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12 July 2005Printer-friendly versionEmail a friend

It's not all about Iraq
Why is everyone from George Galloway's RESPECT to the British National Party blaming Tony Blair for the London bombs?

by Brendan O'Neill

So, why was London bombed on 7/7? Given that no one has claimed responsibility for the attack, much less said why they did it, that is a pretty difficult question to answer. Yet some in the anti-war movement seem to have developed a sixth-sense ability to read the bombers' minds, and have revealed all: Londoners were bombed because of prime minister Tony Blair's involvement in the Iraq war.

Or, as veteran left-wing commentator John Pilger put it, these were 'Blair's bombs' and just such a bombing has 'been coming since the day Blair joined George W Bush in their bloody invasion and occupation of Iraq' (1). Anti-war activist and author Tariq Ali says it is 'safe to assume' (presumably because it is difficult to prove) 'that the cause of these bombs is the unstinting support given by New Labour and its prime minister to the US wars in Afghanistan and Iraq' (2). What's more, those who refute any link between Iraq and the London bombs are likely to be, in the words of Guardian columnist Gary Younge, 'supporters of the Iraq war' who are in 'the deepest denial' (3).

Well, I am no supporter of the Iraq war, in denial or otherwise. I was 100 per cent opposed to the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan, and I have consistently criticised the bizarre 'war on terror'. But should we accept this simple cause-and-effect theory about the Iraq war and the London bombs? Such events may be interconnected, but the fact is that none of us yet knows who bombed London, or why - and Blair surely has a point when he says that 9/11, the worst terrorist attack in the recent period, took place before both the Afghan and Iraq wars.

The claim that war in Iraq led to bombs and bloodshed in London is presented as a radical pose, a challenge to the warmongers in Whitehall and the White House. It is no such thing. As an anti-war stance, it is deeply conservative, motivated by the 'politics of fear' and more than a smattering of chauvinism.

This isn't the first time that the actions of nameless, faceless, weirdo bombers have been imbued with anti-imperialist intent by sections of the anti-war movement. After 9/11 - when 19 hijackers committed suicide by crashing jets into the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and a field in Pennsylvania (which took place two years before the invasion of Iraq, and which still no one has claimed explicit responsibility for) - we were told that it was about Palestine or the sanctions against Iraq; that it was, in the words of one left-leaning commentator, a 'misguided' attempt to resist US foreign policy. Tariq Ali said the reasons for 9/11 were 'really political' and 'unless the questions of Iraq and Palestine are sorted out, these kids will be attracted to violence...' (4).

It later transpired that 'these kids' were not Palestinians or Iraqis, but mostly well-educated, middle-class men from Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Yemen. And in the vague statements he did make after 9/11, Osama bin Laden said very little about Palestine. The only thing he banged on about back then was the presence of American troops in his beloved Saudi Arabia - not the sexiest of international issues. Bin Laden only started namechecking Palestine months after 9/11, clearly recognising that it played well over here. In 2002 and 2003 he talked about 'our kinfolk in Palestine' and 'our people in Palestine'. He was effectively reading from a script written for him by anti-war elements in the West (5).

After the Bali bombing of October 2002, which took place five months before the Iraq war and killed 202 in a crowded nightclub, many of them young Australian tourists, anti-war writers said it was al-Qaeda's 'punishment' for the Australian government's support for US foreign policy. But bin Laden said it was the Australian intervention in East Timor that had wound him up.

After the Madrid bombings of March 2004, when 191 commuters were killed by rucksack bombs, again we were told that it was All About Iraq. A document on the 'Iraqi jihad' that mentioned Spain was dug up from an Islamist website and held up around the world as a 'blueprint' for the attacks in Madrid, evidence that this was retaliation for Spanish involvement in Iraq. In fact, as spiked demonstrated, the links between this dodgy document and the Madrid attacks were tenuous indeed (see Madrid 'blueprint': a dodgy document, by Brendan O'Neill). Bin Laden talked about the attack on Madrid as part of his bizarre fantasy about re-conquering al-Andalus, the Islamic kingdom in Spain that was defeated over 500 years ago (6).

Of course, al-Qaeda's statements should be taken with a very large dose of salt, and some in the anti-war movement would do well to remember that. At times we seem to veer dangerously close towards having something of a mutual appreciation society between al-Qaeda and the anti-war movement in the West. When bin Laden does talk about 'the people of Palestine' or Bush's venture in Iraq, he seems to crib directly from Western musings on the Iraqi war. For example, his bizarre complaint in 2004 that President Bush continued reading My Pet Goat to a classroom of children on the morning of 9/11 - 'leaving 50,000 of his citizens in the Two Towers to face these horrors' - appears to have been taken verbatim from Michael Moore's film Fahrenheit 9/11 (7).

And now, if someone somewhere does release a statement saying, 'Yes, that's right, we planted those bombs in London in retaliation for the horrors in Iraq', it wouldn't be very surprising. The statement has pretty much already been written for them, in newspaper editorials and comment pieces in London, Paris and New York.

This is the anti-imperialism of fools
If Western leaders made al-Qaeda into something it isn't, by talking it up as 'the greatest threat facing humanity today', which is apparently seeking nuclear weapons with which to launch a new 'holocaust' on the West (8), then so too have some in the anti-war movement. They have given these bombers far more credence and coherence than they deserve, describing their actions as strikes against America and Britain for those states' military interventions in the Middle East. The pro-war lobby has made al-Qaeda into an overblown terrible threat, while the anti-war lobby has made it into a kind of resistance movement. It is neither of these things; both sides are stamping their own worldviews on to a loose, disparate gang of nihilists, and it is precisely the emptiness of al-Qaeda and its actions that allows them to do that.

Now, after the London bombs, it is simply asserted that these latest attacks are payback for Iraq. This claim is not restricted to the anti-war movement - many seem to have responded to the attacks by muttering, 'It's all Blair and Bush's fault'. Some anti-war activists seem almost to hope that al-Qaeda will do their dirty work for them: they point to the bombs as evidence of disgruntlement with American and British foreign policy and as an argument for why we should withdraw from Iraq and stop intervening abroad. That is no way to oppose war.

Rather than challenging the politics of fear - which both Bush and Blair deployed to win support for the war on terror and the war on Iraq - anti-war voices embrace it and try to turn it to their advantage. In talking up bloodshed in London as the inevitable consequence of launching wars of intervention in Iraq and Afghanistan, they effectively try to scare us into being anti-war. They play the same game as Bush and Blair, in a grisly competition to see which camp can frighten us more.

This has been a common theme in anti-war politics over the past four years. In the run-up to the Afghan war of 2001, John Pilger argued that 'Blair's belligerence is dangerously irresponsible', because 'we want an end to terrorism, not a new war'. 'Blair has made Britain a target', wrote Pilger. 'He is endangering the people of this country.... [and] risks nurturing a new generation of suicidal killers.' (9) RESPECT MP George Galloway opposed the Afghan war on the basis that it would create '10,000 new bin Ladens', and was one of the first to say after the London bombs that Brits had 'paid the price' for Blair's attacks on Afghanistan and Iraq (10). A week before the Iraq war started in March 2003, the UK Stop the War Coalition held a public meeting entitled 'Will war on Iraq protect us from terror?', where it was argued that 'a headlong rush into war against Iraq' will invite 'catastrophic terrorist actions on ourselves', explicitly feeding off public fears of another 9/11 (11).

There is also an element of chauvinism in these arguments. Western intervention in Iraq or Afghanistan is opposed less on the grounds that it undermines state sovereignty, exacerbates local tensions and generally makes life a misery for people in the third world, than on the basis that it stirs up those mad Arabs and encourages them to come over here and bomb us to smithereens. If only we stayed at home, the argument seems to go, then these psychos wouldn't punish us so.

This is a very dodgy position, and it has won the anti-war movement some very dodgy bedfellows. A leaflet reportedly being distributed by the far-right British National Party carries a photograph of the exploded London bus in Tavistock Square under the heading 'Maybe now it's time to start listening to the BNP'. The leaflet makes two demands: '1) Bring our troops back from Iraq; 2) Stop any further immigration.' BNP leader Nick Griffin told BBC Radio 4's Today programme that, 'By voting Labour, people gave us a government which took us into an illegal war in Iraq that turned us all into targets' (12). There is a thin line, it seems, between the anti-war movement's claims about the war in Iraq creating a new generation of bloodthirsty killers and the BNP's desire to keep all bloody foreigners out.

The attempt to link the bombs in London to the war in Iraq is the anti-imperialism of fools. It simultaneously fantasises that al-Qaeda elements are engaged in a war of resistance against the West, while taking an anti-war position that is more concerned with saving ourselves from mad bombers than offering solidarity with people in the Middle East against Western intervention.

Finally, even if these bombs were a retaliation for Iraq, even if some group or other does issue a statement to that effect, so what? That should still not make the bombings the focus for arguments against the Iraq war. Just as we criticise Bush and Blair when they cite terrorist actions as a justification for war - with their overblown claims about needing to invade states in order to protect we in the West from the 'embittered few' - so we should criticise anti-war activists who cite terrorism as an argument against war. The debate about the London bombs should be about us and about the kind of society we live in; the debate about the Iraq war should be about Iraqis, and about the impact of the invasion on their lives and ability to determine their destinies. We should not make everything all about us.

Read on:

spiked-issue: London bombs

(1) Lest we forget: These were Blair's bombs, truth out, 10 July 2005

(2) The price of occupation, Guardian, 8 July 2005

(3) Blair's blowback, Guardian, 11 July 2005

(4) Tariq Ali on 9/11, Left Business Observer, 20 September 2001

(5) Full text: Bin Laden's message, BBC News, 12 November 2002

(6) Spanish Muslims issues fatwa on bin Laden, Daily Telegraph, 11 March 2005

(7) Full transcript of bin Ladin's speech, Al-Jazeera, 1 November 2004

(8) See Does al-Qaeda exist?, by Brendan O'Neill

(9) Blair has made Britain a target, Guardian, 21 September 2001

(10) Galloway: Bombings price of Iraq, BBC News, 8 July 2005

(11) Will war on Iraq protect us from terror?, Berkhamsted Stop the War, 8 March 2003

(12) BNP campaign uses bus bomb photo, BBC News, 12 July 2005

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