Terror and the Left

May in hijab. Al Madina Mosque, Febrary 2015.

May in hijab. Al Madina Mosque, Febrary 2015.

After the terrible events of Monday night, the British government has suspended the election and the country is left shaken. The army has been deployed to protect “key sites” as the UK goes on ‘critical alert’ fearing an imminent terror attack.

Around 1,000 troops are being dispatched across the country. Up to 3,800 are available. It’s an unnerving show of strength as if to ward-off what we all fear is hiding in the shadows.

It’s also a natural move for Theresa May, our beloved leader, who is known for her authoritarian tendencies. May slipped and fell in the polls after an embarrassing U-turn over her ‘dementia tax’.

This ‘critical alert’ is as much a response to a genuine threat as it is a political manoeuvre.

In other ways, the response to the attack in Manchester has been the usual mix of virulent anti-Muslim racism, on the one hand, and conspiracy theory, on the other. Even before the body count emerged, social media was filled with comments like: “Not all Muslims are terrorists, but all terrorists are Muslims”. And that’s a polite example. Meanwhile, the conspiracists have trotted the theory that Ariana Grande ‘sacrificed’ the crowd for the Illuminati.

Apparently, the world isn’t scary enough for some people. Islamic State has claimed credit for the attack (though direct IS involvement has not been verified). People calling for a new war with ISIS ought to consider the group’s eschatology. Islamic State wants a war with the West in order to expand and entrench its support across the Middle East and beyond. This was the same logic behind 9/11.

Sometimes I get the feeling that people will listen to anything other than inconvenient truths. The fact that the UK was never attacked by radical Islamists until it invaded Afghanistan in 2001 is unmentionable. Let alone the subsequent wars in Iraq, Libya and Syria. This picture is less comforting if you’re looking for a reason to stay passive.

If we want to secure ourselves from suicide bombings, we should set limits on what the British government can do abroad. Stopping the killings, the torture and the occupations would be a good start. Yet if you raise such concerns you will be accused of being a ‘terrorist sympathiser’. All the more reason not to be cowed into blind support for Western foreign policy.

There is a line to walk in these dark times. It’s important that the families of victims have time to mourn and solidarity has to be extended to the victims, alive and dead. But this solidarity has to be meaningful. It would be a disservice to the victims to support a violent, racist response. The unity of struggle means solidarity between the victims of Manchester and the victims of state violence.

Not only should we seek a rational account of attacks like this, we must do so for the sake of the victims. Pretending that the suicide bombing was an insane and senseless act, or that the perpetrators was a monster from birth, is a way of denying that the killer had any agency in the first place. To deny an action is rational is to deny the individual has any responsibility.

Seeking an explanation is not the same as excusing or even mitigating this atrocious crime. Even still, we’re told we should be blind to American aggression against the Middle East. As if it was inconceivable that the deaths of one million Iraqis would mean anything in the first place. As if no one would feel a deep, burning sense of rage about the state of play in West Asia.

The fear of introspection is a reactionary force in our lives. It’s the reason why certain people loathe Freud and Marx in equal measure. They offer the most inconvenient insights into the world we live in. The left should play the same role in exposing the crimes of states. But the left shouldn’t forget its aims are based on moving people to take action. It’s not enough to have the right ideas and an audience of twelve.

The danger is that the anti-immigrant right has fought and won a great deal of sway over the debates around multiculturalism, Islam and freedom of movement. Things that were once taboo are now mainstream. The left has not been able to combat this rightward lurch. The arguments in favour of labour migration and diversity are barely made, let alone understood.

This is why it’s vital for leftists to not just ‘call out’ the enemy. The problem for the left is that there is a lack of positive vision about what we want to do about the threat of terrorism. The left is right to defend the rights of Muslims, as well as refugees and the cause of free movement more broadly. But the defensive game can only go so far.

Photograph courtesy of the UK Home Office. Published under a Creative Commons license.