British Elections: A Significant Moment For The Fight Against Terrorism

Sam Westrop Director, Islamist Watch
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Polls suggest that the Conservatives will win Britain’s general election on Thursday by a comfortable margin. But if the controversial leader of the opposition, Jeremy Corbyn, does take enough parliamentary seats for the Labour Party, what will that mean for counter-extremism and counter-terrorism efforts? Based on Corbyn’s past and the people in his inner circle, the prospects under a Labour government for those who oppose Islamism do not look good.
In April, Middle East Forum research found that a parliamentary candidate for the city of LUton, Ashuk Ahmed, had posted overtly anti-Semitic views on social media. Ahmed had compared Jews to Nazis, published photoshopped pictures of Israeli politicians drinking children’s blood, warned that large British companies were owned by Jews, and claimed that the Conservatives were controlled by “Zionist paymasters.” Ahmed was a candidate for the Liberal Democrats, Britain’s fourth largest political party. After the Daily Mail published our research, the Liberal Democrats suspended his candidacy immediately.

This swift action was in stark contrast to the behavior of Corbyn’s Labour Party. Beset by dozens of scandals over the past two years involving anti-Semitism among its MPs and activists, a considerable proportion of the Jewish community has abandoned the Labour Party.

In April, Labour refused to expel Ken Livingstone, the former mayor of London and a prominent supporter of Jeremy Corbyn, after he claimed that “Hitler was a Zionist” and argued that Naz Shah, a Labour MP, was not guilty of anti-Semitism when she compared Israel with ISIS. To her credit, Naz Shah has since admitted that her words were anti-Semitic and apologized wholeheartedly. At a recent debate with candidates for her parliamentary seat in the English city of Bradford, one audience member chanted “Jew, Jew, Jew” after Shah declared she now supported the right of Israel to exist.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has had a ten year association with Deir Yassin Remembered, an overtly anti-Semitic organization whose leader, Paul Eisen, is a prominent Holocaust denier. Parliamentary candidates chosen for the upcoming election by the Labour Party include Tony Lloyd, who has warmly greeted Hamas leaders on a number of occasions. And at a Labour Party event to discuss the problem of anti-Semitism in the party, a Jewish MP was verbally abused. The list goes on and on.

Jewish disillusionment with the Labour Party is accompanied by the collapse of support among Labour’s traditional voters. Much of this rejection has to do with fears over security. Jeremy Corbyn has a long history of embracing terrorist organizations, supporting Islamism, and attacking counter-terrorism laws.

The Daily Telegraph recently revealed that Corbyn was, until the early 2000s, monitored by undercover police officers for 10 years because of his association with anti-democratic and violent organizations.

Corbyn and his current Shadow Chancellor, John McDonnell, have attended events in honour of imprisoned IRA terrorists over the past three decades. In 1987, Corbyn took part in a minute’s silence to commemorate eight IRA terrorists killed on their way to attack a village. In 2004, McDonnell was given an award by the Sinn Fein, the IRA’s political arm, for the “political and personal support he has given to the republican community.” The Daily Mail reports that the award was presented by a convicted IRA terrorist who murdered a prison officer and launched a fatal bomb attack on the Old Bailey, England’s Central Criminal Court. And Corbyn’s Shadow Home Secretary, Diane Abbott, endorsed the IRA in 1984, stating that, “Every defeat of the British state is a victory for all of us.” She has since claimed she no longer holds those views, but refused to express “regret” for her comments.

Corbyn has previously referred to Hamas and Hezbollah as his “friends” and has spoken at events alongside prominent Hamas activists. Corbyn even sought to have Hamas removed the UK’s list of designated terrorist organizations. In 2002, Corbyn spoke at a rally in Trafalgar Square alongside Leila Khaled, a former plane-hijacker and leader of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, a prominent terrorist organization which has murdered scores of Israelis, including children. The rally was attended by members of Al Muhajiroun, a banned extremist organization whose members have been linked to dozens of terrorist attacks. The Al Muhajiroun attendees wore fake suicide bomb vests, expressed support for Osama Bin Laden and chanted “Gas, gas Tel Aviv.”

Corbyn has consistently opposed counter-terrorism legislation in parliament. He has spoken at protests against the extradition of terror suspects to the United States alongside Moazzam Begg, a former Guantanamo Bay inmate who has admitted to providing “small arms and mountain tactics” training at al-Qaeda camps. In a recent speech, Corbyn blamed terrorist attacks in London and Manchester on UK foreign policy.

Labour’s chances have improved in recent weeks, and he is expected to win considerable support from younger voters. If the Labour Party defies the polls and wins a majority on Thursday, what will counter-terrorism efforts look like in the future?

Corbyn has consistently expressed opposition to the PREVENT program, the British government’s counter-extremism initiative, claiming it casts “suspicion” on the Muslim community. Jeremy Corbyn’s friends in Muslim community are, however, very much worthy of suspicion. As an MP, Corbyn uses the Finsbury Park Mosque to meet with his constituents. He remains an outspoken advocate for the mosque, despite the fact it is run by Muhammad Sawalha, a fugitive Hamas commander. According to BBC reports, Sawalha is “said to have masterminded much of Hamas’s political and military strategy” from London.

A Corbyn-led government would likely see the empowerment of hard-line Islamists, a warm relationship with prominent Middle Eastern terrorist organizations, some dismantlement of the PREVENT program, and the marginalization of moderate Muslims.

Incumbent Prime Minister Theresa May, on the other hand, has promised tough action against extremism. Her solution to radicalization, however, partly relies on policies of censorship. She has advocated for the “regulation of cyberspace.” Further, she has previously called for a ban on extremists from speaking in public without police permission.

These measures are illiberal and counter-productive. Similar bans on IRA members during the 1980s were widely derided and easily circumvented. As for plans to “regulate” the internet, this is a red herring. As a number of studies have shown, “radicalisation rarely happens exclusively online.” Shutting down thousands of websites and twitter accounts, however, does make for good government press releases.

Even if Theresa May offers ineffective leadership on the threats of terrorism and extremism, she is, at least, far removed from the alternative: Jeremy Corbyn and some of his shadow cabinet have spent their careers justifying terrorism and opposing the West.

Jewish communities have understood this danger, and, according to polls, they have largely rejected Corbyn’s extremist politics. Will the rest of Britain follow suit?

Sam Westrop is a British counter-terrorism expert and the Director of Islamist Watch, a project of the Middle East Forum.