On the eve of the tenth anniversary of the July 7 2005 bombings in London, as the country remembers the terrible events of that morning, I thought it was worth recalling some of the events in the lead up to that fateful day.
Just over two years previously in February 2003, over one million of us had marched to oppose the upcoming war against Iraq and had congregated in Hyde Park to urge the Blair government to desist from joining the Bush administration’s rush to war with Iraq. It was clear that the US government could not give a fig about the results from the on-going inspections of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and was impatient to launch a war on the pretext of Saddam Hussein’s Iraq allegedly possessing weapons of mass destruction (which as we now know did not exist). The fact that the British Prime Minister Tony Blair enthusiastically went along with this criminal deceit remains an incredibly sore point to this day.
Many of us were convinced that a war against Iraq would be both premature and illegal. The UK government at the time had said it would seek a second United Nations resolution to allow it a mandate to attack Iraq. When it failed to obtain the necessary votes in the UN Security Council, Blair’s government simply said that they didn’t need the second resolution after all and would be joining the US in the bombing and invasion of Iraq. This breath-taking disregard for international law and democracy was hugely dispiriting and was also, at the same time, a tremendous gift for the recruiters in al-Qa’ida and their insistent narrative that the United States and its lackey the UK were intent on crippling any Muslim nation in the oil-rich Middle East that would not do their bidding.
One year after the beginning of the Iraq war, in March 2004, came the train bombings in Madrid believed to have been carried out by an AQ-inspired cell, which killed 191 people. The Spanish government, in the diminutive shape of its Premier, Jose Maria Aznar, had stood right alongside Bush and Blair in their warmongering in Iraq. We could no longer be in any doubt that the UK also was now a prime target for AQ-inspired terrorists.
At the Muslim Council of Britain, we came up with the idea of launching a pocket guide on rights and responsibilities. It would give a summary of the rights of British Muslims at a time when the government was introducing ever more terror-related legislation, but it would also emphasise our responsibility as UK citizens to come to the assistance of the police and authorities in helping to prevent and foil any terror attacks on our soil. I obtained the advice of a senior figure in ACPO (the Association of Chief Police Officers) in the wording of parts of the booklet.
My memories of 7/7 start off with the confusion of that morning. I was working in the IT department of a major news organisation at the time and we were getting up to the minute news feeds which initially said that there had been suspected rail incidents on the London tube network. Very quickly it became apparent that there had been a series of explosions both below ground and above ground. The tube network was shut down. Terrorists had unleashed a series of painful blows in our capitol city. Who were they? It was pretty clear that there was a high likelihood that the attacks had been carried out by Muslims. I do remember a senior figure at a Muslim news magazine insisting that Muslims would not have carried out such attacks – it was far more likely to have been the work of the French, he said. France had just lost out to the UK in the hosting of the 2012 Olympic Games, you see.
A few days later, the MCB’s Secretary-General, Sir Iqbal Sacranie, got a call to notify him that the police had identified the suspected bombers behind the 7/7 attacks and that this information was going to be released to the media in a few hours. We were called urgently to the Home Office for a briefing in advance. We met a senior civil servant who told us that the police were going to say that the preliminary results of their investigation had revealed that four UK Muslims were believed to have carried out the suicide bombings that killed 52 people a few days previously. This was devastating news. I had certainly thought that the bombings were most likely to have been carried out by Muslims – but AQ-inspired Muslims from overseas. A foreign terror cell. Yet, here we were in London, the London with its wondrous free museums and fabulously vibrant and unequalled cultural life, and we were now learning that the cell that had carried out the horrific attacks on our beloved London was comprised entirely of British Muslims. This was really demoralising news. We were then ushered in to see the Home Secretary, Charles Clarke, who to his credit was very calm and said that what the terrorists would have wanted above all was to polarise our country and create divisions between communities, and it was the task of all of us to deny them their shameful goal. A few minutes later I was in front of a computer in the Home Office drafting a press release expressing our horror at the news that four British Muslims had committed such an atrocity.
In the coming days, we would hear of some anti-Muslim attacks on schools and mosques, yet overall, my recollection is of just how remarkably understanding the public was about the bombings. British Muslims were not singled out for blame. Not by the public anyway. A couple of years later, at an event in London I was asked by the risible Nick Cohen why it was that if there was a bombing in the UK tomorrow, the first reaction would be to suspect British Muslims. What was it about British Islam that led to such a suspicion. I told him that had such a bombing occurred only fifteen years earlier, the first reaction would have been different – the most likely suspects would have been IRA-affiliated terrorists. And there would have been a number of political reasons for suspecting that. Similarly, at the present time, there were a number of political reasons that some British Muslims were being drawn towards radicalisation.
Since the 7/7 bombings and the failed bombings just two weeks later, there have been a number of successful convictions of British Muslims and foiled terror plots which leave no doubt whatsoever that AQ’s narrative had found receptive ears in the UK. And twelve years on from the Iraq war, far from becoming a successful democracy as we were promised by the warmongers, oil-rich Iraq is an unmitigated disaster. Where prior to the Iraq war, there was no al-Qa’ida, the aftermath of the war saw the growth of AQ in Iraq and the subsequent rise of ISIS.
In Britain, the years since 7/7 have seen the rise of the explicitly anti-Muslim street movements, the EDL and Britain First. And Tony Blair remains free, having brought the British political system into gross disrepute. It is grimly ironic given the woeful record of British intervention in the Middle East that just last week, the Prime Minister David Cameron’s Conservative government was floating the idea of bombing ISIS in Syria.
In the summer of 2014, ISIS declared the establishment of an Islamic State in the parts of Iraq and Syria that was under their writ. An Islamic State with its own Caliph. It is exceedingly unlikely that this “Islamic State” will become a beacon of learning and tolerance. Quite the opposite.
So, the future seems apparently set to provide us with yet more polarisation and yet more nihilist violence. The UK is by no means perfect. But neither is it the caricature of an Islamophobic state that AQ and ISIS would have us believe. It remains a far more attractive place to live and learn than the “Islamic State” or perhaps any other state in the Muslim world. A secular state where all citizens enjoy the same rights and protections is surely more preferable than a religious state in which the rights you enjoy are dependent on whether you happen to be of the “right religion”.
In my earlier years I was thrilled to discover that it was Islam that united the Arabs and propelled them to build a beautiful civilisation which valued learning and tolerance. How tragic then that today much of the Muslim world appears to be shackled by narrow-minded interpretations of Islam that are holding back progress in the areas of personal and political freedoms, human rights and the furtherance of knowledge.