Over a week has gone by since the horrific bombing in Manchester and still I am in shock. There are no words I can use to express the full extent of my distress, or even the magnitude of my sympathy for the victims, their friends and families. I am heart-broken and appalled in equal measure. That could have been my kids. That could have been me standing by that entrance with the other parents waiting to collect our children and take them home. Teenagers who should have been excited after a great night out, ended up terrified, maimed, orphaned, killed, never coming home.  What kind of monster even contemplates doing something so evil?

At the same time, I am also incredibly proud of the people of Manchester, the response of their medical and police services, the army, those civilians who did so much to help, all their resilience and compassion. We will all work together to ensure such a tragedy –  a crime against every one of us –  will never happen again.

I know that my home city, Plymouth, will stand with Manchester in the coming weeks and years, and we will give the people of Manchester our full support including raising much-needed money for the families most affected.

Yet just this week, in the Plymouth Herald, when Keith Rossiter wrote that many people in ‘garrison towns like Plymouth’ will disagree with Jeremy Corbyn’s views on the terrorist attack (‘His Say’ 31st May 2017), I couldn’t quite believe it.  

What exactly were Mr Corbyn’s views? Was it something he said in his speech about the War on Terror? Surely the Labour leader would not deliberately undermine election campaigns in ‘marginal’ Plymouth wards by saying something insensitive, when people are still grieving? Mr Corbyn hasn’t blamed British foreign policy for the deaths of 22 innocent people in Manchester, has he?

If the media in general are to believed, it would seem that’s exactly what Mr Corbyn has done. Really?

According to Mr Rossiter, Mr Corbyn even “implies that the lives of Westcountry servicemen and women who were killed or maimed in conflicts from Bosnia to Iraq were wasted”. Surely not? Why would the leader of the opposition choose this moment to be so apparently divisive when we all wish to stand together in solidarity?

As someone who actively supports our armed services, particularly in Plymouth, I had to know more, so I did a great deal of listening and reading, and I think perhaps I have come to a different conclusion about Mr Corbyn’s message.

While Mr Rossiter in his article gives a great history lesson, outlining British foreign policy from the Second World War up to the present day catastrophe that is Syria – and yes, Mr Rossiter, I agree that we cannot be blamed for the Second World War –  there are a few key elements missing from his argument decrying Mr Corbyn’s speech on the War on Terror.

Let’s just quickly look at some of the facts:

On 22nd May 2017, a 22 year old British-born Libyan committed suicide by detonating a home-made explosive device that killed 22 and wounded 116, and I pray the fatalities have not increased since writing this.

That young man’s action was deplorable – ‘wicked’ in the Queen’s words – an act of atrocity that can never be forgiven.

However the detonator for that device was not only in the bomber’s hand, but in his head. The bomber had been influenced, brain-washed even, by nut-cases and psychotic murderers with links to Daesh/IS or whatever they want to call themselves. Frankly, they don’t deserve a name. History should leave them forever nameless and ignored, erased, buried in the sand that smothers so many of the regions they claim as their territory. They turn the world into unforgiving piles of sand and I sincerely hope it chokes them.

Daesh/IS has nothing to do with the Muslim faith, or any faith for that matter. To call themselves Muslim is an insult to anyone of any spiritual belief. Yes, they hate the West for what we are and what we stand for, but they are something much darker and more dangerous than any protest organisation – Daesh/IS is a death-cult who wish to see the annihilation of everyone and everything. Because –

Daesh/IS is weaponised insanity

We will never be able to negotiate any kind of peace with them – even if they let us talk to them, they are not worth us wasting our breath. And so, they must be eradicated.

Still with me? Good.

Now, according to the latest information, this Manchester Arena bomber mainly acted alone. Did he choose the target? Possibly. Did he know the location well? Very likely, as he lived and grew up in Manchester. Did he need an army or any kind of guerrilla unit to help him? No. The idea of suicide bombing, planted deep into his psyche by Daesh/IS, was transformed into deplorable horror by one man acting alone.

So to counter his attack, what do we do? Currently we in the West are bombing targets across north Africa and the Middle East, with a view to eradicating Daesh/IS. But if there’s one thing history has taught us, and the history of human conflict in particular has taught us – and I have studied a number of conflicts:

You can’t bomb an idea.

You can’t destroy an idea using bombs. Some ideas are like cockroaches, surviving even chemical and nuclear war.

Just so you are clear where I stand on this issue, I’m a pacifist, but I do admire and support the work of our armed services and I don’t necessarily dismiss our use of bombs. Years ago, though, I watched on television as President Bush’s ‘Shock and Awe’ mission bombed Iraq, followed closely by his ‘Hearts and Minds’ mission that aimed to convince the Iraqi people that the US/UK forces were the good guys, just there to help. Despite the mission titles, I don’t remember seeing a lot of Awe or Hearts or Minds during that invasion. I’ll admit, I have never been to Iraq, but the reports I saw – well, there was a lot of Shock and disbelief, and explosions and destruction, and money going to corrupt corporations and politicians and anywhere but to the people of Iraq or even into the infrastructure of the country. A lot of people got rich. Very few of them the intended recipients.

Sadly in the Iraq war, any ‘Hearts and Minds’ compassion was notable by its absence, and for years remained absent, it seems to me, all the way up to the day that President Trump signed an executive order that abruptly prevented – among others – an Iraqi intelligence officer, fighting Daesh/IS on our behalf, from bringing his young family into the US and out of imminent danger. The authorities, by direct order of the American President, literally dragged our own intelligence officer off a plane and sent him and his young children back into the danger zone. Why? Because he was Muslim. Trump then tweeted about how effective his anti-immigration policy was, and we the British, in the form of Mrs May being questioned, refused to criticise US policy in this matter.

Leaving our ally and his family stranded and worse, in imminent danger of being killed by Daesh/IS.

According to the media this week, though, there is apparently no causal link between British foreign policy and the terrorist attack on 22nd May 2017. Perhaps they’re right. Because our intentions were good, weren’t they? Isn’t that enough? That we meant well.

But doesn’t it seem sometimes as though we’ve been babysitting using a hammer, and then we wonder why the children we were supposed to be helping don’t trust us and rebel? Bombing campaigns are excellent at hammering in the destructive sense, but if you are trying to build something as complex as trust, bombing civilians seems literally like counter-productive over-kill. I can’t think of anyone who appreciates being bombed, even for a good cause.

In fact, from history we know that you can kill millions of people, send countries back to the stone age, and the idea you are trying to kill remains and often breeds, waiting for its moment to strike again.

So, some nutcase in Daesh/IS invents a scenario that sets a young man on the path to becoming a suicide bomber. But what convinces our young terrorist to do such a thing? I mean, really, would you listen to some old guy telling you to blow yourself up? Would you believe his silly stories about the after-life, and think, great, I want to do that.

Would you kill yourself and dozens of innocent people just because you were told to?

When I think of the suicide bomber in Manchester, and I do so without any compassion – but I have to ask myself, “What on earth was he thinking?” This young man, Salman Abedi, was a British born Muslim, whose parents escaped Libya and settled in Manchester during the reign of Gaddafi. Abedi’s parents returned to Libya after the overthrow of Gaddafi in 2011. Apparently Salman Abedi subsequently let himself be convinced by Daesh/IS nutcases into performing an act of terrorism against his home city, against the people he grew up with in Manchester.

And here at last, in case you were wondering, we reach the connection with British foreign policy. We got rid of President Gaddafi – and I hated Gaddafi and wasn’t unhappy to see him go – but our bombing of Libya was a flawed campaign from the outset.

In 2011, our then Prime Minister David Cameron, despite international criticism and local protests, decided to remove Libya’s ‘unstable’ President Gaddafi by force, using a bombing campaign by British and French forces. (Even President Obama thought it was a bad idea.) Five years later, our own Foreign Affairs Committee denounced Cameron’s actions, declaring Cameron’s intervention in Libya was carried out with no proper intelligence analysis and it failed in its responsibility to help reconstruct the country.

Cameron’s failure resulted in Libya becoming a failed state suffering civil war. More than that, the destabilisation of Libya left a power vacuum in north Africa that was promptly filled with terrorist organisations like Daesh/IS, and abominable human traffickers – the smugglers who send thousands of desperate refugees to their deaths in the Mediterranean every year.

So in 2011, our bomber’s parents returned home to Libya, to discover the result of Britain’s bombing intervention that abandoned the country to the mercy of terrorists and criminals, and – when asked about the situation – Cameron put all the blame on the Libyan people themselves for failing to take up the opportunity of democracy.

So is that a good excuse for a first generation Libyan migrant to massacre people in Manchester?

No, of course not. There is no excusing his actions.

But I would argue that Cameron’s actions in Libya proved to be a very effective recruitment poster for a then 16 year old young man, born of war-torn refugees.

Is this the fault of British foreign policy? Not really. But there is a link: According to our own Foreign Affairs Committee, the British Government had no plan in place to deal with the consequences of the Libya campaign, and that Cameron refused to take alternative, safer actions when they were offered and available to him.

Mr Rossiter in the Plymouth Herald criticises Jeremy Corbyn for his speech about the War on Terror, citing examples from two hundred years of British conflict. However, you don’t have to go back that far, just to the bombing of Libya, to see how the British government has failed to learn from previous mistakes time and time again.

So did Jeremy Corbyn really say that the British are responsible for the deaths of innocent people in Manchester on 22nd May? Let’s have a look at Corbyn’s actual words, which are available online:

Corbyn declared: “Many experts, including professionals in our intelligence and security services have pointed to the connections between wars our government has supported or fought in other countries, such as Libya, and terrorism here at home.”

So in his speech on the War on Terror, Corbyn just told the truth. He did not say we are responsible for the bombing on 22nd May 2017. He repeated the words of the Foreign Affairs Committee, criticising our foreign policy.

In his speech, Corbyn never implies that the lives of Westcountry servicemen and women have been wasted in combat. There I think Mr Rossiter in the Herald goes too far. In fact, Mr Rossiter seems to have failed to notice that Mr Corbyn’s policy is to keep our servicemen and women as safe as possible:

I want to assure you that, under my leadership, you will only be deployed abroad when there is a clear need and only when there is a plan and you have the resources to do your job to secure an outcome that delivers lasting peace.”

Surely this must be welcome news for the servicemen and women and their families in the garrison towns like Plymouth?

I know we’ve got a lot of work to do to counter the Daesh/IS terrorist threat, but to me that sounds like a pretty good place to start.

For Mr Corbyn’s speech in full, click here