Queasy arguments about terrorism…

THE Manchester bomb atrocity has entered the political arena, but let’s for a moment consider a related photograph that is being used widely this morning.

This image shows the sands of Scarborough beach. There are deckchairs and at least one donkey. The castle can be seen in the distance, the sea is a blue haze and over to the right a girl sits playing in the sand.

Mind you, it is hard to absorb those happy, commonplace details as most of the photograph is taken up with two heavily armed police officers carrying pistols and sub-machineguns (at least that’s my non-militaristic guess).

Two thoughts arise from this jarring image. One: it is still a shock to see armed officers out and about, especially on a traditional British beach. Two: does the presence of armed officers help or is it just for general reassurance?

A good photograph, but an unsettling one.

Many of today’s newspapers give prominence to Theresa May’s response to Jeremy Corbyn’s thoughts on terrorism. Before stepping across that tricky territory, here is a general non-party political point. We should always worry when people say that A caused B – and if you hadn’t done A, then B wouldn’t have happened.

The internet is awash with people saying that A caused B and we must be idiots for not having spotted this. This is where C comes into the equation, with C standing for conspiracy. All sorts of conspiracy theories are around, and sometimes it is possible to wonder if the internet might not be powered by conspiracy theories.

The leaders of our two main parties have in their different ways decided to place the atrocity at the heart of their election campaigns. Mrs Maybe snatched the baton from the Labour leader and launched a bitter attack on Jeremy Corbyn for saying that the Manchester terror attack had been caused by British foreign policy.

I confess to feeling queasy about both party leaders using what happened on Monday night in their political campaigns, but this was probably inevitable.

The trouble with Mrs Maybe’s vitriolic response is that she is, quite consciously, attacking a version of what Jeremy Corbyn said, rather than what he really said.

It is fair enough at least to ask the question: have we done something to cause this? That would seem to be Corbyn’s point, and he argues, as a spokesman says in a statement today, that we need to be “both strong against terrorism and strong against the causes of terrorism”.

Theresa May’s response to her opponent’s views included this intemperate statement: “And I want to make something clear to Jeremy Corbyn and to you: there can never be an excuse for terrorism, and there can be no excuse for what happened in Manchester.”

This is true, absolutely true: but the trouble is that May isn’t addressing what Corbyn said, but attacking her version of what he said.

With Corbyn – and I remain a sceptic in general – his opponents often attack a caricature rather than address the man himself. He wasn’t making excuses for terrorism but asking if we had done anything to prompt such an attack, while also condemning the atrocity and saying that the blame lay with the terrorists.

And he was pointing out that our interventions in Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya have created what he calls “huge ungoverned spaces” – and, as he said to Andrew Neil on TV last night, the parallels he was making and the links with foreign policy have been made by many others, “including Boris Johnson in 2005, two former heads of MI5 and of course the foreign affairs select committee”.

Fair points, although there is still something queasy about politicians using this atrocity only days afterwards.

Of all the shocking things in a shocking week, nothing upset me more than an item on Woman’s Hour, of all the unlikely places. There a contributor said that the Ariana Grande concert may well have been chosen because there would have been so many girls and young women in the audience. You must remember, the contributor said, that jihadists hate women.

The people who carry out these attacks are demented morons who twist and burn the Muslim faith to their own warped ends. So to that extent, saying that A caused B might not get us anywhere – because the terrorists are all the way down at Z, doing what they do for their own appalling reasons.

But it is still reasonable to wonder if we have done anything to cause any of this – a question so outlandishly left-wing that Boorish Johnson was making the very same point years ago.

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