The political fallout from the alleged plot against airliners is a sign of how far the wider debate over the “war on terrorism” has shifted against the government.
That the authorities are talking about an “alleged plot” shows how badly they got their fingers burned, with media collusion, by proclaiming the innocent guilty in the case of the Jean Charles de Menezes shooting and the Forest Gate raid.
Even more striking is the way in which British foreign policy has been at the centre of the debate over what might lead young British Muslims to engage in terrorist attacks. After the 7 July bombings last year, Tony Blair and Ken Livingstone were very quick to deny that the attacks had anything to do with Iraq.
This time discussion has been dominated by a letter by leading British Muslims saying “current British government policy risks putting civilians at increased risk both in the UK and abroad”.
Blair responded by repeating the mantra that 11 September 2001 preceded the invasion of Iraq. “We should always remember that the terrorism affecting the West today has blighted Muslim countries for decades,” he said.
If we’re trying to understand what might motivate young British Muslims to engage in terrorist acts now, then Iraq is relevant. We know, from an interview given by one of those arrested in connection with the attempted bombings in London on 21 July last year, that he and his friends constantly watched videos of US atrocities in Iraq.
The 11 September argument assumes everything was hunky dory in the Middle East before that sunny morning near five years ago. This is nonsense.
The biggest grievance felt by Arabs and Muslims dates from 1948, when the state of Israel was founded through the mass expulsion of Palestinians, a grievance renewed by the occupation of Gaza and the West Bank in 1967, and by endless injustices committed by Israel in the following four decades.
Israel has been allowed to get away with all this because of its strategic importance to the US as a trusted ally in securing US domination of the Middle East. It was to maintain that domination that George Bush’s father sent US troops to Saudi Arabia in 1990, precipitating Osama bin Laden’s rebellion and the formation of Al Qaida.
Far from acknowledging the role that their policies have played in fuelling terrorism, Bush and Blair offer more of the same. They show absolutely no comprehension of how Israel’s demolition of Lebanon, carried out with their complicity, is fuelling hatred of the West all over the world.
Moreover, the language that they use seems calculated to insult Muslims everywhere. Blair made a speech in Los Angeles a few weeks ago in which he lumped together terrorist campaigns, from Chechnya to Kashmir, as evidence of the threat posed to Western “values” by “Reactionary Islam”.
Bush reacted to the alleged airline plot by denouncing “Islamic fascists”. Is it any wonder that some young Muslims, members of what is in any case the most economically and socially disadvantaged group in Britain, should respond with the thought that maybe bin Laden has a point?
Roy Hattersley, in Monday’s Guardian, criticised the Muslim leaders’ letter for implying that foreign policy should be changed because of the threat it caused, when “the reason why policy should be changed is the simple fact that the policy is wrong”.
But remember that the invasion of Iraq was sold as a way of reducing the terrorist threat. It’s therefore perfectly reasonable for critics to point out that it has instead increased that threat.
This is, after, all what the Joint Intelligence Committee predicted on the eve of the Iraq War: “Al Qaida and associated groups continue to represent by far the greatest terrorist threat to Western interests, and that threat would be heightened by military action against Iraq.”
The only way to stop Islamist terrorism is to end the domination of the Middle East by Western imperialism. This won’t happen overnight. But by continuing to build a united and dynamic mass movement against the “war on terrorism”, we can show that there is a better way of opposing the crimes committed by our government.