Ireland and Islamic extremism
The events in Northern Ireland which reached a climax with the IRA’s renunciation of violence this week offer many lessons for those with responsibility for confronting Islamic extremism. Barring a calamity, a 35-year conflict in which 3,700 members of a small community lost their lives has come to an end, and if there can be a winner in such a sorry story, it is democracy.
Religion, ethnicity, nationalism and imperialism played their parts in the long argument, and history, geography, economics and demography were invoked many times. All have a familiar ring in today’s debates about Islamic extremism. Northern Ireland, located unequivocally in the developed world, served for decades as a case study, almost a laboratory experiment, in politics without consensus and in the handling of political violence.
What brought the “Troubles”, as they used to be known, to an end? Not military action, not the persistent violation of human rights by the state and not the mass marginalization or persecution of one community. It was dialogue, open-mindedness, flexibility and, where appropriate, firm principle. At times in the past dozen years it has seemed as though everyone was talking to everyone: the British government, Sinn Fein (the political wing of the Irish Republican Army), the Irish and US governments, the churches, the local political parties, the “loyalist” paramilitaries, Irish-Americans . . . the list was long.
And although the romantic appeal of a “united Ireland” could be strong, particularly outside the island itself, one vital principle was never abandoned: that the people of Northern Ireland retained the right to decide their own future. When asked, they always voted to remain part of the United Kingdom and today that is what they remain, all those bombs and bullets and broken bodies notwithstanding. Even those British governments which adopted the most wrong-headed approach to the region’s difficulties managed to respect that one principle, and for that they deserve some credit.
There were certainly mistakes along the way, and no one can claim an unblemished record. Imprisonment without trial, torture and clandestine killing probably added years to the conflict. Supposedly woolly-minded ideas like forgiveness, respect and “parity of esteem” shortened it.
The day I realised things were changing came in the early 1990s, when I heard the far-sighted John Hume, then leader of the moderate, mainly Catholic, nationalist Social Democratic and Labour Party, respond in a new way to what was by then an old question. There had been another horror, and he was asked if he would condemn it. He shook his head and remarked that there was no merit in “the politics of the latest atrocity”.
It was when people on all sides learned that lesson, learned to keep their heads and to avoid engagement with the self-fuelling cycle of grievance, that a political solution became possible.
It was a cliché of living in Northern Ireland, and of writing about it, that despite all the headlines and the bloodshed, for most people life just went on. Indeed many parts of society thrived. This was not heroism or stoicism but reality: they went on working, shopping, playing, educating their children and mowing their lawns. At any given time, most people came to see, their chance of being a victim of violence was smaller than their chance of being knocked down in the road by a car.
There is a lesson there too. Democratic societies are far stronger than we give them credit for – did even 9/11 stop the United States functioning as a society? – and they need not, should not flee from their values when challenged by bombers. Indeed, even as we in the west confront a weapon the IRA never employed, the suicide bomber, we should remember that in its time democracy has survived far, far worse.
IRA ends armed campaigns
Since roughly an hour
ago the Irish Republican Army (IRA) has stopped all armed campaigns. In a statement
issued today, the IRA calls for assistance to the "development
of purely political and democratic programmes through exclusively peaceful
"London, 7 July 2005: What happened, what changed, what now?" was the name of yesterday's openDemocracy discussion held in collaboration with the Muslim magazine Q-News.
After the events yesterday we did not expect full turnout, but surprisingly many guests attended the discussion in the end. There was a healthy mix of young and old and Muslim and non-Muslim people in the audience, which turned the debate into a sheer educational experience.
The panel, chaired by openDemocracy editor Isabel Hilton, included Humare Khan (far left), founding member of An-Nisa Society, Hisham Hellyer, Fuad Nahdi, editor-in-chief of Q-News and playwright and actor Robin Soans.
The discussion was based on the three main questions given in the topic but revolved mainly around the question of Muslim/British identity. Many members of the audience gave information on their personal experience with Islam and the Muslim community, others challenged cliches imposed by the media and the speakers' points of view.
After the discussion many stayed in front of Chatham House to discuss the topic further. I guess nobody really found an answer to the discussion's questions, but certainly left the event with a lot of ideas and encouragement for more exchange.
More explosions in London today
Just to let all oD Today readers know after today's news, that the openDemocracy team is safe and sound.
When I went to Trafalgar Square just last week to witness London winning the Olympic Bid 2012 I encountered joy, happiness and excitement.
The contrast to what Trafalgar Square looked like yesterday evening could not have been any starker.
Instead of tears of joy people shed tears of sorrow. What struck me most was seeing London's mayor Ken Livingstone wiping his eyes with a tissue backstage right after he had made his speech. He must be devastated. I caught him having a refreshment after making his speech in the scorching sun to thousands of people.
Next to Ken there were speakers of different faiths, together with celebrities, such as newsreader Sir Trevor McDonald, calling Londoners to stay strong together, regardless their faith or ethnicity.
Everybody listened in silence, clapping every few seconds in agreement with statements of encouragement.
TV crews and photographers were running in between the crowd, stopping to interview and photograph the spectators.
It was a touching an memorable event. Seeing thousands of Londoners shoulder to shoulder certainly proves that they stand united against the threats.
23 July: Downing Street Memo 3rd anniversary
If pre-war intelligence was intentionally manipulated the world deserves to know. Over 150 events have been planned on 23 July across the United States by a giant coalition of veterans' groups, peace groups, and political activist groups, known as AfterDowningStreet.org, to campaign for the US Congress to begin a formal investigation into the revelations of the Downing Street Memo.
At least eight events will be hosted by or participated in by members of Congress. The office of Congressman Conyers in Detroit has organised a further 105 house parties through their website. In London, on Downing Street itself (2pm) a group of activists will perform a recreation of the Downing Street Memo as a Mad Hatter's Tea Party.
Check out the cool map, and see if there is an event near you.
For Immediate Release: July 14, 2005
Over 150 Events Planned on 3rd Anniversary of Downing Street Memo
Congressional Town Hall Meetings, Public Forums, Dramatic Recreations, House Parties, Rallies, and Study Circles on July 23, 2005
On July 23, 2005, events around the United States will mark the three-year anniversary of the meeting at #10 Downing Street in London, England, that was recorded in the now infamous minutes known as the "Downing Street Memo."
At least eight events will be hosted by or participated in by Members of Congress, including John Conyers in Detroit, Jim McDermott in Seattle, Barbara Lee in Oakland, Maxine Waters in Los Angeles, and Maurice Hinchey in New York. Congressman Charles Rangel will host an electronic town-hall meeting, answering questions from his New York constituents on the internet, from noon to 1 p.m., July 22. Congressman Xavier Becerra will host an event in Los Angeles on July 30, and Congressman Barney Frank in Boston on July 31.
Co-Founder of the After Downing Street Coalition, constitutional attorney John Bonifaz will speak at a town hall meeting on July 23rd in Northampton, Mass.
On July 23rd, in over 150 towns and cities, prominent speakers and ordinary citizens will hold public forums, perform dramatic recreations of the Downing Street meeting, and host house parties and study circles. Sixty-six events and counting are listed online at AfterDowningStreet.org. For details on events in any part of the country, see this map: http://heh.pl/&tm . Another 16 events on surrounding days are also listed on the site.
In addition, Congressman Conyers' office has organized 105 house parties through their website. See http://johnconyers.com/.
Conference Call for House Parties:
Blogging All Day:
Action Across the Atlantic:
E-Town Hall on the 22nd:
Agenda for National Day of Events:
Participants around the country will be encouraged to
Details for Each Event:
Congressman John Conyers, Jr.
Congresswoman Barbara Lee
Congressmen Jim McDermott
Congresswoman Maxine Waters
New York City Town Hall Meeting
AfterDowningStreet.org is a rapidly growing coalition of veterans' groups, peace groups, and political activist groups, which launched on May 26, 2005, a campaign to urge the U.S. Congress to begin a formal investigation into whether President Bush has committed impeachable offenses in connection with the Iraq war.
Help: Iran's leading dissident is dying
We've been covering this over in Iran Scan 1384. Journalist and human rights champion Akbar Ganji is on hunger strike in an Iranian prison, and his supporters seriously fear for his life. There's been some coverage in the Western press - mostly thanks to the New York Sun's Eli Lake (an Iran Scan contributor) who even seems to have managed to provoke comment in support of Ganji by President Bush.
Activists are rallying together at the Release Ganji! campaign. And today I received a phone call from Human Rights First asking me to post this link: Click Here to Take Action. Please click on it, and visit Iran Scan for more links. Sign a petition, write a letter, and spread the word. It will make a difference.
Today, we also received this article with the latest statement from Ganji's lawyer Shirin Ebadi.
By Veronique Mistiaen
Iran's most prominent jailed dissident, journalist Akbar Ganji has now been on hunger strike for more than month in Tehran's Evin prison, and his life is in danger. Ganji's lawyer, Shirin Ebadi, Nobel Peace Prize winner 2003, expressed grave concerns over his state of health and urged people around the world to publicize his plight and call for his release.
"Ganji is a brave journalist and all of us should support him," said Ebadi, speaking trough an interpreter at a press conference at the Foreign Press Association in London on July 12.
Ganji, one of the Iranian regime's most vocal critics, was arrested in May 2000 and sentenced in 2001 to six years in prison over articles he wrote linking government officials - including former president Hashemi Rafsanjani and former intelligence minister Ali Fallahian - to the murder of several Iranian dissidents and intellectuals. He has also been accused of taking part in a conference in Berlin about reform in Iran, which the regime deemed "anti-Islamic."
After being granted a short leave on medical grounds, Ganji was re-imprisoned on June 11. He has been on hunger strike ever since - only drinking water with a bit of sugar - and has lost more than 40 pounds during the past month, Ebadi said.
Ganji, who suffers from rheumatic pain and serious chronic asthma made worse by prison conditions, went on hunger strike to protest being denied medical treatment outside prison, which his doctors have recommended in writing.
Ebadi said Ganji launched his hunger strike only after having exhausted all other legal avenues. As a political prisoner, he is also being denied many privileges afforded to other inmates, such as phone calls, family leave and meeting with his lawyer in private.
In a new twist, the judiciary has recently declared hunger strike a criminal offence, Ebadi added.
The leading journalist, who worked for the reformist daily paper Sobh-e-Emrooz, has already spent five years and three months in jail, making him the journalist imprisoned for the longest period in Iran, according to Reporters Without Borders, which has taken on his case. Other individuals and organizations, including Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and PEN are also campaigning for his release.
But time is pressing.
Ganji is now very weak and ill, and Ebadi said she fears for his life. Sadly, she added, he is not the only political prisoner in Iran's jails. "Unfortunately, a large number of our young people - political activists, journalists and intellectuals - are in prison now and you may not have heard their names. "I am hoping for the release of all political prisoners in Iran. By freeing political prisoners, our government will take an important step toward national reconciliation and unity, so that the Iranian family won't be torn apart."
A Muslim culture of victimhood?
A Muslim culture of victimhood? This is the wrong diagnosis of a political, not religious or cultural, problem.
There is a very popular argument which sees the popularity of radical Muslim activism of the kind which finds its most extreme expression in bombing attacks, as being fed by a ‘culture of victimhood’ among Muslims in various places around the world. Such a culture of victimhood, it is said, nourishes anti-Western sentiments, and can more or less easily become the breeding ground of violent expressions of resentment.
As I reflect upon the latest bombings in London and the sociological profiles of those Leeds young men implicated in the attacks, the possibly pernicious consequences of the assumptions behind the ‘culture of victimhood’ argument become clear. The ‘surprise’ and ‘astonishment’ upon learning the identity of the ‘homegrown’ perpetrators as expressed by various acquaintances, informed bystanders and the like were echoed all over the media. But what is so surprising or astonishing?
There are two points that I want to discuss here.
Firstly, there is the question of perceived injustice and the role played by identification with perceived victims.
Why should we be surprised that some ordinary young British Muslim men committed these crimes? A stark contrast is drawn between supposedly ‘victimized perpetrators’ and these ‘ordinary young men’ who, while definitively of humble origins, were not by any means pathetic losers such as Richard Reid for one was portrayed to be. But why should ordinary young men not identify as Muslims with perceived injustices suffered by other Muslims (Palestinians, Iraqis, Chechens, the list could go on and on…)? I do not know what drove their identification with other Muslims whom they perceived as being victims of generalized injustices. What I do know is that one does not need to be a victim oneself to feel the victimization of others. And I do comprehend the possibility that any young people may empathize with perceived victims with whom they share a religion. In fact it is a fairly ordinary moral response to such a situation, which leads me to my second point.
There is in certain Islamist milieus a culture of jihad & martyrdom which I think is very different from a culture of victimhood. Victims are to a large extent disempowered by their victimization. Often the term victim has a certain aura of passivity and even inferiority. Victims often lack the resources to act. Jihadis committed to a bombing attack however are praised, probably see themselves as committing a praiseworthy deed on behalf of victims whom they see themselves as revenging. They have therefore a notion of self-worth (whether deluded or not is not the point here), of agency that plain victims do not have. This explains why perpetrators do not have an easy-to-assess profile – which has so perplexed analysts, why they can indeed be ‘ordinary young men’ with ‘nothing’ a priori predisposing them to bombing attacks. Nothing that is, except the identification with perceived victims, a desire to do something about it and a political assessment of the situation such that they feel themselves not only allowed to act, but maybe in a privileged position to act. They may feel a sense of obligation.
How such identification comes to be is easy enough to understand. Why these young men felt a need to do something as drastic as bombing attacks about it is another question. A question which has to do with a particular political interpretation of the situation and of what they saw, or were meant to see, as a possible and maybe necessary solution. So apocalyptic a scenario is something that various political “final solutions” share, and indeed we have seen far too many of those in the last century.
Dr Rachel Bloul, School of Social Sciences, The Australian National University
From a concerned bystander
We had to wait at the ticket barriers at London Bridge for a couple of minutes; we were told there had been a power surge. It’s not uncommon to wait to get down onto the tube at London Bridge, and we all rushed down to get a tube to work once they opened up. It was as busy as usual and a bit of a squeeze. I spotted an attractive girl on the train and was trying to make eye contact with her.
We were told the train was bypassing Bank because of the power surge. Then Moorgate. A few people grumbled; I was alright as I had to go all the way to Kentish Town. I was getting quite uncomfortable standing in the heat with little room to stand, but I swear the girl looked at me and smiled so it wasn’t too bad.
Then the driver announced we were not stopping until we got to Euston. I was confused now but not too concerned. We stopped in the tunnel just before Kings Cross. After a while, I became concerned; I daydreamed about what would happen if there was a bomb. I didn’t seriously think that would be though. We were told they were evacuating passengers ahead; why has a power surge caused all this? Eventually, after around half an hour waiting, the train edged into Kings Cross and we walked up the train and out of the driver’s door. I looked to see how far behind me the girl was. I still didn’t realise what had happened. As we walked up through the station, I soon forgot about the girl.
People were covered in blood and soot. One man was bleeding heavily. The thing that affected me the most was the crying. So many people were openly crying; I realised afterwards you rarely see anyone cry in public. I was a bit confused and phoned work to say I was going to be late. I was worried about my brother as I knew he took a similar route to me; he was fine but told me there had been more bombs. I couldn’t get my head around it; I walked around aimlessly for a while and looked for a bus. Only 100 yards away I heard people complaining that they had to get off the train; they had no idea what had happened. I gave up on the bus because they were barely moving and were so busy; shortly afterwards the number 30 bus exploded.
I tried to find my way through Euston and closed streets to work. I tried to phone and text people I knew worked in London; it stopped working quite quickly. I got the papers for work from the newsagent; the news of the Olympic bid was already redundant at 11 in the morning. I explained what had happened to a confused young woman. By this point the horror had sunk in and it was quite awkward parting ways. I walked into work in a funk; colleagues were concerned and told me to eat but I just wanted information. What the hell had happened? I emailed everyone I could saying I was ok and asking them to tell me; I had 8 messages already asking where I was. A couple of friends took a while to check in and our close circle became concerned, but no one I knew personally was hurt.
I eventually walked down through the centre of London to Charing Cross to get a train home and met a friend. He had been very concerned, and I gradually received frenzied texts he had sent in the morning asking where I was; swear words were injected more and more as time went on. I got home, went to the pub and saw friends. I had been weird all day and I wanted to have a beer and look forward. I went to bed drunk enough and late enough to sleep so I didn’t think about it.
Now we have to get on with our lives. This weekend I moved into my new flat in London as planned. I am proud to live here and we will not bow to terrorism. We must remember those who died; I personally never forget the pain I saw or the young Asian girl I saw who suddenly burst into tears at the bus stop, I assume as the impact sunk in. But we must travel to work without fear; I want to travel on the tube and make eye contact with attractive girls; we must live as we did before; terrorists cannot make our decisions.
Thanks for reading the thoughts of a concerned bystander.
The politics of denial
Throughout the 1970s and 80s the Provisional IRA set off bombs in London for one major strategic purpose: shifting the front line of warfare from the streets of Belfast and Derry to the streets of London-- in short these bombs were an attempt to deghettoize the Northern Irish conflict and to transform it into a UK wide issue and everyday reality for the British public.
For almost three decades, internecine sectarian conflict, state torture and shoot-to-kill arrests, and the suspension of common rules of law and civil liberties were facts of life in one part of the United Kingdom, which by and large were ignored, accepted or normalized by the rest of the British body politic.
The IRA strategy was a misguided and inexcusable attempt to confront this politics of denial among the general British public and to create a politics of collective accountability for what they perceived as the social suffering of the minority community in Northern Ireland.
The 7/7 attack on London effectively moved the frontline of the insurgency/counter insurgency in Iraq to the streets of London, just as the front line was moved into the streets of Madrid last year due to the Spanish military presence in Iraq. The attack has also mobilized a new politics of denial: that the London bombings were inevitable due to long-term Islamic fanaticism and have only an incidental connection to Tony Blair’s foreign policy in Iraq.
Even if the attack was a cynical manipulation of in-place Arab resentment, this collectivization of everyday terror will win support among a significant section of the increasingly isolated Iraqi population, who have lived with escalating daily terror from all sides since the American invasion, and from Arabs who resent a foreign neo-colonial presence in the Middle East.
There is no moral or political excuse for the London bombings, but neither is there any moral and political excuse for politicians like Tony Blair, George Bush or Condoleezza Rice who disconnect their policies from this attack, and rather attribute it to a fundamentalist irrationality. Blair, Bush and company point to 9/11 as evidence that the London attacks were not a response to current foreign policy but a generic expression of long-term fundamentalist resentment. Such rationalization whitewashes American interventionism in the Middle East prior to 1991 including long-term support for oppressive regimes in Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Egypt.
We are now witnessing a desperate attempt at historical falsification, equivalent to the myth of WMD in Iraq, whose sole aim is to forestall a Madrid political scenario for Blair and his government in the wake of the London attacks. Part and parcel of this historical falsification is the increasing moral legitimacy of rendering death and suffering in the Middle East invisible and without consequence. We knew in 24 hours the specific number of dead and wounded in London, but to this day the American government, with media complicity, censors the number of Iraqi casualties since the invasion. Such censorship inhibits the capacity of the polity to connect attacks in Madrid and London to the dead, tortured and wounded in Iraq.
In her interview with the BBC on July 7,2005, Rice rehearsed a litany of two decades of "Islamic" terrorist attacks (primarily against American targets) from 1988 onward as the chain of causation that led to the present tragedy in London. For Rice “Islamic” terrorism is a free-floating perpetual motion machine of endless war against the West, she called it “…a world-wide war against ideals..." In response to the BBC reporter's attempt to link the London attack to Anglo-American policies in Iraq she replied: "Nothing is being fueled here except that they are being confronted...it is not normal for people to fly airplanes into buildings...” This is the politics of civilizational war-- a theory that denies political rationality to Arab resistance to Anglo-American foreign policy, and which authorizes a free-floating endless war against terrorism by the so-called “West.”
However the attacks Rice recounted were committed by different organizations in diverse political contexts and were only loosely related by an opposition to American policies in these local conflicts. Rice's counter-factual chain of causation relieves the United States from any present political and moral responsibility for reactive terrorist responses and cynically evades the consequence that British civilians have now paid the ultimate price for their government’s complicity with American foreign policy in Iraq. We now can see that proactive military interventionism is not a strategy for eradicating or even managing the risk of political terror, but rather is a formula for terrorist escalation.
Allen Feldman is author of Formations of Violence: the Narrative of the Body and Political Terror in Northern Ireland (1991); and “Abu Ghraib: Ceremonies of Nostalgia” (openDemocracy, 18 Oct 2004)