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The London Blasts

 

The London Blasts: Media Review

DAY 52: 28 August 2005

 

'YOUNG MUSLIMS AND EXTREMISM' REPORT - BACK ON THE FRONT PAGE

A SIGNIFICANT EVENT

The Observer has published a leaked document from the heart of Government, once more establishing that the highest reaches of Whitehall were perfectly aware of the causal links between the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the threat of terror in Britain.

This story is extremely important.

Not because this new leak increases our understanding of the links between the threat from al Qaeda and British foreign policy. It doesn't. It doesn't even reveal more about the level of comprehension of these issues within Government, or the depths of duplicity this Government will stoop to.

It does, however, offer an opportunity for concerned citizens to inject some more realism into the debate around the 7/7 and 21/7 bombings.

1) It offers the opportunity to press the international, national and local media with the crucial finding in the Home Office/Foreign Office 'Young Muslims and Extremism' report that the risk of terrorism in Britain increased with the onset of the war on terror.

That report says, 'The perception is that passive "oppression", as demonstrated in British foreign policy, eg non-action on Kashmir and Chechnya, has given way to "active oppression" - the war on terror, and in Iraq and Afghanistan are all seen by a section of British Muslims as having been acts against Islam.'

In other words, the threat had grown greater as British foreign policy was seen as growing more hostile to Muslims, with the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq.

2) It offers us the opportunity to remind our fellow citizens that British intelligence warned Tony Blair on 10 February 2003, a month before the war, that invading Iraq would 'heighten' the risk of terrorism from al Qaeda.

The Joint Intelligence Committee, the apex of British intelligence, issued this warning to the Prime Minister: '[A]l-Qaida and associated groups continued to represent by far the greatest terrorist threat to Western interests, and that threat would be heightened by military action against Iraq.' (Intelligence and Security Committee, 'Iraqi weapons of mass destruction - intelligence and assessments' report, September 2003, p. 34 pdf)

3) This leak offers us the opportunity to remind everyone that an overwhelming majority of British people believe there is a connection between British foreign policy and the terrorist attacks in London.

The Guardian reported on 19 July, '33% of Britons think the prime minister bears "a lot" of responsibility for the London bombings and a further 31% "a little".'

That's two-thirds of the British people.

'Only 28% of voters agree with the government that Iraq and the London bombings are not connected.'

On 25 July, the Daily Mirror reported,

'23 per cent said the war was the main reason for the London bombings. Another 62 per cent believe that while Iraq was not the principle cause, it did contribute to the reasons behind the atrocities. Just 12 per cent said there was no real link.'

These are three messages which deserve to be heard at every level and in every corner of the mass media.

 

THE SINGLE MOST IMPORTANT REPORT

Since almost the beginning of this daily Media Review, we have returned repeatedly to the secret Home Office/Foreign Office report 'Young Muslims and Extremism' leaked to the Sunday Times three days after the 7/7 bombings.

The central issue of the 7/7 bombings has been the question: how could British-born Muslims, who have enjoyed the freedoms, rights and privileges of British life, come to destroy themselves and fifty of their fellow citizens in suicide terrorist attacks?

The significance of the 'Young Muslims and Extremism' report is that in the spring of 2004, a year before the 7/7 bombings, the British government had already investigated this issue, and come to the conclusion that British foreign policy was a key driver of 'extremism' among young British Muslims.

 

THE OBSERVER FRONT PAGE

The Observer front page today features part of the stream of secret exchanges within government that surround the 'Young Muslims and Extremism' report discussed in earlier Media Reviews.

The headline today:

'Leak shows Blair told of Iraq war terror link'

Subheadings:

'Top official warned in 2004 of British Muslim anger'
'Secret document said UK seen as 'crusader'

 

JAY'S LETTER

The Guardian website contains an image of a letter from the Foreign Office permanent under-secretary Michael Jay, addressed to Sir Andrew Turnbull, the Cabinet Secretary. Here is an excerpt (with emphasis added by us):

RELATIONS WITH THE MUSLIM COMMUNITY

'Thank you for sight of the letter to John Gieve on relations with the Muslim community. John has already sent you and copy addresses the joint FCO/HO paper on Young Muslims and Extremism. As John has indicated, the paper draws on a range of sources and contains a comprehensive work programme. Both Mike O'Brien and Fiona MacTaggart have been working closely on the paper with officials, which now awaits comments from the respective Secretaries of State.'

'Other colleagues have flagged up some of the potential underlying causes of extremism that can affect the Muslim community, such as discrimination, disadvantage and exclusion. But another recurring theme is the issue of British foreign policy, especially in the context of the Middle East Peace Process and Iraq.'

'Experience of both Ministers and officials working in this area suggests that the issue of British foreign policy and the perception of its negative effect on Muslims globally plays a significant role in creating feelings of anger and impotence amongst especially the younger generation of British Muslims. The concept of the "Ummah", i.e. that the Believers are one "nation", has led to HMG's policies towards the Muslim world having a very personal resonance for young British Muslims, many of whom are taking on the burden both of the perceived injustices and of the responsibility of putting them right, but without the legitimate tools to do so.'

'This seems to be a key driver behind recruitment by extremist organisations (e.g. recruitment drives by groups such as Hizb-ut-Tahrir and al Muhajiroon). The FCO has a relevant and crucial role to play in the wider context of engagement with British Muslims on policy issues, and more broadly, in convincing young Muslims that they have a legitimate and credible voice, including on foreign policy issues, through an active participation in the democratic process.'

This letter of 18 May 2004 follows the earlier correspondence leaked to The Sunday Times, centred on the letter from Sir Andrew Turnbull of 6 April 2004.

What was happening was that Michael Jay (top civil servant at the Foreign Office) and John Gieve (his equivalent at the Home Office) were corresponding with Sir Andrew (the Prime Minister's Cabinet Secretary) in drawing up a coherent analysis and strategy for dealing with the threat of home-grown terrorism coming out of the British Muslim community (a topic euphemistically referred to as 'Relations with the Muslim Community'). The core of the correspondence was the report 'Young Muslims and Extremism', which was leaked in draft form to The Sunday Times.

 

MORE FROM THE FOREIGN OFFICE

Attached to this latest letter is a Foreign Office strategy document which, according to the Observer, 'reveals further concerns':

'It says Britain is now viewed as a "crusader state", on a par with America as a potential target. "Muslim resentment towards the West is worse than ever," the document, "Building Bridges with Mainstream Islam", says.'

' "This was previously focused on the US, but the war in Iraq has meant the UK is now seen in similar terms - both are now seen by many Muslims as "Crusader states".'

' "Though we are moving on from a conflict to a reconstruction phase in Iraq, there are no signs of any moderation of this resentment. Our work on engaging with Islam has therefore been knocked back. Mr O'Brien [then a Foreign Office minister] has expressed his concern." '

Note that this letter accepts that there has been a change in perceptions, with Britain being seen in a new and more hostile light by Muslims, because of its participation in the war in Iraq, among other things.

In other words, there is a recognition that the risk of terrorism has increased because of the invasion of Iraq (among other things). The Government's line is, of course, that the risk of terror pre-dates the invasion of Iraq. True, but irrelevant to the question of whether the threat has been 'heightened' by the invasion.

 

DECEIT

The Observer seems also to have seen more secret papers from January 2005, which show that this clear headed appraisal was not reflected in documents prepared for ministers to use in public presentations: 'all mention of the Iraq connection to extremism was removed from "core scripts" - briefing papers given to ministers to defend the government's position on Iraq and terror.'

'The lines to be used by ministers include measures designed to address Muslim concerns, such as the introduction of religious hatred legislation and tackling educational underachievement among Muslims. But there is nothing to address the concerns raised by Jay eight months earlier.'

The Observer writes that, 'The documents reveal deep divisions at the heart of government over home-grown religious extremism and its connections to British intervention in Iraq', contrasting the Prime Minister's public reluctance to accept this kind of link with British foreign policy and the heightened threat of terror with Michael Jay's frank acceptance that such a link exists.

This is absurd. The documents do not demonstrate a 'deep division' in Government. They demonstrate, clearly, that what is accepted in private is denied in public. We are familiar with this pattern of deceit from other leaked documents, including the Downing Street memos. This is very stuff of politics.

 

ACTION

The anti-war movement has an opportunity to press the mainstream media once again to debate this issue, and to press for withdrawal from Iraq. The position of the authentic anti-war movement is that we should withdraw because the occupation is wrong in principle, and is adding to the burden of the Iraqi people. We are part of the problem, not part of the solution, as the FT has pointed out. And it is also true that doing the right thing will also make us safer from the risk of terrorism.

We have an opportunity now. We should not squander it.

 

JNV welcomes feedback.

 

This page last updated 28 August 2005

 

 

 

 


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