On July 7th, as delegates were preparing for the afternoon paper sessions, news reached us that four bombs had gone off in London. The news was, of course, shocking. But shock gradually gave way to questioning, analysis, and speculation about the short and long-term implications of these actions. In the immediate aftermath Tony Blair and George Bush emerged from the G-8 summit to utter now-routine platitudes about ‘civilization’ and the need to persevere with the ‘war against terror.’ This failure of the self-appointed leaders of the ‘civilized world’ to take the bombings as a cue for critical reflection on the implications of their freely chosen policy in Iraq, in particular, and the Middle East in general has prompted us to issue this short communique.
Our position is a privileged one: we write as citizens whose social position affords them the time and resources to consider the material conditions and causes of social problems, and whose traditions obligate them to contribute as best they can to the development of a rational, equal, and free world. As such, we see it as a duty to point out the basic contradictions and failures of the Bush-Blair policy. We are agreed that civilized and free social existence precludes the tactics of terrorism and willful destruction of civilian life. We are also agreed, unlike Bush and Blair, that it is human life, and not only American and British life that is of intrinsic value. In that light we ask our fellow citizens to reflect upon the consequences of US-UK policy for the people of Iraq. Five days after the London bombings, Mafkarat al-Islam, an Iraqi human rights organization, reported that 128 000 Iraqi’s have died since the invasion. Fifty-five per cent of those are women and children under 12. It hardly needs pointing out that the immediate causes of these deaths, and of the shock for those bereaved, will have been all too similar to the experience in London on 7/7.
In the aftermath of 9/11 newspapers proclaimed ‘We are all Americans now.’ In the aftermath of the London bombings newspapers proclaimed ‘We are all Londoners now.’ But after mass homicidal air-strikes on Baghdad or the horrific assaults on Fallujah did any Western newspaper declare ‘we are all Iraqis now?’ Citizens in the West genuinely committed to peace, justice, and freedom need to meditate deeply on the reasons why the answer to this question is ‘no.’
The answer must be that those who are formulating policy and their media supporters simply do not value Iraqi life in the same way that they value (some) Western life. We include the qualification ‘some’ because the same powers that have unleashed the world’s most powerful militaries against defenseless populations have also prosecuted a war at home against the socially excluded and poor. Life is invoked as a basic value when the condemnation of terrorism is at stake but systematically ignored when military policy is being enacted or law re-coded in order to serve the interests of global corporations.
To explain is not to excuse. To point out these moral contradictions is not to defend the actions of fanatics who believe that there is something to be gained in revenge attacks on Western civilians. The logic of revenge is a death-spiral, and itself depends on simplified understandings of the issues at stake. However, when citizens in the West fail to reflect on the broader social conditions in which such attacks take place fear annexes their support to policies that are almost guaranteed (if the Bali, Madrid, and now London bombings are evidence) to provoke yet further outrages against humanity. At some point the death-spiral must be broken by courageous voices who insist on a fundamentally different policy and a fundamentally different global order.
The mantra repeated by Bush and Blair is that ‘you cannot talk to terrorists.’ Might not the Iraqi people feel the same way about Bush and Blair? The whole world now knows (after the leak of the ‘Downing Street Memo’) that American intelligence agencies systematically invented the justification for invasion in the absence of real evidence. UN arms inspections were brought to a premature halt under intense political pressure from the American war party. If the perpetrators of terrorist acts in the West are denounced as Muslim fanatics, is it not equally just to denounce George Bush as a Christian fanatic? Has he not himself admitted to belief in a divine mission to ‘civilize’ the world? Has this mission not already killed many dozens of times more people in Iraq than every terrorist attack on western soil combined? Evidence demands that we answer yes to these questions.
In closing we call on our fellow citizens to consider these contradictions, to reflect on their origins, to resist fear-mongering and racist demonization, and to organize in support of fundamental changes of policy and practice. The London bombing is yet further proof that the Bush-Blair policy is a failure. We say ‘enough’ to such atrocities, no matter who commits them, and ‘yes’ to a domestic and global agenda that addresses the causes of mutual hatred and self-destructive violence.