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The London Blasts


The London Blasts: Media Review

DAY ONE: 8 July 2005

The atrocities in London have shocked the world, and the world demands answers. Unfortunately, the answers being given in the British media are often highly misleading. (A brief analysis is here.)

1) Why? The Myths

2) Why? The Reality

3) Bin Laden in his own words

4) London: The Claim of Responsibility

5) The Link to Iraq






There is a standard explanation of why these attacks are carried out. The perpetrators, assumed (almost certainly correctly) to be part of the al Qaeda networks, have no political objective, and simply wish to attack the West, because they hate Western freedom and democracy and civilization.



Thus columnist Mick Hume writes in The Times that we are now faced with 'a new brand of terrorism':


'The IRA never attempted to blow up the Underground without warning at the height of the rush hour. Its bombing campaigns, though ruthless, were seen as a means to a political end, and usually targeted accordingly. But the new school of bombers have no political end worthy of the name. Their terrorism is an end in itself, their only aim to strike fear into our hearts.'


In the Daily Telegraph, Home Affairs Editor Philip Johnston describes 'the new-style terrorists' in similar terms: 'Beyond the extension of the "struggle" worldwide, they have no obvious political aims that anyone can begin to address.'


Such analyses are simply factually wrong. There are political aims behind al Qaeda atrocities, as we shall see below, however bizarre the logic might be. Denying that these political aims exist locks us into a never-ending cycle of confrontation that promises only more atrocities and more suffering.


Middle East expert Amir Taheri puts forward a more sophisticated, but rather problematic, version of the 'no aims' analysis in The Times, under the headline 'And this is why they did it'. He puts forward three contradictory perspectives, one after the other:


a) 'sorry, old chaps, you are dealing with an enemy that does not want anything specific, and cannot be talked back into reason through anger management or round-table discussions.'


b) 'Or, rather, this enemy does want something specific: to take full control of your lives, dictate every single move you make round the clock and, if you dare resist, he will feel it his divine duty to kill you... to convert humanity to Islam...'


This is followed by the third position that 'the Islamists' have some specific objectives short of converting humanity to Islam:


c) 'It is, of course, possible, as many in the West love to do, to ignore the strategic goal of the Islamists altogether and focus only on their tactical goals. These goals are well known and include driving the “Cross-worshippers” (Christian powers) out of the Muslim world, wiping Israel off the map of the Middle East, and replacing the governments of all Muslim countries with truly Islamic regimes like the one created by Ayatollah Khomeini in Iran and by the Taleban in Afghanistan.'


All of this amounts to a mangled and misleading way of saying that in fact bin Laden and the networks that he inspires do have specific foreign policy goals, and that these almost certainly lie behind the bombings in London.


In the Financial Times, columnist Philip Stevens gives a similarly contradictory analysis:


On the one hand, 'The brutal and, in western terms, fascist ambitions of the extreme jihadists stretch way beyond reasoned argument or political accommodation. Their ideology is indifferent to justice for the Palestinians, to peace in Chechnya, freedom and self-determination for Iraqis or self-government in Afghanistan. Force is an insufficient response to these people but it is probably the only one.'


On the other hand, 'The role of politics is to starve them of recruits, to deprive them of the oxygen provided by a widespread perception of injustice and oppression in the Islamist world. If a settlement, say, between Israel and the Palestinians would not deter the present generation of terrorists, it might well set their sons and daughters on a different path.'


So, according to Stevens, the 'jihadists' of today are irredeemable and unstoppable, but greater justice in the world can dry up the recruiting pool of the future.


He continues: 'What this demands of governments is the resolve to confront the complex, seemingly intractable challenges that most of the time it is more convenient to ignore. It requires nation-building, mediation, conflict resolution, sustained aid flows, political courage and a willingness, sometimes, to compromise. It means sacrificing what may seem like today’s strategic and commercial interests to tomorrow’s imperatives – the spread of freedom and democracy among them.'


In other words, 'counter terror: build justice'.



On the same page of the FT as Philip Stevens, Andrew Dorman puts the matter pithily: 'Al-Qaeda and its like are a reflection of perceived and real injustices around the world.'


How can we stop these outrages? Dorman writes that, 'Ultimately these groups will only be defeated if they are separated from the populations from which they draw recruits and support,' and this requires among other things that Britain helps 'to resolve disputes such as the Israel-Palestine conflict and seeking to tackle the inequalities that the Make Poverty History campaign has been seeking to address.'




The Guardian editorial speaks of the need to try 'to understand why people are drawn to commit such infamous and evil deeds, not merely tightening security to prevent them from happening again.'


The Guardian also calls for 'a recognition of the need to drain what can be drained from the reservoir of grievances from which the terrorists draw strength.' But like Robin Cook on the facing page, the editors fail to identify the foreign policy roots of al Qaeda's campaign, the specific grievances that drive men and women to carry out brutal assaults on ordinary civilians in British streets.


The man who led the CIA's bin Laden unit from 1996 to 1999, Michael Scheuer (who retired from the CIA in November 2004), says plainly that people like Mick Hume, who suggest that al Qaeda has no political objectives, are wrong.


Scheuer contests the view put forward by George W. Bush and Tony Blair: ‘We in the United States and the West make a mistake when we argue, as has [New York Times columnist] Thomas L. Friedman, that bin Laden’s attacks are “not aimed at reversing any specific U.S. foreign policy,” or, as Steve Simon and Daniel Benjamin did in Survival in early 2002, that bin Laden has “no discrete set of negotiatiable political demands”.’ (Through Our Enemies’ Eyes, p. 256)


Scheuer argues that Osama bin Laden has ‘clear, focused, limited and widely popular foreign policy goals’, including:

‘the end of U.S. aid to Israel and the ultimate elimination of that state;

the removal of U.S. and Western forces from Iraq, Afghanistan, and other Muslim lands;

the end of U.S. support for the oppression of Muslims by Russia, China, and India;

the end of U.S. protection for repressive, apostate regimes in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Egypt, Jordan, et cetera; and

the conservation of the Muslim world’s energy resources and their sale at higher prices.’


Scheuer observes that, ‘Bin Laden is out to drastically alter U.S. and Western policies toward the Islamic world, not necessarily to destroy America, much less its freedoms and liberties. He is a practical warrior, not an apocalyptic terrorist in search of Armageddon.’ (Imperial Hubris, p. xviii) (For more, see Briefing 77)


Robert Fisk makes the point simply and forcefully in the aftermath of the London bombings:


'it's no use Mr Blair telling us yesterday that "they will never succeed in destroying what we hold dear". "They" are not trying to destroy "what we hold dear". They are trying to get public opinion to force Blair to withdraw from Iraq, from his alliance with the United States, and from his adherence to Bush's policies in the Middle East.'





Patrick Bishop, writing in the Telegraph, suggests that 'al-Qa'eda is not necessarily about short-term political gain (though the timing of the Madrid bombings might seem to suggest otherwise). Its main purpose is to raise Islamist consciousness through pure violence.'


Bishop goes on: 'Bin Laden's message chimes with the mood of sullen impotence that grips parts of the Muslim world. Muslims and particularly Arabs and Persians feel themselves humiliated by American greed and might. Bin Laden tells them that even the weak can cause the giant pain.'


There is little doubt that al Qaeda seeks to stir Muslims to fight against the United States, or that bin Laden and his colleagues hope to provoke a backlash that will drive Muslims towards 'the bombers' own pitiless world view', as Bishop suggests.


However, when we turn to bin Laden's own words, the words that he uses to recruit and to incite, we find that this is not the primary meaning of his campaign.


After 11 September, bin Laden said, ‘Just as they are killing us, we have to kill them so there will be a balance of terror... We will do as they do. If they kill our women and innocent people, we will kill their women and innocent people until they stop.’ (Cited in Through Our Enemies’ Eyes, p. 247, emphasis added)


Intervening in the closing days of the 2004 presidential election, bin Laden told the American people, ‘Your security does not lie in the hands of Kerry, Bush, or al-Qaeda. Your security is in your own hands. Each and every state that does not tamper with our security will have automatically assured its own security.’ (BBC translation)


This statement was translated by CNN as, ‘Any nation that does not attack us will not be attacked.’ ‘Us’ is meant to refer to the community of Muslim nations and populations, and ‘attack’ has a broad meaning, as former CIA official Michael Scheuer explains.


It does not need to be said that bin Laden's 'an eye for an eye' approach to civilian deaths is neither morally nor legally acceptable. JNV has no wish or intention to defend bin Laden's approach. We condemn it.


The point we are making is that it is simply not true to say that bin Laden and his networks have no political objectives or motivations, or that they will not be satisfied until everyone in the world subscribes to their particular extremist brand of Islam.


The point we are making is that the British people and the British government can do something to reduce the appeal of bin Laden's campaign, and to bring the attacks to an end, if we end British participation in injustice around the world.






A claim of responsibility has been made for the London atrocities on an al Qaeda-linked website. The BBC translation goes as follows:

In the name of God, the merciful, the compassionate, may peace be upon the cheerful one and undaunted fighter, Prophet Muhammad, God's peace be upon him.

Nation of Islam and Arab nation: Rejoice for it is time to take revenge against the British Zionist Crusader government in retaliation for the massacres Britain is committing in Iraq and Afghanistan. The heroic mujahideen have carried out a blessed raid in London. Britain is now burning with fear, terror and panic in its northern, southern, eastern, and western quarters.

We have repeatedly warned the British Government and people. We have fulfilled our promise and carried out our blessed military raid in Britain after our mujahideen exerted strenuous efforts over a long period of time to ensure the success of the raid.

We continue to warn the governments of Denmark and Italy and all the Crusader governments that they will be punished in the same way if they do not withdraw their troops from Iraq and Afghanistan. He who warns is excused.

God says: "You who believe: If ye will aid (the cause of) Allah, He will aid you, and plant your feet firmly."


Note that the statement (which may or may not be genuine) links the attacks directly to Britain's participation in the occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan: 'it is time to take revenge against the British Zionist Crusader government in retaliation for the massacres Britain is committing in Iraq and Afghanistan.'


There is some basis, therefore, for the argument put forward by Tariq Ali in the Guardian that the answer is Western withdrawal from Iraq and Afghanistan, and Israeli withdrawal from the Occupied Territories.






The Times editorial took this issue head-on:


'There may be a few people inclined to make a link between the deaths in London and the intervention in Iraq. This is utterly flawed thinking. Al-Qaeda and its subsidiary branches began their sadistic campaign more than a decade ago and they did not require the removal of Saddam Hussein from power in Baghdad as an extra incentive.'


'London was not targeted because British troops are in Iraq or because of Tony Blair’s alliance with the Bush White House. Rather, London was attacked because these extremists want to ignite a “holy war” between themselves and democratic societies.'


The Telegraph editorial makes much the same point: 'There are those who will blame British involvement in Iraq for yesterday's attacks. That is to misread the nature of the struggle.'


Quite apart from the al Qaeda statement itself, there is the fact that British intelligence warned precisely of these consequences a month before the invasion of Iraq.


In a report assessing the pre-war intelligence on Iraq's Weapons of Mass Destruction, the Government's Intelligence and Security Committee referred in passing to this warning. (The report is a 600kb pdf, available from the Cabinet Office.) On 10 February 2003, the Joint Intelligence Committee reported to the Prime Minister in the following way:


'The JIC assessed that al-Qaida and associated groups continued to represent by far the greatest terrorist threat to Western interests, and that threat would be heightened by military action against Iraq.' (p. 34, emphasis added)


British intelligence told Tony Blair explicitly and clearly before the war that invading Iraq would increase the risk of just the kind of bombings that have taken place in London.


This page last updated 8 July 2005






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