Fallujah and London — in deepest denial

Gary Younge

Of course those who backed the Iraq war refute any link with the London bombs.

SHORTLY AFTER September 11, 2001, when the slightest mention of a link between United States foreign policy and the terrorist attacks brought accusations of heartless heresy, the then U.S. National Security Adviser, Condoleezza Rice, got to work.

Between public displays of grief and solemnity she managed to round up the senior staff of the National Security Council and ask them to think seriously about “how do you capitalise on these opportunities” to fundamentally change American doctrine and the shape of the world.

In an interview with the New Yorker six months later, she said the U.S. no longer had a problem defining its post-Cold War role. “I think September 11 was one of those great earthquakes that clarify and sharpen. Events are in much sharper relief.”

For those interested in keeping the earth intact in its present shape so that we might one day live on it peacefully, the bombings of July 7 provide no such “opportunities.” They do not “clarify” or “sharpen” but muddy and bloody already murky waters. As the identities of the missing emerge, we move from a statistical body count to the tragedy of human loss — brothers, mothers, lovers and daughters cruelly blown away as they headed to work. The space to mourn these losses must be respected. The demand that we abandon rational thought, contextual analysis and critical appraisal of why this happened and what we can do to limit the chances that it will happen again, should not. To explain is not to excuse; to criticise is not to capitulate.

We know what took place. Certain people, with no regard for law, order or our way of life, came to London and trashed it. With scant regard for human life or political consequences, employing violence as their sole instrument of persuasion, they slaughtered innocent people indiscriminately.The trouble is there is nothing in the last paragraph that could not just as easily be said from Fallujah as it could from London. The two should not be equated — with over 1,000 people killed or injured, half its housing wrecked and almost every school and mosque damaged or flattened, what Fallujah went through at the hands of the U.S. military, with British support, was more deadly.

But they can and should be compared. We do not have a monopoly on pain, suffering, rage or resilience.

Our blood is no redder, our backbones are no stiffer, nor our tear ducts more productive than the people in Iraq and Afghanistan. Those whose imagination could not stretch to empathise with the misery we have caused in the Gulf now have something closer to home to identify with. “Collateral damage” always has a human face: its relatives grieve; its communities have memory and demand action. These basic humanistic precepts are the principle casualties of fundamentalism. They were clearly absent from the minds of those who bombed London last week. They are no less absent from the minds of those who have pursued the war on terror for the past four years.

— © Guardian Newspapers Limited 2004

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