An astonishing, unprovoked knife attack has taken place on the streets of Britain. Woolwich? No, Birmingham. Just weeks ago, 75 year old Mohammed Saleem was butchered with a machete just yards from his front door as he returned home from mosque – in what police believe was a racially motivated murder. The fact that this story likely comes as news to you, epitomises our misplaced ‘islamaphobia’ and our unbalanced view of terror. We must resist having our enemies constructed for us.
Constructing our Enemies
Before and since September 11th 2001, there has been a conception of ‘Islamic Terror’. The choice to define terror as somehow fundamentally Islamic in nature is a gross mischaracterisation, fuelling a view that Muslims have some predisposition to ‘radicalisation’.
There are people using violence as a tool to further their religious, political or other ends all over the world; of all colours and races, of all faiths and no faith. However, today’s media narrative for terror and terrorism is Islamic Terror. This means that only this type of purposeful violence is deemed ‘Terrorism’, while other acts are relegated to murder, politically motivated, or simply insane.
Did you notice how all terrorists used to be Irish? And suddenly, they are all Muslims? Well, they’re not. But if the media agenda is Irish Terror, or Muslim Terror, then is can start to look that way.
The case I am making is not some tit for tat squabble about the balance of terror – as in, no YOU’RE a terrorist! Instead, I am seeking to highlight a serious issue: the ways in which (particularly) UK and US citizens are having their minds shaped about relative terror.
The Balance of Terror
What happened to a human being in Woolwich yesterday was barbaric, mind numbing tragedy. One can only imagine the fear, confusion and agony of dying in such a way. Passers-by, family and friends will likely be traumatised for days, weeks, months and years. This is what happens when someone is taken from the world in a senseless, bloody way. Reactions trend toward shock, anger and a thirst for justice – for the scales to be set right once more, so we can sleep at night, safe in the knowledge that balance has been restored.
Now, if we can understand that in Woolwich – why can’t we understand it in Iraq, Afghanistan Pakistan, and…Birmingham?
In recent years, UK governments have aided US governments both politically and logistically to kidnap, torture and murder people across the globe – without any judicial process. That’s not an opinion, that’s a fact.
British citizens were kidnapped from foreign soil, held in Guantanamo Bay for years without trial, tortured and finally released without charge. The UK parliament recently approved the establishment of Secret Courts to avoid exposure to the public at large of further complicity in rendition and torture.
In 2011, Daniel Crook, a Grenadier Guardsman serving in Afghanistan drank a bottle of vodka. A 10 year old Afghan child, en route to pick up some yoghurt for his mother, came across the British solider and asked him for some chocolate. Crook responded by stabbing the 10 year old with his bayonet, puncturing a kidney. The boy’s father, Haji Shah Zada, 72, told the Guardian newspaper that he could not understand why his son was attacked and had received no apology from the British forces.
These cases are just snapshots among a vast array of incidents across the globe which confirm that the true balance of terror in the world is far more nuanced than the 6 o’clock news might suggest.
Exporting Death and Destruction
London Mayor Boris Johnson has said the murder in Woolwich had nothing to do with British foreign policy – as if it foreign policy was some fanciful, far removed and abstract thing. One does not have to condone such atrocities as the Woolwich murder in order to appreciate that they may well be impacted by foreign policy decisions in a very real way. The un-tempered rage that can result from egregious injustice can and does drive people to extremes.
The US has engaged in extra judicial killings on an industrial scale. So long as UK foreign policy is indistinguishable from that of the US, we will continue to reap the whirlwind for it. The might of the US/UK militaries make them almost immune to conventional warfare, which means civilian locations become the arena for perceived ‘payback’.
For instance, the US deploys unmanned, weaponised drone aircraft into the airspace of sovereign countries and assassinates citizens from the sky. A pro-drone Republican Senator in the US stated recently that at least 4,700 people had been killed by these attacks in recent years – equivalent to almost one hundred 7/7’s.
Worse, a recent study by the Stanford and New York University Law Schools revealed that there have been 49 civilian deaths for every ‘known terrorist’ killed by drone attacks in Pakistan – that means just 2% of more than 3,000 Pakistani people killed by drone attacks have any evidence or suspicion against them. But the drone has become the US’s weapon of choice . In June 2011, the US launched a drone attack a day on Yemen.
That’s all pretty terrifying. Yet, a recent Gallup poll revealed that whilst the majority of US citizens opposed drones in US skies, even if aiming for suspected terrorists, 65% approved the use of drones on foreign soil.
Regular people like you and me, living in Yemen, Afghanistan, Pakistan and elsewhere are terrified to attend family weddings, funerals and other community events in case the US military strike:
- Up to 92 civilians, mostly children, were killed in the Azizabad airstrike – where large parts of a village were destroyed in efforts to kill one Taliban commander.
- 47 Afghan civilians, mostly women and children, were killed in the Deh Balla wedding party airstrike in July 2008.
- 37 Afghan civilians, mostly women and children, were killed in the Wech Bagtu wedding party airstrike in November 2008
- Up to 147 Afghan civilians, mostly women and children, were killed in the Granai airstrike in May 2009
This is what that looks like from the air….
The Quest for Justice
For those families outlined above, there has been no justice. Those that killed them have not been brought to justice and the methods used to kill them are still in operation on a daily basis. The most recent drone attack occurred in Yemen just days ago, killing at least four and as many as seven civilians.
If we can understand, and (judging from social media streams) identify with people who feel outrage at the unprovoked death of one man on a London street – then how on earth can we not understand the outrage at these deaths on the streets of Yemen, Afghanistan and Pakistan? It is utter hypocrisy that one person’s genuine anger at constant, unpunished murder is deemed radical, and that another person’s upset at rare, unlawful, punished murder is deemed rational. Their feelings of outrage stem from the same quest for justice – a hunger for the world to be righted when wronged. This is common humanity.
Those who cannot see a parallel in terror between 7/7 and these drone attacks on civilians have a skewed view of justice. They weigh the value of life in an imbalanced way – some lives are more worthy, more real than others. This is the dangerous thinking that we should all be focussed on stamping out. The misguided premise that some people are less equal, less worthy than others has been the root cause of most of history’s blackest pages, from slavery to the holocaust. It is this that needs to be dealt with – not any individual religion, race, or political ideology.
Bringing the Peace
Dr Martin Luther King Jr spoke beautiful words on the need to retain our love for all people if our commitment is to make the world a better place: “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that”.
Sadly, the majority of people in the UK today are failing to hold their government to account for its brutal treatment of their own fellow citizens, let alone of those in faraway lands who they will ever meet. The price of this, is that we leave others to advocate on their behalf. Some of those people will use courts, some of them will use meat cleavers. If we want to see less hatred, death and destruction, then we must each be more loving, respectful of human life and involved in building communities that thrive.
There is a petulant, jingoistic, easy patriotism doing the rounds today. This is embodied by EDL thugs smashing up mosques, and people changing their Facebook profile pictures to Union Flags. Then there is another sort of ‘patriotism’ that asks more of a person; community spirit. It motivates people to reach out to their fellow citizens; to ensure the streets are safe and tensions are calmed; it holds one’s tongue before making knee jerk comments defaming entire communities for the actions of individuals. Community spirit begs us to ask the question ‘How can I help?’
In conclusion, some affirmations that we should each keep in our minds in the coming days, months, weeks and years:
We cannot have peace at home while we export death and destruction across the globe. This is not the threat of some murderous lunatic, it is a social law as valid as the physical law of gravity.
We must not allow enemies to be constructed for us – or value their lives less equally.
We must not allow the misrepresentation of the balance of terror in the world to deter us seeking equal justice.
We must not abandon the quest for justice to those with hate in their hearts.