Seven people were killed and dozens more injured in the terrorist attack that targeted ordinary people enjoying Saturday evening around London Bridge and Borough Market.
We condemn these cowardly murders, along with recent attacks claimed by Islamic State in Afghanistan and Iraq that show the so-called war on IS is far from succeeding.
Whilst the reaction of Londoners to the atrocity echoed the solidarity seen in the aftermath of the Manchester attack, Prime Minister Theresa May responded with a thinly-veiled attack on British Muslims.
The Prime Minister’s accusation that there has been “too much toleration of extremism” will be understood by many to be a blanket indictment of the wider Muslim community.
The fact that this is the third attack in three months has ensured that the final days of campaigning in the UK general election will be dominated by arguments over cuts to police funding and attempts to deflect attention from the government’s responsibility for its failed policies.
A wave of Anti-Muslim prejudice would serve Tory interests by distracting attention not only away from their lacklustre election campaign but from the fact that the UK has been involved in a lengthy, bloody and futile ‘war on terror’ for nearly two decades.
This war has been pursued as vigorously at home as it has been abroad. Thousands of British Muslims are on watch-lists, hundreds have been arrested or harassed without foundation, anti-terror laws, media witch-hunts and institutionalised Islamophobia have contrived to turn Muslims into an ‘enemy within’.
And what is the result? Swathes of the Middle East and South Asia are now subject to the rule of terror of the jihadi groups that have proliferated in the spiral towards sectarian conflict, provoked by the colonial policy of western imperialism.
Nobody diminishes the individual responsibility of terrorists for their actions, but the rise of jihadist terrorism and the targeting of British cities did not happen in a vacuum. Condemnation of such attacks should not blind us to the fact that Islamic State’s reign of terror is concentrated in parts of the Middle East supposedly ‘liberated’ during the US and UK ‘war on terror’.
The UK’s occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan has morphed into its present campaign against IS in Iraq and Syria, as part of the US-led ‘Global Coalition’.
But the war against IS is only one front of the regional power struggle between the West, Russia and their regional allies. In the Arabian peninsular, the UK ally, Saudi Arabia, is waging an equally brutal sectarian war against Houthi rebels in Yemen. With UK military and logistical support, at least 10,000 civilians have been killed, 40,000 injured, and three million driven from their homes. Starvation and cholera are creating a humanitarian disaster.
Yet the Saudis are recipients of billion dollar arms deals and legitimised by visits from British ministers and members of the royal family. On his recent visit to Saudi Arabia, Donald Trump indicated the US would intervene more strongly on the side of its Sunni Muslim allies in the Gulf states. This escalation of western intervention will only exacerbate the sectarian conflict and further destabilise the region.
What we need to be clear about is that the bombing in the Middle East and Britain’s close military and diplomatic alliance with the United States, are not defending us against terrorism but perpetuating the instability and slaughter that fuel the jihadist groups – and make Britain into a target for their retaliation.
The UK likes to portray itself as tough on the causes of ‘extremism’ by demanding British Muslims adopt ‘British values’. But these values are not always opposed to jihadism – as long as someone else is the target. At one time or another, the US, UK and their allies in the Middle East have armed and supported almost every organisation they later labelled as a terrorist group.
In the 1980s, the West and its Saudi allies fostered Salafist-jihadist groups, using them as a bulwark against Soviet influence in Afghanistan. The Nato invasion of Afghanistan in 2001, to overthrow their former Taliban allies, destroyed that country and seriously destabilised its neighbour and erstwhile US ally, Pakistan.
It did not defeat the Taliban. As the recent atrocity in Kabul, in which more than 80 people were killed and nearly 500 wounded, shows, IS has now been added to that unhappy country’s tormentors. When thousands of Kabul residents protested against the western-backed government’s security failures, police opened fire on them, killing four demonstrators.
Whilst Russian and Iranian support for the Assad dictatorship is responsible for prolonging the Syrian war, the butchery and sectarian policies pursued by the US and UK in Iraq are largely responsible for creating the conditions within which Al-Qaeda and its offshoots could gain influence and eventually power. Calling on the arsonists to put out the fire is futile.
For decades, the west’s support for brutal dictatorships in North Africa and the Middle East has contributed to the suppression of democratic and revolutionary movements. Even when people took matters into their own hands, the western powers held back rather than seriously support revolutionary movements over which they had limited leverage.
The only genuine and permanent solution to the chaos in the Middle East is for the peoples of those countries to freely determine their own futures by rooting out the twin evils of the sectarian jihadist groups and the dictatorships - ‘secular’ or otherwise. The absolute precondition for that is an end to imperialist political and military intervention.
The war on terror has exacted a terrible civilian toll in the Middle East. The best tribute to those who have become its victims on the streets of London and Manchester is to fight to end the UK’s imperialist adventures and organise material and political solidarity for the progressive forces in the region.
If as we all hope, Labour wins the election on June 8, withdrawal from the US-coalition must be one of a Labour government’s first actions. That means facing down the pro-imperialist faction around Hilary Benn and Tom Watson.
A Labour government that withdraws from Britain’s foreign wars will serve the common interests of ordinary British, Iraqi and Syrian people – and demonstrate that it puts those interests ahead of the oil lobby, the arms-dealers or our ‘allies’ amongst the Saudi royal family.