Since the 2001 invasion of Afghanistan by US and NATO-member military forces, tens of thousands of civilians have been killed as a direct result. Since the invasion of Iraq in 2003, it is believed up to a million Iraqi civilians have died because of the conflict. Last month, a NATO airstrike in Afghanistan left eleven dead, ten of whom were children. Pictures emerged in 2004 of the horrific physical, sexual and psychological abuse inflicted on prisoners in Abu Ghraib prison in Baghdad by US and British soldiers, while at the same time the torture and abuse of inmates at Guantanamo Bay at the hands of US soldiers was becoming widely documented.
The above have three things in common; those subject to such torture, abuse and death, were all South Asian, Middle Eastern, or North African. The abusers were Western-born and almost exclusively white. The victims of these atrocities were almost all Muslim.
What we must clarify first of all, is that the attack in Woolwich yesterday was not a terrorist attack. It was not an attack on a civilian, but on a soldier, using military style tactics that are seen all over the world as a response to imperialist occupations. The only difference this had to the atrocities that happen daily in Afghanistan, is that this occurred on home soil. We are not “under attack” as stated by the EDL nor was this “an attack on everyone in the United Kingdom” as the Home Secretary Theresa May claimed. While the attack yesterday is being peddled as an external attack carried out on “our nation” by forces outside our control, it actually arose out of circumstances the West has itself created.
While nothing can justify this attack, we cannot ignore the backdrop of war, imperialism, exploitation and racism against which it took place. Millions of people in Africa, the Middle East and Asia have died as a result of imperialism; invasions, exploitation of resources and oppression predominantly from the West. Justification for this over recent years has focused on the “war on terror” prompted by the attack on the Twin Towers in the USA. Essentially, attacking any country, both politically and militarily, believed to be harbouring or supporting Islamic “terrorists” is legitimised by excusing it as necessary for the success of the “war on terror”.
What’s more, the “war on terror” was not the result of an explicit fear of terrorism, nor a genuine response to 9/11, but a method of pursuing a wider economic aim, legitimised by the US and other western powers by manipulating deep –rooted Islamophobia within western society. Islamophobia – the fear, dislike and hatred directed towards followers of Islam – is not, however, inevitable in modern society. It exists purely as an ideological state apparatus; as a narrative to justify the imperialistic agendas of the western world, namely the US, thereby increasing and maintaining its position as a supreme power across the globe.
This is exemplified clearly by looking at the war in Iraq. To win a war, the “enemy” – the victims of the war – must be demonised and dehumanised, particularly within the opposing society in order to justify the atrocities that occur as a result. In this case, the Iraqi people, and subsequently their religion, were subject to such propaganda; portrayed as dangerous and regressive, fuelling the image of the extremist, backward Muslim as posing a serious threat to liberal western society. Thus, Islamophobia has been ingrained and used within western democracies as a form of imperialist propaganda to serve the needs and desires of contemporary western capitalism.
The latter cannot happen without the consent of the people within the ruling states, thus anti-Islamic rhetoric is peddled to the masses. Justification needs to be given particularly to the working-class; these are the people the army recruits, who fight on the frontline and who return home in coffins. Islamophobia taps into the consciousness of the working class more so than those in higher social classes, as they must also create their own narrative as to why they live a life of poverty and few opportunities, and thus need something “concrete” to blame.
Every country attacked, invaded or occupied by western forces in recent years has been predominantly Muslim, and has always included the rhetoric about dangerous Islamic extremists as justification. Yet it is the Muslims in each country who suffer – as a result of the British airstrike in Libya in 2011, over 30,000 Libyans died. The continued support for Israel by the UK contributes to the oppression of Muslims in Palestine, while numerous drone attacks have been carried out in Yemen, Pakistan and Somalia as part of the “war on terror”. In no way do these attacks help the people they’re alleged to, but rather destroy homes and lives, while the political and military powers of the west attempt to achieve a regime change to benefit themselves economically. As a society, we are not benefiting from any of this, indeed, we’re adversely affected, not to the extent of the real victims on the ground, but as a society we degenerate, reverting back to hatred and fear of people even slightly different, be it in terms of religion or race.
This discourse has fed through mainstream media and political discourse to the extent that anti-Islamic rhetoric is accepted, often unquestionably. While the UK is both praised and criticised for being multicultural, the sentiment expressed yesterday exemplifies what has been the case for a long time; racism and xenophobia still prevails across modern Britain, and the barriers faced by ethnic and religious minorities are far from eroded. The language used to describe the attackers in Woolwich demonstrates how Muslims are seen as ‘outsiders’, as not being fully integrated into society. This is a problem perpetuated by the state.
What we saw yesterday was not an attack on “us” as a nation, carried out by extremists over whom we have no control. It was a show of frustration by two men marginalised and excluded from the society of which they are a part, of which we’re all a part of, by Islamophobic values peddled by the state to complement their own agenda. Here we saw a man talk to a camera in a broad London accent, wearing western clothes, describing how what he and his accomplice had just done was witnessed in “their” countries every day. Both men were British-born, had spent their entire lives in the UK, and yet didn’t feel like full, valued members of society. Why? Because they, like millions of others, are oppressed by the system, by Islamophobic rhetoric and a deeply ingrained idea amongst our society that if you’re not White-British, you don’t fully belong.
So what do we do to stop incidents like this reoccurring? The most obvious conclusion is to bring UK military forces home. To withdraw from Afghanistan, to cease bombing and military intervention in Somalia, Yemen, Pakistan and any other country viewed by the state to be a “terrorist threat”. We need to end the “war on terror”, and accept that for all the Islamophobic hate advocated by successive states across the west, not one part was true. We need to accept that a racist rhetoric still exists, one that is peddled by the mainstream media and by politicians, one which is bigoted and xenophobic, breeding resentment and preventing tolerance and integration. This is both a state and societal problem. The problem is not religion, not immigration, not race, but the narrative invented by the state that these things are a problem. In this day and age a black man is nine times more likely to be stopped and searched, we have a Terrorism Act which targets exclusively Muslims, and we have desperate, alienated and frustrated young men, driven to acts such as that which we saw yesterday, who don’t want violence, but justice.