The politicians who have waged endless wars in Muslim countries are exactly the people who now want to deny any connection between their policy and the rise of terrorism
'Don't mention the war' seems to be the mainstream response to the horrific murder of Lee Rigby in Woolwich on Wednesday.
London mayor Boris Johnson said soon afterwards that it was wrong to draw any link between the act and British foreign policy.
David Cameron has rejected the connection. To even mention the fact is regarded as somehow outrageous, as excusing the attackers for their actions.
Jonathan Freedland in the Guardian takes this a step further, where he argues that Stop the War and former London mayor Ken Livingstone are wrong to cite the Iraq and Afghanistan war, and the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza, as being linked in some way to Woolwich.
There is rather an obvious reason why such connections have been made, however: millions of us have now seen one of the attackers on film saying exactly that it was motivated by opposition to the wars in which Britain has now been centrally involved for well over a decade.
Although Freedland concedes that he has in the past used similar arguments, 'I too once made the case that the war in Iraq would only fuel more terror on our own soil', he now thinks that he was wrong. He says that because the Norwegian mass murderer Anders Breivik used arguments about immigration and multiculturalism to justify his crime, and because the left rejects such justification, the left must also reject any connection between the Woolwich attack and the war of terror.
One does not need to be Aristotle to see the failure of logic in this argument:
Just because an illegitimate connection is made by Brevik does not mean that the connection between the war and Woolwich is also illegitimate.
As a matter of fact there was a connection between Brevik and immigration: a racist response to immigration was indeed the cause of his actions. The solution obviously isn't the one Brevik advocated, but the connection was real enough.
Explanation isn't advocacy. It's perfectly reasonable to agree that the war causes terrorism, without advocating terrorism.
And there is one further difficulty with Freedland's reponse: it leaves us without any explanation for any such attack, and no attempt at coming to grips with any political grievances or understanding of how a change in policy can create different sets of circumstances. The problem is that by using this argument Freedland denies anyone the possibility of treating any of these attacks as other than 'pure evil', and unexplainable.
It is of course true that any policy does not lead most people to resort to killing other people. There are particular personal reasons why an individual behaves in a certain way. But these are certainly not just random attacks.
For nearly a decade now, the British security services have been warning governments about the growth of terrorism as a result of disaffection in relation to the Afghan and Iraq wars. Former head of MI5 Dame Eliza Manningham Buller told the Chilcot inquiry that she had made such a warning to Tony Blair's government over Iraq. We have evidence from these latest attackers and from those previously charged with terrorist offences that the wars are one of their major grievances.
The wars have a cumulative effect. Those who respond to our arguments by saying '9\11 happened before the Afghan war', or as Labour MP David Lammy argues also in today's Guardian, 'now that British troops have left Basra and are due to leave the dusty plains of Helmand next year, who truly believes this will spell the end of attacks like these?' all miss the point.
The wars have created greater dangers and instability in the Middle East and south Asia than existed before. Sectarian conflict in Iraq and now Libya and Syria have been fuelled by western policies. There is still widespread displacement of people as a result of war. Drone attacks have killed thousands in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Yemen and Somalia. There are very high levels of birth deformities and lack of normal growth in children in Iraq. Israel's illegal settlement policies, as well as its bombing incursions into Gaza, have created further solidarity for the Palestinians.
The grievances listed by Osama bin Laden over 9/11 were sanctions on Iraq, oppression of the Palestinians and the presence of US troops on Saudi soil. Events since that date have only added to the sense of injustice over these and other issues.
The consequences of the war are also incalculable. Guantanamo prisoners are hunger striking as president Obama refuses to release them, reneging on his election promise. Evidence of torture and rendition of terrorist suspects is now so widespread that it barely causes a stir in the media. Muslims in the western countries watch as the tide of Islamophobia grows, as their mosques are attacked and as they are the denied the right to practice elements of their religion in a number of countries.
These are facts, and many more could be added to them. They are the reasons that 'home grown' terrorism has become a feature in Britain.
Add to this a sense of being outside of mainstream society, often with little hope of employment or a decent future, often among some of the poorest communities in Britain, and it is possible to see how some of these grievances become twisted in such a way that a small minority commit such dreadful acts.
Let's take into account one other fact: the government knows that its policy is a failure, yet perseveres with it at immense financial, social and human cost. It knows that public opinion in Britain is strongly against these wars and that millions marched to stop Iraq happening. These are exactly the people who now want to deny any connection between its policy and the rise of terrorism. We should not let them get away with it.
Paradoxically, because this is not at all what Jonathan Freedland would intend, not mentioning the war plays into the hands of those who blame immigration and multiculturalism for these attacks, like the EDL, BNP and Breivik. We cannot deal with the backlash against Muslims now going on by trying to separate these actions from a foreign policy which has been one of the greatest political follies of modern times.
From Stop the War site
As national convenor of the Stop the War Coalition, Lindsey was a key organiser of the largest demonstration, and one of the largest mass movements, in British history.
Her books include ‘Material Girls: Women, Men and Work’, ‘Sex, Class and Socialism’, ‘A People’s History of London’ (with John Rees) and ‘How a Century of War Changed the Lives of Women’.
More articles from this author
- Discontents for all seasons – weekly briefing
- The Pandora’s Box of 9/11 – weekly briefing
- Did the crime of 9/11 justify 20 years of the War on Terror? - video
- Stop the culture war against the old and unite against the Tories – weekly briefing
- The ignominious end of liberal interventionism
- In the Blair bunker war never ends – weekly briefing
- Afghanistan: the collapse of the war on terror – weekly briefing