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The London Blasts: Media Review

DAY SIX: 13 July 2005 Half Right Hari


Johann Hari: No Simple Solution?


Johann Hari writes on the basis of his encounters with terrorists and suicide bombers (in the Independent, page 27 or paid-for access here):


'Some people are saying these massacres of civilians were simply mindless psychopathy, with no more purpose than Fred and Rosemary West's butchery of young girls in Gloucester. That is wrong. These were vile acts of political murder, emerging from a political context created, in part, by Western statecraft and driven by political goals. It is always better to know what you are up against.'


So far, so good.


On the other hand, Hari thinks that the 'simple solution' of Western withdrawal from Muslim lands will not work:


'when you realise that Osama bin Laden considers Spain (or "Andalucia", as he calls it) to be a Muslim land because it was an Islamic territory until 1492. Not to mention all of Israel (Bin Laden is no fan of the 1967 borders), much of the Balkans and all of Kashmir... Once the Middle East is handed over to sharia law, would we then cede Spain, Tel Aviv, Kosovo and chunks of India to get al-Qa'ida off our backs?'


This Is Not A War For Sharia Law


Firstly, Osama bin Laden has not called for sharia law to be imposed on the Middle East as a whole. No doubt he, and the al Qaeda network in general, wish for that fervently. But what they have actually called for, as in the most credible claim of responsibility for the London bombings, is short-term foreign policy changes by the Western powers.


Interestingly, when bin Laden spoke out before the 2003 war on Iraq, he did not call on his followers to overthrow Saddam and create a sharia state in order the better to resist the invaders (a perfectly logical position for a fundamentalist of any description). He said:


'Regardless of the removal or the survival of the socialist party or Saddam, Muslims in general and the Iraqis in particular must brace themselves for jihad against this unjust campaign and acquire ammunition and weapons... '


'Under these circumstances, there will be no harm if the interests of Muslims converge with the interests of the socialists in the fight against the crusaders, despite our belief in the infidelity of socialists...'


'The fighting, which is waging and which will be waged these days, is very much like the fighting of Muslims against the Byzantine in the past. And the convergence of interests is not detrimental. The Muslims' fighting against the Byzantine converged with the interests of the Persians.'


'And this was not detrimental to the companions of the prophet.'


In other words, just as the early Muslims fought alongside non-Muslims against a greater enemy, so members of the al Qaeda network can comfortably fight alongside the non-Muslim Ba'athist regime of Saddam Hussein against the greater enemy in the White House, 'regardless of the removal or the survival' of Saddam's regime.


Establishing sharia law in Iraq (highly desired) was a lower priority than resisting the invasion of Iraq.


Having said this, in the same speech, bin Laden did call for the overthrow of existing regimes and the establishment of sharia law:


'We also stress to honest Muslims that they should move, incite, and mobilize the [Islamic] nation, amid such grave events and hot atmosphere so as to liberate themselves from those unjust and renegade ruling regimes, which are enslaved by the United States.'


'They should also do so to establish the rule of God on earth.'


'The most qualified regions for liberation are Jordan, Morocco, Nigeria, Pakistan, the land of the two holy mosques [Saudi Arabia], and Yemen.'


Notice however the priority: the first objective is to 'liberate' nations from 'unjust and renegade' rulers.


The war against Western violence and against Western-imposed injustice has priority over the war for sharia law.


It's The Supporters, Stupid


Secondly, it doesn't really matter, in a sense, whether bin Laden and his associates are honest in representing their aims in this fashion (perhaps they really want sharia law more than anything else, and perhaps they want it everywhere, just as Johann Hari claims.


But the question facing us today is: would young Muslims from Leeds really be blowing themselves up on the London Underground in support of a campaign to hand Spain over to rule by Wahhabi mullahs using sharia law?


Or should we rather believe the Home Office/Foreign Office report into 'Young Muslims and Extremism', that the source of increasing 'extremism' is British foreign policy, and the war in Iraq in particular?


What matters is what motivates al Qaeda's supporters, followers and potential recruits. Western powers are at risk, from their own citizens, because of Western policy in the rest of the world. Changing Western policy will lead to a reduction in that risk. It is that simple. It won't end all forms of anti-Western terrorism. It won't necessarily end all forms of al Qaeda-type terrorism.


But if we build justice rather than injustice, we have the chance to create more peace, both in countries like Iraq, the victims of Western power, and in countries like Britain, the victims of revenge. Counter terror: build justice.


The Era Of Good Feeling


To continue with a theme from yesterday, when we were discussing David Aaronovitch's peculiar view of history, Charles Krauthammer, a neoconservative journalist writing in Time magazine, describes the 1990s, 'the seminal period of al-Qaeda recruitment--indeed, the period during which it created its entire worldwide infrastructure' as an 'era of good feeling' for Muslims:


'The Clinton years saw the most open, accommodating, apologetic U.S. foreign policy since World War II. In fact, the 1990s was the decade of Muslim rescue: the U.S. intervened militarily, and decisively, to save three Muslim peoples - the Bosnians, the Kosovars and the Kuwaitis - from conquest and catastrophe. Yet it was precisely during that era of good feeling that al-Qaeda not only recruited for but also conceived, planned and set in motion the worst massacre of Americans in history. So much for the connection between American perfidy and anti-American terrorism.'


Leaving aside arguments about how these interventions should be assessed, and taking them at face value, itis extraordinary that Krauthammer can describe this decade as one of good feeling, when Muslims are painfully aware that during these years of 'openness' and 'apologetic' US foreign policy, hundreds of thousands of Iraqi children died as a result of US- and UK-imposed economic sanctions on Iraq.


What Muslims remember is not 'rescue', but the words of then-US Ambassador to the United Nations, Madeleine Albright when interviewed on the programme 60 Minutes in 1996. Lesley Stahl, the interviewer, asked, regarding US-backed sanctions on Iraq, 'We have heard that a half million children have died. I mean, that's more children than died in Hiroshima. And, you know, is the price worth it?'


Ambassador Albright responded: 'I think this is a very hard choice, but the price... we think the price is worth it.'


These words have haunted the rest of the world. They were actually used by one of the 1998 US Embassy bombers in his defence.


For Muslims, the decade of sanctions on Iraq was not a era of 'good feeling'.

JNV welcomes feedback.


This page last updated 13 July 2005






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