Why did they do it?

Eddie Ford examines the motivation of the London bombers - who were neither simply 'mad' or 'evil', nor can the war on Iraq explain their actions

In the wake of the London bombs, there has been a concerted attempt by sections of the establishment and rightwing press to close down rational debate. Anyone who refuses to run with the hysteria-tinged 'condemn more, understand less' pack immediately becomes the object of vilification.

The objective, of course, is to exonerate imperialism and the capitalist system as a whole from any blame or responsibility for the current events. Clearly then, communists need to steadfastly resist this ideological terrorism and unashamedly present the leftwing and working class alternative. However, having said that, we have to recognise that to date left discourse on this matter - defining 'the left' in the broadest sense of the term, obviously - has fallen grievously short of what is required.

Indeed, faced by these rightwing provocations, the left has trundled out its own counter-'common sense' propositions which are a mere inverted echo of its antagonists. So, instead of an independent working class, Marxist critique - or effective rebuttal - which seeks to go beyond the 'normalised' terms and categories, comrades on the left get locked into a circular, and ultimately futile, debate which refuses to engage with the far wider, and hence politically uncomfortable, issues at stake. Or, to put it another way, the Daily Mail yells 'black', so Socialist Worker must holler 'white' - you say 'evil', we say 'Iraq'.

We saw this law of diminishing political returns quite explicitly in the latest issue of Socialist Worker (July 30). Comrade John Rees, prime architect of the Socialist Workers Party's 'to the mosques!' turn, refers to the "nationwide political debate now raging" between, on the one hand, "the government and its supporters who condemn the bombing and see its cause in an 'evil ideology'" and, on the other hand, "those who condemn the bombing and see its causes running back to the invasions and occupations of Afghanistan, Iraq and Palestine".

Naturally, comrade Rees, being comrade Rees - that is, an opportunist - feels obliged to quote an opinion poll in defence of his contention, excitedly telling us that the Mirror "reported a poll showing 85% of people thought the bombings were connected to the Iraq war". His paper's editorial goes on to supply us with a concise, though thoroughly mistaken, summation of the SWP's (self-interest-driven) political-philosophical approach to the London bombings: "Unlike the hypocrites and moral simpletons of the right, most people understand that these deaths happen for reasons that cannot be deflected or contained. There is a chain of responsibility that inevitably links trigger-happy police officers to their warmongering political paymasters. There is a context to all the deaths that have occurred - Bush and Blair's war on Iraq. That is why we say stop 'shoot to kill' and get the troops out of Iraq."

Frankly, the most generous thing you can say about the diagnosis offered above is that it is trite. SWP comrades would have us believe that 9/11, 7/7, etc were simply the products of a mistaken foreign policy, and therefore the answer must be to reverse the decisions taken by Tony Blair, George Bush et al. This, of course, was exactly the same, narrow, 'common sense' view passionately advocated by George Galloway on the July 15 edition of Any questions? - "We must drain the swamp of hatred of its grievances," comrade Galloway told BBC listeners. "We must stop supporting general Sharon in Palestine, we must knock his wall down, we must move the settlers out, we must remove our soldiers from the occupation of Iraq." According to Galloway, "If we did those things, the swamp would dry out." Now, of course, the Iraq war is a cause for suicide bombers in Britain and elsewhere - and it is one of many causes they claim to uphold. But is Iraq the cause: ie, the reason for the suicide bombs?

The answer to that question must obviously be no. Becoming a jihadi is a symptom of far wider malaise in contemporary society than immediate concerns about the imperialist occupation or Iraq or the oppression of the Palestinian masses. Whereas the establishment wants to start and end debate with the entirely untenable idea that the four individuals who used themselves as human bombs in London on July 7 were just 'evil' or 'mad', communists seek to genuinely understand.

The actions of the suicide bombers - including those who failed to carry out their mission - is an extreme manifestation of desperation. A desperation born of a longing to escape alienation and feelings of not belonging. Seeing no practical way to fulfil themselves as human beings, they turned to the fantastic: ie, the programme of jihad. This promises a revival of Mohammed's values of justice and community (umma), and a happy and secure global future governed by a divinely appointed elect.

This is what we should understand when we look at the faces of those bombers from CCTV images - people who hate this world but yearn for a better one. Unpalatable though it may be to the Daily Mail or the BBC, these people had lost all hope in Britain and its political system. To achieve their unachievable ends all that is corrupt, all that is unbelieving must be swept away. The absence of a viable social force to carry out their illusory programme explains the resort to futile and self-destructive methods such as suicide bombing. The martyrs themselves are, of course, promised an immediate reward in paradise - a verdant garden, full of ripe fruit and flowing with cool, fresh water, and each of them will have 70 doe-eyed virgins to satisfy their every want and need.

Rightwing hacks and leader-writers would mercilessly scoff at our use of the word 'desperate' to describe them. After all, were not these individuals living off the fat of the welfare state - enjoying housing, clothing, food, technology, etc, that would otherwise have been denied them in the country that their parents come from? Perhaps, comrades in the Socialist Party will tell us that if only the four bombers had been signed up to a trade union, been allocated a modest council house and had a decent job with good wages, then they would not have been driven to such a fanatical and horrific course of action.

But, for communists, such a coarse and parched world perspective in and of itself does nothing to explain the motivations and behaviour of suicide bombers. Like many, but often in a more intense way, sections of the muslim population in the UK feel that life is meaningless, and that they are vulnerable and powerless before the chaotic inhumanity that is the current imperialist system. Iraq, Palestine, etc only act to confirm their subjugation before the false gods of mammon and state power. For communists, when the fantastic appears more realistic than the socialist or democratic project, then we know that it is we who have failed.