Two speeches. Delivered 14 years apart by one British politician, Jeremy Corbyn. Each connected by one word: truth. The shame: the world failed to heed the wisdom of the first speech, and is unlikely to heed the wisdom of the second speech.
On February 15, 2003, before millions who had gathered in Hyde Park, London in solidarity and opposition to the impending invasion of Iraq, Corbyn gave a short, but prescient soliloquy that, in retrospect, stands as his defining moment.
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Though his remarks were brief and made in a plain, largely austere setting, the profundity of what Corbyn had to say that day, like all great speeches, still resonates today.
The import of Corbyn’s statement must be considered in its historical context. Despite the legion of people who stood figuratively and philosophically with the then backbench Labour MP, Corbyn faced a deep and vitriolic thicket of establishment opposition, particularly from Britain’s rancid reactionary press that universally supported then-Prime Minister Tony Blair’s disastrous military misadventure and instinctively libelled the war’s opponents as quislings.
Clearly and bravely undeterred, Corbyn spent five eloquent minutes clinically and persuasively dissecting the spurious motives, aims and rationales offered by criminally obstinate Blair and company to launch a war of choice, not necessity.
But Corbyn’s speech arrived at its moral crescendo when he warned the mesmerised throng, and, by, extension, the rest of us, of the calamitous human and geopolitical consequences the obdurate trans-Atlantic architects of the pestilential Iraq invasion would ultimately cause.
His voice rising in plaintive anger, Corbyn said the war would “set off a spiral of conflict, of hate, of misery, of desperation that will fuel the wars, the conflict, the terrorism, the depression, and the misery of future generations … the way to free us from the scourge of war is to free ourselves from the scourge of injustice, of poverty, and of misery”.
Corbyn, I suspect, takes little satisfaction in knowing that he was right on every count since it is Iraq and its resilient, scarred people that have been perpetually damaged physically, psychologically, geographically and historically by a war without end.
Corbyn was indeed right, yet his once cocky, still unrepentant, army of detractors refuses to accept or even acknowledge they were wrong even after Sir John Chilcot’s exhaustive autopsy of the diabolical events before, during and after the catastrophic invasion proved, unquestionably, that they were not only patently wrong, but blinded by their hubris and stupidity.
But the seminal lessons of Corbyn’s memorable speech have failed, not surprisingly, to register with the powers that be in Washington, DC and Europe’s capitals in the years since.
The scourge of war has accelerated and consumed more countries in the Middle East and North Africa, disfiguring the lives of countless innocents along the wicked way. Meanwhile, the scourge of injustice, poverty and misery has infected the futures of millions more – stateless and adrift, bereft of hope and opportunity.
So, on May 26, in the midst of a fiercely contested election campaign, when, once again, he remains the target of an unrelenting wave of malicious assaults, Corbyn didn’t shirk from the challenge. Instead, the Labour party leader seized it, to talk truthfully about how and why it was necessary to respond differently to the kind of killers who murdered children listening to music in Manchester.
Corbyn’s speech was not only an indictment of the failed “war on terror” and how it has traditionally been waged, but the costly, futile, and equally destructive Western military “interventions” far beyond Iraq’s fractured borders.
In this regard, Corbyn made what many other politicians consider a politically fatal admission: Britain, France and the United States (or their regional proxies) invading and dropping bombs on Afghanistan and other, predominately Arab countries – from Iraq, Syria, Yemen to Libya – year after dreadful year have fuelled, rather than stemmed, the terror visited upon so many, in so many places.
“Many experts, including professionals in our intelligence and security services,” Corbyn said, “have pointed to the connections between wars our government has supported or fought in other countries, such as Libya, and terrorism here at home.”
On cue, the same impenitent nexus of politicians and pundits who once assured each other with implacable certainty that the Iraq invasion would be a quick and smashing strategic success, parroted the familiar exculpatory line that the West’s decades-long killing spree in Kabul, Baghdad, Tripoli, or Raqqa, has played no role in triggering terrorism and any suggestion that it has was dismissed as “twisted reasoning”.
This specious delusion didn’t dissuade Corbyn from pointing a blunt, accusatory finger at the usual gaggle of pundits, presidents and prime ministers who continue to insist that more troops, invasions and bombs are the requisite answer to terror.
“The blame is with the terrorists, but if we are to protect our people we must be honest about what threatens our security,” Corbyn said, “but an informed understanding of the causes of terrorism is an essential part of an effective response that will protect the security of our people, that fights rather than fuels terrorism.”
Corbyn’s prescription was as clear as it was enlightened and echoed what he said in 2003: the old, discredited way of doing things is not only not working, but it’s feeding the interminable cycle of reciprocal violence that has caused incalculable pain, hardship and suffering, chiefly among Muslims and Arabs.
Corbyn vowed, in the event he becomes prime minister – and if recent opinion polls are an accurate measure, he may prevail – to “change what we do abroad”.
The implicit meaning of Corbyn’s pledge was to stop the ceaseless killing, by ceasing the “bombing sorties” and “regime changes”.
He is, of course, right. Whether Corbyn gets a chance finally to translate his speeches into action will depend upon whether enough of his countrymen are convinced on June 8 that he’s right.
Andrew Mitrovica is an award-winning investigative reporter and journalism instructor.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial policy.