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London plots its own doom

London plots its own doom

Author: Sandhya Jain
Publication: The Pioneer
Date: July 12, 2005

As in the United States after 9/11, so also in Britain after 7/7, the Sikh community bore the brunt of the first backlash against the London blasts with a gurdwara in Kent being set on fire. Prime Minister Tony Blair called a high level meeting to discuss "community tensions" as 70 incidents against minorities were reported across the country in as many hours. Only a very arrogant people could fail to distinguish turbans from skullcaps. Yet in both countries, the perpetrators of violence were indifferent to the distinction in their determination to teach the "Other" a lesson.

This brings me to the grammar of political discourse, in which Indian media is shamefully complicit. Ordinarily, tensions between communities leading to action against one group are communal tensions resulting in communal violence. Yet, while the "communal" tag is readily applied to incidents in India, especially those that can be attributed to the Hindu community (Godhra will never be called an instance of blatant communal assault), carefully sanitized terms such as "backlash" and "community tensions" are invoked to cover communal offensives by White people. Apparently it is the karma of Brown Folks to bear the burden of the White Man.

Another media duplicity is the comparison between political responses in Britain and India to the attacks in London and Ayodhya. In Britain, the Labour and Conservative parties and mainstream print and electronic media share an unstated consensus on issues affecting the nation. Hence there will always be a unity of political response in times of crisis because both sides know this is imperative to tackle the enemy. In India, in contrast, several political parties as well as the mainstream print and electronic media subscribe to a non-national agenda and work proactively to undermine the emergence of a coherent and self-confident nationalism.

This can be readily seen in the near-hysterical insistence that the attack on the Ram Janmabhoomi should not be communalized (whatever that means); its jihadi (denominational) face should not be mentioned; and there should be no debate on the possible consequences to the nation if the assailants had succeeded in their ignoble intentions (destroyed the temple). It goes without saying that if one political party had not displayed a measure of partisanship on the issue, and if the London blasts had not followed soon thereafter, the issue would have been dismissed as a non-event.

To return to the London blasts, at the risk of sounding unpleasant, it needs to be said that few nations have so assiduously cultivated the terrorist menace that finally visited Britain last Thursday. I am not referring to British support for American action in Afghanistan or Iraq, but to the more cussed English propensity to nurture the "wanted" men of even friendly countries. Even after 9/11, members of the current Labour dispensation remained unperturbed at the presence of highly dangerous men with subversive agendas on their soil. Their smug certainty that these unshackled human bombs would never implode on home ground has resulted in the present denouement.

Foremost among the Islamic militants London has been pleased to host over the past decade is Syria-born Sheikh Omar Bakri Mohammed, 47, who openly coaxed Muslim youths to join the Iraqi resistance. Media reports suggest Omar addressed a gathering in central London last December and warned that if Western governments did not mend their ways, Muslims would give them "a 9/11, day after day after day." Yet London remained congenial towards those wishing to raise funds and recruits for 'holy' causes. A particularly notorious venue was the Finsbury Park mosque in north London where Abu Hamza al-Masri, wanted in Egypt for plotting terror strikes, propagated jihad with élan. Devotees at this mosque gave generous support to "shoe bomber" Richard Reid and Al Qaeda member Feroz Abassi, who plotted to blow up the US Embassy in France.

With such strong domestic roots, it is hardly surprising that officials feel that Thursday's culprits are probably British-born jihadis, inspired to action by these venom-spewing mosques. The theory is spreading jitters across Europe because it suggests that a home-grown generation of Islamic militants, all citizens of the respective nations being targetted, has been created by 'soft' policies across the continent. In Britain alone, counter-terrorism officials feel there may be up to 15,000 supporters of Al Qaeda. Nearly 600 British Muslim youths have reportedly been trained Al Qaeda camps in Afghanistan and other places.

Yet even as MI-5 diligently documented these facts, British courtesy towards the rouge elements of other nations remained undiminished. Morocco sought extradition of its citizen, Mohammed el-Guerbozi, a veteran of Afghanistan who reportedly planned the May 2003 Casablanca blasts that killed 45 people. Guerbozi is said to be a founder of the Moroccan Combatant Islamic Group, named by the United Nations as a terrorist group linked to Al Qaeda. A member of the group confessed it had prepared sleeper cells to mount synchronized bombings in Britain, France, Italy, Belgium and Canada. Last December, Morocco convicted Guerbozi in absentia for involvement in the Casablanca attacks and sentenced him to 20 years imprisonment. But Britain refused the extradition request and he lives unmolested in north London.

Spain wanted Abu Qatada, a radical Palestinian cleric with Jordanian nationality, who secured political refugee status in Britain in the early 1990's. He is regarded as the spiritual leader of Al Qaeda in Europe and is also wanted in Jordan, where he was given a 15-year prison sentence in absentia for involvement in bomb attacks in 1998. Both France and Algeria are seeking Algerian national Rachid Ramda, 35, for alleged involvement in the 1995 Paris metro bombing executed by Algeria's militant Armed Islamic Group.

The alleged brain behind the Madrid bombings, Mustafa Setmarian Nasar, operated out of London with impunity from 1995 to 1998, and has now gone underground. He edited a militant Islamist magazine, Al Ansar. In November 1997, when 62 tourists were massacred at Egypt's famous Luxor tourist site, President Hosni Mubarak told the British Government that seven of the 14 Gama'at al-Islamiya men believed to have planned the crime were ensconced in London. Predictably, Britain refused to hand them over.

Given this tremendous affinity for the dregs of every society, Britain has no one to blame as the pigeons come home to roost. Prime Minister Tony Blair called the serial blasts an attack upon the civilized world. If so, the brain behind them should be identified and neutralized. During two World Wars, the civilized world confronted hegemonist and megalomaniacal powers. Today, with Al-Qaeda's network of terror embracing America, Britain, France, India, Egypt, Indonesia, Kenya, Morocco, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Spain, it is time to recognize that the opponent has a powerful motivating ideology and an international reach.

What is more, despite the propaganda, the opponent can be linked to certain geographical locations. Saudi Arabia is the fountainhead and financial patron of the rigid Wahabi Islam that is intimately linked with Al-Qaeda, and Pakistan provides it training and other support. In fact, ISI's close links with Al-Qaeda caused India to demand that Pakistan be dubbed a terrorist state. Sadly, even though Pakistan failed to dismantle its terrorist network, successive Indian governments succumbed to US State Department pressure to talk peace with that country. It is time New Delhi put a price tag on the peace process.

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