Violence begets violence?

European colonialists in Africa

Political activist Zafer Iqbal argues that while many commentators blame Islamic extremism for what happened in Woolwich, the real root cause is historical grievances dating back to the era of European colonialism and Western governments’ ineptness in acknowledging them.

The decapitation of a British soldier in the streets of London led the Prime Minister, the media and government “experts” to claim the causes were related to hate preaching, extremist ideologies and Islamist ideas. London Mayor Boris Johnson even denied any link with foreign policy. Michael Moore meanwhile summarized Western reaction by tweeting, “I am outraged that we can’t kill people in other counties without them trying to kill us!”

The suspect however was recorded claiming, “I killed him because he killed Muslims and I am fed up with people killing Muslims in Iraq and Afghanistan. Tell them to bring our troops back so you can all live in peace.” Previous attackers had also cited similar reasons. The compelling courtroom testimony of Bilal Abdulla, the doctor who attempted to blow up Glasgow airport in 2007, described how the destruction of his country, deaths of hundreds of thousands of children and theft of natural resources led him to terrorism.

There is thus something disturbing in the governments’ claims – the reasons being provided may not only be incorrect, but seriously misleading. All of the attackers felt a moral obligation to take direct action, due to atrocities committed against their countries, communities and family members by the British government, its armies and corporate interests. There is no doubt the same feeling which motivated millions to take part in the ineffectual “Stop The War” coalition in 2003, believing the “democratic” system would reflect their voices and the elites would take notice.

The difference between those who undertake violence and those who do not, appears to stem from confidence or disillusionment with the political processes and whether they can effect change – especially when they are in conflict with the entrenched interests of the 1%.  As a result, one can be propelled from non-violent actions to violence. Although the shift may appear irrational to many, well known historical examples show how it can appear rational to those involved. One has to simply consider the violence utilised by those involved in the English Civil War, American Revolution or the French Revolution, all of which swept away millennium old feudal political structures. Noteworthy too is the failure of Gandhi’s movement to expel the British from India, in stark contrast with the success of Subhas Chandra Bose’s violent INA or the more recent violent activities of the IRA which achieved significant political concessions in the Good Friday agreement.

To stop this cycle of violence, we must get beyond the political rhetoric and consider the causes – something missing from the collective debate. For decades the government battled with the IRA, with peace ultimately arising when their grievances were recognised and addressed.


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Historical grievances

So what are the grievances that are being raised? The examples may vary however all arise from colonial activities following the English Civil War in the seventeenth century. One cannot but feel appalled at the atrocities committed by the new elites across the globe, in the Americas, Africa, Asia and Australasia, not exceptionally, but as a rule. The 1769 Bengal famine resulted in 10-20 million deaths due to British grain policy whilst the Aboriginal population was decimated from 300,000 to less than 60,000 during the first century of British settlements in Australia. In the Americas, the journal American Rationalist noted, “Today we teach history to schoolchildren under the euphemisms “Western Expansion” and “Indian Wars” when addressing property appropriation and mass murder. Rarely, if ever, are the terms genocide or land snatching rendered in schoolbooks regarding the Old West.” The division of the Ottoman Caliphate in the Middle East by the British and French after World War I, with conflicting promises made to various parties, resulted in the bloodiest and impoverished period the region has seen for over a millennium. The religious and sectarian conflicts across the region, from Sudan to Palestine and India were politically contrived by colonial powers, among peoples who had coexisted peacefully for centuries preceding colonial rule.

Taking a look at the causes behind the trail of wars, sanctions, economic exploitation and support for dictators across the Muslim world helps one understand why so many exhibit anger. There is a pathology of violence amongst Western elites, the wealthy landowners, industrialists and capitalists, who carry amoral ideologies centred on self-interest, perpetuated between succeeding generations, reproducing destructive patterns from continent to continent to the present day.

Therein is the answer and explanation to “why they hate us”. Something Bush’s superficial “they hate our freedoms” and Blair’s “we did nothing to them” answers fail to explain. Whilst this does not justify what happened in Woolwich, it aids in understanding it. Without such an understanding there can be no meaningful discussion and no prevention of similar, if not worse, atrocities here or abroad. The elite refuse to engage with such awkward questions – preferring to clamp down even further on critical views, increasing security, reducing general freedoms and rights, whilst increasing insecurity for all and failing to address their injustices around the world.

One cannot escape addressing the causes. As is often stated, violence begets violence. There is an imperative to rethink our approach.

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