Stop the Faux Outrage. Both Sides Have Politicised Terror

Seven people are dead and many more are in critical conditions. Once again, Britain has found itself the victim of a terrorist attack.

Even as the country was still nervously watching the news and discovering the fresh horror visited upon our streets, Donald Trump tweeted in defence of his "Muslim Ban": it is time to stop the political correctness surrounding the issue, he typed.

Rarely has a world leader had such a tin-ear for any opinion other than his own; never has a supposed ally behaved with so little sensitivity towards a country that has not even begun to mourn and understand its loss.

This is the second terrorist attack during the general election campaign. The third since March. After the Manchester suicide bomb, campaigning was suspended while the Prime Minister attended Cobra briefings and visited the site. With so short a period until polling day, that cannot - alas - happen again.

On Sunday morning, Theresa May addressed the nation outside Downing Street. She declared: “Enough was enough”. Identifying the three attacks, although unrelated by any networks, as a new trend in terrorism that used the crudest methods to take life and sow division, she warned that there had been “too much tolerance of extremism” and promised a review of counter-terrorism strategy and international agreements. She also said that internet companies must no longer give extremism a forum to breed.

She was immediately accused of “politicising terrorism” and breaking an agreement by the Conservatives, Labour, the Scottish Nationalists and the Liberal Democrats to suspend campaigning during the day.

We cannot take national security out of a debate about our future

Yes, May went further than informing the nation and reassuring citizens. She announced policies. And she did so while standing behind a government, rather than party, lectern. However, her position is inherently political. It is not always possible to separate her role as a head of government and her partisan role as a party leader. By weaving reasurance with a promise of policy changes, she was as much fulfilling her obligations as the effective focal point for a concerned public during a crisis as breaking the campaign suspension.

Three attacks in three months. The usual mantra of unity could be seen as inadequate. That is not to agree with her solutions. It is to say that there is no firm line between her two roles.

The ensuing outrage was to be expected. I suspect it will be a minority pursuit. Also most of it was pretty hypocritical. Terrorism has been politicised by both sides.

In his own statement following the attack - actually given before the Prime Minister had addressed the nation - Jeremy Corbyn not only mourned the loss of life and, quite rightly, paid tribute to the emergency services but also spoke about the need to have sufficient police officers on the streets. Considering that it is Labour’s policy to boost police numbers, cannot it legitimately be said that Corbyn rather than May politicised terror?

Goose and gander should be treated alike, surely?

On Sunday evening, he went on to accuse May of trying to defend Britain “on the cheap”. Moreover, since the Manchester attack, Labour - by trying to link the Manchester attack with cuts to police numbers - have campaigned on the issue of national security. In his first speech when campaigning had been resumed after Manchester - perhaps aware that the Tories have been hitting him hard on his past views on terrorism - he directly linked terrorism with Western foreign policy in the Middle East. As an opponent of both the Iraq and Libya conflicts, the subtext was “I was right”. Politicising terror, no?

As with May, that it not to say he is wrong to do so. We cannot take national security out of a debate about our future.

both leaders are presenting simplistic solutions to complex global problems

There has been no link proven between reduced police numbers and either attack. Indeed, on Saturday night, police responded within eight minutes. National security budgets have seen increases in recent years. Those who try to place blame upon May for her cuts are wrong to do so: cause does not imply correlation. It is right that there should be a debate on the issue though.

So if May politicised terror, then Corbyn did so first. And if Corbyn did, then the Tories did so before. We go on and on unto the ages. 

In their different ways, both leaders are presenting simplistic solutions to complex global problems: Corbyn by pretending that Western policy fuels terrorism, without admitting that it takes a narrative to frame a grievance; May by trying to lay the blame on the internet, as if radicalisation merely exists in a virtual world.

Donald Trump was crass. He was insensitive. He did not even mention the dead before he leapt to make a political point. The same cannot be said of either May or Corbyn. And, if either of them politicised the issue, it is because we are all political animals, even if we do not always realise it.

It may sometimes be unpleasant. At least our two leaders paused for breath before they tried to score points - unlike the leader of the free world. 

So stop the hypocritical outrage because - you know what? - that’s politicising terrorism too.

More about the author

About the author

Educated at Durham University and UCL, Graham is Disclaimer's editor and a regular contributor. He has written for numerous publications including Tribune, Out Magazine and Vice. He has also contributed to two books of political counterfactuals for Biteback Media, Prime Minister Boris (2011) and Prime Minister Corbyn (2016).

A democratic republican lefty, he struggles daily with the conflict between his ingrained senses of idealism and pragmatism.

Follow Graham on Twitter.

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