I’m not a fan of Jeremy Corbyn as far as Scotland is concerned. On topics Caledonian, he channels the knuckle-dragging careerist element of Labour in Scotland and since Scotland’s movement for self-determination isn’t sufficiently glamorous or unambiguously anti-colonialist, it’s the only movement for self-determination he won’t support. If only Scotland had more fields of quinoa hand harvested by sun beaten Quechua speaking peasants who were directly descended from the last Inca emperor then we might get more of a favourable hearing from Jezza. People living in Glasgow sink estates who are descended from dispossessed Gaelic speaking crofters who were thrown off their lands in order to make way for sheep and deer for the rich just don’t cut it for him. The Labour leader’s support for national self-determination movements is directly proportional to how far away they are from Islington. It makes it easier to romanticise them.
This lack of support is not unconnected with the view in Labour that the party needs Scotland in order to secure power in Westminster. Which is yet another instance of Labour’s propensity for putting the party before the people. Labour needs Scotland, but Scotland doesn’t need Labour.
However when it comes to exploring more intelligent and thoughtful responses to terrorist atrocities, Jeremy Corbyn speaks a lot of sense. Let’s be clear – the responsibility for the cruel murders carried out recently in Manchester falls squarely with the perpetrators. They are to blame, they are culpable. They and they alone are criminally responsible. And if there is a God he or she will judge them harshly for it. There is no eternal paradise waiting for the Manchester suicide bomber, only the damnation of the living. A god who is happy to see children murdered isn’t a god, it’s a demon. If we call on Muslim communities to reflect upon the perversion of their religion which a minority supports and which that minority claims justifies violence, we must likewise reflect upon the actions of Western societies. That’s precisely what Jeremy Corbyn was saying.
Corbyn makes a valid and important point. The so-called ‘war on terror’ is clearly not working, and it’s not working because we focus on the means but never the motives. The government and much of the media talk about finds of terrorist material, about arrests of terrorist suspects, about the processes by which terrorists carry out their evil deeds. But they’re less inclined to address what causes these things to happen in the first place. The point that Jeremy Corbyn was making was not to exculpate or excuse those who carry out atrocities.
Jeremy Corbyn wasn’t placing the blame on the British state and removing it from people who plant bombs in public places and blow up children. He was very clear that the bombers and those who supported and supplied them have the responsibility for the attack. He most certainly wasn’t legitimising the planting of a bomb at a concert venue. What he was saying is that we must understand what causes people to take these appalling actions if we want to stop them happening in the future. This is not a complex point. If you want to tackle drug crime, you need to understand what causes people to use drugs. If you want to tackle the crimes of terrorism, you need to understand what causes people to adopt terrorist tactics.
The crucial point is that terrorism doesn’t happen in a vacuum. UK foreign policy is clearly a part of the narrative. Terrorism doesn’t happen simply because there are bad people in the world. Terrorism has a context, and if we want to prevent terrorism we need to understand its whole context, not just those parts of it that make us feel comfortable. And it is an uncomfortable truth that when those who commit or support violent and extreme acts of terrorism based on a perverted version of Islam are questioned about their motives and what caused them to be radicalised in the first place, time after time they cite British foreign policy as a motivating factor. They cite the fact that Britain supports vile dictators and supplies them with arms and weapons. They cite the wars and destruction that the UK has wrought on a succession of countries. They cite the unjustified and unjustifiable war in Iraq which left that country in ruins and which unleashed the demons of IS.
None of this justifies terrorism of course, but if as a society we wish to prevent people from going down the path that leads to a suicide bombing in a crowded arena, we need to understand what causes them to take the first steps, so that they can be stopped from going any further.
Despite that, Corbyn’s nuanced and careful remarks were leapt on by Boris Johnson and Michael Fallon, both of them cheerleaders for supplying arms and weapons to dictators around the world in the name of British exports, and both of whom were quick to accuse Corbyn of legitimising terrorism. Not for the first time Boris Johnson is wrong and self-serving. The person seeking to make political capital out of the deaths of children in Manchester is the vile buffoon who carelessly tosses out racist remarks and serially insults foreign leaders.
Corbyn’s remarks were equally leapt on by Tim Farron, the opportunistic leader of the Lib Dems. Despite his own opposition to the Iraq War which he described as illegal and counterproductive and leading to the failed Iraqi state we see today where terrorist groups flourish, Farron criticised Corbyn for making the exact same points.
Theresa May and her followers have no solutions to terrorism. All they have is the theatre of security gestures, of increased security checks at airports, of armed soldiers on the street, of increased surveillance and the erosion of civil rights. They seek to diminish the symptoms of terrorism but have nothing to say about the causes beyond simplistic nostrums about bad people committing evil deeds. There’s no guarantee that Corbyn’s approach will lead to an answer, to an end to the atrocities and the deaths, both in this country and abroad, but at least he’s attempting to begin to address the underlying causes. That’s something he deserves to be praised for, something he deserves support for. He is correct to point out that the only reason there are armed soldiers on the streets of England is because when she was Home Secretary Theresa May slashed police budgets and numbers. The SNP likewise recognises that there’s a bigger and more complex picture, saying today that the role of the UK and its foreign wars should not be off limits in discussions of terrorism. Complex and difficult problems have complex and difficult solutions. On this, as on so many other issues, the Tories have no answers. They only promise more of the same.
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