Boris Johnson has been heavily criticised for claiming that linking Britain’s foreign interventions to rising Islamist extremism “plays into the jihadi narrative”.
In a speech entitled “The struggle against Islamist terror: How global Britain is helping to win”, the Foreign Secretary will point at countries that have been affected by attacks but not gone to war in the Middle East.
“To assert, as people often do, that the terrorism we see on the streets of Britain and America is some kind of punishment for adventurism and folly in the Middle East is to ignore that these so-called punishments are visited on peoples – Swedes, Belgians, Finns or the Japanese hostages murdered by Daesh – with no such history in the region,” he will tell diplomats and academics gathered at the Foreign Office in London later today.
Critics pointed out that Mr Johnson himself previously claimed the Iraq war was driving extremism – a position frequently taken by Jeremy Corbyn.
Mr Johnson will argue that repressive states breed terrorism, rather than Western foreign policy, as the world faces jihadism with the “addictive power of crack cocaine”.
The speech aims to reassure European allies and global partners that the UK stands “shoulder to shoulder” with them in the fight against Islamist terror, amid ongoing uncertainty surrounding security cooperation after Brexit.
It came as senior security officials warned that the threat of further terror attacks in Britain is continuing to increase as Isis loses territory in Syria and Iraq, with nine plots foiled so far this year.
Chris Nineham, vice chair of the Stop the War Coalition, said Mr Johnson’s speech “ignores all the available facts” and cited the former head of MI5’s assertion that the invasion of Iraq substantially increased the terror threat in Britain.
Mr Nineham blamed British interventions for causing untold destruction and generating a series of failed states. “Each of the countries Britain has attacked is still at war,” he told The Independent. “While the Foreign Secretary has clearly failed to learn anything from the last 16 years of carnage, the majority of ordinary people in Britain want to see an end to our foreign wars.”
Baroness Manningham-Buller, a former director-general of MI5, told a public inquiry in 2010: “Our involvement in Iraq, for want of a better word, radicalised a whole generation of young people, some of them British citizens who saw our involvement in Iraq, on top of our involvement in Afghanistan, as being an attack on Islam.”
Critics have pointed out that Mr Johnson himself drew a link between foreign intervention in extremism in a Spectator article after the 7/7 attacks in London.
“The Iraq war did not create the problem of murderous Islamic fundamentalists, though the war has unquestionably sharpened the resentments felt by such people in this country, and given them a new pretext,” he wrote at the time.
“The Iraq war did not introduce the poison into our bloodstream but, yes, the war did help to potentiate that poison.
“And whatever the defenders of the war may say, it has not solved the problem of Islamic terror, or even come close to providing the beginnings of a solution.
“You can’t claim to be draining the swamp in the Middle East when the mosquitoes are breeding quite happily in Yorkshire.”
Analysts, campaigners and politicians have all drawn a link between British interventions – including Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya – and the strengthening of jihadi groups.
The UK has been accused of allowing violence and extremism to flourish by destabilising nations – with Isis itself formed during the Iraq war and spreading in subsequent conflicts – as well as fuelling hostile ideologies that exploit civilian casualties.
Terrorist groups frequently use images of alleged massacres by the US-led coalition in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan in propaganda aiming to incite anger and support their narrative of “defensive jihad”.
Isis has frequently called for “retaliation” against the West and claims for several terror attacks – including those in the UK – have claimed they were a response to calls to “target citizens of Coalition countries”.
But the group has also claimed that stopping foreign intervention would not prevent its atrocities, with a propaganda article from 2016 claiming it was only a “secondary” motive.
“The fact is, even if you were to stop bombing us, imprisoning us, torturing us, vilifying us, and usurping our lands, we would continue to hate you,” Isis said in its official English magazine.
A former Isis fighter interviewed by The Independent is among those claiming that the perceived need to “protect the Sunni Muslims” was one of the factors drawing him to the group.
Harry Sarfo, who has been jailed, claimed the US-led bombing campaign would aid Isis recruitment, adding: “For every bomb, there will be someone to bring terror to the West.”
The debate re-ignited in the wake of the Manchester attack in May, when Mr Corbyn said the War on Terror was “simply not working”.
The Labour leader said the “responsibility of government is to minimise” the chance of attacks by giving police the resources they need and to ensure “foreign policy reduces rather than increases the threat to this country”.
An exclusive ORB survey for The Independent found 75 per cent of British people believe interventions in Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya have made atrocities on UK soil more likely.
But Mr Johnson will insist that British foreign policy “is not part of the problem” but “part of the solution” to terrorism.
“Above all we will win when we understand that ‘we’ means not just us in the West but the hundreds of millions of Muslims around the world who share the same hopes and dreams, who have the same anxieties and goals for their families, who are equally engaged with the world and all its excitements and possibilities, who are equally determined to beat this plague,” he will say.
The Foreign Secretary is to stress the need for more engagement with Muslim-majority countries, to foster a stronger sense of national identity over sectarianism, women’s empowerment and reform.
He will praise British forces active in current conflict zones for “putting their lives at risk to roll up terrorist networks” and help bring them to justice, adding: “They are making good on what the Prime Minister has rightly called the Unconditional Commitment of the British people to the security of our European friends – not just in this continent but beyond.”