London bombings A Nepali perspective

As a foreigner passing through London during the recent bombing carnage, I was struck by the swiftness with which the Establishment sought to delink the attacks from its Middle East policies. Rushing out of the G-8 summit at Gleneagles, Prime Minister Tony Blair blamed the fanatics for the attack on “our values” and “way of life.” Speaking on BBC on July 10, the leader of the opposition Conservative Party echoed the same sentiments in arguing that the attack was an assault on “Western civilization” itself and that it would have come with or without Iraq’s occupation.

This was because, as the shadow foreign minister Liam Fox explained on the state-run BBC a week later, “these people detest the West. They detest our way of life, our democracy, our capitalism, all the things we take for granted.”

After the profile of the four suicide bombers emerged along with the statement of a shadowy Al Qaeda affiliate claiming responsibility for the bombings, it became apparent that the attacks were less against Western democracy, capitalism and way of life per se than the manner in which these values were being delivered elsewhere - at gun point. If indeed the terrorists were simply making a mad lunge at the West as Fox suggested, they could have gone after any other targets in the West.

The irreconcilable opposition posited between the ‘West’ and the ‘East’ and the inevitability of a Manichean civilisational struggle between the two is quite misleading. By assigning a certain irrational intentionality to the attackers, the regime sought to mask from the masses a particular political cause-effect relationship. If the public comes to establish a direct link between a foreign war fought under false pretext and terrorism at home, the pressure might grow for the government to back out of Iraq. Indeed, when the dissident MP Galloway sought to allude to the possible connection between Britain’s reoccupation of Iraq and the London bombings, many of his colleagues lost their famous English cool trying to shout him down as a traitor.

The promotion of a primordial and unremitting evil outside of history can only lead to irrational sectarian paranoia as is evidenced by the rising tide of hate crimes against minority communities and the execution style killing of an unarmed “Asian looking” passenger by the police in Stockwell station. The deliberate misrecognition of political intent behind terrorist violence will preempt reasoned and just solutions to global problems and instil the inevitability of ‘clash of civilizations’ to rationalise economies that sustain on war and conflict.

However inhumane and abhorrent, terror has its own logic as a force-multiplier in generating coercive compliance or insurrectionary publicity on a massive scale. To put it bluntly, it is politics by other means. Although the immediate victims of terrorism portray it as irredeemable evil, many modern states maintain a cavalier, if not utilitarian, attitude towards terrorism simply because one country’s terrorist is another state’s freedom fighter.

Friend today, terrorist tomorrow or vice versa is the stuff of realpolitik. Terrorists are those evil people who attack you, those wrecking your neighbour probably have a genuine political and economic point to make. The British capital itself had earned the sobriquet of Londonistan — a safe haven for numerous outfits advocating violent upheavals the world over. Famously, Anton Balasingham, the LTTE ideologue, had his office in London while his suicide Tigers were blowing up Sri Lanka. Notwithstanding the pious outrage, the relationship between modern states and terror is, to say the least, very complex and dynamic.

Given Britain’s resources and formidable security capabilities the terrorists will be brought to book. A few analysts, however, expressed fears that the July 7 attacks might not be the last ones in that country. The bungled bombing efforts ten days later proved them right. In our part of the world, we have always known that there is no military solution to terrorism and that talks and compromises are the only ways to deal with terror.

Given the clear threat posed to the civilised world and some barbaric regions by terrorism today, one cannot agree more with the British Lord Chancellor that no one should glorify and condone terrorists. The Chancellor’s plans for enacting draconian laws that would put people behind bars for “attacking the values of the West”, however, appears misguided, if not ominous. While the values of free enterprise, personal liberty, education, modern science, and soccer are worthy contributions to humanity, there are a few strands of that civilisation such as racial double standards, exploitation and empire that need to be questioned. If the crucial distinction between those who peacefully disagree and those who break the laws of the land and humanity is not respected, there will be little difference between the ‘Western civilisation’ and ‘Oriental despotism.’

Harvard Ph D Shah teaches at TU