Thursday, July 07, 2005

The London Bombings - a big fat analysis

Here is my response to the bombings in London yesterday.

Firstly, I was horrified by what happened. No law-abiding citizen deserves to be blown up as they go about their daily business, be it in London, New York, or Baghdad. Yes, Baghdad, and yes, I am going to talk about that place, that place called Iraq.

What happened yesterday doesn't begin with 9/11, but 9/11 is a useful starting point. From the rubble of Ground Zero, George Bush began prosecuting his "war on terror" and the London bombings are one more sad instalment of this flawed policy. First, with the world on his side, Bush dispatched the Taliban, ostensibly because Osama Bin Laden, who was alleged to be behind the 9/11 attacks, was hiding there. The Taliban are a bunch of shits. Afghanis are better off without them. As it so happens, the US oil corporations are also better off without them, behold! in a miraculous coincidence Afghanistan now has a shiny new oil pipeline passing through it, bringing oil from the landlocked Caspian sea.

George Bush talked about America's dependency on foreign powers for its energy needs, specifically oil, and about how that dependency needed to be addressed. Some souls may have taken this as meaning America was going to invest in renewables, seek to curb its oil use by putting some big taxes on SUVs, etc. Reasonable stuff. But we heard it all wrong. Bush planned to address this dependency by annexing Iraq's huge reserves of oil.

And so began the need for invading Iraq. Time to talk about WMDs, etc. Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, they each repeatedly made a link between 9/11 and Iraq that didn't exist. Osama Bin Laden never received support from Iraq, Al Qaida (if it exists) had no presence in Iraq, Osama Bin Laden wasn't hiding in Iraq. What did it matter? Just keep repeating it and damn those in the "reality based community."

Two years plus, and we have seen that the "war on terror" brings no added security. Bali, Madrid, and now London, all have fallen victim to terrorist attack. In Spain, the government fell, the people deciding that participation in the Iraq invasion was not worth terror at home. In London, well, what now?

I am going to address how people may react with a series of statements and a brief discussion of each point.

The London bombings are not "our 9/11"

9/11 was a huge shock to the American people and the world. America fell victim to foreign attack on its home soil for the first time since WWII. By accompanying Bush on his "war on terror" and into his oil grab in Iraq, the people of coalition countries have had to accept that sooner or later they may fall victim to a terror attack. Interestingly, both Spain and the UK have fought their own battles with terrorists, ETA and the IRA, the public know the psychological terrain much better than most Americans. This may make a difference in the days ahead.

But, crucially, the London attacks are not our 9/11 because they emerge directly from policy decisions of our government, our elected leaders, decisions taken SINCE 9/11, decisions that it was clear from the beginning could prove disastrous (hence the massive anti-war movement). Now, let's pause and think about the Downing Street Memoranda, and what they show. They show clearly that Tony Blair did indeed mislead both his cabinet and Parliament with his statements. They show that Blair knew that US intelligence was being fixed around a policy of invading Iraq. We already know that British intelligence was practically non-existent, with one dossier comprised chiefly of a schoolkid's homework. We also know that the legal advice from Lord Goldsmith could not provide a firm answer on the legality of military action.

Tony Blair decided, personally, to go to war. Cabinet and Parliament, provided with a more accurate picture, may have declined. This needs to be remembered, because the next point is that the "war on terror" is unwinnable, just like the "war on drugs", just like the war on just about anything you care to name.

There have been many false connections and false choices provided by the US administration. Firstly, the "war on terror" would seem to require catching Osama Bin Laden, at least if we are to follow the fact pattern we have been presented with. Instead, the US and the coalition are bogged down in Iraq. As a US military commander himself said, Bush is acting as a recruitment sergeant for Al Qaida with the Iraqi conquest (while, sensibly, Americans are sending recruitment levels to record lows, making a draft a real possibility).

Just a week ago, an American government spokesman said in interview, "We know where Osama Bin Laden is, but we can't go in and get him." The mighty America, not prepared to catch the world's most wanted man because of respect for a nation's borders. Hmmm, these borders must have markedly different characteristics to Iraq's borders.

Okay, so the Iraq conquest is only de facto part of "the war on terror." A false connection. One of the chief false choices Bush provided after 9/11 has been playing out on the media again today. This is, "You can either fight terrorism abroad, or you must fight it at home." The point is... we aren't fighting terrorism anywhere! We are fighting in Iraq for to secure American energy interests. This war is actually increasing global insecurity, it is acting as a rallying point for those who wish to battle the US. Two years ago, it was a constant refrain that "the insurgents" were from OUTSIDE Iraq, largely. Yes, they were a ragbag of Taliban, old Mujahadeen, mercenaries, etc, who had all come to Iraq to fight. Today we are being asked to accept that there is a link between the bombings in London and the Iraqi conquest, but for All the Wrong Reasons.

The media logic goes like this:

The London bombings only go to show that We are doing the right thing battling insurgents in Iraq, because they are Al Qaida affiliated. When we kill one of them in Iraq, we weaken their prospect of launching an attack elsewhere in the world. Fox News had someone saying that the Egyptian politician who was killed in Iraq today, that this orchestrated by Al Qaida, to show both their power in Iraq and their power to strike abroad. Is this credible? Again, the killing was attributed to Al Zarqawi, but where is Mr Zarqawi, as this Alternet article suggests, he may have died in Afghanistan a few years ago, and now exists primarily to serve the interests of coalition propaganda.

Conclusion: We must not give in to terrorism, we must stay the course, otherwise, they win.

Here's my take on this media logic.

The London bombings only go to show that we did the wrong thing invading Iraq, that the right thing would've been to focus on dismantling the organisation that planned and executed the 9/11 attacks (whoever they were). The bombings in Bali and Madrid only show that the terrorist capacity remains largely undiminished. The war in Iraq is making things worse as it beats the drum for a radical strain of Islam that preaches war on the infidels, that legitimises indiscriminate murder of civilians (and the coalition has also indiscriminately murdered Iraqi civilians, whether by first labelling them "insurgents" for being upset that their country has been invaded, or through collateral damage). Tony Blair was wrong to follow the US down this path, Tony Blair bears some measure of personal responsibility for Britain's being targeted by Al Qaida (or whoever carried out these attacks).

Conclusion: It is imperative that the British government admit that a huge mistake has been made, that the war in Iraq is not part of the war on terror, and was entered into because of US energy interests. This won't happen - the truth has become both impossible to acknowledge and impossible to ignore.

The unlawful detention at Guatanamo Bay has also been disastrous. It is not possible under the terms of the Geneva Convention for someone to fall outside the articles, and yet here is the US detaining children and Basra taxi drivers and British guys whose only crime was to work at a Currys (for US readers, the equivalent of a Best Buy) and who have created what could quite fairly be described as a terror network of their own, where Gitmo prisoners are sent to US-friendly regimes for torture practices that are not permitted in the US. This policy is known as "extraordinary rendition" and if you are sent to Egypt for some work, you may be beaten and burned. The US also has a base in Uzbekistan. Today Fox News said that the Uzbeks want the US base closed down and that "relations are strained due to concerns over how the Uzbeks deal with political prisoners." The Uzbeks deal with their political prisoners by sometimes boiling them alive. The whistle on this was blown by the outspoken British ambassador to Uzbekistan. The moral: the US cannot claim the high ground when it comes to prosecuting the "war on terror." (see section Why Bush is a Terrorist)

Please note that I am not suggesting here that Britain should have done nothing in response to 9/11. I supported action in Afghanistan, I still support the dismantling of terror organisations through special operations, intelligence work, assassination even. What I don't support is endangering the civilian population prosecuting a war that is most likely illegal under international law, and telling lies about WMD being the reason when it was only ever about grabbing resources, which, after all, tends to be the reason for most wars.

The War on Terror is unwinnable

Just like the war on drugs, which I believe the war on terror is basically equivalent to, this war is unwinnable. Let's rewind a little through British history and consider the IRA for a moment. The IRA have killed many civilians, soldiers, politicians, during their history, they have shot people, they have planted bombs that decimated London just like today. But there are crucial differences. Firstly, British governments may have spoken about bringing those responsible for bombings to justice, but they were wise enough not to claim they would ever score a final victory over the IRA. The reason being, the IRA are fighting for a political cause. So long as that cause remains, there most likely will always be people willing to fight, and perhaps even die for it. The war isn't won by killing every IRA member, the conflict is resolved by addressing the cause, by accommodating, somehow, their demands. This has happened in Britain. In secret, the British government maintained high level diplomatic contacts with the IRA, at times when the public would most likely have been appalled at such cordial relations. The point was, the British government recognised privately that you had to communicate with the terrorists, however unpalatable, that they were the perpetrators of violent actions, but that these actions had a political basis, and therefore, the potential for a political solution existed.

In Britain, I believe that many people could maintain both positions here, that firstly, what the IRA did was wrong, but secondly, their cause was just. It is perhaps unpalatable to an American audience, but many people around the world similarly occupied both positions with regard to 9/11 - while acknowledging the human cost, many people in Britain (where I was) could also appreciate that 9/11 did not come out of a vacuum and that the US as a nation had reaped what it had sown in return for its foreign policy.

What makes today's attacks more frightening for British people is that we do not truly understand the cause that motivates the terrorists. What perhaps is worrying is the notion that somewhere, at the highest levels of government, it has been decided that there is a certain amount of global terrorism of Western targets that is acceptable and that can even be used to foster public support, via the notion that we should "get behind our leaders", only by standing together will we remain strong and beat the terrorists.

I contend that this is a very worrying line to take on terror attacks. To fall into line with government policy and place our faith in them to keep us secure is Exactly the Wrong Reaction. If terror attacks like the one's in New York, Bali, Madrid, and now London, reap political benefits for the incumbent leadership, then you do not have to be a genius to see that it will persist much longer as a phenomenon. Just as War is the ultimate aphrodisiac at the polls when your ratings are bad, terror attacks risk becoming a similarly useful tool. I salute the people of Spain who did not fall for this line of argument, for their good sense in simply kicking out their government for pursuing the disastrous US-led action in Iraq.

So, a cause cannot be defeated, ideas cannot be left dead on a battlefied. Sadly, the "war on terror" has released an anti-intellectual strain in the American people, that has allowed Bush to usher in grave curbs on civil liberties. The deathly irony of "freedom-loving peoples" having their liberties curtailed to guarantee their security (a security that as I have stated can never be guaranteed) has not been lost on those still able to read between the lines. Whether you are Cat Stevens or John Graham, the America of the Patriot Act and the Department of Homeland Security is headed down a regressive path common to all states that become dependent on maintaining a reality gap. As George Orwell notes at the start of 1984, when Winston Smith is being forcefed a glorious set of statistics on how much boot production has increased that year, Winston must integrate this "fact" with the fact that he also knows no-one in his apartment building is wearing boots. This is the pressure the state, when it controls the media and crushes all dissent can wield, it is the pressure that requires Winston Smith to acknowledge that 2 + 2 = 5 (and for a second, it does) - it's called doublethink.

So to reiterate, every terrorist cannot be killed, because our actions against terrorist simply recruits More terrorists. The ideological basis that creates terrorists also cannot be destroyed. Conflict only ends when the underlying causes are addressed (see section Why We Must Change)

* OKAY, What would I do? *

Okay, as a prelude to what I would do, it's necessary to acknowledge that Bush is a terrorist, and that the principle target for his terror tactics are the American people.

Why Bush is a Terrorist

As Bush, in what may have been a tremendous admission of guilt, issued by his subconscious, famously (mis)quoted,

"Our enemies are innovative and resourceful, and so are we. They never stop thinking about new ways to harm our country and our people, and neither do we." —George W. Bush, Washington, D.C., Aug. 5, 2004

Here's another quote, this time from Nietzche - "Whoever fights monsters must be wary of becoming a monster himself." The fact is that the US has ushered in a regressive set of measures designed to curb dissent at home, using the bogeymen of Al Qaida to scare enough folks into submission. Along with this, the definition of what constitutes a "terrorist" is being broadened. As a story today shows, the U.S. government today decided there were 5 times as many "terrorist acts" in 2004, having switched to a "broader definition of terrorism"

I do not plan to prove Bush is a terrorist by argument, I simply invite anyone of a clear mind to note the reflexive nature of a President who talks about battling for freedom, but who is crushing dissent in America, who assures us that security is his #1 priority, while simultaneously inculcating fear in the populace, switching the lights on his terror-o-meter during the Presidential campaign, whenever his numbers were suffering, that holds elections organised by right-wing technology firms, using machines that leave no paper trail.

We are back to Orwell's doublethink once again, and its central paradox, that we relinquish our freedoms by embracing the false proposition of "security."

My point is this - that "security" is an irrelevancy. Counter-terrorism is fine, but there is no such thing as complete security. It's as silly as the Missile Defense Shield. Moreover, the seductive proposition of giving up rights for security is as much a threat as the terrorism it purports to defend us from. This is why Bush must be resisted, his actions countered, and to do so is not unpatriotic, it is because a free society, with all its attendant risks, is better than being drawn into a society that cannot tolerate dissent, that can arbitrarily place people on no-fly lists, that builds a database of high school kids and students to target them for military service, that has its Department of Homeland Security demand that you explain where a sum of money in your bank account came from (this has happened to us), etc. An administration that cannot admit Cat Stevens on the grounds of its National Security has failed.

* What I would do *

Why we must change

At present, Bush continues to "lead the world" but he is leading into a new global reality that is altogether more dangerous than the pre-9/11 world. We need to leave behind the notion that Kicking Ass / Killing People / etc is going to change THEM.

Whatever happened to reflecting on Ourselves? This was kind of encapsulated in the plaintive cry of "Why do they hate us?" that came out of the rubble of the Twin Towers. Americans were ready to examine their foreign policy, perhaps for the majority, whose inability to pick out other nations on a map is the stuff of legend, this was something of a first. However, something went wrong, it was too much work. It was easier to get Angry, it was easier to mobilise, possessed of righteous anger, and embark on what Bush called "a crusade." The move towards reflection was overwhelmed by the pressure to conform to supporting military action, to do the Right Thing. Families divided, co-workers told people that "if they didn't support the war, they should think about leaving the country", the demonising of the French as surrender monkeys began, France becoming the handy inverse, a shining example of what happened if you didn't kick ass - you ran the very real risk of talking in a funny accent and eating snails - the age of Freedom Fries began.

Americans need to recognise that it is America that needs to change. Changing America is the necessary step to addressing the underlying causes here. There is no point in this "hearts and minds" approach, Iraqis are never going to love the US so long as their country is occupied, just as the Irish never learned to love the English during their occupation.

The sources of radicalism can be dismantled. The US won against the ideology of Cold War Soviet Union, it could prevail over the ideology of radical Islam. But the US must not demonise Muslims as that runs the risk of encouraging radicalism. There is also no reason why moderate Muslims should be apologising for global terror attacks, as opposed to condeming them. You apologise for what you have done, not for the things done in your name. To this degree, don't the people of America and the coalition owe a HUGE APOLOGY to the people of Iraq?

"Many apologies. We believed our leaders when they said you had WMDs, we kicked your ass and took over your country. We destroyed your infrastructure and left you in a state of anarchy. Now we won't leave. Sorry,

yours sincerely

The US and the Coalition of the Willing"

The Legacy of the Bombings

I am not about to say something fatuous, such as "Let's honour the victim's of terror by making the world a safer place" etc, but I will say this - when Tony Blair refuses to countenance change in the light of these attacks, don't be too quick to praise him for his steadfastness. Without change, the only sure thing is that such attacks will happen again. As I have said, there are ways to change that don't represent a concession to terrorists. Once again, we are presented with a false choice at a moment of great tragedy.

To make changes would be to recognise the losses today, to simply continue ploughing the same foolish furrow renders these deaths senseless from almost every angle. It is also true that to continue pursuing a senseless policy, having been locked into it by the rhetoric of "not letting the terrorists win" is to ABSOLUTELY have let the terrorists win, inasmuch as the bombers have today contributed hugely to Britain NOT relinquishing policies that are helping to draw fresh blood to the cause of radical Islam. Let Tony Blair be unmoved, but don't be unmoved yourself. Regardless of today's loss, Britain Has to Change, it is even more Imperative that we seek to disconnect ourselves from the failed policies of the United States.

That is all I have to say, as an Englishman resident in the US.

Thank you for listening.


Blogger Claypot said...

Well put. I'm going to link to this, I don't have the energy to write about it. Have you heard of a book by Ward Churchill called 'On the justice of roosting chickens'? It's quite fascinating, in particular how he looks at the way many Americans refuse to acknowledge what's happening in the world around them.

2:28 AM  
Blogger kingfelix said...

thanks clay, much appreciated. i hope a few other people make their way through it, it's kind of long.

2:54 AM  
Blogger Claypot said...

Long but worth the read though. Have you thought of submitting it to a newspaper or online political blog?

6:07 AM  
Blogger HF said...

Hi Jason,

thank's for your long blog. I will not comment on it directly since I do largely agree in almost every point. Your email raises an even more interesting question. The question of arts practice in the light of the bombings (the war on iraq, 9/11 etc.) To write (and maybe artistic production and expressions of opinions in a wider sense) is absolutely crucial to remind western societies of what we are actually defending. What distinguishes our way of life from that of militant mullahs. No doubt these principles have come under a massive threat from our own governments. The antidemocratic policies being put in place are presented of being necessary evils of the "war on terror". This is why it is crucial that we keep doing what we do: write blogs, draw comics, write sreenplays, play music, tance tango, listen to music. Because this is about plurality and the people that sometimes say stupid things, create bad art (to provoke or accidentaly) play a most important role in this. The only way out of this (on an individual level) is to cultivate your own mind and engage. Art is a vehicle to do this. Keep writing and take on the big issues through a creative engagement with your immediate surroundings.
I will not try and get into "art and politics" here. Just this. I think it is about finding the political in art rather than trying to try and find modes of "political art". Art that is trying to dodge the discourses and retain it's political force. When Joseph
Beuys called "everyone an artist" he didn't mean that everyone should
try and pursue an arts career but that every single decision a person
makes is a creative act and that people have the power and the
responsibilty to actively shape their environment. We are still living in societies where this is still largely possible let's see to that this doesn't change.

4:12 PM  
Blogger Jagan said...

Very good indeed. I'm not entirely sure how I feel about all of this at the moment, but on some points I agree wholeheartedly, and your writing is vibrant as usual.

6:51 PM  
Blogger nunovo said...

Very eloquent and sustained - moreso than I'm capable of. Thanks also to Zambian Sky for the pointer.

I am prompted to mutter an aside here and there, thinking that some claims need more substantiation or whatnot, but there's only one thing I'm prompted to write: the US thinks it won the Cold War by facing down the USSR and by developing trade relations with China. It thinks it will win the War On Terror by the same tactics. Both of these practices are being employed in the current campaign. Iraq and Central Asia are now open to Western trade - by whatever means possible. It's not oil flowing along those pipelines, it's dollars.

Elsewise, a triumphal unilateralism prevails. Some people think the Soviet Union would have collapsed under its own weight, but others think that it was America's refusal to budge in a toe-to-toe confrontation that drained the soviet system of resources and willpower, hastening its capitulation. Ignoring the resilience of Cuba and North Korea in any analysis left Cold Warriors free to assert that intransigence is an effective and appropriate technique, and to roll it out at every opportunity, from Kyoto to judicial nominations, from the PLO to the UN, and Bin Laden et al. This is a strategy of attrition, in which the stakes are always everywhere enormous; that backing down in the face of environmental protest is every bit as bad as backing down from the figure of terror. It is primarily a test of will, a test of one's own resolve to ignore any reasoned argument, any plea for compassion. This is what crumpled the Soviet Union, and this is what will crumple any and all ideological opposition, anywhere.

In short, we're still fighting the Cold War. It's Viet Nam redux, only this time the peaceniks and reluctant natives won't get a word in edgewise. This is where your typical Cold War nutter will draw the line, and where your argument about the need for change will fall on deaf ears. They're not about to let you snatch defeat from the jaws of victory, whether it's about spotted owls or going to war on a lie.

George Armstrong Custer would be proud of them.

12:22 PM  
Blogger Zinnia Cyclamen said...

Here via Claypot. Thank you for this analysis; it makes a lot of sense to me.

12:18 AM  
Blogger kingfelix said...

thank you to everyone who commented/emailed with regard to this post. there's a similarly themed advance on what i said by gary younge on guardian today

best wishes to everyone,16141,1525755,00.html

12:21 AM  
Blogger Luke said...

Interesting analysis.
Pretty much sums up where we are in this dreadful debacle.
Depressing thing is; how to move Bush off his pedestal and Blair off his pogo-stick.
Will link to you on my blog if that's OK.
Luke in London, UK.

10:20 AM  

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