One day into the Corbyn era and the Conservatives had their line of attack. Security, security, security – a single word designed to warn and appeal to the public that Corbyn is a novice leader with a dangerous cause. Priti Patel, Employment Secretary, used the word 11 times in a four minute interview on Corbyn; Michael Fallon, Defence Secretary, 9 times in a single minute, reciting Cameron’s party-line denouncement of Corbyn word-for-word – “the Labour Party is now a threat to our national security, our economic security and your family’s security.”
A hero of the new populist Left he may be, but on the question of national security, the Tories are right. Corbyn’s self-styled “radically different” international policy is an ill-conceived project to turn the clock back on the West and leave its allies, particularly in the Middle East, at the mercy of everything the Left should stand against. It is a policy of self-destructive ‘pacifism’ – and it is not even “radical.”
You might not expect this from a man who has so often found himself on the right side of history: Corbyn actively resisted Thatcher’s collusion with Apartheid and Pinochet, earning the badge that every aspiring revolutionary child of the 60s hoped for – getting arrested for protesting fascism. He spoke out in support of Salman Rushdie after the fatwa from Ayatollah Khomeini; he was the first MP to protest Saddam Hussein’s gas bombardment of Kurds in Halabja; and as recently as this year’s Labour leadership campaign, he visited a Kurdish community centre in solidarity with their struggle for peace and self-determination.
Despite these welcome overtures, Corbyn has time and again abandoned his ‘comrades’ exactly when they needed him most. His opposition to the coalition bombing campaign against IS, for example, is utterly at odds with his supposed support for the Kurds. Together with the Turkmen, Christians and Yizidis of Northern Iraq, the Kurds have said repeatedly that further strikes could save many more – and that areas such as the Kurdish-majority city Kobane would now be in ruins under IS rule were it not for the support of US air-strikes. Yet Corbyn has opposed all Western intervention at every turn.
It is not inconsequential to note, here, that Corbyn was until recently Chair of Stop The War Coalition campaign. Throughout his career, he has voted against 13 critical pieces of anti-terrorism legislation and has blankly opposed every motion in favour of UK military support overseas, including Kosovo, Afghanistan and Libya. With this steadfast ‘pacifism,’ Corbyn proposes to implement a foreign policy that “understands our role in causing the conflicts of today” – that is to say, a policy that accepts we have in many ways brought present crises on ourselves. His plans to retire Trident, abandon NATO, renounce militarism, eschew intervention, apologise for the Iraq War and abandon the Kurds, in his own way, very much belong to his narrative of retreat and ‘conciliation’.
It makes total sense, then – at least logically – why Corbyn would refuse to declare war on fascists who have already declared war on him and his allies – he thinks there is actually something justifiable to their cause. His comments during a parliamentary debate on counter-terrorism for British nationals returning from overseas bear a little scrutiny here:
“I have encountered young people who have been attracted to what ISIS is doing..[who] say that what the West did in Iraq and Afghanistan was appalling…We are living with the consequences of the war on terror of 2001, and if we continue to try to create legal obstacles and make value judgments about people without considering the overall policy we are following, we will return to legislation such as this again and again, year after year.”
This view – so popular on the Left nowadays – is utterly facile. It brands the likes of IS as a response to the West’s colonial bluster, saying, in effect, that Islamist video-butcherers and suicide-murderers represent a “resistance” with a liberation ideology.
This view is neatly summarised by Guardian columnist and contributor to Corbyn’s former Stop The War Coalition website, Seamus Milne, who, in response to the Charlie Hebdo murders, wrote – “let Paris be a warning: they are here because we are there.” Indeed, Stop the War Coalition publishes numerous articles of this kind. One of them, argues that Islamist terrorists who want to impose Sharia and kill cartoonists for drawing the exalted prophet of Islam while shouting “allahu Akbar” have nothing, in fact, to do with Islam. Another, claims moral equivalence between those that expressly target civilians – IS and the Charlie Hebdo killers – and the US, whose civilian victims are incidental to its attempt to repel the advance of terror groups.
Over-reaching considerably in attempts to confront the conscience of the imperial West, advocates of this view make the grave mistake of thinking fascists with brown-skin might just stop being fascists if only we were a little nicer to them.
As Nick Cohen argues in ‘What’s Left,’ this amounts to a surrender of once cherished the values of the Left in favour of a stubborn attachment to multiculturalism and a misguided kindness to anything non/anti-Western – no matter how savage. It gives too much ground, not only to IS, but to powers such as Russia and Iran whose intervention in Middle Eastern conflicts are invariably an affront to all the Left used to defend – emancipated women, scientific inquiry, freedom of speech and separation of religion from the state.
Now the Left appears willing to do anything at all costs to avoid being seen to support the US. They choose to bury their heads in the ground, fooling themselves into thinking they are “anti-war” when they are not at all. They are shadily taking the other side in a conflict where the moral and civilisational stakes are extremely high.
Corbyn’s “radically different” international policy bears all the hallmarks of this long lost Left. From his misdiagnosis of the Islamist threat to his broad retreat from old alliances, Corbyn ultimately condemns those he claims to support.
During the Labour hustings, he easily managed to win applause with loose talk of global justice, oppressed peoples and the Iraq War. But now as leader, he should face the appropriate scrutiny – why does his solidarity with the refugees of wars extend only to those that have made it to Europe? Why is he content to treat these symptoms while denying the root cause of IS? Does he believe IS is a rational actor that we can negotiate peace with? Why would he even tolerate co-existence with such a regime? Why does he flatly deny the need to resist, militarily, fascists who mean to destroy everything he claims to love and wants to defend? And is he sure he still wants to call this a “radical” policy?
These are very important questions for a potential leader of a major world power (yes, that’s right, a world power), and until Corbyn has a convincing argument, the Left should be careful what it wishes for.
An authority figure standing over the pale and lifeless body of a 3 year old Syrian boy face-down and dead on the shores of Europe having fled war in the Middle East – rarely does an image so well encapsulate nearly everything that needs to be said about an issue.
Most arresting of all, however, is perhaps that which is the image does not convey; that Aylan al-Kurdi was just one of 1.2 million children to have fled their embattled homeland in Syria and one of more than 10,000 children to have died while attempting to do so.
That’s 10,000 children in a conflict that the UK has taken little notice of until now and for so long declared it has ‘no appetite’ to join. Meanwhile popular figures like Labour leader front-runner Jeremy Corbyn continue to refuse to confront in any serious way the root cause of young Aylan’s death and the reason why he and thousands others have found themselves in the waters of the Mediterranean Sea in the first place – ISIS.
The compassion that Turkish photographer, Nilufer Demir, has inspired with her touching tribute to Aylan is laudable. The newspaper editors that chose to publish the image of a dead child on their front covers deserve much credit for harnessing the power of shock to put pressure on the Prime Minister and improve refugee policy.
But did the other 9,999 dead Syrian children pass the UK public by? Why has this compassion come only now the Syrian war has encroached just too close to home in Europe? And is there not something a bit empty and non-committal about sudden expressions of sympathy for victims of an enemy we have for so long refused to fight?
Meanwhile, the editor of the Daily Mail decided to print the photo of Aylan despite just 6 days before publishing the headline ‘migrants: how many more can we take?‘ followed by a warning of the thousands of migrants “flooding” into Europe. The Sun too, with the ineradicable presence of notorious pseudo-columnist Katie Hopkins and her demands for gunships rather than rescue boats to stop the so-called “cockroaches” from crawling over, leads one to suppose the decision by both papers to publish young Aylan in large print on the front page was in no way designed to encourage policymakers to take action to accommodate migrants and was, frankly, little more than a money grab of the most cynical kind.
“The little Syrian boy was well clothed and well fed. He died because his parents were greedy for the good life in Europe” said a UKIP candidate in sparkling form. No comment needed – I loathe to go for the easy targets.