Using terror as an excuse for more terror

June 7, 2017

The "war on terror" championed by Theresa May and Donald Trump doesn't protect anyone from violence and instability. It makes the world more dangerous and deadly.

THE HORRIFIC terrorist attack on tourists and Londoners on the night of June 3 led to a one-day pause in campaigning for Britain's general election on June 8. But Theresa May never paused in her attempts to take maximum advantage of a nightmare to boost her chances of victory.

The Conservative Party prime minister's denunciations on her main rival, Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn, were even more intense than after the May 22 bombing of a concert in Manchester.

While criticizing Corbyn for being "soft on terrorism" and two years ago expressing doubts about shoot-to-kill tactics used by police during terrorist attacks, May also let loose with a tirade that fused the supposed superiority of Western civilization with calls for suspending civil liberties and other draconian measures:

[Extremism] will only be defeated when we turn people's minds away from this violence and make them understand that our values, pluralistic British values, are superior to anything offered by the preachers and supporters of hate. There is, to be frank, far too much tolerance of extremism in our country. So we need to become far more robust in identifying it and stamping it out across the public sector and across society.

Armed police patrol central London in the aftermath of a terrorist attack
Armed police patrol central London in the aftermath of a terrorist attack

The specific measures May proposed since the London attack are even more shocking than her racist rhetoric: increased surveillance of Arab and Muslim communities, tighter regulation of the Internet, escalations in the war against ISIS in Middle East, even new laws to "ban the burka" and strip convicted terrorists of their citizenship.

LECTURES FROM a reactionary whose party has thrived on scapegoating immigrants and refugees aren't likely to persuade Britain's Arab and Muslim communities.

What they will do, however, is embolden the far-right elements in British society to carry out more hate crimes and other provocations against Muslims. And, of course, they will encourage the government's police and security apparatus to intensify its racial profiling and repression.

This will produce the exact conditions that drive some individuals among the persecuted in Britain to lash out, in despair and bitterness, with further acts of terror, whether these are coordinated with reactionary Islamist forces such as ISIS or not.

This is the cycle of violence and polarization that right-wing politicians like May feed with their cynical and callous statements about stamping out extremism.

On the other side, the polarization is welcomed by the reactionaries of ISIS. This is their purpose in carrying out or celebrating sickening violence in London and Manchester, against ordinary people who have nothing whatsoever to do with the oppression of Muslims or the British government's own acts of violence.

The randomness of the victims--pedestrians on a famous bridge, restaurant- and pub-goers, mainly young girls and women attending a concert and their family members picking them up after--plays straight into the hands of May and the "tough-on-terrorism" reactionaries, with their claims that such atrocities can only be met by draconian measures.

But ISIS is well served, too. As Jonah Birch wrote for Jacobin after the November 2015 terrorist attacks in Paris:

By inviting greater levels of racism and a crackdown by the state, the attacks will likely deepen the split between France's Muslim immigrant residents and the institutions of French social life. The intended result is a vicious cycle of repression, social polarization, and political radicalization--a division that, in the long run, can help create more fertile ground for a group like ISIS.

MAY'S RHETORIC about "British values" and the "preachers of hate" will be familiar to anyone who has lived through the "war on terror" era in the U.S. The underlying argument used by George W. Bush's cheerleaders for war is that they were fighting a "clash of civilizations" between enlightened Western societies and backward religious forces that must be stamped out.

The argument is just as false today as it was in the years after the September 11 attacks.

First, fundamentalists and ethno-nationalists in majority Judeo-Christian countries have contributed more than their fair share to an ugly upsurge in political violence.

This is particularly important to stress right now in the Trump era, following the racist murders at the University of Maryland and in Portland, Oregon, but also predates it, as with Dylan Roof's 2015 massacre of Black parishioners in South Carolina. And the U.S. is not alone, either: Remember Anders Breivik's murderous rampage in Norway in 2011, as well as the three-fold increase in Jewish settler violence in recent years directed against Palestinians.

Studies of terrorist attacks carried out in the U.S. have found that far-right and white-nationalist extremists pose a greater threat than Islamic fundamentalists.

And while there's wall-to-wall media coverage of ISIS-inspired attacks on the citizens of Western Europe and the U.S., the thousands of civilians dying under U.S. bombs in Iraq and Syria rarely get a mention in the mainstream media.

And things are about to get worse under Donald Trump. The administration has announced that it has switched to "annihilation tactics" in the war against ISIS in Syria, while the CIA named Michael D'Andrea, the so-called Dark Prince behind the massive escalation in U.S. drone strikes, to oversee stepped-up covert operations against Iran.

Policies like these don't protect Americans, much less anyone else, from violence and instability. On the contrary, the U.S.-led "war on terror" has made the world much more dangerous and deadly.

The vast brunt of the atrocities has fallen on the people of the Middle East, where the U.S. military machine and the government's support for sectarian and reactionary political forces has reduced the once-modern society of Iraq to a chaotic shambles, torn Syria apart, plunged Iran into a desperate economic crisis, and left Libya, Yemen and other nations in desperate straits.

But there are also victims in the U.S. and other more powerful nations--almost exclusively people who are innocent of any responsibility for the horrors committed by powerful governments in their name--when the violence inflicted by imperialism "blows back."

In fact, what we are witnessing is not a "clash of civilizations" but what the Marxist author Gilbert Achcar calls a "clash of barbarisms"--the greater barbarism of state-sanctioned terror and violence unleashed by the U.S. and its allies against the lesser barbarism of reactionary Islamic fundamentalist forces.

The two sides in this conflict--the architects of the global "war on terror" and their Islamist adversaries--are part of a vicious circle. The existence of Islamic fundamentalist forces justifies further military spending and new military adventures by the U.S. and its allies, while the death and destruction rained down on Muslim-majority countries and the targeting of Muslim communities in the West provides the justification for the "jihad" that the "war on terror" is supposed to defeat.

IN BRITAIN, Theresa May's saber-rattling response to the London terrorist attack is very much about trying to head off the unexpected rise in popularity for Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour Party before voters go to the polls on June 8.

May called the snap general election expecting to win an easy victory that would reinforce her position ahead of negotiations on the UK's "Brexit" from the European Union. But the enthusiasm, especially among young voters, for Corbyn and his left-wing proposals to overturn austerity and repression has brought Labour into a virtual tie with the Tories, according to opinion polls.

After the London attack last weekend, Corbyn emphasized his support for "community policing" and criticized May for austerity policies that, he said, had reduced the number of armed police on Britain's streets.

This was a disappointing line of argument. There is no way that more police on the streets, more police surveillance of Arab and Muslim communities and the subsequent busting down of doors in the middle of night will do anything but add to the cycle of polarization and violence.

On the other hand, Corbyn spoke courageously after the bombing of the concert in Manchester last month by not only condemning the terrorist assault, but also making the case that the global "war on terror" has been an utter failure:

Many experts, including professionals in our intelligence and security services, have pointed to the connections between wars our government has supported or fought in other countries and terrorism here at home...

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 the war on terror is simply not working. We need a smarter way to reduce the threat from countries that nurture terrorists and generate terrorism.

This is the line of argument to which people who oppose violence and war must add our voices. In the U.S. and Britain, that means opposing the world's most powerful governments, bristling with fighter jets, Cruise missiles, and militarized police and security forces, as they attempt to impose their will in pursuit of economic power and geostrategic supremacy.

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