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The London Blasts


The London Blasts: Media Review

DAY FOUR: 11 July 2005 Part One


Onto Part 2

Key Quotes for Today


Reg 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 to happen.'


Shami 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 Independent, page 15)


Anonymous 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 psycho-perverts'.


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 in control.'


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 appeals':


She begins by noting the Prime Minister's declaration that the terrorists hate 'our values':


'but 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 and Congo.


'Such 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 distinction.


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 their community.


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, interfaith services.


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 Media Review) 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.


Onto Part 2


JNV welcomes feedback.


This page last updated 11 July 2005






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