Terrorism, in a world where foreign policy objectives trump domestic security, is a small price to pay for the privilege of being a superpower. This would be the implied position of the United States, Britain, and a number of other developed countries. We know, for example, that the British security services cleared Salman Abedi to fly to Libya as a fighter when he was only 16 years old, and this young man went on to commit the suicide bomb attack in Manchester. Blow-back is an inevitable consequence of British activity abroad – and particularly in the Arab World.
This relationship between foreign policy and domestic terrorism has not come as a surprise to the British government. Tony Blair was repeatedly warned by MI5 and other sections of the UK’s security and intelligence apparatus that going to war with Iraq would lead to more terrorism in Britain, but he chose to ignore this advice because it was somehow more important for him to be seen to be the United States’ best buddy than to prioritise the safety and security of British people.
Earlier this year the US’ Federal Bureau of Investigation shared information with MI5 identifying Abedi as a member of a militant Islamist group based in Manchester, and that it had intelligence suggesting that this Manchester network was plotting an attack in the United Kingdom. Yet regardless of this intelligence the British government failed to act adequately to protect the public.
Somewhere along the line a certain degree of terrorism came to be seen as acceptable by the London government, with Sadiq Khan – the Lord Mayor of London – stating last September that terrorism was “part and parcel of living in a big city.” What Mr Khan meant by this, of course, was that terrorism is a direct consequence of life in a British city. As war has been normalised as part of the British experience, so too has been the response from the less powerful targets of Anglo-American foreign intervention. Terrorism has become normal in Britain, but this does not mean that it must also be acceptable.
Terrorism is a complex socio-political phenomenon. While its definition mutates over time and place, there are a number of constants. Terrorism is politically and ideologically driven. It is not the same as organised crime or random violence. However barbaric and cruel, terrorism is never without a cause – or at least a cause in the mind of the terrorist.
Britain’s behaviour abroad has been a great recruiting sergeant for Islamic terrorism in Afghanistan and Iraq, and in Muslim communities all over the world; even within the United Kingdom. Even before the invasion of Iraq this was understood to be an unavoidable consequence, but the attitude of the British government has been one that this is a small price to pay.
Jason Michael McCann