The London Blasts: Media
THREE: 10 July 2005 Part Two
to Part One
The Sunday Times Scoop:
British Foreign Policy And The Roots Of Terrorism
Today's biggest news story
is about the political basis of al Qaeda, and, as usual,
it is disguised and scarcely comprehensible to the average
reader. Before we come to the Sunday
Times, however, we should not that once again, we
have 'experts' denying that the al Qaeda network has any
political objectives. For example, in the Independent
on Sunday today (page 7), George
Kassimeris, a senior research fellow in conflict and
terrorism at the University of Wolverhampton, is quoted
as describing al Qaeda as 'pure
revenge terrorism, with no negotiable demands'.
Alan Watkins, later in
the same edition of the Independent
on Sunday (page 29 or buy here)
is, by contrast, forthright, and accurate: 'Almost
certainly the criminal who placed Thursday's bombs are not
believers in the separation of Church and State or in the
desirability of free speech... It does not follow that the
terrorists wish forcibly to transform this society into
something even closer to their own ideal theocratic State.
They are concerned
with what they see as more immediate injustices, in Afghanistan,
Palestine, Iraq and other unhappy lands:
something that Mr Blair is as reluctant to acknowledge as
Mr George Bush is.'
is a leaked report, 'Young Muslims and Extremism', jointly
compiled by the Home Office and the Foreign Office, and
given to the Prime Minister last year. The newspaper notes
that 'The Iraq war is identified
by the dossier as a key cause of young Britons turning to
terrorism.' (A topic discussed further below.)
Robert Winnett and David
Leppard of the Sunday Times
quote the report verbatim: 'It
seems that a particularly strong cause of disillusionment
among Muslims, including young Muslims, is a perceived ‘double
standard’ in the foreign policy of western governments,
in particular Britain and the US.'
'The perception is that passive
as demonstrated in British foreign policy, eg non-action
on Kashmir and Chechnya, has given way to "active
oppression". The war
on terror, and in Iraq and Afghanistan, are all seen by
a section of British Muslims as having been acts against
Here is Tony Blair's own official research
into the roots of al Qaeda in Britain, and it states explicitly
and emphatically that the problem is British foreign policy.
Not British freedom. Not British democracy. Not 'resentment'
Scuton's ignorant remarks). The problem is Britain's
of Muslims in Afghanistan, Iraq, and elsewhere under the
rubric of the 'war on terror'.
(Incidentally, the report
as a whole - Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4, in 2Mb
portions - can be downloaded from the Sunday
Times site. If it goes down there, we will load it onto
the JNV site.)
The Link To Iraq
There is an entirely sensible
article by Dilip
Hiro in the Independent on
Sunday today on this topic (page 30), in which he
points out that Tony Blair was explicitly warned by the
Joint Intelligence Committee before the war that invading
would make Britain more likely to be attacked - as we discussed
on Friday (see
bottom of page). 'Like it or not,
Mr Blair, what people will remember is that you listened
to the advice you liked and ignored the rest. That is why
London was bombed on Thursday. It isn't very complicated.'
John Rentoul in the Independent
on Sunday today (page 27), writes, 'I would have
thought it almost certain that last week's bombings were
motivated by a desire to punish Britain for Iraq.' He goes
on, 'At the very least, it cannot be possible to say categorically
that they wree not, and Blair was patently uncomfortable
doing precisely that on the Today
programme yesterday.' (Listen to the Today
programme interview here.
John Rentoul's article can be bought here.)
However, Rentoul does
not believe that changing policy, and withdrawing from Iraq,
would make any difference to British security. He notes
that the statement
of responsibility issued by the hitherto-unknown 'Secret
Organisation of al Qaeda in Europe' says that the attacks
are 'in retaliation for the massacres
Britain is committing in Iraq and
Afghanistan'. Rentoul comments, 'if
military action in
Afghanistan is a cause
of terrorism here, it is not as if we could have made ourselves
safe - or make ourselves safe in future - simply by ducking
out of Iraq...
That is why Blair is on strong ground.'
There are three obvious
comments to make. Firstly, no critic of the war in Iraq
has suggested that withdrawal from Iraq will 'make Britain
safe', merely that it will radically reduce the risk of
terrorist attacks in Britain.
Secondly, the logic of
Rentoul's argument is that British withdrawal from both
Iraq and Afghanistan is needed to make a dramatic change
in the risks facing Londoners and others in Britain. Withdrawal
from Iraq alone would make some difference, but not as much
as a dual withdrawal.
Thirdly, restricting our
attention to the al Qaeda statement, Rentoul's analysis
ignores the fact that the statement also warns Denmark and
Italy in the following fashion:
'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.'
The statement, if genuine and if it can be interpreted as
al Qaeda 'policy', states explicitly that withdrawal from
these two countries is a way of avoiding future terrorist
attacks. That is why Rentoul and Blair are on weak
Rentoul goes on to dismiss
the idea that 'al-Qa'ida is engaged in a military campaign
in pursuit of negotiable objectives.' Please see the discussion
in Friday's Media
Review and the separate discussion of his claim that
bombings would have happened anyway'.
on Sunday editorial today says that despite opposing
the invasion of Iraq, 'we acccept
that British troops should not have been withdrawn from
Iraq after the invasion and should not be withdrawn now,'
despite the attacks in London. There is of course
a difference between arguing that withdrawal from Iraq would
make Britain safer, and arguing that withdrawal from Iraq
is justified. The value of withdrawal to the British people
and the value of withdrawal to the Iraqi people cannot be
assumed to be identical.
However, in this case
(as in many others) the safety of the British people is
served by doing the right
thing. British withdrawal from Iraq is a fundamental
building block for creating a safe and vibrant Iraq, free
from exploitation and violence. We should withdraw from
Iraq because it is the right thing to do, and it so happens
that this will also increase the security of the British
people. (Having said this, withdrawal is only a necessary
condition for Iraq's revival, not a sufficient
one. Much, much more than British and US withdrawal will
be needed for Iraq to escape a disastrous future.)
Al Qaeda - Not An 'Organization',
But A Loose Network
The general impression
of al Qaeda given in the mass media is of a mafia-like organization,
with vertical lines of command, headed by a council of leaders
and the supreme commander, Osama bin Laden. In fact, as
Whitaker and Paul Lashmar report in the Independent
today (page 7), this is far from being the case: 'even
before it was disrupted by the fall of the Taliban in Afghanistan,
and the arrest of many members of its inner circle, it was
never an organisation with a clear hierarchical structure.
It has always been as much an ideology as a tangible group.'
' "Trying to hit al Qa'ida is
like trying to hit jelly," said one intelligence source.
"One minute you think you know who is running it, and
next minute you feel you have no idea." '
'Bin Laden himself, even before the
attacks of 11 September 2001 turned him into a fugitive,
was as much a figurehead as a strategist. Presumed to be
hiding in the tribal borderlands straddling Afghanistan
and Pakistan, communicating only by written notes and the
occasional hand-delivered cassette or video tape, he is
in no position to exert day-to-day control over terrorist
Al Qaeda - Motivation, Objectives and
Gray, who has written an ignorant and largely pointless
book on the al Qaeda phenomenon, picks up on this point,
describing the nature of al Qaeda as 'a
brand name that covers an amorphous network of groups that
are linked together mainly by their adherence to an apocalyptic
version of Islamist ideology', rather than a centralized
structure of command and control.
Drawing comparisons with US neo-Nazis
(Timothy McVeigh and company), the Aum Shirinkyo cult and
the 'anarchist practitioners of propaganda by the deed in
the late 19th century', Gray argues that al Qaeda also holds
the belief shared by all these groups that 'the
old world was ending and a new one coming into being, whose
arrival could be hastened by the systematic use of violence.'
This is another version of the 'al
Qaeda has no demands' analysis. According to Gray, al Qaeda
has a millenarian, apocalyptic
agenda, concerned with total global transformation through
Those who actually know something about
al Qaeda, however, say explicitly that Osama bin Laden 'is
a practical warrior, not
an apocalyptic terrorist in search of Armageddon.’
According to Michael Scheuer, former head of the CIA's bin
Laden unit (1996-1999), the Saudi '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.' (Scheuer, writing
as 'Anonymous', Imperial Hubris,
p. xviii) (For more, see Briefing
today has added to the burgeoning literature of commentators
alleging that 'al Qaeda has no political demands'. Yahia
Said, a Muslim, and a research fellow at the London
School of Economics specialising in Iraq, has a piece entitled
'Asking why will dignify criminals', which says that 'These
attacks are crimes against humanity perpetrated by psychopaths
for whom murder is not a mean to an end but rather the end
itself.' The editorial today, 'Why our enemies will
fail', says 'What makes Islamic
terrorism [sic] so problematic
and menacing is that there are no representatives and no
programme to deal with, only slogans of hate and death...'
The extremely well-informed foreign
Burke, who has written an excellent book on al Qaeda
(of that name), has some rather odd and confused remarks
to contribute in the same edition. While Burke has some
cogent points to make on the possible future course of the
al Qaeda insurgency, his remarks on the current attacks
seem less sure footed.
On the one hand, 'With
early "al-Qaeda" attacks, such as that on American
embassies in 1998 and even 9/11 itself, the broad motivations
of those responsible were clear. Bin Laden made his own
agenda clear in a series of public statements. The Islamic
world was under attack from a belligerent West set on the
domination and humiliation of Muslims, he said, and it was
every believer's religious duty to fight back. It was not
a case of 'hating freedom', he claimed, but of desiring
freedom from supposed American-led oppression. He repeatedly
listed the various parts of the world - Palestine, Kashmir,
Chechnya, Afghanistan and, latterly, Iraq - where he felt
Muslims were oppressed.'
On the other hand, 'as
bin Laden's grip has loosened, so the bombings have become
more indiscriminate and the motives more difficult to perceive.
The propaganda content of the strikes has fallen away. Commuters
are symbolic of nothing more than the drudgery of going
'Those behind the London attacks have no broader
strategy.' In his view, the bombers
'believe there is a war between right and wrong,
faith and falsehood, civilisation and barbarity and that
all tactics are justified in the last-ditch struggle to
defend what they believe in. They do not see London's population
as civilians, but as accomplices to acts of murder and violence.'
There is a difference between 'strategy'
and 'motivation'. Osama bin Laden and his inner circle do
not now, and never have had much of a strategy for achieving
their objectives. Hurting the United States and its allies,
inciting others to carry out costly attacks, and provoking
a backlash that will radicalise Muslims. These are rather
to be sure, but they do not amount to a fully-fledged strategy
for achieving policy change.
It is true that the Embassy bombings
in East Africa, the bombing of the USS Cole, and the attacks
on the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon were all quite
focussed on symbols of US power, and that more recent attacks
from the network have been 'more indiscriminate' (as in
Madrid, as in London).
However there is a difference between
saying that the London bombers have less
'strategy' than Osama bin Laden's operations, and saying
that they have no broader
strategy. There is a difference between saying that the
'propaganda content' of the London bombings has fallen away,
compared to 11 September, and saying that the 'motives'
of al Qaeda attacks are becoming more difficult to perceive.
We know what the basic motivations
for al Qaeda volunteers are, and these are precisely to
do with US and British foreign policy as they affect Muslims
around the world. (Those motivations are present in the
case of the London bombings, if the claim of responsibility
is to be beleived.) There is no reason to believe that those
motivations have disappeared in regard to the London bombers.
But this doesn't mean that they have a well-designed strategy.
'Motivation' is something that pushes
you to taking a particular step. 'Strategy' is a plan for
getting to a certain point along the way. It may be true
that those behind the attack on London had no strategy for
achieving their aim, but that does not mean that they are
not also motivated, as least in part, by their anger and
outrage at US policy towards the Palestinians, the Iraqs,
and so on.
to carry out bombings can be removed or reduced. That is
the key point Jason Burke obscures with this remarks.
In the past few days there
have been arson attacks on mosques in, among other places,
Wirral and Wellington,
and an arson attack on a Sikh gurdwara in Kent.
Justice Not Vengeance is
calling on anti-war groups and others concerned with peace
and justice to hold silent vigils of solidarity outside
mosques and Muslim community organizations on Friday between
1pm and 2pm (the biggest prayers of the week).
document 'Young Muslims and Extremism', referred to
above, also contains substantial government research into
the position of Muslims in Britain, which discovered that,
'Muslims are three times more
likely to be unemployed than the population as a whole;
52% of them are economically inactive (the highest of any
faith group) and 16% have never worked or are long-term
unemployed.' This is blamed
in the report on a lack of education: 43% of Muslims have
carried out by an official at the Department for Work and
Pensions, and revealed in a related document, said: 'The
key to engaging this group (Muslims) in a positive way is,
obviously, by reducing discrimination and promoting integration.'
Sir John Gieve, permanent secretary
at the Home Office, wrote in a secret letter to the Cabinet
Secretary Andrew Turnbull, 'We need... to address
the roots of the problem which include discrimination, disadvantage
Instead, we are now facing a police
and security service crackdown on precisely the young Muslims
who have suffered most from discrimination, disadvantage
For their part, in an unprecedented
move, Muslim leaders are to issue a religious ruling that
the attack on London was a breach of the fundamental tenets
of Islam, reports the Independent
today (page 5). 'Signed by dozens of prominent Muslim bodies,
mosques, Islamic scholars and community groups, the MCB
will also state that Muslims have a moral duty to help the
police catch the perpetrators.'
Iqbal Sacranie, general secretary of the Muslim Council
of Britain, said, 'Those behind
this atrocity aren't just enemies of humanity but enemies
of Islam and Muslims... It's important we don't feel we
have to apologise for Thursday's attacks. We're not talking
about Muslims here. We're talking about a bunch of nutters.
The time has come to debunk the idea they are sanctioned
Sardar has an excellent piece in the Independent
on Sunday (page 28) about the position of Muslims
after the London bombings, in which he writes,
the atrocity in London, Muslims have to try even harder
to change how the "war on terror" has been defined
'What Britain has to learn
at home will be the best yardstick to how its policy needs
to change abroad. Can you on the one hand talk community
engagement and inclusion while promoting draconian legislative
measures that have caused a 300 per cent increase in stop
and search of Muslims in London and while the fear of Belmarsh
'Can you on the one hand
talk peace negotiations in Palestine (which have not occurred)
while on the other participating in a real war in the name
of defeating terror that is creating new terrorists? Can
Britain be all things to all people or must it decide which
route it will follow consistently and purposefully for the
that these questions are at the heart of building 'genuine
and viable strategies for fighting terrorism.'
JNV welcomes feedback.
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This page last updated 10 July 2005