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Blowback - Manchester and the Libya Connection

In the wake of yet another horrendous atrocity, this time in Manchester claiming 23 lives, 'respectable' media once again refused to seriously discuss the extent to which violent attacks against 'us' are linked to 'our' violent attacks against 'them'. Instead, howls of disgust typically arise when anyone mentions terms like 'blowback' and 'reaping the whirlwind'.

In a headline comment piece in the Guardian, Rafael Behr warned of 'the hazard of moral relativism':

'A well-trodden analytical approach follows the twisted trail of jihadi logic back to political grievance, Middle Eastern wars and blaming the west.'

Presumably, then, Eliza Manningham-Buller, former Director General of MI5, was adopting 'jihadi logic' when she commented in a 2011 Reith lecture:

'whatever the merits of putting an end to Saddam Hussein, the war was also a distraction from the pursuit of al-Qaeda. It increased the terrorist threat by convincing more people that Osama Bin Laden's claim that Islam was under attack was correct... our involvement in Iraq spurred some young British Muslims to turn to terror.' (Our emphasis)

Likewise, former MI5 chief, Stella Rimington, who discussed the impact of the Iraq war on these threats:

'Well, I think all one can do is look at what those people who've been arrested or have left suicide videos say about their motivation. And most of them, as far as I'm aware, say that the war in Iraq played a significant part in persuading them that this is the right course of action to take... I think to ignore the effect of the war in Iraq is misleading.' (Our emphasis)

At their worst, references to 'jihadi logic' descend to accusations of outright apologetics. Guardian columnist Owen Jones accurately observed on Twitter:

'If you say the Versailles Treaty and the Great Depression contributed to the rise of the Nazis, does that make you a Nazi apologist? (No.)'

But a key difference, often forgotten, is that while governments in countries like Iraq, Libya and Syria are often portrayed as bitter enemies, none of them have threatened, much less attacked, Britain.

In the Guardian, Paul Mason commented:

'The "blowback theory", which blames Islamist terrorism directly on western expeditionary warfare, is both facile and irrelevant in this case. By bombing Libya we did not enrage or radicalise young Muslims such as Abedi: we simply gave them space to operate in.'

Professor Jake Lynch of the University of Sydney responded on the Guardian's letters page:

'Blowback theory is most definitely relevant. It is not confined to "blam[ing] Islamist terrorism directly on western expeditionary warfare", as Mason incorrectly states. Islamic State germinated in the scorched earth left behind when we removed the regime of Saddam Hussein. If we had not invaded Iraq, the organisation that is now attacking us would not exist. That is blowback.'

Remarkably, Mason also wrote:

'David Cameron was right to take military action to stop Gaddafi massacring his own people during the Libyan uprising of 2011: the action was sanctioned by the UN, proportionate, had no chance of escalating into an occupation.'

A September 9, 2016 report into the war by the foreign affairs committee of the House of Commons commented on Cameron's policy:

'The result was political and economic collapse, inter-militia and inter-tribal warfare, humanitarian and migrant crises, widespread human rights violations, the spread of Gaddafi regime weapons across the region and the growth of ISIL in North Africa.'

As for the alleged justification for war:

'Despite his rhetoric, the proposition that Muammar Gaddafi would have ordered the massacre of civilians in Benghazi was not supported by the available evidence... Gaddafi regime forces targeted male combatants in a civil war and did not indiscriminately attack civilians. More widely, Muammar Gaddafi's 40-year record of appalling human rights abuses did not include large-scale attacks on Libyan civilians.' (Our emphasis. See our alert)

And while Cameron's Libyan no-fly zone was sanctioned by the UN, regime change certainly was not.

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