By Jane West
The murderous attack on a soldier in Woolwich yesterday was horrifying, and nothing justifies such a vile act. The only response that is appropriate – apart from expressing sympathy for the victim’s family and friends – is to isolate the approach of the perpetrators and for communities to stand together in condemnation of this attack, as Ken Livingstone spells out in the article we reproduce below.
The two men who carried out the Woolwich attack, who were apparently known to the security services, cited the role of the West in Iraq and Afghanistan as the motivation for their actions. While clearly this neither justifies nor mitigates in anyway their criminal actions, it does provide an explanation.
As Ken Livingstone says, the British security services warned the Blair government in 2003 that the war on Iraq would very likely lead to terrorist attacks in Britain of the type that the US had experienced on 9/11. Their warning was apposite. After 2003 the security services had to apply more and more resources to tracking and uncovering terrorist plans in this country.
In 2005 and on 22 May 2013, groups planning such acts got through the net with dreadful consequences. The government has responded by implementing its COBRA terrorism response plans, but continues to fail to address the underlying political causes of these developments.
As CND and Stop the War have pointed out: ‘There were no such cases in Britain before the start of the ‘war on terror’ in 2001, which led to the invasions and occupations of Afghanistan and Iraq. The consequences of those wars have been devastating for the people of those countries and further afield. Up to a million died in Iraq and four million were made refugees. Tens of thousands have died in Afghanistan. Fighting still continues and in Iraq looks like descending into civil war in some parts of the country.
‘The balance sheet of the last decade and more would demonstrate that the war on terror has been a failure in its own terms. It has not prevented terrorism but caused it to spread.’
Libya has extended this sense of grievance to other communities. If the West makes the mistake of engaging in a shooting or bombing war in Syria it will ratchet the anger further – whatever some may claim now. One important response to Woolwich is to reinforce the calls for no more British wars in the Middle East or elsewhere.
However, as the wave of attacks on Mosques on Wednesday night shows – and the jump in numbers ‘liking’ the EDL Facebook page from 25,000 to 75,000 overnight – the most urgent need is to counter Islamophobia and the attempts by the far right to exploit the situation to whip up fear and violence. Unite Against Fascism has made a clear stand against this, as has anti-racist campaign, One Society Many Cultures.
In 2005 Ken Livingstone gave London the leadership it needed in calling upon a spirit of unity and ensuring all communities stood together against fear, hatred and division, isolating the terrorists and all those who wished to exploit their actions for their own violent political ends.
His article on Woolwich, set out below and published in the Guardian today, sets out the response that is needed from our political leaders today. Sadly that is not what we have got from Cameron, Clegg and Boris Johnson, who all pledge to hunt down the plotters but forget to appeal for unity, who call on all to condemn the atrocity singling out the Muslim community, but do not mention the series of representative Muslim organisations – like the MCB – who were among the first to do so.
By Ken Livingstone
The horrific and barbaric murder of a British soldier in Woolwich on Wednesday should be unreservedly condemned. My thoughts and condolences go out to his family and friends following this brutal murder. I fully support the police in their efforts to discover whether the two individuals acted alone or whether an extremist group or cell is involved.
As mayor of London, I served this city when it withstood the worst terrorist attack it has ever faced on 7 July 2005. I am proud that Londoners of all faiths – and none – stood united, shoulder to shoulder against terrorism – our unity meant that there were no reprisal attacks against any one community in the immediate aftermath of those murderous bombings. Doing so again is the most effective way to defeat the terrorists’ aims.
There will be those who will seek to scapegoat entire communities for this barbaric act. This is what terrorists want, and rely on. For people to feel fear, to turn on each other and to bring down the very essence of London, the most successful melting pot in the history of the world and the city of the free. Already, violent fascists have taken to the streets in Woolwich, adding insult to the injury that community is feeling. Already there have been reprisal attacks against mosques. We must not let this violent minority exploit this crime for their own hateful gains.
In 2002, before the invasion of Iraq, the security services warned the then prime minister, Tony Blair, that this would make Britain a target for terrorist attacks. We are still experiencing the dreadful truth of this warning, and we should learn from it for the future.
But if this city has demonstrated one thing, it is how to withstand the ultimate aim of terrorism, which is to divide us. Just as Norway refused to be beaten into submission by a national fascist terrorist whose attack left 77 people dead, so, too, London will continue to be a beacon to the world for all those who want to live in harmony and realise their potential. These are the very things that terrorism mortally opposes. I therefore call upon all political parties, the media and the people of London, to embody the strength of this city that has always been here. Terrorism has never broken London or its unity. It never will. It will fail.