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« A World Citizen | Main | From a concerned bystander »

The politics of denial

Allen Feldman

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)

July 11, 2005 in The London Bombings | Permalink

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