What the bomber’s video doesn’t say, and what Ken Clarke did say
In his article in today’s (2 September 2005) Guardian about the video, released the previous evening, of the British suicide bomber Mohamad Sidique Khan, David Hencke, boldly starts off:
Downing Street was in denial last night about Mohammad Sidique Khan’s tape and al-Qaida’s threat of further action.
A spokesman said Tony Blair had no comment about Khan’s claim linking the bombings directly to Britain’s participation in the Iraq war, a link which the prime minister has consistently denied.
The tape also appeared to link the attack to al-Qaida, rather than suggesting that it was the work of four homegrown bombers.
Unfortunately almost everything about this is wrong, even if similar comments are sprouting like mole castings all over the media lawn. The worst clanger is the assertion that Sidique Khan, in his video, "[links] the bombings directly to Britain’s participation in the Iraq war", whereas (a) Sidique Khan nowhere on the tape even mentions Iraq; (b) he says explicitly that his objection is to the west’s ‘atrocities’ perpetrated against Muslims ‘all over the world’ (an important phrase unaccountably omitted from the Guardian’s purported transcript of the video) — important because it shows that even if there had been no war in Iraq, or if Britain had not taken part in it, Sidique Khan and those who think or feel like him would still be engaged in a ‘fight’ against the western democracies, exactly as Tony Blair and Jack Straw have asserted, on account of what they regard as the atrocities being perpetrated against Muslims in Afghanistan, Palestine, Kashmir, Chechnya, etc.; (c) Sidique Khan nowhere mentions his intention to launch a bomb attack in Britain or anywhere else, still less ‘linking it explicitly to Britain’s participation in the Iraq war’, as the Hencke article maintains; and (d) Tony Blair has expressly denied ever having said that Iraq had nothing to do with the bombings (as I have pointed out elsewhere in this blog): he, Straw and other ministers accept that the Iraq war, along with other issues, is exploited by extremists to whip up anti-western sentiment, leading in some cases to involvement in terrorism, which is a far cry from saying that one causes the other. Finally and more trivially, (e) saying that the video ‘appears to link the attack to al-Qaida, rather than … that it was the work of four homegrown bombers’ is an obviously false antithesis: Sidique Khan explicitly praises Osama bin Laden (in a passage also bizarrely omitted from the Guardian transcript) which plainly establishes some sort of link to al-Qaida, and we know that the bombings were the work of ‘four home-grown bombers’ even though, as already noted, the video doesn’t anywhere foreshadow the bombings, so it’s hardly surprising that it doesn’t attribute them to home-grown bombers or indeed to anyone else.
Not bad for three short sentences. Hencke usually does much better than this.
Here, for the record, are the key words from the video:
This is how our ethical stances are dictated. Your democratically elected governments perpetuate [sic] atrocities against my people all over the world and your support of them makes you directly responsible, just as I am directly responsible for protecting and avenging my Muslim brothers and sisters. Until we feel security, you’ll be our targets. Until you stop the bombing, gassing, imprisonment and torture of my people, we’ll not stop this fight. We are at war and I am a soldier. Now you too will taste the reality of this situation.
While on this increasingly dog-eared subject, we might just note the unfortunate impression given, perhaps unintentionally, by Ken Clarke in the opening salvo of his Tory leadership campaign, with his frontal assault on Tony Blair over Iraq. What a pity that Clarke missed the opportunity to put the main emphasis of his criticism on the multiple misrepresentations of the case for war, its illegality under the Charter, the misjudgements about how the invaders would be received, the failure to recognise that there were no WMD, the lack of planning for what would be needed after Iraq was occupied, the failure even to try to put together an EU consensus that might have carried some weight in the White House, and so on and so forth! He made some of these points, but only as a kind of afterthought: his main focus was on the one, probably the only, invalid case against Blair on Iraq:
The disastrous decision to invade Iraq has made Britain a more dangerous place. The war did not create the danger of Islamic terrorism in this country, which had been growing internationally even before the tragedy of the attacks on 9/11. However the decision by the U.K. Government to become the leading ally of President Bush in the Iraq debacle has made Britain one of the foremost targets for Islamic extremists.
This has naturally dominated the media coverage of Clarke’s attack. The irony is that Clarke was evidently aware of the dangers inherent in this line of attack. He continued:
Personally I would have accepted that increased risk as the price of going to war if I had believed that we were driven to go to war for a just cause and a British national interest that could be pursued in no other way. I reject the notion that fear of terrorist reprisals should ever deter a British Government from pursuing an honourable and necessary cause.
Exactly! But how many newspapers or television channels reported that all-important proviso? And how many of them pointed out that Clarke, like Hencke in his Guardian article discussed earlier, went on crucially to misrepresent Tony Blair’s position:
If the Prime Minister really believes it, he must be the only person left who thinks that the recent bombs in London had no connection at all with his policy in Iraq.
I’m not accustomed to defending Mr Blair over Iraq, but surely someone might have pointed out to Ken Clarke that Blair has explicitly denied either holding that belief, or stating it? Still, it made good copy, and will soon be forgotten.
PS (3 Sept. 05): It’s been suggested that in writing this I have been less than fair to Ken Clarke and his speech, given Mr Clarke’s undoubted merits as a politician and a human being, and that taken as a whole it was a notably good and effective speech. I agree with that and accept that my remarks earlier here are unduly hard on the man and his speech. He got it wrong about Blair’s alleged denial of any connection between Iraq and the terrorist bombings, but he’s in good company in making that mistake. I still think it was a misjudgment to put so much stress on the assertion that the Iraq war had made Britain more vulnerable to terrorism (with the unfortunate implication that he disavowed later in the speech in an unnoticed qualification) rather than on the blunders and misrepresentations of the lead-up to the war, which he mentioned almost as if they were secondary. This made unbalanced media accounts of his speech inevitable. The full text is, as has been pointed out, almost entirely admirable apart from these two points. It’s hard to believe that the Conservative Party could even consider for one minute choosing anyone else but Ken Clarke to lead them into the next election, especially now that the European issue has had its fangs drawn by the poor performance of the euro and the assassination of the draft constitution by the French and Dutch electorates. But with their lemming-like suicidal tendencies, I suppose they’ll reject him again. Oh, and don’t let’s have any of that nonsense about Ken Clarke being too old for the job. He’s younger than me, for God’s sake….