The Left and British Foreign Policy.
After the Woolwich killing there have been acres of commentary.
Perhaps we should concentrate on the reaction of the Left, and the influential voice of the Stop the War Coalition, (StWC).
It is impossible to ignore that this is riddled with contradictions.
Before we begin we should bear in mind three strains of different thoughts on the British left which co-exist uneasily.
- Firstly, that the War on Terror is a US-led, UK backed, strategy that has brought misery to countless countries above all in the Middle East.
- Secondly, that the ‘Arab Spring’ has brought the possibility of democratic and social advance to the Middle East, notably Egypt, and parts of North Africa (Tunisia above all).
- Thirdly, that this move forward is threatened not just by the way newly elected governments have adopted economic policies ts that favour business and finance over the people, but that Islamists represent a menace for their democracies.
On the last idea it was initially only the democratic left that worried about Islamism, but now apparently even those who stood “with” the Islamists against “the State'”are having second thoughts – on one country that is.
Such people are perfectly capable of holding to the opinion that Islamists can be ‘progressive’, that is fighting the War on Terror, and reactionary, fighting the Syrian regime.
Back to Woolwich,
According to Lindsey German there are “lessons to be learnt”.
The simple truth is that there were no such cases in Britain before the start of the ‘war on terror’ in 2001, which led to the invasions and occupations of Afghanistan and Iraq. The consequences of those wars have been devastating for the people of those countries and further afield. Up to a million died in Iraq and 4 million were made refugees. Tens of thousands have died in Afghanistan. Fighting still continues and in Iraq looks like descending into civil war in some parts of the country.
This reflects argument number One in its purest from.
But the StWC always add a corollary: their claim that ‘ending’ the ‘war’ (a pretty broad claim) will mean that this kind of violence will case.
The basis of this claim is disputable :Islamism is perfectly capable of violence against those who have not joined the ‘war’, as inter-Muslim violence proves.
There is also more than a distasteful hint here: we should do what the StWC says or…..
German then observes,
Any rational balance sheet of the last decade and more would demonstrate that the war on terror has been a failure in its own terms. It has not prevented terrorism but caused it to spread.
It is not demonstrable that there is something called – other than rhetorically – the “war on terror” in the first place: there have been a series of different interventions by Western, NATO-led, forces, in countries ranging from Iraq (clearly wrong) to Mali (much less clear).
Furthermore, to repeat a previous point: is the development of violent Islamism simply a response to the war on terror?
Violent Islamism has, to say the least, deeper and more lasting roots, as anybody familiar with the history of Egypt, the Middle East and the Maghreb could say.
And it is not reducible to the history of Western colonialism either.
In the end there has to be a political solution to terrorism. But it can only start with recognition of the disastrous effect of western foreign policy in the Middle East and South Asia for decades now, exacerbated by the consequences of 12 years of wars. That means acknowledging that those of us who said these wars were not the answer and would make things worse were absolutely right.
What exactly is the political solution?
We can agree that Western intervention is wholly wrong. It has stoked the fires of conflict in all the countries she cites.
But is removing it a solution to the rise of violent anti-democratic Islamism?
Perhaps we should be, as the left, giving some energy to supporting the democratic left in these lands who offer a real political alternative to Islamism, authoritarian, intolerant, or indeed jihadist.
That involves a genuine politics of human rights.
This is the way to start thinking of how a solution can come about.
The failure of much of the British left to back the Arab democratic left is part of the problem.
Update: just listening to France Culture to speakers who consider that Putin is the winner of the Syrian crisis.
What a thought!