The London Blasts, July 2005
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The ghastly terrorist attacks in central London on the busy rush hour morning of July 7, 2005 (dubbed 7/7) caused the deaths of at least 55 people, injuring another 700.
It is believed that it was fanatical Islamic suicide bombers who caused the blasts. Furthermore, for whatever reason, the suicide bombers left identity information that survived the blasts, leading authorities to quickly determine that the perpetrators were British-born Muslims. This led to more frenzy in the British media reporting shock and disbelief that British citizens could kill their own people in this way.
Yet, despite the apparent shock of it all, and as grotesque and unacceptable as those violent acts are, there might be many reasons – if the media chose to explore, not just at length, but in depth – which may help people understand partly why some people feel compelled to commit such acts.
On this page:
- London Terrorist Attacks in Context
- British Leaders Insist Attacks Not Due to Iraq Policies
- How can terrorism be effectively addressed?
London Terrorist Attacks in Context
As ghastly and shocking as these attacks were for the British public, given the constant media attention it received, it should be noted in context that, for example:
- Almost every day in Iraq, similar attacks occur, and similar number of people are killed (though perhaps not such a large number get injured in one attack)
- Some 30,000 children die per day, around the world1, due to poverty and hunger, largely as a result of disastrous economic and political policies enforced by the rich countries and their multilateral institutions2 (such as the IMF and World Bank). This is rarely focused on.
- Throughout the Middle East, various countries have found their leaders overthrown and replaced by corrupt dictators or pseudo democracies that have often served as puppet regimes for the West. The US and its allies has been involved in many such destabilizations.
- Iraq’s Saddam Hussein was the West’s ally at one time, for example. His former weapons of mass destruction and luxurious palaces were built at the time when he enjoyed full support from the West. The gassing of some of his own Iraqi people, the Kurds in the north, also happened at such a time.
- Saudi Arabia, one of the most extreme regimes in the Middle East, is a key US ally, and also a producer of some of the worst Islamic extremist terrorists, it appears.
- For decades, much of US foreign aid and military assistance has gone to locally unpopular and/or unaccountable leaders in the Middle East, which not only serves the geopolitical and economic interests of the West, but helps further oppress the people of those countries.
- What is viewed as a one-sided support of Israeli occupation of Palestinian land and the suffering of the Palestinian people further angers ordinary citizens.
- Under such conditions, religious fanatics and extremists are finding more recruits and supporters to their causes.
- See this site’s section on the control of resources; supporting dictators, and the rise of terrorism4 for more information and details.
Islamic extremism has been a phenomenon ironically encouraged and set up by Western countries, such as the US during the Cold War, when the United States wanted to give the Soviet Union “its own Vietnam.” Osama Bin Laden, for example, was a US creation.
On the last point, Arundhati Roy summarizes how this happened:
Given such context, and especially the strong bond that Muslims appear to have with the plight of other Muslims around the world, one can perhaps see – though not support – why it may have been easy for extremist religious zealots to influence some young British Muslims who may not have felt part of the British society, in order to commit such horrendous acts.
(And if one is felt compelled to accuse me of not caring about those that died in those blasts, I should point out to readers that my brother works very close to where one of the blasts occurred, and I struggled to get in touch with him for a couple of hours, until I thankfully found out he was OK. Other friends of mine also work near some of the blast areas and I certainly want none of them to die.)
British Leaders Insist Attacks Not Due to Iraq Policies
British Prime Minister, Tony Blair, the Foreign Secretary, Jack Straw, and others have vehemently insisted on public television that these terrorist attacks had nothing to do with the Iraq policies; that the deteriorating situation in Iraq was not a reason that these people wanted to harm the United Kingdom, and that they would have done it anyway; since September 11, 2001 (and perhaps before), it was always a matter of when, not if.
It would seem a reasonable point to make. Yet, of course they would say this, for to admit that perhaps their decisions to go to war on Iraq may have led to these attacks would be tantamount to admitting blame for the consequences of their unpopular decision to invade Iraq.
The British media should have expected these leaders and their apologists to defend their Iraq decision in such a way, and should have closely scrutinized it. Instead,
- They simply reported what the leaders said.
- There has been hardly any analysis or critique to see if this might be more government spin.
- At the moment the statements and headlines were made, nothing was analyzed by the media, typically.
- In subsequent broadcasts, while there were some panel discussions to debate this, having come after the impact of the headlines, and rarely being in the mainstream media’s prime time broadcasts, the potentially broader perspectives and understanding would have reached a smaller audience.
We rightly do not treat hostile nations so gently when they make controversial or debatable points.
Media reporting is narrow and allows spin to go unchallenged
It is common knowledge now that governments tend to use massive spin in all areas of debate. Taking a recent example, just before the July 7 bombing, the same leaders – plus other leaders of G8 countries – claimed a $40 billion debt write-off for the poorest countries in the world. Yet, what none of the mainstream media reported – certainly not in their headlines – was that the supposed $40 billion debt write off for the world’s poorest countries was spin and propaganda6:
- It was $17 billion in real terms (as the $40 billion write off was to be spread over 40 years)
- For each dollar written off, a dollar would be held back in future aid.
- To get this “write-off,” poor countries will have to submit themselves to more harmful conditions that have exacerbated poverty and precipitated crisis7 in the first place.
- In return – and adding a final twist – by failing to make these details major headlines, the press reporting allows these rich nation leaders to appear as saviors for the world’s poorest, when in fact, they have made the poorest countries promise to conditions for almost nothing in return.
In the same way that the media has failed to report these crucial details, and as also explained on this site’s section on the mainstream media8, the media generally fails to provide context and detailed analysis on various important global issues.
In effect then, the statements of Blair and Straw have largely gone unchallenged. To be fair, the media outlets do show results of what they ask the public and they do invite people to comment, but the point is that these are never the headlines, and are clearly presented as other people’s views, thus seemingly making Blair and Straw’s statements appear balanced. Never revealed is the gravity of such statements if they are controversial. And hardly ever are they criticized at the same time the statements are made.
Rather than providing important context and analysis, the media appears to report what leaders do and say in such a way that criticism or exposition of any lies or spin is either left to non-prime time coverage, or just simply omitted. Where there might be constant coverage, giving the appearance of detailed and in-depth insight, real quality is often lacking. For example, the issues at the G8 summit and the root causes of the world problems were not presented or discussed in much depth compared to the way the suggested solutions were, thus leaving viewers with a limited understanding of
- What the problems and their root causes really are;
- Whether or not the proposed solutions are actually realistic and appropriate.
This problem has been around for many years. Some of the problems are due to the media companies9 themselves, while others are to do with the media’s relationship with authority, when they occasionally step “out of line”. For example, on July 24, 2005, one of UK’s main television channels broadcast a history of itself, ITV. In it, it was revealed how in the 1980s some hard-hitting documentaries caused a problem with the British authorities leading eventually to that company losing franchises and money. An example cited was a documentary which revealed Saudi Arabian “bored” princesses picking up men in the dessert, committing adultery, leading to the beheading of those men. The program was broadcast, but of course infuriated the Saudi royal family. Because Britain at that time had a £1 billion contract (approx $1.7 billion) with Saudi Arabia (I think for fighter jets or some other aeronautical industry project), Britain felt pressured to apologize and was angry with ITV saying it was inappropriate programming. Yet, the government did not think supporting a ruthless regime would seem inappropriate as it came to a question of lots of money.
During the aftermath of the Iraq war, a BBC and a Mirror reporter came under intense public criticism from authorities after criticizing some aspects of the war. They lost their jobs. Yet, those who regurgitated the lies of the government that there were weapons of mass destruction and other points which were pointed out as lies or spin10, retained their positions. Jack Straw and other political leaders for example, repeatedly and knowingly lied that Saddam Hussein “kicked out” UN weapons inspectors in 1998, when in fact (and clearly reported by all the media outlets at the time) the US/UK had asked them to leave because they were about to start more bombing. The media allowed such claims to go unquestioned and uncorrected.
Jack Straw and others therefore used a simple propaganda technique to stir up more support. In contrast, those who reported the British “sexing up” intelligence reports lost their jobs and careers for it cast a negative shadow on the British political establishment.
Saddam Hussein was a ruthless dictator, so lies about him would not need to meet the same journalistic/legal/moral and other standards. People could receive propaganda for a war on Iraq that many experts feared would lead to more terrorist reprisals, but to the leaders, that seems OK, because they can later deny that terrorist attacks were because of their decisions!
In the case of Iraq, it seems indeed that many Muslims in the UK as well as around the world have increased their resentment of the US and UK as the situation deteriorates there. When interviewed on television, Muslims in Britain have said so, and indicated that for some youth who are also disconnected from the rest of the British society, there is a tendency to be diverted by more extreme views. The Iraq war has clearly angered people, and some segments have seen a desire to by-pass democratic processes to show their anger, and use that to fuel other feelings.
Apologists Get To Support Questionable Ideas
New York Times columnist, Thomas Friedman, rightly notes that those who advocate violence are “despicable.” Yet, he makes a ludicrous jump from that point, to claim the same thing for people who criticize US foreign policies (such as the invasion of Iraq) for possibly encouraging violent reprisals. Fairness and Accuracy In Reporting (FAIR), a media watchdog, rightly criticizes Friedman’s ideas also noting that:
- A slight majority of American people polled in the US on the day of the London blasts felt that US and UK support for the war on Iraq was a major reason.
- In addition, a slight majority also felt that the war on Iraq also made them feel less safe from terrorism.
- As FAIR noted,
Since they see a connection between Iraq and terrorism, a majority of Americans are what Friedman calls
deserve to be exposed.
- Friedman wanted a blacklist of “hate mongers” and “excuse makers.” Yet, excuse makers would include leading members of the U.S. intelligence community FAIR noted, based on a report summarized earlier this year in the Washington Post (1/14/05):
On this site’s section on the buildup to the war on Iraq12, it was noted back in January 2003 that European anti-terrorist officials had warned that an invasion of Iraq will worsen the threat of Islamic terrorism.
In addition, in 2004, head of the UN weapons inspection team in Iraq, Hans Blix also raised concerns that the Iraq war could increase the terror threat13.
Perhaps then, those European anti-terrorist officials, Hans Blix, and others should also be on the blacklist that Friedman wants?
The idea of blacklists that include people who have legitimate dissent (though not legitimate enough for Friedman) reeks of the Cold War McCarthyism era, where anyone thinking of criticizing the American government could be branded as a Communist. The new enemy for the West now is the Islamic terrorist. Yet, anyone criticizing policies of the West, regardless of whether or not they support the terrorists are, for Friedman, despicable, and may as well be a terrorist. (But his criticisms of Bush’s economic and globalization policies are somehow ok.)
How can terrorism be effectively addressed?
It is fair enough – and important – to criticize the media and government for their failings on such issues, but for ordinary citizens, the use of fear from both sides is unfortunately proving to be effective.
Is it possible to really deal with this threat of terror? If so, how?
Those questions are extremely difficult to answer because of the complexity of the problem and the myriad of other issues that are inter-related. However, there are some high-level areas of discussion that can be considered:
The British government is currently going down the route of an increased police-state approach. Attempts to further erode civil rights in the name of cracking down on terrorism will likely increase, understandably. Side NoteInterestingly, if people support a withdrawal of some civil rights to combat terrorism and say they understand such a need, that seems to be OK with the mainstream. If, on the other hand, some people say they can understand why people felt compelled to attack London or elsewhere, even if they don’t agree with violent actions and instead support democratic legal dissent, they risk being branded as traitors and despicable!
At the same time – and to their credit – British leaders repeatedly stressed that this is not a war against all Muslims. Nevertheless, people of brown skin (who may not even be Muslim) are already facing increased negative sentiments and racism. During the 2005 British elections, immigration was a key issue, and was seen as fairly racist, even though parties continued to stress that it wasn’t about race. The racial tensions that began to emerge at that time are surfacing again.
A point blank multiple-shooting by police of a person in London who turned out to be a Brazilian unconnected with the bombings has further heightened fears that anyone of color may be a target if they just look suspicious, although the police and officials have tried at length to insist that this is not the case.
(Interestingly, the police, the government, and even I initially, defended the police shooting, as a “split-second decision” which went tragically wrong. However, it transpires that the Brazilian man had been under police surveillance for a day14, though he may have fled from them because he was in the country on an expired visa, earning money for his sick father back home. If he was under surveillance for a while, why did they wait until he was near a tube station to act and why shoot him in such a way, as the article from the previous link asks?)
Address Root Causes
Addressing the symptoms, as the British government is doing, needs to be done, of course. But, in the longer term, addressing the root and deeper causes is paramount, and typically hardly done. This is important if we cherish the hard-won freedoms that are currently being curtailed gradually and ironically in the name of saving those very same freedoms. Explanations for terrorism along the lines of “they hate our way of life” gloss over the murky details of the past few decades of geopolitics that have allowed such extremist views to flourish.
Indeed, a BBC news presenter on a Sunday morning show (July 24, 2005) put it to a foreign diplomat that seeking analysis and understanding of root causes is equivalent to seeking justification for the acts of terrorism. This was either the BBC presenter giving the opportunity for the diplomat to comment on this issue, or it was plain ignorance by the presenter. It is quite clear that one needs to understand root causes of any major issue, to both understand how the present situation has arisen, and to have enough context to consider ways forward. To pose such a question, when the media has limited time to look at deep and complex issues would appear to waste more time!
More dangerously, if deeper issues are not looked at, it risks encouraging a view that the rich countries are somehow innocent in all this. The rich and powerful are in that position because of their ability to influence world politics to their benefit. After decades and centuries of this, European countries and their allies are masters at world politics. At the same time, the mainstream media rarely discusses these issues, and so the general public of richer countries are unaware that their own leaders may have contributed to various global problems that are related to (though can not justify) counter reactions such as terrorism.
Address Major Global Issues
The issues such as global poverty, supporting dictators, and the democracy deficit, and the supporting of dictators and pseudo democracies, are all issues that need to be urgently addressed as well. However, to do so implies Western leaders have to admit that they have had an immense part to play in the general state of the world today (where most of humanity lives in terrible conditions, and do not enjoy the rights that the West do), and that furthermore, the West actually benefits from these inequality-creating conditions.
Because western leaders and much of their people will not accept such a view, are they to accept such terrible consequences in return? Without mainstream media attention to these root causes, are the people of the First World to remain in relative ignorance of what their own leaders have done in the past decades, that have contributed to their vulnerability? That seems hardly fair for ordinary citizens, even those from the rich countries, for they typically have not themselves wished such misery on the rest of the world. Much corporate, military, and government spin/propaganda results in public support for policies that may otherwise be rejected16.
For sure, the people of a democracy have to hold their leaders to account. With rights come responsibilities, as we are often – and rightly – reminded. Yet, democracies are fragile, especially under inequality and social fragmentation17. Democracy in those conditions are easily usurped by those with power, as has happened in a number of Western countries. Ordinary citizens of both the rich world, and the rest, are therefore paying the price.
As part of the War on Terror, US President, George Bush has stated support for democracy in the Middle East, but his approach to it has led to a few criticisms including:
- That it is an attempt to enforce it from outside, when they need to encourage it from within, but not using a way that destabilizes the country in the process (creating conditions for, and supporting popular uprisings, for example, can be counter-productive, as it creates more resentment and enmity.)
- That there is skepticism that the intentions are as described, because of the history of US policies and the way power works; if the US encouraged real democracy, then they lose influence on the leaders in the Middle East, and much of their power comes from the ability to secure resources for the West. Oil is the major resource from the Middle East. (Though, due to other issues such as climate change, there is a credible argument that moving to, and heavily investing in, alternatives to fossil fuels would also help geopolitically, and relieve the US of such burden and expenditure. The West could stand down some of its large armies18 and use those same monies and resources to other more peaceful investments, instead.)
- That the US is only pursuing policies with those countries that are related to US concerns; not concerns of other countries. For example, aid and other assistance is given for fighting extremism in those countries, but not, for example enhancing education or health.
- On both the world and domestic stages, democratic principles are eroding; US and UK went against the wishes of the international community (not just France!) when it decided to invade Iraq regardless of what the rest of the world thought, and regardless – especially in the case of UK – what their own population thought.
If root causes are not addressed, there is the risk of further polarization of the world’s people.
People in the Third World often understand the predicament they are in;
- They understand the centuries of colonialism and how it completely transformed the colonized countries. Even though it appears to have ended as World War II saw those imperial nations go broke and lose their grip on the colonized people, recent decades of rich world policies enforced upon the poor look like neo-colonialism, often executed by elite leaders of the third world, educated in the West, etc.
- And yet, they also realize they are almost helpless in bringing about real and effective change.
- Worse still is the fear that they risk destabilization and interference of various kinds if they do attempt something.
- The “domino effect” was a fear during Cold War times; that if one country fell under Communist rule, neighbors would fall too, and this had to be stopped. Dictators were better than Communism.
- Yet, as various people have detailed for decades, the Soviet Union was often not involved; Nationalistic, anti-colonial drives for independence and a potential course of development that would be independent of the West, risked succeeding, leading to a fall in influence and power that the West had enjoyed for centuries. Latin America, Africa, Asia, the Middle East and even parts of Europe suffered from coups and overthrows of democratic leaders, in favor of violent dictators and despots. In other cases, interference in electoral processes that would bring outrage in Western countries were readily practiced in the Third World. In most parts of the world, there was economic and financial warfare too, in the form of debt traps, the enforcement of unpopular economic ideology and the corrosion of the governments sovereignty over their own economic affairs. See for example, the Institute for Economic Democracy19 for more detailed history and information on these issues.
- One very recent example is the criticism of Hugo Chavez in Venezuela20 by the US (and the apparent US support in a failed coup). Chavez has attempted to by-pass neoliberal economic prescriptions from the West, and instead attempted policies that help the poor, leading to much popular support and poverty reduction in short periods.
Leading up to the 2000 US elections, I recall hearing on radio a farmer from Ghana lamenting that he could not take part in the US elections because what happens there has more impact on his life than elections in his own country.
Economic globalization currently appears to increase the power and profits of multinational corporations while contributing to poverty and environmental degradation. Rich countries are often accused of using words and phrases associated with freedom and democracy in the international arena, but actually create conditions of freedom for their multinational companies to benefit from economic globalization21, which is largely shaped and influenced by these very same rich nations. Real democracy then, appears to be side-stepped in the process.
Repair the Democracy Deficit
People of the rich world are also finding that their rights are now being scaled back; rights are increasingly becoming privileges. Health and education are a prime example. Side NoteSee also Dark Victory, by Walden Bello, Pluto Press, Food First, Transnational Institute (1994, Second Edition 1999) for a detailed insight into this process.
The Cold War was fought on the grounds of freedom verses tyranny. Having succeeded in that war, there is now no tyranny the size of the Soviet Union. Ironically, leaders of democracies therefore seem to no longer have as compelling an incentive to continue providing as much freedoms to their people to show the world that their way is the best way. Acts of terrorism leads to words of defiance from rich country leaders, and pledges that our “ways of life,” our “love for freedom,” will not be diminished and affected by these cowardly acts. Yet, at the same time, policies are created with Orwellian names that result in more rights taken away. Much of this is greeted with support. This is the cost of freedom we are told. With rights come responsibilities we are again reminded.
Many people of the Third World may understand this, but so do extremists. Extremists may not want the types of freedoms and democracies that perhaps most people in the world would want.
If global moves to strengthen democracy appear to be failing, then these extremists will more easily recruit angry young people if they see that their own governments are either useless, or helpless due to international policies. Cooperative, democratic systems around the world22 need to be strengthened to ensure that the extremists cannot easily find recruits to their twisted causes.
But, for the world’s most powerful countries, it is not enough that their own democracies are strong. It is not enough that they appear to be supporting democracy in other regions of the world, either. They have to actually do it, without being hypocritical and without using such goals as a cover for pursuing their own “national interests.” This requires people around the world to have the freedom to hold their leaders to account through the democratic process. For, as long as capital has the freedom to move around the world unchecked and by-passes sovereign decision-making power, conditions of hopelessness and poverty for many are a reality as even elected leaders will find that they cannot always apply economic and political policies that they feel are good for their people.
Perhaps, as John Bunzl notes, a number of democracy-enhancing policies need to be enacted around the world, simultaneously23, so that those who want to improve the current state of globalization but fear they will lose out because their competition will not be subject to the same principles or level playing field, can be encouraged to act.
Else, counter-extremists at home will encourage more racist immigration policies, more isolation and more fear of the world’s “non-people.” In short, more polarization. This may be exactly what the extremists want – more animosity to create more potential recruits.
Benjamin Barber, writing in 1992, described the conflict between the extremists and the multinational corporate-driven globalization as
Jihad vs McWorld, where
A moving minute of silence was held recently in the UK for those killed by the blasts. As moving, and as important as that is, why have we not had such moments for the world’s people that have died every day, year after year, in much larger numbers? Why are people of one’s own country any different or special to people from other parts of the world?
Of course, such minutes of silence would not be practical, as every day we would have to come to a stand still, and people would become fed up, and due to centuries of nationalism in almost all regions of the world, people do not feel as connected to strangers from other parts of the world, as they do for strangers in their own country. Yet, many other European countries, for example, held a minute’s silence for the London blast victims too. Why do these countries not hold such moving moments of silence for the thousands that die each day due to poverty, corruption and hunger?
Perhaps we need to start seeing our inter-connectedness with people from seemingly remote parts of the world. Perhaps we need to go beyond national and ethnic boundaries, to see our commonalities. Perhaps this could be part of the needed steps to nip terrorism, and many forms of extremism and hatred, in the bud.
The Tsunami disaster in Asia and the moments of silence and unity of peoples across the world that it also brought may signal the beginnings of such a change. Yet, cynics will point out that Western attention to that disaster was more intense because of the western tourists that frequent the affected areas and/or because the manner in which so many died was so dramatic. As callous as that may sound, where does such cynicism come from? There is a certain truth to this, as the mainstream media tends to ignore suffering people around the world25. Rich country mainstream media often provides a limited nature of coverage of the developing world. The focus, typically on disaster and conflict, has been shown to produce negative attitudes and a very partial understanding of people around the world amongst Western audiences.
30,000 children dying each day – largely as a result of our harsh policies thrust upon poor countries – should surely be headline news. Surely it should be headline news everyday. That would quickly make first world leaders more accountable. It could, however, quickly make more people angry, but mainstream media action could encourage such people to participate in the democratic and open processes to help improve the situation. Also importantly, as people feel more and more part of a society where they can be heard and affect change through the democratic process, this could help reduce the chances that people would be recruited to fanatical and twisted causes. Extremists will likely always be around, and many may not truly care about global issues, but the pool of people they could recruit from would surely go down.
Change therefore will have to occur not just in countries and communities where Islamic extremism is flourishing, but in countries that are practicing bad policies abroad that fuel this resentment.
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