A tale of two leaders

Today, the British people go to the polls to help bring to power one of two potential Prime Ministers, each with very different visions for how they will protect the UK from the global jihadist threat. One, Theresa May, can identify the threat and appears serious about terrorism and the violent ideology that underpins it.

But her opponent, Jeremy Corbyn, has a long history of courting radical and terrorist groups and the anti-western ideology that animates them. Of course, the election won’t be decided on foreign policy or even domestic security. Apart from the impending Brexit negotiations, other issues such as health, education and the wider economy have galvanised debate, as would be expected in any election. Nonetheless, it is worth focusing on how both candidates would fare on Islamism and wider issues affecting the Middle East, including Israel.

Theresa May has clearly grasped the dimension of the global jihad. Following a series of attacks that have left 35 innocents dead, May gave a powerful speech outlining how she would react in her next Prime Ministerial term. She correctly pointed to the growing phenomenon of copy cat attacks, often using weapons as crude as a van and kitchen knife.

She went on to say that what connected otherwise disparate attacks was a common thread of ‘evil ideology of Islamist extremist that preaches hatred, sows division and promotes sectarianism’. She understood that what drove this ideology was principally our western values, including freedom and democracy. As such, one method that was crucial in defeating it was the ability to ‘turn people’s minds away from this violence’.

She said that it was essential to deny this ideology a ‘safe space’, both online, hence the need for global co-operation in pressuring social networking sites that allow extremists space online and also in the real world, hence the necessity for military action abroad against Islamic State. She went further and pointed out an obvious truth:

‘There is too much tolerance of extremism in our country’. If she meant that there have been too many mosques hosting radical imams, too many extremists allowed on television to parrot their prejudices, too many jihadis flourishing in prison, then of course she is right. Our prisons and mosques need to be cleansed of those who promote intolerance, division and hatred.

Naturally, May has her critics and their grievances are not unjustified. As Home Secretary, she took the line that it was better to concentrate on already radicalised Muslims than on those who were susceptible to the jihadist narrative. She thus took a line opposite to that of David Cameron and Michael Gove. This is an error that she must rectify in the future, and it includes banning groups connected to the Muslim Brotherhood as well as Hamas and Hezbollah.

She was criticised for not stopping fighters from the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group travelling to Libya in 2011 when Gaddafi’s regime was falling. And she has presided over police cuts which may have hindered the fightback against terror. Sadly, like many others, she has made the error of regarding Islamism as a ‘perversion of Islam’ rather than as an increasingly seductive interpretation of the faith. Still, she has understood the essentials of what Britain and the wider world are being forced to confront.

There could not be a starker contrast with her Labour opponent. Jeremy Corbyn, for all his campaigning exuberance, is a hardened radical, a socialist whose economic policies and world view hark back to the 1980s when groups like Militant flourished. He has a roll call of past associations that ought to discredit him from Parliament, never mind No. 10. For decades, he was a cheerleader for the IRA during the terror campaigns they were waging against the British mainland. In 1988 he attacked the Anglo-Irish agreement, the precursor to the Good Friday agreement that came a decade later. He was general secretary of the editorial board of London Labour briefing which praised the Brighton bombing of 1984.

Both he and John McDonnell are on record supporting a united Ireland. Corbyn has called both Hamas and Hezbollah his friends and taken tea with Raed Saleh, the leader of an Islamist group in Northern Israel, an ‘honoured citizen’ despite Saleh repeating anti-Semitic blood libels. The Labour MP said to Saleh: ‘I look forward to giving you tea on the terrace because you deserve it’. He also wrote a letter defending Stephen Sizer, a controversial Church of England vicar who has often made highly charged statements about Jews and Zionism.

In recent weeks, Corbyn has declared that he supports a two state solution in the Middle East and that all his past interventions are about promoting peace between the two sides. It is interesting that he has never sought to meet the current Israeli leadership or understood the most basic fact about Hamas; namely its rejection of Israel in any form. Such a volte face should be seen for what it is; a politically motivated, short term tactical retreat.
He has voted against every counter terror policy since 9/11, such as the use of control orders, TPIMs and the policy of ‘shoot to kill’ though it should be noted that Theresa May voted against some measures. He also voted, like McDonnell, against depriving ISIS fighters of their British citizenship. Given Corbyn’s consistent rejection of anti terror legislation, it is extraordinary that he has tried to pose as a champion of public security following the latest attacks. His words simply ring hollow.

Moreover, after past atrocities, Corbyn has been swift to shift blame away from the jihadis to the west. After the 7/7 attacks, for example, he said that our security was at risk because ‘of the way we inflict an insecurity on so many other people around the world’. The clear implication was that these murders of the innocent in London were a form of ‘blowback’ for western crimes, especially in the Middle East.

He has also kowtowed to Israel’s most radical enemies. Thus he has taken the side of Bashar Assad during the Syrian Civil War, condemning airstrikes against Damascus with predictable regularity. He has also promoted with fervour the interests of the Islamic Republic of Iran. As a regular participant on Press TV, he has effectively been a British shill for the ayatollahs. And far from supporting the peace process, he has hardened opposition to it by empowering radical terror groups whose aim is to destroy Israel and kill Jews.

All of these past associations are incredibly damaging to a potential British Prime Minister and ought to make people think twice before casting their vote in his direction.

About the Author
Jeremy is an author and the Director of B'nai Brith UK's Bureau of International Affairs