Analysing the threat of Islamic terrorism, Lindsey German argues that the only way to break the cycle is to campaign against war and Islamophobia
The threat of Islamic terrorism requires a serious analytical response which cannot ignore the background against which it exists. It may well be true, as Theresa May says, that some terrorists are motivated because of ‘hatred of British values’ or ‘wanting to destroy our way of life’. But these explanations themselves beg questions about why these attacks have happened and what the motivation for them is.
It should be clear that there can be nothing but condemnation for this act which has led to the deaths of several people and the injury of many more, some critical. In its wake this brutal act has left grieving friends and families, and has impacted on many, including those caught up in the lockdown of parliament following the attack.
However, we do justice to no one to repeat phrases which do not begin to explain this phenomenon or how to deal with it. In fact, every serious analysis of the increase in terrorism over the past 16 years has to confront one central fact: that the ill-conceived and misnamed war on terror has actually increased the level of terrorism in Europe, not reduced it. In 2001, there were no Islamic terrorist attacks in Britain. The first was in 2005, when four suicide bombers blew themselves up in central London. Since then there have been a number, including the killing of Lee Rigby, and the latest this week which has so far claimed four victims.
The head of MI5, Eliza Manningham Buller, told the Chilcot inquiry in 2010 that the Joint Intelligence Committee warned government ministers that if they went to war in Iraq the threat of Islamic terrorism in Britain would grow. "Our involvement in Iraq radicalised, for want of a better word, a whole generation of young people – not a whole generation, a few among a generation – who saw our involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan as being an attack upon Islam."
The terrible consequences of the Iraq war – and subsequent interventions in Libya and Syria – have indeed led to a growth in terrorism both across the Middle East and South Asia. As we have seen just this week this growth in terrorism is not restricted to these regions but has also shaken Europe.
It is worth remembering that those countries still reeling from the effects of these interventions face regular terrorist attacks against their own populations, with often dozens killed in single attacks on markets and other public places. These receive scant coverage in the British media and certainly not the emotional responses that mark an attack in London or Paris. But they alone should prove as false the idea that these attacks are about British values. They are political attacks designed to promote the ideas of IS or al Qaeda or other similar groups and their main targets are other Muslims.
In countries such as Britain and France the aim of these organisations is to create a backlash against Muslims to further their goals. The far right in Europe also feeds off these attacks in order to ratchet up their agenda of Islamophobia and hatred.
In the face of such attacks there should be two clear messages. The first is that the foreign policy which has contributed to the rise of terrorism has to end. These wars are not history but are ongoing. Only this week there have been reports of a US bombing raid on a mosque near Aleppo in Syria which has killed many civilians, in addition to the bombing of Mosul in Iraq – as part of the campaign against IS – which has resulted in hundreds of civilian deaths, including 200 in a recent attack.
Such attacks are exactly what has helped feed terrorism in the past.
The second message is that the response to such attacks cannot be further racism against Muslims. They are already under attack across Europe where there are campaigns against the building of mosques, or against the right of Muslim women to wear the hijab at work or in public (now endorsed by the European Court). The Prevent system is widely disliked by many Muslims and is now being seen as counterproductive in many areas. The cheap right wing jibes of the racists – for example that Birmingham is ‘jihadi capital of Britain’ – are now repeated on respectable BBC programmes.
We should not accept the argument that these sorts of attacks have anything to do with immigration. The attacker was born in Kent 52 years ago and was a product of British society. He was not born a Muslim but converted to Islam at some point in his life, maybe in prison, and had led a life of petty crime and violence, which possibly began in reaction to racism.
This is a similar profile to other Islamic terrorists. It raises many questions about why this happens in prison, and why people with such backgrounds sometimes turn to terrorism. He was also known to the security services – again like others.
The attack on Westminster Bridge and outside Parliament, like the attacks in Nice and Berlin last year, was carried out using a vehicle to mow down pedestrians. The Westminster attacker then used knives to kill a policeman guarding the main gates of parliament. This did not require high tech knowledge of bombs or even the possession of guns but simply the ability to drive a car and to be prepared to use physical violence before certain death at the hands of the security forces.
We do not know the full facts about the motives of the killer, or whether he acted alone. ISIS has claimed responsibility for the attack, but even here it is unclear whether he carried it out through general influence by the politics of ISIS or under the direction of a cell. We know that recent attacks in the US and Europe have been carried out both by lone individuals and groups.
What we can be certain of is that these attacks will continue unless there are major political changes.
This climate of racism here in the UK, and elsewhere in Europe, is only helping to create a vicious circle where Islamophobia leads to a growth in extremism and terrorism, which in turn leads to more Islamophobia. It is a circle which can only be broken by a concerted campaign against both war and Islamophobia.
As national convenor of the Stop the War Coalition, Lindsey was a key organiser of the largest demonstration, and one of the largest mass movements, in British history.
Her books include ‘Material Girls: Women, Men and Work’, ‘Sex, Class and Socialism’, ‘A People’s History of London’ (with John Rees) and ‘How a Century of War Changed the Lives of Women’.
More articles from this author
- The trouble with terrorism – weekly briefing
- No Platform: Free speech for all?
- Now it’s neither heat nor eat – weekly briefing
- Sexual violence, economic violence: why women still need our rights – weekly briefing
- Discontents for all seasons – weekly briefing
- The Pandora’s Box of 9/11 – weekly briefing
- Did the crime of 9/11 justify 20 years of the War on Terror? - video