Jean Charles de Menezes was an innocent man. He could have been stopped by police at any time after he left his home on his way to Stockwell tube station. Instead he was followed and shot dead.
He was as innocent as those killed by the terrorist bombs. Let us be clear, it is ultimately the government’s responsibility for creating the political climate in which his killing took place.
As this death shows, the bomb attacks on London have created a new political situation. This is the most dramatic shift in British politics since the invasion of Iraq.
The nationwide political debate now raging is between the government and its supporters who condemn the bombing and see its cause in an “evil ideology” and those who condemn the bombing and see its causes running back to the invasions and occupations of Afghanistan, Iraq, and Palestine.
The vast majority of anti-war opinion has resisted the pressure brought by the government and media. Respect MP George Galloway was the first to make the anti-war movement’s case.
He has been followed by journalists Tariq Ali, Seumus Milne, Yasmin Alibhai-Brown and Gary Younge, Labour MPs Jeremy Corbyn, John McDonnell, Robin Cook and Clare Short, T&G union leader Tony Woodley, PCS union leader Mark Serwotka and Natfhe union leader Paul Mackney. They were joined, belatedly as usual, by Liberal Democrat leader Charles Kennedy.
The sole exception of any note has been Labour’s mayor of London Ken Livingstone who, during the vital days after the bombing, insisted that there was no link with Iraq only to then have to admit that it was to do with “80 years” of British foreign policy.
Two opinion polls show that Tony Blair is losing this argument.
A few days after the bombing Newsnight reported an ICM poll which showed no decline in support for withdrawing troops from Iraq.
This week the Mirror reported a poll showing 85 percent of people thought the bombings were connected to the Iraq war. Even among Labour MPs Blair is now widely thought to be “in denial” about the connection between British foreign policy and the Iraq war.
The first task of the anti-war movement has been to strengthen this mood. Stop the War Coalition vigils, marches and meetings are more important now than they have ever been.
In most towns and cities the anti-war voice has been heard above the media babble and has won wide support.
There is however one community where this battle is being fought harder than most—the Muslim community. From the very first hours after the first bombs exploded Tony Blair has focussed on Britain’s Muslims.
The logic of Blair’s position is clear—having rejected any link with his government’s actions in the Middle East, Blair must focus on an enemy within.
There are honeyed words about “preventing a backlash” but the meaning of the government’s line is clear—the “evil ideology” is fomented among Muslims and they must bear the responsibility.
The head of the Metropolitan Police, Sir Ian Blair, said Muslims are in a “state of denial” about terrorism.
The government’s policy is to co-opt as many Muslim leaders as possible and to cow the rest of the Muslim community. Muslim leaders are dragged into police and government briefings.
Senior policemen seem to be addressing mosques almost as frequently as Imams. Muslim figures who repeat the government line are paraded through the media.
The Muslim Association of Britain, which has jointly organised the anti-war demonstrations with the Stop the War Coalition, has stood firm, as have many local Muslim leaders. They need the support of the wider anti-war movement.
There is no “internal” Muslim solution to this crisis of leadership. The joint approach of the anti-war movement is now more important than ever. The Muslim community must know that it does not stand alone. Neither collaboration with the government nor withdrawal from politics provides an answer.
A united anti-war, pro-civil liberties response is the only way the whole anti-war movement and its Muslim component can rise to this challenge.
The price of failure is already evident, testified to by the death of an innocent Brazilian electrician at Stockwell underground station.