Heathrow: What Accounts
For The Threat Of Terrorism?
By Chris Marsden
& Julie Hyland
14 August 2006
is still little substantive information on the alleged plot to explode
transatlantic flights from Britain to the US in mid-air. To date, the
British government has provided no facts to substantiate its claims
of a conspiracy to commit mass murder in the air.
Unless and until it does
so, the public has both a right and a political responsibility to withhold
its judgment on the government’s claims.
Most press commentary is
given over to reporting on the lives and backgrounds of many of the
23 people being held in Britain as a result of last Thursday’s
police sweep. (One of the 24 initially arrested has been released.)
Such coverage is legally
presumptive and suggestive of guilt. It prompted an admonishment by
Attorney General Lord Goldsmith and Home Secretary John Reid that the
media was in danger of prejudicing any future trials.
The government’s warning
is disingenuous. It was Reid himself who held a press conference on
the morning of the police raids in London and the West Midlands at which
he baldly stated that the “main players” in a terrorist
conspiracy had been arrested.
The following day, in an
unprecedented move, the Bank of England froze the assets of 19 of those
held in custody and published their names. The youngest is 17 and the
oldest 35. This action, authorised by the Treasury, began a media feeding
frenzy that has included camping outside family homes, publishing photographs
and quizzing residents and friends.
This has been accompanied
by assertions that more than 1,000 British citizens are committed to
fundamentalist Islamic ideology and involved in terrorist activities.
In addition to this “core group,” politicians and the media
have denounced the “Muslim community” for failing to address
the alleged cancer in its midst and being blinded to reality by religious
The Sunday Times editorialised
against “The Enemy Within”. This it described as fanatical
British-born Muslims “educated in the country and brought up within
a tolerant democracy,” many of whom “seem all too ordinary,
perhaps enthusiastic about football and cricket and living ‘normal’
westernised existences,” but who are amongst a “generation
of disaffected Muslims who see any excuse as a reason for killing their
In an article entitled “What
Makes a Martyr?” the Sunday Telegraph wrote of a “sophisticated
network” of Islamic fundamentalists that “casts its net
wide over many hitherto-moderate Muslim youngsters. Its modus operandi
is now a well practised, psychological approach aimed at brainwashing
‘clean skins’—those with moderate backgrounds.”
The Telegraph cited a recent
government report that, amongst young Muslims, both the “well-educated
and the disaffected poor are ripe for conversion, first to radicalism,
sometimes then to terrorism: the former in our universities, the latter
in mosques or prisons through a sense of disillusionment with their
If such claims are to be
taken at face value, it means that hundreds of young people from all
walks of life, including the highly educated, are preparing with cold-hearted
indifference to kill and maim their fellow citizens.
Yet, despite the gravity
of the scenario presented, neither the media nor the government make
any attempt to explain how such a situation could come to pass. With
one voice, they bitterly denounce any suggestion that the wars against
Afghanistan and Iraq and Britain’s support for Israel’s
attack on Lebanon have contributed to this disturbing state of affairs.
On the Conservative Party
right, the Telegraph declared, “... in fact, the extremists who
plot mass murder give very little evidence of being motivated by the
details of Britain’s foreign policy.” The nominally liberal
and pro-Blair Observer denounced the suggestion that Britain’s
actions overseas were perceived as anti-Islamic as “ludicrous
lies”. Foreign policy should not be adapted so as to placate those
who had “crossed a line into psychopathic criminality,”
the newspaper declared.
A similar litany has been
repeated ad nauseam by the Blair government so as to suppress all criticisms
of its wars of aggression in the Middle East. It dovetails with President
Bush’s declaration that “either you are with us or you are
with the terrorists.”
Such claims turn reality
on its head. It is not those who oppose imperialist war and warn of
its political impact who are endangering the lives of the British people,
but the architects and defenders of these wars.
Even as it denies that British
foreign policy plays any role, the media fails to offer any alternative
explanation for the influence of Islamic fundamentalism. The July 7,
2005 bombings in London, like 9/11 and the attacks in Bali and Madrid,
are attributed simply to “brainwashing”. The Observer says
in passing that alienation amongst young Muslims must be tackled, but
does not attempt to address where it comes from, much less say what
is to be done about it.
One week prior to last week’s
police raids, Blair made a speech in the United States on British foreign
policy in which he denounced “reactionary Islam” and advocated
as an alternative a set of supposed “global values” based
on “freedom, respect for difference and diversity”. Such
rhetoric from a man who has trampled over civil liberties and the democratic
process, and has conspired and lied in order to flout international
law, can only fuel contempt for official hypocrisy.
Blair demands of the disaffected
that they worship at the altar of Mammon and accept Washington’s
claim that its wars for “regime change” in pursuit of oil
and other vital resources are about spreading “democracy”.
The impact of Iraq, Afghanistan
and the Lebanon is, in reality, a crucial starting point in explaining
the growing alienation of Muslim youth in Britain. But in itself it
does not explain why antiwar sentiment, which is shared by the majority
of the British population, would find expression in an inclination to
commit murderous and reactionary attacks.
The same is true with regards
to the growing social polarisation within Britain that has condemned
many young people to enormous hardship. Millions grow up with no prospect
of achieving many of the things their parents took for granted—career
advancement, their own home, a secure and decent-paying job—and
have a sense that they inhabit a world that is indifferent to them.
All of this combines to fuel
hostility to the existing political and economic order. But for this
to pass over into a readiness to kill innocents and commit suicide in
the process, other factors must be at work.
At one time, millions of
people in Britain and internationally looked to the labour movement
as the agent of political and social change. Opposition to economic
oppression, attacks on democratic rights and militarism found political
expression in the socialist aspirations that animated working people,
and the younger generation in particular.
No such avenue is offered
today. Instead, the Labour Party and the trade unions are indelibly
associated with big business, racist immigration legislation and the
promotion of “identity politics” based on ethnicity, gender
and religion, which is used to undermine any class-based approach to
This is the outcome of a
process that has spanned decades, and has had a highly damaging impact
on the political consciousness of working people. Ever since the mid-1970s,
the labour movement has collaborated in the systematic lowering of the
social position of the working class. First under Margaret Thatcher
and John Major’s Conservative Party governments, and from 1997
on under Labour Party Prime Minister Blair himself, the old workers’
organisations have embraced a neo-conservative agenda that has transformed
Britain into a low-wage, low-tax sweatshop for the transnational corporations
and the super-rich.
To make matters worse, they
have proclaimed this as the best of all possible worlds and led an international
campaign to hail the “death of socialism”.
Every means for influencing
and changing society has been systematically closed down to working
people by a government that boasts of its determination to defy the
popular will and impose the interests of the financial oligarchy. Not
even on such life-and-death matters as war are working people allowed
any influence—as was underscored by Blair’s dismissal of
the mass protests against the imminent invasion of Iraq in February
The initial manifestation
of the official labour movement’s attack on socialist consciousness
was to reduce the aims of the workers’ movement to the so-called
“bread and butter” issues of trade union struggles. The
transformation of society was proclaimed a distant utopia long before
it was rejected out of hand. Millions know very well that Labour’s
embrace of capitalism has, in fact, proved devastating from the standpoint
of the living standards of the working class. They must understand that
it has also exacted an appalling price ideologically.
It is the political vacuum
created by the disintegration and decay of the labour movement that
ultimately gives succour to the fundamentalists. They are able to exploit
feelings of injustice and denounce Western militarism, portraying the
reactionary policies of the capitalist ruling elite as a war on Islam.
Theirs is indeed a reactionary creed, but it nevertheless makes an ideological
appeal by promising a better world than that which currently exists.
If one accepts the claims
of the political establishment and the media—designed to justify
further attacks on democratic rights and new imperialist military adventures—that
large sections of Muslim youth have turned against society as a whole,
then one must conclude that the capitalist system, which these same
spokesman defend, has demonstrated its utter and irreversible failure.
Only the revival of the workers’
movement on genuinely internationalist and socialist foundations can
overcome religious obscurantism by inspiring and empowering workers
and youth with a scientific perspective for unifying the world’s
people. And the objective social and political conditions for the emergence
of such a movement are growing daily.
Amidst the hysteria that
is being whipped up over the alleged Heathrow terror plot, these are
the critical questions that must inform the response of working people.