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Westminster attack: Terror at home and abroad

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Islamic State has claimed responsibility for Wednesday's terrorist attack in which five people were killed and dozens injured in Westminster.

Two civilians, Aysha Frade and Kurt Cochran, were killed on Westminster Bridge and police officer Keith Palmer was stabbed to death near Parliament, before the attacker, Khalid Masood, was shot by police. Leslie Rhodes, a 75 year old Southwark resident died from his injuries on Thursday night.

There are no justifications for this appalling crime which terrorised and murdered innocent people. Our sympathies are with the families and friends of the victims of this and recent attacks in Brussels, Paris and Nice. Equally we acknowledge the bravery and selflessness of the emergency services and others who helped people to safety and attended the injured and dying.

Terrorism

Islamic State has claimed Masood as a martyr for its cause, which is to impose a fascistic religious theocracy on the people of Iraq and Syria.

Whatever the particular motivation of individual terrorists, and revenge for the suffering inflicted by Western armies or their Middle Eastern allies is not an insignificant one, Islamic State's terror campaign is not anti-imperialist resistance; it serves reactionary ends and its principal victims are the innocent Muslim populations who suffer the brunt of racist retaliation in the aftermath.

The spectacular brutality of attacks against civilians in the West is a conscious tactic to deepen the fear and mistrust between Muslims and non-Muslims generated by the Islamophobic press and government policy during almost two decades of the 'War on Terror'.

The alienation that results from this cycle of terrorism and repression, added to the toxic brew of institutional racism and structural poverty faced by millions of Muslims, is the fertile ground from which Islamic State draws its European recruits.

In this goal it finds itself in the same trench as Marine Le Pen, Geert Wilders, Nigel Farage and the Daily Mail; all are campaigning to make Muslims feel as unsafe and unwelcome as possible.

The aftermath of any terrorist attack ought to be a time for solidarity and sympathy with the innocent victims, and the victimised innocent of responsibility.

But for Europe's flourishing right-wing extremists, each crisis is an opportunity to capitalise on their crusade against Muslims. The Christian-Fascist organisation Britain First has called a demonstration to give vent to the anti-Muslim prejudices aroused amongst racists by Wednesday's atrocity.

Britain First, whose supporter Thomas Mair murdered Labour MP Jo Cox because of her anti-racist beliefs, shares many of the reactionary aims and methods of Islamic State, the estrangement of Muslims within the communities they were born in and the ambition of inciting a 'clash of civilisations' between Muslims and non-Muslims through intimidation and terror.

But while Islamic fundamentalism in the West is a backlash against the racism and militarism of Western “democracies”, the religious bigotry and racism of Britain First and others seeking to exploit Wednesday's tragedy cuts with the grain of the official Islamophobia that saturates our society.

Islamophobia

Racism towards Britain's Muslims long predates the advent of Al-Qaeda and Islamic State. Higher levels of unemployment, police harassment, disproportionate sentencing compared to white people convicted of the same crime, poor housing, and higher levels of poverty are the legacy of Muslim communities' origins as working class immigrants and institutional racism, compounded by the decline of Britain's industrial areas.

The singling out of Britain's Muslims for special treatment started with their resistance to the invasion and occupation of Afghanistan and Iraq. It was this leading role in opposing Blair's militarism, not their imagined support for Islamic fundamentalism, that made the British state turn Muslims into a public enemy and made Islamophobia official state policy as the police, security services and media were mobilised to cow and suppress Muslims into silence and even token support for British imperialism's criminal and bloody "war on terror".

For daring to oppose British imperialism's war of aggression, Britain's Muslims have been sentenced to play the role of perpetual enemy within, transformed from people who stood up to militarism and war into a racist caricature of a “people” who won't integrate and are secretly plotting the downfall of the British “way of life”.

It was this sustained offensive which at the state level criminalised Muslims and on the ideological level abused and denigrated their religion and culture, layered on top of decades of economic oppression, which fuelled feelings of alienation, resentment and injustice which Islamic fundamentalists were able to exploit to recruit a handful of people.

For different reasons, the apocalyptic propaganda of Dabiq and the Daily Mail exaggerates the threat posed by home-grown or international “jihadists”, but the the actual numbers of British Muslims involved in acts of terrorism or who have travelled to join Islamic State remain miniscule.

British values

Wednesday's atrocity has monopolised the media cycle, granting a beleaguered government the boon of a crisis it can turn into an opportunity. The opportunity is an audience turned to face a pulpit draped in the butchers' apron in which Theresa May delivers a rancid sermon on “British values”:

“These streets of Westminster, home to the world’s oldest Parliament, are engrained with a spirit of freedom that echoes in some of the furthest corners of the globe. And the values our Parliament represents; democracy, freedom, human rights, the rule of law, command the admiration and respect of free people everywhere. That is why it is a target for those who reject those values.”

This from a Prime Minister who refused to condemn Donald Trump's Muslim Ban. This from an MP who voted for the illegal invasion of Iraq. This from the leader of a country whose “oldest Parliament in the world” has the distinction of having attacked and occupied, tortured and abused, massacred, starved and exploited much of the globe for three hundred years and continues to do so.

There is hardly a country on the face of the planet that has not felt the heavy boot of British values on the back of its neck. The values of the British parliament exported at bayonet point the world over have earned the enmity, not the respect, of people on every continent.

Every religion produces its extremists and the UK state is not particular about the dogma or doctrine if they can be manipulated to support its interests. From the Protestant Orange Order in Northern Ireland to the Muslim Mujahedeen in Afghanistan, the British government has often made common cause with fundamentalist terrorists in order to pursue its imperialist ambitions.

Indeed, Britain along with the USA shares principal responsibility for the development of modern Islamic fundamentalism either through its support for reactionary theocratic regimes (Saudi Arabia), unpopular puppet regimes (the Iranian Shah), fundamentalist terrorist groups (Afghanistan) or refusal to support democratic movements against dictatorship (Egypt, Syria, Iraq, etc.).

The ancestors of today's main “anti-Western” terrorist groups were initially organised and financed by the West, with help from its Saudi ally, in a war against the pro-Soviet government of Afghanistan during the 1970s. This provoked a Soviet intervention which turned into a bloody decade-long civil war. The eventual victors, the Taliban, and the leader of the Mujahedeen Osama Bin Laden, were celebrated by the White House and Downing Street as heroic freedom fighters.

Until the declaration of the war on terror, the victims of Islamic fundamentalists were the populations ruled by Western-backed regimes in the Middle East and Asia. But the invasion and occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan not only reduced those two countries to rubble, they provoked Al-Qaeda to target civilians in Britain and, in the wake of the defeat of the antiwar movement, convinced small numbers to believe their methods were the best way to resist Britain's crimes.

The brutality of the occupation, the infamous abuses of Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo Bay and “extraordinary rendition” exposed a generation to the bloody hypocrisy of British imperialism's “humanitarian wars”.

Having developed a renewed taste for war and hypocrisy, Britain's new interventions in Libya, and with a supporting role to Russia in Syria, created a refugee crisis of unprecedented proportions. Britain led the way in organising opposition to resettlement of those refugees within Europe. For good measure it scuppered the joint Mediterranean search-and-rescue missions, followed this up by embarrassing the French into dispersing the Calais refugee camp, and capped these vindictive actions off by abandoning a pledge to take in a small number of unaccompanied child refugees.

The policy of Britain's ruling class is to ruthlessly exploit the peoples of the world for its own profit. To that end it will invade countries, strangle them with economic blockades, impose punitive sanctions against their people, deport migrants and let refugees starve. They are responsible for Britain's wars; they are responsible for all those who die in the backlash.

There cannot be any unity between those who oppose racism and militarism and those who use it as an instrument of class rule. The tragic events at Westminster are a microcosm of the unimaginable scale of the tragedy unfolding in distant parts of the world as a consequence of our government's actions.

The deaths of those innocent people will not be in vain if they spur us on to redouble our efforts to overcome the system that condemns us to repeat such tragedies in an endless, barbaric loop.