Message from London: A rapid response to this morning’s events
7th July 2005
This morning, the suffering, grief and terror that have visited so many innocents in recent years came to London. We have not paid the kind of price that people have paid in Fallujah, Najaf or Jenin, but it is a steep price nonetheless. And its root causes are the same.
The bomb blasts were grimly predictable. Indeed, they had been widely and repeatedly predicted – not least by rank-and-file Londoners, who knew that by taking Britain into Iraq side-by-side with the USA, Tony Blair had placed their city in the firing line.
As I write, the wreckage is being cleared and the casualties counted. But Blair has already appeared on television to address the nation, pledging to defend “our values” and “our way of life” against those who would “impose extremism on the world”. He spoke of the unity of “civilised nations” in resisting “terrorism”. While the delivery may be slicker, his “us” vs “them” world-view was indistinguishable from Bush’s. Even by Blair’s standards, it was a performance of nauseating hypocrisy, as he sought to seize the moral high ground in relation to violence and destruction that he himself helped unleash.
The Labour government, egged on by the Conservative opposition and the right-wing press, will now seek to play on fear and drum up vindictive feelings. At this stage, however, it is unclear how the British population will respond. Will the mood more resemble post 9/11 USA or Spain in the wake of the Madrid carnage?
Coming the day after London’s Olympic triumph, the attacks are a grim reminder that media-hyped feel-good boosterism will do nothing to mitigate the UK’s plummeting global standing. Blair’s closeness to Bush, his championship of the US neo-liberal model in the European Union, his aggressive pursuit of the “war against terror” have all diminished Britain in the eyes of Europe and the world.
This is a reality of which many people in Britain are acutely aware. Opposition to the invasion of Iraq spread across every sector of British society, and was overwhelming in London. Subsequent revelations concerning the bogus claims about Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction have further embittered public opinion – and made the Prime Minister, according to every poll, one of the least trusted and most disrespected individuals in the country.
Of course, Blair was able to overcome this decided disadvantage and get himself re-elected in May thanks to the absence of meaningful opposition within the established political system. That absence will be felt acutely in the days to come as Britain wrestles with the consequences of the bomb blasts.
The Blair government will doubtless seek to use this morning’s atrocity to escalate its alarming attacks on civil liberties. The country’s 1.5 million strong Muslim population, already subject to police harassment, will come under increased pressure. (Commentators have been quick to claim that the bombs may be the work of people hiding anonymously within the “law-abiding Muslim community”.) Anti-globalisation protesters – currently gathered outside the G8 summit at the Gleneagles Hotel in Scotland – will be branded as “terrorists” and dealt with accordingly.
Fomenting and exploiting fear has been a speciality of the Blair regime. Asylum seekers, teenagers wearing hoods, militant Muslims, anarchists, paedophiles… the list of targets is lengthy and frighteningly flexible. Whenever there is a need to distract people from the impact of the government’s neo-liberal economic policies, from its failure to rebuild the public sector, from its misbegotten foreign adventures, a new scapegoat is conjured up. The bomb blasts may aid this process, but there is also reason to hope that this time there will be substantial public resistance.
On 15th February 2003, some two million people gathered in London to demonstrate against the imminent attack on Iraq. I remember speaking to a neighbour who told me proudly that he was going on the march – his first ever protest march – because he was damned if he was going to let Tony Blair endanger his children’s lives by making London a prime target for attack.
Everything that has happened since then – the exposure of lie after lie, the deaths of British soldiers, the refusal of ground realities in Iraq to conform to Blair’s scenario - has further entrenched popular resentment of the war, widely seen as a result of Blair’s determination to court favour with George Bush. The prime minister calculates that the bomb blasts will unite British people behind their government and that a touch of well-rehearsed statesman-like gravitas will refresh his image. Much of the media will pump out the message that we are all under threat from faceless barbarians irrationally opposed to “our way of life”. It will be up to the anti-war movement to articulate a different analysis, to remind people that this attack is a consequence of our role in dishing out brutality in Afghanistan, Iraq and Palestine, and to insist that no amount of moralistic posturing by our leaders can substitute for a desperately needed change in policy.