s middle east foreign policy, is counterproductive. The discredited war on terror approach that began under Blair after 9-11, continued under David Cameron and finally his successor, Theresa May.
In a speech made in Birmingham in July, 2015, that could loosely be termed as a muddled attempt to tackle Islamist extremism in which causal factors such as the Wests endless wars in Muslim lands are ignored, Cameron outlined the Tory five-year vision. The former PM set out four major areas that needed attention: countering the ‘warped’ extremist ideology, the process of radicalisation, the ‘drowning-out’ of moderate Muslim voices and the ‘identity crisis’ among some British-born Muslims.
Cameron then spoke about the need to enforce British values citing “equal rights regardless of race, sex, sexuality or faith” as a core aspect of these values despite the fact that he voted in support of the homophobic Clause 28 as recently as 2003.
Third, the former PM claimed that Islamic extremism can have nothing to do with Western intervention since the invasion of Iraq came after 9/11. He appears to be unaware of a century of imperial interventions before that. This canard was repeated by Michael Fallon in a recent car crash interview.
Pick and choose
The most hypocritical thing is how the establishment pick and choose their Muslims. A well-worn narrative is that the latter are incapable of coping with modern values. However, a succession of British Foreign Secretaries – including the pathological liar, Philip Hammond – are only too happy to be photographed alongside the Saudi royal family who don’t accept any of the values associated with democracy such as fairness, justice and equality.
In his 2015 speech, Cameron inferred what British values were not by referencing forced marriage and female genital mutilation. The implication being that these manifestations of ‘un-Britishness’ are unique to Muslim culture which of course they are not. “No more turning a blind eye on the basis of cultural sensitivities”, he said. Fine! on the basis of consistency, I’ll now wait in eager anticipation for a similar speech by Theresa May to the Jewish community in Stamford Hill.
Cameron continued, “I want to work with you to defeat this poison [of Islamist extremism].” Presumably, ‘defeating’ ISIS doesn’t involve the counterproductive action of bombing to smithereens yet more innocent civilians as the justification for mission creep or unconditionally supporting the Sunni authoritarian regimes, the ideology and funding of which helped spawn the likes of al-Qaeda and ISIS in the first place.
The one (unintended) positive that emerged from the Cameron speech was when he talked about the difference between Islamist extremism on the one hand, and the Islam religion, on the other. As such he brought into sharp focus the wider questions regarding the differing interpretations seemingly inherent to religious doctrine.
This issue was further highlighted by Jon Snow (Channel 4 News) who quoted the Muslim Council of Great Britain saying:
“We need to define tightly and closely what extremism is rather than perpetuate a deep misunderstanding of Islam and rhetoric which invariably facilitates extremists to thrive.”
In order to tackle the problem associated with certain extremist interpretations of Islam, it makes sense to want to tackle the problem at source. But crucially, this was the aspect missing from Cameron’s speech. If he was to highlight it, it would mean cutting off his nose to spite his face. That’s because Britain has a an extremely cozy relationship with the oppressive totalitarian states’ of the Arab Gulf Peninsula, all of whom without exception, adhere to the extremist theocratic Islamic ideologies described but nonetheless represent extremely good business for Great Britain PLC.
The issues that surround UK foreign policy raise serious questions about the role of Western intelligence services in the conduct of the so-called war on terror. The recent revelation that the Manchester bomber, Salman Abedi, was known by MI5 to have been part of a North African-based cell of ISIS “plotting to strike a political target in the UK”, contradicts May’s assertion that he acted as a “lone wolf”, and adds to the suspicion that operatives are being used by the deep state to foment terrorist acts in Britain in order to perpetuate the cycle of tit-for-tat violence as the justification for the continuation of the war on terror.
The above is what can reasonably be extrapolated from evidence which points to “UK covert and overt action in the region in alliance with states [who are] consistently supplying arms to terrorist groups.” In fact:
“Agencies of the British government itself have, in some senses, become part of the broader ‘terrorist network’ with which the British public is now confronted…Without these actions – by Britain and its close allies – it is conceivable that Abedi might well not have had the opportunity to become radicalised in the way he did.”
Regardless of whether the suspicion ultimately has its basis in conspiracy or cock up, the UK government must be aware that the initiation of wars in Muslim countries is bound to increase, at the very least, the risk of lone wolf attacks by those whose religious and cultural affinities tie them to many of the countries the West are seeking to ‘liberate’. Therefore, rightly or wrongly, many Muslims in Britain who may have family connections to the countries the West are ‘at war with’, regard it as their duty to rectify what they might perceive to be major injustices.
The ideology in which perceived injustices are addressed in Islam, is through ‘Jihad’ which takes two basic forms. Some moderate Muslims like Baroness Warsi insist that Jihad is about “self-improvement, self-evaluation, questioning injustice and being prepared to raise your voice when you see injustice.” This contrasts with the extreme interpretation of Jihad in which external factors like the taking of arms are seen as the precursor to the kind of self-evaluation Warsi outlined.
If, has been suggested, “Abedi was part of an extremist group, the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, that thrived in Manchester and was cultivated and used by MI5 for more than 20 years”, it’s easy to understand the rationale of somebody like him who would be well aware of the foreign policy double-standards of the UK government, to want to turn the tables on his employer as his means of justifying jihad.
The UK government must be alive to the possibility that such a strategy runs the potential risk for blow-back. If this is indeed the case, it raises the question as to whether the UK political establishment regard the deaths of innocent civilians on the streets of British cities, to be ‘a price worth paying’ as part of the governments broader geopolitical and economic strategic interests?
None of this is to suggest that UK foreign policy duplicity is the sole motive for the kinds of terrorist attacks witnessed in Manchester and London, but it would seem to be a contributory factor. Moreover, radical interpretations of the Koran may also play a part, with the probability that in many cases violence in the name of the Islamic religion is the means by which political alienation is expressed.
One of the main problems that needs to be addressed, but tends to be overlooked, relates to the contradictory aspect of religion, in general. Christians, Jews and Muslims will often claim piety with one hand but adopt the role of arm-chair generals holding a metaphorical grenade with the other.
In relation to the latter, irrespective of whether one is a follower of ISIS, or whether one is a part of the vast majority of the wider Muslim community of Sunni or Shia, all groups and sects will self-identify with, and hence, claim accordingly they are the true representatives of Islam. All will justify their opposing positions by cherry-picking appropriate verses from their religious book.
These contradictory positions, in turn, are exploited politically by racists, Islamophobes and, more widely, by governments. Islamophobia is not just a human reaction to cultural difference. It has been purposely perpetuated as a result of the politicisation of religion of which the creation of an Islamophobia industry is a reflection.
The Prevent Strategy and the policies of the Henry Jackson Society are integral to the functioning of this industry. Cage, the London-based advocacy organisation, wrote of the Prevent strategy:
“Prevents causal analysis and theory is fundamentally flawed. According to the strategy, the cause of violence in the Muslim world is rooted in ideology. Whereas in reality the cause is the political struggle of Muslims in response to unrepresentative regimes, often aided by Western policy and occupations.”
This assessment appears to be consistent with the analysis of Stephen Holmes, who in relation to the 2001 attacks on New York and the Pentagon, implied that the goal of ISIS and al-Qaeda is no different from other national liberation movements – to achieve independence by forcing the imperialist powers to retreat:
“The vast majority of Bin Laden’s public statements provide secular, not religious, rationales for 9/11. The principal purpose of the attack was to punish the ‘unjust and tyrannical America’. The casus belli he invokes over and over again is injustice not impiety. True, he occasionally remarks that the United States has declared war on god, but such statements would carry little conviction if not seconded by claims that the United States is tyrannising and exploiting Muslim people… Bin Laden almost never justified terrorism against the West as a means for subordinating Western unbelievers to the true faith. Instead, he almost always justified terrorism against the West as a form of legitimate self-defence.”
According to Holmes, then, whilst political objectives may be expressed in religious terms, in essence, the goal of ISIS/al-Qaeda is the same as previous secular-nationalist movements in the Middle East—the defeat of US imperialism and its allies in the region.
The claim that all instances of jihadist violence exclusively involve either religious or political rationales in isolation is misleading. The truth is, Islamist fanaticism is often the result of a complex interplay between the former and the quest for political and economic justice. This is what Corbyn was brave enough to acknowledge in his speech when he said the causes of terrorism “certainly cannot be reduced to foreign policy decisions alone.”
Nonetheless, the anti-Muslim ideology of the right-wing Henry Jackson Society, alongside the creation of the illiberal Prevent Strategy, has meant that the political establishment have been quick to exploit the media’s often sensationalist reporting as well as the fear and panic Muslim’s generate for their own narrow political propaganda purposes.
The former, for example, set up Student Rights which produced a report that manufactured panic around gender segregation on campuses. Cameron weighed in. Though strangely he never spoke about gender segregation at Eton. Catherine Heseltine of the Muslim Public Affairs Committee UK spoke of how growth in the fear of Islam has gone along with policies pushed by governments. She said:
“Immediately after 9/11 only 10 percent of people in Britain saw Islam as a religion as a threat…Since then that figure has just about tripled.”
According to Bob Ferguson, teacher and convener for Newham Stand Up Against Racism, since the passing of the Counter-Terrorism and Security Act in February, 2015, Islamophobia has been taken to a new level. Teaching staff at universities and schools now have a statutory duty to report people who may be vulnerable to “Islamic non-violent extremism”. One clause that is particularly pernicious, requires teachers and lecturers to report discussions on ‘Grievances to which terrorist organisations claim to have a solution’. That one clause wipes out any possibility of discussing imperialism.
“There was a minute’s silence for the victims of the beach attack in Tunisia. All the Muslims I know at my school thought those murders were a vile, reactionary crime. Many also regard the slaughter of three boys playing football on the beach in Gaza by Israel as a vile, reactionary crime. Expressing the first sentiment proves you are a good Muslim, but expressing the second could get you seen as an extremist.”
In conclusion, the issues are complex and multifaceted and not one aspect, in isolation, explains why some young people join up with terrorist groups like ISIS and al-Qaeda. Although many moderates would deny to their last breath that any religious rationale is involved in the justification of violence undertaken by groups like ISIS and al-Qaeda, these latter groups would insist on the opposite view and accuse the moderates of not representing the true tenets of the faith.
The call by moderate and peaceful Muslims (the vast majority) to condemn their violent and extremist counterparts (the small minority) on the basis that the latter are “not true Muslims” is moot since, crucially, all groups self-identify as Muslims and therefore justify their respective actions as Muslims based on the specific interpretation of passages contained within their holy book.
Some religious followers, cherry pick certain violent quotes from their religious books in order to justify to themselves their beliefs, mainly for political purposes. This is true of religious extremists whether they be Salafist Muslims, Zionist Jews or Christian fundamentalists.
The fact that the tragedy in Manchester meant that Jeremy Corbyn elevated the political dimension to the forefront of the debate on terrorism while individuals like Blair, Cameron, and now May, had sought to relegate it, is a testament to his bravery and commitment to taking on the various vested political, corporate and economic interests that constitute the industrial-military complex of the deep state and the hypocrisy of the establishment that give rise to the perpetuation of these interests.
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