Global Trends by Martin Khor

Monday 18 July 2005

London bombings sparks debate on why and what to do 

Blurb:  The shocking suicide bombings in London have sparked a new debate on the causes of terrorism and what should be done.  The UK government announced a tightening of security laws and measures to fight “this evil ideology.” Others pointed to its role in Iraq and called for an end to occupation


The London bombings two weeks ago continue to reverberate around the world.  Last Friday, two minutes of silence were maintained in London and elsewhere to mourn for the victims and condemn the terrorist acts. 

Meanwhile, debate intensifies on what are the causes, and what should be done to control such acts of terror.

In Britain itself, the public were shocked by the revelation that the bombs were set off by four “suicide bombers”, who were all young British citizens, who appeared to be nice and ordinary people living in Leeds, and could have been anyone’s neighbour. 

Shockingly, it was an 18-year-old schoolboy, with good academic grades, who set off the bomb on the bus.  Pictures (caught from a video at a railway station) of him with a knapsack containing the bomb were splashed in the newspapers.

People had expected that the bombers would be revealed to be foreign-based terrorists linked to Al Qaeda.

The Prime Minister Tony Blair last week announced a two-prong approach.  Firstly, tighten laws to prosecute those preparing or inciting acts of terrorism, to keep out potential terrorists from entering the country, and deport those who incite acts of terrorism. 

Secondly, he urged Muslim leaders in Britain to stand up against the “poisonous and perverted” interpretation of Islam and assist in rooting the “evil ideology” from their community.

We can expect not only the UK but other European countries to tighten security at the border, which can also be expected to cause more inconvenience to visitors.  The United States also last week announced that travelers face increased security checks, including the collection of all 10 fingerprints from first-time travelers (rather than two prints currently required).

Many people link the London bombings to Britain’s role in the war on and present occupation of Iraq.  After all, Al Qaeda leaders have made clear in their messages that it would strike in countries that are involved in the Iraqi occupation.

When trains were bombed in Madrid, killing almost 200 people, a clear link was seen  with the Spanish military presence in Iraq.  The newly elected President pulled Spain’s troops out of Iraq, as he had promised to do during the election.

However, Blair and other UK political leaders have projected the position that the bombs had nothing to do with Britain’s role in the Iraq war, saying that terrorism existed even before the Iraq war.  Blair said the terrorists were motivated by hatred of the Western way of life and freedom.

The Prime Minister’s state of denial is easy to understand.  He has been unpopular with the public for his decision to go to war, and he does not want to be blamed for the bombings.

The Opposition has been giving him an easy time, also being careful not to connect the war in Iraq to the suicide bombings.  But privately, many believe there is a direct link.

In the past few years, when Britain went to war in Afghanistan and Iraq, the government itself has been warning about the imminence of an attack, recalled Seumas Milne in an article in The Guardian of 14 July.

Though there is every need for public mourning, “it is an insult to the dead to mislead people about the factors fuelling the deadly rage in Muslim communities across the world”, said Milne.

The champions of the Iraq and Afghan occupation have peddled disinformation that Al Qaeda and its supporters are really motivated by hatred for western freedoms and way of life, that their Islamist ideology aims at global domination, he added.

Milne recounted the exchange on BBC radio between Andrew Marr who asked whether Islamist extremists found the diversity of culture in London so offensive that they wanted to kill innocent civilians, and the BBC correspondent Frank Gardner, who had been injured in an Al Qaeda attack in Saudi Arabia.

Gardner said:  “No it’s not that.  What they find offensive are the policies of western governments and specifically the presence of foreign troops in Muslim lands, notably Iraq and Afghanistan.”

Milne said that Al Qaeda statements have regularly spelled out that their central goal is the withdrawal of US and other forces from the Arab and Muslim world and an end to support of the Israeli occupation of Palestinian land.

“Those are also the goals that unite an overwhelming majority of Muslims and give Al Qaeda and its allies the chance to recruit and operate….As even Osama bin Laden asked in his video, if it was western freedom Al Qaeda hated, ‘why do we not strike Sweden?’”

The security crackdowns and campaign to uproot an “evil ideology” will not extinguish the threat, concluded Milne.  Only a British commitment to end its role in the bloody occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan is likely to do that.

Last Thursday night, when the identities of three of the bombers had been revealed to be young Muslims from Leeds, BBC carried a TV interview with four British Muslim teenagers in Leeds.

The four condemned the bombings, but said they could understand the anger that motivated the bombers.   They themselves were angry with the US and British led invasion and occupation of Iraq and the double standards in the support showed towards Israel.  

When asked whether the anger felt by young Muslims would have been enough to cause people to carry out the bombings, they said yes, a few people would be motivated enough by this, although they themselves were against it.

Robin Cook, the former Foreign Minister, who resigned as House of Commons speaker because of the government’s decision to go to war in Iraq, said the West’s current response to the terrorist threat compounds the original error of going to war.

“So long as the struggle against terrorism is conceived as a war that can be won on military means, it is domed to fail.  The more the west emphasizes confrontation, the more it silences moderate voices in the Muslim world”.

The breeding grounds of terrorism are to be found in the poverty of back streets, and a war on world poverty would do more for security of the west than a war on terror.

“President Bush is given to justifying the invasion of Iraq on the grounds that by fighting terrorism abroad, it protects the west from having to fight terrorists at home,” added Cook. “Whatever else can be said in defense of the war in Iraq today, it cannot be claimed it has protected us from terrorism on our soil.”

As can be seen from the sample views above, the London bombings have sparked a more intense debate on what are the root causes of the recent years’ terrorist acts, and how to solve the problems.

Though the politicians who led their countries into Iraq may not want to admit it, many people worldwide believe the war and occupation there has been a terrible mistake, as well as a brutal and illegal act.   The way they see it, the sooner the occupation ends, the better.