Tony Blair would have us believe that the horrific bombings perpetrated against the people of London last week had nothing to do with the foreign policy of his government post 9/11.
Instead, he argues, we are dealing with religious fanatics who are inspired purely by hate of “our” way of life. The fact that over 100,000 people have lost their lives in Iraq and over 20,000 in Afghanistan as a consequence of George Bush and Tony Blair unleashing their war of terror is apparently no indicator as to why people — Muslims, we assume — are planting bombs on our streets.
This delinkage is not shared by the CIA. As John Pilger reports, “Three weeks ago, a classified CIA report revealed that the Anglo-American invasion of Iraq had turned that country into a focal point of terrorism.
“None of the intelligence agencies regarded Iraq as such a flashpoint before the invasion, however tyrannical the regime. On the contrary, in 2003 the CIA reported that Iraq ‘exported no terrorist threat to his neighbours’ and that Saddam Hussein was ‘implacably hostile to Al Qaida’.”
A diagnosis of the problem as simply one of religious fanaticism and consequent prescription of a simplistic “war on terror” is not only wrong, but counterproductive. It actually adds to the real cause of the disease of terrorism — injustice and double standards.
What we are seeing is political violence, not religious violence. That violence has its roots in a seething anger, built up over decades, at the manner in which US and British foreign policy in the region has helped further cement the structures of oppression and exploitation.
The demands — even of people like Osama bin Laden — are concrete things like removal of US bases from Saudi Arabia and the withdrawal of Western troops from Muslim countries.
So Tony Blair is right on one thing—you can’t reduce everything to post 9/11. The people of the Middle East have been angry for much longer than that. They remember the deaths of at least half a million Iraqi children as a result of UN sanctions in the previous decade. They remember the comments about these deaths from then US secretary of state Madeleine Albright — that “the price was worth it”.
They remember that in return for non-interference in the Balkans, the Russian government under Yelstin and then Putin was allowed free reign to wage its war of terror on the people of Chechnya, levelling Grozny and killing 100,000 Chechens.
They remember the 700,000 Palestinians ethnically cleansed in 1948, scattered to the four corners of the earth, left in rot in refugee camps, subjected to Israeli state sponsored terrorism that receives ever larger military and economic aid packages from the US.
They will have watched with tired cynicism the recent proclamations of current US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice that “democracy is on the march”, when in fact what is really on the march is the relentless expansion of US control of their lands and resources.
Saudi Arabia, Iraq, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Bahrain, Oman and Qatar all have US military bases. And all are governed by dictatorial US puppet regimes.
Arabs live in lands cursed by the wealth of oil. Beneath their feet are natural resources that could help rid their lands of poverty and underdevelopment. Yet they are denied access to that wealth.Instead Western oil companies, backed by Western armies, in collusion with rich Arab elites, act as one to deny them what is naturally theirs.
This contextualisation of the attacks on London is crucial in the political debate now taking place in the aftermath of last week’s bombing. Blair is desperate to break people’s perception of any linkage. And in that he is joined by the leaders of the Liberal Democrats, the Tories and — to their shame—some so called Muslim leaders.
Yet the very reason that the racist backlash has been contained so far is due to the opposite approach. It is due to the campaigning work of the anti-war movement, the thousands of nameless individuals who staffed stalls, handed out leaflets, organised local meetings and sustained the anti-war argument though a myriad of different gestures.
It is those actions that have shaped the political culture of this country so that there now exists a widespread “good sense” understanding of the lies behind Blair’s war.
I firmly believe that it is this groundswell of anti-war sentiment that is acting as a barrier in the face of a potential racist backlash. So far that barrier has held solid. But we need to continue to strengthen it.
And the best way we can do that is to ensure that at all the commemorative events to the victims of last Thursday’s terrible events, there is also an argument — put sensitively but with determination — that we are not only united in grief, we are also united for peace, that the only hope for the future is one that seeks to address the political dimensions that create the injustices terrorists organisations can breed from.
In the words of former British government adviser David Clarke, “There can be no hope of defeating terrorism until we are ready to take legitimate Arab grievances seriously.” A good place to start would be ending the occupation of Iraq, Afghanistan and Palestine.
Salma Yaqoob in the vice-chair of Respect and chair of Birmingham Stop the War Coalition