Jeremy Corbyn last week made a speech linking British foreign policy to home-grown terrorism of the kind perpetrated by Salman Abedi, the 22-year-old suicide bomber who was of Libyan heritage but born and brought up in Manchester.
Boris Johnson, now foreign secretary, condemned the speech as “monstrous” while others accused Corbyn of being “the terrorist’s friend”. But Corbyn, who is new to the foreign affairs game – witness his naïve comments on Kashmir and Operation Blue Star in the Labour party manifesto – was merely repeating what Boris himself had said in the aftermath of the 7/7 suicide bombings in London which were carried out by four young Britons, three of them of Pakistani origin and one of Jamaican heritage.
In a characteristically eloquent article in The Spectator on July 16, 2005 – nine days after the carnage in which 52 people died – Boris admitted that “we are novices not just at dealing with suicide bombers, but with suicide bombers as British as the fish-and-chip shops in which they grew up. They were born in our NHS, these killers”.
“So we have to focus… on what we should do now to stop people like them hating us so much that they want to kill us,” he continued.
“In groping to understand, the pundits and the politicians have clutched first at Iraq, and the idea that this is ‘blowback’, the inevitable punishment for Britain’s part in the Pentagon’s fiasco. George Galloway began it in Parliament; he was followed by Sir Max Hastings, with the Lib Dems limping in the rear. It is difficult to deny that they have a point, the Told-You-So brigade. As the Butler report revealed, the Joint Intelligence Committee assessment in 2003 was that a war in Iraq would increase the terror threat to Britain.”
Boris also wrote that “the Iraq war did not create the problem of murderous Islamic fundamentalists, though the war has unquestionably sharpened the resentments felt by such people in this country, and given them a new pretext. The Iraq war did not introduce the poison into our bloodstream but, yes, the war did help to potentiate that poison.
“And whatever the defenders of the war may say, it has not solved the problem of Islamic terror, or even come close to providing the beginnings of a solution. You can’t claim to be draining the swamp in the Middle East when the mosquitoes are breeding quite happily in Yorkshire.”
Is this so different from what Corbyn said?
He said: “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.”
“That assessment in no way reduces the guilt of those who attack our children,” Corbyn emphasised.
“But an informed understanding of the causes of terrorism is an essential part of an effective response that will protect the security of our people, that fights rather than fuels terrorism,” he said.
He added: “Protecting this country requires us to be both strong against terrorism and strong against the causes of terrorism. The blame is with the terrorists, but if we are to protect our people we must be honest about what threatens our security.”
Corbyn argued that “we must be brave enough to admit the war on terror is simply not working. We need a smarter way to reduce the threat from countries that nurture terrorists and generate terrorism”.
There are many others, both on the right and left in British politics and among ordinary members of the British public at the moment, who don’t disagree with what Boris and Corbyn have said.