London Blasts: Media Review
72: 17 September 2005
The Danger To Tony Blair
Muslim Taskforce Realism
Sabra And Shatila - Fisk
Free Speech, "Glorification"
And Matthew Parris
THE DANGER TO TONY BLAIR
Andrew Grice, Political
Editor for the Independent,
'Mr Blair does not want
his legacy to be the Iraq war or foreign affairs generally.
He would much prefer to focus on "education, education,
education" but, with Britain holding the presidency
of the G8 and EU, events have ensured that this year will
be dominated by international affairs'.
So if Britain had not
held these presidencies, and there hadn't been two terrorist
attacks in July, the devastating war in Iraq would not have
been sufficient to push 'international affairs' to the top
rank of British politics. This is probably an accurate analysis,
but one that does not reflect well on the political system,
or the mass media Mr Grice is part of.
'For the rest of this
year, Mr Blair will try to tilt the balance back towards
the domestic front. It will not be easy. One close ally
told me: "The danger is that he will be remembered
as a foreign policy Prime Minister." '
So the "danger"
is not that large numbers of people in Iraq and Afghanistan
will continue to lose their lives in conflicts begun by
the Prime Minister, or that smaller but still significant
numbers of people in Britain will lose their lives from
terrorist attacks provoked in large part by these invasions.
is that Mr Blair's place in posterity will not be entirely
dominated by his "achievements" in education,
health and social security.
Another reflection on
the values of the British political system, and those of
the media culture Mr Grice is part of.
He notes that Mr Blair
will try to devote most of the coming week to domestic matters,
in the run-up to the Labour conference in a week's time:
'However, he also needs
to address terrorism after the London bombings, and that
will inevitably raise the question of whether the
Iraq war increased the threat to Britain.'
roads lead back to Iraq.'
MUSLIM TASKFORCE REALISM
This is a point being
made directly to the Prime Minister by the taskforces he
set up after the 7/7 attacks to suggest ways of 'tackling
Islamist extremism', as the Guardian
puts it. What the newspaper calls a 'Radical
plan to stop Muslim extremism' (lead story, page 1)
includes the suggestions of a counter-Islamophobia press
unit, a Royal Commission to investigate the 7/7 and 21/7
attacks, and so on. Hardly very radical.
Crucially, the seven taskforces
(made up of Muslim MPs, peers, academics and community leaders)
'all feel that British foreign
policy, especially Mr Blair's support for the Iraq war,
has fuelled resentment.' They suggest that a Royal
Commission should proceed in two stages. The first being
an examination of the bombings themselves. The second being
'an exploration of wider issues, such
as the role of foreign policy in radicalising the terrorists,
and whether victims of the bombings received speedy and
adequate financial compensation and support.'
Vikram Dodd reports, 'The
government has so far resisted the idea.'
The plans were formally
put to the Home Office on Wednesday 14 September, and will
be given an official answer in a week. Whitehall is expert
in rejecting such proposals while full of respect and appreciation,
mutating one form of words into another, robbing them of
SABRA AND SHATILA - FISK
Today's column by Robert
Fisk is mainly devoted to theology - to the roots of violence
and extremism in Judaism, Christianity and Islam, as analysed
by John Shepherd, principal lecturer in religious studies
at St Martin's College, Lancaster. The analysis is very
similar to past remarks in these columns (14
July, 1 August,
and in JNV
Briefing 85) (Robert Fisk columns can be found at Selves
Mr Fisk asks:
'Are we therefore in
a position to tell our Muslim neighbours to "grasp
the nettle"? I rather think not. Because the condition
of human rights has been so eroded by our own folly, our
illegal invasion of Iraq and the anarchy that we have
allowed to take root there, our flagrant refusal to prevent
further Israeli settlement expansion in the West Bank,
our constant, whining demands that prominent Muslims must
disown the killers who take their religious texts too
literally, that we have
long ago lost our moral compass.'
'A hundred years of Western interference
in the Middle East has left the region so cracked with
fault lines and artificial frontiers and heavy with injustices
that we are in no position
to lecture the Islamic world on human rights and values.
Forget the Amalekites and the Persians and Martin Luther
and the Caliph Abu Bakr. Just look at ourselves in the
mirror and we will see the most frightening text of all.'
He asks in particular
about the slaughter - by Christian allies of Israel - of
up to 1,700 Palestinian Muslims in the Sabra and Shatila
camps in Lebanon between 16 and 18 September 1982:
'Do we remember that?
Do we recall that the massacres occurred between 16 and
18 September 1982? Yes, today is the 23rd anniversary
of that little genocide - and I suspect The
Independent will be one of the very few newspapers
to remember it. I was in those camps in 1982. I climbed
over the corpses. Some of the Christian Phalangists in
Beirut even had illustrations of the Virgin Mary on their
gun butts, just as the Christian Serbs did in Bosnia.'
You can either have a
moral compass that points to all these acts of violence,
or you have an aimless conscience tethered to go wherever
the State goes.
FREE SPEECH, "GLORIFICATION"
AND MATTHEW PARRIS
Finally some defence of
free speech in relation to the new Blair terror laws. Matthew
Parris in The Times says,
should expect the policeman's knock for what we do, not
think'. He makes some brave assertions:
'Nelson Mandela, the
Free French Resistance, Ho Chi Minh, Fidel Castro, Abdul
Nasser, the Easter Rising . . . oh, what’s the point?
No wonder Mr Clarke is talking about a 20-year “cut-off”
point before which we should be able to praise terrorists.
That takes us conveniently back to a time after he and
Mr Blair left university. But what is he saying? That
we should be able to praise
Mandela now, but it should have been illegal to praise
'There are a hundred
struggles, a hundred leaders, some good, some bad, in
which terrorism has arguably played a part. Arguably.
We have to be able to have the argument. People
have to be able to make the case for terrorism as an agent
for change, and (arguably) change for the better in history.'
He goes on:
'A year or so ago I
argued, on this page, that in a world where a giant superpower
was ready to use either crushing conventional military
force or the threat of nuclear annihilation against small
countries, the rest of the world might as well give up
tanks and fighter-planes and take refuge in combination
of the greatest and the least: independent nuclear capability
at the top, and a capability for bloodthirsty insurrection
on the streets.'
'Around the same time
Jenny Tonge, then the Liberal Democrat spokesman, declared
that if she were an impoverished Palestinian she might
have reacted as Palestinian terrorists have. Either or
both of these statements could plausibly be represented
as “glorifying” terrorism; they were intended
to invite sympathy for this method of resistance.'
'Because I am a Times
columnist and Dr Tonge was a parliamentarian, we should
have been unlikely to be prosecuted. But if less mainstream
voices are to be threatened with imprisonment for saying
similar things, their counsel will not be short of evidence
for their defence.'
Parris says, 'the easy way to resist
it was on practical grounds like these. Where, however,
one’s real objection is in principle rather than in
practice, the easy way is not the most honest.' Now we are
getting into unusual waters:
'So now for the hard way. I
object to creating speech-crimes even if the legislation
could be tightly drafted and made to work. I object to
the banning of ideas, theories or arguments. I object
to the prohibition of sentiments. Difficult as
the boundary is to mark or police, I see the line between
thought and action as absolutely central to the rule of
law in a liberal society. Good law ties hands; it does
not stop mouths or minds. It is for what we do, not what
we think or say, that we should expect the policeman’s
'Of course words may lead to actions.
Of course thoughts can be incendiary. Of course shouting
"fire!" in a crowded theatre is behaviour with
direct consequences. But somewhere a line must be drawn
between willing things and doing things, and how we draw
that line is what defines us as believers - or not - in
freedom of conscience. The Prime Minister's disregard
for this most important of distinctions is deeply troubling.'
'In my Britain a man or woman is
free to say they admire a terrorist and support his aims,
but not to offer any practical support to him in his work.
The difference is fuzzy and we are doomed to agonies of
indecision about the marshy ground which lies between
taking stands and taking part, but how we negotiate that
marsh, and whether we think it matters, is what marks
us out as caring about individual liberty.'
All admirable sentiments. But integrity
would make Mr Parris defend these principles even in relation
to the BNP and to the men being detained by the Government.
Such integrity is rarer even than the courage that
believes that 'MPs
may force retreat by Clarke' because of their concerns
over three-month detention without trial, and the definition
of 'glorification', which is to be a crime in relation to
terrorism (but not, sadly, the
English cricket team).
In the Independent,
the Home Affairs Correspondent, Nigel Morris, contradicts
the Prime Minister: 'The
holes in Blair's arguments, and how he sidesteps key issues'.
A mixed bags of responses, including complete acceptance
of the 'Londonistan' criticism of Britain's asylum policy.
(We discussed this on 13
and 26 August.)
JNV welcomes feedback.
This page last updated 17 September 2005