Last week’s attack in Westminster was immediately dubbed a terrorist attack by the press and by politicians. This despite the fact that the motives behind it all remain unclear.
The labelling of the attack as “terrorist” comes with highly politicised connotations. Much has been written about the fact that only when the perpetrator is an identifying Muslim or person of colour, does the term “terrorist” get applied.
It was not, for example, applied to Thomas Mair nor to the 17 year old Neo-Nazi (Read White) who was found guilty of making a pipe bomb only to be spared prison despite declaring: “We need more people like him [Thomas Mair] to butcher the race traitors”.
The general response to the murder or Jo Cox and the arrest of radicalised, British born White pipe bomber praising the MP’s killer was pretty minimal. There was no Cobra meeting, no calls for white Brits to condemn the attack. Nothing.
The contradictions and hypocrisies of much of the media and government in regards to “terrorist” attacks are plain to see. We’ve made this argument on Consented since the onset of the site and we certainly weren’t the first to point out how the “war on terror” has made us all a lot less safe.
Dropping bombs in the Middle East has undeniably increased the risk of attacks at home, yet more bombs is usually the answer politicians come up with when these attacks do occur (as well as increased powers for the state and Islamophobia).
Nonetheless, it’s difficult to have a nuanced discussion about terrorism or responses to it in Britain. Arguments highlighting Western foreign policy as a factor pick up little traction in a highly nationalistic, militaristic and right wing political climate.
Anyone who highlights these hypocrisies is more often than not branded a “terrorist sympathiser” – just as Jeremy Corbyn was by David Cameron for refusing to back airstrikes in Syria.
Likewise whilst appearing on Question Time last year Mehdi Hasan was described as an “ISIS apologist” by Conservative minister Anna Soubr for highlighting the government’s arms deals with Saudi Arabia.
These “progressive” arguments around counter-terrorism are just obvious. You don’t need to read a huge amount of anti-terror literature to understand how the Western world is fuelling terrorism on the one hand whilst preaching about ending it on the other.
Tony Blair famously denied that his foreign policy caused the 7/7 bombing and subsequent attacks yet the man behind the attack directly blamed western foreign policy:
Your democratically elected governments continuously perpetuate atrocities against my people and your support of them makes you directly responsible, just as I am directly responsible for protecting and avenging my Muslim brothers and sisters… Until we feel security, you will be our target. Until you stop the bombing, gassing, imprisonment and torture of my people, we will not stop this fight.
Baroness Manningham-Buller, the former head of MI5, whilst giving evidence to the Iraq inquiry, said that the invasion of Iraq “substantially” increased the terrorist threat to the UK and had radicalised “a few among a generation”:
The Iraq war heightened the extremist view that the West was trying to bring down Islam. We gave Bin Laden his jihad.
The problem is that whilst this argument – the one highlighting government hypocrisy – is easier than ever to support, it is making less and less headway in terms of either influencing government policy or influencing public opinion.
Part of the issue is that “terrorism” as it is framed pulls at the heart strings of all of us; it is a highly emotive subject and steeped in some of the worst nationalist discourses.
It is also incredibly politicised (as all nationalisms are), which is what Simon Jenkins demonstrated on BBC Newsnight when he highlighted the contradictory way the IRA attacks were covered in contrast to the so-called Islamic attacks. Jenkins went on to accuse the BBC of “aiding terrorism”.
This is also because it isn’t about terrorism or reducing it at all, but about a broader political agenda that leads to Muslims being routinely identified as the dangerous other who need to be policed and about uniting certain parts of Britain (those who are framed as being opposed to terrorism) under the auspices of nationalism.
Nationalisms are blinding and rely on an Other to exist, which is why it’s so difficult to make a coherent argument about terrorism; it’s why the government can hold “cobra” meetings and rally public support in the name of defending Britain and British values whilst chipping away at those very values with the Snoopers Charter et al.
To make effective arguments against current counter-terrorism strategies we need to unpick nationalisms (rather than trying to reclaim them), as well as deconstructing the fictitious Muslim Other – the two things go hand in hand. Without a terrifying Muslim Other, the government wouldn’t be able to justify expensive military campaigns or the scaling back of civil liberties in the name of national security.