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The London Blasts


The London Blasts: Media Review

DAY TWELVE: Tuesday 19 July 2005

Part 2 The Non-Story (Pakistan) and The Open Question (Chatham House Report)


Back to Part One

The Alleged Pakistani Connection

>Shopping Around

>Honest and Undiplomatic

The Chatham House Report - Reactions

>The FT Editorial - useful

>The Telegraph - craven

>The Guardian - useful, low-key

>The Times - denial

>The Independent - low-key





The British media are fixing on the alleged role of Pakistani extremists in the planning of the London atrocities. The Guardian - instead of leading on its own poll finding that two-thirds of Britons believe that the bombings were partly caused by Britain's foreign policy - joins in with this frenzy with a front page story entitled 'Pakistan militants linked to London attacks'.


This story contains the revealing information that, Shehzad Tanweer, one of the four London bombers, moved around quite a bit on his famous three-month trip to Pakistan at the beginning of the year:


'Pakistani officials now believe that Tanweer "shopped around", visiting several different radical madrasas. Detectives are also certain he spent time in Faisalabad, two-and-a-half hours' drive from Lahore, and a centre for radical Sunni activists.'

' "He visited multiple seminaries. He didn't take admission in any of them. He stayed there for a few days and travelled elsewhere. He was establishing contacts with militants," one source close to the Pakistani investigation said...'

'Experts believe that only two Pakistani militant groups would have had the expertise and international resources to assist in an elaborate suicide operation in Britain - the banned Sunni group Lashkar-e-Taiba and the Jaish-e-Mohammad (Army of Mohammad). Tanweer is believed to have stayed at a madrasa run by Lashkar-e-Taiba in Mudrike, 20 miles outside Lahore. Over the weekend, however, the madrasa denied any connection with him.'


This 'shopping around' behaviour confirms that the bombers were not radicalized by their visit to Pakistan, but visited Pakistan because they were already radicalized.


The FT reports that,


'Mr Tanweer is suspected to have visited one or more madrassahs, or religious schools, while he was in Pakistan. But Pakistani intelligence officials said a preliminary assessment of his case suggested he did not gain any expertise on explosives at the schools.'




A view from the Pakistani Ambassador to the UN is relevant at this point. Speaking to BBC Radio 4 on Sunday 17 July, Munir Akram said:


'It is important not to pin blame on somebody else when the problem lies internally. Your policies in the Middle East, your policies in the Islamic world, that is the problem with your society and that is where the problem lies as far as this incident is concerned.

'It would be a grave mistake to point fingers at Pakistan or anybody outside your country.'

'Brainwashing is a long process. You cannot brainwash somebody instantly, unless he is inclined to be brainwashed. Rather, it was the years spent in Britain that transformed them into the UK's first suicide bombers.'

'They were born in Britain, bred there, lived there, were by all accounts British lads. What motivated British lads to do this? It is not because their blood was from Pakistan. Whatever angst they had was a result of living in Britain.'


Mr Akram pointed to failures of 'integration': 'You have to look at ... what you are doing to the Muslim community and why the Muslim community is not integrating in British society.'


The Guardian commented, 'Such outspokenness is unusual in diplomatic circles, particularly at such a sensitive time. The UN is a top posting, normally only entrusted to experienced diplomats.'


The alleged Pakistani connection is a red herring from the real causes of the tragedy. If the bombers did obtain financing, training or guidance in Pakistan, it was because they searched it out.


The question is why they were motivated to search it out.



So, what impact has this spectacularly timely report on war and terrorism from one of the world's most prestigious foreign policy bodies had on the British media?


There are two ways of approaching this: has the media handled the report appropriately? And, is there anything in the media response which is useful to the movements for peace and justice?


The answers are No and Yes.




The FT has a very useful editorial (with qualifications) which for some strange reason is not listed in the 'editorial comment' section of their website (11:20 UTC). After observing that the Chatham House report 'makes a number of unexceptionable and somewhat after-the-event observations about Iraq,' the FT goes on to suggest that the war was on Iraq was wrong, and that it was 'perfectly possible to anticipate the huge boost invading Iraq would give to the jihadis, and the strong likelihood it would set off a sectarian war between Sunni and Shia, that now risks sucking Iraq's neighbours into a regional civil war':


'To say that then [before the war on Iraq] and reiterate it now is not, as Jack Straw, UK foreign secretary, says, to make "excuses for terrorism". It was and is to try to reach clarity and consensus on how best to defeat it - especially since we are pursuing policies that proliferate it.'

'Research by the Herziliya Centre in Israel, and a forthcoming US-Saudi study by the Centre for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, should dissipate remaining doubts about this. Their analysis of hundreds of foreign jihadi volunteers for Iraq shows that virtually none have any prior record of Islamist activism, let alone terrorism. That looks as though it will turn out to be the story of the London bombers too.'

'This is a new, previously unknown generation, publicly celebrated as a "godsend" by the jihadis. No thanks to US-UK policy, their savagery, especially against Iraqi civilians, is producing a backlash in most, but not all, Muslim countries, according to the US Pew Research Center.'

'All policy now should be aimed at separating the jihadis from the ÂMuslim mainstream - the necessary precondition for crushing them.'


In other words, withdraw. (Perhaps we are becoming used to these coded messages by now.)




The Telegraph heads its follow-up story, 'Ministers reject claim that Iraq war made UK a target', giving a platform for John Reid, Defence Secretary, and Jack Straw, Foreign Secretary, to rubbish the report - without any countervailing voices.




The Guardian follow-up story is, 'Use and abuse of intelligence', by Richard Norton-Taylor. The article opens by quoting (without emphasis) the 10 February 2003 warning from the JIC (see our first Media Review for details), and all four crucial quotes from the Chatham House report. Richard Norton-Taylor reveals that the phrase "war on terror" is unwelcome amongst the people who are in the front line:


'the "war on terror" [is] a phrase that makes security and intelligence agencies and military commanders cringe, for it suggests that the fight against terrorism can be won by force of arms.'

'It is the causes, they say, that matter. And these include the government's foreign policy.'


After this admission of realism at the heart of the security apparatus, Norton-Taylor quotes from the July 2002 Downing Street memo, and a second July 2002 Whitehall memo, finishing with the Iraq weapons dossier debacle. The article as a whole is an apologia not only for the intelligence services, but from them.




In the Times, an editorial on counter-terrorism does not allude to the Chatham House report, and David Aaronovitch feels no need to refer to it in his diatribe against those who argue that the London bombings were somehow connected with the war in Iraq.


On the same page, Martin Samuel does refer to the report, in a right-wing critique of the war on Iraq (it distracted us from pursuing al Qaeda). The Chatham House report 'misses the point'. Even if we hadn't been distracted by Iraq, and carried out all the policies now being pursued (rightly in Samuel's view), Britain would still have been at risk of terrorist attack. On the other hand,


'our intelligence and military commitment to Iraq has made us less able to police that threat, that the threat has grown as a result of the diversion and that our overstretched foreign policy has left us playing catch-up. For this reason, the British people now live in an archetypal builder’s house. It looks like a bomb’s hit it...'

'Had the West’s military and security forces concentrated on completing what was started in eradicating al-Qaeda in Afghanistan and slicing off its many tentacles around the globe, could the support network have developed that allowed this to happen?'


We must turn back to Richard Norton-Taylor and his contacts in the intelligence agencies, and in the military, and their frank admission that what matters is 'the causes'. Saying that the war on Iraq was a grave 'tactical error' does nothing to address this fundamental reality.




The Independent carries two comments - one editorial, one by columnist Steve Richards - and no news reporting of the report or its fall-out at all.


The editorial (paid-for access here) concludes that 'to claim that the misbegotten invasion of Iraq has not made Britain - and indeed the world - much less safe from terrorism is an insult to the intelligence'. It does not quote from the report at all.


Steve Richards does quote the least significant relevant section, but does not quote or even gloss the four key sections identified in yesterday's Media Review.


A curious stance from the most anti-war newspaper surveyed. A nail in the coffin for the report.




All in all, the Chatham House report is fading from the scene fairly quickly. All the newspapers have formed a tacit agreement that it should be laid to rest gently, and left behind.


Without pressure, the report, and all the other significant reports and damning facts that have emerged in the past twelve days, will be effectively erased from history.


They exist in the public record, but they do not exist in the public mind.


(See our summary of Chomsky's analysis of the mass media.)


Back to Part One


JNV welcomes feedback.


This page last updated 19 July 2005






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