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The London Blasts


The London Blasts: Media Review

DAY 14: Thursday 21 July 2005

The Bin Laden Truce Offer


Ken Livingstone - Realism

Ken Livingstone - The Reaction

The World Domination League

Nothing To Negotiate?

The Bin Laden Truce Offer

London: The Claim Of Responsibility

The Significance Of The Offers

Realism - Adrian Hamilton




For those visiting for the first time, the background to the comments that follow lie in our priority page, and in our first Media Review. The facts contained in those pages are assumed in what follows.







Ken Livingstone, mayor of London, was asked yesterday on BBC Radio 4's Today programme what he thought had motivated the bombers. He replied:


"I think you've just had 80 years of western intervention into predominantly Arab lands because of the western need for oil. We've propped up unsavoury governments, we've overthrown ones we didn't consider sympathetic."

"And I think the particular problem we have at the moment is that in the 1980s... the Americans recruited and trained Osama Bin Laden, taught him how to kill, to make bombs, and set him off to kill the Russians and drive them out of Afghanistan."

"They didn't give any thought to the fact that once he'd done that he might turn on his creators."

"If at the end of the First World War we had done what we promised the Arabs, which was to let them be free and have their own governments, and kept out of Arab affairs, and just bought their oil, rather than feeling we had to control the flow of oil, I suspect this wouldn't have arisen."


He attacked double standards by Western nations, such as the initial welcome given when Saddam Hussein came to power in Iraq. There was also the "running sore" of the Palestinian/Israeli conflict.


"A lot of young people see the double standards, they see what happens in Guantanamo Bay, and they just think that there isn't a just foreign policy."


Mr Livingstone said he did not just denounce suicide bombers. He also denounced "those governments which use indiscriminate slaughter to advance their foreign policy, as we have occasionally seen with the Israeli government bombing areas from which a terrorist group will have come, irrespective of the casualties it inflicts, women, children and men".


He continued: "Under foreign occupation and denied the right to vote, denied the right to run your own affairs, often denied the right to work for three generations, I suspect that if it had happened here in England, we would have produced a lot of suicide bombers ourselves."


Mr Livingstone also criticised parts of the media for giving too much publicity to certain figures who were "totally unrepresentative" of British Muslims.




One starting point for this interview with the Today programme seems to have been a front page story in the Daily Telegraph yesterday entitled, 'The men who blame Britain'. Ken Livingstone was bracketed with Sheikh Omar Bakri Mohammed, usually described as a "radical cleric" and spiritual leader of the "extremist" group al-Muhajiroun, and Anjem Choudary, the British leader of al-Muhajiroun


The mayor of London made much the same points, and again highlighted the West's role in the creation of al Qaeda: "We created these people. We built them up. We funded them."


The Telegraph has returned to the attack, with Matthew d'Ancona, deputy editor of the Sunday Telegraph, launching a savage assault:


The shame of it is that, in the immediate aftermath of the bombings, Mr Livingstone's performance was nothing short of magnificent...

At the vigil held in Trafalgar Square on July 14, Mr Livingstone warmed to his theme. "Those who came here to kill last Thursday had many goals," he said, "but one was that we should turn on each other, like animals trapped in a cage, and they failed, totally and utterly."

With tears streaming down his cheeks, he quoted Pericles, and in homage to John F Kennedy's famous call - Lass'sie nach Berlin kommen - the mayor declared: "Let them come to London!" On that day, only the most churlish would have denied that Mr Livingstone spoke to, and for, his city.

So it was all the more depressing to hear him revert to type yesterday as he spouted the fatuous Left-wing mantras for which he earned his notoriety in the 1980s.

While claiming that he felt no sympathy for the suicide bombers and (naturally) that "killing people is wrong", he resurrected the pernicious old doctrine of moral equivalence, beloved of the Left in the Cold War. "I don't just denounce the suicide bombers," he said. "I denounce those governments that use indiscriminate slaughter to advance their foreign policy" - by which he meant Israel, and, one presumed, America.

So, too, he deployed the whiskery argument that western imperialism is at the root of all evil...

Is he truly blaming the murder of 56 commuters on the Balfour Declaration, and the 1920 San Remo Conference?

And would the mayor be willing to tell the bereaved relatives of Shahara Islam, the 20-year-old from Plaistow who was buried on Friday, or of James Adams, 32, from Peterborough, and Monika Suchocka, 23, a Pole who was living in north London (both of whom were named as among the dead on Tuesday), that their loved ones would still be alive if not for the Treaty of Versailles?


This was not the burden of Mr Livingstone's remarks.


He said that the history of the last 90 years was the background to what had happened, but that "the particular problem we have at the moment is that in the 1980s... the Americans recruited and trained Osama Bin Laden" and started this insurgency which has now come back to haunt the West (it's not strictly accurate that bin Laden himself was recruited, trained or financed by the CIA, but the movement that he was part of, and which he draws from certainly did benefit from such generosity).


And the mayor also talked about the present, about the behaviour of the United States and Britain in the last few years: "A lot of young people see the double standards, they see what happens in Guantanamo Bay, and they just think that there isn't a just foreign policy."


This kind of realism about the sources of the London atrocities (Ken Livingstone has of course condemned the atrocities themselves, and was a prime mover in the 'London United' events in reaction to the bombings) is supported by the public (which sees a connection between the bombings and British foreign policy, as we know from the Guardian poll) but is anathema to the government and its supporters.


What about other papers' coverage of this story? Interestingly, The Times did not pick up on this story in its paper edition, but has a piece tucked away on a drop down menu online. The Guardian has a couple of paragraphs tucked away at the end of another piece. The Independent ignores it completely, it seems. The FT, having noted the mayor's views in passing yesterday, also ignores the matter today.




Returning to the Telegraph, Matthew D'Ancona's starting point for his article is Ken Livingstone's condemnation of the British media for giving undue attention to the views of tiny groups such as al Mahajiroun, and figures such as Sheikh Omar Bakri Mohammed (interviewed on the prestigious Today programme today). Mr Livingstone ridiculed this as the equivalent of portraying E.L. Wisty, the mythical founder of the "World Domination League", as representative of the views of the English people.


D'Ancona responded:


'it was striking yesterday morning to hear the Mayor of London explicitly invoke the spirit of [comedian Peter] Cook's greatest creation, E L Wisty: the self-styled "tadpole expert", defender of those with "spindly legs" and founder of the "World Domination League".'

'Alas for Mr Livingstone, his stab at humour on the Today programme went disastrously wrong. The mayor's point was that the media should end their fixation with what he called "the most minority strand amongst the Muslim community, people whose followers are numbered in tens, not even hundreds". The militants, he said, represented mainstream Muslim opinion no more than E L Wisty's World Domination League "represented the English People"...'

'Mr Livingstone scorned the press for giving undue prominence to "serial fantasists".'

'Well, where to start? First of all, the World Domination League had only two members: Wisty himself and his friend Spotty Muldoon. I think it is a safe bet to say that more than two British Muslims sympathise with the analysis put forward by the Islamists pictured on yesterday's Telegraph front page (three of them, after all, blew themselves up on July 7).'

'Second, it seems to me not only reasonable, but essential, to shine as bright a light as possible on "minority strands" in Muslim opinion at the moment, only a fortnight after the adherents of one of those "strands" killed at least 56 people. The implication of Mr Livingstone's remarks was that the wicked press is irresponsibly focusing on a handful of militants - the "few bad apples", as police spokesmen used to say - when it should be concentrating on moderate Islamic opinion. To which I can only say: leave it out, Ken.'


But the point of Ken Livingstone's remarks was not that a large proportion of British Muslims aren't equally angry at British foreign policy as the people quoted. It is that the media focuses on figures whose extreme views (calling for the establishment of an Islamic state here in Britain, inciting violence, and so on) have been rejected by the mainstream Muslim community.


Secondly, when 'shining as bright a light as possible on "minority strands" in Muslim opinion", as d'Ancona says, "only a fortnight after the adherents of one of those "strands" killed at least 56 people'', and when all kinds of Muslims - and people of Asian appearance - are being harassed and attacked by non-Muslims, a responsible newspaper would make clear the distinction between the "minority strand" and the majority, rather than deliberately blurring the distinction.




Thirdly, and most importantly, when shining this "bright light", honest reporters and responsible media outlets should make sure it is shining on all elements of the "minority strand" that is being confronted.


For example, in the case of Sheikh Omar Mohammed Bakri, what about this paragraph in today's Times?


A website controlled by the sheikh (but no longer accessible, it seems) "attributed the bombings to al-Qaeda and said that the British people should accept Osama bin Laden’s truce offer “otherwise you will have nobody to blame but yourself for what has and will most probably happen again”.


We are constantly told that there is "nobody to negotiate with", that al Qaeda has "no demands", and that it will "use any excuse" to engineer the slaughter of innocents.


What about this "truce offer"? No one reading the British press would be aware of its possible existence.


It might be that the terms being offered are unacceptable in a civilized society, in which case they should be rejected. On the other hand, it might be that the terms being offered amount to British foreign policy abiding by international law and refraining from offering diplomatic, material or military support to the large-scale oppression of civilians, in which case the terms should be accepted.


The Voice of America carried a report a week ago quoting Saad al-Faqih, a London-based Saudi dissident who fled to Britain in 1994, and who the US government has labeled an al Qaeda financier for allegedly helping Osama bin Laden procure a satellite phone in 1998.


Mr al-Faqih says he has no doubt that al-Qaida carried out the London bombings as part of a strategy to attack U.S. allies. He expects another statement soon from Osama bin Laden, perhaps to offer another truce to countries that withdraw their support from the U.S.-led effort in Iraq:


"I would expect bin Laden to come again now with another statement reintroducing the truce offer, or otherwise I would expect maybe another attack to prove that this offer is not the offer of a weak person or a weak organization. This offer has to be taken seriously. Otherwise, Europe has to take the consequences."




After the Madrid bombings, Osama bin Laden released a tape in which he made this truce offer, saying, among other things:


It is known that security is a pressing necessity for all mankind. We do not agree that you should monopolise it only for yourselves. Also, vigilant people do not allow their politicians to tamper with their security.


Having said this, we would like to inform you that labelling us and our acts as terrorism is also a description of you and of your acts. Reaction comes at the same level as the original action. Our acts are reaction to your own acts, which are represented by the destruction and killing of our kinfolk in Afghanistan, Iraq and Palestine.


The act that horrified the world; that is, the killing of the old, handicapped [Hamas spiritual leader] Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, may God have mercy on him, is sufficient evidence.


We pledge to God that we will punish America for him, God willing.


Which religion considers your killed ones innocent and our killed ones worthless? And which principle considers your blood real blood and our blood water? Reciprocal treatment is fair and the one who starts injustice bears greater blame...


...the examining of the developments that have been taking place, in terms of killings in our countries and your countries, will make clear an important fact; namely, that injustice is inflicted on us and on you by your politicians, who send your sons - although you are opposed to this - to our countries to kill and be killed.


Therefore, it is in both sides' interest to curb the plans of those who shed the blood of peoples for their narrow personal interest and subservience to the White House gang...


Based on the above, and in order to deny war merchants a chance and in response to the positive interaction shown by recent events and opinion polls, which indicate that most European peoples want peace, I ask honest people, especially ulema, preachers and merchants, to form a permanent committee to enlighten European peoples of the justice of our causes, above all Palestine. They can make use of the huge potential of the media.


The door of reconciliation is open for three months of the date of announcing this statement.


I also offer a reconciliation initiative to them, whose essence is our commitment to stopping operations against every country that commits itself to not attacking Muslims or interfering in their affairs - including the US conspiracy on the greater Muslim world.


This reconciliation can be renewed once the period signed by the first government expires and a second government is formed with the consent of both parties.


The reconciliation will start with the departure of its last soldier from our country.


The door of reconciliation is open for three months of the date of announcing this statement.


For those who reject reconciliation and want war, we are ready.


As for those who want reconciliation, we have given them a chance. Stop shedding our blood so as to preserve your blood. It is in your hands to apply this easy, yet difficult, formula. You know that the situation will expand and increase if you delay things.


If this happens, do not blame us - blame yourselves.


A rational person does not relinquish his security, money and children to please the liar of the White House...


...The killing of the Russians was after their invasion of Afghanistan and Chechnya; the killing of Europeans was after their invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan; and the killing of Americans on the day of New York [reference to 11 September] was after their support of the Jews in Palestine and their invasion of the Arabian Peninsula.

(This is a BBC translation)


Is this a demand for the revival of the Muslim empire? A demand for sharia law to be instituted in all Western countries?


Does this fit in with the claim in the 9/11 Commission Report that, while bin Laden’s campaign began in reaction to US policies, ‘it quickly became far deeper’: ‘To the second question of what America could do, al Qaeda’s answer was that America should abandon the Middle East, convert to Islam, and end the immorality and godlessness of its culture... If the United States did not comply, it would be at war with the Islamic nation’. (The 9/11 Commission Report, Chapter 2, pp. 50-51)


Or does it fit in with the analysis of Michael Scheuer, who ran the CIA's bin Laden unit (1996-1999), who only left the CIA last November, who says that Osama bin Laden has ‘clear, focused, limited and widely popular foreign policy goals’, and that he 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' (Anonymous, Imperial Hubris, p. xviii)?




Let us recall in this context the claim of responsibility made for the London atrocities on an al Qaeda-linked website:


In the name of God, the merciful, the compassionate, may peace be upon the cheerful one and undaunted fighter, Prophet Muhammad, God's peace be upon him.


Nation of Islam and Arab nation: Rejoice for it is time to take revenge against the British Zionist Crusader government in retaliation for the massacres Britain is committing in Iraq and Afghanistan. The heroic mujahideen have carried out a blessed raid in London. Britain is now burning with fear, terror and panic in its northern, southern, eastern, and western quarters.


We have repeatedly warned the British Government and people. We have fulfilled our promise and carried out our blessed military raid in Britain after our mujahideen exerted strenuous efforts over a long period of time to ensure the success of the raid.


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. He who warns is excused.


God says: "You who believe: If ye will aid (the cause of) Allah, He will aid you, and plant your feet firmly."


Note that the statement links the attacks directly to Britain's participation in the occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan: 'it is time to take revenge against the British Zionist Crusader government in retaliation for the massacres Britain is committing in Iraq and Afghanistan'.


It also offers a menacing version of the "truce" to Denmark, Italy and other nations participating in the two occupations: '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.'




These offers of a "truce" may be nothing more than a cynical propaganda device designed to increase support in Muslim communities around the world. They may be offered only in the sure knowledge that they will not be accepted.


But until they are explored, we do not know if they are genuine.


What we do know is that if this conditionality is ignored, and these offers are erased from the record, we are faced with an unending confrontation.


More important than the question of whether or not bin Laden and the leaders of al Qaeda seriously mean these truce offers, is the issue of grassroots Muslim opinion. It is clear that the occupations of Afghanistan and Iraq are major causes of what is referred to as "Muslim extremism".


If these occupations were to end, regardless of the attitude and intentions of the al Qaeda leadership, the willingness of young people to carry out anti-Western terrorist attacks (which they regard as justified retaliation) will be reduced, and the security of people in Britain, the United States and elsewhere will be correspondingly increased. The recruiting, financing and logistical support offered to al Qaeda would drop.


Britain and the United States had no legal or moral right to invade either Afghanistan or Iraq, and they have no right to remain in control of those countries' destinies - despite having the support of elected politicians in both countries who are little more than captives of US power. The US military in particular is making the situation in both countries worse by the day, by its use of indiscriminate violence, partially documented by Iraq Body Count.


The US and Britain should withdraw from both these countries, and, JNV believes, fund efforts by the UN and unbiased third parties to support local bodies reconstructing their countries and negotiating a political transition to a better society. We should do this because it is the right thing to do. It is also in the interests of the British and American people.




Adrian Hamilton has a piece in the Independent today entitled, 'It's too convenient to blame it all on religion' (page 31 or paid-access here), which is worth reading in full:


What do Kenya, Tanzania, Bali, Saudi Arabia, Morocco and Turkey have in common?

The answer is that they're all part of a litany of countries where bombings took place before Britain joined the US in invading Iraq, and are now being learnt, parrot-like, for every minister to recite when asked about Iraq's connection to the London bombings.

To which one can only put one’s head in one's hands and weep. If this is really what Tony Blair and his government believe, then there is no hope of their ever understanding what happened.

We all know why they’re doing it. It's political convenience.

It suits Blair to say that the bombs are all down to an "evil ideology", because that way you avoid totally any connection with British policy abroad or at home.

It’s equally convenient for the middle-aged mullahs meeting the Prime Minister on Tuesday, since blaming all the violence on radical young clerics enables them to reassert their authority over their communities and to sweep the problems into a corner marked "brainwashing of the young from outside”.

But you can’t divorce religion from politics, belief from circumstance.

Read the ancient historian Josephus on the Jewish revolts against Roman occupation.

Look today at the manipulation of religion in the violence at Ayodhya in India or the Christian-Muslim clashes in Nigeria.

Religion has always been as much the effect as the cause of fervent political feeling.

Nor do you need religion to persuade young people to sacrifice themselves for a cause, as the history of the Red Brigade and the Tamil Tigers would show.

Blaming it all on mad mullahs makes it easier to "do something" in response - close down mosques, refuse entry to preachers, gather a chorus of rejection from community leaders - but it doesn't begin to get to the root of the problem.

For a start, to wrap up every bomb in an Islamic land with the epithet "Muslim extremism" is grossly misleading. The circumstances of southern Thailand are quite different from conditions in Palestine or the stirrings in Central Asia.

Even in Europe it is quite wrong to lump Moroccan immigrants in the Netherlands, Kurds in Sweden, Algerians in France or Turks in Germany with Bangladeshis in London or Pakistanis in the east Midlands.

They maybe all Muslims, but their circumstances are specific to themselves, as are the causes of alienation among their young.

Where a common religion comes into play,and where it becomes a means of identity, is in the sense that globalised communications have given the impression of Muslims everywhere being the victims of injustice and oppression.

That assumption (for assumption it is) maybe exaggerated or heightened by the media which radicalised young British Muslims watch and read.

But it is not without foundation.

Most of
[the] Muslim “hotspots" are in areas of "occupation" of Muslim communities by non-Muslims, from Chechnya through Palestine to Kashmir. Arabs may find it difficult to accept their own responsibility for their misfortunes, but it is hard to deny that the Middle East is a mess of Western making, from the post-First World War carve-up to the exploitation of oil.

You don't have to be a susceptible youth going to the wrong mosque to develop a sense of anger and injustice at what is happening in Palestine and Iraq.

Indeed, al-Qa'ida recruits are usually from a quite different background to the poor, ill- educated children from the slums and the rural backwaters educated in the madrassas of Pakistan.

If anything, these are more likely to be aroused to violence against other sects of Islam than against Western targets.

Would it make much difference if all the radical preachers were silenced, gagged or jailed? Probably not.

There is a case for clamping down on incendiary speeches of whatever sort, certainly anything that promotes violence.

But that is not where the impressions which radicalise the young probably come from.

Would Muslim youth feel so strongly if they were not already alienated at home? Not easy to decide.

Although much has been made of the middle-class background of the bombers, such factors have always been true of revolutionary cadres (think of early communism in Europe and China).

The driving force remains the original alienation of the individual, for whatever reason, and the general environment in which it develops.

Would alienated youth still take to the bomb if there weren't the issues of Palestine and Iraq to inspire their sense of injustice? Again difficult to weigh precisely.

But opinion poll after opinion poll does suggest that feelings within British Muslim communities run very strongly on these international questions.

If that is so, then it has to be said that the future is very gloomy indeed.

Look at the latest news from Dagestan and Chechnya, never mind Gaza and Iraq.

In the Islamic world at large conditions are getting worse, the causes of outrage greater, and the more the West trumpets the issue of terror to support repression the worse it will get.

If Tony Blair really believes what he says, that the task of government and society now is to engage the Muslim community in debate and to win its arguments with reason, then one might ask this: does he think he will engage his audience better by talking religion and its perversions or discussing frankly why he went into Iraq and what he intends to do there now?

You can write to the Independent (address here) or to Adrian Hamilton himself.




JNV welcomes feedback.


This page last updated 21 July 2005






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