Try as she might, Theresa May’s high office manoeuvring cannot conceal her complicity and weakness, writes Lindsey German
There are still many things we do not know about the terror attack in Manchester, and we certainly do not know whether similar attacks are planned. But surely when an act like this takes place in the middle of an election, that election either has to be postponed to a future date, or if it goes ahead we have to accept that there will be campaigning. I find it quite astonishing that Theresa May appeared to think that it was ok to suspend national campaigning for a week, leaving her making daily statements and attending Cobra meetings, but denying any other party leaders the opportunity to make their case.
This election is two weeks away today, and people have the right to hear arguments, not least about the causes of terrorism and what we do about it. Luckily, it is now clear that national campaigning is resuming on Friday, but this is after May has visited the Nato summit in Brussels and the G7 in Sicily. So she will be in the headlines while not formally campaigning.
May's approach so far has been anything but non-partisan. When Jo Cox was murdered, David Cameron and Jeremy Corbyn went to Batley together. This time May eschewed any joint appearances or statements. Her behaviour is a denial of democracy.
As a number of people have pointed out, everything else seems to be continuing: Manchester United played in Stockholm last night, with appropriate tributes to the dead and injured, but went ahead. Other major sporting fixtures are proceeding, as did the Buckingham Palace garden party. People are shocked and saddened by the attacks but they are carrying on pretty much as normal. They are going to work, sitting out in the sunshine, going to pubs and concerts, because the alternative is both wrong and impossible for most people who want to live their lives.
I said yesterday that if anyone is seen to make political capital out of this it will rebound on them. Theresa May really can't be seen to do so. The tragic events in Manchester should not be used to hold back democratic debate. Campaigning will start locally today, and we need urgent discussion on all these issues.
The Libyan connection
The Manchester bomber came from Libya with his parents who were refugees from the Gadaffi regime. There was a time later when Gadaffi was a friend of the British government under Tony Blair. Then it changed again, and in 2011 David Cameron joined with, in particular, France and Italy, to launch a bombing campaign supposedly to give humanitarian support to those rising up against Gadaffi. Gadaffi was overthrown and killed, 30,000 people died as a result of the bombing, and since then Libya has been wracked by civil war, terrorism and widespread instability.
At various points, groups such as IS have controlled some of the oil fields (never far from western intervention in the Middle East). A number of us at the time said this would not go well, but it has turned out even worse than predicted. If the bomber has spent time in Libya recently as some reports say, then it's not hard to look for a link between that failed intervention which definitely massively increased instability there, and the growth of terrorism here. Just to remind everyone, the Labour leader opposed this intervention while the prime minister supported it.
Strategy of tension is strategy for the right
The news of 5000 troops on the streets doesn't make me feel safe, it alarms me. I fear that it will lead to a worse atmosphere, will increase tension and will make it harder to deal with the political problems that terrorism causes. There is no tradition of public army presence (apart from the very important exception of Northern Ireland) in this country, and we shouldn't allow there to become one. The instigation of this in the middle of an election is particularly alarming since it could herald the beginning of a more authoritarian approach to politics. When she called this election May said she was doing so because the opposition kept opposing. But that is what they are supposed to do, and we don't want her going down the road of Erdogan's Turkey. There is, after all, a politics behind this: to create a strategy of tension which enables the state to have greater powers.
It is one of the unfortunate things about France, which has had a state of emergency for nearly two years, with high levels of police and army on the streets. It hasn't stopped terrorism - France has suffered by far the highest number of recent casualties in Europe - but it has been used against the left and ethnic minorities. Those who echo calls for a state of emergency here should be made to explain what it would do to solve the problem. And of course, they can't. After all, one of the main recruiting grounds for Islamic extremists has turned out to be prisons. Internment without trial and a big army presence in Northern Ireland led to the growth of the IRA. It's not as if we don't have history here. But there are too many people that want to ignore it.
The selective blame game
The magnificent vigil in Manchester (and there have been many elsewhere) showed the way to fight terrorism, and it's not by blaming Muslims. But there are those who want to do just that. We know the far right are already trying their ugly game and we know that the massive levels of Islamophobia - led by media, state policy and too many politicians - give a fertile bed for their ideas to grow. Theresa May has played her part in this, especially in her role as Home Secretary. It is instructive yet again to compare the response to Islamist terrorism to that of far-right terrorism. I would argue that they are both threats in Europe, as we have seen in Britain with the murders of Mohammed Saleem and Jo Cox. In Germany, a far-right serving soldier even adopted the identity of a Syrian refugee in order to carry out a terrorist attack which would be blamed on refugees.
But while there is opposition to such actions, there is never the soul searching demanded of a whole community and religion that there is with Muslims. Normally they are described as loners or mentally ill or fanatics - descriptions which could also be applied to Muslims who do similar things. This has three effects: it tends to minimise the significance of the far right attacks, to racialise the attacks on Muslims, who are for the most part from ethnic minorities, and to sideline the reasons why either group carries out terrorist attacks. Of course, to admit the latter would be to admit that there are political reasons why terrorism exists and that there are political solutions to it.
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
- The trouble with terrorism – weekly briefing
- No Platform: Free speech for all?
- Now it’s neither heat nor eat – weekly briefing
- Sexual violence, economic violence: why women still need our rights – weekly briefing
- 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