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The London bombings: recruiting killers

It’s not hard to see military recruitment going on.  American comic books have full page adverts exhorting readers to become an ‘Army of one’.  Documentary-makers have followed US recruiters visiting poorer neighbourhoods offering education, prospects, a future.  In the UK on high streets, recruiters put up boards showing abseiling, skiing, diving – anything other than riddling another human being with bullets or shrapnel. 

The army has historically been a way out for the poor and powerless.  A source of empowerment (or at least of feeling that someone somewhere is in control), of belonging, of being part of a corporate body and a story of positive action and values.

It’s a tragic irony of humanity that the statues and memorials for military murderers are almost invariably bigger, better and more splendid than others.  Battles – like Trafalgar – are commemorated, whereas anniversaries on the first use of anaesthetic would pass us by unmarked except by ultra-enthusiasts. 

The glorification of those who die in battle is a near constant of any military society.  London is disfigured with a war memorial dedicated ‘To the glorious dead’ – as if there was ever anything glorious about a nineteen-year old boy hanging on the barbed wire.  To die nobly is often rewarded with a Victoria Cross.  Dying in action is always referred to as sacrifice, a gift from the soldier to the community.  For the First World War, Felicia Hemans’ The boy stood on the burning deck, a poem about a young sailor dying at his post, was used in recruitment drives in this country.

The actions, then, of the four young men, three of them from Leeds, in callously slaughtering over fifty fellow humans, are not so alien as some would think at first.  Shehad Tanweer,  Hasib Hussain, Mohammed Sadiq Khan, from Leeds, were all described by their stunned friends and relatives, as perfectly ordinary, nice and polite young men.  Not bug-eyed ranting fanatics.

The psychological hunt has begun to understand their motives – experts in terrorism discuss how suicide murderers require a wide support network to cajole and reassure them, assist them and point them in the right direction.  People look to fanatical Islamic preachers, or the visits to Pakistan made by some of these boys when their families thought they were going off rails – trained in one of the Madrassa theological schools there.

The West Yorkshire metropolis – like many post-industrial northern towns – has deep cultural divisions.  These were exposed some years back in 2001 with the Bradford riots, after which there were claims that the local Asians who turned out to fight against fascists were given disproportionate sentences.  The communities live in the same towns, but do not mix, and so distrust is sown between white-skinned and brown-skinned workers’ families.  Otherwise sensible people will tell tales of the shocking conduct of the other community.

These areas are scenes of depoliticisation – Leeds and Bradford have some of the lowest turnouts in elections.   The area of Leeds that Tanweer was from has almost double the unemployment of other parts of the city.  He himself left school with virtually no qualifications. 

Relatives and friends talk of how young men who come back from Pakistan are shocked by the poverty they witness there.  Others have talked of how it is not difficult to feel solidarity with the people they identify with – with Muslims who are oppressed in other parts of the world.  They can draw a line between that poverty and oppression and their own experiences.  It is not beyond wit or reason to see how these young men might become inclined to join up.

All it requires then is someone wealthy enough, organised enough to provide them with training and hard-to-come-by chemical explosives and equipment.  Someone ruthless enough to be willing to send suicide murderers into crowds of people totally unconnected to their grievances simply to send a message to the powerful.  Although it is unlikely the London attack was directly the responsibility of Saudi Arabian capitalist Osama Bin Laden, the profile of the leadership of the Islamic movement is very much one of aspirant, educated, relatively wealthy men from frustrated elites across the Arab world.

Just as rulers and wannabe rulers throughout the ages have used religion as a motivator, to provide the appearance of a common cause between them and their potential recruits, so too do the modern day variety, attempting to build a coalition of people from many different backgrounds based on the historical experience of islamic culture.  Incorporating their local grievances into a single paranoiac cloth whereby America, Zionists and ‘crusaders’ were the cause of all ills was an integral part of that project.

The left – monomaniacal as ever – see this as ‘the violence of the oppressed’, as objectively anti-imperialist.  After the London bombings, the Socialist Workers Party studiously avoided condemning them.  A chorus has gone up that Britain should change its foreign policy, pull out of Iraq and Afghanistan, to stop us being targets.  This of course is no real solution – the war would go on if not here in other parts of the world – and young Yorkshiremen would travel to other parts of the world to join this fight.  Terrorist insurgency is not an instinctive reaction to injustice, but a policy choice both for footsoldiers and generals alike.

Religion is the heart’s cry of the oppressed, soul of a soulless world, it inspires utopian and thus reactionary politics.  It cannot be stopped by suppression, harassment, the silencing of radical preachers – that would only aid and abet the feeling of persecution. It must be defeated by reason, by practical action to demonstrate that there are prospects for taking control of their own lives. 

This means an open movement desperately needs to be built to create a real prospect of change, not just in the UK but in the world.  We cannot rely on military force, or the state, the great and the good bullying moderate Muslims to speak out, it needs to come from the massed ranks of workers, set on using their creative industry to take real control of the world around us.  An end to oppression, and an end to ambitious elites using human corpses as stepping stones to wealth and power.

Pik Smeet