Following the attack in Manchester last week politicians have rushed to provide their ideas for a more secure UK. Mr Corbyn made a speech linking Western interventionist foreign policy to the rise of global terrorism. Critics attacked Corbyn for this speech, arguing that he was shifting the blame from the suicide bomber to the West. Michael Fallon refuted a quote on Channel 4 News saying that the campaign in Iraq had “create[d] the problem of murderous Islamic fundamentalists” believing it was said by Corbyn. The fact that it was an old quote from cabinet colleague Boris Johnson proved to be embarrassing.
Corbyn’s speech linking Western foreign policy in the Middle East to the rapid rise of Islamic fundamentalism has also been echoed by former head of MI5 Stella Rimington and many Conservative MPs. Despite this, his speech still drew much criticism from the Conservative party and many others.
The main criticism used to attack Corbyn is that he is attempting to rationalise terrorism through blaming the UK and the West instead of the perpetrators. This is just not true, we can even see within Corbyn’s speech where he explicitly makes the point of blaming the Manchester bomber and solely the Manchester bomber for this horrendous attack.
Corbyn: “That assessment in no way reduces the guilt of those who attack our children.”
To some people, this feels like a contradictory statement. How can Corbyn blame both the West and the terrorists? Surely it’s the fault of one or the other, and surely the blame should be put on the one who carried out the attack? In essence, yes, the blame is solely with the perpetrator of the attack but this doesn’t take into account of contextual factors.
Corbyn’s speech does not undermine in anyway the fact that there are many Western countries who do not partake in aggressive foreign policy. Sweden pursues a ‘Human Rights’ foreign policy which promotes ethics over the state’s personal gains. Many will quickly point to the 2017 Stockholm attack as justification that a state’s foreign policy bears no correlation to whether it will be attacked or not. The same is often said for Germany which has avoided conflict within the Middle East but has still been on the end of terrorist attacks such as the one in the Berlin Christmas market. Or how about the many thousands of middle easterners who are killed every year who don’t have a foreign policy?
Despite these valid points, it misses the reasoning behind Corbyn’s speech. He doesn’t say that ‘they’ (the terrorists) attack us because we attack them. He is saying that the destruction of normal life in the Middle East, the toppling of leadership with no replacement and the bombing and military campaigns which have teared countries apart has led to ungovernable spaces providing a catalyst for extremism. Ideologues have been able to expand and promote their ideas within the Middle East and abroad. Socially reclusive individuals in the west, most of whom are born in the west and home grown terrorists are drawn into this fundamentalism.
For those who doubt the link between Western intervention and the rise of terrorist attacks (or let’s look at suicide attacks as that’s what the Manchester attack was) we can look at the University of Chicago ‘Suicide Attack Database’.
Here we can see that the 15 years prior to the war on terror the number of suicide attacks is relatively low compared to the 15 years after the declaration of the war on terror. This suggests that intervention in the Middle East and the way it was handled has had an effect on global terrorism.
There are many different approaches the West could take now to reduce the chances of terrorism occurring. Scaling back in the Middle East could be one of these approaches. Islamophobia and calls for halting immigration are not the answer, this will only bring about more resentment. UK security services must keep track of suspected terrorists and be able to spot any warning signals. The Manchester bomber was reported to the police three times prior to the attack, something could have been done.
From this we can see that Corbyn was correct in his speech but so much nuance was always going to be misinterpreted as providing rationale for the terrorist’s acts. This is just not true and I hope in the future that people will not be so quick to provide knee jerk reactions to such nuanced thought.