How to counter those who say “9/11 happened before Iraq!” to dismiss UK foreign policy as an explanation for terrorism

How to counter those who say “9/11 happened before Iraq!” to dismiss UK foreign policy as an explanation for terrorism
by Ian Sinclair
3 July 2015

The first question on BBC Question Time last night was about the recent terrorist atrocity in Tunisia. There was a long discussion involving all the panellists, but here are the key quotes:

Jeremy Corbyn MP, Labour leadership candidate: “You’ve got to think through the policies we’ve been following for the past 15 years in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya. Are they not a contributory factor in the collapse of so much all across the whole region?”

Presenter David Dimbleby then asked Corbyn what he would do about the threat from terrorist groups such as Islamic State.

Jeremy Corbyn: “You recognise that we’ve made some catastrophic mistakes in the bombing that we’ve done in so many other places, and that we’ve encouraged the growth of some of these groups – not intentionally but they’ve been a factor within that. And you develop a foreign policy that supports people and tries to attract them away from the purposes of ISIL.”

Jeremy Hunt MP, Health Secretary: “I have great respect for the integrity that Jeremy – the other Jeremy [Corbyn] – expresses his views, but I disagree with him that this is about foreign policy. 9/11 happened before Iraq, before Afghanistan. Foreign policy is an excuse.”

Jeremy Hunt is, of course, right that “9/11 happened before Iraq, before Afghanistan.” However, by making this argument Hunt is either incredibly ignorant or being incredibly disingenuous.

Western foreign policy and Western intervention in the Middle East didn’t begin on the morning of 11 September 2001. 9/11 didn’t happen in a social, historical and political vacuum. Al-Qaeda and the 19 hijackers didn’t randomly choose the World Trade Center and Pentagon out of all the famous landmarks across the globe. They targeted these symbols of US power for very specific reasons.

Speaking to me about Al-Qaeda in 2011, Michael Scheuer, the head of the CIA unit tracking Osama bin Laden from 1996-1999, explained that not since Vietnamese leader Ho Chi Minh has the US had an enemy who has been so frank about their motivation for fighting. For Scheuer Islamic terrorist attacks on the US have nothing “to do with our freedom, liberty and democracy, but everything to do with US policies and actions in the Muslim world.”

So what reasons did Al-Qaeda give for targeting the United States in 2001? In public statements made in 1996, 1998 and 2002 Al-Qaeda repeat a number of grievances:

  • The US military presence in Saudi Arabia
  • US support for dictatorships in the Middle East
  • US support for the Israeli occupation of Palestine
  • The effects of the US-led United Nations sanctions on Iraq

So, very obviously, the 9/11 terrorist attacks were a direct response to US foreign policy in the Middle East. A foreign policy, it’s important to remember, that was strongly supported by the UK. Those people, such as Hunt, who dismiss attempts to look at Western foreign policy as a reason for why the US and UK are being targeted, thus shutting down debate on the topic, are likely helping to make future terrorist attacks on the US and UK more, not less, likely.


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