The horrific killing of two people in a knife attack on Friday in London is being used to bolster right wing ideas.
There are frenzied calls for heavier prison terms and more prison officers and police. There is a systematic avoidance of the fundamental reasons why such attacks happen.
The attacker, Usman Khan, was born in Stoke-on-Trent. He was convicted in 2012 of being part of a group who are said to have been inspired by al-Qaida. They were accused of intending to carry out attacks including on the London Stock Exchange.
Khan was sentenced to a term of imprisonment for public protection in 2012. This allowed him to be held in prison indefinitely. In 2013, the court of appeal revised Khan’s sentence to a term of 16 years, and told him he would have to spend a minimum of eight years in jail.
He was released on licence last year. All the main parties have rushed to criticise this.
Boris Johnson has made the most blatant attempt to use horrible deaths for political advantage.
“Jeremy Corbyn is setting out plans to weaken our system and make it more difficult for our security services to stop people who want to do us harm. He wants to give more power to human rights lawyers, which would make us less safe,” said Johnson.
He added that if the Tories win the election he will use Brexit to weaken human rights laws.
It’s not inevitable that the debate goes this way.
At a similar stage in the 2017 general election campaign a bombing in Manchester killed 23 people. Such a major terrorist incident led predictably to demands for repression.
But Jeremy Corbyn pointed to a link between “wars our government has supported or fought in other countries and terrorism here at home”.
“We must be brave enough to admit the ‘war on terror’ is simply not working. We need a smarter way to reduce the threat from countries that nurture terrorists and generate terrorism,” he added.
This was not only right, it was popular.
An instant opinion poll found that the majority of people—53 percent—agreed that “wars the UK has supported or fought are responsible, at least in part, for terror attacks against our country”.
This was more than twice the proportion who thought it was not responsible for terror attacks—24 percent.
For several days there was no such criticism this time from Labour. Instead the party denounced “security on the cheap”, demanded a “very full investigation” and questioned “what the probation service were doing and whether the parole board should have been involved”.
However, on Sunday in York, Corbyn spoke out
“Sixteen years ago, I warned against the invasion and occupation of Iraq," he said
“I said it would set off a spiral of conflict, hate, misery, desperation that will fuel the wars, the conflict, the terrorism and the misery of future generations.
“It did, and we are still living with the consequences today.”
He went on, “Britain’s repeated military interventions in North Africa and the wider Middle East, including Afghanistan, have exacerbated rather than resolved the problems.”
“Now we risk being dragged into a further conflict with Iran on the side of a Saudi regime which is an enemy of human rights prolonging a desperate humanitarian crisis in Yemen, interfering in its neighbours’ affairs and murdering journalists.”
Corbyn was right to make the overt connection with imperialist war.
Unfortunately he has also conceded that the police have the right to shoot people if they think “innocent lives are at risk”.
The police on Friday dragged members of the public off Khan and then shot him. Previously Corbyn has resisted such calls. Last month he suggested the leader of Islamic State Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi should have been arrested and put on trial, not shot.
Al-Baghdadi died in October when he blew himself up with a suicide vest during a raid by US special forces.
Some people are resisting the rush to a crackdown.
One of those killed in the attack was Jack Merritt, a 25-year-old who worked for a programme aimed at improving prisoner rehabilitation.
His father David Merritt posted on Twitter on Saturday, “My son, Jack would not wish his death to be used as the pretext for more draconian sentences or for detaining people unnecessarily.”
He added that Jack was “a champion for underdogs everywhere, but especially those dealt a losing hand by life, who ended up in the prison system”.
Court documents from 2012 also reveal that racism may have played a role in motivating Khan. They cite how Khan and others discussed bombing pubs in Stoke as a response to “racist incidents”.
Certainly some on the right and the far right will seek to entrench Islamophobia further now. Taxi driver Mirza Mahmood from Stoke said on Saturday, “Let me tell you, there is always more abuse, and we drivers get attacked much more every time there is an incident like this.
“Our children suffer, everyone suffers. The racism is much worse than it was a decade ago. It’s tense. Everyone is tense.”
We need anti-racist unity against the right and any revenge attacks.
However much politicians and the media seek to ignore it, the stabbings on London Bridge are linked to the millions who have died or been made refugees by nearly 20 years of the “war on terror”.
As long as these imperialist wars continue there will be a response.
The Tories, who embrace Donald Trump and criticise Corbyn for being reluctant to immolate the world through the use of nuclear weapons, will bring more wars and more bombings.
Only fundamental political change can do away with a world of exploitation, racism, war and environmental catastrophe.
Let’s use the days left before the election to fight the Tories and ram home the message that we don’t have to live in a world ruled by the dictates of profit and power.