Tony Blair has the virtue of consistency -- in public, anyway. Immediately following the recent terrorist atrocities in London, he did not hesitate to claim, “It is through terrorism that the people that have committed this terrible act express their values . . . When they seek to change our country or our way of life by these methods, we will not be changed....” [emphasis mine]
Blair sharpened the point when questioned in the House of Commons on July 12, saying, “It is a form of terrorism aimed at our way of life, not at any particular government or policy.”
This is in direct contradiction, however, to the conclusions in a leaked British government report titled “Young Muslims and Extremism,” which appeared last weekend in the Sunday Times of London. Like the Downing Street memos, this leaked document is very much at odds with the Blair government’s public pronouncements. The Times’ front-page story included the following highly pertinent comments:
The war in Iraq is identified by the dossier as a key cause of young Britons’ turning to terrorism. The analysis says, “It seems that a particularly strong cause of disillusionment among Muslims, including young Muslims, is a perceived double standard in the foreign policy of western governments, in particular Britain and US.... The perception is that passive oppression, as demonstrated in British foreign policy, e.g., non-action on Kashmir and Chechnya, has given way to active oppression. The war on terror and in Iraq and Afghanistan are all seen by a section of British Muslims as having been acts against Islam. (Democracy Now!, July 13, 2005)
The Blair line about a clash of civilizations is being taken up here in the United States, as well, although, being at a distance, some conservatives have seen opportunity and even humor in the situation. Fox News pundit Brit Hume’s first reaction to the news -- time to buy! -- consciously or unconsciously points out the grim reality that some people are making a lot of money out of terrorism. John Gibson, substituting for Bill O’Reilly, was equally unselfconscious when he joked that it’s just too bad it wasn’t Paris -- “I mean, who’d care?” (I think it was a joke.)
Other commentators, while sounding a more sincere and earnest note, were equally offensive. Take Newsday columnist James Pinkerton, who penned a piece titled “Can we learn from Britain’s mistake?” and used the term Londonistan to illustrate just exactly what he thinks that mistake is: “the bringing in of large numbers of barely assimilated, barely patriotic and sometimes hostile foreigners into that country.”
Facts do not bear out Pinkerton’s analysis. It seems that three of the suspects were British born, although of Pakistani descent, while The New York Times says that a fourth suspect, who may have masterminded the attacks, is also British-born. Apparently, then, the perpetrators cannot be described as “barely assimilated”; their friends and neighbors were deeply shocked at the idea that they could have committed these atrocities. It also seems likely that the three who set off the blasts died in them, making these the first suicide attacks in western Europe.
In a moment of national emergency, it is hard to resist calls for solidarity -- which makes Tony Blair’s evasions and misdirection as despicable as they are predictable. In spite of widespread, deep popular opposition to the war in Iraq, a poll taken in the wake of the bombings found that fully 20 percent of Britons thought Islam itself was a major threat to British democracy, with nearly 50 percent agreeing Islam was some kind of threat to western democracy.
And yet there most certainly is a double standard at work here. Three days after the strike on London there were a series of suicide attacks in Iraq that left 48 people dead, but those attacks, in contrast, received almost no press coverage. Commenting on the difference, independent journalist Dahr Jamail said, “The situation in London, four bombings, four bombs, and so many civilians killed. That’s become almost an average day in Iraq....
And where is the coverage? It’s becoming more and more difficult as time goes on to even find it.”
Even an assimilated Muslim must resent such obvious disparities, which can only lead a disinterested observer to the conclusion that western democracies place a much lower valuation on Muslim lives than on others. But the lack of press coverage is only the tip of the iceberg. In his recent report, “Iraqi Hospitals Ailing Under Occupation,” Jamail reports that not only are hospitals in much worse condition under the occupation than they were even in the days of sanctions, but the US is deliberately targeting hospitals during military operations, a practice that began with the siege of Fallujah and is being repeated again and again. (Democracy Now!, July 14, 2005)
Targeting hospitals is of course a direct violation of the Geneva Conventions, as is torture, another major indication of a double standard at work. One might conclude from this behavior that the Geneva Conventions only apply between industrialized western countries that go to war with one another. This repeats a long colonial pattern of distinguishing between the white colonial master and the ignorant, godless “savages” whom he alternately redeems and oppresses, but always exploits.
It doesn’t have to be this way. As George Galloway recently said in an interview with Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzalez on Democracy Now!:
I’m different from that, and most British people are different from that, when you reach them. The blood of everyone is worth the same. God didn’t differentiate between a dead person in London killed by sheets of flying glass and red-hot razor-sharp steel and someone who died the same death in Baghdad. These deaths are the same. And war of the kind that we have seen -- unjustified, illegal, based on lies -- in Iraq, is terrorism of a different kind.
It is very hard to see how the world benefits from re-framing a conflict over western policies toward the Third World into a so-called clash of civilizations, a move that is bound to draw in Muslims of all stripes and can only widen the scope and threat of terrorist action. In fact, it is all too clear that the only ones who benefit from this re-framing are those who are responsible for these destructive failed policies in the first place -- and those who continue to benefit from them.
Patricia Goldsmith is a member of Long Island Media Watch, a grassroots free media and democracy watchdog group. She is also a frequent contributor to MandateTHIS.org. She can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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