Lessons from Woolwich horror are clear

May 26, 2013
British soldiers in Kabul.

The May 22 attack in Woolwich yesterday was horrific. There can be no justification for a murderous attack on an individual soldier in the streets of London. It must have been awful, too, for the local people who witnessed it.

Unlike with most terrorist attacks or indeed other crimes, we have been able to see film footage of the perpetrators, hear testimony from the witnesses who saw or talked to them. So we know what these men say motivated them.

They claimed that the killing of the soldier was in response to the killing of Muslims by British soldiers in other countries. One said that the government did not care for people and should get the troops out.

The Boston bombers last month were supposedly similarly motivated. The Woolwich attack, carried out by two men now shot and wounded and under arrest in hospital, appears to represent a phenomenon that was pointed out nearly a decade ago by the security services in Britain: that the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq would lead to a growing threat of terrorism in Britain.

Those of us in Stop the War have long predicted that these sorts of attacks would happen because of the war on terror.

Unfortunately, there is little sign that the government, media and military will draw any of the conclusions that they should from the attack. The instant response was to brand it as a serious terrorist attack, although already many commentators are saying they believe it more likely that this was a one off and isolated incident, and unlikely to be part of a wider conspiracy. David Cameron cut short a visit to Paris in order to fly home.

This reaction is one which manifestly fails to deal with the political causes underlying such attacks. The simple truth is that there were no such cases in Britain before the start of the “war on terror” in 2001, which led to the invasions and occupations of Afghanistan and Iraq.

The consequences of those wars have been devastating for the people of those countries and further afield. Up to a million died in Iraq and 4 million were made refugees. Tens of thousands have died in Afghanistan.

Fighting still continues and in Iraq looks like descending into civil war in some parts of the country.

The US and its allies have been involved in bombing attacks on these countries that have been responsible for many thousands of deaths.

A media comment that this was the day Baghdad came to the streets of Britain shows a grotesque ignorance of the country the invasion was meant to rescue for democracy, In Baghdad, daily sectarian bombings and killings are escalating on a scale not dreamt of in this country.

The interventions have spread in the name of “fighting terrorism”: drone attacks are taking place in a number of countries including Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia. The bombing of Libya by the West in 2011 led to at least 30,000 dead.

British troops are aiding the French in Mali. The British are intervening in the war in Syria for their own ends, and want to lift the EU arms embargo there in order to escalate the war and achieve regime change.

The US and European Union continues to back Israel despite its treatment of the Palestinians, even sending the architect of the Iraq war, Tony Blair, as envoy for peace in the Middle East.

Any rational balance sheet of the last decade and more would demonstrate that the “war on terror” has been a failure in its own terms. It has not prevented terrorism, but caused it to spread.

The failure of politicians and military to face up to this has further damaging consequences: if the government refuses to change its own policy it has one simple solution — “blame the Muslims”.

Muslims are expected to condemn any such attack, whereas no such demand is put upon people of other faiths when a killing is carried out by Christians. Muslim is also equated with black or Asian, as when one television reporter described the men as of “Muslim appearance”.

Again, atrocities by white gun men, in Norway and the US for example, which are often highly politically motivated, are not regarded as needing to be defined by race. They are also rarely described as terrorism, but as the acts of fanatics or madmen.

It is an integral part of the “war on terror” that the invasion and occupation of mainly Muslim countries abroad has to lead to the dehumanising of the victims of the wars: so Muslim comes to equal extremist and terrorist.

Racists like the English Defence League turned up in Woolwich to try to further foster Islamophobia. But this treatment of Muslims goes to the top of government and is spewed out daily in the press.

Similar views of the Irish were much more common in the 1970s and '80s when the Irish Republican Army had a major bombing campaign in Britain. In the end, there had to be a political solution that recognised genuine grievance.

In the end, there has to be a political solution to terrorism. But it can only start with recognition of the disastrous effect of Western foreign policy in the Middle East and South Asia for decades, exacerbated by the consequences of 12 years of wars.

That means acknowledging that those of us who said these wars were not the answer and would make things worse were absolutely right.

[Lindsey German is the convenor of the British Stop the War coalition. The article is reprinted from Stop The War.]

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