Histomat: Adventures in Historical Materialism

'Historical materialism is the theory of the proletarian revolution.' Georg Lukács

Saturday, July 16, 2005

The roar of bombs and the deep sleep of England

The seventh of July ("7/7") will be one of those dates that remains engraved on the consciousness of British people for the foreseeable future at least. Everyone will remember where they were and what they were doing when the London bombs went off. Personally, I was on a train from Colchester to London Liverpool Street station at the time. No one knew what was happening, but there was talk of a 'power surge' and then a train crash of some sort. The train stopped at Chelmsford, then turned back.

The London bombs were the bitter fruit of British foreign policy with respect to the Muslim world, in particular in the Middle East. If you are going to declare a war on 'terrorism', then it is probably important to avoid acting like a terrorist state yourself. If you are going to bomb another country, then don't be surprised or shocked if you get bombed back. Blair's regime can blame 'evil' Islamists to its hearts content for the attacks, but it is only doing so to avoid taking its fair share of the blame for what happened.

It is not surprising that the British Government and mass media want to divert attention from what is going on in Baghdad and towards what is going on in Beeston. What is now happening in Iraq, where deaths from bombings happen on a daily if not hourly basis, gives the lie to the myth that the 'British tradition' is somehow free from violence and oppression, a myth that is being pumped out today by politicians and media commentators. The Queen declares 'our way of life' will not be disturbed by the bombings, as if the lives of British people was only one of sitting around drinking tea and eating cucumber sandwiches. Blair talks of British 'civilisation', and the bumbling idiot Boris Johnson talks of the need for the 're-Britannification of Britain'. In the Telegraph, Johnson complained that if only more British teenagers knew more about British history, then school kids would not become suicide bombers as they would be 'proud' of Britain's achievements. He thought it a real problem that so few school kids knew which 'great Briton' defeated the Spanish Armada. Yeah, because Francis Drake's moral vision ("There is plenty of time to win this game, and to trash the Spaniards too") is such a helpful one in the twenty-first century.

In fact, if more school kids did learn about the real history of British imperialism they might actually have a better hope of understanding the present crisis. When asked what he thought of 'Western civilisation' on a visit to Britain in 1931, Gandhi, who had been imprisoned by the British for demanding Indian independence, said he thought it would be a good idea. Yet Gandhi did find a spirit of solidarity with his struggle in Britain. It was not to be found among the ruling elite of Britain, still less among the then Labour Government which offered fine words but little else, but among ordinary people such as the cotton workers he visited in Lancashire.

It is this spirit of internationalism, solidarity and tolerance that has defined ordinary people in Britain at their best. We saw that spirit on the streets of London during the huge anti-war protests in 2003, and actually there is every chance that we will see it again in the aftermath of the bombings. Indeed, if the media told the real story about what was going on now in Beeston, they would report of 300 hundred local people at a vigil to commemorate the victims of the bombings on Thursday lunchtime. The worlds media were there, but few reported their two minutes silence. Why? Because it showed Muslims and Christians, black, asian and white, all united together as a community. If the racist backlash against Muslims is to be resisted, then such unity from below will be of critical importance. New Labour, with their talk of 'rooting out' the 'evil' in Muslim communities, can only further spread mistrust and suspicion.

More importantly, the new unity from below after the bombings can be the bedrock for a new unity for peace and justice. As Seamus Milne pointed out in the Guardian, the disasterous war on Iraq is key to understanding why London was targeted, something only really George Galloway has so far articulated among the members of Parliament. Another George, George Orwell once warned of the 'deep, deep sleep of England, from which I sometimes fear we shall never wake till we are jerked out of it by the roar of bombs.' We have heard the bombs roar. The political establishment desperately hope that ordinary people stay 'asleep', without raising awkward questions about why what happened happened. But the necessary drastic change in British foreign policy that is so badly needed can only come about as a result of us asking such questions of authority again and again in our millions.

Edited to add a couple of links relating to the aftermath of the bombings in Leeds - see here and

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At 4:08 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Histomatist readers might like to read this www.lrb.co.uk/v27/n13/harr04_.html from the London Review of Books this month. It describes the woeful mismanagement and appropriation of Iraqi money since the Coalition Provision Authority took control of Iraq in 2003.

It is a stunning and shocking read. Among other things, it describes how Paul Bremer kept a slush fund of $600m when he was pro-consul, for which there is absolutely no paperwork or records. It shows that international auditers have referred over a hundred dodgy US-based contracts in Iraq for possible criminal prosecution. It explains why the Iraqi police officers is completely unprepared for the insurgency it faces (because the coalition hasn't bothered to train them properly). And it shows comprehensively the waste, corruption, profligacy and unaccountability of the occupation.

My favourite line in this article sums up this whole sorry saga. Having described the lack of transparency and often outright theft of Iraqi money (and remember that this is Iraqi money, not American), it tells the story of "an Iraqi sports coach who was paid $40,000 by the Coalition Provisional Authority. He gave it to a friend who gambled it away and then wrote it off as a legitimate loss." Quite amusing - except that the result of this wanton carelessness is death and suffering to people all over Iraq.

On a related matter, here is a quiz for you. Since 1945, the USA has launched bombing campaigns on 20 countries which have all failed to bring about human democracies. Can you name them?

At 7:13 pm, Blogger HV said...

I have this on a t-shirt, so I should be able to get it: Japan, Korea, Guatemala, Dominican Republic, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Chile, Afghanistan, Grenada, Nicaragua, Panama, Iraq, Somalia, Sudan, Serbia - damn, missing 3. (Maybe Angola - do proxy wars count?)

Anyhow, great blog Snowball, I'll add you to my links column. I enjoyed your dissection of British nationalism. I think the main reason I oppose terrorism - apart from loss of life & limb, of course - is that it gives free reign for the Right to resurrect their racist nationalisms. It makes a real history of imperialism all the more important.



At 10:42 pm, Blogger Unknown said...

الرائد من افضل شركات الخدمات المنزلية في المملكة وخدماتها تغطى كل المنطقة العربية للمزيد قم بزيارة
شركة تنظيف خزانات بمكة شركة غسيل خزانات بمكة
افضل شركة تنظيف منازل بالمدينة المنورة افضل شركات تنظيف منازل بالمدينة المنورة
شركة تنظيف مجالس بمكة افضل شركة تنظيف مجالس بمكة
شركة تنظيف مجالس بالمدينة المنورة افضل شركة تنظيف مجالس بالمدينة المنورة
شركة تنظيف بالمدينة المنورة شركة نظافة بالمدينة المنورة


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