And yet another menacing terror plot was thwarted 10 August, with the arrest of 24 suspects, all British Muslims. It was an ominous conspiracy aimed at committing “mass murder” on an “unimaginable” scale, British authorities quickly concluded. US authorities hastily joined the action, too claiming a decisive victory over the plotters, thanks in part to the quick thinking of and awesome coordination between US security and intelligence branches. Britain congratulated the US; the US thanked Britain; both saluted Pakistan and its ever-loyal leadership, itself conducting a brutal war against undefined, shadowy groups that emerge and vanish, all too conveniently, and too neatly.
Moments after the shocking announcement, as security threat levels reached their peak in the US and Britain, the debate commenced and it relentlessly continues: Why would a British Muslim choose such a destructive path while living in a democratic society, where change, at least theoretically, is possible through peaceful means?
The media also sprung into action. Ready-to-serve answers were deftly provided by all the usual experts, instantly infusing more conventional wisdom upon a vulnerable public. Attempts to contextualise terrorism within a political milieu were decidedly torpedoed. Despite years of war that seem to have achieved nothing but “mass murder” on an “unimaginable” scale, no one should dare explain the true roots of terrorism; one may explain why poor neighbourhoods in America yield greater crime rates than others, or why abused children become abusers themselves, or even why US soldiers in Iraq often “snap” and massacre entire families, but terrorism that involves Muslims should not in any way be discussed outside its useful parameters of a misguided generation with a radical interpretation of religion: the Islam that produces “Muslim fascists” as President George W Bush termed it.
Very few moderate, or sensible voices are consulted in such debates. British media proves no exception, examining the viewpoints of the utterly fundamentalist or the utterly liberal. The first wants a return to the Islamic caliphate, with London as its capital, and the latter dismisses as hogwash the attempt to examine the government’s foreign policy as a reason of radicalisation searing among an already embattled and alienated young Muslim generation.
Expectedly, a letter that was signed by three Muslim MPs and 38 organisations accusing Prime Minister Tony Blair’s foreign policy in Iraq, and his support of the Israeli carnage in Lebanon, of “putting civilians at increased risk both in the UK and abroad” hardly changed anything. British Home Secretary John Reid found the mere suggestion of a link unacceptable. Many others followed suit. If anything, the terror plot will strengthen the argument of those eager to harden terror laws, widen the gap between peoples from different religions, but most dangerously give yet more leash to those who champion war as a solution to conflict.
One week before the alleged plot was impeded, 100,000 people in London marched in protest at the British government’s position — particularly that of Blair in support of Israel’s war of “self-defence” in Lebanon. Hundreds of protesters threw children’s shoes near the doorsteps of the prime minister’s residence at 10 Downing Street. They were meant to symbolise the number of children killed in this war, mostly by the Israeli army. I gazed at the impromptu memorial as I held Lebanese and Palestinian flags. Thinking of the tiny bodies of hundreds of children, mingled underneath tons of concrete in Lebanon and Gaza gave me that ever-familiar chill of dejection. Only the nudge of a police officer to my shoulder forced me to move along.
What is radicalisation but a culmination of bitterness, resentment and anger that lurk desperately inside, which often translate to despicable behaviour: terrorism? But if terrorism is killing innocent civilians to achieve political ends, then how else can one explain the American-British war on Iraq with a death toll that has long passed the 100,000 mark? Or the ongoing war in Afghanistan? Or Israel’s wars in Palestine and Lebanon, and the funding or abetting of these wars by the US and British governments?
Is it not rational to deduce that “mass murder” in the Middle East, happening at such an “unimaginable” scale, could lead to a culmination of bitterness, resentment, anger and radicalisation that would unavoidably yield terrorism? And since Muslims seem to be the primary target of this mass murder, is it not equally rational to expect that the perpetrators of such terrorist acts might mostly be Muslims?
The insistence on disallowing this argument as one imparted primarily by terror “apologists” is often induced with equal determination to prolong the terrorising wars, of which civilians are the primary victims. A change of course might be understood as bowing to terrorists, as Spain is often accused of doing. Thus the carnage in Palestine, Lebanon, Iraq and Afghanistan must continue. This seems to be the underlying logic in refusing to acknowledge the urgency of a fundamental shift in foreign policy, in Britain as well as in the United States.
Those who cautiously attempted to link the terrorist acts of 11 September to America’s political, financial and military support of the State of Israel were dismissed, even shunned, whenever they disseminated their logic. Only the drums of war were to be heard. Now, nearly five years later, are we any closer to global peace and tranquillity? How many more lives must be wasted, how much more blood must be shed, and how many more children’s shoes must be piled up on Downing Street to realise that cluster bombs don’t hold the keys to peace, nor do the torture camps of Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay?
One must not accept the logic of those who believe that blowing up innocent travellers is a prudent response to blowing up Lebanese children seeking shelter in a half standing building in South Lebanon, however inhumane. But to continue to pretend that those who carry out acts of “mass murder” at an “unimaginable” scale in Iraq and elsewhere in the Middle East are not perpetrators of terrorism themselves — whether directly or by inspiring a cycle terrorist responses — is to resign to doing nothing in defence of the innocent, British, Palestinian or Lebanese, which, I believe, is equally repugnant.
RAMZY BAROUD teaches mass communication at Curtin University of Technology and is the author of The Second Palestinian Intifada: A Chronicle of a People’s Struggle. He is also the editor-in-chief of PalestineChronicle.com. He can be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org