Ever since the occupation of Iraq there were very few in Britain who imagined that the hellish developments that unfolded in an Arab country might be a vision of their own future. London is , of course, not Baghdad and what has happened here is nothing compared to the savage chaos in Iraq, but the war has come home to haunt Tony Blair and his government in what could become New Labour’s nightmare scenario.
Two days ago there were new explosions in London, reminding people that even though there were no casualties, we were back to the times of the Irish troubles. There is today, like then, a great deal of uncertainty in the air. A leaked intelligence report published in the Financial Times confirms that the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and Palestine have acted as a trigger to unleash a wave of terrorism from within the Muslim heartlands in Britain. Apart from the pro-Israel, neo-con mimics (usually ex-leftists) and unashamed apologists for Blair in the print media, this is now the common sense of the country. The Mayor of London, Ken Livingstone, in more thoughtful mode, linked the attacks to the long Western occupation of the oil-rich Arab East.
Yesterday (22 July) the police captured and publicly executed a South Asian man on an underground train in South London. There is absolutely no evidence so far to suggest he was a bomber. Mark Whitby, who witnessed the killing, provided genuine first-hand testimony to BBC News 24:
“I saw an Asian guy. He ran on to the train, he was hotly pursued by three plain clothes officers, one of them was wielding a black handgun. As [the suspect] got onto the train I looked at his face, he looked sort of left and right, but he basically looked like a cornered rabbit, a cornered fox. He looked absolutely petrified and then he sort of tripped, but they were hotly pursuing him, [they] couldn’t have been any more than two or three feet behind him at this time and he half tripped and was half pushed to the floor and the policeman nearest to me had the black automatic pistol in his left hand. He held it down to the guy and unloaded five shots into him.”
Blair’s Britain is now in a mess, thanks to Blair. There is one immediate and one medium-term solution to the crisis. Britain must withdraw its troops from Iraq and Afghanistan. It should do so not because it is under terrorist pressure, but because these interventions were wrong in the first place.
Secondly, there needs to be a moratarium on religion. Blair and his hand-picked Cabinet have encouraged single-faith schools and turned to religion to help fill the vacuum created by a neo-liberal society and a culture obsessed with consumerism and celebrity life-styles. What is required is a high quality state education system which provides the same education to rich and poor, Christian or Jewish or Muslim children. Over one-third of British state schools are religious and the National Secular Society has published figures that reveal Labour permitting 40 more nonreligious state secondaries be taken over by the Church of England in the last four years, with another 54 about to go. Given this it is impossible to deny the same rights to other religions. Matters are not helped by the fact that Blair’s Education Secretary, a member of Opus Dei, has stressed that the ‘bombs’ will not stop her encouraging the formation of more single-faith schools.
The media has been parading ‘good’ Muslims on the TV screens who have been arguing that violence is not advocated in the Koran and therefore the bombers are wrong. The implication here is that if the Koran permitted such actions it would be fine. In fact there are many readings of the Koran as of the Old Testament. There are both pacifist and violent sections. Establishing a religious criteria is, in these circumstances, counter-productive.
There is a paralysis inside Parliament. Atavistic political structures have insulated the Blair regime from public opinion. The first-past-the-post electoral system is an affront to democratic functioning. The conformism and timidity of the opposition parties have played a vital role in reinforcing Blair’s weightless hegemony. This is reflected by a neutered public television service which rarely allows programmes outside the narrow parliamentary spectrum to achieve a hearing.
It is time for Blair to go. He took a calculated risk when he decided to back Bush and US foreign policy. He proclaimed proudly that in order to defeat Saddam Hussein a ‘blood price would have to be paid.’ It is being paid by tens of thousands of Iraqi dead and now by innocent Londoners. A British Colonel has been charged with committing crimes in Iraq. If we were to apply the norms of the Nuremberg War Crimes Tribunal, it is the politicians who gave the orders and justified the war who should also be in the dock as real war criminals.
(This essay originally appeared in Il Manifesto, 23 July 2005)