by Martin Odoni

I lost count long ago of the number of times I had read xenophobes, racists and Islamophobes on the Internet saying, “Finally someone’s got the courage to say it!!!” These declarations have invariably been in response to someone else making a wildly-generalised, prejudiced, hate-filled and simplistic remark against other races or nationalities.

Today (well all right, yesterday by the time this is published), it was my turn to say it, and it was in response to the diametric opposite. It was one of the Labour Party leader’s most adroit speeches, and marked something of a watershed moment in British politics. Perhaps for the first time in the midst of any General Election campaign, we finally got to hear the leader of a major party put into words something that was not only demonstrably true, but took enormous courage to say. Cue Jeremy Corbyn; –

“Many experts, including professionals in our intelligence and security services, have pointed out the connections between wars that we have been involved in, or supported, or fought, in other countries and terrorism here at home.”

A lot of people, far beyond myself in expertise, have been screaming this out for years and years, and have been forever frustrated at how it never gets discussion in mainstream political debate. For instance, take Mark Curtis, author of Web Of Deceit, and an historian I believe every Twitter-user in the United Kingdom should follow fastidiously. He has worked for decades to expose to the majority the amoral reality of British foreign policy. A foreign policy that has led the country to assisting in the toppling of foreign Governments – often democratic ones – and replacing them with dictatorships and oligarchies, in countries including, but by no means limited to, Iran, Chile, Indonesia, and Cambodia. They are of course just the tip of a very large, chilling and brutally hard iceberg, an iceberg whose painfully sharp, jagged features Curtis has catalogued in a lot of detail.

More pertinent to the horrors in Manchester this week, Britain, hand-in-hand with the United States of America, has played a key and disastrous role in the rise of Militant Wahhabi terrorism. Indirectly allying with Jihadists in Afghanistan during a war with the Soviet Union through the 1980’s paved the way for the emergence of Osama bin-Laden. At other points, the rise has been accelerated by myopic policies using local militant groups to fight ‘wars-by-proxy’ – for instance in Libya in 2011 or today in Syria – and help Britain secure resources, or markets, in far-off lands by weakening their Governments. In Iraq in 2003, Britain and the USA carried out a more overt invasion in the name of ‘freedom’, under the almost-childish assumption that a nation can be bombed into democracy.

Quite simply, British foreign policy is, as it has always been, amoral. Too many Britons are unaware of the degree of this problem, partly because so many British ‘activities’ abroad are hidden from the view of the unskeptical media, partly also because, insofar as it is known by the man-in-the-street, it is too often simplified to be ‘all-about-oil’. Britain may no longer be openly Imperialist, but that is less for moral reasons and more due to practical realities; the country was too exhausted by two World Wars, and so had simply fallen too far behind the likes of the USA to be able to remain a colonial power. But the country’s policy abroad remains as exploitative and aggressive as ever it was. It creates the very enemies British politicians and media eternally demonise.

That does not justify the crimes of these enemies of course, but then explanation is not justification. Corbyn himself went to great pains to emphasise that, no matter how cynically (and predictably) other parties have tried to misportray his words. As Corbyn said,

“That assessment in no way reduces the guilt of those who attack our children. Those terrorists will forever be reviled and implacably held to account for their actions. The blame is with the terrorists, but if we are to protect our people we must be honest about what threatens our security.”

The sad reality is that, if we want to stop the emergence of such terrorists, we have to understand the process that radicalises them in the first place, and alter it.

When Corbyn said, “The War On Terror is not working,” he was objectively telling another grossly-obvious truth. In the aftermath of the 9/11 Attacks on New York and Washington DC, hysterical paranoia gripped much of the USA, with the UK joining in with it. Tony Blair in particular was eager to endorse a wildly-exaggerated narrative about a worldwide terrorist network called ‘al-Qaeda‘, and western intervention across the Middle East began to increase. Military action in Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran (aborted), and Libya were meant to make the democratic world safer from a threat that, truth be told, scarcely existed on the scale presented, while also exacerbating a widespread impression among British and American Muslims of being ‘a faith under siege’.

But far worse, these military interventions caused entire countries to break down and all semblance of cohesion and governance evaporated across vast stretches of territory in proximity to the Persian Gulf. With no central authority or security left in these territories to intervene, they became like a magnet to a range of factions with militant-extremist leanings. They had freedom and space to pool resources, recruit more and more troops to their cause, accumulate weapons, formulate strategies, and become far, far stronger than they had had any hope of being in times when the regions were firmly governed. The greatest opponents to these groups a lot of the time were each other, and there were occasional breakdowns in relations.

Daesh, or the ‘Islamic State of Iraq and Levant‘ (ISIL) as it vaingloriously likes to call itself, emergedĀ  from precisely one of these schisms in the so-called ‘al-Qaeda network’, caused by a ‘demarcation dispute’ between Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and his former henchman, Abu Mohammed al-Jalani, over expanding operations from Iraq into Syria, forming the al-Nusra Front. Al-Baghdadi wanted to retain authority over the al-Nusra Front, but al-Jalani refused. To settle the dispute, Ayman al-Zawahiri, leader of ‘al-Qaeda’, ruled that al-Jalani had authority in Syria, al-Baghdadi in Iraq, and there should be no cross-over. Al-Baghdadi responded by formally retracting his oath of allegiance to Zawahiri, sent forces into Syria, and seized al-Jalani’s headquarters and over eighty per cent of the al-Nusra soldiers. With this victory, al-Baghdadi established the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, or ISIS/Daesh/ISIL. By 2014, it had a very large army, and was substantially well-supplied. While this force’s reach and punch are still heavily-overstated – the facts in the cold light of day show that attacks beyond the Middle East are still few-and-far-between – they are now strong enough to present much the kind of threat that ‘al-Qaeda’ was talked up as being during Tony Blair’s time as Prime Minister.

So Corbyn is correct. If its first purpose was to make the West safer, then the UK’s (and the USA’s) War On Terror is very clearly not working. Quite the contrary, it has brought about precisely the scenario it was supposedly meant to avert, and given Militant Wahhabism the room to build up into a significant threat. The West is in more danger now than it was back in 2001, when it all began. Sixteen years is surely sufficient time to judge whether such an endeavour is successful, and the judgement when comparing outcomes to stated aims has to be negative.

This merely demonstrates the foolish side of British foreign policy. It does not even touch upon the amoral side, in particular Britain’s illicit manoeuvres in foreign lands for the purposes of lifting resources.

Anyone who tries to dismiss British foreign policy as a weak ‘excuse’ for terrorism are not only guilty of the juvenile error of confusing explanation with extenuation. They are also ignoring a welter of evidence. The London Bombers of 2005 firmly implied that they were meting out ‘punishment’ for the invasion of Iraq. On Monday, the Manchester Arena Bomber, Salman Abedi, was looking to avenge Allied airstrikes in Syria, according to his sister; one such airstrike occurred just a day before the Westminster Attack in March, and so may explain the crime of Khalid Masood.

Of all the major party leaders over the last thirty years, only Jeremy Corbyn has dared to acknowledge publicly that British foreign policy – particularly its century-plus history of interference in the ‘Holy Land’ – is probably provoking Wahhabist attacks. To say as much during a General Election campaign is doubly brave, as it redirects the root cause, and therefore perhaps some of the blame, away from ‘the other’ and back onto his own country. Many in the electorate will not like the implication, which is that some of the failings that lead to terrorism will touch upon themselves, however inadvertently. The implication also acknowledges that the problem is far more complex, and therefore more difficult to resolve, than the parental-sounding reassurances of a casual ‘We’re-the-goodies-and-they’re-the-baddies’ narrative, into which most Prime Ministers retreat.

Those of a knee-jerk-xenophobic disposition mis-proclaim that anti-foreigner messages are ‘courageous’ – loud intolerance is often mistaken for bravery – because those who spread them risk being labelled ‘racist’ by ‘shrieking liberal hysterics’. But what is the reaction of the ‘courageous’ intolerants when Corbyn counters with the suggestion that other mechanisms may be at work here? They shriek at him hysterically, accuse him of ‘crass timing’ (maybe they could explain when would be a good time to discuss the complexities of radicalisation, if not in the days after a terrorist attack?), of ‘making excuses’ for terrorists. Of course, we all knew that response to his words was coming, but that meant it required all-the-more courage to say them. The lunatic right, and even others more centrally-aligned, are resorting to precisely the same types of intimidating shout-down tactics of which the lunatic right themselves claim to be victims.

It does not take courage to resort to ‘othering’ in response to tragedy. What requires courage is acknowledging the failings of the country itself, and admitting that addressing the root causes of radicalisation is not a straightforward, black-and-white matter of beating up the baddies. A lot of people will not be happy to hear of such grey areas, and are more eager to be told, “I’ll keep you safe. I don’t need to explain why or how I can do it, just let me do it,” which is substantially the position of Theresa May and many a Prime Minister before her. But now, at last, a politician challenging to be Prime Minister – and with a better-than-expected chance of succeeding judging by recent opinion polls – has dared to draw attention to the grey.

In doing so, Corbyn has raised a question about the people of Britain themselves, a question we will soon have answered. That question is, would more people prefer being reassured by mummy that everything-will-be-all-right-just-leave-it-to-me-now-go-back-to-sleep, or would more people prefer having a mature, nuanced debate about the realities of geopolitics?

If Corbyn wins the Election in under two weeks, we can assume the answer is the latter – in which case there is hope for Britain yet.