Tories have forgotten that Thatcher wasn't just a terrorist sympathiser, but close friends with one

Jeremy Corbyn on the other hand has never wielded the levers of power in government, and has never done more than put forward ideas

Simon Gardner
Tuesday 22 September 2015 16:48
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Margaret Thatcher with Chilean dictator, General Augusto Pinochet
Margaret Thatcher with Chilean dictator, General Augusto Pinochet

It's not surprising to see the right-wing Government and press try to assassinate Jeremy Corbyn's character. So far they've linked him with the IRA, Hamas and Hezbollah. In their eyes, the Labour leader is a terrorist sympathiser.

The problem with this narrative, as with almost all narratives that invoke the spectre of terrorism, is that they rely on a decidedly one-sided view of the world. In their minds, life comprises two neatly opposed groups: those who support terror and those who oppose it.

The charges against Corbyn, regardless of their merit, cannot exist in a political vacuum of good versus evil though. Some conservatives would be wise to look closer to home before casting the first stone.

Whatever his views, Corbyn has never wielded the levers of power in government, and has never done more than put forward ideas. Yet if we look to the icon of conservative politics and "keeping Britain safe", we have someone with a well-documented history of being a terrorist sympathiser. During her time as Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher openly called a terrorist a "true friend", invited a terrorist into her home for tea, and personally lobbied against a terrorist's prosecution for war crimes.

Thatcher's support for Chile's former torturer-in-chief General Pinochet is no secret; it was something she was proud of. Despite her assertion that “The United States and Britain have together been the greatest alliance in defence of liberty and justice,” Thatcher refused to back down in her support of a man who overthrew a democratically elected government. This was a man who initiated the notorious Caravan of Death, the army unit that travelled the country by helicopter, murdering and torturing the General's opponents.

Pinochet's rule was inhumane and brutal, but was it terrorism? In the words of a soldier in Chile's Talca Regiment at the time of the abuses: "It seems to me that one of the reasons for the [Caravan of Death] mission was to set a drastic precedent in order to terrorise the presumed willingness of the Chilean people to fight back. But without any doubt, it was also intended to instill fear and terror among the commanders. To prevent any military personnel, down to lowest ranking officers, from taking a false step: this could happen to you!"

The shameful whitewashing of the regime by Thatcher's government only increased when Pinochet was arrested on war crimes charges in London in 1998. Robin Harris, a former member of Thatcher's Policy Unit, claimed in 2006 that she had nothing to be ashamed of. In a comment piece for The Telegraph, he wrote that “the legal case against him was weak and the motivation of those involved suspect” and “the loss of life, most of which occurred in the first months when a civil war raged, was less than in other similar situations”. He also pointed out that “other statistics of Pinochet's record are worth mentioning. Inflation [went] down from 600 per cent to 6 per cent [...] living standards more than doubled”.

Well he might have brutally tortured and murdered thousands of people, but he had a great grip on economics! It could almost be a mantra for much of the political discourse of the 20th century.

During her time in office, Thatcher also viewed Nelson Mandela's ANC as a terrorist organisation, but not the state that was engaging in a brutal system of institutional terrorism. And let's not forget that at a time when Corbyn was protesting in the streets over South African apartheid, a young David Cameron was on a “jolly” in South Africa, at the behest of an organisation dedicated to lifting sanctions in the country.

So if Corbyn really is a “terrorist sympathiser” then he's not alone. But the problem with attacking Corbyn, Thatcher or anyone else along these lines is that we lose any real context for their actions. As long as we use “terrorist” as a political football, we're missing the point. It's not a case of right versus left, or even good versus evil. Thatcher did what she thought she had to do, and so did Corbyn. We should be doing is analysing the success of their decisions, and what their actions helped achieve. The word “terrorist” blinds us to anything meaningful conclusions, and suffocates any rational debate.

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