Nur al-Cubicle

A blog on the current crises in the Middle East and news accounts unpublished by the US press. Daily timeline of events in Iraq as collected from stories and dispatches in the French and Italian media: Le Monde (Paris), Il Corriere della Sera (Milan), La Repubblica (Rome), L'Orient-Le Jour (Beirut) and occasionally from El Mundo (Madrid).

Sunday, July 10, 2005

London Bombings: Metaphorical links to al-Qaeda

Reporter Mouna Naïm has written this analysis for Le Monde:

The hour is so perilous that hasty conclusions and thoughtless accusations must be avoided. But in the July 7th series of bombings in London, a number of clues point to Muslim extremism. Specifically to al-Qaeda, understood as an ideology, a worldview, a way of thinking and a means of action and not as a hierarchical organization commanded by one or more all-powerful leaders pulling strings around the world.

Beyond the claim of responsibility for the attacks in the name of an organization (al-Qaeda – Jihad in Europe), it is the operating strategy which may identify the authors. The simultaneity of the bombings and the choice of day (the opening of the G-8 Summit), of time of day (start of business hours), of targets (civilians riding public means of transportation) and place (the British capital) may be considered a signature.

The terrorists seized upon the opening of the G-8 summit on which to focus their attention as well as on related security measures, as if to underscore the vulnerability of the world’s most powerful nations, who were meeting just a few hundred kilometers away.

Here is another indication pointing to the al-Qaeda trail: the mastery of communication, if one may call it that. As on September 11, 2001, in New York and in Washington, or on March 11, 2004, in Madrid, the authors of the London bombings wished to send a message: The war is wide open, the battlefields are limitless. No one is out of range, warns the communiqué claiming responsibility for the London bombings. The group, which once targeted states militarily engaged in Afghanistan and in Iraq, now specifically includes Denmark and Italy on the list. Afghanistan and Iraq, the two justifications for the claim that al-Qaeda is pinned down and cornered, at least partially, have unraveled.

It has now become clear that young European Muslims, especially French nationals, have departed for and continue to arrive in ancient Mesopotamia to wage war on Western coalition forces, labeled “Crusaders,” to contest their “aggression.” It would seem that position of France on the war in Iraq explains the "export" of venue of the struggle. But because the United Kingdom is in Mesopotamia as a steadfast ally of the United States, it is considered a legitimate target on its own territory, where it must be taught a lesson.

Whatever the emotional connotations of Afghanistan and Iraq, these two battlefields serve as rhetorical arguments for theoreticians and the leaders of radical groups and as outlets for the extremist "base". The theoreticians and leaders are mostly middle class but the “base” is recruited from economically precarious areas. These radicals perceive Western values as an aggression against their identity--against Islam. But while the humiliation of their leaders maybe symbolic, that felt by the recruits, victims of harsh economic conditions, is real, observes sociologist Farhad Khosrokhavar, an expert on political Islam. It is not only true in Islamic countries but also in Western countries where Muslim communities are regarded--or perceived to be regarded--with a certain amount of contempt while at the same time having to cope, facing even more barriers, with the endogenous problems of the Western societies in which they live.

It is a fact that from Palestine to Iraq--and from there to Afghanistan--Western policies have contributed to the hostility felt in the Muslim world, especially towards the US superpower, by backing Arab and Islamic dictatorial or totalitarian regimes. It is also true that the failure of leftist and nationalist ideologies has resulted in a massive retreat into religion. And every Islamist is not a defender of violence. Obviously. It is at the margins where the radical groups are formed, somewhat like Italy’s Red Brigades, Germany’s Red Army Faction or the Japanese Red Army which were formed at the margins of the ultra-left.
If the al-Qaeda trail is confirmed in London, then the question will be if the authors acted on the model of September 11 in the United States or on that of March 11 in Spain. In the September 11 model, the terrorists, who spent a long period of residence in Germany, had no connection whatsoever to the Kurdish or Turkish minorities which constitute the majority of Muslim immigrants in Germany. Conversely, the Madrid bombers had confirmed links to extremists in Spain.

According to scholar Farhad Khosrokhavar, it is likely that the authors of the London attacks had a triple dimension to them: an affiliation more metaphorical than real to the al-Qaeda terrorist network, links to Pakistani radical groups and ties to Muslim radicals from the Mahgreb. And the British capital has long been a dropping off point for a number of Islamist activists of different nationalities hounded out of their own countries. That’s one of the complaints leveled against Great Britain by certain countries, such as Saudi Arabia and Egypt, who have demanded extradition time and time again of their extremist nationals but in vain, due to British habeas corpus. You can be sure that they will now renew such efforts.

Despite their capacity to disrupt, these extremist groups, insists Khosrokhavar, are microscopic minorities inside British Muslim communities, who fear that this or a future terrorist act will discredit them and all Muslims in Europe, provoking a wave of Islamophobia.


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