New Statesman Monday, July 25, 2005
Terror and the UK - Blair was told about Muslim rage not just by his critics, but by some of his closest advisers, writes Michael Smith
Tony Blair has been at his most contemptuous when dismissing the idea that the bombers might have been angry about Iraq, Abu Ghraib or Guantanamo. "Their cause is not founded on an injustice," he declared. "It is founded on a belief, one whose fanaticism is such that it can't be moderated. It can't be remedied. It has to be stood up to."
The trouble is that in the minds of those four young men their cause almost certainly was founded on injustice. Nor can this be any surprise to the government, for it was warned many times, officially and unofficially, on the record and off. Even at the heart of the security establishment people are well aware of this.
Every opinion poll carried out among British Muslims since the war on Iraq has shown that very many see it as part of an American attack on Muslims, and that young Muslim men in particular are angry. Intelligence officials, too, are convinced that many young British Muslims have been radicalised by Britain's role in the war on terror and the war in Iraq. The London bombings could "only be as a direct consequence", one security source said. "It justifies attacks and it radicalises a load of hotheads who can claim us as a legitimate target."
The hearings of the Commons Home Affairs Committee on terrorism and community relations earlier this year left no doubt that the anger was rising. The committee chairman, John Denham, had to stop one witness expanding on the view that the allied attacks on Iraq were themselves acts of terrorism, while a survey commissioned by the committee in Greater Manchester found that many Muslims saw the situation as "them and us" with some accusing the government of taking advantage of 9/11 "to take out laws against Muslims" and "frame" Iraq. These beliefs were reflected in recent days among friends of Shehzad Tanweer, one of the bombers. "He was sick of it all, all the injustice and the way the world is going about it," one friend told a reporter, adding: "Why don't they ever take a moment of silence for all the Iraqi kids who die?"
And Blair received warnings from closer to home: Robin Cook notes in his diaries that at a cabinet meeting on 11 April 2002 Patricia Hewitt, then Trade and Industry Secretary, said that a unilateral invasion of Iraq would cause "a lot of tension among the Muslim communities in Britain". (The trouble was that, although Blair didn't say so at the time, it was too late. We now know from the Downing Street memos that he had promised Bush three days earlier that the UK would "support military action to bring about regime change".)
Downing Street's argument that terrorist atrocities were happening before Iraq misses the point. "It's true that bin Laden and al-Qaeda and their terrorist activities long predate the Iraq War and 9/11," another security official said. "But the way in which the war in Iraq was handled by the British and US governments has radicalised and provoked many, including Muslims, domestically and internationally, and has facilitated Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda's aims by generating potential recruits and support."
That al-Qaeda terrorists were a threat to Britain before we went to war no-one disputes. Nor do they dispute that we should be doing all in our power to counter that threat.
The problem is, as Chatham House has pointed out, the invasion of Iraq did the reverse, boosting al-Qaeda recruitment and also taking attention away from Afghanistan, almost certainly preventing the allies from bringing Osama bin Laden to justice.
Admiral Sir Michael Boyce, Britain's Chief of Defence Staff, was the first of the prime minister's senior advisers to warn publicly against getting involved in George W Bush's rush to war in Iraq. In a speech in December 2001 he likened the war on terror to a "high-tech 21st century posse in the new Wild West" and declared that the president's "single-minded determination" to extend it to Iraq risked throwing away the achievements made in Afghanistan.
It was Blair's decision, against the advice of many of his most senior officials, to join what one described as Bush's "grudge match" against Saddam Hussein that did the greatest damage. Every US attack that misses its target and kills innocent civilians and every new allegation of abuse in Abu Ghraib or Guantanamo persuades yet more Muslims that it is a war not on terror but on them, and that Britain is a part of it.