By Robert Lambert MBE
According to the Guardian some of the bereaved families of 7/7 have not given up hope of securing a public inquiry. While the 7/7 inquest has illuminated much, it never had the remit to explore the causes of London’s worst terrorist attack.
Only a full public inquiry would achieve this, and in doing so provide full justice to the victims of the London bombings in July 2005. Sadly, I do not think this is at all likely to take place. Still, one should never underestimate the determination of bereaved parents to achieve justice for their loved ones. No one would ever have dreamed that Stephen Lawrence’s parents would achieve a public inquiry so many years after their son’s murder.
The bravery and dignity of the bereaved, the seriously injured of 7/7, their rescuers and their carers moves us and gives us pause for thought. The glistening steel memorial for the deceased in Hyde Park points skyward in poignant contrast to the mangled, jagged metal of the train carriages devastated underneath London’s streets that fateful morning. On each anniversary politicians, public servants and civic leaders gather in London to pay their respects to the victims. In one crucial respect, however, the victims have not been well served: the pleas for a public inquiry from those who still want to understand the causes of 7/7 have been ignored. Instead of the healing and learning process promoted by such public inquiries as took place following the murder of Stephen Lawrence and Bloody Sunday, the bereaved and injured of 7/7 have been left to fathom out their own understanding of what caused the darkest day of their lives.
John Tulloch had the misfortune of being close to the bomber Mohammed Siddique Khan when he detonated his ruck-sack bomb on a Circle Line train at about 8.56am on that Thursday morning. Only the luck of having his suitcase in front of his legs saved his life. On re-reading Tulloch’s excellent book, ‘One Day in July: Experiencing 7/7’, we are struck by the probability that the death toll would have been far higher if Khan had detonated his bomb before and not after scores of passengers disembarked from the train at Edgware Road station.
Tulloch describes the enjoyable, leisurely breakfast with friends that immediately preceded his walk to Euston Square underground station to board the same train as Khan. For many of the bereaved, the memory of breakfasts, coffee and conversations with their loved ones before they left home that morning mark the last moments of their old once familiar lives. Since 7/7 they have entered a new and uncertain world.
Tulloch’s book also reminds us of the cynical depths New Labour politics and spin sunk to when recounting how The Sun placed a photo of his bandaged face next to the full page headline ‘Terror Laws: Tell Tony he’s Right’. On the contrary, Tulloch had no confidence that Tony Blair was right about anything, least of all the war in Iraq, the wider ‘war on terror’, or his tough-talking – ‘the rules of the game have changed’ – response to 7/7.
Mohammad Siddique Khan and fellow bomber Shehzad Tanweer were adamant that the war in Iraq, the war on terror and the UK’s uncritical support for Israel’s oppression of Palestinians motivated them. Tony Blair consistently denied this and insisted that Khan, Tanweer and their fellow bombers hated the West, not his Washington-driven foreign policy.
Tulloch went to Beeston, Leeds, Khan’s and Tanweer’s home patch, to seek the views of young Muslims. He discovered what most Muslims knew already – that Khan’s and Tanweer’s al-Qaida produced ‘martyrdom videos’ sought to exploit widespread anger about precisely these policies. The anger was real – neither al-Qaida nor the bombers manufactured it. Although Tulloch takes issue with their method of response, he can empathise with the grievances Khan and Tanweer exploited. To deny or suppress the grievances was, he concluded, to boost support for al-Qaida.
Today al-Qaida propaganda videos continue to exploit the same widespread anger but with a greater emphasis on the UK war in Afghanistan. The coalition government however shows little sign of changing from Blair’s flawed diagnosis. Instead of recognising the legitimacy of opposition to UK foreign policy, the government enacts Quilliam Foundation policy; the think tank’s so-called counter-extremist experts seek to de-radicalise ‘radical’ Muslims instead of empowering them against the ongoing al-Qaida threat to UK cities. In London, some of the most successful opponents of al-Qaida propaganda have been denounced by Quilliam and shunned by government because of their support for Palestinian resistance against Israel.
Of course victims’ responses to events like 7/7 vary but Tulloch is not alone in enquiring empathetically into the perpetrators’ motivation. Tulloch exemplifies a victim’s desire to get to the root causes of an incident that was intended to take his life. Although much shorter, Tulloch’s journey of discovery is not dissimilar to one made by Jo Berry when she set out to meet the man who planted the bomb that was intended to kill Margaret Thatcher but which killed her father, Sir Anthony Berry, and others instead. Now she presents workshops with her father’s murderer – the Provisional IRA’s Brighton bomber Pat Magee – in which reconciliation and constructive dialogue is offered as a viable alternative to state and non-state terrorism. In similar ways Berry and Tulloch develop the well known adage, ‘hate the crime, not the criminal’.
The parents of Stephen Lawrence and the parents of those killed on Bloody Sunday waited a long time for the inquiries that finally helped them understand what caused their loss and heartbreak. The bereaved parents and families of 7/7 should not have to wait so long.
But if the victims’ needs and an ongoing threat from al-Qaida are not sufficient causes for the coalition government to hold a public inquiry into the causes of 7/7 then we should offer one other compelling reason: an increase in violence against Muslims that is directly related to the terrorist threat. Research makes clear that many violent attacks against Muslims and the mosques they pray in are motivated by a false belief that Muslims are terrorists or terrorist sympathisers intent on repeating 7/7. One only has to view the Guardian’s undercover video of English Defence League thugs to see what this looks like.
Young Muslims are being stigmatised and attacked merely for holding the widespread and legitimate view that UK foreign policy in the Muslim world compounds rather than solves the al-Qaida terrorist threat to the UK. It is not just British Muslims who question the Blair-Brown-Cameron mantra that the war in Afghanistan helps prevent further 7/7–like attacks in the UK. But many British Muslims fear speaking out on the issue for fear of being vilified as a subversive fifth column.
7/7 has had a profound impact on all British Muslims. While many who are distinctively religiously observant or publicly politically active have faced the greatest risk of demonisation and attack, those who are not have also had to come to terms with a changed landscape. On the last anniversary of 7/7 Murtaza Shibli launched a ground-breaking book, ‘7/7: Muslim Perspectives’, in which twenty five ordinary and diverse British Muslim voices explain the impact 7/7 has had on their lives. No one has worked harder to build bridges between Muslims and counter-terrorism policing in the wake of 7/7 than Fatima Khan, vice-chair of the Muslim Safety Forum in London, and an important contributor to the new book. Nevertheless, she has seen friends and colleagues vilified as ‘radicals’ and security threats when in fact they are valuable allies against al-Qaida terrorism.
This is the ongoing legacy of the Bush-Blair analysis of al-Qaida and the root causes of 9/11 and 7/7. Fascinatingly the coalition government contains ministers who enthusiastically endorse it – most notably David Cameron and Michael Gove – and those who oppose it – most obviously Nick Clegg and Sarah Teather. An authoritative public inquiry might help them resolve their competing perspectives, do a real service for the victims of 7/7, reduce street violence against Muslims and keep London safe in the future. If bereaved families continue to campaign for it, then politicians may yet be forced to listen in the long run.
Robert Lambert MBE is a research fellow at the Department of Politics and Co-Director of the European Muslim Research Centre, University of Exeter. He is also the retired head of the London Metropolitan Police’s Muslim Contact Unit (MCU).
Photo contributed by: Teresa Beech
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