In the aftermath of the London bombings - "Business as usual"

The recurring theme of today’s mass media coverage can be summed up in three words: “Business as usual.” After all, life goes on for most Londoners. This indomitable spirit of the ordinary people is something that Tony Blair and the Establishment are seeking to exploit. One thing is clear: if the imperialist bullying continues, the epidemic of terrorism will continue to spread uncontrollably, a terrible expression of the impasse of the capitalist system on a global scale.

According to today’s reports, at least fifty people lost their lives in yesterday’s attacks. The bombs in Madrid last year killed 191 people and those of September 11th killed 2,752. Contrary to popular belief, the tactics of the terrorists are haphazard and opportunistic. The big differences in casualty figures are explained by chance. The large numbers of casualties in New York were caused by the collapse of the structures of the Twin Towers. The number of victims in Madrid would have been far greater but for the fact that a bomb failed to explode.

The Economist today described the London bombings as “a pointless display of brutality”. It was indeed a display of brutality. But it was hardly pointless. The Economist tells us: “It should bring forth two thoughts. One is that the surprise should be that this has not occurred sooner. The other is that such attacks should not, and will not, make any difference to the way Londoners live and work.”

This is the recurring theme of today’s mass media coverage. It can be summed up in three words: “Business as usual.” This is, in fact, the reaction of many Londoners. Among Londoners, there was an almost fatalistic attitude to yesterday’s events. The inhabitants of the capital are very resilient people. They showed that in the Second World War when they resisted Hitler’s bombs with a grim and stoic determination. It is part of the character of the people: a kind of obstinate stubbornness and a refusal to be easily moved to panic.

On this morning’s radio most of the comments were in the line of: “Well, you have got to carry on, haven’t you?”,Can’t let them think they’ve beaten us.” Or just simply: “Sod them.” There is an admirable quality in this British solidness, this refusal to be pushed around or intimidated that is at its best in moments of crisis. The reaction of Londoners to get on with their normal lives is not just a way of coming to terms with a tremendous tragedy. It is also a kind of quiet defiance that expresses a rebellious spirit in an unusual form.

This indomitable spirit of the ordinary people is something that Tony Blair and the Establishment are seeking to exploit. In a televised statement from Downing Street last night, Mr Blair said: “It is through terrorism that the people that have committed these terrible acts express their values and it is right at this moment that we demonstrate ours. I think we all know what they are trying to do. They are trying to use the slaughter of innocent people to cow us, to frighten us out of doing the things that we want to do, trying to stop us from going about our business as normal, as we are entitled to do, and they should not, and they must not succeed. When they try to intimidate us, we will not be intimidated. When they seek to change our country or our way of life by these methods, we will not be changed.”

Immediately after the London bombings, George Bush proclaimed business as usual. The meeting of the leaders of the G8 countries in Gleneagles would continue, he said, adding that he was proud of the determination of the people to stand up to terrorism. Of what people was Mr. Bush so proud? Not of the people of London who were actually facing the bombs and carnage, but of a handful of politicians safely cocooned in a comfortable hotel in rural Scotland. They were determined to get on with their usual business of horse-trading, carving up the world’s natural resources and making it safe for the big US and European monopolies. “It’s a war on terror for us all.” He added: “We will not yield to these people – we will not yield to the terrorists”.

Tony Blair also insisted the G8 meeting would continue: “It is important [...] that those engaged in terrorism realise that our determination to defend our values and our way of life is greater than their determination to cause death and destruction to innocent people in a desire to impose extremism on the world. Whatever they do, it is our determination that they will never succeed in destroying what we hold dear in this country and in other civilised nations throughout the world.”

To this Robert Fisk, that honest and outspoken journalist, replied: “It’s no use Mr Blair telling us yesterday that ‘they will never succeed in destroying what we hold dear’. ‘They’ are not trying to destroy ‘what we hold dear’. They are trying to get public opinion to force Blair to withdraw from Iraq, from his alliance with the United States, and from his adherence to Bush’s policies in the Middle East. The Spanish paid the price for their support for Bush – and Spain’s subsequent retreat from Iraq proved that the Madrid bombings achieved their objectives – while the Australians were made to suffer in Bali...”

Business as usual at Gleneagles

Foreign Secretary Jack Straw has said the London terror attacks will not damage the chances of leaders reaching agreements at the G8 summit. After flying down to London for a few hours – time enough to weep a few tears before the television cameras – Tony Blair promptly got back into his plane and flew back to Gleneagles. Mr Straw said the attacks had created a united front at the summit. “We were moving towards agreement on all these key issues of Africa and climate change and many other issues as well,” he said in an interview with the BBC.

“What it has emphasised however is that the disagreements which sometimes take place around the room, of course they do, between leaders and countries are infinitesimal compared with what it is that unites all the world leaders who are here assembled in Gleneagles.” Is this newfound agreement in the interests of the peoples of the world? What has been achieved by this remarkable humanitarian deal? Let us see.

The G8 nations agreed to full debt cancellation for 18 countries. That is to say, they agree to pardon debts that they know will never be paid. This was not what African countries were calling for. They were asking for debt relief for all Africa. This was denied, so millions will continue to languish in poverty, while the Moneybags will continue to collect the loot: business as usual.

EU members have pledged to reach a collective aid target of 0.56% of GDP by 2010, and 0.7% by 2015. These figures are hardly enough to set the Zambezi aflame, but in any case there is no guarantee that they will ever be implemented. President Bush proposed doubling US aid to Africa over the next five years to $8.6bn (£4.8bn) but everybody knows that the richest nation on earth is also the stingiest with foreign aid, and that every cent of aid is linked to selfish interests, such as tying aid to American trade and investment.

Even if this aid is ever given (which is doubtful), it would be cancelled out by unfair trade, agricultural subsidies, quotas etc. The so-called G5 developing countries which include Brazil, China, India, Mexico and South Africa, have called for tariffs, subsidies and other barriers to be removed as part of efforts to eradicate poverty. Mr Bush has said that little meaningful reform of trade is likely unless Europe reforms its Common Agricultural Policy. So no deal has been made on lifting trade barriers that oppress poor countries in Africa and elsewhere.

No progress has been made on climate change – the other much-vaunted goal of the G8 summit. Why was no deal reached? Because the USA has said it won’t cut emissions but will “look at clean technologies”. Bush has said that under no circumstances will he sign the Kyoto agreement. Since no major proposals for action are expected, and there is no new money to develop clean technologies, Bush’s remarks about such technology are so much hot air.

Friends of the Earth director Tony Juniper blamed the Bush administration, insisting that it had “again done its best to derail international action to tackle climate change”. Yet French President Jacques Chirac, who is in a weak position and therefore anxious to please, said late on Thursday that “we have noticed a shift in the American position”. “The agreement which we are set to reach is an important agreement, even if it doesn’t go as far as we would have wanted.” The reverend Tony Blair says “Amen”.

Contrary to the assurances of Blair to the effect that the G8 summit is a gathering of philanthropic humanitarians to solve the problems of the poor, it is more like a modern version of the Congress of Berlin, where the piratical representatives of the Great Powers met to carve up Africa in their own interests. Here too there is business as usual.

The law of value at work

Everybody assures us that our way of life is threatened by the terrorists and that it is important to continue with life as usual. London’s hoteliers paid careful attention to this advice. Overnight they doubled the price of a hotel room. This was in strict accordance to the laws of the free market economy, which, as everybody knows, forms the solid foundation of our western way of life that is now so seriously threatened.

There is another reason why London is a potential target for attack. As The Economist points out, it is perceived to be a centre of world capitalism, the headquarters of the Moneybags who plunder and exploit the entire globe and get fat on the proceeds. It is the rapacious greed of the banks and monopolists that drives the foreign and military policies of governments, that pushes them to invade Iraq in order to get their hands on its oil, and to justify this invasion by a Niagara of lies and deceit. It is not the case that Bush and Blair decide everything. Rather they are the mouthpiece of big business in the USA and Britain. The only difference with other leaders is that they express the dependence of governments on the interests of the banks and big monopolies in a particularly crude manner.

In the past 24 hours we have received an excellent lesson in the real meaning of our western values. The law of supply and demand must apply, even under the most trying circumstances. And since a very large number of Londoners found themselves stranded without transportation after work finished, and since the number of beds in the capital is finite, this had to be reflected in the price of a bed for the night. By acting in this way, the noble hoteliers of London were defending the basic principles of market freedom. Those unfortunates unable to pay the market price were, as usual, free to sleep under the nearest available bridge.

The hotelier fraternity is, of course, only a small corner of that imposing edifice that is British capitalism. They took advantage of an opportunity and made a small profit. Far more serious profits were made on the London Stock Exchange, where human misfortunes of all sorts – whether wars, revolutions, earthquakes or famines – can always provide welcome opportunities to make money.

As news of the bombings emerged on Thursday, the FTSE 100 tumbled as much as 3.5% in 90 minutes, its steepest fall since the start of the Iraq war. But the stock market fraternity is resilient and the market soon bounced back. The slump wiped more than £44bn off the value of the stocks in London. But the market rallied somewhat to close just 1.4% lower on Thursday at 5,158. London’s FTSE 100 added 40.5 points, or 0.9%, to 5,198.80. Paris’s Cac 40 and Frankfurt’s Dax increased 1%.

Industries that were hardest hit on Thursday led the rally on Friday, with insurance firms and airlines bouncing back. Sterling had tumbled against the Euro, dollar and Swiss franc as news of the bombings came out, and analysts said that the currency market was likely to remain jittery today about any rumours. But the UK pound steadied in early trading on Friday, but still hovered near a 19-month low against the US dollar. Gold was little changed, but oil gained.

Analysts said that the economic effect of the bomb blasts was likely to be limited and companies were well prepared to deal with any disruption. “Unfortunately, we expected it to come,” said Andrea Williams, head of European equities at Royal London Asset Management. “It came and it doesn’t really affect economic growth. This is something which you have to price into the markets.”

Human misery, death and destruction can be “priced into the markets” just like anything else. City banks, including Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan Chase and Deutsche Bank and Merrill Lynch, said business was continuing as usual.

“A real and present threat”

Tony Blair tries to claim that he is winning the war on terror and that the world is a safer place because of the invasion of Iraq. The precise opposite is the truth. The invasion of Iraq has created a vast wave of instability that has engulfed the entire Middle East and spread uncontrollably through the rest of the world. Al-Qaeda, which had no bases in Iraq before the invasion, now has them and is recruiting new members every day as the result of the barbarities inflicted by the Coalition forces on the people of that unhappy country. Iraq has now become a very real and present danger to Britain. That was shown clearly by yesterday’s bombing of London.

“Once it had happened,” says the Economist, “it produced an awful feeling of inevitability.” Yes, but why was it inevitable? It was only inevitable because Tony Blair, that faithful servant of George W. Bush, pushed the British people reluctantly into a war in which it did not believe and which it did not want. The war was waged on false premises – a fact that has now been proved irrefutably. There were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. The Iraqi regime, while unpalatable, represented no “real and present threat” to Great Britain.

The reactionary fanatics of Al-Qaeda did not come from Iraq, but from Saudi Arabia. They were inspired by the reactionary and obscurantist Wahhabi sect that practically runs Saudi Arabia. They have not only been tolerated but also directly financed by the Saudi ruling family, the intimate friends and business partners of George W. Bush. After September 11th, they too were allowed to carry on with business as usual, while Bush and Rumsfeld misled American and world public opinion by pointing the finger at Iraq, which had nothing whatsoever to do with the attack on the Twin Towers.

George W Bush still refers to the Saudi rulers as his friends, proving that it is oil, and not blood, that is thicker than water. If ever there was a candidate for regime change, it was Saudi Arabia. But the USA invaded Iraq instead. Since Al-Qaeda had nothing to do with the secular regime in Baghdad, which it hated, the invasion of Iraq did it no harm whatever. On the contrary, it benefited from it considerably.

Why London?

Why was London singled out for attack? The Economist answers the question with admirable frankness:

“As soon as the atrocities of New York, Washington, DC, and Pennsylvania took place on September 11th 2001, London was assumed to be at risk of attack. That was so both because of its status as an international financial centre, an epitome of the West and its capitalist ways, and because Britain has long been a close ally of the United States, enemy number one for al-Qaeda and its terrorist associates. That likelihood only grew following Britain’s participation in the invasion of Iraq in 2003, and then the terrible bombing in Madrid on March 11th, 2004. In recent years every senior British policeman, intelligence chief or home secretary you cared to ask about the probability of a terrorist attack gave a similar answer: 100 percent.”

It is impossible to express oneself with greater clarity than this. London was exposed to terrorist attacks because Tony Blair [not Britain] “has long been a close ally of the United States”. The President of the United States only has to shout “jump” and the present incumbent of Number Ten Downing Street answers “how high?” The slavishness with which Tony Blair follows the dictates of Washington is notorious. It has yet again been revealed at the G8 summit, where Blair fell over himself to find excuses for Bush’s arrogant rejection of both the Kyoto Agreement and Blair’s request for aid to Africa.

There is no real way to defend London, or any other city, against attacks by small but determined groups of terrorists. Bali, Istanbul, Madrid and Casablanca have all suffered. There have also been multiple attacks in Saudi Arabia, Kenya, and Morocco causing extensive casualties and disruption. Pakistan, Yemen and other Indonesian targets have also been hit. The attacks all have the same hallmarks – multiple bombings indiscriminately targeting civilians in heavily populated areas. In none of these instances have the security services been able to foresee or prevent the attack. Now it was London’s turn.

The British intelligence services claim they have thwarted quite a number of attacks in recent years, including a plot involving deadly poisons and another which had Heathrow airport as its target. Maybe so, but they also offer unofficial estimates that Britain may be home to roughly 1,000 Islamist terrorists, or close supporters. The image so carefully painted by Bush and Blair since September 11th of something called Al-Qaeda as a worldwide conspiracy, based on a centralised and disciplined organization directed from a cave in the tribal areas of northern Pakistan by Bin Laden, is obviously false. Most probably, what we are seeing is the work of a number of fragmented and uncoordinated terrorist groups.

It is probable that the reason why it has taken so long for Al-Qaeda (or whichever of its surrogate groups that organized yesterday’s attack) is that it moves in a very measured, careful way. Its attacks are long in preparation and intermittent in nature. It organizes a spectacular attack, like the attack on the World Trade Centre, then waits until things calm down before organizing another spectacular attack using different methods (Madrid, then London). It is also perfectly evident that the British and US intelligence services had no information whatsoever about this attack.

Who is responsible?

After the invasion of Afghanistan the central command of Al-Qaeda are in hiding and retreat. The number of arrests and killings of people said to be senior Al-Qaeda officers in Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and elsewhere in the Middle East must have severely disrupted the group’s infrastructure. Some Al-Qaeda trained fighters are thought to have been dispersed – perhaps to regroup in other fields of combat, such as Saudi Arabia, but it is doubtful whether it still possesses a central leadership that is capable of commanding actions on a wide scale. But the blundering actions of US and British imperialism, particularly in invading Iraq, where Al-Qaeda had nothing before, has created a vast army of terrorist recruits and sympathisers, and not only in Pakistan and the Middle East.

A majority of both the British and American public now believes that the war in Iraq was a bad idea. That is a good basis for developing and strengthening the anti-war movement. But every time terrorists kill innocent people in Britain and the USA, it provides fresh arguments to Bush and Blair and weakens the anti-war movement. The terrorists give the right wing all the arguments they need to strengthen the state and arm it with new repressive legislation, like the introduction of identity cards in Britain, arrest without trial and so on.

Ministers are expected to rush through measures to arrest and detain suspects accused of acts associated with terrorism as an immediate reaction to yesterday’s bombings.

The British government will attempt to argue that even more draconian powers are needed to combat the terrorist threat. Already in February Home Secretary Charles Clarke told Parliament that he was considering introducing the offence of “being concerned in the commission preparation or instigation of acts of terrorism”. A draft Bill outlined in the Queen’s Speech in May set out plans to create offences to bring more terror suspects before the courts and is expected to lead to convictions for those accused of acts preparatory to terrorism.

Another step in strengthening the powers of the state and increasing surveillance of the population is the proposal to introduce identity cards. Although identity cards did not prevent the Madrid bombings, Charles Clarke will insist that ID cards are a necessary measure to combat terrorism. As a result of yesterday’s attack, civil liberties campaigners will find it harder to oppose measures like the introduction of these identity cards. Peter Carter QC, chairman of the Bar’s human rights committee, said he feared the Government would adopt emergency powers that would cause further resentment in Muslim communities but not make Britain a safer place to live.

Finally, let us not forget, there is also business as usual in Iraq, where the insurgency continues unabated. Civilians as well as members of the Iraqi and coalition forces are being killed. What happened in London yesterday happens in Baghdad and other Iraqi cities every day. The ghastly images of bombed buildings, of shattered homes and lives, deaths, mutilations and madness are the daily bread of a whole people.

Is it any wonder that Iraq has become a major recruiting ground for terrorists and suicide bombers? Is it any wonder that many young Iraqis thirst for revenge for the horrors inflicted on their country? Some western analysts say that Iraq is becoming a training ground and inspiration for a new generation of global jihadists. That means that Iraq, which prior to the invasion represented no threat to Britain and the USA has now become a “real and present threat”. And the main recruiting sergeant for terrorism is not Bin Laden. It is George Bush and Tony Blair. Tony Blair would like to be remembered as the man who got the Olympic games to London. Instead he will be remembered as the man who brought the terrorist bombers to London.

George Bush has sometimes claimed that the fact that his forces are in Iraq means that the West’s enemies are being fought there rather than at home. The attacks in London show the hollowness of this claim. “If you bomb our cities,” Osama bin Laden said in one of his recent videotapes, “we will bomb yours.” Is that not perfectly clear?

The pictures of death, destruction and mayhem in Iraq that appear daily on Western television screens create revulsion in a large and growing section of the public. Many ordinary people ask themselves why their governments are supporting an occupation that is causing such havoc and suffering. Some of the young Muslims are impelled by this to seek more direct ways of expressing their opposition. Tragically, some of them will drift into the embraces of the fanatics and fundamentalists and become potential suicide bombers.

An Islamic website carried a statement on the London bombing that said: “Rejoice, Islamic nation. Rejoice, Arab world. The time has come for vengeance against the Zionist crusader government of Britain in response to the massacres Britain committed in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“The heroic mujaheddin carried out a blessed attack in London, and now Britain is burning with fear and terror, from north to south, east to west. We warned the British government and the British people repeatedly. We have carried out our promise and carried out a military attack in Britain after great efforts by the heroic mujaheddin over a long period to ensure its success.”

The statement went on to warn the Danish and Italian governments that, “they will receive the same punishment if they do not withdraw their troops from Iraq and Afghanistan.” The implications are quite clear. The epidemic of terrorism will continue to spread uncontrollably, a terrible expression of the impasse of the capitalist system on a global scale.

There are still 8,500 British troops in Iraq, alongside over 150,000 US troops. If the intention of the bombers was to force their withdrawal, they will not succeed. In fact, the short term effect of the attacks may well be to strengthen Blair’s resolve to keep British troops in Iraq and increase popular support for this. He will argue that to “give in to the terrorists” will make Britain more vulnerable to attacks, that we must “finish the job” and so on and so forth. Thus, the representatives of imperialism have entered into a kind of grotesque dance of death with the terrorists, in which one act of barbarity leads to another, with neither side gaining a decisive advantage. The world enters into a vicious downward spiral of action and reaction.

Marxists have always opposed individual terrorism, not for sentimental reasons but because it is useless and counterproductive. Despite the fear it engenders, terrorism is really an expression of weakness, not strength. It can never inflict a decisive defeat on imperialism, and in fact inevitably plays into the hands of the latter. Sooner or later, the imperialists will have to withdraw from Iraq. But when they do, it will not be as a result of bombing trains in London, or of blowing up the World Trade Centre in New York, but because of the insurgency of the Iraqi people and the anti-war movement in Britain, the USA and the rest of the world.