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Jihad in the UK
The failed terrorist attacks in the UK have prompted another debate about the causes of such violence – and the ways to end it. Anyone who seeks to lay some of the blame at the door of western governments must expect a torrent of abuse from right-wing commentators and the “Cruise missile Left”, reinforced by a useful collection of house Muslims and renegade jihadists keen to put the spotlight on factors within the Muslim world that are beyond the influence of US / UK elites.
The failed terrorist attacks in the UK have prompted another debate about the causes of such violence – and the ways to end it. Anyone who seeks to lay some of the blame at the door of western governments must expect a torrent of abuse from right-wing commentators and the “Cruise missile Left”, reinforced by a useful collection of house Muslims and renegade jihadists keen to put the spotlight on factors within the Muslim world that are beyond the influence of US / UK elites (1).
Left-wingers should be willing to challenge this consensus, but it’s more essential than ever to be careful in phrasing the arguments, lest we leave ourselves open to accusations of “appeasement”. Take this typically contrarian view from Vincent Browne in the Irish Times after the bombings:
“There is a way out of this awful mess the West has artfully devised: require Israel to disengage from all the lands it acquired in and since 1967; require Israel to disengage from Gaza and all the West Bank; establish and fund a new Palestinian state (the funding must be generous); disengage from Iraq forthwith; stop threatening Iran and Syria; withdraw support from the dictators in Saudi Arabia and Pakistan and elsewhere; welcome Turkey into the EU; respect the Islamic religion and culture and stop the celebration of works that are seen to disparage Islam.” (2)
To take the last point first: most people will have taken Browne’s reference to “works that are seen to disparage Islam” as an allusion to the recent knighthood granted to Salman Rushdie. Let’s set aside whatever view we might have of Britain’s daft honours system. There was a time, of course, when Rushdie would surely have rejected the title of “Sir Salman” with contempt. The radical views he expressed in his early novels and essays are now firmly in the past, a sad by-product of his persecution by the Iranian theocracy (3). But let’s concentrate on the question Browne raises: was it wrong for the British government to honor a man whose work has provoked such anger in the Muslim world?
The answer is definitely “no”. “The Satanic Verses” may have outraged devout Muslims, but if we start pandering to such reactions, we might as well forget about subjecting any religion to critical, rational inquiry. Anyone who looks at the tenets of Islam or Christianity from any perspective other than total credulity is likely to offend believers.
And it won’t stop with religion either: the Malaysian government is currently trying to insulate itself from criticism by exploiting the taboo surrounding criticism of Muhammed. After an opposition politician posted a satirical photo-montage of the deputy prime minister on his website, the minister’s cabinet colleagues warned that if people were allowed to mock the country’s leaders, they would surely use the same freedom to insult the Prophet…(4)
The rest of Browne’s list is fine, but with two caveats. First of all, the US and its allies should certainly pull out of Iraq, pressurize Israel to negotiate a just peace with the Palestinians, and so on – but not as a response to terrorism. Western policies should be changed because those policies are immoral and unjust, not because they provoke terrorist attacks. It’s possible that western governments could provoke attacks by doing the right thing (after all, Osama Bin Laden (5) has cited the liberation of East Timor from Indonesia’s genocidal occupation as another “crime” against the Muslim world committed by the West). In that case, it would be right to carry on with the same policies. On the other hand, if changing policies that are wrong in themselves has the fortunate by-product of reducing terrorism, so much the better.
Secondly, we shouldn’t assume that if all the legitimate grievances Muslims hold against the West were removed, the jihadists inspired by Al-Qaeda would simply pack up their explosives and return to a life of pious contemplation. All we can reasonably hope is that the reservoir of hatred and resentment which they feed off would shrink dramatically. There would be fewer recruits and a much more limited audience for anti-western themes.
That’s about as far as it goes - there’s no prospect of any peace deal with Al-Qaeda. Israel could probably strike a bargain with Hamas and Hezbullah if it wanted to, but the network of Salafist radicals that emerged from the Afghan camps will never sit down around a negotiating table with anyone. As Lawrence Wright wrote in a study of post-9/11 jihadism for the New Yorker magazine:
“After coalition forces overran Al Qaeda compounds in Afghanistan in late 2001, they seized thousands of pages of internal memoranda, records of strategy sessions and ethical debates, and military manuals, but not a single page devoted to the politics of Al Qaeda …Beyond the simplistic notion of imposing a caliphate and establishing the rule of Islamic law, the leaders of the organization appear never to have thought about the most basic facts of government. What kind of economic model would they follow? How would they cope with unemployment, so rampant in the Muslim world? Where do they stand on the environment? Health care? The truth … is that the radical Islamists have no interest in government; they are interested only in jihad.” (6)
All we can really do in the face of such nihilism is to create the worst possible conditions for it to flourish. Unfortunately, western policy-making is in the hands of people who appear to be on a commission from Bin Laden. As Tony Blair takes up his new role as peace envoy to the Middle East (you may have to read that one a few times to let it sink in properly), the ideologues of holy war must be rubbing their hands with delight. And that means future bombings in Britain (and elsewhere) should be expected.
1) "The Islamist by Ed Hussein" -
2) "Reasons Muslims are angry" -
3) "Sir Salman's Long Journey" -
4) "Malaysian photomontage sparks row" -
5) "Cyber Jihad"-
6) "The Master Plan"-