War etc

A letter to a friend

I have just received an email from a friend and former flatmate, who I have not seen for about five years. That email is reproduced at the end of this post.

I thought I might publish my response on this blog.

You may, yourself, receive emails from friends in the coming days along these lines. Feel free to direct them to my letter.

London 7 July 2005

Dear DoS


First of all, you should congratulate yourself for having produced exactly the same analysis as the opportunist and disgusting Socialist Workers’ Party. You, and they, are wrong. The responsibility for the murders of my fellow Londoners is the murderers, and those who supplied, assisted and supported them: not the Government.

Secondly, I would be interested to know how deep your knowledge or understanding is of Islamism: i.e. political islam. We haven’t spoken about politics for some time, so I don’t know if you have read any articles or books about the history, philosophy and politics of Islamism at all. If you have, I apologise for what follows.

Perhaps you think that Islamism is the same thing as Islam. Perhaps you think that it is some form of national liberation struggle, or a reaction against imperialism or Bush’s failure to sign up to Kyoto.

It is not.

Radical Islamism – in its most important strain – is a political doctrine which was developed principally by two arab thinkers in the first part of the 20th century – Qutb and Banna – who were deeply immersed, not in the culture of the middle east, but in the theoretical perspective of the European romantic movement. It is not an alien, exotic or even really an “oriental” doctrine. It is directly inspired by the same intellectual currents which gave rise to romantic nationalism in the 19th century, and fascism in the mid 20th century.

You might think that its main aim is to oppose military action in the middle east.

It is not.

Its main aim, explicitly, is to restore the Caliphate, abolished by Ataturk when modern Turkey was established. It is not an anti-imperialist movement. It is an imperialist movement, yearning for an imagined golden age which it hopes to recreate.

Qutb saw the primary enemy, not as the foreign policy of Western states, but as Modernity: and in particular materialism, liberalism, and democracy. This is the primary reason that London has been bombed: not because it has “attacked muslims” but because they fear that materialism, liberalism and democracy are damaging to the values which Islamists hope to promore: piety and submission to the will of god.

The radical Islamists are not fighting a realisable campaign, in the same sense that the Irish nationalists were. They do not want a Caliphate in the sense that the IRA wanted a united and independent Ireland. They are fighting a battle against the corrupting forces of modernity for the souls of all muslims. Their principal enemies are principally “apostate” muslims, not you or I.

Why do you think a bomb went off in Edgware Road?

Do you think that it was an accident that the home to London’s liberal, westernised Arab muslims was targeted?

Or, indeed Aldgate East, home to the British Bangladeshi community.

Many western “liberals” have simply projected their own concerns about US policy onto the radical Islamists. That is not fair to them: they do NOT share your concerns, but have ones of their own which you would do well to respect. They are not fools or mindless religious fanatics: they are philosophers. You should listen, in particular, to what radical Islamists say, and not what you think they ought to be saying.

Islamist movements have been strong, and growing stronger, in the middle east since the 1950s. Banna established the Muslim Brotherhood which was brutally oppressed by Nasser. The survivors fled to Saudi, where in 1961, they established the Islamic University, in Medina. There they developed the Islamist analysis. That generation taught young, unemployed, hopeless Saudi men who went off to fight in Afghanistan, Bosnia and Chechenia. Those men returned and turned their sites from the “near enemy” – the Saudi royal family who were tainted by unislamic values – to the “far enemy”: the west, capitalism, and in particular the United States. They recruited political soldiers in the gulf states and operated franchise operations which extended to Algeria and Spain.

The crunch has been a long time coming.

Is the West to blame? Yes, but not in the way you might think.

– We are to blame because we allowed societies to develop in which there was no democracy, where democracy was brutally suppressed, and the only opposition to failed arab nationalism was organised round, and hidden in mosques and universities. We did it because we needed oil, and were in a fight for it, and for “influence” with the USSR, but we still did it. Islamism developed by default. In a straight fight against democracy and pluralism, it would have lost. It knows this.
This is why Islamists fear the emergence of arab democracy above all else.

– We are to blame because economies have developed in the middle east which are either entirely oil dependent, and hopelessly corrupt, or excluded from world trade by EU and US tariffs, and in which there is no work for much of the (male) population, some of whom have been recruited to the cause. The people who have been recruited are not misfits. They’re educated young men, with nothing to do, but dream of the Caliphate.

The failure of democracy in the middle east is our responsibility

We are suffering today our failure to have addressed it earlier.

If you think that we will defeat radical Islamism only by engaging with the Middle East, supporting democracies against tyrannies, and so on, you are right. If you think that – in the short term – that will make us less of a target rather than more of one, you are very wrong.

I am pretty shocked that you thought fit to send this email out today. I am not sure why you did. I am assuming that you feel angry. If you want to feel angry with Blair: fine. However, you owe it to yourself to consider the nature of Islamist ideology, its demands, and its goals. I would strongly recommend, that as a start, you read Paul Berman’s Terror and Liberalism.

I would also recommend to you Observer and New Statesman journalist Nick Cohen’s recent article on Terror and Liberalism which is published here.

If you have considered this perspective and regard it as irrelevant, then fair enough.

However, if you think that Islamism can simply be ignored, or somehow appeased, then I am afraid that you are very mistaken indeed.

If you think that it can be dodged for the time being, you are right: but only at the cost of deserting not just the liberals, feminists, socialists and democrats of the arab world, but all its people.

A bomb went off yards from where I work. We’re fine and we’re not giving in.

Subject: Bombings

Dear All

Glad to hear that DT was not caught up in the Bombings. I hope that none of
you knew anyone who was caught up in it.

If this is Islamic terrorism, Blair has a lot to answer for. Until he
attacked Afghanistan and Iraq, the UK was not remotely a target for Al
Quaida or any other Islamic terrorist group. Whilst it is no moral
justification for such terrorism, Blair’s policy has directly caused this.
Perhaps this will finish him, unless the media and political parties unite
behind him in some unquestioning way. Hopefully, the pertinent questions
will be asked after the initial period of mourning.

It was entirely predictable that this would happen once the UK invaded Iraq.
I have just been surprised it didn’t happen 2 years ago.

I was also amazed that London was chosen for the Olympics given that the UK
is now the second most important target for Al Quaida. If these bombings
had happended 48 hours earlier, I cant believe that London would have been
chosen. I’d say that the IOC are deeply regretting their choice.