This June 8, British voters will decide whether or not to continue with the conservative status quo, or take a chance on a new kind of left-wing politics that would represent a firm break with the orthodoxies of the ruling Conservative Party and the Labour Party’s establishment wing.
Jeremy Corbyn, the Labour Party’s intrepid new socialist leader, has pledged to drastically change his society. His party’s leftist manifesto calls for more funding for the socialized health care system, nationalizing the country’s tattered railways and putting a stop to massive cuts in social spending.
Yet Corbyn has also taken a step further than others in his party have dared, pledging to do what to many progressives remains a shibboleth: oppose war and imperialism and limit the violent blowback they have caused back home.
The liberal political establishment in the U.S. and across Western Europe has uncritically supported wars from Iraq, to Libya, to the push for regime change in Syria, often in the name of humanitarianism and “civilian protection.”
While many progressives have portrayed the so-called War on Terror as an unfortunate but necessary evil, Corbyn has made a crucial break with the norms of the political establishment, condemning the imperial wars the West has waged and emphasizing that this military intervention has only fueled the violent extremism the British government claims to be combating.
A new series of polls shows Corbyn has slashed Prime Minister Theresa May’s enormous lead to just 3 points, and has surged ahead of her in London.
Manchester bombing and Western government complicity
On May 22, a man detonated a suicide bomb at a concert in Manchester, England, killing two dozen civilians and wounding more than 100, many of them children. The Salafi-jihadist group ISIS took credit for the attack.
Salman Abedi, the attacker, was a British citizen — not a refugee — from a family that was part of the Western government-backed right-wing Libyan opposition to longtime leader Muammar Qaddafi.
As Max Blumenthal detailed in an article on AlterNet’s Grayzone Project, the British intelligence services played a direct role in supporting Islamist militancy in Libya, working closely with the Al Qaeda-affiliated Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG) in a cynical bid to topple Qaddafi. When NATO escalated 2011 protests in Libya into an explicit regime change operation, the U.S. and U.K. governments encouraged foreign fighters to travel to the North African nation to help fight. Among those who took the MI6 ratline from Manchester to Libya was Ramadan Abedi, the father of the bomber.
During her tenure as Home Secretary, Theresa May was in charge of overseeing the operations of MI5, Britain’s domestic intelligence agency. It was during this time that Libya was flooded with fighters from the U.K., with passports being handed even to British-Libyan citizens under government control orders for their alleged ties to extremist groups.
According to Akram Ramadan, a mechanic from Manchester who fought with the LIFG, roughly three-quarters of all foreign fighters in Libya arrived from his hometown in Britain.
With Ramadan Abedi on the Libyan front lines, his children eventually followed in his footsteps. His youngest son, Hamza, arrived in the country and joined up with an ISIS affiliate, while Salman took a trip to Libya just days before the bombing. Abedi had also reportedly visited Syria, apparently to make common cause with the jihadist groups battling the Syrian government with arms and support from the West and its Gulf allies.
In the past, right-wing politicians have successfully exploited terror attacks like the kind carried out in Manchester, stoking fear and anti-Muslim bigotry to shift public opinion. Jeremy Corbyn, a left-wing anti-war stalwart, upended the dynamic by introducing a counter-narrative that challenged violent extremism at its roots.
While many liberals spoke of the bombing as a mere tragedy, whitewashing its politicized nature, Corbyn pointed his finger at interventionism and empire.
Groundbreaking speech against the ‘war on terror’
In a groundbreaking speech on May 26, Jeremy Corbyn pledged to “change what we do abroad.” He linked Western wars of aggression to the plague of violent jihadist attacks targeting soft targets in the West.
“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, such as Libya, and terrorism here at home,” Corbyn noted.
Many experts have pointed to the connections between wars our government has supported or fought in other countries & terrorism here at home pic.twitter.com/6nlWf67WsI
The leftist Labour leader forcefully condemned the “horrific terror and the brutal slaughter of innocent people.” But unlike his political peers, Corbyn did not depoliticize the bombing. He explained that in order to prevent future attacks, Britain’s foreign policy must change. Foreign wars may not be the only thing fueling this violence, he noted, but they are a key factor.
“We must be brave enough to admit the War on Terror is simply not working,” Corbyn emphasized. “We need a smarter way to reduce the threat from countries that nurture terrorists and generate terrorism.”
“That assessment in no way reduces the guilt of those who attack our children,” he added. “Those terrorists will forever be reviled and implacably held to account for their actions.”
Ultimately, in order to defeat terrorism, Corbyn stressed, we must understand what fuels it: “Protecting this country requires us to be both strong against terrorism and strong against the causes of terrorism.”
The media’s war on Jeremy Corbyn
Jeremy Corbyn’s comments provoked a predictable festival of mock outrage from his Tory opponents, who borrowed a line from their Republican counterparts across the pond and accused him of denigrating the “troops.” The attacks were accompanied by a wave of tabloid headlines alleging that Corbyn had fostered deep friendships with terrorist groups from Hamas to the IRA.
The Conservative Party issued a ham-handed attack, claiming the Labour leader’s speech “has shown today why he is not up to the job of keeping our country safe.” The statement continued, “Jeremy Corbyn has a long record of siding with our enemies.” Britain’s Conservative security minister smeared Corbyn, claiming his speech “justified” terrorism.
Centrist Blairites also chimed in. The liberal interventionist and pro-Israel activist Nick Cohen lashed out at Corbyn, writing a hackneyed op-ed that utterly ignored the Western wars he has wholeheartedly supported that have destabilized the Middle East and fueled Salafi-jihadism. Cohen instead framed violent extremism as a matter of “values,” subtly reinforcing the line of far-right Islamophobes like UKIP leader Nigel Farage.
The corporate media did its part, tarring and feathering the leftist Labour leader. A columnist at the right-wing Telegraph published a hatchet job not so subtly titled “Jeremy Corbyn has long hated Britain.”
Analysis from Loughborough University’s Center for Research in Communication and Culture showed the almost comically ridiculous bias Labour faces in the British media.
Few media outlets, even ostensibly left-leaning newspapers like the Guardian, acknowledged that, in reality, the policies pursued by the U.K.’s right-wing government, with the support of Theresa May, have led to the spread of the type of violent extremism that fueled the Manchester attack.
Virtually no one cited the British government reports that corroborate Corbyn’s argument.
The government’s own findings back up Corbyn
Behind the bluster, multiple reports released by the British government backed up Corbyn’s remarks.
In 2016, the British House of Commons’ bipartisan Foreign Affairs Committee published a detailed report on the 2011 war in Libya exposing that the NATO military intervention had been sold on lies.
Among the deceptions deployed to justify NATO regime change was the myth that the Libyan opposition was politically “moderate.” The Foreign Affairs Committee report on the other hand noted that the British government “failed to identify that the threat to civilians was overstated and that the rebels included a significant Islamist element.”
The House of Commons report added, “It is now clear that militant Islamist militias played a critical role in the rebellion from February 2011 onwards.”
Moreover, the U.K. government’s enormous, decade-long Iraq Inquiry, popularly known as the Chilcot Report, revealed in 2016 that before the 2003 invasion of Iraq, British intelligence officials had repeatedly warned that the joint American-British war would fuel and empower Salafi-jihadist groups like al-Qaeda.
Despite these reports, centrist former Labour prime minister Tony Blair teamed up with the U.S. in an invasion that the United Nations explicitly said violated international law. Blair admitted in 2015 that the Iraq War, in which he played President George W. Bush’s junior partner, gave rise to ISIS.
Closing the electoral gap
With mere days before the election, Jeremy Corbyn has managed to close the once large chasm between his party and the Tories. And he has done this despite enormous odds and tremendous opposition from his party’s ossified establishment.
When the snap election was scheduled by Prime Minister May in April, it seemed a Tory victory was all but certain. In the months since, support for Labour has slowly increased. On May 31, leading pollster YouGov put Labour just 3 percent behind the Conservatives, which could lose its parliamentary majority. Corbyn and May are neck and neck.
Corbyn has managed to do this in spite of a level of media bias that is almost unprecedented in British politics. Even the Guardian has treated Corbyn as a pariah.
Yet the British public has rejected the elite media’s torrent of attacks, sending a surge of support for Labour. While the political establishment and the corporate media have been unable to explain why the scourge of violent extremism continues, Corbyn has provided the public the answers it has been desperately seeking. His deft response to the Manchester attack appears to be paying dues.
For years, Corbyn has been an outspoken, principled critic of Western wars. He has long been a leader in the Stop the War Coalition. (In a symbolic anecdote, Chelsea Clinton interrupted a Stop the War Coalition event in 2001 that featured Corbyn as a speaker.)
Jeremy Corbyn is trying to mainstream a left-wing alternative to the discredited centrist and the far-right fringe. Rather than running from his political identity, he has put it front and center, reminding British voters after Manchester, “I have spent my political life working for peace and human rights and to bring an end to conflict and devastating wars.”
Corbyn may not beat the odds and unseat May, but his unexpected surge in the polls has served as a stunning rebuke to the militaristic political elite, and gives a glimmer of hope to those who still imagine an end to the forever war.