Thursday, 12 July 2007

The onus is on British government, and not on Muslim community

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Terror Alert

The onus is on British government, and not on
the Muslim community, writes Sukant Chandan from London

Two years on from the 7 July 2005 attacks in London, the
British state has failed to address the root causes of
terrorist attacks in the West -- military aggression
against the Arab and Islamic world. Instead of a
recognition of the attacks on London and Glasgow as
blowback from Britain's disastrous policies vis-à-vis Iraq,
Afghanistan, Lebanon and Palestine, we are seeing a
veritable trial by media against the Muslim community. It
is demanded that the community answer for the actions of a
few attackers, all the while the majority of Muslim
organisations go further onto the defensive in the face of
Islamophobic hysteria.

With the exception of a few dissenting voices like Seamus
Milne's in a Guardian article, the mainstream media in
Britain would like to focus on anything except the elephant
in the room that they are all ignoring: the decimation of
Iraq by the occupation forces that is the source of radical
Islamist rage against the West. The media would rather
blame the British-Muslim community, accusing them of
collective guilt for the ideology and actions of the

This is having the inevitable effect of provoking an
increase in attacks on Muslims or anyone who might look
like one. Thus one can see a tragic pattern which follows
every terrorist attack in Britain or against the West: the
Muslim community is hounded by the media and political
elite as the enemy within who share the evil ideology of
Islam with the terrorists they are harbouring amongst them,
and then there is an alarming rise in reported Islamophobic

Particular incredulity has been focussed on the fact that
the attackers were doctors or working in the National
Health Service. The only person charged so far for the
attacks is Iraqi doctor Bilal Abdullah arrested at Glasgow
airport, and one of his former friends has been reported as
saying that his possible motives are his opposition to the
occupation of Iraq, the death of one of his close friends
by an Iraqi death- squad, and his support of former
Al-Qaeda strong-man in Iraq, Abu Musaab Al-Zarqawi. These
reports inadvertently highlight the glaringly obvious
connections between the responsibility of Britain and the
US for the developments in Iraq, and the extremist
reactions that they have inspired.

The media, however, has preferred to skirt the obvious
connections, failing to investigate them and instead
filling columns and TV reports with sensational stories of
the "doctors plot" and reports that people are cancelling
appointments with doctors with Muslim names. The argument
circulating is that how can intelligent, professional,
family-oriented people carry out actions that are usually
the results of impressionable and alienated Muslim youth
from poor communities blindly following a radical
opportunist posing as a preacher?

Clive Cookson in the Financial Times pointed out that it
should come as no surprise that medical experts are
involved in radical insurgencies. He points to examples
from the communist Che Guevara, the Palestinian Marxist
leader George Habash and the Al-Qaeda second-in-command
Ayman El-Zawahiri, proving that Islamic radicals, like
their secular counterparts, are often from educated, middle
and upper class backgrounds. A study of 172 Al-Qaeda
terrorists conducted four years ago by Marc Sageman, a
former CIA case officer in Pakistan, found that 90 per cent
came from a relatively stable and secure background.

Journalists and pundits have failed to see that, while it
is no justification for the attacks, the individuals
involved in the attacks by dint of their profession have a
insight and greater exposure into the humanitarian disaster
that is unfolding in Iraq, and in light of this may
possibly be more disturbed by it than most, leading perhaps
to desperate and extreme action.

A recent editorial in the New York Times demanded that the
Bush administration conduct the swiftest possible
withdrawal of US troops from Iraq. The editorial argued
that the occupation of Iraq is exacerbating the
humanitarian and security situation in the region and
beyond. Why is it that the leading US newspaper is more
strident in addressing the root cause of the problem of the
Middle East than its British counterparts are? Is it
because the US has lost more than Britain in terms of its
international standing and number of troops killed and
injured in Iraq? If this is the case, the message is that
Britain will have to suffer many more deaths of its
soldiers and risk further attacks at home before it sees
that the only solution to its security problem is
withdrawal from both Iraq and Afghanistan.

In the meantime in Britain, Muslim organisations and the
Muslim community in general have been held responsible by
the government and most of the mainstream media for not
doing enough to expose individuals who might carry out
attacks and eradicate the ideology that motivates them.
Muslim organisations have been quick to distance themselves
from these attacks in an unprecedented media campaign to
re-assure the British public.

This is understandable as they do not want the Muslim
community in Britain to suffer any further, and there is
perceptible relief that the attackers are not "homegrown"
which would have given more ammunition for elements in the
British state and media to turn the screws on the
community. Their defensiveness however has the potential of
backfiring. Some Muslims are already voicing their
frustration of having to constantly emphasise their
opposition to terrorist attacks and argue that only those
who carry out attacks should be made to answer for their
actions. If the concerted efforts of Muslim organisations
in proving themselves a law-abiding community fail to
affect government policy towards Muslims in Britain and in
the Middle East, some sections of the Muslim youth may go
further underground in pursuit of their grievances.

The British government's present security proposals
following the attacks can only alienate the Muslim
community further. Prime Minister Gordan Brown is talking
of introducing stricter vetting processes for Muslim and
Arab medical staff coming to Britain for work, and is
introducing a string of new anti-terror measures to
parliament. These include the assumption of guilt if a
suspect refuses to answer questions in post-charge
interviews. The only difference from former premiere Tony
Blair is that Brown is deciding to go on a less hasty and
controversial course of action, and intends to create a
cross-party consensus for his proposals. But what Brown
lacks in bite, the media is making up for in its bark.

There has been plenty of chatter in the media about
encouraging the population to spy on the Muslim community.
This is nothing new as the Muslim community has in recent
years already been put under pressure to spy on itself, and
last year the Department of Education asked universities to
spy on Asian-looking students to counter Islamic
radicalisation on campuses. The fact remains that all the
security measures of the last seven years have not stopped
attacks against Britain. In all truth the Muslim community
is unlikely to do very much about extremist elements in its
own ranks; the onus lies with the British government to do
something about its responsibility for this mess.

The Labour government likes to point to the Irish peace
process as one of its greatest achievements of the last ten
years. The British government seems to forget some of the
parallels and lessons that this process holds for British
policy towards Muslims at home and the Middle East. The
Irish peace process showed the willingness of the British
government to de- criminalise and negotiate with those it
called terrorists in Sinn Fein and the Irish Republican
Army (IRA), and promised in the Good Friday Agreement a
timetable for withdrawal from its military occupation of
Northern Ireland. It is leadership on these types of issues
that is needed if a peace process is to be initiated
between the British government, independence movements in
Iraq and Afghanistan, and people -- Muslims and non-Muslims
-- in Britain. The longer that this leadership is lacking,
the more militants will interpret the lessons of the Irish
peace process as meaning that the British government will
only re-think its policies when Britain is brought to its
knees by bombing its financial and political centres, as
happened in the case of the 1974-1997 IRA campaign against
the British mainland.

Only in Scotland with the ruling Scottish Nationalist Party
do we find anything close to the reasoned leadership that
is so desperately required. The Scottish Assembly's first
minister, SNP's Alex Salmond, has warned against knee jerk
security reactions to the attacks, saying that there is
nothing in the investigations into the attacks to suggest
that the detention of terror suspects should be increased
from 28 days to 90 days, as has been suggested by Blair and
Brown. SNP deputy leader Nicola Sturgeon has distanced
herself from the criminalisation of the Muslim community
that is emanating from England, and expressed fears that
Scotland will be dragged into further problems as a result
of policies from London. Muslim organisations in Scotland
are appreciative of this type of leadership, and are able
to operate more assertively as a result. On a political
discussion show "Scotland after the bomb" one could see a
general consensus around the defence of the Muslim
community from criminalisation and calling for troops to be
withdrawn from Iraq, and the panelist and human rights
lawyer Aamer Anwar said that a stealth bomber in Iraq is
the moral equivalent of a suicide bomber in Scotland, to a
round of applause and some gasps.

On the street, anti-Muslim sentiment is rife in Scotland as
the attacks on mosques and Muslim-owned shops have shown,
but unlike in England where the anti-war movement is
against and outside of the establishment, in Scotland the
anti-war is part of the establishment as the three main
parties in the governing coalition -- the SNP, Liberals,
Democrats and Greens -- are all opposed to the occupation
of Iraq. As a result the Scottish political response to the
London-Glasgow attacks has been very different from that in

While the British media seem obsessed by the rhetorical
question of how highly qualified professional medical staff
can be behind the attacks on London and Glasgow, a question
that could equally be posed is how one of Europe's first
democracies could have led an illegal war of aggression
which has brought a once relatively developed Middle
Eastern country into an abyss of destruction. So far the
public debate is far removed from these issues and grossly
skewed towards blaming Muslims and their ideology.

The Muslim community, unlike the British government, is
powerless to effectively address the underlying causes for
terror attacks against Britain. What is needed from the
government is some kind of recognition of, and practical
action to undo, its failed policies in Iraq. This is the
first step towards reversing the cycle of prejudice, war
and violence which is unfolding. Unfortunately the present
strategies of the British media and state will only
accelerate this cycle of violence, in which the victims are
innocent civilians in Iraq, Afghanistan and Britain.

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