More on the London bombings

E-mails flying around in the last few days have been polluting the air with glib denunciations of Tony Blair for supposedly having precipitated the London bombings of 7/7 by joining the Americans in invading and occupying Iraq.  Similar voices have been heard on radio and television, too, notably from Mr George Galloway, fresh from his victory over the United States Senate.  It’s there in the blogosphere, too.   

Diligent readers of this blog and website will have noticed (pay attention, now: you’ll be tested on this in a moment) that I’m no slack-jawed admirer of Tony Blair, still less of his monumental blunders over Iraq or his government’s dismal assaults on our civil liberties.  But fair’s fair:  he has had a good week or two lately in which at least two brave gambles – aka foolhardy, as we would all have said if they had failed – have succeeded either spectacularly (winning the Olympics for London)  or significantly (making perceptible progress on all fronts in the G8 under his chairmanship).  The hat-trick came with his response to the bombings on 7/7:  sober, defiant, calm, realistic – genuinely speaking for the nation at a time of grief and shock, something that even his sourest critics need to recognise he does well.  As I wrote in my previous piece on the bombings, you would need to be a ferociously committed anti-Blairite not to have felt sorry for him when the glitz and glamour that were his due after the Olympics and the G8 were rudely shattered by a string of murders committed for no discernible political, religious or other purpose by a criminal gang lacking in all humanity or moral sense.

Yet the usual suspects emerge blinking into the daylight with their trite, complacent and predictable assertions that the finger of blame points, not at the murderers, but at the British prime minister.  I’m afraid I find this exploitation of the London bombings as yet another stick to beat Blair with singularly offensive.  For once Blair has been a genuine credit to his office (over the Olympics, the bombings and the G8), not putting so much as a toe wrong on any of the three issues. This is surely a good moment to suspend polemical trivia for a while.  Anyone who thinks that if Britain under Blair hadn’t been with the Americans in the Iraq operation, London wouldn’t have been bombed, can’t be taken seriously.  Those who voice that view anyway need to be careful about implying that the government’s major or other foreign policy decisions ought to be influenced in the smallest degree by fear of annoying murderous terrorists.  They would do well to read a letter from Madrid in the week-end FT at http://tinyurl.com/cz9pc.  The attack on Iraq was disastrously wrong for all sorts of reasons, but risking provoking murderers wasn’t one of them.  

It’s encouraging, on the other hand, to see many of the heavyweight Sunday columnists (including the Sunday Times trio of Simon Jenkins, Michael Portillo and Minette Marin) making the essential point that the bombings must not be used as a pretext for yet more erosion of our civil liberties in new, panicky, tabloid-driven ‘anti-terrorism’ legislation, pushed through parliament in the aftermath of the bombings while MPs and even peers are afraid to provoke tabloid wrath by opposing it.  Further dismantling of our historic liberties represents only a sort of victory for the murderers.  If, as ministers constantly tell us, the terrorists want to “destroy our way of life”, dismantling our ancient safeguards against arbitrary and oppressive control of the people by an over-mighty executive sounds like just the sort of thing they have in mind.  

Simon Jenkins also however makes the excellent point that the British and American governments’ constant references to “the war on terror” when there is no such war, no clash of armies, no state enemy, indeed no identifiable enemy at all, make it all the more difficult to show up the bombings of innocent Londoners as squalid crimes committed by squalid criminals (which is what they are), and not legitimate quasi-military acts of war by an enemy entitled by the state of war to retaliate when attacked.  It is futile and misleading to try to rationalise purposeless crimes committed by psychotics.  They have nothing to do with Iraq or a wish to “destroy our way of life”, which is in any case something no amount of murder and mayhem on the Tube could even begin to accomplish.  Our way of life is indeed at risk, as one of the Law Lords remarked in the historic judgement of last December:  not from a few mindless murderers, but from cowardly or power-hungry ministers in thrall to cynical and circulation-driven tabloids.  Happily, there are signs that the home secretary, Charles Clarke, may be resisting the siren calls for yet more attacks on our liberties from the tabloids, the security services and police (always ravenous for more powers and fewer restraints), and probably his own officials (always vigilant for opportunities to slip in a few long-cherished horrors while no-one is looking).  He has courageously pointed out that ID cards would not have prevented the London bombings.  It’s relevant that the control orders rammed through a reluctant parliament earlier this year, seriously and indefinitely abridging without trial on a politician’s say-so the liberties of people who have not been convicted of any offence, didn’t prevent the bombings, either.  For control orders to frustrate criminal attacks, it’s necessary to know who is planning them;  and if you know that, there are plenty of ways to stop them.  Despite the vengeful howls from the pages of the Sun newspaper, the case against further illiberal laws, and for radically amending existing ones, is wholly unaffected by the dreadful crimes committed in London last Thursday.

Brian
http://www.barder.com/

61 Responses

  1. John Miles says:

    Dear Brian,

    The official view – which you now seem to support – about Iraq and the London bombing is that our invasion is just one more excuse for what evil people would have done anyway.

    We are told that the bombers’ main or only motive is the destruction of democracy and freedom. “They hate our freedoms,” and all that.

    Anyone who thinks this is the case should ask himself two questions:

    Why is there so much more evil around now – not just here but in Iraq as well – than there was before our invasion?

    Why don’t the bombers take more interest in countries like Finland or Denmark, which are perhaps even freer and more democratic than our own?

    I can only speak for myself, obviously, but I’m sorry to say that some of your ephem comes across – as does that article by gutsy Norman Geras – as a generalised smearing of people you don’t agree with.

    Why not name names and criticize, if you can, what people actually say?

    John Miles

    «

  2. John,

    We are told that the bombers’ main or only motive is the destruction of democracy and freedom. “They hate our freedoms,” and all that.

    And I heard the same Sam Huntington nonsense from Liam Fox on WATO this afternoon. Tony Blair was supporting the same proposition at his press conference this morning.
    As Fowler says to Pyle in “The Quiet American”

    I never knew a man who had better motives for all the trouble he has caused.

    I’m sorry to mention Prof. Richard Pape’s “Dying to Kill” again, but it contains the only piece of empirical evidence we have on the subject of this thread. And he gives short shrift to the “they’re really just after out democracy” view.
    Cheers
    t

  3. Patrick says:

    I’m sorry to mention Prof. Richard Pape’s “Dying to Kill” again, but it contains the only piece of empirical evidence we have on the subject of this thread. And he gives short shrift to the “they’re really just after out democracy” view.

    Indeed you are correct Retired Rambler. I am currently plowing my way through Roger Pape’s paper of 2003 on the subject of suicide terrorism & will be posting on this subject soon (on my blog). I shall be doing this to inform the debate on this blog, the trackback to this will appear on Brian’s post Are al-Qaida’s aims negotiable? when it’s available.

  4. Patrick,

    These seem Pape’s main points:

    1 Suicide terrorism is not primarily a product of Islamic fundamentalism.

    2 The world’s leading practitioners of suicide terrorism are the Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka – a secular, Marxist-Leninist group drawn from Hindu families.

    3 Ninety-five percent of suicide terrorist attacks occur as part of coherent campaigns organized by large militant organizations with significant public support.

    4 Every suicide terrorist campaign has had a clear goal that is secular and political: to compel a modern democracy to withdraw military forces from the territory that the terrorists view as their homeland.

    5 Al-Qaeda fits the above pattern. Although Saudi Arabia is not under American military occupation per se, one major objective of al-Qaeda is the expulsion of U.S. troops from the Persian Gulf region, and as a result there have been repeated attacks by terrorists loyal to Osama bin Laden against American troops in Saudi Arabia and the region as a whole.

    6 Despite their rhetoric, democracies – including the United States – have routinely made concessions to suicide terrorists. Suicide terrorism is on the rise because terrorists have learned that it’s effective.

    Keep turning the pages!

    Cheers,
    t

  5. Brian says:

    John (Miles),

    Oh dear. I thought I had made myself clearer than that.

    To take your main points one by one:

    The official view – which you now seem to support – about Iraq and the London bombing is that our invasion is just one more excuse for what evil people would have done anyway.

    That’s not quite what I have said — at least, I hope it isn’t. I agree that Britain’s participation in the invasion and occupation of Iraq has provided an additional issue that can be exploited to aggravate the anger of the alienated and to promote additional terrorism. Whether we would have experienced the London bombings if we had not been involved in the Iraq war, neither you nor I can possibly know. The key points are that al-Qaida type terrorism pre-dates the Iraq war, that the aims of Muslim extremists are far wider than securing the withdrawal of western troops from Iraq, and that it is wrong and misleading to infer from the possible (even likely) connection between Iraq and the London bombings that Blair is in any degree ‘responsible’, even in part, for the bombings, still less ‘to blame’ for them — as numerous commentators have tried to argue.

    We are told that the bombers’ main or only motive is the destruction of democracy and freedom. “They hate our freedoms,” and all that. Anyone who thinks this is the case should ask himself two questions: Why is there so much more evil around now – not just here but in Iraq as well – than there was before our invasion? Why don’t the bombers take more interest in countries like Finland or Denmark, which are perhaps even freer and more democratic than our own?

    I quite agree with you. The bombers, or rather their sponsors and political inspirers, don’t give a damn about what we do or what values we adopt in predominantly non-Muslim western countries (except to the limited extent that they impinge on the practice of Islam by their Muslim minorities, where they exist). They do however (rightly) perceive western culture, values and influence as a major obstacle to the establishment of strict Taliban-style Islamic régimes, under Shari’a law, in the core Muslim countries of the middle east and later in the other Asian and African countries where there are significant Muslim communities.

    I can only speak for myself, obviously, but I’m sorry to say that some of your ephem comes across – as does that article by gutsy Norman Geras – as a generalised smearing of people you don’t agree with. Why not name names and criticize, if you can, what people actually say?

    I’m sorry that some of what I write strikes you like that. I try, not always successfully, not to engage in personal criticism of named individuals (as distinct from sometimes disagreeing with them, generally, I hope, courteously) because I don’t think personal animus assists useful and interesting discussion. Where there’s a currently fashionable view being widely expressed in the media, the blogosphere, and elsewhere, that seems to me wrong-headed, I see no reason to hesitate about trying to expose it and to offer an alternative view. I don’t accept your charge of ‘smearing’ either generally or individually: and looking back over recent posts and comments, I find nothing that answers to that description. But each to his (or her) taste!

    Incidentally, if you are really looking for lots of highly specific chapter and verse for the kind of comments and their authors on whom I have been dumping my ‘generalised smearing’, you need look no further than a recent post on the blog of my fellow-smearer, Norman Geras, who seems to me to write with commendable vigour and clarity, not to say guts.

    Anyway, please continue to visit Ephems and to tell me when I’m off course…

    Brian

  6. Tim Weakley says:

    John Miles commented: ‘Why don’t the bombers take more interest in countries like Finland and Denmark, which are perhaps even freer and more democratic than our own?’

    Two suggestions: (1) Britain is still a major second-rank power, and one moreover with a long, long history of standing up to aggressive foreign tyrannies [and I do know about the heroic fight the Finns put up against the Russians in the Winter War of 1939-40]. Any act resulting from the bombings that could be represented as British capitulation to Moslem terrorists would therefore set an awful example to the rest of the non-Moslem world.

    (2) As I mentioned in another thread far away and long ago, Britain, unlike Denmark and Finland, has been financially, commercially, politically, and militarily involved in Moslem, or Muslim, countries for a couple of centuries off and on. This is in no way to condone terrorism, merely to explain where we stand in Al-Qaeda’s, and its imitators’, bomb-worthiness table.

  7. Brian says:

    — and:

    (3) Britain is the country most closely associated with the United States, ‘the Great Satan’.

    In any case, it has never been my contention that the bombers are out to destroy our freedoms or our democracy, as Bush claims (and as Blair sometimes seems to suggest). Nor is it my view that Iraq has nothing at all to do with the London bombings, as Blair also feels obliged to claim. It seems overwhelmingly likely that those who have encouraged the bombers to commit or attempt these murders have exploited the anger aroused (and also artificially stimulated) by opposition to the Iraq war in order to recruit and motivate the bombers. But that is not the same thing as the assertion that Iraq is the root cause of the terrorist campaign or that an end to the occupation of Iraq (still less British military withdrawal on its own, leaving the American and other occupying forces still in place) would bring the terrorist campaign to an end. It’s pretty plain that it would not. The campaign’s aims go far, far wider than this. On that subject, there is a lot more discussion and analysis going on here.

    Brian

  8. John Miles says:

    Brian,

    Instances of what look to me like generalised smears:
    “Similar voices – ie … denunciations of Tony Blair for … the London bombings – have been heard …, notably from Mr George Galloway …. ”
    “Yet the usual suspects emerge … with their … assertions that the finger of blame points … at the British prime minister.”
    “Our way of life is … at risk from … ministers in thrall … to tabloids.”

    These statements are quite possibly all true, but I doubt if they’ll cut the slightest bit of ice with anyone who doesn’t agree with you already.

    Obviously you’re right to refrain from personal criticism, but what’s wrong with trying to explain precisely where and why you think Mr Blair, Mr Galloway or whoever have got it all wrong?

    Perhaps, after all, I was a bit put off by your endorsement of your fellow smearer, Norman Geras. I’ve just re-read his article, and I’m afraid I still find it long on vigour, short on clarity and chapter and verse.

    Incidentally I thoroughly enjoyed reading about your schooldays. As it happens I’ve just paid a short, surreptitious visit to where I was at school, so I was probably in more or less the right mood to compare notes.

    John Miles

  9. Brian says:

    John (Miles),

    Instances of what look to me like generalised smears:
    “Similar voices – ie … denunciations of Tony Blair for … the London bombings – have been heard …, notably from Mr George Galloway …. ”
    “Yet the usual suspects emerge … with their … assertions that the finger of blame points … at the British prime minister.”
    “Our way of life is … at risk from … ministers in thrall … to tabloids.”

    These seem to me to be properly described as allegations, but not smears.

    These statements are quite possibly all true, but I doubt if they’ll cut the slightest bit of ice with anyone who doesn’t agree with you already.

    Not on their own, certainly; but I hope that some at least of those who read them in the context of the surrounding argument might be persuaded that there’s something in them.

    Obviously you’re right to refrain from personal criticism, but what’s wrong with trying to explain precisely where and why you think Mr Blair, Mr Galloway or whoever have got it all wrong?

    I think I have spelled out ad nauseam the reasons for thinking them wrong!

    But I’m glad you enjoyed my piece about my schooldays. Now that was rather closer to being a smear!

    Brian

  10. John Miles says:

    Brian,

    OK then, let’s call them allegations.

    I sympathise with your feeling you’re trotting out the same old stuff again and again and again.
    But there’s no real alternative for anyone who seriously wants to change the world.

    It’s my impression that most of your readers are less concerned about being enlightened than they are about trying to enlighten you. So you need to be whiter than white.
    You score a snake every time someone thinks that, for whatever reason, you’re talking rubbish, or even partial rubbish.

    Just about the only way for you to score a ladder is for someone to say, “Perhaps, after all, that guy Barder’s got a point.”

    That kind of thing doesn’t happen overnight.

    So your message has to stand up to all kinds of criticism.

    And be relentless.

    John Miles

  11. Brian,
    You are not alone supporting Norman Geras’s view.
    Oliver Kamm is firmly in his camp. I’m not sure he’s your kind of liberal!
    t

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