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The London Blasts


The London Blasts: Media Review

DAY 72: 17 September 2005



The Danger To Tony Blair

Muslim Taskforce Realism

Sabra And Shatila - Fisk

Free Speech, "Glorification" And Matthew Parris



Andrew Grice, Political Editor for the Independent, notes that:

'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.

He continues:

'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.

The "danger" 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.'

'All roads lead back to Iraq.'



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.'

Surprise, surprise.

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 all meaning.



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, 3 August, 23 August, and in JNV Briefing 85) (Robert Fisk columns can be found at Selves and Others.)

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.



Finally some defence of free speech in relation to the new Blair terror laws. Matthew Parris in The Times says, 'We 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 him them?'

'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 knock.'

'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

The Guardian 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





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