The killing of a soldier in Woolwich on May 22nd was horrific. The indiscriminate murders of thousands of unnamed civilians in Pakistan, Yemen and Afghanistan by armed drones have been replicating this horror on a much larger scale for years. However no progressive political purpose is served by killings of this sort. We have seen how the event has been used to reanimate the discussion around the further erosion of civil liberties. The neo-fascist right has taken to the streets. British imperialism’s armed organisations have benefitted from a wave of sympathy and popular support which makes it harder for those of us who oppose their actions to have our voices heard.
Although this appears to be a random and macabre act, the response by Cameron was immediately to treat it as an organised terrorist attack.
The government’s reaction fails to deal with the political causes underlying such attacks. There were no such cases before the “war on terror” was launched in the wake of 9/11, which led to the invasions and occupations of Afghanistan and Iraq. The description of this war by US President Bush as a “clash of civilisation” and a “crusade” has provided the context in which the killing in Woolwich occurred. This is understood not just by the left, but also by others such as former head of MI5, Stella Rimington, who said in 2008 that the war on terror in Iraq had influenced young British men to turn to terrorism.
The war on terror has been a failure in its own terms. It has not prevented terrorism but has caused it to spread. Civil war appears to be spreading in parts of Iraq, while in Afghanistan the Taliban is undefeated. In both countries, democracy and civil rights are wanting.
The failure of those supporting the “war on terror”, and the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq has had damaging consequences: the spread of racism and islamophobia. There were 38 islamophobic incidents, including three attacks on mosques, reported on the night following the killing. In Woolwich, over 100 English Defence League thugs went on the rampage. British Muslim leaders are expected to condemn the killing in a manner which is not expected of leaders of others faiths when atrocities are committed by white gun men, in Norway and the USA for example, often politically motivated. These killers are rarely described as terrorists, but as “fanatics” or “madmen”. The “war on terror” has also been used to restrict civil rights and instigate extensive and intrusive surveillance, in particular those with a Muslim faith.
In the wake of the events in Woolwich, the immediate issue for the left is to resist the racist backlash, to continue fighting against the “war on terror”, and to defend civil rights.
May 24 2013