South Asia keywords:
No to terrorism! No to racism! No to war!
Editorial of the Socialist
The unprovoked and vicious killing of an unarmed soldier in Woolwich was an horrific event which must have been profoundly traumatic for the people who witnessed it, and, of course, an appalling tragedy for the victim, and the victim's family and friends.
The Socialist Party completely condemns this attack just as we condemned 7/7, 9/11, and all similar attacks aimed at indiscriminate slaughter. The victim of this latest killing, while one individual rather than many, appears to have been selected possibly only because of the 'help for heroes' t-shirt he was wearing.
The attackers apparently claimed to be acting in the name of Islam, and in protest at the occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan. However, the vast majority of Muslims are as sickened and horrified by this attack as the rest of the population. The brutal imperialist occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan, which have resulted in the deaths of over 100,000 civilians, are not the responsibility of ordinary soldiers, but of the governments that took the decision to invade and then occupy.
The aftermath of this latest killing demonstrates once again that terrorism is a completely mistaken and counter-productive method of struggle. Socialists have always opposed terrorism, because it attempts to substitute the acts of the individual for a mass working class-led movement.
Historically, individual terrorism was at least aimed at representatives of the ruling class. The 'mass terrorism' of the last 15 years, aimed at indiscriminate killing, has far more reactionary consequences. It was the mass terrorism of 9/11 which gave then US President George Bush a 'justification' he could use to invade Afghanistan and then Iraq.
The Woolwich killing was immediately seized by Tory Prime Minister David Cameron to try to bolster flagging support for his government. Responsible for the continuation of the occupation of Afghanistan, the Coalition has become increasingly unpopular as it inflicts endless austerity on the working class of Britain. The headlines before Wednesday 22 May, the day of the killing, were all about the vicious infighting and splits in the Tory party. On that day the IMF repeated its criticisms of Chancellor Osborne's austerity policies. All of this has been temporarily dropped from the headlines as a result of the Woolwich killing.
The government is also attempting to use this tragedy in order to try to push through a raft of anti-democratic legislation, none of which would have prevented the Woolwich killing, any more than previous anti-democratic legislation prevented 7/7 or defeated the IRA. These draconian measures would, however, be a major curtailment of our democratic rights. They include an attempt to revive the 'snoopers' charter' which would give the state access to everyone's emails and other information.
These measures that Home Secretary Teresa May is proposing are so draconian that Ofcom, the BBC and the Liberal Democrats seem to be opposing them. It is yet another example of Labour's right-wing pro-capitalist character that it seems far more supportive of May's plans.
Inevitably millions of people have studied the news trying to work out why these two young men carried out this horrific killing. Clearly they decided to become 'martyrs', making no attempt to leave the scene and rushing the police when they arrived, inevitably resulting in them being shot.
Like the 7/7 bombers these young men were brought up in Britain. Both, like one of the 7/7 bombers, did not come from a Muslim background but converted as young men. To most people, including most Muslims, it seems unimaginable that these apparently ordinary young men should have taken such an extreme step.
The government and newspapers have limited their explanation to describing the perpetrators as 'evil' or in the grip of an 'evil ideology'. Of course, anyone who could carry out such acts will be widely considered 'evil'. However, it is an inadequate explanation of why these young men chose this road.
Tory London Mayor Boris Johnson, along with other capitalist politicians including Labour's David Lammy, has declared that the government's foreign policy had nothing to do with the Woolwich attack. But it clearly formed at least part of the killers' motivation, as has also been the case with previous terrorist attacks. The occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan, accompanied as they were by a prevalence of racist anti-Muslim propaganda in the right-wing media, have had a profound effect on the consciousness of Muslims worldwide.
Bush's regime invaded Afghanistan and then Iraq partly to increase its prestige in the wake of 9/11 by flexing its military might, but also to follow the dream of cheap oil for US imperialism. For millions of Muslims, the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan, along with the plight of the Palestinians, are perceived as part of a war on their religion. Many Iraqis and Afghans have been tortured and killed in US and British military detention camps.
Globally, capitalism is a system in profound crisis. In many countries religious, national and ethnic tensions are increasing and even leading to war. The major capitalist powers intervene in these conflicts not to find a solution, but to further their own interests, as was the case in Libya. This inevitably increases the danger of terrorist attacks in Britain, the US and elsewhere. Both of the killers were from Nigerian families, and both the increasing ethnic and religious conflict and brutal state repression in Nigeria is likely to have had an impact on them.
A generalised anger against imperialist oppression may well have been fuelled by personal experience. One of the perpetrators had recently attempted to go to Somalia, he said because he wanted to live under sharia law. He failed to get there and was instead arrested in Kenya, where he claimed to have suffered beatings, and threats of rape and death. Family members say he had been changed by this experience, and had returned "very withdrawn" and seeing "everyone in authority as being a torturer".
Both young men seem to have been involved in gangs and petty crime. One had been stabbed in a drugs-related robbery some years earlier. Right-wing political Islam, it seems, falsely appeared to offer to them a way out from difficult lives.
One million young people are currently unemployed in Britain. Capitalism in Britain is not capable of offering young people a future. For black and Asian youth the nightmare of mass unemployment is even worse. Half of all young black men are unemployed. Police harassment is the norm, with young black and Asian men eight times more likely to be stopped and searched than young white men.
In Woolwich, as in many areas, the few services that existed for the young unemployed are being cut. There have been major cuts in the funding of youth services, including those aimed at ex-offenders.
While the vast majority of young people facing this barren future do not turn to terrorism, a tiny minority can do so. In addition, as recent events in Sweden have shown, there is a significant danger of further riots, perhaps even on a bigger scale than in England in 2011.
The trade union movement has a duty to attempt to reach this layer of young people with a mass campaign against cuts and for decent jobs and free education. A first step would be a 24-hour general strike against austerity. Such a strike, provided it was part of a serious struggle to defeat government cuts, and clearly demanded a decent future for young people, would be the most effective possible step to begin to cut across the alienation of unemployed youth.
No to the racist EDL and BNP
The trade union movement also needs to urgently organise against the increased racism in the wake of the Woolwich killing. A number of racist attacks on mosques have taken place in the last few days.
The racist hooligan English Defence League (EDL) were previously in complete disarray after they were prevented from marching in Walthamstow, north east London, last year by a mobilisation of the local community (in which the Socialist Party played an important role). Woolwich, however, has given them a new lease of life.
Up to 1,000 EDL supporters protested by Downing Street on 27 May. The far right racist British National Party (BNP) is also attempting to use the killing to resuscitate itself and has called a demonstration in Woolwich for Saturday 1 June.
There is a danger that some white youth - also facing the nightmare of unemployment and poverty - can turn to the racism of the far right. It is absolutely correct that the local Greenwich Unite branch is initiating a counter-mobilisation to the BNP, calling for working class unity against terror, racism and war.
In the early 1990s, in the wake of the killing of black teenager Stephen Lawrence, 50,000 people marched in nearby Welling to oppose the racist thugs of the BNP. Many marched under our party's slogan of 'jobs and homes not racism'; we need to organise a similar movement today.
There is also an urgent need to begin to build a mass socialist alternative to austerity and racism, and the capitalist system which creates them.
Links to useful reading
The politics of fighting the racist EDL: www.socialistparty.org.uk/articles/14856
Stopping the far-right: The need for democratic debate www.socialistparty.org.uk/articles/15149
Under siege: Muslims in Britain: www.socialismtoday.org/95/muslims.html