There are significant similarities and differences between the attackers of civilian targets on 9/11 in New York and 7/7 in London. These help explain the nature of the problem of “civilisational terrorism” and its possible outcome.
Both were acts of war by so-called “Islamist” extremists described as “Al-Qaeda”. But in war, as we know, civilian targets have always been legitimate objectives of state terror. Hitler bombed London, Churchill bombed Dresden, the US bombed Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Al Qaeda bombed New York, Bush bombed Afghanistan, Blair helped bomb Iraq, and Al Qaeda has bombed Madrid and London. More civilians have died in wars than soldiers.
Both were an avowed terror-begets-terror blowback of American/British imperialistic policies of the last two decades, most notably in Muslim-targeted areas of Bosnia, Palestine, Afghanistan and Iraq. Apparently, suicide bombing makes sense to the defenseless when their targets are ‘’hard” and the enemy is wealthy, well armed and highly intelligent. Thus suicide bombing is more a strategy against “occupation and violation” than a measure of “Islamic fundamentalism”. Suicide bombings were common in the Lebanese civil war in the early 1980s. But over 70% of the suicide bombers were Christians from predominantly secular groups. Until 2003, there were over 300 such incidents involving more than 450 suicidal attackers, mostly in Sri Lanka, Israel, Chechnya, Iraq and New York, of which less than 50% came from religiously affiliated groups. Thus suicide terrorism was a rational war strategy against occupying forces: the United States left Lebanon; Israel withdrew from Lebanon and now (much of) the West Bank; Sri Lanka gave the Tamils a semi-autonomous state, and Spain recently withdrew its forces from Iraq. In recent times suicide bombing has been especially favoured as a weapon of war because the occupying force and the ‘’occupied” insurgents come from different religious backgrounds. The Tamil ethnic minority in Sri Lanka is mostly Hindu and Christian; the Sinhalese majority are Buddhists, the Bush/Blair/Sharon occupying forces are Christian or Jewish while the suicide bombers are Muslim. In fact, the suicide impulse in the Middle East can be traced back to the Iran-Iraq war in the 1980s, when thousands of Iranian soldiers marched to certain death against Iraqi tank formations bent on invading and occupying their land. That strain of self-sacrifice then spread into Lebanon, Palestine and Iraq.
Both the 9/11 and 7/7 attacks were carried out by young men who were generally more educated and better off than their countrymen. They were in the mould of Omar Sheikh and not, as Bush and Blair would have us believe, the dregs of the earth jealous of the good fortune of the west.
The differences are equally instructive. The 9/11 bombers were non-Americans of Arab origin. The 7/7 bombers were British citizens of Pakistani origin. The 9/11 bombers were all imported into America for the mission. The 7/7 bombers were second generation homespun British Muslims. This would suggest that as long as Bush and Blair remain in occupation of Muslim lands, future Muslim bombers need not be Islamic fundamentalists in the religious sense and need not belong to any given country of origin. Religion will henceforth only be a political marker of separateness and identity in a pan-nationalistic environment of protest and resistance rather than in the fundamentalist sense of religiosity.
Some interesting facts about the composition of the Pakistani immigrant population of Britain might prove useful in understanding what happened on 7/7 and what to expect in the future. One recent study shows that a majority of the Pakistani-origin immigrants in the UK are Kashmiri who are concentrated in four regions: Birmingham, Bradford, Manchester and Glasgow. But because of their high birthrate, nearly 47 percent are under 16, as compared to 17 percent for their compatriot whites. Their unemployment rate is five times the British average; and the crime rate is higher among them than in any other community. Nearly 2 percent of the prisoners rotting in British jails are Pakistani, the highest for any one community. No wonder the suicide bombers came from among them rather than from among the Muslims of East African or Indian origin.
The tragedy is that many of these UK Muslims have stubbornly resisted integration with British society. The pan-Islamic nationalist feeling of persecution in the Middle East, Kashmir and Chechnya has forced them to recede into defensive isolation. Worse, successive British governments have ignored the takeover of British Muslim mosques by extremist imams and khateebs from Pakistan belonging to the Deobandi fiqh that supplied the Taliban in Afghanistan. In exchange, Britain has exported the Hizbul Tahrir to Pakistan. This is an organisation that facilitates a zone of contact between alienated British Pakistanis and salafi Arab ideologues bent upon overthrowing national democracy and replacing it with pan-Islamic khilafat .
Thomas Friedman is only partly right when he says that this is a Muslim problem and moderate Muslims had better resolve it themselves. This is the “good Muslim-if you’re-with-us and bad Muslim if-you’re-against-us” analysis that ignores the critical role of imperialistic occupation. Similarly, Robert Fisk is only partly right when he says that it is blowback time from Afghanistan and Iraq and Palestine. The truth is more complex and the blameworthy are many, not a few. The governments of Pakistan, UK and USA should take note.