‘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 that the war on terror is simply not working.’
Soon after Jeremy Corbyn made this statement, former Mayor of London Boris Johnson branded him ‘monstrous’. Defence Secretary, Sir Michael Fallon, waded in too, claiming Corbyn’s speech ‘implied that this attack might be our fault, might be Britain’s fault, might be the fault of our foreign policy.’ Both of these responses illustrate how, in this election campaign, serious and complicated issues are being dismissed with plenty of bluster but not much logic.
Fallon’s remark begins by trying to evoke an emotional response (‘our fault’), goes on to deploy a vulgar patriotism instead of any rational engagement with Corbyn’s position (‘might be Britain’s fault’) and ends by re-stating the point Corbyn actually made: that there is a connection between ‘wars our government has fought in other countries and terrorism here at home’. Those two earlier phrases – ‘our fault’ and ‘Britain’s fault’ – plant the false notion that Corbyn’s allegation extends beyond the government to the national or collective ‘us’, thereby making him unpalatable to all British people.
Boris Johnson added it was ‘absolutely extraordinary in this week of all weeks that there should be any attempt to justify or legitimate the actions of terrorists in this way.’ Corbyn said nothing in that speech that could lead a fair-minded person to conclude that he believes that. Johnson’s critique must also be called out for being hypocritical, as he himself made eerily similar comments to Corbyn back in 2005: ‘As the Butler report revealed, the Joint Intelligence Committee assessment in 2003 was that a war in Iraq would increase the terror threat to Britain.’
Such a reaction is now typical of certain politicians when they are confronted with views they don’t like, and it is neither rational nor persuasive.
Corbyn is not alone in claiming that British and American military interventions can ignite terrorism at home. High-level intelligence officials have made much the same point. Commentators across the political spectrum have drawn attention to ‘blowback’ – a term coined by the CIA – in which a nation state’s inability to control the effects of its activities abroad results in terrible domestic consequences.
The leftist Columbia University economist Jeffrey Sachs states in no uncertain terms: ‘Painful as it is to admit, the West, especially the United States, bears significant responsibility for creating the conditions in which Isis has flourished. Only a change in US and European foreign policy vis-a-vis the Middle East can reduce the risk of further terrorism.’
Ron Paul, a former Republican presidential candidate, said that US foreign policy was a contributing factor to terrorist assaults against America: ‘They don’t come here to attack us because we’re rich and free. They come and they attack us because we’re over there. I mean, what would we think if foreign countries were doing that to us?’
Jeremy Corbyn is the official Leader of the Opposition; it is his job to analyse what he perceives as flaws in the thinking of the government. However, we’re in the midst of a worrying trend in which the healthy consideration of ideas is quashed with ad hominems and knee-jerk moralising, and Johnson is the master of it. Rarely is a political idea defeated through sensible discussion anymore; instead, the speaker is mercilessly barracked, slandered as unpatriotic, characterised as incompetent and dangerous, and the merits of their perspective buried under sheer rage.
If we turn the argument round a little, could Johnson or Fallon provide any evidence to show that the so-called War on Terror is working? Could they say with any confidence at all that, since 9/11, terrorist atrocities in this country have decreased?
Let’s not forget also that Johnson pushed Brexit as an opportunity for us to ‘reclaim our democracy’. But if our democratically elected leaders aren’t allowed to speak on behalf of the people who elected them without being shouted down in the most childish fashion, and if we can’t debate and discuss challenging ideas that voters have a right to consider, then what exactly did we reclaim democracy for?
If the Conservatives think Jeremy Corbyn is wrong, that’s fine. But let them show us why.