The 9/11 UK connection

British politicians keen to ensure another "7/7" attack spawned by homegrown bombers is less and less likely.

    In Britain, the 9/11 decade will likely be most remembered for two things: the country's involvement in the US-led war in Iraq and the London bombings of 2005 [Al Jazeera]

    The phrase "cycle of violence" is well known, and much argued over, in many parts of the world.
    It is often used by reporters covering the Arab-Israeli conflict, for example, as a shorthand  way of explaining how it becomes impossible over time to determine whose attack came first and what was a reprisal. In the end it is also a way of implying the politics of defeat - of violence seemingly without end.

    Britain, and the British media, have never really used this phrase to explain events at home. When the British army was in northern Ireland, for instance, and Republican dissidents exploded a bomb, there was almost never any attempt to decipher this in the same way that would be acknowledged in foreign affairs.

    The IRA or their offshoots were, for the entire media corps in Britain, terrorists pure and simple. Groups like the PLO, or the Sandinistas, were idolised by "progressive" thinkers in the 1970s and 1980s here. But making an argument that IRA bombs were in any sense part of a cycle of violence or were prompted by British occupation was virtually unthinkable. It could get you arrested, for one thing.

    So to the 9/11 decade and the events that led to the July 7th bombings on the London transport system in 2005. Tony Blair had stood with George W Bush in the "War on Terror"; Afghanistan, and then Iraq, had followed. The argument over WMD in Iraq had been  transformed into one that said that the world was a better and safer place without Saddam in it, to the fury of war critics. And there were multiple flashing red lights going off that Muslim sentiment in the UK was hardening, the anger growing.

    Cause and effect

    This is where the "cycle of violence" turns into an argument about cause and effect. Whatever led to September 11th then caused the Afghan war, and Iraq. By the middle part of the decade, when Iraq was at its worst, the security threat in the UK was at a constant level of "attack imminent". Would 7/7 have happened if Britain had not got itself enmeshed in Iraq? Was 7/7 part of the same cycle?

    The view of the architects of Britain's security and foreign policies of the time would be much like their opinion of the situation in northern Ireland - that there is no moral equivalence between organised military action by the state, and the actions of paramilitaries or armed groups on the other. And past that they would also argue -  as they did after 7/7 - that the principle of cause and effect cannot be used to explain incidents like the London bombings as being a reprisal. Not that that is surprising - it would imply responsibility.

    All the same, it is striking how many ordinary British people do not read 7/7 in that way at all, particularly when compared to Ireland. While the anti-war movement, which saw a million people take to the streets before the Iraq invasion, has now disappeared completely, it is accepted by a large number that 7/7 would not have happened had it not been for Iraq. A poll for the Guardian newspaper, 12 days after July 7th, found that two-thirds of respondents shared this view. That does not imply sympathy, far less an acceptance that some British Muslims obviously view their religion as transcending nationality or citizenship - a point seemingly lost on the government here in the days and months before and after July 7.

    For now, the security services in London say that their biggest threat remains al-Qaeda, followed by the Real IRA. While that Republican group is a rump, it will always have a constituency while Ireland is divided.

    So is there a difference with the "Muslim threat"? Arguably the Arab Awakening has changed many things and has sowed as much confusion in the hearts of militant British Muslims as it did in the leadership of al-Qaeda, which was at one point advocating that Libyans should simultaneously fight against NATO and Gaddafi.

    Aside from that, the coalition government in Britain - whose Liberal Democrat component was against the Iraq war and which has promised to learn the lessons from it - has the advantage of the benefit of hindsight, a beefed up internal security apparatus, and the knowledge that another event like Iraq would be impossible to sell to popular opinion.

    As long as that lasts, so the chance of another 7/7 spawned by homegrown bombers looks less and less likely - ending the cycle of violence.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera


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