While not producing the same level of carnage as 9/11 or the Madrid train attacks, the London bombings of 7/7 have quickly become one of those crucial events that mark a defining point in the history of a society. The widespread expressions of shock that followed the revelation that the bombings were committed by British Muslim extremists suggest that this was an entirely unexpected development. The immediacy with which the sages of the press offered a flood of pat explanations and moral epistles indicates that these expressions of surprise were of a piece with the comment of Louis, the Vichy police prefect in the film Casablanca, who announced indignantly that he was shocked to discover gambling in Rick's Place.
Perhaps the most disturbing feature of the public reaction to the bombings is that it has been increasingly dominated by two primary attitudes. From many journalists and politicians who purport to speak for the left we have received an appalling exercise in appeasement and apologetics on behalf of the bombers and the jihadist ideology that motivated their actions. From part of the right wing tabloid press and elements of the populist right we see a racist reaction against the entire Muslim community and immigrants in general. Much of the political discourse in Britain concerning the bombings is falling on one side or the other of this bipolar template.
The apologists of the Guardian, the BBC and the Independent, and their political patrons, instruct us on the inevitability of terrorist attacks at home by British Muslims as a reaction to Muslim anger over, inter alia, the war in Iraq, the war in Afganistan, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Britain's support for Bush's foreign policies in the Middle East, the presence of American troops in Saudia Arabia, third world poverty, and the deprivation of first and second generation Muslim youth in Britain's cities. These and other issues are invoked by jihadists themselves to promote their campaign. While the commentators of the root causes brigade invariably supply the mandatory condemnation of the bombings and expressions of sympathy for its victims, the conclusion that generally follows from their 'argument' is that the bombers were giving misguided expression to a just cause. They and their fellow jihadists are heroic/tragic resistance fighters in an anti-imperialist struggle of third world peoples. Unfortunately, they chose the wrong venue and inappropriate methods to wage this struggle, but we must heed their protests, however misconceived, and accede to their demands, where these are sanitized and presented in properly 'progressive' terms by their apologists.
At no point do these commentators give more than perfunctory attention to the fascist ideology that is propagated by jihadists. While they express ritual dissociation from 'theocratic' ideas and fanaticism, their main focus is on the burning injustices that the jihadists are purportedly addressing. Interestingly, other groups in Asia, Africa and Latin America that struggle locally against occupation, poverty and mass murder without the benefit of a totalitarian political programme or involvement in international terrorism fail to excite their sympathies or sense of righteousness. This is particularly obvious in the case of Darfur, where an Islamicist government is using an Arab militia to commit large scale atrocities against a non-Arab Muslim population with little if any censure from those public figures who plead the case for 'understanding' what drove the London bombers to commit their crimes. Nor do jihad-understanding journalists and politicians trouble themselves with the democratic forces in the Islamic world who are persecuted by Muslim extremists. Labour union organizers, feminists and human rights activists struggling to achieve reform within Muslim countries are, at best, treated with benign neglect, or, not infrequently, dismissed as Western collaborators by those who instruct us on Western responsibility for the London bombings. It is the fact that the jihadists have mounted a concerted campaign against the United States in particular, and Western interests in general, that constitutes their real attraction for their apologists here. The victims of the Janjaweed in Darfur and the democrats targeted by Islamic fundamentalists in Pakistan offer a poor instrument for promoting anti-Western rhetoric.
The dramatic collapse of Communism, revolutionary Marxism and secular third world nationalist movements over the past fifteen years has left the revolutionaries of Hampstead and Islington desperate for an effective vehicle to which they can hitch their anti-imperialist pretensions, and the jihadists provide the going model. Therefore we see George Galloway seamlessly moving from obsequious declarations of praise for Sadaam Hussein to an electoral alliance with the British representatives of the Muslim Brotherhood. London's mayor Ken Livingstone also embraces this group in an instance of his own Galloway-lite political strategy. In adopting this approach they and their associates on what passes for the left these days have effectively delivered the British Muslim community into the hands of extremists, abandoning moderate and democratic elements within it.
The British apologists for the jihadists are not, then, members of the left in any recognizable sense. They are not concerned with working-class solidarity, anti-racism, human rights and democratic politics. They are representatives of an illiberal post-modernist dunciad that glorifies the destruction of the West through third world revolution as its primary objective. They do not bother with the problem posed by the fact that when a movement practises terrorism as a strategy, and not as a tactic for achieving limited objectives, it is in the business of destroying a social order rather than realizing a tractable political programme. The apologists for jihad are, then, involved not so much with appeasement of fascism, packaged in religious terms, as in active collaboration with it.
On the other side of the bipolar political disorder gripping Britain, and much of Europe these days, is the xenophobia and racism of the far right. The absence of a strong anti-fascist response to the rise of jihadist movements in Britain and abroad leaves a massive vacuum that these forces are always on hand to fill. When a society is under attack from terrorist agents of a totalitarian movement, particularly home grown ones who come from an exposed immigrant community, the danger that the racist right will become a significant political force is acute, as people turn to it to express their frustration, fear and helplessness in the face of an assault that threatens their sense of physical well-being and social cohesion.
It is important to recognize that after the London bombing the rise of bipolar politics poses a serious threat to democracy in Britain. It surrenders the public domain to two kinds of fascism. To oppose this pattern effectively it is necessary to develop a democratic political discourse that militantly opposes collaboration both with jihadism and with right-wing racist populism. The fact that significant parts of the British media are infected with representatives of these two pathologies makes the task of building a powerful democratic response particularly difficult. It requires that the movement be constructed from the ground up through intensive grass roots activism. While the London bombings have made us dramatically aware of a deep threat to the fabric of a free and open society, the processes that have shaped this threat have been operating for some time. The hour is late, and it is imperative to act quickly to defend the basic institutions of our democracy. (Shalom Lappin, King's College London)