Thursday, May 11, 2006

The state could not have prevented 7/7, but it could provoke it

I tend to agree with those who say MI5 could not have prevented the bombers blowing themselves, and large numbers of others, up on July 7th.

In hindsight I'm sure there are many lessons that can be learned about intellegence and all of the rest of it - but unless they keep us all under surveilance 24 hours a day it's just impossible. Sadly, they do not have the resources to control the actions of every living being on the planet, such are the imperfections of life. Let's hope Gordon Brown sorts them out with the cash to recruit half a million of us to spy on each other night and day.

Today's papers are full of reports about the inquiry into the 7/7 bombings, that took place four years to the day after the Bradford riots and during the G8 summit in Scotland.

Worryingly I agree with this government report when it says that "foreign policy was an element in the radicalisation of the bombers, but [the report] will not conclude that the Iraq war was the key contributory factor behind the attacks." because whilst it's easy for the left to say everything is about the war I think that analysis ignors some of the underlying reasons for the attacks.

The lead bomber gave us his own reasons on video (read about it here) Classroom assistant Mohammad Sidique Khan cited Iraq and Palestine and claimed that "We are at war and I am a soldier. Now you too will taste the reality of this situation." He praised Bin Laden and spoke of his opposition to the 'Crusaders'.

So it would be difficult to deny that Iraq and Palestine were to the fore in their minds when they choose to undertake their mission, but what turns those who oppose western imperialism into those who are willing to commit mass murder? I would say that part of the answer lies in the following...

"Our words have no impact upon you, therefore I'm going to talk to you in a language that you understand. Our words are dead until we give them life with our blood."

"Until we feel security, you will be our target."

Ultimately the one person each of the bombers knew they were going to kill was themselves - and maybe the war they were engaged in was partly a war against themselves. The two quotes above, to me, scream with impotence. How they have no impact, how they feel insecure, how their words are dead - and that not only did they wish to strike back at those they blamed for these feelings, and identified with others they could see taking extreme measures, but they also chose a method that seemed to be the only thing to give their lives meaning - a glorious death.

When Marx and Engels described religion as “the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world. It is the opium of the people.” It could not fit more closely with how this form of radical Islam fuses the soullessness of capitalism with the rage at its oppressive consequences.

The furious anti-Muslim response experienced, particularly after 9/11, was for many Asians their first real experience of racism in this country (see Salma Yaqoob in the ISJ for instance) and that to chose the anniversery of the massive Bradford riots to carry out these attacks may say more about how they viewed their own lives, here in the UK, than anger at events that were happening in far away countries.

The arrogant dismissal of the the mass anti-war movement by Blair and co was one the greatest blows against democracy this country has ever seen and left millions feeling utterly distraught and disenfranchised. For Asain Britains this feeling must have been ten times what it was for the rest of us.

The atrocious attacks of July 7th were not part of the Iraq war even if that war enfuriated these four young men, but I suspect it suited the bombers to see themselves as soldiers to give themselves identity, coherence and courage to take the final step of obliterating the lives of others and themselves. This was a nihilistic product of an alienated society where millions feel they have little significant control over their lives.

When I was a teenager it was my deepest desire for the USSR to invade the UK, and I genuinely used to daydream about Soviet tanks rolling down the high street greeted by red flag waving crowds. I may not have hit upon the most popular solution to Britain's problems but it was certainly a product of my hatred for everything that I felt the country stood for. When the IRA atempted to blow up the Tory cabinet in Brighton I whooped and danced for joy, playing Stiff Little Fingers 'suspect device' over and over - but whilst all of these were direct comments on the UK's foreign policy they had as much to do with my experience of what I felt was constant police harrassment, the degeneration of the lives of those I loved and the hopelessness I felt about my future.

Ultimately it is not just an end to the war that is key to all our problems but a fundamental shift in society away from the factors that create impoverished and alienated individuals. As it happens, if we take that shift we abolish war along the way.


AN said...

I think I understand where you are coming from with this, but there is – for me anyway – a problem with this.

When you say: “The atrocious attacks of July 7th were not part of the Iraq war even if that war enfuriated these four young men, but I suspect it suited the bombers to see themselves as soldiers to give themselves identity, coherence and courage to take the final step of obliterating the lives of others and themselves. This was a nihilistic product of an alienated society where millions feel they have little significant control over their lives. ”

But what if the 7/7 bombing had been carried out by Iraqis? Would that have made a difference to you?

Certainly the appalling atrocity at Beslan was carried out by Chechen’s with a clear link to the actual war.

The strong identification with the war in Iraq and Palestine by so may British born Moslems, is part of the complexity of the situation, and in an asymetricall war, if they feel they are part of the war, then they are part of the war. It is a self justifying condition of membership. No one is swearing people into a regular army, and this extends to the Coalition forces as well, along side who a huge number of unaccountable private mercenaries.

The other night the BBC showed Pearl Harbour on TV, which culminated in a flag waving, facile portrayal of the Doolittle raids on Tokyo. As the film suggested the Doolittle raids were an act of huge heroism by the US air crews, an air raid from carriers, intending to fly on the KMT controlled China, but with almost zero prospects of survival. The intention being to commit a terror attack on essentially civilian targets in Tokyo, to undermine the Japanese will to continue the war. After the attack on Hawaii, the Americans were completely committed to the use of terror to defeat the Japanese Empire. (As I have written in Socialist Review:

War requires a different set of moral constraints from peacetime society, and the morality of any particular war is developed symmetrically by the two opposing belligerent forces. Those who consider themselves part of the US/UK against the Arab or Moslem peoples are self defined as part of that war,.and the morality of their actions can only be judged in the context of what both sides are doing. Which includes the use of cluster bombs, mass carpet bombing, white phosphorus, etc from the US forces.

The only morality in war is winning the war: by using sufficient violence to enforce your political objectives on the other side. That does not mean a blank cheque, because any war evolves its own moral constraints, or lack of them. It also means that violence not directed towards securing the political objectives is immoral, and usually considered as criminal or at least unethical by all parties.

AN said...

I hadn't read this when I wrote the above, but it summarises my position brilliantly:
"he who uses force unsparingly, wthout reference to the bloodshed involved, must obtain a superiority if his adversary uses less vigour. the former then dictates the law to the latter, and both proceed to extremeties to which the only limitations are those imposed by the amount of countervailing force on each side. this is the way the matter must be viewed, and it is to no prurpose ... to turn away from consideration of the real nature of the affair because the horror of its elements excites repugnance.
...War is an act of violence pushed to its outmost bounds; as one side dictates the law to the other, there arises a sort of reciprocal action, which logicallly must lead to an extreme."
Carl von Clauswitz, in "Vom Kriege"

Jim Jay said...

Ok, I think there are three questions here, I'll try to make it brief as I'm sure others have a view on this too...

But what if the 7/7 bombing had been carried out by Iraqis? Would that have made a difference to you?

Without question it would have made a difference to my analysis, and everyone else's I suspect, including your own.

if they feel they are part of the war, then they are part of the war

I do not agree. Firstly, the war they felt part of was not the Iraq war, but an Islamic war against the West. So even if I agreed with the idea that if you want in you are in, it would not make them part of the Iraqi resistance, nor the intifada - but part of Al Quaida. I'm not arguing these things are unrelated - but I am totally opposed to the idea of conflating these bombers into the Iraqi resistance.

Secondly, in what real sense were they part of the resistance? In his video Mohammad Sidique Khan said that "Now you too will taste the reality of this situation" but as he had never tasted that reality himself this boils down to rhetoric not reality.

These boys were not victims of bombings, sanctions and invasion. These boys were more influenced by the politics of hate than by the politics of liberation. They are sympathising with a resistance struggle but have no actual connection to it.

They never considered military targets (of which there are many in the UK) or strategised as part of a military campaign, but wished to strike out at a society they hated, not a regime.

The only morality in war is winning the war

Who says? Are you opposed to the Geneva convention? Are you opposed Guantamo Bay and the secret torture camps?

When Trotsky, in 'Their morals and ours', compared "A slave-owner who through cunning and violence shackles a slave in chains, and a slave who through cunning or violence breaks the chains—let not the contemptible eunuchs tell us that they are equals before a court of morality!" I think he lays out a reasonable case for moral judgements to be taken only in their concrete situation and not governed by abstracts.

The only morality in war is winning the war is utterly abstract. Which war? Which side? Did the victims of 7/7 get to choose a side before they were killed, or did the bombers choose their side for them? What about a skirmish, or a riot, or an argument? What if you take the moral right to kill in a cause you deem just but kill at random, striking not at your enemies but those your enemies care nothing about and hand to those enemies a perfect vehicle to further their ends without in any way disrupting his operations?

AN said...

Jim you may be a very nice man, and maybe that is why you would be a lousy general.

There are quite a few threads here, one of which is the question of the effect of Islamists self identifying with the war. It is the nature of big wars to become a confluence of simulataneous subsidiary wars (See Ernest Mandel on WW2). The dominant ideology of those in the Middle East in active armed conflict with western imperialism has become Islamic, and there is bound to be a two way street, of some political islamists outside of the Middle east coming into the war. The neat distinction between Al Qaeda and the Iraqi resistance doesn't wash, because had these young men gone to iraq, they may have done exactly the same thing, and the mess of Iraq is that the self same armed groups who are fighting the Americans and Brits are also engaged in sectarian violence and terror. These young men had no less connection to the war than the thousands of US young men who joined up from Arkansas or california after 9/11.

And you seem fixated on the idea of military targets, that does not seem to be founded on any real study of how wars are fought. Very rarely does fighting concentrate on military targets, instead violence is used to acheive the most prompt political change from your opponents. And one of the most important weapons of war is terror - as used by conventional armies, remember "shock and awe", the B52s dropping bombs that make the ground shake kilometers away. During the NATO bombing of Serbia very little of the bombing was against military targets.
Wars are not won by destroying the enemy's armed forces. (See the discussion of how wars end in Raymond Challinor's book "The struggle for hearts and Minds")

The Geneva convention is a constraint agreed by mutuality - see Von Clauswitz above on the importance of reciprocity. All armies regularly and routinely disregard it, and it is a socially conditioned adaption to the unpopularity of wars. We should argue for the geneva convention to be kept, and in fact it would politically wrong foot the Occupation forces if the Iraqi resistance did keep to the Geneva convention. But it is not a moral absolute. I certainly don't worry too much that South African prisoners of war in Angola were executed by the MPLA and the Cubans.

The idea that the morality of a war is generated by the particular war in question is the opposite of abstract, it means that morality is contextuallised by the actually existing level of violence. That is why Grant and Sherman were more ruthless soldiers than McLellan, and Cromwell was more decisive than Essex.

Your question about which war and which side are political and not moral questions.

And exactly, the actually existing war, and why many Moslems feel this is a war of the West against their religion and culture, has been conditioned by Guanatanamo, the forced shaving and urinating on the Koran, and the kidnapping and secret torture camps. So the morality of this war has been set (see again von Clauswitz quote above) by that context. Precisely because war is outsdie the morality of ordinary life, then it generates its own morality threough the escalaiting reciprcosity of the violence - could it be any other way? ASnd that is why i say that war generates its own morality, based upon winning. But that is a constrained and mediated process, beacue it interacts with the peacetime morality (as we are demonstarting by the fact we cannot see eye to eye on this)

Again, you exhibit a confusion about war by suggesting this argument about "not in any way disruting his operations" - why should military operations be legitimate targets in your views if political change can be more speedily achieved by killing civilians? Again I repeat that what you are advocating is not the actually existing morality of the conventional armies of the major powers - so why should it be the morality of anyone engaged in a war with them?

The other question of whether or not the bombings actually advanced or hindered the occupation is a political and not a moral judgement. Politicly, the 7/7 bombings seem to have had a bad effect of increasing racial tension and Islamophobia, and causing trauma grief and pain, and almost no other effect.

Jim Jay said...

I'd be a brilliant general - I look great in a cap! Shiny buttons? Pukka

"These young men had no less connection to the war than the thousands of US young men who joined up from Arkansas or california after 9/11." No, the US, UK, Polish et al forces were the invading army, which makes them very connected.

I would like you to answer the question ‘which war’ because I think it's important - the war on terror? The war between Al Quaida and the US? Were these boys part of the Intifada? I hope that appears as it's meant to - as a straight question not a rhetorical device.

I simply do not believe there is one war that they can be a part of. Is there one war going on in Iraq at the moment, even without looking at all the other places at issue?

"what you are advocating is not the actually existing morality of the conventional armies of the major powers" ummm…. good? I hope that continues…

I think the effect of 7/7 has been much deeper than simply increasing Islamophobia. The state was under extreme pressure over the war and its anti-terrorism legislation. It was extremely defensive - 7/7 allowed them to say “look, we need this” – and have constantly tried to move the argument onto civil liberties, because they know if the argument is between being blown up or the erosion of civil liberties people will choose the latter. 7/7 has been used to great tactical advantage by the UK (and probably the US too) and has given confidence to press ahead.

Just as the 9/11 attacks were immoral in and of themselves but I’m sure I was not alone in thinking as I watched the planes hit those towers – the US is going to go on a killing spree in the Middle East now, prepare for years of war. This compounds that immorality – the fact that individuals supposedly acting to get the Crusaders out of the Middle East actually precipitated a massive invasion after invasion – their idiocy does not make the act more moral.

On the difference between moral and political questions - actually I don't agree, they are entwined. If an action leads to bad things and this was deducible before hand then it is immoral surely? If I kill someone, even someone bad, if the effect is to fuck a load of innocent people over then it is an immoral act. If I kill someone and it leads to happiness and joy then… hand me my medals.

I think a lot of what you are saying is about picking sides between Bush and co. and the 'resistance' - I'm rejecting them both because they are all arseholes.

I believe people have a right to defend their country if invaded - but I don't believe that is the picture right now.

AN said...

The war is asymmetrical, not only in the nature of the armies, but also is the paradigms of war. Sp actually the concept of fighting back because their country has been invaded is not how much of the Iraqi resistance is expressing itelf ideologically.

Since the cold war the US military establishment have adopted a neo-Clauswitzian understanding of war. That war is the rational use of violence by the US state, and is instrumental, in that it is designed to achieve identified policy aims of their state.

But the resistance in Iraq is not following a paradigm of a war of national liberation, even though many left analysts are trying to force that analysis onto events. Although there are aspects of a national war, and a lot of violence against occupation forces, the war has developed into the direction of an eschatological messianic war - that many of the Arab and Moslem combatants in Iraq - and elsewhere - do see it as a final war of civilisations and a war for Islam.

But although not symmetrical they are reciprocal. And 9/11 as well as 7/7 was a reciprocation by Islamists in a war - the starting point of which was the imperial, neo-Clauswitzian, domination of the Middle East by Western imperialism. because the war is not a war of national liberation, but a messianic eschatological war, it will suck in other islamists - whether or not their country has been invaded.

The violence of the Islamists is a (mediated) response to imperialism, and the level of that violence is tragically proportionate to the level of violence used by the US and the Zionists and of course the Russians in Chechnya.

I think it is a political mistake to argue that it is immoral, or condemn it, because the recriprical violent response of the Islamists is a product of an Imperialist process of war. Given the existance of a certina level of war violence, then some equivalent violent response is inevitable, and the moral responsibility lies with those who advoctate the imperial war. I think it is a mistake to join in the chorus of moral condemnation because that is mainly being orchestrated hypocritically from those who are repsonsible for letting the bombs out in the first place.

Renegade Eye said...

I found this blog surfing.

Very interesting post.

Some killed 7/7 were Islamic, and Muslims were potential victims. The Iraq War and the Palestinian situation is incidental to the Islamists. They are against uncovered women, secular radicals, sexuality for pleasure, etc.

They are enemies of people who support a blog like this.

The two pillars of darkness, are Islamism and imperialism.


AN said...

Thanks oh renegade one, but do you really think that the 7/7 Islamists would have carried out the bombing atrocities without there first having been the occupation of Palestine and Iraq, and the neo-colonial settlement in the Middle East, where the west props up corrupt despotisms like Saudi?

I have no doubt that the Islamists have very unpleasant ideas, and I certainly wouldn't want to live in a country run by them. But they are a reaction to imperialism, even if their politics, strategies and tactics are disastrous.

And Jim, I wasn't trying to avoid the question of "which war", I consider it to be all one big war, differentiated into smaller and inter-acting subsidiary wars. I hoped my previous post answered it, but perhaps too elliptically.

As it all flows from US/Zionist policy in the Middle East, and from thr project for the new American Century, the reciprocal reactions to that are multi-threaded, but all connected. (And as we have seen certainly not all progrtessive)

Jim Jay said...

I think we have two disagreements that are pretty fundamental here Andy.

Firstly the argument about the morality of war. I understand that in war people do bad things, and its important to understand that context to understand what people do, this does not confuse me. Shooting my neighbour cos I want to try out my new armalite is not the same as shooting a stranger because he is advancing towards my line in the wrong colour uniform.


I think the morality of these actions are determined not by the fact that people are at war but they are determined by which war you are fighting and what side you are on.

To be a member of the POUM and kill a fascist is moral. To be a fascist and kill a member of the POUM is immoral. In my view.

For me the moral implications are directly affected by the political specifics not whether war has been declared.

Which brings me on to the second disagreement.

As I thought you see this as one war with many tributaries, and the clarification was very useful on this. I do think the orthodox Trotskyist analysis of those like Mandel of WWII as a big war made up of many smaller wars is coherent and sensible. But I'm less inclined to see the current situation in this way, despite the fact I recognise that with a global system conflicts become more interconnected.

This means that for me there are more than two sides and I'm happy to oppose both western imperialism and terrorist factions.

AN said...

I think I have confused most people all along by my seeking to separate the political from the moral issues. Over the last few years I have discussed these issues with a number of people, and strangely I find the most agreement with me from two sets of people; i) extreme pacifists, and ii) military people.

If we only take the political issues into consideration then it is easy to understand how Gerry Adams can condemn the Omagh bombing, that was contrary to the strategic, political objectives of Sinn Fein, and the Good Friday Agreement.

But the moral issue remains, that even within a war, not all forms of violence are morally sanctioned. We all become conditioned to a level of reciprocal violence. And this is a question of perspective: it is worth reading the eye witness accounts of people who endured Luftwaffe bombing in Britain, who would afterwards find dismembered pieces of their neighbour’s children in their back gardens. This seems a very different perspective on the same act of violence from that experienced by the air crew. Beheading prisoners may seem morally equivalent to those who have seen children blown apart, or as Robert Fisk described in Chechnya, Russian soldiers raping women as they lay dying.

But violence that transcends the level of reciprocation is regarded as an atrocity. For example – the mass murder of the Polish officers by the Soviet army in the Katyn woods; or the punitive destruction of entire villages and murder of their inhabitants by the Wehrmacht.

An important aspect of war is demonising the opponents, as people who are prepared to act immorally. Partly this is by making things up – the enemy rape Belgian nuns, and rip babies from Kuwaiti incubators. But partly it is by pretending that acts by the enemy are different from the acts being perpetrated by your own side.

The death and destruction of 7/7 was at the same level of violence, and against similar targets, as NATO inflicted upon Serbia; and would seem proportionate to anyone who identified with the victims of the imperial war in Palestine or Iraq, in military terms therefore it was morally reciprocal. The chorus of condemnation orchestrated by mainstream politicians was precisely to portray the 7/7 bombers as immoral, because of the nature of the target and the nature of the killing. And a key part of that was to deny the moral equivalence of the 7/7 terrorists to the actions of the imperial politicians and armies.

An exemplary response to such atrocity stories is that of “Socialist Appeal” in April 1942, that responded to the news of British POWs being beheaded in Hong Kong by the Japanese, by firstly expressing grief and solidarity with the friends and families; but secondly by publishing photographs of Burmese patriots beheaded by the British in 1931.

I know that condemning both sides seems common sense, but a better response is to say, this is terrible but it is the chickens coming home to roost, the moral responsibility of which lies with those who started the war.

With regard to the second question. The trouble is that the wars overlap to the extent that no clean distinction can be made. Not least of which is the problem that the Madrid metro bombings were part of a sequence of events that did actually result in Spanish troops being withdrawn from Iraq. In which case the “terrorist faction” could derive political self-justification.

I would further point out the trouble here with the draconian nature of the law, in that even though neither of us advocate terrorism, a debate about whether terrorism is or can be morally and politically justified arguably falls foul of the terrorism Act 2006, 1.2.ii “A person commits an offence if at the time he publishes it or causes it to be published, he- is reckless as to whether members of the public will be directly or indirectly encouraged or otherwise induced by the statement to commit, prepare or instigate such acts or offences”

Jim Jay said...

Just a short one.

I'm not opposed to describing these acts as the 'chickens coming home to roost' as Malcolm X said of the assassination of Pres. Kennedy or 'bitter fruits of imperialism' as the SWP said of 9/11 (although they were probably not the first) but I think you can try to explain why something happens, even in these terms, without having to give it 'moral' cover.

It is slightly weird in that socialists don't often have discussions about the morality of actions. So for instance the way the debate around the BNP is framed is how do we go about undercutting their support and trying to understand where that support comes from.

You don't often here leftwingers make statements about the morality of those who vote BNP (I've never heard a socailist say something as uncontroversial as "people who vote BNP are wankers").

Odd, seeing as to be a socialist is to make a particular moral choice (people starving is bad, working class people being happy is good, shooting fascists is good, caring about other people is good, etc).

AN said...

yeah - but I think we have to discuss the morality of killing people, not just the cold politics behind it.

To me the SWP statement on the bombings - which did not condemn them (
seems more compassionate than the Socialist party statement, which did condemn them: ( but which witters on about the politics of Al Qaeda,

Jim Jay said...

"I think we have to discuss the morality of killing people, not just the cold politics behind it."

Not just the politics - but I don't think we can discuss the morality of killing *without* the political context, which is why we disagree over "that's what happens in war".

Incidently - I've just been name checked on Radio Four!

AN said...

I don't know "Crimewatch" went out on radio 4.