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The London Blasts


The London Blasts: Media Review

DAY 19: Tuesday 26 July 2005






An important development in the real world on Sunday, that was recorded imperfectly in the British media yesterday (Monday), was the first major indication of the British Government wavering in its denial that the London bombings have any foreign policy connection.


This seems to have been ignored in the Guardian and The Times, but was noted in passing in the FT and the Independent, and reported with the headline it deserved in the Telegraph. (Noticing a pattern yet?)


The Telegraph headline ran thus: 'Straw changes the line on link to Iraq war'. The first four paragraphs:


'Jack Straw performed a Government U-turn in the terror crisis yesterday when he admitted for the first time that London and other parts of Britain might be at greater risk of attack because of the Iraq war.'

'The Foreign Secretary dropped the previous line taken by Tony Blair and his ministers that the terrorists would have struck anyway, regardless of the war against Saddam Hussein, in favour of a more equivocal approach.'

'Asked on BBC Radio 4's The World This Weekend if he and the Prime Minister were still maintaining that the Iraq war had not made Britain more of a target, Mr Straw said: "It is impossible to say for certain." Previously, the Prime Minister has drawn attention to al-Qa'eda's long history of attacks before the Iraq conflict, including the September 11 2001 aircraft attacks on New York and Washington, to dismiss claims of a heightened risk.'

'But sources said ministers had become aware that the line needed to be softened because most members of the public did not accept that nothing had changed. Mr Straw's comments come after a recent Guardian/ICM poll claimed that two thirds of Britons believed there was a link between the decision to support the war in Iraq and the London bombings.'




The Independent had a piece entitled, 'Blair to leave way open for recall of Commons'. After five paragraphs of that story, we find these two paragraphs:


Senior cabinet ministers toned down their denials that the war in Iraq was not linked with the bombing campaign in Britain for the first time yesterday.

Jack Straw, the Foreign Secretary, who had earlier ruled out any link, conceded on BBC Radio that a link was possible. He said: "It's impossible to say for certain. What I do know is that this terrorism began many years ago ... well before the military action in Iraq."


The FT buried the story even more effectively in a long article headed, 'Killing pushes gun laws into spotlight'. After 17 paragraphs of that story, we come to this:


'The government appeared to alter its response to criticisms that the war in Iraq had increased Britain's vulnerability to terrorists.'

'Asked to address such concerns, Mr Straw told the BBC: "It's impossible to say for certain", before adding that terrorist atrocities had been committed before the 2003 Iraq war.'

'However, he struck a markedly different tone last week when he flatly denied that the war might have made Britain more of a target. On Wednesday, the foreign secretary said: "It may be a comfortable thought by some people to think all this follows the military action in Iraq. It does not." ' (Emphasis added.)

'Downing Street is likely to be relaxed about Mr Straw's latest pronouncement. By admitting the possibility of a link between the war and terrorism, the foreign secretary may neutralise some rumblings of discontent on the backbenches. He is also reflecting what, according to polls, the public believes.'


The Prime Minister's strategy seems to be to relax the hard line that there is no connection as a sop to public opinion, and to take the heat off the Labour backbenches.


The political pressure for withdrawal from Iraq (but not, curiously, from Afghanistan) mounts enormously if it is admitted that the London bombers (and their successors in the future) derive much of their motivation from the occupation and its brutalities.


The government may be aiming to go half way towards that admission, but not accept the political consequences. It could give up the effort to persuade everyone that 'there is no connection', and fall back to the position that 'no one really knows, but we cannot reward the terrorists by withdrawing from Iraq as a response to the bombings'. This could be quite a successful move.




On the other hand, it might not. What is striking is that with hardly any articulate expression in the mass media - apart from demonized or marginalized voices such as George Galloway, Tariq Ali and so on - the public has resisted the government and the media's propaganda onslaught about the causes of the London bombings.


This may mark the return of the submerged majority who opposed the war on Iraq before it took place, but who then fell silent once British soldiers were in the firing line, and then when the occupation was portrayed as the only alternative to complete social breakdown in Iraq.


It may be that one of the major motives for that massive outpouring of mainstream opposition in the run-up to the invasion - as crystallized on 15 February 2003 - was precisely the fear of these kinds of consequences, and that fear has risen to the surface again with these traumatic events in London.


In any event, the government's tactical change of line is testimony of the power of ordinary people to resist propaganda, and to affect the course of events. More dissidence would have more effect on policy.


(Incidentally, we haven't detected any sign of this story in today's newspapers, despite its significance.)




Last night BBC2 showed the opening episode of a new series, entitled 'The New Al-Qaeda'. Focused on the use of the internet, the episode was entitled 'jihad.com'. Much of it consisted of a smear campaign against British Muslim Babar Ahmad, who is being sought for extradition by the United States on charges of assisting al Qaeda by hosting a supportive website.


The Free Babar Ahmad campaign has made a statement about the programme, and is urging viewers to write in to the BBC to complain. They note: 'If Babar has such strong links with Al-Qaeeda and terrorism, as it has been alleged in the programme, it beggars belief as to why he was not prosecuted in this country. He was arrested, fully investigated, then released without charge in December 2003.'


The programme was almost completely without merit, increasing irrational fear of Muslims at a very dangerous time, and including an endorsement of torture by an American magistrate (which is not challenged).


However, it did close with a few sensible words from Michael Scheuer, former head of the bin Laden unit at the CIA (1996-1999) who we quoted in our first Media Review:


[Narrator] 'Above all, it's political issues that fire Muslim anger and fuel the jihadi internet. Issues like Palestine, Chechnya, Kashmir, Iraq. Taming the wild west of the internet - were that ever possible - is only attacking the symptoms and not the underlying causes of the fury of Muslims like these.'

[Scheuer] 'I think the Islamists are winning the war hands down, at least in terms of the United States. Our politicians - either because they're ignorant or they're not willing to tell the truth - continue to tell the American people that this war is aimed at our liberties and our freedoms and our election system and our quest for gender equality, when that has really almost nothing to do with it.'

'Until the American pepole are squared with, and our President - whether Democrat or Republican - says, "They're mad at our policies in the Islamic world, and the impact those policies have", you have to say America is losing, simply because we haven't taken the measure of our enemy.'


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This page last updated 28 July 2005




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