Four people have been killed and at least 20 injured in what the police are describing as a “terrorist incident” this afternoon in central London. Shortly after 2pm, a man drove a vehicle into pedestrians at Westminster Bridge before crashing it against the fences of Parliament and then entering the complex wielding a knife. He stabbed a police officer before being shot by other officers. Those killed are the attacker, one police officer and two pedestrians. The House of Commons was put on lockdown.
We condemn this brutal action which has caused chaos and panic amongst tourists and Londoners going about their daily business. At the moment of writing these lines, very little is known about the attacker and his motives. The police are calling this a “terrorist incident” but they have added that this is the case “until we know otherwise”. We should not forget that a violent attack in Russell Square in August 2016 was also initially described as a terrorist incident but later it was found out that the killer was suffering an acute episode of paranoid schizophrenia.
According to news reports, a European government official has said that “the attack was inspired by Islamic State propaganda”. If it is finally proven that this attack has been carried out by an Islamic fundamentalist terrorist, we can say that the roots of such terrorism can be traced to the policies of imperialism, mainly US, but also British, French and others, in the Middle East. This is the case both from the point of view of these countries participating in the military occupation of formally sovereign nations in defence of capitalist interests, but also because of the use imperialism has made of Islamic fundamentalism in order to advance its interests in the region.
This can be traced back to the 1950s and 60s when imperialism funded and promoted Islamic fundamentalism to counter the growing left-wing radicalisation in North Africa, the Middle East and Asia. The policy of supporting these reactionary obscurantist forces was continued and increased in the struggle of the US against the PDPA regime in Afghanistan after 1979. The forces which the US created at that time (with full support of the reactionary semi-feudal monarchy of Saudi Arabia) then went on to create the Taliban and eventually led to the formation of ISIS in Iraq.
As has happened in other European countries, notably in France, this terrorist attack will be used by the ruling class to justify a policy of curtailment of democratic rights and more powers to the police and the state in general. In the case of France we saw how the brutal Bataclan attack in November 2015 was used to introduce the state of emergency which is still in place and which gives the state wide ranging powers to ban public gatherings, demonstrations, etc., of any kind. These powers are used to scapegoat Muslim and immigrant communities and generally against the labour movement and the Left.
Some of these measures already exist in Britain, for instance in the form of the Prevent programme. Allegedly created to combat “radicalisation”, the programme gives the police ample powers to spy on children and its main impact has been that of alienating Muslim communities. Over 400 children under the age of 10 have been reported in the last four years!
These measures are in fact useless in order to combat the type of terror attacks we have seen in Europe recently. A lone individual can always get hold of a motor vehicle and run over pedestrians, or use a knife to stab a police officer. Today’s attack is a case in point. The Houses of Parliament in Westminster are already heavily protected with concrete and steel barriers outside most entrances. That did not prevent today’s attacker from entering the yard and stabbing an officer.
As Marxists we condemn the brutal terrorist actions of Islamic fundamentalist groups which are motivated by wholly reactionary aims. At the same time we understand that the actions of imperialism have created this monster, by action and by design. We reject any attempt of the ruling class to curtail democratic rights using such attacks as an excuse, as the repressive powers of the state will be used against the workers’ movement.
Before the invasion of Afghanistan and then Iraq, the phenomenon of Islamic fundamentalism was on a much lower level. Since the wars of Afghanistan and Iraq, followed by the bombing of Syria and Libya, the phenomenon has spiralled. They keep telling us that military intervention is required to curb the problem, but in reality they merely exacerbate it.
At present, ISIS is in retreat, but its military defeat will not put an end to terrorist attacks. Even if its bases in Syria and Iraq are completely wiped out, there is nothing stopping “lone wolves” or small organized groups from carrying out attacks such as the one we saw today. No amount of security can stop individuals from running vehicles into crowds or knifing people.
Capitalism has created this monster, which even now is useful in creating a sense of panic among the population which can be used to justify all kinds of reactionary measures. It is yet another expression of the crisis of the system as a whole, and can only be truly ended when the system that breeds such phenomena is removed.