Notes From the Margins…

Murder in Woolwich

  • May 23, 2013
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I didn’t look at the news until quite late last night, so I wasn’t aware of the disgusting horror-spectacle in Woolwich until shortly before going to bed.     I went to sleep, as many people probably did,   with the image of a ‘holy warrior’ with bloody hands holding a meat cleaver firmly imprinted on my mind – as he and his ‘associate’ clearly intended it to be.

I also heard David Cameron deliver the usual ‘we will never buckle to terrorism’ mantra.   I heard that the Home Secretary had convened a meeting of COBRA, that ‘Tommy Robinson’ of the EDL had called for ‘boots on the ground’ in Woolwich.       I left it there, because I don’t usually spend much time watching rolling news coverage of terror events.

I don’t like to give their perpetrators the satisfaction of including me in their captive audience and I certainly didn’t want to hear what the politicians have to say about them, because politicians rarely say anything honest or intelligent when it comes to terrorism.     They merely repeat the same clichés that politicians have been saying for decades…an attack on all of us…a free society…we will never give in…a reminder of the dangers we face, etc., etc.,

Today I was woken up at 7 by Radio Derby.  They wanted to know what I thought of it and asking me for an interview at 8. 08.   The interview was short, so short that there wasn’t much time for me to say very much.     I talked about the strategic purpose behind such events;   how their perpetrators attack ‘soft targets’ in order to attack governments; the use of the media to broadcast the ‘message’ contained in such attacks; the fact that the killers invited people to photograph and video them so that they could explain that it was all about Afghanistan and presumably to record their last glorious moments before police bullets transformed them into ‘martyrs.’

The interviewer suggested that it was a bit ‘simplistic’ to suggest that British foreign policy was part of their motivation.     I said that it wasn’t a question of simplicity or complexity, it was a plain fact: these guys state quite clearly on their improvised video interview that they killed a man they thought was a soldier because the British army has killed Muslims in Afghanistan.

That was all I got.     So I’m going to add a few more observations here, which may seem obvious to some readers, but which I didn’t get the chance to put forward this morning.

Firstly, the fact that some dim-witted loser has convinced himself that he is ‘defending Muslims’ by carving up a stranger in the street does not mean that such actions are legitimate or justifiable.     But these terror-atrocities are nevertheless part of a continuum of violence that includes the terror-wars of the last decade, Iraq, Afghanistan, drone killings in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia, and Israel’s wars in Gaza.

To ignore this is just plain dumb – however convenient it may be in certain circles.   I detest the primitive and anti-human ‘ you kill us so we can kill you’ logic of Binladenism and the reactionary politics of the organizations/networks that endorse such actions.   I’m repelled by their relentless cruelty, their glorification of violence, war and killing, their narcissism and elitism, their chauvinistic pseudo-religious agenda that only cares about Muslims being killed when Western governments are killing them.

I don’t believe such groups care about Muslims or anyone else, anymore than I believe that Mohammed Merah wanted to help the Palestinians by shooting a Jewish schoolgirl in the head in Toulouse.     The idea that just because one country fired a drone that killed Muslims in the Swat valley say, or because Israel kills Palestinians in Gaza, you then have the ‘right’ to kill who you like in return is a kind of moral idiocy.

When some hate-filled moron stands in a Woolwich street and declares that he ‘wants to start a war in London’ you know that he isn’t remotely bothered about the consequences of his actions for Muslims in this country.

Ditto when two brothers murder and mutilate marathon runners and spectators in Boston.   People who do such things play into the hands of those who hate Muslims and hate Islam.   They have nothing to offer the world but cruelty, death and horror – the only things that al-Qaeda and its offshoots have ever been any good at.

That said, they would not be doing what they are doing, were it not for the fact that Western governments have been waging wars and occupying Muslim countries for more than a decade now.     When bin Laden once said there was a reason why he attacked the US and not Sweden, he was making a point that is rarely taken on board in the ‘ they hate us for our freedoms’ narrative.

Muslims have been killed in large numbers in these wars, not only by Western armies to be sure, but nevertheless they have died, and the governments responsible rarely acknowledge any responsibility for such deaths, or write them off as the ‘collateral damage’ of wars fought for freedom or in order to ‘keep us safe.’

Of course, contrary to what bin Laden and Co. say,   they are not being killed by ‘crusaders’ because they are Muslims, it just so happens that the resources our governments want to dominate and control are located in Muslim countries.

So bin Ladenism is a perversion of anti-imperialist politics, which fuses religion and politics into a mobilising narrative of holy war that in the end leads nowhere but endless war.     It’s also a narrative that plays into the hands of governments that want to fight these wars, by terrifying the public with the prospect of a threat to ‘national security’ that always justifies some kind of military response.

At the same time, the ‘jihadists’ who threaten ‘our way of life’ have also been on/off de facto allies of Western governments ever since the anti-Soviet jihad in Afghanistan.

Do we want to acknowledge all these contradictions, and think about what they mean?   Do we hell.   But we need to, if we are ever going to find a way to turn off the scratched record of terrorism/counterterrorism/militarism/national security, and move beyond the dismal cycles of fear, hatred and revenge that have poisoned our world for too long now.



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  1. Nik H.

    23rd May 2013 - 3:15 pm

    Couldn’t agree more with your thoughts.

    PS: In the 4th paragraph you missed a “wasn’t” I guess (“The interview was short, so short that there was much time for me to say very much”).

    • Matt

      23rd May 2013 - 3:23 pm

      Changed! Thanks!

  2. Andreu

    24th May 2013 - 8:38 pm

    well said Matt, we are driven into an infernal circle like a fair wheel, the faster it spins the more difficult to stop it, the question is who benefits from it? I think we all know the answer..
    (sorry for my English)

    • Matt

      24th May 2013 - 11:04 pm

      Your English is just fine Andreu! Infernal circle just about sums it up.

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About Me

I’m a writer, campaigner and journalist.  My latest book is The Savage Frontier: The Pyrenees in History and the Imagination (New Press/Hurst, 2018).  The Infernal Machine is where I write on politics, history, cinema and other things that interest me.

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