published on May 23 2013
Dr Leon Moosavi is Lecturer in Sociology at the University of Liverpool
“We have forgotten we are at war. We find it perplexing that a British soldier could be killed in our streets, near to a school, on a busy afternoon.
We have forgotten we are at war.
We are prone to suffering violence because our nation has been at war, explicitly in Iraq and Afghanistan, and covertly in numerous other nations. We are still an Imperialistic nation that believes it has a right to be at the ‘top table’, and that we are entitled to deploy our military wherever we like so that we can protect ‘British interests’.
Lives detached from war
In this modern era, our everyday lives are absolutely detached from war. We think more about television soaps and football than about the perpetual violence that is on-going in our names, on a daily basis, in faraway lands. As long as politicians deploy violence elsewhere in the world, we will always be vulnerable to counter-violence. As long as politicians enact state terrorism, we will always be vulnerable to terrorism at home.
Despite what we might like to think, foreign policy is key to understanding why terrorists attack us. We may hope they only attack us because they’re barbaric or because they ‘hate our freedoms’. But time after time the terrorists clearly state that they attack us because we attack them.
“We may hope terrorists only attack us because they’re barbaric or because they ‘hate our freedoms’. But time after time the terrorists clearly state that they attack us because we attack them”
And it’s uncomfortable to admit, but these terrorists know they are not lying in saying that our military has been involved in killing and harassing tens of thousands of civilians, whether directly through invasions, bombings and drone strikes, or whether indirectly through propping up oppressive regimes. Our aggressive and utterly selfish foreign policy will always leave us open to attack.
Here is an opportunity to re-evaluate our deployment of soldiers around the world and our alliances with oppressive governments.
But it is not only our foreign policy that is to blame. Surely the mental health of the criminals who perpetrated the act must be examined closely as this may provide answers as to why they could undertake such a brutal act. This attack also raises questions about knife crime in London more broadly, which has become normalised in relation to gang culture and a hyper-masculine conception of living a ‘thug life’.
And it is of course true that Islam is not to blame for the behaviour of these terrorists. Islam is a rich religion that has inspired a huge body of scholarly insights into spirituality, philosophy, social and political discussions over several centuries.
“Just as we would be burying our heads in the sand to say that foreign policy plays no role in causing such violence, we would be equally burying our heads in the sand to say that a twisted interpretation of Islam plays no role”
Some ignorant and misinformed people have already blamed all Muslims for the attack. This is of course a huge mistake as any sensible person knows that the vast majority – and by vast majority I mean more than 99% – of Muslims would never consider engaging in such despicable violence.
However, here is another uncomfortable admission that we must make. There is a literalist and extreme interpretation of Islam that does condone indiscriminate violence. This is a fringe interpretation that has very few adherents and is challenged enthusiastically and regularly by Muslims themselves. Just as we would be burying our heads in the sand to say that foreign policy plays no role in causing such violence, we would be equally burying our heads in the sand to say that a twisted interpretation of Islam plays no role.
Now is the time for communities to stand together, not to start blaming each other.
“Legitimate” to dissent against foreign policy
Muslim organisations have been quick to vehemently condemn the attack. Non-Muslim politicians and journalists have been quite clear that Muslims and Islam must not be blamed. Some have been reactionary in calling for an increase in surveillance and reduction of civil liberties to prevent such attacks from happening in the future. Others have said Muslims must start wearing ‘Help for Heroes’ t-shirts and pledging their allegiance to the British Army.
Neither of these responses are what we should be aiming for.
Instead, we should continue to value our multicultural society, recognise that it is entirely legitimate to dissent against our foreign policy or military activity, and ask more pertinent questions about what our foreign policy looks like, and why some Muslims are finding the literalist and violence fringe interpretation of Islam attractive.
We are after all a nation at war even if we have forgotten.”
Follow Leon on twitter @Leon_Moosavi