Above: the explanation?
All too predicatably, the usual suspects have rushed to explain the Woolwich killing by means of the so-called ‘blowback‘ argument (utilised with varying degrees of obvious gloating). Comrade Clive dealt with this back in the immediate aftermath of the 2005 7/7 bombings. Obviously, the 7/7 attacks were somewhat different to what happened in Woolwich (though it seems likely that the Woolwich perpetrators intended to commit ‘suicide by police’), but I think Clive’s essential case remains incontrovertible – JD:
‘Blowback’: a banal non-explanation
Just a note on the ‘blowback’ argument, which is put a bit less crudely in today’s Guardian by Gary Younge. Whereas the SWP/Galloway version of this just ritually nods at condemnation of the bombings, Younge seems more sincere, ‘to explain is not to condone’, etc. And, of course, presented with a ‘war on terror’ which is supposed to reduce terrorist attacks against us, it is not unreasonable to point out that, so far, this has not succeeded (I think, logically, this argument only runs so far, since nobody has suggested that the ‘war on terror’ will prevent terrorism until it is actually won; but there is some rhetorical force to this point).
And of course, if you think of the Beslan massacre, for example: you simply cannot account for the background to these events without explaining about Russian action in Chechnya. Clearly, Chechen Islamists did not materialise from nowhere, and there is a context to their existence. The same is true of Islamists elsewhere. Or to put this another way: of course if there were no real grievances to which Islamists could point, they would not be able to recruit anybody. Hamas would not be able to recruit young people and tell them to tie explosives to their chests and climb aboard buses, if the Palestinians were not actually oppressed and suffering grave injustices at the hands of the Israeli state.
But if this is all that is being said, surely it is banal. I suppose there may be some right wing crazies who think Hamas has grown among Palestinians purely because Arabs are bloodthirsty masochists or somesuch nonsense. But obviously, Hamas refers to real things in the real world to build its base, or it wouldn’t have one.
And the observation that there are actual grievances to which Islamists point as a way to recruit (or even, conceivably, that it is these grievances which motivate particular individuals to carry out atrocities) tells you absolutely nothing about the political character of the movement to which they are being recruited.
Of course it’s true, up to a point, that that the London bombs are connected to the British presence in Iraq. But this in itself is not an explanation for them. So if the ambition is to ‘explain but not condone’, you need to explain why people are recruited to these organisations – ones that want to blow up ordinary people on their way to work – rather than other ones. That bombs have dropped on Iraq and Afghanistan (or Jenin, or wherever) simply is not an explanation.
It would not be an explanation even if the organisations in question were identifiably nationalist, as opposed to salafi-jihadist. There have been plenty of colonial situations in the past which have produced armed struggle but not bombings of this kind.
But in any case they are not nationalist in the old sense, but something different – something whose political programme is not concerned with this or that grievance (Iraq, Afghanistan, etc) but with restoring the Caliphate, instituting sharia law, punishing apostates, and so on. Moreover – and this seems to me very important indeed – as far as the most extreme of these groups go, like the one presumably responsible for 7/7 – they are what can reasonably be called death cults. If the aim is explanation, then you need to tell us why this backward-looking death cult has prevailed over the old-style nationalists (not to mention more leftist movements – just to type the words tells you the fall of Stalinism has something to do with it), and so on.
And once you have identified the political character of these movements – what do you propose to do about it? We can withdraw from Iraq. But if you think withdrawal from Iraq will mean the jihadists will disappear from the Iraqi political landscape, I think you are deceiving yourself. There are much deeper social grievances which animate the militant Islamist movements, to do with the exclusion of the middle class from economic and political power, the decline of the old social classes, etc. Those social questions need to be addressed. And they need to be addressed by radical, democratic movements in those societies.
And, of course, Islamists – of all types – are the militant enemies of democratic movements and of democracy itself. Either you recognise the need to fight alongside democratic movements against the militant Islamists, in Iraq and elsewhere (including within Muslim communities here, of course) or…what? Even the more sophisticated blowback argument of the Gary Younge variety gives no sense of identifying the militant Islamists as our enemy – the enemy of socialists, of democrats, of feminists, of women in general, of lesbians and gay men, of trade unionists, and so on, both in the ‘Muslim world’ and on our doorstep. It criticises the method of fighting terror adopted by our governments, but as though there was simply no need to fight it at all.
Pt II: the inescapable logic is to ask you to have sympathy
I think the fact that it has turned out that the perpetrators (of 7/7 – JD) were British Asians throws a lot of this into very sharp relief.
Racism and imperialist wars, Fallujah and so on, of course must have played a part in what made these kids want to be suicide bombers. But since the vast, overwhelming, incalculably larger number of people who have been victims of racism or outraged by imperialist wars, have not chosen to become suicide bombers, it is surely an ‘explanation’ of their state of mind or their actions only in the most fantastically minimal sense. And that, surely, is another way of saying that it isn’t an explanation at all.
Yet these generalities are repeatedly presented in the liberal media – a stack of articles in the Guardian for instance – and by the SWP, George Galloway and all, as the explanation for what has happened. Moreover, anyone who questions this is ‘in denial’, as Gary Younge puts it, about the Iraq war. The ‘blowback’ argument is presented as if it’s the height of worldly sophistication, political courage, straight talking, and what have you. In fact it’s so simplistic as to verge on an insult to the intelligence.
Apart from that, its inescapable logic is to ask you to have sympathy with the bombers or their supposed cause, and to shift the blame to the government. I won’t repeat everything I’ve already said about that.
If you want an explanation about the first ever suicide bombers in the UK, you surely need to look at the ideology and MO of the type of organisations that recruited them, brainwashed them and sent them to their deaths. You need to look also, sadly, at the prevailing culture within (some) Muslim communities, the ‘narrative’ youth are being told, which might allow al-Qaeda-type groups to prey on them.
This is very uncomfortable, even to think about. But it seems to me it must be true that poisonous stuff has been coming out of some mosques, maybe not just the Abu Hamza-period Finsbury Park variety, but softer versions also.
And worse: the left is not only not in a state to do anything about this problem (ie: to fight al-Qaeda type groups and the softer versions of them), but has morphed into part of the problem. The left talks about these movements as if they didn’t need to be be fought and as if to fight them is ‘racist’, etc, etc, etc.