JUNE 8 ELECTION: Activist turned Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn closes gap with Prime Minister May. But the question is will he go past? A special by Saeed Naqvi
Prime Minister Theresa May and the leader of the opposition Labour Party, Jeremy Corbyn, have been pitted against each other on a host of issues but nothing has caught the popular imagination more than terrorism, as I discovered after recent interaction with students, teachers and social workers in Manchester.
Terrorism has acquired urgent saliency after the Manchester bombing in which 22 youngsters, including children, lost their lives. The tailwind would have been behind the Prime Minister in another era — say, when George W. Bush, Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld were embarked on full-spectrum global dominance before Lehman Brothers collapsed. Theresa May, alas, is mandated to unclasp one hand from Europe and attempt to clasp Donald Trump’s with the other. But Trump is perpetually on a high wire act of unpredictable spins and turns. How to clasp that hand? His dizzying performances, most recently at the G7 and NATO summits, have caused even the dour Angela Merkel to throw up her hands. He is too unreliable; Europe has to fend for itself, she suggested.
Even as she said this, the new French President Emanuel Macron was embracing Vladimir Putin at Versailles Palace. “We have to fight terror together.”
This is not as straightforward a commitment as it sounds. If he is to follow through on “fighting terror” with the Russians, he will come immediately into conflict with the Deep State in Washington with tentacles in Paris as well.
There is a huge difference of opinion on Syria, to begin with. How to separate militant outfits like Jabhat al Nusra, Al Qaeda and the IS from the so-called Syrian opposition. According to the Russians, their merger and separation depend on alliance tactics.
Since it is becoming difficult even for Western intelligence agencies to keep so many balls up in air, a brazen new theory is being floated: The US must not waste its time fighting groups like the Islamic State and its affiliates in Syria. This theory was spelt out by Thomas Friedman, ace columnist for the New York Times. He says the Islamic State’s targets are not the US or Israel. “IS right now is the biggest threat to Iran, Hezbollah, Russia and pro-Shia Iranian militias.”
Friedman wants “Trump to be Trump — utterly cynical and unpredictable”.
Columns of this nature are not written to advise the state. They are written to generate a wider debate.
It is prescient of Merkel’s advisers to have picked up the scale of “unpredictability” already in the works in Trump’s Washington.
The theory being promoted by Friedman has theoretical application in India’s vicinity as well. The US cannot be indifferent to the potential of Shia-Sunni chaos between Pakistan and Iran which could disrupt the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, a key link in China’s mega One Belt-One Road project. But all game plans are not implementable because international relations do not proceed in straight lines.
Weigh May’s and Corbyn’s stands on the issue of terror in this balance. May’s Security Minister Ben Wallace is flailing his arms against “duplicitous social media firms”. They are failing to halt terror. “Their data encryption is allowing Jihadist cells to emerge unnoticed”.
May has been talking of a full-fledged commission, upgradation of police, intelligence. Corbyn has no quarrel with any of this. But to insulate Britain against terrorists — in this instance, with Libyan links — foreign policy will have to obviate military interventions which destroy local structures and leave behind terror breeding grounds. Outspoken though Corbyn is, even he had to measure his words just in case the media supportive of the ruling party give it an anti-national or an Islamophobic spin.
It is clear as daylight even to the ubiquitous taxi driver: If you destroy countries, kill millions, render many more homeless, by what logic do you consider yourself exempt from the fury of revenge?
It is one of the ironies of our time that the cult of suicide bombing is, in a sense, a gift of the alliance which ousted the Soviets from Afghanistan in 1989. But when, at George W. Bush’s behest, Gen. Musharraf turned upon the very Afghans whom Pakistan had groomed as double-distilled, ferocious Islamists, the suicide bomber mushroomed.
Brilliantly brain washed, he was convinced of his pre-paid passage to paradise. Maulana Fazlur Rehman, leader of Pakistan’s Jamiat-e-Ulema, once told me a chilling story. At a Majlis-e-Shura, meant only for the elders, he was surprised to see a young man approach him with some urgency: His parents, both seriously ill, were eager for their son to go to paradise while they still lived. Could the Maulana help him jump the queue of suicide bombers?
Corbyn dare not cast Salman Abedi, the Libyan suicide bomber of Manchester, in that kind of stark drama, but he did link faulty foreign policy to acts of terror at home. Immediately, the Prime Minister was on his case: Corbyn is making excuses for terrorism. Her campaign has consisted of attacks on Corbyn, while he has focused on issues — foreign policy, for instance.
As the popularity gap between the candidates narrows, papers like the Guardian spot a comparison with Bernie Sanders. But situations differ.
I had written then: “If the establishment makes Sander’s impossible, it makes Trump inevitable.” In British elections, if the establishment (media) makes Corbyn impossible, well, you have a lacklustre May, one who can barely eclipse Corbyn.