Ever since the Twin Towers came down, mainstream (and therefore right-wing) media opinion has shoved this “choice” down our throats. It screams at us “Terrorists – yes or no?”, “Terrorists – friends or not?”. That’s all that’s needed. There’s no sense in which there might be any grey in what is posited as an utterly black and white question (“Condemn, you bastard and then shut up” is what they’re really saying of course). It started with Bush’s “you’re either with or against us” pledge to hunt down the terrorists and it led us directly to the illegal war in Iraq, and the loss of millions of innocent lives across multiple war zones. Yet still the answer is yes/no, apologise/condemn.
The word terrorist has become non-negotiable, a catch all for a huge variety of political causes and traditions. Like Thatcher’s condemnation of Mandela and the ANC, they can all be spoken about in the same breath – Hamas, Hezbollah, the IRA, Sinn Fein. Who cares about whether they are elected? Who cares about their ideology? Who cares about the causes of terrorism? History, pah! Just condemn, you bastard – sit down and shut up. The ironic and tragic thing, of course, is that this political discourse has done nothing but aid and abet more violence, more injustice and more terrorism. Even so, we are not allowed to challenge it, for fear of being labelled “apologists”.
What is also tragic is the way that the left has been so cowed by this narrative that it has responded by obediently shutting up, or even worse, joining in the crusade against a monolithic terrorist ‘monster’. So on one side, we have absolute silence and subservience from the Labour front bench and much of the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP), and on the other side we have ad hominem attacks against anyone who might not leave their analysis at outright condemnation of Hamas, for instance. Or anyone who might want to explain that while some attitudes are repugnant and parts of these complex organisations are immoral, there are other parts and other forces within those organisations that seek negotiation and can be moved towards peace through dialogue. So screwed up have we become by the dominant, right-wing narrative, however, that many people, who describe themselves as socialists, keep shouting “Yes or No?”, “Friends or Not?”. On the so called ‘libertarian left’, some bizarrely don’t want to know about human rights, or the right to a fair trial (Why would you, when this one fits 140 characters: “You called them “friends”. We saw it on YouTube”). Yes or No? Friends or Not? After almost 15 years of a failed and disastrous “War on Terror”, and a much more insecure and dangerous world, it’s the wrong question.
So, while it might seem odd to have someone who asks more difficult questions – about how we move towards genuine, peaceful solutions to the crises we are in – thrust on to our television screens, we should support and trust Jeremy Corbyn. As someone who has spent over 30 years as Parliament’s biggest advocate for peace, he hasn’t – believe it or not – got a blind spot when it comes to terrorism, Islamic, Palestinian or otherwise. He’s just one of the few representatives in our party who has the bravery and insight to see that the solutions to terrorism don’t come from the barrel of a loaded gun that George Bush left for us. In that, he is firmly within the longer traditions of the left of the party, from Hardie to Benn, for all it may jar with New Labour and Blair. For that, and his refusal to be cowed, he should be applauded. Whether that makes him a better candidate to be leader of our party, and potentially a better Prime Minister of this country, I’ll let you decide. But I’d certainly feel a lot safer in a Corbyn-led country.