A Vicious Cycle

In Britain, nearly 4,000 soldiers have been deployed to support local police departments in the wake of a suicide bombing that killed 22 people and injured dozens at a concert on Monday night. The victims were mostly young girls and parents who had taken their daughters to the concert by American pop star Ariana Grande. Authorities have identified the bombing suspect as Salman Abedi, a 22-year-old British man whose parents emigrated from Libya. ISIS has claimed responsibility for the attack. We speak to British political commentator Tariq Ali.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, as we turn to Britain, where nearly 4,000 soldiers have been deployed to support local police departments in the wake of the suicide bombing that killed 22 people and injured dozens at a concert in Manchester Monday night. The victims were mostly young girls and parents who had taken their daughters to the concert by the American pop star Ariana Grande.

Authorities have identified the bombing suspect as Salman Abedi, a 22-year-old British man whose parents emigrated from Libya. He lived just miles from the stadium that hosted Monday’s concert. Abedi’s name first appeared in the press after it was leaked by U.S. officials to journalists, even though the investigation was still unfolding. British authorities say they don’t believe Abedi acted alone in carrying out the bombing. Police have reportedly detained four people in Manchester as part of the investigation. ISIS has claimed responsibility for the attack.

Prime Minister Theresa May has announced the threat level in the U.K. will be raised from severe to critical, indicating another attack may be imminent.

PRIME MINISTER THERESA MAY: This morning, I said that the Joint Terrorism Analysis Centre, the independent organization responsible for setting the threat level on the basis of the intelligence available, was keeping the threat level under constant review. It is now concluded, on the basis of today’s investigations, that the threat level should be increased, for the time being, from severe to critical. This means that their assessment is not only that an attack remains highly likely, but that a further attack may be imminent.

AMY GOODMAN: Monday’s suicide bombing marked the deadliest terror attack on British soil since the 2005 London bombings. It came just weeks before Britain’s general election.

We go no to London to speak with Tariq Ali, political commentator, historian, activist, filmmaker, author, editor of the New Left Review. His latest book has just been published; it’s called The Dilemmas of Lenin: Terrorism, War, Empire, Love, Revolution.

Tariq, welcome back to Democracy Now!


AMY GOODMAN: Talk about the Manchester bombing, the significance, the reverberations right now, and the investigation that’s going on.

TARIQ ALI: Well, so far we know very little, Amy, apart from what you’ve already reported on screen. We don’t know whether this 22-year-old suicide bomber was part of a larger group. We do know that the weapons he carried to blow himself up were of a cruder sort. And many people, most serious and seasoned observers of terrorism, are denying that he was linked to ISIS. ISIS, now itself in deep crisis in the Middle East, is claiming any attack, or wherever it happens in the world, as carried out by one of its own. Basically, very little has been revealed by the British intelligence services so far.

There was an initial report saying that they knew his identity and knew who he was, but nothing more has been said. The fact that he is of Libyan descent, was born in this country, and his parents were Libyan exiles, can’t be kept unlinked to the war that was waged on Libya, the six-month bombing carried out by NATO, the fact that that country now is totally wrecked. I mean, we have a pattern: This atrocity happens, we all denounce it, everyone says 95, 96 percent of the Muslim community is opposed to all this—which is all true. Then people like myself and a few others from the antiwar movement say this is not unrelated to the war on terror that has been going on now since 2001. Every Arab country that’s occupied, wrecked, has a consequence in Europe.

So it’s—we’re part of a sort of really vicious, now, cycle, where the wars go on, and terror attacks, carried out usually by tiny jihadi groups or by individuals, as appears to be in this case, goes on. Very little attention now is paid to the foreign policy link with these things, Amy. And that is a bit worrying, because these things started happening in Europe, the United States, after the involvement of the West, in quite a brutal way, in what is going on in the Arab world.

And the other point to be made is that these terrorist attacks are not confined to Europe. They take place every single day in Iraq, in Syria, in Afghanistan, in Pakistan and Yemen, Bahrain. So when you have President Trump visiting Saudi Arabia, backing their war in Yemen, backing their war in Bahrain, people feel that the West is colluding with these people. It’s got absolutely nothing to do with freedom and democracy.

AMY GOODMAN: Speaking Tuesday in Bethlehem, President Trump responded to the attack in Manchester.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: This is what I’ve spent these last few days talking about during my trip overseas. Our society can have no tolerance for this continuation of bloodshed. We cannot stand a moment longer for the slaughter of innocent people. And in today’s attack, it was mostly innocent children. The terrorists and extremists, and those who give them aid and comfort, must be driven out from our society forever.

AMY GOODMAN: That’s President Trump. Tariq Ali, your response?

TARIQ ALI: Well, the response is fairly straightforward, Amy, that innocents are being killed by United States policies in different parts of the world. There are seven wars going on at the moment. Trump had promised to change course, as we all know, and everyone was a bit surprised, but he’s now returned to the normal behavior of an American president. He bombed Syria. He has made friends with Saudi Arabia. It was very entertaining to see Steve Bannon, one of his advisers, you know, trapped in a collection of Arab princes and Arab diplomats in Saudi Arabia. So, it’s business as usual.

We all deplore the loss of lives of innocent people. We do. Everyone does. But we can’t have double standards, in which we say that someone killed in Europe, they’re lives are more valuable than the lives being taken in large parts of the Muslim world. And unless the West understands that these double standards provoke and anger more people, it will carry on.

How do you stop it? I mean, they’re doing all sorts of things in Britain. They’ve got a prevent campaign to preempt all this. What does it say? It tells schoolteachers to spy on students. It tells children in schools, “If you hear one of your fellow students”—obviously Muslim—”saying something that is unacceptable, do report him.” I mean, asking children and teachers to spy on school students, it’s not going to work.

AMY GOODMAN: Tariq, couldn’t the Manchester model be used? You show the parents, you talk about the children who have died, and use that model for children killed in Yemen, Iraq, Afghanistan. Name the names.

TARIQ ALI: Absolutely. This model should be used, you know, but the media is not under our control or under the control of most people who want to look at the world seriously and not in a cartoonish way. So, you know, there’s already been exterminist talk: “Wipe them all out. Drive them out of the”—I mean—

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman. With this web exclusive, we continue our coverage of Monday’s suicide bombing in Manchester, Britain, that killed 22 people at a pop concert. We’re speaking to British political commentator Tariq Ali. The threat level has been raised to critical. What happens when the threat level is at critical? The British prime minister says possibly another attack is imminent, Tariq.

TARIQ ALI: Well, this is what they always say after a terrorist attack. Basically, it’s a precautionary measure. Its main—the main reason for this is largely psychological, Amy, in my opinion, rather than anything else. It’s to reassure the population, “We’re looking after you.” The shock has been great. Cities—Manchester is traumatized. People are worried. And raising the security level is little more than having soldiers and more policemen on the streets to show we’re doing something. I don’t see its significance as being greater than that.

I mean, don’t forget, we’re in the middle of an election campaign, which is due to take place over the—within the next two weeks, and the campaign has been fought quite vigorously by Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour Party. So this couldn’t have come at a worse possible time for any oppositional force in this country. And so, raising the security level is to—you know, “We’re a solid, stable government.” Any government and previous governments have done the same thing. I remember Tony Blair, to show the country what a serious threat Iraq was, sent tanks outside Heathrow to show that, you know, we are extremely worried, we are guarding the country. So a lot of this is basically propaganda.

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to turn right now to Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn speaking after the Manchester attacks at the Ariana Grande concert. This is Tuesday.

JEREMY CORBYN: Absolutely shocking news. It’s the most appalling act of violence that’s taken the lives of young people who were at a music event to enjoy themselves. People must be allowed to enjoy themselves at a music event. This is an appalling act of violence against people. And it must be totally and unreservedly and completely condemned.

AMY GOODMAN: So that’s Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn. Tariq Ali, you know him well. Talk about the significance of this election, what’s at stake, who’s running.

TARIQ ALI: The significance of this election is this, Amy, that for the first time in years we have a Labour leader who believes in policies that are completely hostile to neoliberalism, to the system created by Reagan and Thatcher. And even Conservative politicians are realizing this and saying, “No, we are not part of the Thatcher-Reagan system.” Theresa May is making all sorts of noises: “We care about the working class.” But this is largely in response to a campaign where Jeremy has been campaigning in different parts of the country, and the crowds have been huge. It’s a very lively campaign, several thousands of people turning up to hear politicians speak. And the program he’s fighting on is a radical social democratic program, taking the railways back into public ownership, making higher education free again, defending the National Health Service—nothing very new, but something regarded as contraband during the Thatcher, Blair and Brown years in this—and the Cameron years in this country. So, it’s an exciting campaign.

Just 10 days ago, the sections of the extreme-right media, Rupert Murdoch’s rags in this country, started campaigning against Corbyn, saying that Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell, the shadow chancellor, finance minister, of this country, were both IRA, Irish Republican Army, supporters and terrorists. I mean, this is a complete and total slander. This campaign was started about eight or nine days ago, and then we have this big attack in Manchester. And some of these newspapers are now alleging this attack is because Jeremy and John McDonnell were IRA supporters. It’s totally and completely grotesque. So if any of you think that the British media is somehow better than its equivalents in the United States, abandon that view completely. It is the same, if not worse, on occasion. So, we are—

AMY GOODMAN: So, for—for people to understand—

TARIQ ALI: We are worried as to—

AMY GOODMAN: For people to understand, it was the British prime minister, Theresa May, who called early elections. If Jeremy Corbyn—if the Labour Party were to take the most seats, he would become the prime minister.

TARIQ ALI: If the Labour Party got the most seats, or even if the Conservatives got the most seats but didn’t have an overall majority, it’s perfectly possible for Jeremy Corbyn to make a bloc with, say, the Scottish National Party, whose policies on many issues are not so different, and, if there are any Greens elected, with the Greens, and form a government. This is perfectly possible, if the right wing of Corbyn’s own party let him do so. But otherwise, he would need to be the largest party to have some chance of forming a government with the support of minority party.

Theresa May called the election. She thought she was more popular than she was. And she said, “Let’s have a snap election. Let’s increase my majority. And let’s consign Jeremy Corbyn and his politics to the dustbin forever.” That was the plan. But over the last 10 days, Corbyn has slowly but surely been rising in the opinion polls. Young people are being mobilized. Today is the last day to register to vote, and I think many people will do it. But, of course, this bombing acts as a huge block. It alienates people. It makes people passive, saying, “What’s the use? Everything’s awful,” etc.

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