26 May 2017

Want to know why the terrorists hate us, Jeremy? Just ask them

By Tom Wilson

Today, Jeremy Corbyn gave a speech claiming that UK foreign policy “increases the threat” to this country, suggesting that this has been a cause of terrorism on British soil.

The old debate about terrorist motivations has been reheated, a debate in which, sadly, the best evidence we have — the stated motivations of the terrorists themselves — are all to often ignored.

Whenever terrorism strikes, and we look for answers, we have an unfortunate habit of trying to ascribe our own reasons for the atrocity. Rather than listening to what the perpetrators themselves have to say, others start putting words in their mouths.

That’s if people look for reasons at all. The public’s initial reaction is usually one of horror at the idea that anyone could be so warped as to perpetrate such acts. But even worse than this is the tendency to suggest that we have provoked this carnage ourselves. Such an approach offers the the attackers a partial exoneration, and lumps the societies that are the target of the attack with the blame.

The Left has been particularly guilty of this. So, for instance, it will be claimed that poverty and lack of opportunity draws people into terrorism, without ever explaining why we do not see a huge surge of terrorism from unemployed white-working-class youths. Racism is another alleged cause. But again, it is never explained why Sikhs and Hindus — who undoubtedly experienced the same racism as Muslims when they first arrived in Europe — have not turned to terrorism. Some even blame global warming.

The favourite excuse, however, is Western foreign policy. And unsurprisingly, those who have spent their political careers opposing every instance of Western military force have now conveniently determined that it is this which causes terrorism.

Islamist terrorist groups are actually remarkably explicit about why they carry out these attacks. Groups like al-Qaeda believed that terrorist spectaculars would rally the Muslim masses to their cause in the fight, first and foremost, against secular Muslim rulers. That didn’t happen, but it hasn’t stopped Islamic State from trying a similar model. In fact, Islamic State have been even clearer about their motivations.

In 2016, they released released the statement “Why we Hate you and Why we Fight you”. In it they say bluntly “we hate you, first and foremost, because you are disbelievers; you reject the oneness of Allah… and you indulge in all manner of devilish practices… Furthermore, just as your disbelief is the primary reason we hate you, your disbelief is the primary reason we fight you.”

The statement continues; “although some might argue that your foreign policies are the extent of what drives our hatred, this particular reason for hating you is secondary… The fact is, even if you were to stop bombing us, imprisoning us, torturing us, vilifying us, and usurping our lands, we would continue to hate you because our primary reason for hating you will not cease to exist until you embrace Islam.”

Islamist activity in the UK saw its first major spike during the 1990s, leading the French counter-terror officials to mockingly refer to Britain’s capital as Londonistan. This of course was well before the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan. But it’s also the same decade that Britain and America intervened in Bosnia to protect Muslims from ethnic cleansing, something which failed to win us any love from the Islamists.

As we’ve seen in Europe, countries that had no part in the invasion of Iraq have not been spared from this wave of Islamist violence. Belgium, Denmark, Germany and Sweden have all been hit by terrorism in recent years. It would be difficult claim that these countries have been staunch advocates for invading Muslim lands. Indeed, most suicide bombings happen in Muslim countries and target Muslim civilians. Are we to suppose that they being targeted because of Western foreign policy adventures?

Of course, even if it could be proven that our foreign policy was directly provoking terror activity, would we at that point surrender to the demands of the terrorists and promise them they could operate freely in every other part of the world as long as they leave us alone? And would we be prepared to surrender on any other area of policy in this way? If Christian extremists carried out terror attacks over abortion and gay marriage would we blame ourselves and say they might have a point? My guess is we would blame them and double down on the principle that our laws are determined by the democratic process, not by terrorist intimidation.

It appears Salman Abedi spent time in Libya and Syria much like the well trained Islamic State fighters who travelled from Syria to commit the horrific attacks in Paris and Brussels. Having bases and territory from which to train and operate is a huge advantage for a terrorist organisation.

Islamic State’s great success in capturing territory and claiming to be the Caliphate was crucial to its ability to recruit so many young Muslims from the West. That success arose directly out of the chaos of the Syrian civil war. Not a war we started, but certainly a catastrophic conflict we long neglected to do anything about. That should be a reminder that while military intervention can have unintended consequences, not intervening has consequences too.

Tom Wilson is a Fellow at the Centre for the New Middle East at The Henry Jackson Society