London Bombs Come in All Sizes and Shapes

Kurt Jacobsen and Sayeed Hasan Khan



n the terrible morning of the London suicide bombings the Sky news cable channel in Britain, owned by Rupert Murdoch and anchored by manic Murdochian mannequins, summoned three terrorism experts plus an Amnesty International spokeswoman. The latter obviously was tossed in for a bit of balance, although duly outnumbered by what one guessed were truculent Thatcher wannabees. Not at all. Every expert, despite sly goading by the interviewer, counseled caution, solid police work, and a strengthening of community relations, rather than the usual sotto voce call for revenge and racist divisiveness. Things are a little different in Britain. It is inconceivable that Murdoch’s US Fox channels would trot in authorities who failed to parrot the government line. As Tariq Ali observed a month later, the reason Londoners handled the bombings without any evident hysteria is that they were already ‘half-prepared’ for them. They sensed all along that the idiotic Iraq intervention would lead to bloody blasts in their own city.

Could the London attacks turn out to be Britain’s Madrid in their political outcome too? National leaders, as George W. Bush appreciated after ‘winning the trifecta” on 9/11, customarily enjoy a no-lose situation when their own follies abroad stir up horrors at home. The Spanish people, linking the Madrid attack to deceitful authorities who followed Bush into a profoundly unpopular war, dumped their government the first chance they got. The electoral result shocked cynical pundits who expected fearful citizens to rally around the very leaders who had endangered them because, after all, who else can protect them? That excruciating bind usually works beautifully to keep knaves in office, but it did not do so in Spain. Tony Blair and even George W. Bush, may well wonder if the world, as they know it, is going mad and if they are going to become political casualties, instead of beneficiaries, of the vaunted ‘war on terrorism.’  

Just last May the British conducted a general election whose most important aspect, ironically, may be how an explosive government memo ultimately shakes up the US. Tony Blair hung on to his precarious premiership despite his Labour majority shrinking by some hundred seats (and overall vote falling to 36%). The American mainstream media now are doggedly doing their best not to notice a colossal ‘smoking gun’ thrust into plain sight at the time. What happened is that Blair suffered a leak of a July 2002 government memo (‘minutes’ is the technical term) affirming both the casual mendacity of Bush and the pushover pliability of Blair himself as to a pre-determined assault on Iraq. A protective US media dutifully filters out bad news about Bush (a CNN co-founder recently endorsed "the right of the Pentagon to lie when it is in the country's best interest to lie," which only the Pentagon apparently is fit to determine) but cannot seem to suppress news of the scandalous British memo.[1] As for the British election, antiwar activists could hardly have asked for a better result, one calibrated to repudiate a Blairist love for markets and tagging along with Bush while lifting "old Labour" leftists into a strong bargaining position inside government. Blair consequently is unlikely to stay in office beyond 2006, and the bombings appear only to assure his departure.

Blair's lies, which originate in his crony Bush's lies, came unerringly home to roost. On March 13 Blair was asked about a leaked memo written by advisor David Manning in March 2002 wherein Manning assured Yanks that "you would not budge in your support for regime change." Blair denied he said it. Manning's memo, however, says: "[to Condoleezza Rice] that you would not budge in your support for regime change but you had to manage a press, a Parliament, and a public opinion that was very different [from] anything in the States." In other words, the British public, like Americas, could indeed be manipulated, but required a different and slightly more sophisticated style of deceit.

That spillage was bad enough for Blair. But no leak surpasses that of the minutes taken by a national security aide to Blair in July 2002 showing Bush as dead set on invasion. The “Downing Street memo,’ as it is called, found Bush "wanted to remove Saddam, through military action, justified by the conjunction of terrorism and WMD.” So “intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy [and it] seemed clear that Bush had made up his mind to take military action, even if the timing was not yet decided." (US and UK air strikes on Iraq doubled in late 2002 and early 2003 to provoke Saddam into some rash action.) This memo confirms what counter-terrorism expert Richard Clarke and former Treasury secretary Paul O'Neill attested earlier about unscrupulous White House hijinks.[2] Internet news sources, maverick columnists and a left-liberal radio station are keeping the story alive. Over one hundred US representatives and nine US senators had lined up by July to publicize the memo. A demonstration is planned for September 24 in Washington DC to demand Congress investigate the memo and its implications. (Another London anti-war demonstration is planned two days earlier.) Even the Washington Post, of all newspapers, turned up the heat by reporting that National Security Council staff in the run-up to war were busy trawling for any shred of evidence that Saddam might possess WMD because the staff knew their case was so feeble. After all the needless carnage inflicted in Iraq, why should reprisals come as much of a surprise?  

One watches with an acute sense of déjà vu UK Prime Minister Tony Blair demonstrating a state of denial as to how British Muslims feel about Iraq, Afghanistan, Palestine and, yes, local conditions. This conceit  – ‘Tony knows best’ – breeds bad consequences. There are predictable projects afoot to analyze captured bombers so as to nab anyone remotely fitting their ‘profile’ – a terribly counterproductive  ‘solution’, but one that commends itself to a government insistently blind to the domestic consequences of its foolish and dishonest intervention in Iraq. Most British citizens are not as gullible and systematically misinformed as Americans.  Polls after the 7 July bombings, and 21 July attempted bombings too, show that 2 of 3 Britons strongly suspect that the suicide attacks are related to the unjustified Iraq war.  It was rare to hear anyone say, “Why us?” (Indeed, the July 28 announcement by the Provisional IRA of its intent to disarm also reminded every Londoner of their long history of terrorist experiences.)

Blair, averse to dealing seriously with young Muslims, instead summoned a group of eager-to-please imams who often did not even understand the language of British born brethren. So occupying a cozy spot at the hearth in 10 Downing Street is the Muslim Council of Britain, led largely by folks Blair either nominated to the House of Lords or knighted.  From these highly obliging quarters Blair gets happy talk reports in a perfectly circular way containing only what he wants to hear. The frightened clerics lecture whomever shows up that suicide bombs, and indeed any form of terrorism, violates Koranic principles.  That is splendid, so far as it goes. Yet if suicide bombers are  ‘perpetrators of evil,” then how does one characterize invader armies in the Middle East utilizing high tech weapons that kill and maim civilians in droves?  If their weapons are expensive enough and kill at a sufficient distance, does it make the soldiers or their political leaders morally superior to someone wrapping homemade explosives around their waist? The Blair-approved battalion of scholars and half-educated clerics do not dare say that today evil is fighting evil, that one form of destruction is as vile as the other, or that each form of violence drives the other on to greater horrors. 

In Britain a new climate of fear stems not only from suicide bombs, but also from an extremely edgy ‘shoot-to-kill’ government and from vengeful elements of the public (with personal assaults on Muslims up sixfold since 7/7).[3]  So clerics say whatever suits the government, which is hardly going to win credibility in their communities.  Indeed, a few clueless clerics stray into the realm of unadulterated black humour. Abu Khadeejah Abdul-Whaid, an Islamic scholar, according to The Guardian, deplored ‘the combination of human rights laws and constant media attention which allegedly gave exiled radicals a platform to ‘preach evil’ for over a decade.  So we behold a stern Islamic scholar inside a western democracy deriding human rights – not a rousing democratic message  – although authoritarian leanings in this regard seem to please Blair.

It gets even weirder. More than a hundred imams had been welcomed by the UK prison service into jails where they converted sundry inmates to the serenities of Islam, including ‘shoe bomber’ Richard Reed and at least one accused London bomber who obviously decided they were more Islamic than the eager imams. (Former Tory minister Jonathan Aitken during his imprisonment claims that imams even tried to convert him.)  Now nervous UK authorities, after sober second thoughts, are removing Muslim clerics from conversion opportunities. Yet the same authorities consult the same clerics as to how to quell worrisome extremist tendencies among young Muslims at large. It’s a comical spectacle, were it not so sad.   

These desperate government maneuvers – together with ham-handed police ‘profiling’ – antagonize, not sooth, fretful young Muslims.  It is not that government initiatives to improve community relations are wrong; the problem is that they are incomplete and, worse, come across as insincere. The crystal clear message of the fatal shooting of an unlucky Brazilian by the police, on the other hand, is that it is open season on anyone authorities even imagine is suspicious. Anyone back from holiday with a deep tan needs to be mighty careful. This is no way to tamp down apprehensions or curb recruitment to extremism. Young Muslim men and women we speak to are scared. 

The many young Muslims who, for example, helped elect MP George Galloway last May, will stay peacefully enough on the left, but some others are susceptible to extremists. They are the people who must be reached, as Galloway himself stressed. Indeed, extremist Muslims fiercely opposed Galloway, an antiwar coalition leader and stout defender of minority rights, by claiming that Islam forbade voting, period. Most British-born Bangladeshis, a majority in his area, supported Galloway, whose RESPECT party includes in its coalition the Muslim Association of Britain and the Socialist Workers Party, while RESPECT candidate, Lindsey German, came in second in a neighboring and mostly Muslim constituency. Galloway overturned a ten thousand vote Labour majority and the result underlined the breakaway of young Muslims from the staid voting patterns of their elders. One boon is that this shift to left-leaning parties reduces any appeal that fundamentalists exert. The East End boasts a long tradition of immigrant ethnic groups favoring progressive politics, stretching back to Jewish refugees from Europe who settled there and fought Oswald Mosley’s fascists in the 1930s.

The Blair government clings to a convenient notion that bombers are motivated solely by a psychopathic hatred of the West.  This self-serving version of reality makes it easier to hide behind a hard-line stance and, as a bonus, to persist in a dirty and daft foreign war. Yet the British secret service MI 5 itself refuted Blair by stating that “Iraq is a dominant issue for a range of extremist groups and individuals in the UK and Europe.’ Chatham House foreign policy researchers issued a report that came to quite the same conclusion. Outside the Blair government, democracy in Britain, to Blair’s discomfort, still functions in some praiseworthy ways.

An internal threat certainly exists.  One must cultivate dialogue not only with hand-picked Muslims but with leaders of new groups, especially youth groups, and even more widely with antiwar groups, who happen to be a sizable section of the Labour Party itself.  Dissident Labour MPs are nearly as ignored by Blair’s cabinet as are Muslim youths.  Blair also ought to resist saying suicide bombers are all alike. The proposition is not remotely persuasive here. Young Muslim people, who oppose and are horrified at bombings in London often understand what drives Palestinians to the most desperate measures given the odds they face.

Blairspeak, a rigid Orwellian rhetorical style, stems from a lazy establishment habit of treating terrorism as a category devoid of context and circumstance. Aren’t all suicide bombers crazy?  In the 1950s movie Exodus, we recall Paul Newman’s character saying proudly that Jewish refugees had a big advantage over opponents: they fought for a cause – a new state of Israel – for which they were prepared to die.  Aren’t Palestinians fighting for a cause?  There are of course demented zealots slinking around but one also needs to recall they commonly are the shining products of Deobandi sect madrassas in the Muslim world financed originally by the Saudis and Western intelligence agencies to turn out fervent cannon fodder for an anti-Soviet Afghan war.  Afterward, they went hunting for different infidels. Once brainwashed, they can’t be switched on and off. 

There is no shortage of sensible Brits who approach grisly events with care and reason.  London Mayor Ken Livingston invited the Egyptian-born Islamic scholar Yusif Qaradawi from Qatar, who condemned the London bombs but pointedly declined to criticize Middle East suicide bombs.  Livingston stood by Qaradawi in the face of rabid tabloid rage. Swiss-born Professor Tariq Ramadan promotes liberal religious opinions but, as a grandson of the founder of the Muslim Brotherhood, was prevented by the State Department from taking up an American academic appointment. Yet Scotland Yard helped finance a seminar recently where he spoke. These are personages who can talk to Muslims abroad, credibly and prudently.  Ken Livingston and Scotland Yard realize this, but Blair and his inner circle just don’t get it, and don’t want to. It would mean admitting that Iraq is a gory travesty, and was from the beginning.

Yet, deep down, we suspect a key reason most newspaper editors refuse to hold Blair partly responsible for the London bombings and, in the US, yawned at the British memo is because of sheer boredom over yet more examples of the devious ways that high level policy really works. Spilling blood and wasting billions is less reprehensible than staining Monica Lewinsky's dress. Deceit, ho-hum, is a government tradition. Recall the memo the Reagan administration concocted in 1981 to implicate tiny El Salvador (and Nicaragua) as a dire Communist threat, although it was rapidly debunked in those somewhat hardier journalistic days. But let’s skip over intervening episodes of wretched lies to the grisliest intervention of all: Vietnam 

In 1965 Hans Morgenthau, a classic hard-headed realist, shredded the US official report: "Aggression from the North: The Record of North Vietnam's Campaign to conquer the South." Morgenthau retorted: 'while normally foreign and military policy is based on intelligence – that is, the objective assessment of facts – the process here is reversed: a new policy has been decided upon, and the intelligence must provide the facts to justify it." A civil war in the South was redefined by US elites as a war of "foreign aggression."[4] The goal was "to pour in forces and munitions and prop up the corrupt South Vietnam state.” It was the "white paper's purpose to present that proof," despite a "grotesque" discrepancy between facts and assertions.  Morgenthau lamented that, "the document showed a tendency to conduct foreign and military policy not on their merits, but as exercises in public relations. The government fashions an imaginary world that pleases it, and then comes to believe in the reality of that world and acts as though it were real." Last year in the New York Times a smug (if not insane) Bush official was quoted as mocking people who live in a “reality-based” world whereas the Bush people create their own higher reality and impose it on everyone else.  Iraq, of course, is the nemesis.

In the UK Blair invokes “our values” tirelessly, but just what cherished values is he citing? The values of bombing Iraq whenever it pleases certain Western powers? Is he celebrating the bedrock values of Western democracy? Then why aren’t Scandinavia, Germany, or France bombed too?  Might it perchance be because they are not implicated in Iraq?  Or is Blair talking about defense of hard-won civil liberties? If so, then Osama bin Laden so far is winning with ease as Blair, like Bush in Patriot Act America, continues to throw away liberties and brings his nation down to bin Laden’s level. Bush, meanwhile, brays about “freedom” (for entrepreneurs, and no one else), depicts insurgents as all Saddam loyalists, and ignores the misdeeds, to say the least, of a colonial US military force (as 14 permanent bases are built to protect American control of oil) who routinely “regret any inconvenience" they cause. Yet "the facts are what they are," Morgenthau warned, "and they take a terrible vengeance on those who disregard them." The London attack is, we fear, a tiny part of the price. For Morgenthau the only sensible answer to this grim entanglement was to withdraw. Eventually the US did. The US (and the UK) will again. But after what toll is exacted?


[1] Polls find 6 of 10 Americans "favor bringing most troops home within a year" because the war in Iraq was a bad idea. Startlingly, a Zogby poll found 42% believed Bush should be impeached if it is proved that he misled the US into war. Bush’s approval ratings are in the low forties and sinking this summer. Even an obsequious media can read these statistical tea leaves about Bush's popularity and therefore become a bit bolder.

[2] See Richard P. Clarke Against All Enemies (New York: Free Press, 2004) and Ron Suskind, The Price of Loyalty: George W. Bush, The White House and the Education of Paul O’Neill  (New York: Simon & Schuster 2004,)

[3] The Guardian, 3 August 2005, p. 1

[4] Hans J. Morgenthau, “Vietnam and the National Interest in Marvin Gettleman, ed. Vietnam: History, Opinions and Documents of a Major World Crisis (New York: Fawcett, 1965). pp. 365-375.