The London bombings — a reflection and analysis
By Omar Al Taher
Renowned British journalist Robert Fisk lamented less than 24 hours after the July 7 London bombings: “Lucky Sweden. No Osama Ben Laden there. And no Tony Blair”.
Eight hours after the bombs went off, a shaken, yet defiant Blair made the following statement: “... I think we all know what they are trying to do... When they try to intimidate us, we will not be intimidated, when they seek to change our country, our way of life by these methods, we will not be changed. When they try to divide our people or weaken our resolve, we will not be divided and our resolve will hold firm”. He further added, “they will never succeed in destroying what we hold dear”.
Again, Fisk was quick to respond to Blair's statement by saying: “They are not trying to destroy what we hold dear. They are trying to get public opinion to force Blair to withdraw from Iraq, from his alliance with the United States, and from his adherence to Bush's policies in the Middle East”.
When Blair's official spokesman was asked whether — as George Galloway had asserted - the war on Iraq has made London a target, the spokesman dodged a direct response by stating that “... those who carried out these atrocities, define themselves equally by their actions today, and people can make their own judgments about who did what, and why”.
Well, let us take up the prime minister's official spokesman's invitation and attempt to “make our own judgments about who did what, and why”.
In answering “who”, I believe no sane person should be in doubt that whoever committed these ugly acts - be they Muslim, Christian, Jew, Hindu, Sikh or Buddhist — are terrorists of the first order. Whether they are Iraqis, Serbs, Israelis, Tamils, or Afghanis, they still cannot escape the label, “murderers”. In fact, one seriously doubts if the perpetrators themselves would feel offended by such adjectives being attached to them, since undoubtedly their true intention was to “terrorize” and “murder” British citizens.
As to the “why”: Why would someone resort to killing innocent civilians “going about their daily businesses” in cold blood? I believe this to be the central question that begs an answer.
The gist of the matter is that the perpetrators of these bombings do not necessarily view British citizens in isolation from their government. They do not regard British citizens, or for that matter any citizen of a democratic country, truly innocent of his or her government `s crimes. Unlike people who live under a totalitarian dictatorship who have no say in the running of their government, people in democratic countries are directly responsible for the actions and omissions of their “Representative Government”. The government they elect is accountable to them in that decisions made by it are in essence their decisions.
The relationship between them is akin to the relationship that exists between a Principal and an Agent, which entails that the Principal (the electorate) cannot escape liability for the wrongdoing of his Agent (the government).
Hence, the perpetrators operate on the premise that “people who enjoy political freedoms cannot escape, and are indeed responsible, for the actions of the government they have voted into office. As long as it is within their power to remove the government from office but they choose to keep it, either by way of apathy or support for its actions, then they should be made to suffer in return”.
This, in short, explains why the perpetrators chose London after Madrid; to bring home to the British people the war their elected government launched thousands of miles away. The main objective was to influence their voting behaviour; just as they did in Spain two years before.
In fact, one should not attempt to minimize the magnitude of what happened on the morning of July 7; it was by far the most serious attack on London since World War II 60 years ago. A major irony is that this attack came over three years after the US and the UK launched their joint “war on terrorism”, a war that has cost them to date around 2,000 fatalities, thousands of casualties and over $250 billion.
While in the other camp — the camp US President George W. Bush and Blair refer to as “the terrorists”, aka Iraqis — the fatalities are around 100,000 and the injured around 400,000, over 90 per cent of them innocent civilians.
While I find counting and comparing deaths distasteful, proportionally speaking, around half a million Iraqi casualties translates something like 1.5 million Britons or six million Americans. Is it not a historical irony that when Saddam Hussein (the main threat to Western values and interests, so we were told) was in power in Iraq, not a single Briton was killed?
Human lives are human lives, and murder ought to be condemned irrespective of who kills and how, let alone, why.
Blair, an accomplished barrister, should know this fact. In a court of law, it does not matter “how” a murderer murdered his victim, suffice it that he possessed the required intention to commit the murder and that he did indeed commit it. It does not fall in the mouth of the murderer to say: “I had the option of skinning my victim to death, but I only intended to end his life, so I opted for a single shot in the throat”.
Blair described the perpetrators of the London bombings as “cowards”. This very description is unlikely to square well with both the perpetrators and common sense, since it is widely believed that the embodiment of cowardice is when you are sitting behind a monitor on an aircraft carrier, out of range of enemy fire, chewing gum and firing missiles at targets hundreds of miles away.
The perpetrators fail to distinguish the moral difference between a missile launched from a gunship hundreds of miles away that kills innocent civilians “going about their businesses,” and a suicide bomber who detonates himself killing innocent civilians “going about their businesses”.
The common thread in both instances is that “innocent civilians”, on both sides, are targeted. Naturally, had the suicide bombers been in possession of ballistic missiles and gunships, they would have employed them in this war and retaliated in kind to repel the aggressors, but since they do not, they resort to such barbaric and primitive tactics. A human bomb was once described as “the poor man's nuclear weapon”.
One should be cognizant of the fact that Britain did not send its Olympic archery team to Iraq; it sent an army of occupation.
What does Blair, and for that matter, the British electorate, expect of the “terrorists”? To confine their attacks to heavily fortified military bases in Iraq at the risk of being either captured or killed? The paradox and the conundrum is that when they do just that, they are still branded as terrorists.
How can we stop this madness?
It is high time for the British people to realize, sooner rather than later, that the targeting of London was the outcome of a British foreign policy gone astray. It was only with the advent of the neocons in the United States and the London government's blind adherence to their dictates, that British foreign policy lost its moral compass.
The attacks on London are rooted in the realm of politics, not religion. This fact is borne out in history. No one could ever accuse Franklin Roosevelt and Winston Churchill of being anti-Christian for killing tens of thousands of Christian German civilians in Berlin, Dresden and Hamburg during the closing days of World War II. Similarly, no one could accuse Japanese pilots of having Islamic tendencies when they used to carry out their Kamikaze attacks.
All the ado about the need to reform the educational system in Muslim countries and all the conferences, seminars and symposia that are being held under the glittering banner “dialogue of religions” are neither here nor there. Muslim clerics who take part in these dialogues and call upon Muslims to demonstrate stoicism, patience and perseverance in the face of their enemies, are discredited in the eyes of, not only the fundamentalists, but their secular co-religionists too, for historically being a mouthpiece of the establishment. The perpetrators, although religious, are not necessarily driven by anti-Christian religious hatred, for if they were, why are they sparing such soft targets as Christian Switzerland and Christian Austria?
All forms of terrorism, whether those committed by states or individuals and groups, and whether by way of missiles and gunships or by a backpack filled with explosives, must and should be condemned in the strongest language possible. Failing that, we shall remain enmeshed in this inferno, the end of which we might never live long enough to witness.
It was once said that the first casualty of war is truth. No other statement more accurately describes the war on Iraq, where truth was its first casualty even before a single shot was fired. Let us not allow ourselves to continue to be the victims of a big fat lie.
The writer, a holder of a PhD degree in international affairs and an LLB degree from the UK, is running a private legal practise in Amman. He contributed this article to The Jordan Times.
Sunday, July 24, 2005