“Even an empire cannot control the long-term effects of its policies. That is the essence of blowback.” —Chalmers Johnson
Following a suicide bombing in Manchester in the immediate run up to the June 8th snap Parliamentary election in the UK, the most left wing leader the Labor Party has had in decades, Jeremy Corbyn, made a major speech that horrified the country’s political establishment and press, who were already working in tandem to bury his campaign, insisting he was sympathetic to ‘terrorism.’
He offered up some difficult truths, making the point that, “Many experts, including professionals in our intelligence and security services have pointed to the connections between wars our government has supported or fought in other countries, such as Libya, and terrorism here at home.”
Although the Labor leader was attacked for this mild statement of fact, the denunciations, mainly in the country’s right wing tabloid press, came from the same irrational place as they have at critics of the wars ‘against terrorism’ since at least the turn of the century.
In the case of the UK, there is evidence that some of the inexcusable violence aimed at innocent civilians in recent years is, at least in part, the result of the military actions they have taken throughout the Greater Middle East and decisions made by security agencies and foreign policy elites over many years.
Without an understanding of this history, some of it very recent but already forgotten, it becomes impossible to explain where these tragedies are coming from, let alone come up with ways to prevent them in the future, not only in the West but in the regions where the majority of Salafi terrorism takes place.
It also shows that the so-called Islamic State (ISIS) is no longer able to hold or take territory in Syria and Iraq, inarguably a good thing, but that due to this, the group is going back to its roots as a re-branded Al Qaeda. They have turned their efforts toward inspiring attacks; from the well coordinated ones in Iran on June 7th, that showed advanced planning and even intelligence gathering from other groups (in this case the Iranian MEK) to the significantly less planned out vehicle and knife homicides that have terrorized Europe, including one in London just days after Corbyn’s speech.
Instead of addressing the concerns made plain by the Labor Leader, the UK’s Conservative Prime Minister, Theresa May, talked about censoring the internet and worrying less about human rights law as means of dealing with the problem.
Unlike most of the leaders of major Western political parties, Jeremy Corbyn chose to be honest rather than treating citizens like children and to the surprise of many: he gained support In the end, his party picked up 32 seats and a larger ‘government in waiting’ role in a hung parliament. It also turned out that the Labor leader was correct in pointing to the war in Libya as a more important factor than the concerns articulated by May.
In Libya, making (temporary) friends of enemies
British whistle-blower David Shaylar, who was given six months in jail for releasing classified documents, has alleged that a 1996 assassination attempt on Muammar Gaddafi was funded by the MI6 (the UK’s equivalent to the CIA, which has denied involvement). The attack, regardless of funding, was undertaken by the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG), a militant organization that many experts believe was, at least for a time, an Al Qaeda affiliate.
This event led to Libyan authorities moving against the LIFG and to the British government offering many members asylum in the UK, where they continued to agitate for the violent overthrow of Gaddafi. Among those who found refuge was Ramadan Abedi, the father of the Manchester bomber, Salman Abedi.
Soon after the Manchester bombing, which savagely targeted young girls and their parents at a concert, a slow trickle of information seemed to show that many Libyans with connections to the LIFG and other militant groups living in the UK had been allowed to travel back to that country to join the fight against Gaddafi in 2011. Some of these men, possibly including Salman Abedi, later also traveled on to Syria where they took up arms against that country’s secular government, with many pledging allegiance to ISIS.
Several anonymous sources from the UK’s Libyan expatriate community told the investigative web-site Middle East Eye that they’d been allowed to travel to Libya before and after Gaddafi’s fall, had control orders that amounted to house arrest lifted, and had their passports returned to them.
“I was allowed to go, no questions asked,” one source who fought in the country told reporters Amandla Thomas-Johnson and Simon Hooper.
Another, stopped by counter terrorism police as he waited to travel with Libya as a likely destination, gave them the number of a handler at MI5 (the British equivalent of the FBI and Shayler’s former employer) who later called him back and told him it had been, “Sorted,” and that he could continue on with his travel plans.
It should be clear that what amounts to the destruction of Libya wasn’t the fault of any one country, many nations, for their own reasons, felt that the No Fly Zone that was quickly turned into a regime change operation was worth the cost.
One of the main partners in the overthrow of the Libyan government in 2011, Qatar, “armed the Libyan opposition and in the process supported various hardline Islamist groups. Britain specifically backed the Qatari role in arming the opposition and worked closely with Qatar, supporting its provision of arms and support to fighters on the ground. Indeed, there is evidence that the Qatari role in Libya was specifically proposed by Britain.”
Thus, if Qatar is a supporter of terrorism as neighbors Saudi Arabia and the UAE have somewhat ironically accused, then there is ample evidence that the UK and other Western governments were not only aware of this but seem to have actively supported it.
Abedi should have been on the radar of British security services for a more banal reason as well: they’d been warned repeatedly about him by concerned members of Manchester’s Muslim community.
Libya was no utopia under Gaddafi; security forces, as in much of Africa, could be brutal and there was little tolerance for dissidents. Despite this, it was the richest and most advanced country on the continent, with universal health care and free higher education. Citizens had services provided by the state not available in many developed economies, including the absolute right to a home.
It’s also hard to argue, even though the country still had very traditional views of women’s roles outside of major urban areas, that the war and its aftermath haven’t been a disaster for the country’s highly educated women.
The Libyan government, which we should remember no longer exists in any real sense, also acted as a kind of shield against mass migration from Africa and, to a lesser extent, the Greater Middle East. This bulwark, in part somewhat cynically negotiated with NATO member Italy, fell after the removal of Gaddafi and has contributed to wave after wave of both refugees and desperate economic migrants arriving in southern Europe.
Even more disturbing, six years after the intervention, rather than finding a government that was at least rhetorically in favor of African unity, many sub-Saharan African migrants are finding themselves kidnapped and sold in open markets as slaves.
As the head of the International Organization for Migration (IOM) explained to The UK Guardian in April, “The latest reports of ‘slave markets’ can be added to a long list of outrages. The situation is dire, The more IOM engages inside Libya, the more we learn that it is a vale of tears for all too many migrants.”
Although the conflicts in Libya, Iraq and Syria have usually been described as civil wars, these theaters have been invaded by large numbers of foreigners, inevitably followed by the air-forces of Western and other countries. Some of those foreign fighters will come back to haunt their sponsors of convenience, likely harming the innocent in the process
This is history repeating itself as it has at least since the covert war against the Soviets in Afghanistan almost 40 years ago. Unfortunately, contradicting Karl Marx, history keeps repeating as tragedy rather than farce.