I was on a train to London when we received the news that London buses and tube stations full of morning commuters were the targets of terrorist attacks. Traveling with a train full of British antiwar activists from the G8 protests in Scotland, people all around me immediately began making calls to friends and loved ones in London. Many of us had been planning to attend a political conference whose opening plenary was taking place that evening in the same square as one of the bus bombings. All of us were sickened by the despair and carnage already indicated from BBC reports and messages from friends in London. Through some quirks, as much public transport had been cancelled, our train was allowed into a now heavily-policed station in London, Euston Street. My best friend is one of the most well-recognized anti-capitalist organizers in the country, certainly within London. He, two other friends and I found ourselves being followed by two officers as we trudged through the London rain to an open tube station across the city. Quickly the two officers on foot were replaced by a van-load of police, which eventually gave up its chase.
This inane use of resources targeting a small group of bedraggled peace activists made me think of the intensified spying and clamp-downs on peace activists in the United States after 9-11. We were all worrying about the potential support for a universal i.d. card being proposed in Britain akin to the i.d. card which recently became law in the United States: an anti-immigrant maneuver by the state which will further endanger the civil liberties of people.
We also thought about the thousands of Metropolitan London police who were shipped to Scotland to protect Bush and Co. in Gleneagles, when the real threat was obviously back at home.
Most importantly, however, was the concern that there were not racist attacks against the Muslim communities in Britain.
In the ensuing days, mosques were set on fire, and individuals were being thrown off buses. However, the inclusive climate of solidarity created by the mass, multi-racial antiwar movement during the past two years helped to dispel much anti-Muslim sentiment. After marching side by side in demonstrations of millions of people against the war, a lot of ignorance and isolation naturally washed away between Muslims and non-Muslims.
In contrast, by refusing to acknowledge the consequences of the British government’s role in the Middle East wars, and by suddenly forgetting the anti-Muslim rhetoric he helped propagate in order to build public support for those wars, Tony Blair is creating the circumstances where Muslims in Britain are scapegoated and the root political causes of the suicide bombing remain unchecked.
As a British newspaper has editorialized, by casting the four ordinary young men driven to blow themselves up as barbarians clashing with “our civilization,” while denouncing anyone who attempts to give a political explanation for the violence, the Blair administration forces the blame to fall on all followers of a particular religion, this time the religion of Islam. For the architects of the disastrous “war on terror” there is no need to explain why bombs go off in London and Baghdad.
While the Blair government has insultingly tried to paint the four young men from Yorkshire as living in “self segregating” communities, that intentional ignorance is covering up some fundamental evidence and analysis. These men, like the rest of the world, have seen the pictures from Abu Ghraib. They have heard about the crimes in Guantanamo Bay, Belmarsh, and the secret torture cells the United States and its allies have established. They have seen the images of some of the 100,000 Iraqis killed by the invasion and occupation. They have watched Bush grinning inanely as he declared “mission accomplished,” preening around in his unearned flight jacket. They have seen how the majority of people around the world particularly outstanding in Britain’s massive antiwar rallies opposed the war on Iraq, how that was not reflected by our elected representatives on either side of the pond, and how Bush’s and Blair’s governments lied, connived, and bought their way into an illegal war two years ago.
Digging only slightly deeper, we would discover, too, how these men were school students themselves during the 1991 Gulf War. They would have grown up during those same years when half a million Iraqi children were killed because of Western sanctions under Bill Clinton, whose Secretary of State, Madeline Albright, deemed the loss of their lives “worth the price.”
These men may have learned about the decades of injustice in the Middle East, the repeated imperialist interventions, the robbery of the region’s oil wealth, the Western support for corrupt leaders all of which produced the swamp of bitterness that Osama bin Laden tapped, leading to 9/11.
They will have seen some of the daily images of dead, wounded and humiliated Palestinians. They will have heard British government ministers pledge support for Ariel Sharon’s Israel. And they will have seethed at the double standards.
In their own country, they will have witnessed the anti-Muslim backlash after 9/11, as we see here today in the United States. They will have seen the record rise in the number of Muslims harassed by the police. They will have heard a government minister tell them that Muslims must get used to being stopped and searched. They will have heard mainstream politicians pandering to the fascist political party, the BNP. Then they will have heard the government and the authorities harangue Muslims for “not doing enough to integrate.”
Salma Yaqoob, a leading British Muslim antiwar activist, observes the larger implications of the memories and experiences of the people of the Middle East. Yaqoob notes how Middle Easterners will remember that in return for non-interference in the Balkans, the Russian government under Yelstin and then Putin was allowed free reign to wage its war of terror on the people of Chechnya, levelling Grozny and killing 100,000 Chechens.
“They remember the 700,000 Palestinians ethnically cleansed in 1948, scattered to the four corners of the earth, left in rot in refugee camps, subjected to Israeli state-sponsored terrorism that receives ever larger military and economic aid packages from the US.
“They will have watched with tired cynicism the recent proclamations of current U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice that “democracy is on the march,” when in fact what is really on the march is the relentless expansion of US control of their lands and resources.”
Saudi Arabia, Iraq, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Bahrain, Oman and Qatar all have U.S. military bases. And all are governed by dictatorial U.S. puppet regimes.
Arabs live in lands cursed by the wealth of oil. Beneath their feet are natural resources that could help rid their lands of poverty and underdevelopment. Yet they are denied access to that wealth. Instead Western oil companies, backed by Western armies, in collusion with rich Arab elites, act as one to deny them what is naturally theirs.
So, like the rest of us, the four young men from Yorkshire will have raged about the almost unimaginable injustices. But they will also have despaired. And with great misfortune and horror, we know that they succumbed, like other desperate young people on every continent at different times over the last 150 years, to the disastrous fantasy that they could rid the world of violence by hurling back a portion of it in some act aimed at innocent people.
The last time suicide bombers attacked London was during the height of the conflict with Northern Ireland. When people in the Catholic ghettoes of Northern Ireland found their cries for justice ignored and violently repressed in the 1960s, some turned to terrorism. The repression of ordinary Catholics served merely to prolong the bloodshed for 30 years until there was finally some attempt to address the political causes of the conflict.
Political Causes of Terror
Leading antiwar campaigner Tariq Ali explains that unless you give people a political explanation for what has happened, the only other explanation is a civilizational one, to which Blair and his government have been desperately clinging.
Ali asks, “We have to be very clear. If the killing of innocent civilians in London is barbaric, and it is, how do you define the killing of over 100,000 Iraqi civilians?
“In the dominant culture of the West there is a deep-seated belief that the lives of Western civilians are somehow worth more than those living in other parts of the world especially those parts being bombed and occupied by the West.”
Thus, although Tony Blair repeatedly insists that the bombings perpetrated against the people of London had nothing to do with his government’s foreign policy, this delinkaging is not shared by our C.I.A. John Pilger reported, “Three weeks ago, a classified CIA report revealed that the Anglo-American invasion of Iraq had turned that country into a focal point of terrorism.
“None of the intelligence agencies regarded Iraq as such a flashpoint before the invasion, however tyrannical the regime. On the contrary, in 2003 the CIA reported that Iraq ‘exported no terrorist threat to his neighbours’ and that Saddam Hussein was ‘implacably hostile to Al Qaida’.”
While Blair argues, in a manner chillingly reminiscent of Bush after 9-11, that “we” are dealing with religious fanatics who are inspired purely by hate of “our” way of life; they both neglect the fact that over 100,000 people have lost their lives in Iraq and over 20,000 in Afghanistan as a consequence of George Bush and Tony Blair unleashing their war AGAINST terror. Apparently this deserves no closer thought, and is ignored as an indicator as to why people Muslims, we assume are planting bombs in the streets.
As Salma Yaqoob observes, diagnosing the problem as simply one of religious fanaticism and consequent prescription of a simplistic “war on terror” is not only wrong, but counterproductive. This refusal to acknowledge the linkages actually adds to the real cause of the disease of terrorism injustice and double standards.
Yaqoob writes, “What we are seeing is political violence, not religious violence. That violence has its roots in a seething anger, built up over decades, at the manner in which U.S. and British foreign policy in the region has helped further cement the structures of oppression and exploitation.
“The demands even of people like Osama bin Laden are concrete things like removal of US bases from Saudi Arabia and the withdrawal of Western troops from Muslim countries."
Instead, the repressive measures the British government has introduced, like the Patriot Act in this country, will also bring further grievances, further bitterness that feeds a terrorist reaction.
The bombings occurred, according to Tariq Ali, “without any doubt because Tony Blair decided to lock himself in a coital embrace with the U.S. president, from which he could not be easily dislodged. He decided to take a skeptical public into a war it did not support.”
Every day that British troops stay in Iraq, the more that the people of Britain are taken to be implicated in a murderous occupation. By associating Britain with the U.S. puppet regime in Iraq, whose police locked ten men in a truck to boil to death last week, Blair increases the threat to everyone who lives there.
There must be a dramatic reverse in policy, in Britain, the United States, and abroad. Pulling the troops out of Iraq will begin to drain the swamp of bitterness that nurtures terrorism. The threat of terrorism will not end overnight, but it is the absolute necessary first step. The majority of people in the United States have turned against the Bush war Britons must intensify the pressure on their government to break from him as well.
July 23, 2005