A Londoner's reaction to the terrorist bombings that took place in the capital this week, and how we might prevent this happening in the future.
LAST THURSDAY, we witnessed here in London a series of brutal bombings that left over 50 people dead and more than 700 injured, many maimed for life. The terrorists planned the attack at rush-hour to maximize injury, and chose to coincide it with the opening of the G8 summit in Scotland.
In the aftermath of this tragedy, I received many concerned emails, phone messages and texts from friends around the world checking to see if I was okay. The truth is that I probably had more chance getting hit by a car in this massive city than being hurt by this disaster, but I still thank God that I was not close enough at the time to have been caught up in the carnage. And, of course, I certainly appreciated the caring thoughts of my friends.
What I did not appreciate, however, were messages that expressed blind anger at those responsible for this terrible crime: the messages of "together we can defeat terrorism" and "they will not defeat us". For me, this sort of sentiment, which came incidentally primarily from American friends and acquaintances, only serves to obscure the reasons why such a crime took place, and therefore actually increases the likelihood of future reoccurrences. Of course, anger and outrage are justified and understandable at times such as these — for a while — but not blind anger that misunderstands the whole issue.
There is now a massive forensic examination afoot: men in plastic overalls are combing the debris for bomb fragments, while officers are analysing hours of CCTV footage. The perpetrators will be found — God willing — and brought to justice for their terrible act. But while we are being so careful to analyse the scenes of disaster for clues, that dissecting care does not seem to extend to asking why such an attack happened in the first place. Instead, many seem to unthinkingly accept Blair's synopsis of the terrorists as men and woman who attack us entirely because their extremist Islamic religious beliefs cause them to hate our values and our beliefs. In other words, they are unprovoked bogeymen out to destroy us and our culture at all costs. As Bush said in a speech shortly after 9/11, "They hate… a democratically elected government. Their leaders are self-appointed. They hate our freedoms — our freedom of religion, our freedom of speech, our freedom to vote and assemble and disagree with each other."
But what if Bush and Blair were wrong; what if they have told us a lie about terrorists. (It wouldn't after all be the first time they have lied to us.) What if the "terrorists" are just ordinary sane human beings, like you and me, but human beings that have chosen to commit terrible crimes? If we afford them this status, then we also have to afford them a human motive for their actions, rather then the rather racist position of blaming their behaviour on "unconscious" Islamism and Arab culture. By taking this stance, we have a real chance to understand, perhaps, why they did what they did in London last Thursday.
So why would a group of human beings choose to kill innocent people? Why would they choose such "soft" targets? Obviously, it must have had something directly to do with the UK, and the timing of the attack at the start of the G8 summit in Scotland meant that the eyes of the world would be watching. Is it really likely that the attack was aimed at the G8 summit as Blair strongly intimated in his speech after the attack? Do "they" (presumably the Al-Qaeda although that is not yet certain) really believe that a few 10lb bombs will destroy the values and freedoms that supposedly they hate so much, and derail G8 resolve?
Or is it likely that Britain's complicity in the slaughter of Iraq, in which over 100,000 innocent men, women and children — just as innocent as those killed in London this week — were violently murdered, was the reason for these terrorist human beings to choose such inhuman behaviour. Remember, in London the 50 killed represented the tip of the iceberg of 700 injured, many maimed for life. So what does that 100,000 civilian death toll represent in terms of suffering in Iraq? It is nothing less than one of the greatest crimes in recent history. And Britain has played a central role in that crime (and others in that troubled region of the world), a crime that was committed on the basis of deliberately distorted intelligence (as evidenced by the Downing Street memo).
You don't have to be a political analyst to determine which scenario is more likely: whether the attack on London this week was motivated by terrorists' dislike of G8 and our values, or by their hatred for those who have so wantonly slaughtered and maimed their own kind, and now occupy their countries. It can only be the latter. And so it is an insult to our intelligence that Blair should try to distance what happened on Thursday from Britain 's crimes in Iraq (and Afghanistan). It is an insult to our intelligence that Ken Livingstone, London 's mayor and usually a critic of Bush and the war on Iraq, should publicly state that he did not think that Iraq had anything to do with this atrocity. And it is farcical that the Queen should be express outrage at the murder of 50 of her subjects when she didn't raise a peep of objection to the equally violent murder of over 100,000 men, women and children in the hot desert sands. The hypocrisy here in the UK is so thick that you could cut it with a knife.
In her speech, the Queen also implied something rather disturbing. She said: "Atrocities such as these simply reinforce our sense of community, our humanity and our trust in the rule of law." Why should an atrocity increase our trust in the rule of law? Because in our collective fear we might be willing to trade liberty for security, and so give those who would protect us greater power and control over us. Ride this herd-mentality during a crisis and you have the opportunity to introduce abominations to freedom such as the US Patriot Act — passed no less in the Land of the Free!
And this is now the danger in this country. Blair, the Father of Spin, now has the perfect opportunity to increase the state control that he is seems so addicted to. Here is his cue to present even more lies, to muffle even more free speech, and to ignore even more public opinion. All in the name of "fighting terrorism". But fortunately, liberty is taken a little more seriously here than the United States, and so it is unlikely that anything as draconian as the Patriot Act could ever raise its ugly head this side of the Atlantic. But Blair is a leader who takes every opportunity to erode liberty, and this will be no exception.
So we try to understand these terrorist acts, not out of context as the mass media continually try to program us to do, but firmly in the context of our disastrous medalling and occupation in the Middle East over the past decade and more. We realize that our foreign policy has made millions of people around the world, and many in this country too, so incensed with rage that they are willing to support attacks on soft civilian targets, just as our government has supported such attacks on a much grander scale in the Middle East. This is our karma, the blowback from Blair's vicious foreign policy that has seen him pulling this country into a war that few wanted, and one against which a million or more of us demonstrated against here in London back in Feb 2003, but to no avail (such is the state of British democracy).
If we allow the Blair's, the Bush's, the Livingstone's and Windsor's of this world to present terrorism as an unprovoked attack on our culture, freedoms and values by inherently evil men and women, then we betray future victims of terrorism because, with no understanding, we only serve to perpetuate the cycle of violence and retribution that destroys ever more lives, both physically and mentally. Terrorism out of context can and is used as a pretext by those who wish to control us to take away our precious liberty and silence our national conscience. Let us never forget that in this atrocity, we are ultimately the guilty ones. We invaded Iraq, continue to occupy it; we have ran a murderous Middle East foreign policy that only serves the narrow power interests of the US Republican party, a sycophantic Tony Blair, and Islamic extremist recruiters eager to exploit hatred for the West to start the Jihad they so enthusiastically live and die for.
Even 9/11 had a context; it was not unprovoked. The "a-rabs" struck the World Trade Centre because it was a symbol of US dominance in the region — their region — especially in Saudi Arabia where the ruling families have allowed the permanent presence of US military bases and soldiers to help them maintain a brutal grip on the people they parasite off. This has caused huge amounts of hatred in the region, not least of all because Saudi Arabia is the home of Mecca — the holiest shrine in Islam — and so the presence and control of the Western "infidels" is understandably seen as an outrage by more conservative elements. The Saudi Arabian, Osama bin Laden, is not a terrorist from their context; he is a freedom fighter. This of course does not condone his murderous actions but it does allow some understanding of why he seems so hell-bent on attacking Western interests. (And never forget that 14 of the 19 9/11 hijackers were Saudi, and 3 were from the United Arab Emirates — two "US-friendly" Middle Eastern countries whose governments allow the permanent presence of US military bases, much to the consternation of their people. And no, not a single hijacker was from Iraq nor had anything to do with Iraq.)
Like millions of other people in this country, I have never voted for Tony Blair in any election because he is a deceitful man — it is written all over his face and in every speech he makes. And like millions of others around the world, I vocally opposed the war on Iraq and have taken part in a several anti-war marches and rallies over the past few years. But that does not alter the fact that I am British and that the terrible war-crimes that have been perpetrated in the Middle East over the past decade are crimes that were done in my name, and that of every other citizen in Britain, America and all other countries involved in the Eastern bloodlust. This is deeply shameful for anyone who is not hiding behind a wall of sabre-rattling patriotism, which seems especially endemic in the United States.
Patriotism and empire building go hand in hand, for the former hides the atrocities of the latter. In this way, empires expand without being checked by a guilty national conscience. And the more guilt that needs to be denied, the greater the jingoistic call, until the barbarity of war morphs into television entertainment shows, which happened in America and to a lesser extent in the United Kingdom. And the more we desperately cling to our jingoism, the more we deaden our feelings to all human suffering; we rot inside as our national flags flap proudly in the breeze.
Take away the patriotism and we are left with nations of people ashamed for the actions of the governments they elected. But feel that shame we must: it is a prerequisite to regaining the humanity that we have lost over the past few years in our governments' incessant propaganda campaigns. For what has been done in each of our names is an abomination; there is no justification for it, period. And only when we have collectively felt that shame (which can be difficult nationally) can we start to revive our individual and national spirit that has been suffocated under layers of disinformation and national pride. And then, once again, we can emerge as full and feeling human beings.
So when I hear our "leaders" rallying us to "stand together against terrorism" and to "defy the terrorists", I cringe. I cringe because I know that that this is the very stance that blocks our humanity and perpetuates the cycles of violence. Such sentiments seem to be in our interest because they are very patriotic and firm in times of trouble, but they are in fact peddled by governments with the ulterior motive to erode the liberty of the people (thus consolidating their power) and to maintain levels of blind jingoism necessary to continue the very empire building that is causing so much backlash from the Middle East.
So in times of crisis like this, let us not herd together under a flag — us against them — as we are being encouraged to do; let us instead open up to our humanity and take steps to eliminate our governments' terrorism in the Middle East and elsewhere, which is on an incomparably vaster scale than that which happened in London this week. We all knew the atrocities our governments committed and continue to commit in Iraq and other countries, atrocities based on open lies, and yet the majority of voters in the US and the UK have been perfectly happy to re-elect these criminals. This is immoral, and this opens us up to be targets of terrorism because the people, by their vote, appear to be giving their sanction to Western war crimes.
Tony Blair loves to appear moral to the British people, just as Bush appeals to the moral Christian vote in the US. It is ironic, therefore, that both leaders have such amoral foreign (and domestic) policies. If we want to send a message to the terrorists that we will not tolerate violence, then we must get rid of these terrorising leaders. That would be a good start in the long and difficult reconciliatory process that lies ahead of us, one that also involves an evacuation of Iraq and Afghanistan and the rebuilding of these countries. This is truly standing up for peace, and until we take these steps, we are also terrorists — sanctioning our governments to bomb, maim and torture in our name. Most of us have been hiding our heads in the sand and avoiding the deeper political questions because we feel uncomfortable about what our nations have done and continue to do to other nations. The terrible tragedy that struck London this week is a reminder that this is not an option.
Copyright © 2005 Jenny Marsh