As the media blizzard around the Westminster attacks begins to recede, Chris Nineham looks to some home truths
The attack in Westminster was a terrible tragedy for the families and friends of those killed and for all the casualties, and it must have been traumatic for anyone in the area. It is bad news for all of us, too. If the police are correct to link the attack to 'international terrorism', it shows how global instability can create dangers for us all. Everyone in Britain will feel a little bit less secure and Muslims in particular describe the sense of dread they feel whenever such an attack happens. The worry is always that it will lead to an increase in suspicion, hostility and straightforward Islamophobia in wider society.
Many people have righty praised the quick and efficient response of the emergency services to the attack. If the Prime Minister is really concerned about the threat of further attacks it might be worth rethinking the programme of cuts to the NHS and to the other emergency services. Parliament is protected by a ring of steel and adjacent to a major hospital. The story would have been very different if an attack happened in a locality where NHS services have been run down or hospitals closed.
More generally we need to think about the wider causes of the situation we are in. People working in parliament have commented that they felt that some kind of attack was waiting to happen, as if there was something inevitable about this sort of incident. We need to challenge this fatalism and the virtual taboo about discussing causes. The level of attacks is nothing like that reached during height of the Anglo-Irish conflict in the 1970s and 1980s. The steady ramping up of security around parliament emerges with the War on Terror.
This reflects the fact that, far from eradicating terrorism, the series of wars that successive governments have taken us into have seen a spread and proliferation of terrorist groups. This should not be be a controversial proposition. The Chilcot report reminded us all that the head of M15, Baroness Eliza Manningham-Buller warned Tony Blair in 2002 that declaring war on Iraq would increase the threat of terrorist attacks in the UK.
But the government seems incapable of learning anything even from recent history. Having rushed to Washington after his inauguration, May is intent on supporting Trump's military escalation in the Middle East. In the last few weeks the US has committed regular troops to Syria for the first time, intensified bombing raids on Yemen and massively stepped the level of drone attacks on various countries in the region. The evidence suggests this will be disastrous and make us all less safe. The Middle East is already torn apart by war. More drones, bombs and boots on the ground will only prolong the violence there and increase bitterness against the West everywhere.
This military response takes place against a background of ever more widely used terror laws, and an escalation of prejudice and racism against Muslims. As a number of mainstream figures have made clear, one priority must be to ensure that the attack doesn't increase division and distrust. All gestures of solidarity are important here, but it might also be a good moment for us to address some of the things that are creating fear and alienation amongst Muslims.
The vast majority of Muslim spokespeople and community leaders are clear that the Prevent programme in particular is not fit for purpose. Its emphasis on police surveillance and snooping on whole Muslim communities is counterproductive, closing down discussion and creating fear rather than fostering trust, and frankly reinforcing warped and racist stereotypes. It is time the voices of the community were heard and the programme was scrapped.
It is widely accepted that the peace process in Ireland brought to an end a war that involved a bloody stalemate in the Six Counties as well as a series of attacks on the mainland. Only political solutions - driven by the people themselves - can bring real solutions in the Middle East. Our politicians need to learn what most already sense. Further imperial aggression in the Middle East can only make that prospect more remote.
Chris Nineham is a founder member of Stop the War and Counterfire, speaking regularly around the country on behalf of both. He is author of The People Versus Tony Blair and Capitalism and Class Consciousness: the ideas of Georg Lukacs.
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