The son of a Nigerian banker wasn’t the only one on a bombing mission at Christmas.
A Nigerian Muslim, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, thought he could contribute to solving the world’s problems by getting on an American airliner from Europe to the US. on Christmas Day 2009, and then trying to blow it up just as it approached Detroit. This appeal to violence can be (and has been) seen in many prominent figures, from Bush and Blair to the Islamist extremists. Though, curiously enough, those who plan and defend their own violence are the most vocal in denouncing violence committed by the other side. In fact both sides, in any of the disputes raging round the world at the moment, claim that their own violence is only made necessary because of the violence coming from their opponents. The truth of the matter is that capitalism produces violence as inevitably as water freezes when it gets cold enough.
Those who start the violence off and direct it, of course, suddenly become shy and retiring when it actually has to be done. When will you hear about a radical imam, who has preached many lengthy sermons about the holy duty of jihad, and about the unimaginable happiness awaiting suicide bombers in paradise, with seventy-odd virgins each (though surely they must be running out of virgins by now?) – when will you hear about that sermonizing radical imam taking his own advice and becoming a suicide bomber himself? Probably about the same time that you hear about President Obama and Prime Minister Brown risking death by serving as private soldiers in hostile territory in Iraq or Afghanistan.
Incidentally, the regular announcement that another British soldier has “given” his life in Afghanistan is simply wrong. A soldier killed after being sent to a belligerent foreign country by the British government has not “given” his life: he has had it taken from him. He has had it stolen by a system of society that unavoidably gives rise to continuous discord and struggle, which from time to time turns into open armed conflict, resulting in combatants on both sides being awarded brief unwanted moments of celebrity as dead heroes, followed often by long-term suffering, financial and other, for their bereaved families.
As for this Nigerian who failed to blow up the plane, and therefore failed to kill himself and 290 other passengers and crew – of assorted nationalities and religions – does this failed suicide bomber believe that when he finally dies perhaps years hence, does he believe he will then go to paradise and get say thirty-six virgins (half the full quota) for a good try? That might be thought ludicrous; but it isn’t more ludicrous than many beliefs passionately held by those who have failed to use their common sense in order to work out why exactly so many human beings (under the pressures of competing capitalist states) spend their entire existence not trying to co-operate with the rest of the human race in order to make things better for all of us, but in trying to murder other human beings.
So Abdulmutallab has now gone on trial in the United States, charged with “trying to use a weapon of mass destruction [a bomb] aboard a U.S. aircraft”, a crime which is punishable by imprisonment for life. This underlines the reality: what you do is not counted good or bad in itself: it is held to be good or bad according to where you do it and who you do it to. All those who dropped “weapons of mass destruction”, or bombs, from US and allied aircraft on to towns and cities across Iraq, which (along with the rest of the military onslaught) resulted in the deaths of perhaps half a million Iraqis, and all those who ordered these bombardments, are regarded in the US (and its allies) as having performed a noble duty.
Abdulmutallab came to Britain to study. He spent three years at University College, London, between 2005 and 2008. Nor was he was scraping along among the down-and-outs: his father was a banker in Nigeria. It would be interesting to hear from those who support the present system why a man who was at London’s university for three years, consorting with Britain’s academic elite, and presumably not living among the poorest of the poor, was so impressed by what he saw and experienced there that not long afterwards he turned out to be so hostile to Western society that he was found trying to murder some hundreds, a random selection, of his fellow humans.
After living in London, Abdulmutallab went to Yemen, a territory much of which was fortunate enough to be ruled by the British for over a century up to the 1960s. Encountering the British Empire at first hand should surely have made the Yemenis allies and supporters of the British for ever, but for some reason al-Qaeda is a powerful force in the country. Since Abdulmutallab had lived both in the UK and in Yemen, the blame game started immediately. Gordon Brown grabbed valuable publicity (he has to fight an election by May, so he loses no chance of headlines) by calling an international conference to consider the “terrorist threat from Yemen”. In fact, this was hot air, even more obvious than usual: there was already going to be an international conference on Afghanistan in London on 28 January, so Gordon Brown’s new emergency summit was merely going to be held “in parallel” with this already-arranged conference. This was followed some days later by an announcement by the Yemeni Deputy Prime Minister, to the effect that Abdulmutallab had “joined al-Qaeda in London”. So each country blamed the other for driving Abdulmutallab into al-Qaeda.
The US response to attacks by Islamic extremists was to establish a prison at Guantánamo Bay. Photos from this establishment proved so harmful to US propaganda about “American freedoms” that President Obama has promised to close it (though he has failed to keep to his declared timetable). The US authorities now believe that 20 percent of the prisoners released from Guantánamo Bay have since “turned to terrorism”. Does this mean that the US accepts that 80 percent of those released from Guantánamo Bay were not terrorists at all? The Guantánamo Bay prisoners were mostly poor Asians, seized at gunpoint, interrogated by methods that amounted to torture, and thrown into a specially unpleasant jail, built in Cuba so that its inmates would not be able to access the boasted impartiality and safeguards of the American judicial system, and held there for years in humiliating conditions without trial, so they could never find out what they were accused of and try to offer a defence. It would seem amazing that these men (never having had the chance of hearing about socialism, and however indifferent they may have been to the conflict before their incarceration) did not on release immediately fly into the welcoming arms of al-Qaeda, on the grounds that if two forces are fighting each other, then if you hate the one you have to support the other. If after all their gruesome ill-treatment by the Americans only 20 percent have actually “turned to terrorism” since their release, it implies that most of them never were terrorists.