The London Blasts: Media
FOUR: 11 July 2005 Part One
Key Quotes for Today
Keys, father of Tom Keys, a British killed in Iraq in
2003: 'I've always been
of the firm belief that you cannot go to a war at this scale
[and] kill over 100,000 innocent civilians, without there
being a price to pay. You cannot walk through such a conflict
with impunity. And it was inevitable that this was going
Chakrabati, head of Liberty: 'Visible
injustice and irresponsible rhetoric will make it less rather
than more likely that people report their fears and suspicions
to the authorities. We cannot legislate our way to
safety but we can better unite to defend the democracy that
some are hell-bent on destroying.' (More Chakrabati in the
minister quoted by Rachel
Sylvester in the Telegraph: 'There isn't a political
wave pressing for great and immediate action [new repressive
laws]. I haven't detected any fizzing anger; we knew were
living under this threat. Now it's happened, it's awful,
but we've got the ability to survive it without fundamentally
changing the way we live our lives.'
Yasmin Alibhai-Brown On
The Roots Of Al Qaeda Terrorism
Yesterday we had Jason
Burke of the Observer
seeming to suggest that the London bombings (if part of
the al Qaeda insurgency) did not have a political motivation
(see yesterday's Media
Review). Today we have an equally surprising take on
motivation from Yasmin Alibhai-Brown,
Britain's first Muslim columnist, who follows the analysis
of Yahia Said in yesterday's Observer (also discussed in
yesterday's Media Review), in a piece entitled, 'Let us
not grace these bombers with a cause. This was about pure,
hollow evil' (page 29 or paid-for access here).
In her article, Yasmin
Alibhai-Brown writes, 'The reassuring
news is that British Muslims are refusing to take on any
more generic guilt and refusing with equal vehemence to
"understand" the slaying of blameless citizens
in their midst.' Her article is filled with a rage
against the bombers: they are 'distorted
beings outside human norms', 'rats', 'wretches'.
They are 'pure, hollow evil',
'franchised Islamic fascists', 'killers' with
'crazy eyes', even 'self-loathing
It is one thing to condemn
the bombers (quite rightly). It is another to move on from
that condemnation to actually denying that al Qaeda attacks
(and this is likely to be one of them) arise from political
motivations. Yasmin Alibhai-Brown takes on a contradictory
stance that will be familiar from earlier Media Reviews.
On the one hand the terrorists
are mindless nihilists; on the other they are responding
to British and US foreign policy. The more emphatic element
is definitely the first: 'they
don't give a damn about Iraq past or present, or other political
struggles which have worthy objectives and an end point...
they kill and die for nihilism.' They are 'rebels
without a graspable cause'.
Alibhai-Brown asks us,
'please don't grace them with
purpose or place them with legitimate liberationists in
Iraq, Palestine and elsewhere.' 'The groups who blew up
innocents in Kenya, the US, Madrid, Egypt, Bali, Istanbul,
Saudi Arabia and London, the murderers of Ken Bigley and
Margaret Hassan and hundreds of Iraqis
want nothing except blood and panic.'
They watch footage of their actions as 'a
reality video game with piercing screams making them feel
On the other hand, there
is some connection between the 'self-loathing nihilists'
and the outside world, both in relation to Iraq, and in
relation to wider issues. On Iraq, the argument of the piece
is difficult to unpick. Tony Blair is entitled, according
to Alibhai-Brown, to 'stamp out
the false connection between Iraq and the London bombers',
but at the same time he 'cannot
expect us to ignore the links between what London is going
through and the tragedy unfolding in Iraq as a result of
his reckless policies.'
The word 'links' is difficult
to interpret. If it means 'parallels', then this seems to
suggest that as we feel the agony of people suffering from
terrorist violence in London, we should attempt to feel
the same agony for people suffering from US/UK/criminal/insurgent
violence in Baghdad and other Iraqi cities and towns. Taken
literally, however, the use of the word 'links' suggests
that while there are 'false connections' (which should be
stamped out), there are also 'genuine connections' between
the bombings and the invasion of Iraq. In the light of later
passages (see below) the rather tortured meaning of this
sentence seems to be that, in fact, yes, the bombing of
London is in part
motivated by the invasion and occupation of Iraq.
Now we come to the wider
world. On the one hand, Yasmin Alibhai-Brown says that appeals
to 'comprehend why extremism appeals'
are 'iniquitous' after
such horror, particularly as it is 'Muslims
most of all who suffer the retribution which comes with
the aftershock.' On the other hand, in preceding
paragraphs she herself offers an explanation of 'why extremism
She begins by noting the
Prime Minister's declaration that the terrorists hate 'our
is even self-regarding Blair proud of some Blairite values?
The values that say our saintly leaders can drop cluster
bombs and other brilliantly effective weapons on the women
and children of Iraq? Values which accept the drugging and
torture and imprisonment of young men in Guantanamo Bay
and in friendly countries? Values which permit Israel and
Russia to violate human rights with impunity and [without]
proper censure? Values which enable
us to ignore the fact that every day dozens die in bomb
blasts and through military actions in Iraq? Values which
even today will not halt arms sales to conflict areas. It
is called business, I believe.'
Alibhai-Brown draws particular
attention to the Amnesty International finding that British-based
firms are transporting arms from Eastern Europe to Rwanda
self-interest and hypocrisy parading as virtue turns my
stomach. Imagine what it does to clever
and hopeless Muslims who already feel the weight of historical
failure and impotence in the current global landscape.'
The leaders of the bombers 'know
these pulsating grievances and the trapped rage'
and use them to 'turn the most
vulnerable into foot soldiers'.
The leaders of the terrorists
are 'self-loathing psycho-pervert nihilists', but the people
who actually carry out the bombings are 'clever and hopeless'
people, the 'most vulnerable'. This is not an intellectually-sustainable
It can be taken, perhaps,
as the anguished expression of the savagely-pressurised
position of mainstream British Muslims, who understand where
the al Qaeda insurgency is coming from, but who are revulsed
by its brutality, and frightened of its consequences for
After condemning the bombers
in violent terms (as seen above), Alibhai-Brown ends her
article with the following warning: while British Muslims
are turning on the terrorists, 'if
Blair pushes for the politics of vengeance and authoritarianism,
expect more blasts and a ripped nation.'
In other words, 'counter
terror: build justice'.
The final sentence of
Yasmin Alibhai-Brown's piece runs, 'We can but pray.'
Well, in fact, this is
not true. We can also educate, lobby, put pressure on the
local and national media to stop peddling distortions and
untruths about the threat we are facing, demonstrate solidarity
with Muslims and others under threat from the backlash.
In particular, we can organise vigils of solidarity in front
of mosques this Friday between 1pm and 2pm.
We can hold discussion
meetings, film shows (the Channel 4 film 'Yasmin' is particularly
pertinent right now), rallies, vigils, marches, and, yes,
The most important thing
we can do is explain to our friends, families, co-workers
and our neighbours that that repression and military action
will merely produce more violence, but that there is a way
to bring this campaign of violence to an end.
It starts by acknowledging
that it is anger and hopelessness over Britain's 'passive'
or 'active' participation in injustice overseas (see yesterday's
that is fuelling the al Qaeda insurgency. If we deny that
there are any political demands behind this violence, we
are simply locking ourselves into a neverending cycle of
confrontation and misery. (For more on this, read here.)
How we respond to these
atrocities will help to shape the future of this country.
JNV welcomes feedback.
This page last updated 11 July 2005