Why did the 2005 London bombing, with its 56 dead , not result in the wave of anti-Muslim attacks we’ve seen over the past few days?
Crucially, 2005 was 2 years before the economy tanked. Not that the years before the crash were much better, but now in 2013 there is a lot of fear. Anxious, angry people are easier to manipulate and much more vulnerable to the EDL’s politics of despair.
Throw in the permanent anti-immigrant drip-feed in the national media and the ‘cult of the dead soldier’ used for years to bolster and justify the Afghan occupation and Bob’s your uncle. Fascism thrives on pain and fear. And the implosion of the BNP’s electoral strategy in 2012 strengthened the street thugs of the EDL: the ‘boots’ won out over the ‘suits’.
The other reason there were no pogroms after 7/7 is that by 2005 hundreds of thousands of Muslims and anti-war activists of all descriptions had been working together for years in the Stop the War Coalition and the Respect party.
In many ways this was the most significant thing about the movement. For years the left used the slogan ‘black and white, unite and fight,’ but during those years it became a reality. Anti-war politics became an alternative to jihadist politics for young Muslims who saw and hated what the British government was doing as much as the school students and trade unionists they marched with, (and, indeed, in many cases, were).
The political bonds formed across ethnic and cultural lines provided a counter-weight to the Islamophobia of the BNP and the far right. With the waning of a mass anti-war movement, the splits in Stop the War and Respect and the fading of those bonds racism has been given more room to grow.
Of course it’s not just the lagered-up goons of the EDL driving this but the whole apparatus of government and media. Racism doesn’t just fall out of the sky and into people’s heads. The Tory press feeds people a daily diet of Muslim and asylum seeker horror stories. This creates the mood music for the fascists.
One might say that the gruesome nature of the Woolwich killing caused outrage but was it really more horrible than the case of Baha Mousa, the Iraqi hotel receptionist, tortured to death in Basra by British soldiers? Of course two wrongs don’t make a right but at least have the grace to admit that both wrongs took place!
This is precisely what the British government can’t admit. It is blindingly obvious that these wars, together with the tender attentions of MI5 and the Kenyan police, are what motivated the man concerned to commit this horrible crime. But while the government is in denial about the wars, it can never admit this. So it becomes the fault of the ‘hate-filled Islamist preachers’ or the Jihadi websites, some sort of peculiar, inexplicable blood-lust you find only in Muslims.
If we deny the importance and impact of our imperial wars of occupation on events, then the fostering of Islamophobia is the clear side-effect. Because if it is not something we did to them, but something they are doing to us because they ‘hate our way of life’, then of course there must be something wrong with them. You can have your Islamophobia served up de luxe a la Richard Dawkins or Martin Amis, or you can have the basics version a la Tommy Robinson. The Muslim in a mosque as it’s firebombed would doubtless not appreciate the fine distinction.
One day the British will see how they were fooled about Muslims as surely as they were fooled about weapons of mass destruction. And that day their anger will be great. But right now the job of the left is to stand side by side with British Muslims against the fascists. No to Islamophobia. No to racism. No to the EDL’s lies.
Unite Against Fascism is calling a unity event, against racism and Islamophobia in Woolwich this Saturday 1 June. Assemble 12 noon, General Gordon Square SE18. Visit uaf.org.uk for more details.