When European politicians led a demonstration through the streets of Madrid last week in the wake of the train bombings, there was one familiar face missing. Surely Tony Blair would not miss the opportunity to rub shoulders with other political leaders and to adopt his ‘people’s princess’ face of pouting lip and moist eyes?
The reason for his absence was simple: he was advised not to go, as he would have been jeered and hissed by Spaniards outraged by their country’s involvement in the invasion and occupation of Iraq. Television viewers in Britain were not told of the anger on the streets in Spain. I was in the Czech Republic and was able to compare coverage of the Madrid events by BBC News 24 and Sky with mainland European broadcasters. The difference in approach was revealing. While BBC and Sky toed the Spanish government line that the bomb blasts were almost certainly the work of ETA, the Basque separatist movement, European channels were questioning that view.
More importantly they carried out a rolling programme of ‘vox pops’-street interviews-that allowed Spaniards to vent their anger at a government cover-up. Speaker after speaker said the bomb blasts were a direct result of the right wing government’s support for the Bush-Blair invasion of Iraq.
It was only 48 hours after the blasts, when the anger of the Spanish people led to spontaneous demonstrations, that the British media was forced to cave in and report the truth on the streets.
But all the coverage from both British and mainland European channels failed to make the critical point that the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, and Bush and Blair’s ‘war on terrorism’, have not made the world safer. Amid a media frenzy over the weekend about impending terrorist attacks, only Robin Cook stated the blindingly obvious-there were no terrorists in Iraq before the invasion, now the country is full of them.
While media pundits and politicians vent their wrath at terrorists, they all fail to grasp what makes people, from the depths of their anger and despair, plant bombs on trains or strap them round their own bodies. When rich Western nations invade desperately poor countries and ransack them for their oil, people’s fury boils over into acts we may deplore but which we must attempt to understand.
When the Zionists in Israel build a metal barrier that prevents Palestinians from going to work, nurturing their tiny plots of land or visiting their families, people denied their basic human rights for half a century see no option but to resort to violence.
When people are holed up in the Guantanamo Bay concentration camp without charge or recourse to due legal process, is it any wonder that Arab and Muslim people feel a deep sense of grievance? It’s a feeling so deep in Britain that, according to a poll in Monday’s Guardian, New Labour has lost half its support among Muslim voters.
Until the problems of poverty and persecution, fuelled by the West’s lust for oil and profits, are tackled, there can be no end to violence. On Sunday a wonderful thing happened. The British media had predicted that the bomb attacks would aid the Popular Party in the Spanish general election. But the people, welling over with grief and disgust, said they were tired of being lied to.
They expressed their revulsion at the Popular Party’s support for the Iraq war by booting the right wing from power. Bush and Blair must have slept badly on Sunday night. Their time is coming, too.
Historian John Newsinger writes
All out for Palestine