This is what I think happened, and is happening.
Young British men are being targeted by extremists. They are recruited quietly, at universities, or at the local gym, perhaps - not the Mosque, since this is not a message welcome in Mosques, where ordinary men and women worship together. They are approached by men, who seem sincere, polite, respectable. These men make friendly overtures, have persuasive arguments. They talk of a new way, of glory and justice and a powerful ideology. 'All those times you were disatisfied, wondered if there was something missing, wanted more from life...this is what you were waiting for', they say. ' God has a purpose for you. Are you with us, brother?'
This fierce ideaology is not mainstream, it is not Muslim in the true sense of the word. It has little scholarship, little depth of understanding the teachings of this ancient faith of loving and loyal submission to what is Holy, of social duty and care. But it wears the clothes of Islam and brotherhood, and many of its followers do believe that it is about a purer form of Islam, about the establishment of an Islamic Caliphate. About being pleasing to God. As if God is pleased by innocent death, bloody maimings, pain and suicide. This is not a holy ideology; it is an ideology of hatred, revenge, violence and terror.
I doubt that the inspiration for much of this relatively new, austere and violent philosophy, Osama Bin Laden is truly motivated by religious zealotry. I think he is motivated by power and revenge and that he wants to stir up a war of religion and terror to achieve his aim of destabilising and humiliating the US, which he hates for personal reasons. I am speculating, of course, I do not know why he turned on his CIA backers, but he is partly a monster of America's making, and if you were being particularly cynical, you might even think if he did not exist, he would have to be invented. What good is it being a superpower with no enemies to fight, no spectres to scare a population with, no justification for liberty-curtailing laws that make it easier to manage people? Wars, and the contracts that follow in their wake can be good for business. Oil is crucial for this U.S economy: oil resources must be safeguarded, plundered and controlled. Power must be grasped and increased, funded and consolidated. If oil is what made you rise to wealth and power, perhaps power and oil is all you see. Bin Laden and Bush: two spoiled directionless sons of oil millionaires seeking a purpose in life - to seize and hold power. Both say that God backs their ambitions, both seek support from the religious, the conservative, the angry and the threatened.
So far, so conspiracy theorist. But is there a kernel of truth in this somewhat frightening sketch?
Religion is inextricably caught up in this fight of idealogies, but this is nothing to do with God, though it is marketed as such by both sides. Making this point is difficult, people come over as very sensitive about it, and you can be attacked as a bigot for even raising it. But words like 'God-given-freedom' are used to justify this killing, by both sides. Fervent religious belief is cited by followers. But I think recruitment into the terror idealogy is driven by more primitive subconscious needs, not spiritual awakening.
A desire in the convert to feel powerful and feared, to feel heroic and part of a band of brothers. A desire to be special, filled with sacred purpose and strength. A desire to heal wounded male pride and frustration, aggravated by an anger at the arrogant and aggressive foreign policy of the world's only super power and its allies.
This ideology has passion and conviction, it promises action and results. This ideology promises to restore clarity in a confused world, offers certainities and fellowship and eternal reward for manly actions. It is self-justifying and self-perpetuating: every outraged reaction to acts of terrorism escalates the situation, provides fuel for the fire. 'See? They have invaded Afghanistan, then Iraq, soon, Iran. They degrade and torture and abuse us. See the suffering of your brothers and sisters. See the mistrust of Muslims, the arrests, the stop and searches. We are being persecuted. We must fight back. This is real'.
Convinced, these idealogy's followers now move themselves away from other people. They meet in houses in small groups. They keep themselves apart and nurture their growing sense of anger; yet they also continue in their daily life and try not to provoke suspicion. There is nothing striking about these young men. They grew up in the U.K, liking pizza and chips, gaming, football or cricket. But at some point, there will have been a radicalisation, a change in behaviour, a determination to be more 'religious' and to turn away from decadent society and its evils. The change looks innocuous enough. Wives, parents, friends may even be pleased that the young man seems to be getting so deeply interested in matters of faith and spirituality. What can be more harmless and praiseworthy? Thus the fact that the young man is becoming interested in an extremist, violent ideaology slips under the radar. 'At least he is not taking drugs, getting into trouble'.
There are many reasons why people change and young men become attracted to radical ideas. Anyone can speculate: about years of suspicion, insults and casual racism, poor employment prospects or the fact that their is little to do if you do not spend weekends and nights in pubs and clubs drinking lager and trying to get lucky. What makes these young men feel so angry? I don't know what it is about someone's personality that makes them become a possibility for radical recruitment. I can only guess.
Their families would certainly disapprove of these young men's desire to become a holy soldier in a jihad. So would those at their local Mosques. The young men are moving far away from the faith they were brought up in, they are choosing a harsh, uncompromising, theology-lite but action-heavy path: they are being told the lie that it is a 'purer' version of Islam. They are told that the Covenant of Security has been broken. They are asked if the treatment of their Muslim brothers and sisters makes them feel angry, powerless, victimised. If they say yes, then they are invited to meet a tight-knit group of committed 'brothers' who yearn to make a difference.
So they join informal small groups, or cells, where they pray together, work out together, watch atrocity videos depicting violence and humiliation of Muslims all over the world - Chechyna, Iraq, Afghansistan. They are told that this is a war. A holy war. That they are soldiers. Holy soldiers. The everyday world fades away. Nothing feels as important as this. The zealots only concern is the heady brotherhood of the group, and the ideaology.They were radicalised and angry, now they are purposeful fanatics. Men with a mission.
They are asked to prove their dedication by raising funds, performing tasks to show their sincerity, perhaps some benefit fraud or low-level criminal activity to demonstrate their contempt for the State that they see as the enemy, murderer of the Ummah. They go on 'bonding activities' together - paint-balling say, white water rafting. Then they are invited to go abroad to attend the secret Terror Academies in Pakistan, Afghanistan and other places, where they learn to make bombs, to train for active jihad. After the theory, the practice. After the practice, the real thing.
Returning to the U.K, it is time to prepare onself with your new brothers who have sworn to participate in a martyrdom operation. A time and day is chosen, meaningful to you. Such as this one.
8.50am. The seventh of the seventh, a few week's before Osama Bin Laden's deadline for non-Muslim armies to leave Muslim lands.
(See The Qu'ran
Chapter 8, verse 50 'The Spoils of War' [8:50] If you could only see those who disbelieved when the angels put them to death! They will beat them on their faces and their rear ends: "Taste the retribution of Hell. )
And so here we are, after 7th July.
I think there was at first an issue of Orwellian doublethink that caused catastophic failure in the Government's response to the problem of these dozens, perhaps hundreds of young men, all over the U.K, practising, meeting, training to fight their jihad, here or abroad. The Prime Minister, the Home Office, I think, did not want to accept that these young men were serious, or that they would attack on their own soil. To acknowlege their existence and to consider their motives would be to acknowledge the elephant in the room: the effects of the occupation of Iraq, and the 'War on Terror'.
The Government do not want to admit or even think that Iraq has become such a successful recruiting seargeant and training ground for young men who see it as their duty to fight with guns and bombs in what they see as a 'holy war'. The Government cannot afford to say that Iraq and the bloody aftermath have gifted those who recruit and train these young men with a PR strategy that keeps making more willing martyrs, soldiers, jihadi warriors. The hideous irony - that the 'War on Terror' has only made more terror, fear and has generated many more terrorists
- dare not be mentioned.
M15 leaks last week showed how two of the July 7th bombers were bugged for months discussing training in Pakistan, fraud to raise money and their specific intention to fight in a holy war. Yet I do not think the Government could bear to contemplate the idea that the 'holy war' was to be fought here, not far away. 'Young hotheads rushing to fight with the 'insurgents' of Iraq, we can live with that,' they may have thought. That they had another target closer to home was dimissed and the surveillance was ended. Khan and his associate went on to injure 700 and kill 52.
I think the Government did start to wake up to it, but by then too late. There have been terror plots foiled since July 7th, but HMG do not want us to know how many. They do not to think about dozens of cells of self-radicalised young men, trained and with home made bombs, choosing their date and destination to leave this world in a martyrdom operation. Here, and abroad. On public transport, in nightclubs, in tourist areas, shopping malls, cinemas...And how little the Government can do about it. They need us fearful enough to support new draconian laws and civil liberites erosions, fearful enough not to ask questions, especially about rendition and torture - but not so fearful we rise up in anger, attack Muslims, not so fearful that we start calling for resignations and apportioning blame. It is impossible to orchestrate the 'correct level ' of fear. Cracks are showing, questioning voices refuse to shut up.
Despite doubling M15's funding, how much do they know about what is being discussed in the weights room, the suburban bedroom, the internet chatboards and blogs where these young men are exchanging ideas? Not enough. Not enough to prevent the next one being planned, and probably not enough to stop it being carried out. This is becoming clearer by the day.
It is easier to say that anyone who makes these points is justifying terrorism. Or of being racist, saying Muslims are terrorists, that we should mistrust all young Muslim men, or that to be anti-war or to criticise the Government is to be morally equivalent to the terrorists.
There is little that the Government can do: but they absolutely do not want to have a debate about the causes of terrorism, why July 7th happened, because they fear what that debate will unearth. Next month's trial of thwarted terrorists who had planned a major operation will push this agenda out into the open again. And so many still have questions. This issue may be being swept under the carpet, but it festers. It leaves a smell of decay and lies and trust drips away, cynicism and anger grows in its place. Sooner or later Blair will pay the price for the cruelties of his atrociously-handled invasion of Iraq.
There isn't much we can do, I know what happened, and I can guess what is happening - in the absence of one answer I piece the story together from many sources. I await ''the official narrative''. It will be an interesting read. If it ever gets published.
It's not about narrating WHAT happened, it is about WHY? For in the answer to WHY lies the hope of a better future, one with less hate and fewer bombs.
We can start by trying to understand exactly why we were targeted and that means facing up to the consequences of Iraq as a driver of anger, a fanner of flames. An independent, transparent public enquiry would help clarity. It would help me to know if what I think, and have posted just now, is true or not. Though every week that goes by, the picture grows clearer to me.
To understand the roots of terrorism is the only way to defeat it. I have tried to understand what happened, what the risks are, and I would like to know more about WHY . I believe I will find out more over the next few months. I hope so.
You can sign the petition for an independent transparent public enquiry here