Terrible ironies attend the use of violence for political ends. Despite their ostensible opposition, two warring factions are often united in their fundamental view of the world. Both insist that continued violence is the only realistic option. Both insist the enemy is the incarnation of mindless evil, completely beyond reason. Both reject as treasonous rational analyses indicating their own responsibility for promoting violence and rejecting non-violent alternatives.
In other words, patriotic clichÃ©s and rousing rhetoric come at a high price. To the extent that rational thought and compassion for suffering are drowned out, the forces of violence are empowered.
Writing in the immediate aftermath of the atrocities in London, the Guardian’s leader writer recalled the horrors of the Blitz:
“Just like their predecessors in the face of those earlier horrors, today’s generation of Londoners responded to this latest unprovoked act of evil… with a combination of calm and courage.” (Leader, ‘In the face of danger,’ The Guardian, July 8, 2005)
The article concluded:
“In the end, as Mr Bush and Mr Blair each said, it is the contrast that counts. This is a conflict of values.”
This brought to mind a 2001 Guardian editorial written in the aftermath of the September 11 attacks. The editors commented on a speech by Tony Blair:
“The core of the speech – intellectual as well as moral – came when he contrasted the west’s commitment to do everything possible to avoid civilian casualties and the terrorists’ proven wish to cause as many civilian casualties as possible… Let them do their worst, we shall do our best, as Churchill put it. That is still a key difference.” (Leader, ‘Blair plays it cooler – A new tone, but few new answers,’ The Guardian, October 31, 2001)
Answers cannot be found in self-serving rhetoric of this kind. It is not as though outrage at the mass killing of civilians by US-UK governments – regimes absolutely determined to wage war in 2003, with all the risks that entailed for civilians – can be attenuated by patriotic editorials. It is not as if the victims of our violence, and their supporters at home and abroad, are unaware of what is happening.
Writing of Iraq in the Independent, Patrick Cockburn described some of the truth of Western values that urgently needs to be addressed:
“The American army’s use of its massive fire-power is so unrestrained that all US military operations are in reality the collective punishment of whole districts, towns and cities. Mass arrests of young men may eliminate a few insurgent fighters, but they ensure that plenty of recruits will take their places.” (Cockburn, ‘We must avoid the terrorist trap,’ The Independent, July 11, 2005)
The horrors in London were anything but “unprovoked” from the point of view of murderous fanatics who closely identify with the very real victims of Western violence in Afghanistan, Palestine and Iraq. And again, media distortions are powerless to obscure this suffering from these killers; whereas rational understanding at least offers hope of non-violent initiatives to put an end to war, hatred and terror.
In truth there is no contradiction in accepting that our government’s actions merit intense moral outrage, and in also rejecting utterly the actions of those who express their outrage as immoral violence. On the contrary, to turn a blind eye to our own crimes while focusing on the crimes of others is to guarantee more of both.
Suicide Bombings In Britain and Iraq
Other ironies are almost too painful to contemplate. The July 7 attacks in London appear to have been the first suicide bombings ever seen in Britain. But before March 2003, there had also never been a suicide bomb attack in Iraq.
That all changed with the catastrophic Bush-Blair invasion. It is estimated that half of the 135 car bomb attacks in Iraq in April were suicide bombings. Major General William Webster, the US officer in charge of Baghdad, reported at the beginning of this month that car bombs in the capital had fallen from twice daily in June to about one a day in July.
That figure has risen dramatically in the last ten days, however. On July 11, a suicide bomber blew himself up in a line of recruits at an Iraqi army recruitment centre in western Baghdad, killing 25 people and wounding 47. On July 12, four civilians died in Kirkuk when a suicide car bomb exploded near the city’s hospital and municipal headquarters. Several of the wounded were hospital employees. On July 13, 26 Iraqi children were killed by a suicide bombing in Baghdad. On July 14, two suicide bombs in Baghdad killed two policemen. On July 15, 10 suicide bombs exploded across Baghdad. On July 16, a bomb killed at least 98 people in Musayyib, south of Baghdad. The Associated Press estimates close to 2,000 Iraqis have died since the Iraqi ‘government’ was formed on April 28.
Writing in the New York Times, novelist Ian McEwan wrote of the London atrocities:
“How could we have forgotten that this was always going to happen? We have been savagely woken from a pleasant dream.” (McEwan, ‘The surprise we expected,’ New York Times, July 8, 2005)
But the British public has not been woken from a pleasant dream – instead, long-held fears have finally been realised.
On February 15, 2003, as many as two million people flooded London to protest the impending Bush-Blair war. They did so in part because they knew that invading Iraq would make them targets for the kind of horror we have seen. According to a YouGov survey that month, 79% of Londoners felt that British involvement in an attack on Iraq “would make a terrorist attack on London more likely”. (http://www.cnduk.org/pages/press/190504.html)
Also at that time, fully 72% of the British population opposed Britain joining military action against Iraq, without United Nations’ approval.
One year later, a poll showed that three-quarters of Britons continued to feel “more vulnerable” to terrorist attack because of the government’s decision to join military action in Iraq. (George Wright and agencies, ‘London attack “inevitable”, says police chief,’ The Guardian, March 16, 2004)
With his usual mix of deceitful rhetoric and amateur theatricality Blair simply dismissed the largest political demonstration in British history – he knew better.
In Spain, the Aznar government similarly waved away vast and repeated anti-war protests all across the country ahead of the war. A year later, on March 12, 2004, 191 people were killed and 1,800 injured by ten bombs placed on trains at the height of the Madrid rush hour.
In October 2003, Osama bin Laden had warned that Spain would be targeted for backing the Iraq war. The Times reported a senior Al-Qaeda official as declaring:
“We must make maximum use of the proximity to the elections in Spain… Spain can stand a maximum of two or three attacks before they will withdraw from Iraq.” (Matthew Campbell and Christine Toomey, ‘Muslims held over Madrid massacre,’ Sunday Times, March 14, 2004)
As with the London bombings, the political stakes were high. David Sharrock explained in the Times:
“Neither of Spain’s main parties wants to say it too loudly, but the identity of the authors of the terrorist atrocity is a crucial factor in determining who will win tomorrow’s general election.
“If Eta is responsible, as the Government of Jose Maria Aznar believes, then his People’s Party (PP) could fully expect an increased vote which will guarantee its majority in government for four years.” (Sharrock, ‘How terrorists can influence poll outcome,’ The Times, March 13, 2004)
With remarkable cynicism, the Spanish government instantly blamed the Basque separatist group Eta. Spain’s interior minister, Angel Acebes, said:
“The conclusion of this morning that pointed to the terrorist organisation [Eta] right now is still the main line of investigation… [But] I have given the security forces instructions not to rule out anything.” (Giles Tremlett, ‘Massacre in Madrid: ETA or al-Qaida?,’ The Guardian, March 12, 2004)
Despite the obvious interest of the Spanish government, the threats issued by al Qaeda, and the fact that a van with seven detonators and Arabic language tapes with Koranic verses had been found in the town of Alcala de Henares outside Madrid, politicians, intelligent services and the media rushed to affirm the fraudulent claims of the Spanish government. The Guardian reported how George Bush had offered his condolences:
“I appreciate so very much the Spanish government’s fight against terror, their resolute stand terrorist organisations like Eta. The United States stands with them.” (Ibid)
Leslie Crawford wrote in the Financial Times:
“With only three days to go before a general election, Spanish politicians presented a united front against Eta, the violent Basque separatist group that has been blamed for yesterday’s Madrid bombs.” (Crawford, ‘Parties cancel rallies as mourning begins,’ Financial Times, March 12, 2004)
Bowing to the official version of events in their customary manner, the Guardian editors wrote: “the assumption that Eta, or some faction of it, was planning an overwhelming strike on the eve of a general election is reasonable enough”. (Leader, ‘To die in Madrid,’ The Guardian, March 12, 2004)
As undeniable facts made a nonsense of this lie, the media began to hint at the grim implications of the truth. The Daily Telegraph warned:
“If al-Qa’eda has succeeded in spreading its Jihad to Europe, it will raise alarm in capitals across the world, especially all those with troops in Iraq.” (Isambard Wilkinson and Anton La Guardia, ‘Millions rally in anger at Madrid bombers,’ Daily Telegraph, March 13, 2004)
The Observer reported widely held sentiments across Spain when it quoted one mourner of the Madrid bombings.
“This was the fault of Bush and Blair. It’s because of our involvement in Iraq. Aznar is Bush’s shoe-shine boy. I will vote against the Partido Popular.” (Sandra Jordan and Giles Tremlett, John Hooper, Martin Bright and Jason Burke ‘Massacre in Madrid,’ The Observer, March 14, 2004)
A Guardian editorial commented:
“Many voters expressed anger against the ruling Popular party: first for making Spain a target for Islamist extremists by its support for the Iraq war; and second for rushing too quickly to accuse the armed Basque separatist group ETA of Madrid’s bombing.” (Leader, ‘Europe responds,’ The Guardian, March 15, 2004)
Curiously, the media did not decry these rational observations as shameful apologetics for terror.
By contrast, since the London attacks, the suggestion that the same Londoners who opposed Blair’s foreign policy have paid for his actions with their lives, has been met with outrage and denial. In an article entitled ‘The twisted logic of Galloway’, the Daily Mail reported Respect MP George Galloway’s reaction to the London attacks:
“The loss of innocent lives, whether in this country or Iraq, is precisely the result of a world that has become a less safe and peaceful place in recent years. We have worked without rest to remove the causes of such violence from our world. We argued, as did the security services, that the attacks on Afghanistan and Iraq would increase the threat of terrorist attack in Britain. Tragically Londoners have now paid the price of the Government ignoring such warnings.” (Graeme Wilson, ‘The twisted logic of Galloway,’ Daily Mail, July 8, 2005)
This was pretty much what our own press had concluded in the aftermath of the Madrid attacks – a conclusion accepted by virtually the entire Spanish population.
In response, Armed Forces Minister Adam Ingram, described Galloway as a “foul mouthed… thug” who was “dipping his poisonous tongue in a pool of blood”. (Kirsty Walker, ‘Galloway ‘poison’ triggers outrage,’ The Express, July 8, 2005)
The Sun wrote:
“VILE George Galloway last night confirmed he is Britain’s No1 TRAITOR after blaming Tony Blair for the terror bombings.” (George Pascoe-Watson, ‘The PM is to blame says sick Galloway,’ The Sun, July 8, 2005)
Christopher Hitchens wrote in the Mirror:
“How can anyone bear to be so wicked and stupid? How can anyone bear to act as a megaphone for psychotic killers?” (Hitchens, ’07/07: War on Britain: we cannot surrender,’ The Mirror, July 8, 2005)
Interviewing Galloway on the BBC’s flagship Newsnight programme, presenter Gavin Esler asked in response to Galloway’s statement:
“That was a pretty crass thing to say though, wasn’t it, when bodies are not even buried or identified?” (Esler, Newsnight, July 8, 2005)
Esler asked again:
“But don’t you think you owe it to relatives of the bereaved to be more sensitive at this time than to tell them that they paid the price of a policy? Because it sounded as if you were playing the politics of the last atrocity.”
For a third time, Esler asked:
“Do you not owe it to your constituents to speak more carefully about these subjects?”
And yet, on the same day, Alan Cowell wrote of the attacks in the New York Times:
“Perhaps the crudest lesson to be drawn was that, in adopting the stance he took after the Sept. 11 attacks, Mr. Blair had finally reaped the bitter harvest of the war on terrorism – so often forecast but never quite seeming real until the explosions boomed across London.” (Cowell, ‘Blair’s rising star runs into a treacherous future,’ New York Times, July 8, 2005)
A week later, the New York Times reported:
“Sanjay Dutt and his friends grappled Friday with why their friend Kakey, better known to the world as Shehzad Tanweer, had decided to become a suicide bomber.
“‘He was sick of it all, all the injustice and the way the world is going about it,’ Mr. Dutt, 22, said. ‘Why, for example, don’t they ever take a moment of silence for all the Iraqi kids who die?’
“‘It’s a double standard, that’s why,’ answered a friend, who called himself Shahroukh, also 22, wearing a baseball cap and basketball jersey, sitting nearby. ‘I don’t approve of what he did, but I understand it. You get driven to something like this, it doesn’t just happen.’” (Hassan M. Fattah, ‘Anger Burns on the Fringe of Britain’s Muslims,’ New York Times, July 16, 2005)
The influential think tank Chatham House, formerly known as the Royal Institute of International Affairs, concludes there is “no doubt” the invasion of Iraq has “given a boost to the al-Qaida network” in “propaganda, recruitment and fundraising”, while providing an ideal targeting and training area for terrorists. “Riding pillion with a powerful ally has proved costly in terms of British and US military lives, Iraqi lives, military expenditure and the damage caused to the counter-terrorism campaign.” (David Hencke, ‘Tube bombs “linked to Iraq conflict”,’ The Guardian, July 18, 2005)
It is a remarkable state of affairs when ‘liberal’ media outrage is contradicted even by government dossiers. A 2004 joint Home Office and Foreign Office dossier prepared for Tony Blair – ‘Young Muslims and Extremism’ – identified the Iraq war as a key cause of young Britons turning to terrorism. The analysis stated:
“It seems that a particularly strong cause of disillusionment among Muslims, including young Muslims, is a perceived ‘double standard’ in the foreign policy of western governments, in particular Britain and the US.
“The perception is that passive ‘oppression’, as demonstrated in British foreign policy, eg non-action on Kashmir and Chechnya, has given way to ‘active oppression’. The war on terror, and in Iraq and Afghanistan, are all seen by a section of British Muslims as having been acts against Islam.” (Robert Winnett and David Leppard, ‘Terror in London, Leaked No 10 dossier reveals Al-Qaeda’s British recruits,’ The Sunday Times, July 10, 2005; http://www.timesonline.co.uk/article/0,,22989-1688872,00.html
The analysis identified Iraq as a “recruiting sergeant” for extremism.
Earlier, an assessment prepared by the Joint Intelligence Committee five weeks before the invasion of Iraq (February 10, 2003) entitled ‘International Terrorism: War with Iraq,’ had said:
“The JIC assessed that al-Qa’eda and associated groups continued to represent by far the greatest terrorist threat to Western interests, and that threat would be heightened by military action against Iraq.” (George Jones, ‘Blair rejected terror warnings,’ Daily Telegraph, September 12, 2003; http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/main.jhtml?xml=/news/2003/09/12/ndoss12.xml&sSheet=/news/2003/09/12/ixnewstop.html)
Robert Fisk has provided a rare example of honesty:
“And it’s no use Mr Blair telling us yesterday that ‘they will never succeed in destroying what we hold dear’. ‘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. The Spanish paid the price for their support for Bush – and Spain’s subsequent retreat from Iraq proved that the Madrid bombings achieved their objectives – while the Australians were made to suffer in Bali.” (Fisk, ‘Terror in London – The reality of this barbaric bombing,’ The Independent, July 8, 2005)
Understanding that the costs of wilful blindness are high, the Financial Times essentially echoed Galloway:
“The uncomfortable truth is that the ambitions and capabilities of the jihadis cannot be divorced entirely from the bloodshed in Iraq. The toppling of Saddam Hussein did not cause Islamist extremism but the present insurgency serves both as recruiting agent and training ground for al-Qaeda’s war against the west.
“Whatever one thinks of the original decision to remove Mr Hussein, the hubris that preceded the invasion and the negligence that has followed it have given strength and succour to the Islamists. Culpability here lies largely with the Pentagon but Mr Blair carries guilt by association.” (Leader, ‘The urgent need to end terror in Iraq,’ July 12, 2005)
The FT, needless to say, has not been described as “wicked”, “crass” or “twisted”.
In a display of cynicism that easily rivals Aznar’s performance, Blair instantly dismissed the idea that the London attacks were linked to British involvement in Iraq. Blair said on July 10:
“September 11 happened before Iraq, before Afghanistan, before any of these issues and that was the worst terrorist atrocity of all.” (Robert Winnett and David Leppard, The Sunday Times, op. cit)
This was a classic Blair deception. September 11 +did+ happen before the 2003 Iraq war, but it did +not+ happen before the 1991 Iraq war, which devastated the country with the equivalent power of seven Hiroshima-sized bombs. Eric Hoskins, a Canadian doctor and coordinator of a Harvard study team, reported in January 1992 that the allied bombardment “effectively terminated everything vital to human survival in Iraq – electricity, water, sewage systems, agriculture, industry and health care”. (Hoskins, ‘Killing is killing – not kindness,’ New Statesman, January 17, 1992)
And September 11 did +not+ happen before a decade of US-UK sanctions had killed Iraqi civilians in their hundreds of thousands. As Blair must know, Osama bin Laden has been clear about his motives for the September 11 attacks. In a September 19, 2001 appearance on the David Letterman show, ABC journalist John Miller described how bin Laden had told him in an interview that his top three issues were “the US military presence in Saudi Arabia; US support for Israel; and US policy toward Iraq”.
Attacking Iraq yet again in 2003, much less occupying the country, was an act of breathtaking madness for anyone concerned with promoting peace and reducing terror and war.
Behind the impassioned, Churchillian rhetoric, one overwhelming fact is clear – the protection of ordinary people is not, and never has been, the highest priority for elites directing US-UK foreign policy.
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