Much of the media was quick to declare Khalid Masood, who attacked people on Westminster bridge last Wednesday, an Islamist. The Daily Mail newspaper claimed, “The attack bore the hallmarks of Islamic State.”
Since then there has been speculation about whether Masood was a disturbed individual not connected to a terrorist organisation.
We don’t know for certain what motivated his attack. But we do know that the system we live in spawns terrorism.
Western rulers wage imperialist wars to gain more influence and control. Their conflicts create immense suffering, poverty, instability and division—and deep anger. In these desperate situations, terrorist groups can gain influence.
Our rulers claim their wars will reduce the threat of terrorism. In reality they increase it.
The US-led war and occupation in Iraq in 2003 killed around one million Iraqis and displaced millions more. It led to a national liberation movement that united Shia and Sunni Muslims.
The US and its allies encouraged sectarian tensions in order to split this movement and impose its control.
Their tactics, and the counter-revolutions across the Middle East, created the reactionary group Isis.
Our rulers decry terrorists for having “no respect for human life”. But they are happy to kill if it’s in their interests to do so—and they support terrorists if it suits them.
The British occupation of Ireland led to armed resistance—and attacks on people in Britain. Yet the British state colluded with Loyalist paramilitaries in Northern Ireland to allow the murder of large numbers of Catholics.
The Russian revolutionary Leon Trotsky said socialists have “nothing in common” with our rulers over terrorism.
He wrote that they “in response to any terrorist act, make solemn declarations about the ‘absolute value’ of human life.
“These are the same people who, on other occasions, in the name of other absolute values, are ready to shove millions of people into the hell of war.”
For Trotsky, terrorism represented “acts of despair and vengeance” by people suffering in a brutal system. But Marxists are fighting a very different battle.
Terrorism often plays into our rulers’ hands by making it easier for them to push through repression. And it weakens the idea of collective struggle.
Terrorists target particular individuals or governments. Marxists want to rip up the entire system and replace it with one where working class people are in charge.
Socialists defend the right of oppressed people to fight back.
But it will take a collective struggle waged by the mass of working class people, not by individuals acting alone, to transform the society that breeds terror.