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After the London bombs: whitewash, repression and marginalisation

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Since the bombings, and especially since the discovery that the bombers were young British Muslims, the government and the press have tried even more vigorously to keep the question of the war in Iraq out of people’s minds.

Tony Blair, like George Bush, blames the bombings on “evil". He explicitly denies any link to the war: “If it is Iraq that motivates them, why is the same ideology killing Iraqis by terror in defiance of an elected Iraqi government? What was 11th September 2001 the reprisal for?"

Every British Muslim and every antiwar activist knows the answers to these cynical, rhetorical questions. The US and British occupation of Iraq is fuelling the resistance - despite the vetted, stooge government, elected under foreign bayonet and military lockdown. 9/11 was aimed at stemming the flow of billions of dollars in US aid that arms Israel to the teeth, while western politicians ignore the occupation of Palestinian land and humiliation of its people.

As the British government’s own Joint Intelligence Committee pointed out in February 2003, Islamist jihadist groups represent “by far the greatest terrorist threat to western interests, and that that threat would be heightened by military action against Iraq".

Blair must have winced when the thoroughly establishment Chatham House reported that “Riding pillion with a powerful ally has proved costly in terms of British and US military lives, Iraqi lives, military expenditure and the damage caused to the counter-terrorism campaign.” It concluded that the invasion of Iraq has “given a boost to the al Qa’ida network [in] propaganda, recruitment and fundraising."

Nevertheless, the British media - from the tabloid papers to the BBC, from The Guardian to The Economist - back Blair to the hilt, just as they did during the war. If there’s one animal more poodle-like than the British prime minister, it’s its press.

In Ken Livingstone, who stood against the war, Blair has found a perfect foil. Livingstone also claimed the attack was “not aimed at presidents or prime ministers,” but sought to “divide Londoners". In the Communist Party’s Morning Star, he adopted a Churchillian tone against this “evil":

"Their attack has driven Londoners closer together, not further apart... The remarkable unity showed by Londoners over the past few days is not only the best way to commemorate those who died and to express our determination that we will never change our life under the threat of terror but is also our best defence against those who would attack us,” triumphantly ending, “London embraces the future, [the bombers] fear it."

Even if, as seems likely, senior al-Qa’ida operatives directed these young men, the reason they felt the cold anger necessary to carry out this horrific act was their indignation at the humiliation and murder of hundreds of thousands of Muslims in Palestine, Chechnya, Bosnia, Kosova, Afghanistan and Iraq.

In October 2004, Lancet medical journal reported that at least 100,000 more Iraqis have died since the invasion than would otherwise have been expected. Now a new study by Iraq Body Count authoritatively details 25,000 civilians murdered since March 2003, nearly 10,000 of these by US and British troops.

The disgusting hypocrisy that Blair affords these two human tragedies - in Baghdad, Fallujah, etc. and in London - is breathtaking. The one is a price worth paying, a figure not even worth officially counting; the other is painstakingly revealed to number 56, each with a face, a name, a personality, a dream.

No wonder young Muslims poured scorn on their “elders” who participated in Blair’s “task force” to fight extremism in the community. These youth - 70 per cent of British Muslims are under 35 - have no reason to feel grateful to the british state, every reason to feel angry. As Rumel Ali, 21, told The Independent:

"This meeting between Muslims and Tony Blair is just politics... There were 52 people killed in London but where was the two minutes’ silence for the 120,000 people killed in Iraq?"

The ugly racism and blatant discrimination Rumel and many young people from the Muslim community experience regularly in so-called civilised, tolerant, multicultural Britain will undoubtedly also have been a factor.

The 1.8 million British Muslims, especially those of Pakistani and Bangladeshi origin, form one of the most acutely oppressed racial and cultural groups in the country.
* Muslims are three times more likely to be unemployed than other ethnic groups, with over two-thirds of Muslim women being out of paid work.
* 40 per cent of British Asian women live in poverty, twice the rate of white women; those that do work are paid just 56 per cent of the average white male hourly rate.
* 40 per cent of Muslims have no qualifications; even those with university degrees are nearly twice as likely to be unemployed as other graduates.
* A third of all Muslims live in the most deprived 10 per cent of inner city areas.

Muslims have been subjected to a barrage of racist filth from mainstream media pundits since 9/11 and before. The fascist British national Party fought the last election, with an emphasis on west Yorkshire, Lancashire and east London, on an explicitly Islamaphobic ticket.

Reported racist crimes have dramatically increased as a result, up 20 per cent since the invasion of Iraq to 4,728 in 2003-04. In the week following 7/7 the Institute of Race Relations reported a dozen attacks on mosques and temples, three arson attempts on Muslim homes, three death threats, five physical assaults and the murder of Kamal Raza Butt in Nottingham, who was set upon by a gang of white youths, shouting “Taliban".

This is systematic racial discrimination covering every aspect of life: education, housing, jobs, personal safety, living standards. Nothing else can explain the fact that Asian and Muslim people occupy the bottom rung of every social scale. This oppression rightly breeds resentment and necessarily produces a fightback.

Appeals to rally multicultural London or Leeds against terrorist outrage, which fail to recognise the centrality of the war and discrimination against Muslims in Britain, are not the answer. Ken Livingstone is no doubt sincerely attempting to divert from a chauvinist and racist backlash. But by denying the link to the war in Iraq, by ignoring the underlying racism that affects British Muslims every day and in every aspect of their lives, Livingstone, Trevor Phillips of the Commission for Racial Equality and co. let the world’s biggest terrorists, the US and British armies, off the hook.

Firstly this multiculturalism covers up real inequalities, real ghettoisation of the latest and poorest arrivals, real racism. If you don’t admit this you can’t fight it and you certainly can’t win Muslim youth to “integration” into the class struggle, including the anti-racist ad anti-war struggle.

Secondly it represents a liberal or populist version of pressuring Muslims to assimilate to the local (British) community. In theory, cultural diversity is tolerated, and every culture is equally valid. In practice, however, the subordinate cultures of immigrant populations are only tolerated to the extent that they remain subordinated to the dominant, British bourgeois culture.

Hence the 25 Muslim leaders have been dragooned into new government task force to take the debate on Islamic extremism forward on religious grounds. The implication is: if your mosques and Muslim associations don’t toe the line and tolerance our wars and racist culture, then we will de-recognise them, our police will harass them, close them down etc.

This is another massive attack on our “freedom of association” as well as “freedom of worship". If the state can decide which are “real” religions and which not, next it will want to decide which are real parties, and real trade unions, and which are “extremist” and must be banned.

Thirdly multiculturalism endorses the government lies that the Islamists’ purpose is to destroy our “free and tolerant culture", carrying the nasty suggestion that they are trying to Islamise “us” by force. Of course some fanatical Islamists may indeed want to do this but that is plainly not the objective of their ongoing terror acts.

Their objective is plainly to undermine popular support for Britain’s imperialist foreign policy. The key fact which Livingstone and co. are evading is that these bombings were a by-product of the war. Get out of Iraq and other Muslim countries and Islamists will have no reason to bomb.

Instead of liberal multiculturalism, we fight for voluntary, revolutionary, working class integration. To make this possible the only “pressure” there should be should be applied to the officialdom of the labour movement to make the unions attractive and welcoming to Muslims by taking up all the aspects of their oppression.

On every housing estate, in every school and college, in every workplace, socialists, workers and anti-racists must challenge every manifestation of racism. We must demand strikes for equal pay and job opportunities, council and government funding for decent housing and services, self and community defence against racist and police attacks.

The assault on civil liberties - interference with mobile phone (tapping, call records etc.) and computer servers, renewed pressure for biometric identity cards - are all enormously important question in the next weeks and months. Home Secretary Charles Clarke has, in the aftermath of the bombings, to assemble cross-party support for a new anti-terrorist act, which will:
* outlaw acts preparatory to terrorism
* create a new offence of indirect incitement to commit terrorist acts, such as “glorifying” bombings
* outlaw terrorist training, in the UK or abroad.

Just like the previous anti-terrorist act, these laws will be framed so broadly that they can and will be used to further harass and detain immigrants and Muslims, and to disrupt and repress the rights of workers and anticapitalists to protest and resist attacks.

Finally, but crucially, we must revive the anti-war movement on a massive scale - and this time with an open willingness to take direct action including strikes - to get Britain out now. Leaving aside the debacle in Iraq itself, the London bombings should be an alarm bell that this remobilisation of the anti-war movement is urgently needed.