With support from the University of Richmond

History News Network

History News Network puts current events into historical perspective. Subscribe to our newsletter for new perspectives on the ways history continues to resonate in the present. Explore our archive of thousands of original op-eds and curated stories from around the web. Join us to learn more about the past, now.

7/7 and the War in Iraq

On July 7, 2005, four bombs exploded on London’s public transport system. The final death toll was 56, including three Asian and one Jamaican suicide bombers of the Islamic faith. Stunned but resilient, the British populace including Muslims later partook of a two-minute silence to honor the slain victims of the worst terrorist attack on mainland Britain. Fourteen days after the original attack, Londoners awoke to discover that four more attempted bombings had been thwarted.

Several explanations were offered for the events of 7/7. Prime Minister Blair and his spin-doctors argued that those responsible were murderous terrorists whose horrible actions put them outside the civilized norms of protest, democracy, and rational debate. British Muslim leaders attributed 7/7 to the incendiary teachings of radical preachers who fanned the flames of violence in the hearts and minds of impressionable youth. Some politicians and journalists pointed to a global terror network stretching from Pakistan to London, especially through the madrassa--schools for propagating militant Islam. Others argued that these events illuminated the social alienation of minorities in modern Britain.

All these explanations are less than convincing. Although Blair has tried to use 7/7 to buttress his case for going to war--even going so far as to mimic Bush’s post 9/11 response--many people do not buy it. The notion that these bombers were brainwashed by radical clerics begs all sorts of questions: Why these four youths and not others? Were their actions not the consequence of a more complicated set of factors than one set of teachings? The existence of a global terror network needs to be linked to the complicity of British and American intelligence services in the past which supported radical Muslims to fight proxy wars against the Russians in the 1980s and in Bosnia during the 1990s ( www.guardian.co.uk, Sept. 10, 2005). The argument for alienation fails to explain why many minorities have not turned to revolutionary violence. Besides, these bombers hardly fit the profile of alienated youth: one was a teacher, another a sports science graduate, while another was a keep-fit enthusiast and carpenter (Independent, July 16, 2005, p. 7).

By far the most persuasive explanation for the London bombings links them to the war on Iraq. The British government has repeatedly denied this connection. The evidence to the contrary, however, is quite compelling. In response to 9/11, the United Kingdom has supported the global war on terror spearheaded by the United States. This has resulted in the death and maiming of thousands of Muslims, illegal detentions, prisoners of war abuses, desecration of Arab and Muslim life, and the persecution of innocent American and British citizens of the Islamic faith. According to Chatham House, an independent think-tank on foreign affairs, the events of 7/7 exemplify the problem that the United Kingdom is “riding as a pillion passenger with the United States in the war against terror” (Guardian, July 18, 2005, p. 1).

Moreover, the corruption of British foreign policy has contributed to recent events. The original reasons for the attack on Iraq (WMD’s, links with Al Qaeda etc), have proven to be spurious. Yet Blair has refused to rethink his original position. Meanwhile, the British government continues to support the illegal invasion and occupation of a secular state with a Muslim majority. The July bombings were one consequence. The issue was not one of blind hate or inhuman savagery. This is the way proponents of revolutionary violence are invariably portrayed, whether slave rebels, Irish nationalists, Vietnamese communists, the African National Congress etc. Rather, 7/7 should be seen as an expression of armed struggle in the metropolis in response to the killing and maiming of thousands of innocent Iraqi men, women, and children. In a video featuring Mohammed Khan, the bomber describes himself as a “soldier” concerned with “protecting and avenging my Muslim brothers and sisters” (Newsweek, Sept. 12, 2005, p. 11). Put another way, the 7/7 bombings and the loss of life would not have happened without war on Iraq. Far more people would be alive today in London, Madrid, Baghdad, and Fallujah if Bush had not waged war on Iraq and Blair had not supported him. Even senior Muslim leaders appointed by the British Home Secretary to investigate the causes of 7/7 concluded: “We believe it [British foreign policy] is a key contributing factor” (Independent, Nov. 11, 2005, p. 5).

Along with explanations, there has also been talk of responses. The British government has proposed sweeping new legal powers of identification, surveillance, arrest, and detention, along the lines of the U.S. Patriot Act. British Muslim leaders support the deporting of radical preachers and the denial of entry visas to various clerics. Those concerned about global terrorism advocate joint intelligence operations among the British, Europeans, and the Americans. The issue of alienation has not been responded to directly, although some effort has gone into trumpeting the successful integration of Britain’s minorities, including its Muslim members.

One has to question these putative solutions. Popular concern about the erosion of local democratic rights through an overbearing centralized state has already resulted in serious challenges to the introduction of identity cards and the extension of periods of special custody for suspected terrorists in Britain. The problem of “silencing” radicals raises the familiar problem of who is identifying whom as being radical? Indeed, one wonders to what extent 7/7 is being used by some moderate Muslim leaders to rid themselves of the growing threat to their leadership of communities posed by radical clerics? (Upon reflection, why not adopt this policy of expelling radical preachers? That way, Pat Robertson could be removed for proposing the assassination of the democratically elected leader of Venezuela). There are numerous problems with the creation of a global anti-terror network. Taxpayers would have to foot the bill for special services that are neither accountable nor transparent beyond the hearsay of the state. There is the problem of state control and the monitoring of citizens undermining local democratic traditions. And, even if we were to tolerate the most sophisticated global network, how would this have prevented low-level terrorist attacks? Finally, Great Britain must come to terms with its imperial past and the consequences of that past. Otherwise, we will continue to experience the empire striking back, either through urban rebellions, military operations in the streets, or something altogether different.

My premise is that 7/7 is due to support for the United State’s illegal invasion and occupation of Iraq. What would happen if these occupying troops withdrew? One common argument against withdrawal is the possibility of civil war! Actually, there has been an ongoing low intensity civil war in Iraq that is now reaching its culmination. It is, furthermore, bizarre that proponents of staying the course should care about the potential, rather than current, loss of life. I am persuaded that troop withdrawal from Iraq will be beneficial for three reasons. It would remove a powerful destabilizing force. It would unite Iraqis against extremist, foreign, and criminal elements. Third, it would reduce the loss of life everywhere.

Although there has been discussion of British troop withdrawal since September of last year, it is clear that this is not intended any time soon. The senior British general in Baghdad, Lt. General Nick Houghton, recently told The Daily Telegraph that most of the current 8,000 troops would be withdrawn by mid-2008 (U.S. News Today, Mar. 8, 2006, p. 5A). This is clearly far too long, and the British anti-war movement must step up the pressure to remove these occupying forces. Moreover, although the Italians will leave by the end of the year, Polish troops have promised to stay. The key is the U.S. military. British troop withdrawal will leave the U.S. virtually isolated and remove the fig leaf of protection provided by Blair. Moreover, the U.S. military will have to withdraw eventually, not least because of military over-reach and the growing unease of Americans three years into a war. In my opinion, the anti-war movement must exert maximum pressure before the November mid-term elections to bring the troops home and call for the rebuilding of a political and economically independent Iraq.

We are at an important crossroads in March 2006. This is the third anniversary of the military invasion, the sixteenth year of a failed policy toward Iraq, and the ninety-second year since Britain first invaded Iraq. We could continue with the policies at present resulting in further regional and global destabilization, together with the awful loss of Muslim, American, and European life. There is little evidence that the clamp down on domestic civil rights, together with brandishing the big stick abroad, is making the world a safer place. Alternatively, we can continue to struggle against the dogs of war, mobilize for the withdrawal of all occupying forces immediately, and begin to make the world a better place to live. At the same time, nations and international organizations should be prepared to facilitate the movement of Iraq from a failed to a viable state. Let the phoenix rise from the ashes of 7/7.