Yasmin Alibhai-Brown: The hypocrisy of Blair's call on Muslims

After the bombs, we are asked to condemn one form of terrorism and, in effect, support another
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The Independent Online

There is no substantive proof the bombers were goaded into action by the war in Iraq. Without an attributable political cause, such killers lay to waste blameless citizens in various countries, including in Iraq itself, where an unbearable tally of dead innocents piles up. This week dozens of Iraqi children were added to the heap.

The nihilists are different from resistance fighters in that country who legitimately fight the occupation in whatever way they can. We can mourn our lost soldiers when this happens - three more dead this weekend in the south-east of Iraq - but we can hardly complain seeing as we have declared a war against these combatants and brought havoc instead of the deliverance we promised.

This is undeniable - except to the band of diehard enthusiasts who still insist the war in Iraq was good and liberationist. And there are linkages between the atrocities in London and the mounting, blasted bodies in Iraq, which, like Britain, has not had suicide bombers before. Londoners have been forced to re-imagine the pain of Iraqis and to challenge once more our presence in that country and what we do there.

Questions are arising again about the word "terrorism" and "terrorist", and how these have been manipulated to serve Western purposes. The furious brigade has broken into hysteria because the Metropolitan Police (which thus far has responded to the calamity with exceptional intelligence, boldness and self- control) and the BBC have decided to use the labels with care - good for them, can't be easy in these volatile times with such an unfolding drama.

In the dictionary the words are explained as follows. Terrorism: "Violence or the threat of violence, especially bombing, kidnapping and assassination carried out for political purposes". Terrorise: "To intimidate or coerce somebody with violence or the threat of violence. To fill someone with feelings of intense fear over a period of time." Remember these definitions as we think on.

The UK has moved the bomb investigations beyond our shores to Muslim countries, and the state now assumes that whatever it does is justifiable after this provocation. Blair and Charles Clarke repeatedly told the nation that 9/11 changed everything - that was why we had to forfeit fundamental principles of a decent democracy. They have taken liberties before; now they want our blank consent and approval.

Is the Egyptian arrested being interrogated with due compliance with international law? Why was his photo splashed all over the papers when he may just be innocent? What guarantees do we have that men arrested in Muslim countries are not just troublemakers the authorities want out? Will they be taken to torture centres on our behalf?

State terrorism used by the governments of Russia, the US, UK, Israel, Uzbekistan, Pakistan, Syria, Egypt, Sudan, Turkey and many others is as inexcusable and heinous as the terrorism perpetuated by radical groups. In the crazed new world, Western democracies argue that they are entitled to violate human rights and intimidate harmless people. And to support all the governments above as long as they "process" a few of our enemies.

On the very same day we stopped to remember the dead in London, two critical news events came and went unremarked. Six former leaders of the British armed forces raised objections in the House of Lords to the way some soldiers are being held to account. A minuscule number of soldiers fear or face prosecution in our courts for alleged misconduct in Iraq. Criminal investigations into the unlawful killings and abuse of Iraqi civilians and prisoners are, says Field Marshall Lord Bramell, "bringing down the morale" of the troops.

These generals are not saying the men are innocent or may have been caught up in the situation - which must be terribly hard, particularly for the inexperienced. They don't want us to try soldiers who violate the rules of war and civilian society, because it makes the Army nervous. What do they think the Iraqi victims feel other than intense, helpless terror in the hands of such soldiers? What is that if not terrorism?

The other story of Western hypocrisy came from the US Senate Committee looking into the treatment of prisoners in Guantanamo Bay. They found evidence that the inmates have been systematically abused and degraded. Female guards smear them with blood they pretend is menstrual blood; they are led around on dog leashes, mock homosexual acts are performed on them, they are duct taped, chained up, subjected to sleep deprivation, beatings, extreme heat and cold, and warned ceaselessly that their families are next in line. The report's conclusion beggars belief - this is not inhumane treatment because it is all authorised by the Pentagon. Nobody is to be reprimanded.

Israelis have been writing letters to our papers reminding us that such blasts have, for years, been destroying the lives of their civilians. They are right. Few other countries have had as many victims of suicide bombings. It is always important to rise above the solipsism brought on by collective horror.

So do Israelis connect with the anguish of ordinary Palestinians who are humiliated, threatened, beaten, shot, devastated by the policies and practices of the Israeli government and army which wants to terrorise them into submission?

Go to Russia next. The Chechens in Beslan were inhuman beyond my capacity to describe them. They will never be forgiven. But nor should the impenitent tyranny of Russian soldiers and government which holds the people of Chechnya in uncharted, unspoken, unseen fearful subjugation. Can Russians see both evils?

After the deluge we are being asked to condemn one form of terrorism and, in effect, support another. In his courageous book, Fundamentalist World, Professor Stuart Sim writes: "Criticism is the life blood of a pluralist culture and the bane of a fundamentalist one and this is true whether we are dealing with the Islamic or Imperialist variety: neither likes being scrutinised closely or having its objectives called into question."

Blair has called on Muslims to confront the demons in their midst, to interrogate the ideologies which propagate terrorism. We are, and we have started with a commitment I have not seen before. In return, is he prepared honestly to confront his own government's policies which are terrorising so many people around the world and turning them into our enemies?