Thursday, July 05, 2007

More Cambridge bombers

As I was walking to work this morning I passed the Mosque, as I always do, and was surprised to see a load of TV cameras outside. Later I saw the headlines in the local press. At least two of the bombers that have been arrested recently worked at Addenbrokes and attended Mosque round the corner from me.

In addition to that Dr Kafeel Ahmed, the bomber who was wrestled to the ground in Glasgow and is probably the most recognisable, if charred, face of the recent plot, studied at Anglia Ruskin University. He's supposed to have had links to Hizb ut-Tahir whilst in the city, who appear to be (or have been) very organised in the area.

It's believed that Cambridge is where the bombers met, as friends, and began a relationship that ended in attempted mass murder of air travellers and "slags". One former friend described Bilal from their meetings in Cambridge like this;

"Bilal had grown up in Baghdad. He told me how he hated Saddam Hussein, how even after the American invasion his extended family stayed there. All were of the same ideological persuasion. All believed in Wahhabi ideology. He didn't see himself as being radical: he saw himself as following Islam. He developed a vitriolic hatred for the Shias after one of his closest friends at university in Iraq was killed by a Shia militiaman. He would say they needed to be massacred. He called them kafirs, disbelievers who insulted the Prophet...

"He refused to frequent the local halal takeaway in Cambridge because the Turkish guys there didn't attend mosque. He used to say to me: "We should have soft hearts for the believers and hard hearts for the non-believers." He epitomised this. He was very humble and polite and had an endearing and distinctive belly laugh."

It's a chilling but all too believable portrait of someone who has allowed their passion and commitment to what they see as a better world to lead them into dark and horrifying acts. These men may have been determined opponents of the war on Iraq and Afghanistan but it's clear they share little common ground with progressive politics.

I was surprised to read what appears to be a new approach in the latest Socialist Worker that "Attacks on civilians in Britain are unjustifiable – just as are the killing of civilians in Iraq, Afghanistan or elsewhere" by editor Chris Bambery (who is a great admirer of the pro-terrorist film Battle of Algiers). I hope this means a more nuanced approach from Socialist Worker and Respect towards the Iraqi resistance in future.

These attacks were not only an unjustifiable reaction to the Iraq war, a small secret cell carrying out unaccountable and poorly planned actions that could benefit no one (especially foreign workers in the NHS), their heads were also bound up in the baggage of a reactionary and backward form of Islam that didn't simply oppose "Imperialism" but went against many of the progressive advances, like a women's role in society, that have been made in the last thirty years.

My enemy's enemy is not always my friend - and whilst we should keep up the dialogue with those with whom we disagree, if we beginning to duck important issues - like what kind of society we would like to see and what kinds of political actions are effective then, I think, we'll be doing ourselves a great disservice.


richardmarchese said...


There was a very interesting meeting at Marxism this year on 'Islam and Islamism Today'. The speaker, a member of the Egyptian Revolutionary Socialist Organisation, outlined his belief that there were currently three strategies that the left could adopt vis a vis the MB in Egypt: 1)Refusing to have anything to do with them. 2)Pretending that their politics were identical to those of the MB. 3)Working with them against Imperialism and Mubarak, whilst trying to win their activists to socialism. He advocated the third approach. This is, I believe, the strategy the SWP supports - certainly it's the strategy advocated by Chris Harman in 'The Prophet and the Proletariat'.I think it's generally correct, although real issues arise, as I discussed with the speaker, when Islamists decide not merely to articulate bigotry, but actually attack women or gays etc. His argument was that, as the left is not strong enough to physically intervene, and the state would use such divisions to weaken the opposition, they should convince the Islamists that they're wasting time attacking gays etc. - when they should be devoting all their time to attacking Imperialism.

Regarding Islamist organisation in Cambridge: I've only encountered this once - when a group of us went along to APU (as it was) in 2005 to get members of the Islamic society to attend the StW demo that March. The speaker was clearly a right wing Islamist - very articulate, however. He argued that the attacks on Afghanistan and Iraq were attacks on the umma, and that democracy was a sham in principle. Needless to say, we disagreed - arguing that the attacks were driven by economic factors and that we had too little democracy at the moment! We also argued that the best way to confront Imperialism was to engage in democratic politics, demos etc. The left has to keep up this tack: we have to engage Islamist activists on the issues where we agree on whilst simultaneously stressing our own ideas.

Jim Jay said...

'The Prophet and the Proletariat' is a good little book, but I think a number of people believe that the SWP's position has shifted on this in practice.

However, I don't want to get into a nit picky debate on this as I believe the SWP has been right to a) march with muslims and argue strongly against those who opposed organising politically with them in the anti-war movement, b) identify islamophobia as a key and pervasive cultural phenomenon in today's Britain and c) be more interested in defending muslims from pseudo racist attacks than proposing some sort of sterile secularism, which often has more of an appearance of an insistance on atheism.

That speaker you saw may in fact have been one of the bombers and it is in fact our collective failure that we were unable to dissuade people like him from taking the turn that they did.