Workers Hammer No. 223
Anti-Muslim terror follows Woolwich killing
In the aftermath of the killing of the off-duty soldier Lee Rigby in Woolwich on 22 May by two Londoners of Nigerian descent who associated their actions with Islamic jihad, there has been a massive increase in racist attacks targeting Britain’s Muslim population. Within hours of the killing, a man walked into a mosque in Gillingham and began smashing up the interior, while an individual armed with a knife and an incendiary device was arrested outside an Islamic centre in Essex. At the time of writing, around a dozen mosques have been targeted. Incidents range from threatening graffiti to the smashing of windows, to murderous attacks such as the petrol bombing of a Grimsby mosque, while a family with young children prayed inside. A mosque in Wales was set on fire and a burning bottle was thrown at a Bletchley mosque where thirty people were worshipping.
Early in the morning of 5 June a Somali community centre in Muswell Hill, north London, was burnt down. Fire crews reported seeing “EDL” scrawled on the building — the initials of the fascist English Defence League. Less than a week later, a fire was started at an Islamic boarding school in Bromley, about six miles from Woolwich where Rigby was killed, causing two boys to suffer injuries from smoke inhalation. In the week following the killing, women wearing the hijab described being spat at or having their headscarves torn away and the government’s monitoring body Measuring Anti-Muslim Attacks (MAMA) recorded a rise in reported Islamophobic incidents from an average of eight per day to 221. Describing the hysteria whipped up in the aftermath of the Woolwich incident, journalist Seumas Milne wrote: “‘Kneejerk’ barely does it justice. As for the impact on Muslims, the backlash has if anything been worse than in 2005, when 52 Londoners were killed by suicide bombers” (Guardian, 29 May).
The patriotic hysteria whipped up over Rigby’s killing has been seized upon by the fascist EDL and British National Party (BNP), both of whom have staged racist provocations. Two EDL mobilisations following the killing significantly outnumbered anti-fascist counter-demonstrations, reaching about 1500 in Newcastle on 25 May and about 1000 in Whitehall on 27 May.
For David Cameron’s crisis-ridden Conservative Party, tough posturing following the death of a British soldier in a so-called “terrorist” incident came as relief. Cranking up hysteria, Cameron convened the emergency Cobra committee. Even though the killers were previously known to MI5, the incident was used in an attempt to resurrect the Communications Data Bill — the so-called “snoopers’ charter” — designed to compel phone companies and internet providers to collect and store records of the public’s communications for potential state surveillance. As the recent revelations by former CIA technical assistant Edward Snowden show, the British capitalist government routinely snoops on the population’s communications regardless of “legality”.
With breathtaking arrogance, the representatives of the British bourgeoisie proclaim that their racist “war on terror” has no bearing on the motivations of the suspected killers of Rigby; they ascribe it solely to Islamic fundamentalism’s antipathy towards “Western values”. The occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan have been carried out by the two greatest purveyors of terrorism on the planet — the British and US imperialists. According to the statement of one of his killers, Rigby was targeted because he was a member of the armed forces. He was attacked outside Woolwich army barracks while off duty, wearing a “Help for Heroes” (ex-servicemen’s charity) T-shirt. Straight after the killing, one attacker was filmed announcing: “We swear by almighty Allah we will never stop fighting you. The only reasons we have done this is because Muslims are dying every day. This British soldier is an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth.”
The British bourgeois press and politicians have highlighted the grisly nature of Lee Rigby’s death. Yet it mirrors the brutal murders of civilians carried out by British troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, such as the gruesome killing of Baha Mousa. An Iraqi hotel worker arrested by British soldiers in 2003, Mousa was tortured over a 36-hour period while hooded and handcuffed and died after suffering 93 separate injuries. All the soldiers involved were exonerated of his murder and only one served jail time — a paltry one-year sentence for “inhumanely treating civilians”.
For Marxists, individual terrorist acts are an obstacle to mobilising the politically conscious working class against the capitalist system and they bring fierce repression down on the heads of the oppressed — Muslims, blacks and all others in the state’s crosshairs. From the standpoint of the working class, the killing of Rigby is not a crime, unlike the July 2005 terror attacks in the London transport network, which indiscriminately targeted the multiethnic working people. For British armed forces personnel, the possibility of retaliation for military operations comes with the territory. The connection between the Woolwich attack and the “war on terror” was made by liberal journalist Glen Greenwald who pointed out in an opinion piece on the Guardian website (23 May):
“Once you declare that the ‘entire globe is a battlefield’ (which includes London) and that any ‘combatant’ (defined as broadly as possible) is fair game to be killed — as the US has done — then how can the killing of a soldier of a nation engaged in that war, horrific though it is, possibly be ‘terrorism’?”
The imperialists have often funded the reactionary Islamic fundamentalists, who oppose women’s liberation and target gays, Jews, trade unionists and atheists. One of the suspected killers, Michael Adebolajo, was seen by Woolwich residents handing out leaflets in support of the Syrian rebels — the very same reactionary Al Qaeda-infested forces David Cameron wants to arm. It is hardly an unknown fact that Al Qaeda itself is a Frankenstein’s monster that arose from the imperialists’ material backing to the Islamic reactionaries against the Soviet Union, particularly in their support for the mujahedin in Afghanistan in the 1980s — the biggest CIA operation in history.
British imperialism has a long history of fostering communalist hatred to buttress its repressive rule. In Ireland, the Indian subcontinent, the Near East and across Africa, the British ruling class is responsible for some of the worst atrocities in history. The bloody partition of India in 1947, under Clement Attlee’s Labour government, was accompanied by massacres in which hundreds of thousands were killed. The continuing bloody strife in the Near East is the legacy of the British imperialists who carved out the state of Israel at the expense of the Palestinian people after World War II.
The devastation of Iraq over the past two decades and the country’s transformation into a sectarian hell-hole as a result of the war and colonial occupation, is only part of a long history of British imperialist depredation in the region. Iraq was an entity artificially created following World War I to facilitate British rule over the divided ethnicities living in the oil-rich region. The British government responded to uprisings by Arabs and Kurds beginning in 1919 by using mass terror as an official instrument of policy. The British Army used poison gas in the South and the Royal Air Force carried out aerial bombings in the North. Thousands were killed and whole villages burnt to the ground. An article by Jonathan Glancey in the Guardian (19 April 2003) noted that the secretary of state for war and air at the time, Winston Churchill “was particularly keen on chemical weapons, suggesting that they be used ‘against recalcitrant Arabs as an experiment’”. According to Glancey, Churchill dismissed objections as “unreasonable” and stated “I am strongly in favour of using poisoned gas against uncivilised tribes
[to] spread a lively terror”.
Some of British imperialism’s most notorious crimes were carried out closer to home, such as the 1972 Bloody Sunday massacre in Derry, Northern Ireland, where British paratroopers shot dead 13 Catholic protesters, with another dying of his wounds later. Northern Ireland has long been a testing ground for domestic repression in Britain. The shoot-to-kill policy practised for years on the streets of Northern Ireland has been brought to Britain, as seen with the brutal execution of Brazilian immigrant electrician Jean Charles de Menezes, labelled a “terrorism suspect”, in July 2005. The treatment routinely inflicted on Irish Catholics, once indiscriminately targeted as “terror” suspects, is now perpetrated on Muslims in Britain.
A Socialist Workers Party (SWP) statement after Rigby’s killing concluded: “We need unity against racism, and unity against the Tories. The millions strong movements against the war in Iraq and broad mass mobilisations against racism and fascism show this is possible” (Socialist Worker online, 23 May). While millions protested against the Iraq war, the SWP-led Stop the War Coalition (StWC) preached that what was necessary to halt the British imperialist onslaught on Iraq was a “broad unity” of millions, across all classes, bringing “democratic” pressure on the bourgeoisie to break with the US and “stop being Bush’s poodle”.
The Spartacist League intervened into the anti-war protests to expose the myth that Britain could somehow “opt out” of the system of imperialism, short of workers revolution and the establishment of a workers state that expropriates the capitalist class. Marxists are not pacifists but take a side against the imperialist invasion of a semi-colonial country; we do not regard the British imperialist forces as “our soldiers”. As our 21 March 2003 statement condemning the assault on Iraq made clear:
“We stand for the military defence of Iraq against US and British attack. Every setback for these imperialist forces abroad is a blow in defence of the interests of the working class and oppressed masses around the world. It is the job of the working people of Iraq, and throughout the Near East, to get rid of the bloody regime of Saddam Hussein and all the colonels, sheiks and dictators, including the Zionist butchers who are using the cover of this war to ratchet up their daily killing of Palestinians with the aim of forcible expulsion. It is our job here to build the revolutionary leadership that can mobilise the only force with the social power and class interest to challenge the rule of capitalist imperialism: the multiethnic working class.”
— reprinted in Workers Hammer no 184, Spring 2003
Wars and military occupations are intrinsic to the capitalist system and opposition to imperialist war is part and parcel of the struggle for socialist revolution.
For trade union/minority mobilisations to stop the fascists!
It is in the direct interest of the multiethnic working class to mobilise to stop fascist provocations and racist attacks on Muslims and other minorities. We call for mass united-front protest centred on trade union/minority mobilisations to stop EDL/ BNP provocations. This is in contrast to the perspective of Unite Against Fascism (UAF) in which the SWP plays a leading role. Notwithstanding disclaimers by the SWP, UAF strategy boils down to relying on the capitalist state. As we wrote in 2009:
“Our call for trade union/minority mobilisations is counterposed to wretched appeals to the capitalist state to halt fascist provocations. Mobilising the social power of the trade unions to defend immigrants and minorities requires a political struggle against the reformist trade union bureaucracy and is counterposed to the ‘anti-fascist’ strategy of Unite Against Fascism (UAF), built by the Socialist Workers Party (SWP). Demonstrations organised by UAF are not intended to stop fascist provocations: the UAF slogan ‘stop the BNP’ in reality often means that the state should ban the BNP. We oppose calls on the capitalist state to ban the fascists, which will invariably be used against the left. The role of the capitalist state — in particular its police, prisons and courts — is to maintain order within the framework of private property relations and therefore it embodies the chauvinism that is inherent in capitalist society.”
—Workers Hammer no 209, Winter 2009-2010
The fascists represent the reserve shock troops for the capitalist class to fall back on when threatened by mass working-class struggle. The fascist EDL specifically appeals to patriotic fervour over British military personnel killed in the imperialist adventures in Afghanistan and Iraq. It also feeds off the relentless witch hunt of Britain’s Muslim population that was instigated under previous Labour governments and continues under the Con-Dem coalition. Marxists stress that it is the decaying capitalist system which creates the social conditions — unemployment, poverty and despair — in which the fascists thrive and therefore the struggle against fascism is inseparable from the fight for socialist revolution.
The union misleaders have done nothing to mobilise their members against the racist “war on terror”. Following the 2005 terrorist bombings, trade union leaders including Dave Prentis of Unison, Billy Hayes of the CWU, Paul Kenny of the GMB and Keith Norman of Aslef, wrote a letter to Tony Blair, arguing against a number of the security measures proposed at the time, but stressing that the signatories “support the police and measures against those who plan, support or carry out such terrorist attacks”.
As we wrote at the time:
“It is downright treachery for the so-called leadership of the unions to support increased powers for the police and the state, the very same ‘special bodies of armed men’ that will be used against the unions in class struggle. Contrary to the myth that the state is simply responding to exceptional circumstances presented by the threat of ‘suicide bombers’, the British capitalist rulers have never hesitated to deploy the full force of the state — the police, army, courts and prisons — to crush dissent as well as class struggle. Innocent Irish people such as the Guildford Four and Birmingham Six were framed up and incarcerated for decades as part of the 1970s witch hunt against ‘IRA terrorism’, while an army of cops was sent to the coalfields to smash the 1984-85 miners strike.”
— Workers Hammer no 192, Autumn 2005
The fight against the state’s racist “war on terror” is part of our struggle to construct a multiethnic revolutionary workers party that acts as a tribune of the people in opposing all manifestations of capitalist oppression. Only such a party will be capable of leading the working class to power on an international scale and eradicating imperialism — the greatest terror known to mankind.