The whole point of blogs is that they provide instant analysis.
This may be partly or completely wrong, but at least its a start.
Anyhow, here are my thoughts on the arrests made tonight. It is conjecture, so until things are clearer, and/or somebody who knows their stuff better than I do posts, I’m only thinking aloud.
1. These guys are more like a group of David Copelands than anything else. Baader Meinhoff might be a good parallel. It goes without saying that terrorists who are reported missing by their mums are amateurish. However, how did they get their explosives? It is very likely that there will have had access to some degree of expertise and assistance from people who had some idea what they were doing.
If they were significantly helped, or directed, from outside Britain, we need a global rather than simply a local solution to that problem. It is a mirage to think that the solution is to completely isolate ourselves from global salafi jihadism. We cannot close our borders. There are sufficient injustices against muslims over which the United Kingdom has little control – such as Chechenya – to act as a recruiting sergeant. And even “soft” attempts to promote democracy in the muslim world will be incorporated into the grand narrative of the war against Islam. We will remain a target. Indeed, merely by acting against salafi jihadist groups – whose ideologues we have sometimes given sanctuary in the United Kingdom – and their disciples, we are seen to have broken the covenant of peace which has protected us in the past. We know this because this is what they say.
2. I’d be interested in hearing about their personal history, and where they’ve been, and what they’ve been up to. What groups, if any, have they been active in? What are their politics?One was nineteen, but what about the rest of them? Did any have jihad training outside the United Kingdom, or were they really just complete amateurs who one day got the call, and a package containing high explosives?
Whatever we find out, my guess is that all of them will have been educated in the great narrative of the “War Against Muslims” which will have focuses on injustices against both muslims and the institution of Islam, in Kashmir, Palestine, Bosnia, Chechenya, Afghanistan and Iraq, which – in common with many mainstream Sunni Islamists – they will have believed was zionist-christian-Shi’ite plot against true Islam.
You should put some time aside to read a variety of Islamist and salafi jihadist websites to learn more about how that theory works.
It is possible, I think, that these men will have left a shahid’s statement or even video. It will, in part, be for popular consumption, and so it could contain a degree of grandstanding and propaganda. However it will be very interesting indeed to see what hints it gives about the part of the Islamist political spectrum that these men thought they occupied.
3. Their salafi-jihadist politics in my view explains why they targeted muslim areas. Salafi jihadists think pretty much all muslims – apart from them – are heretics. I could be wrong. If they intended to make that symbolic statement, as I think the did, they may have left a shahid’s statement making their position clear.
4. If that is correct, they will also really really have hated other muslim and islamist organisations. They may have shared a perspective with the guys who tried to lynch Galloway, and the guys who tried to disrupt the MCB pre-election meeting back in April, and will loathe the SWP/Muslim Brotherhood. That is why I think Aldgate was chosen. Ditto Edgware Road. Both have a palpable symbolic dimension. But I could be wrong.
Kings Cross also has a large muslim population, but I’d guess that it was principally chosen as an interchange.
5. Galloway and the MAB rightly identify them as their enemy too.
This does not make the MAB moderate or mainstream. The MAB/Muslim Brotherhood is interested in democratic politics only instrumentally. They are theocrats and totalitarians, but gradualist ones. Their appeal is significantly to students and the like. They’re a bit like the SWP in that way. They are trying to make inroads into the Muslim Council of Britain’s territory, which is more of a south asian organisation than the Muslim Brotherhood, which is arab led.
They shouldn’t be helped in this task, either by the SWP, or by the police!
The Muslim Council of Britain are essentially religious communalists, some of whom will share some aspects of the Islamist analysis, which is why they are prone to saying daft things. However, they are relatively theologically and politically moderate, and are more interested in things like preventing religious slaughter from being banned, and so on. Their politics is less organised, and reflects a diversity within traditionalist islam. It is seen as weak and wishy washy by people who are really interested in Islamist politics.
Groups like the late lamented Al Muhajaroun are probably no more than loudmouths, who sympathise with salafi jihadism. There are obviously a fair number of people who buy into their analysis. But they are not the majority. They are regarded with horror and a degree of fear by everybody else in muslim Britain.
My guess is that the more visible extreme salafists mirror and possibly inspire, rather than directly link to, active salafi jihadist groups like the London terrorists, who may well be operationally localised and significantly self-directed.
There might be some cross over between open groups like Al Muhaj, and the terrorists in terms of memberships, but I would still be quite surprised if OBM turned out to be a terrorist mastermind.
However, we need to know a lot more about how they work, and the histories of people who are active in these groups.
This are the things which worry me most at the moment:
1. It is worrying that there are an indeterminate number of people who have adopted a salafi jihadist ideology “at large”. We may not know who all of them are and what they are up to. These guys, and others like them, obviously weren’t on the security service’s radar. Others might try similar terrorist attacks again. There is still a real concern that others, who have more professional terrorist skills, will commit a larger scale and more deadly terrorist attack.
2. It will also be vital to understand what links they had, if any, with groups outside or inside the UK.
3. It is worrying that there so little popular understanding of how Islamist and muslim politics in the UK works.
This – apart from its bigotry – is my main objection to the broad brush anti-Islam statements we get here. It doesn’t help us combat it at all.
4. I also suspect that most muslims in Britain – like most people – similarly have no idea about the geography of muslim politics in the UK. After all, how many ordinary people know that much about mainstream non-muslim politics, let alone fringe non-muslim politics in the United Kingdom?
Whatever we learn about these terrorists over the next few weeks, there is going to be sharp learning curve among most muslims of the extreme nature of and dangers presented salafi jihadist politics.
The guys who run mosques have had run ins with extreme salafists, and they are not their allies. They terrify them. They will terrify them more now.
I think that, if anything, it will strengthen the Muslim Council of Britain’s hand.
Now the moment that the Muslim Council of Britain will be potentially at its strongest. It is in a position to really bring itself right to the heart of political and religious culture in the United Kingdom. It is also, I believe, a key player of the community cohesion policy of the Labour government.
Whatever the views of muslims on Iraq or Israel/Palestine, these bombings palpably disgust all muslims apart from those who are already involved in extreme salafist politics.
The award of a knighthood to Sacranie will no doubt be seen by some as evidence of a sell out, but will in fact rightly be a matter of pride for most muslims.
The Muslim Council of Britain is also predominantly a south asian organisation: the Muslim Brotherhood is still a sideshow because it is an arab organisation, and there is by no means unity between arab and south asian muslims.
As for the rest of us: we’ve got a sharp learning curve as well.