Saturday, January 28, 2006

Clean skins

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


Blogger fjl said...

Hi Rachel. This was a helpful and interesting read. I agree with you as per victim targeting, which clearly is key. I think though, it's even more mundane. The suiciders tend to be young men who're hapless rejects, who'd be bought out by any type of petty crime if not terrorism due to their sense of worthlessness and their inability to assess their somewhat hopeless position. Never forget how insecure you fell as an 'adolescent', even if your chances are good. I was particularly struck by the hideous ( not trying to be funny) aspect of one of the London bombers, who evidently hadn't the smallest hope of success with women for the rest of his life. His mentors had homed in on his sense of complete worthlessness and made him feel his life was in safe hands.
Infiltrating the targeting is clearly key strategy. Yes, I should like to hear more on what detectives and Social Services are doing about it. We could be encouraged to befriend young men in similar situations before they throw their lives and others' to the wind. Yet there is no proactive game plan, no counter propoganda put about to deter young individuals from placing their faith in the nearest deluded maniac. Serveillance of this ordinary nature is standard adolescent management vis a vis troubled kids on the edge of society . We have to question whether the authorities can really be bothered atall.

January 29, 2006 10:50 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


Bin Ladin's story is quite well known - it's just that people don't tend to do the in depth. He turned up in Afghanistan late in the conflict, and had by that stage already developed a chunk of his anti-western beliefs. There were broadly two groups fighting the Soviets, the ones who wanted western aid, and the ones who regarded the US as the "Great Satan" and the USSR as the "Lesser Satan". No, I am not making that up. These weren't organisations, but schools of thought. Anyway, Bin Ladin setup a support network using Saudi money donated by the ultra-fundy types (we are talking 100s of millions). The CIA had little contact with him and didn't give him money.

When the war ended, Bin Ladin went home. To man who likes the austerity of living in a cave, the Saudi ruling class looks insanely corrupt and hypocritical and very, very un-Islamic (by fundy standards). Bin Ladins anger aginst the west began to grow - he had come from this background and he was essentially hating what he used to be. Self loathing converted into fanaticism is an old story - look at some of the stories of the ulta-Puritans during the English Civil war.... Anyway, along come the invasion of Kuwait. He offers to raise an army (yes, really) to defeat Saddam. He got brushed off. The Amerians, British, French and just about everyone on the planet comes to Saudi to fight.

The key to this is that Bin Ladin, who now sees himself in prophet, messiah terms has been pushed out of the limelight. By infidels. Again. At this point he really cracks. This is the time that most of his friends and family cut off ties with him.

Bin Ladin is the left-out-kid-on-the-edge-of-society but with lots of money and a monomania. He really believes. He wasn't inveneted by the CIA or the Mossad or by the short grey chaps from Zeta Reticula. He was invented by himself and his own society.

January 29, 2006 11:38 am  
Blogger Unknown said...

Not very different to military recruitment and training methods in the UK and US, then...

January 29, 2006 12:17 pm  
Blogger the ink slinger said...


As a recent discoverer of your blog, who has yet to read it in any great depth, can I ask if you have been subjected to the same vicious opprobrium that the armchair warriors (Hannity, Limbaugh, Taranto, Malkin etc.) have aimed at that other celebrated victim of the war on terror, Cindy Sheehan?

Keep up the good work.

January 29, 2006 4:58 pm  
Blogger Rachel said...

Thanks for the comments, that was interesting stuff on Bin Laden. I must read up on him a bit more, he's brought out a book of his sayings apparently.

I haven't been savaged like Cindy, no. I greatly admire her, but I am thankful for my *semi-anonymity ( * I am legally entitled to it as a rape survivor who has written about her experience and I use its protection gratefully). I consider myself fortunate that I have had such excellent support, not just from friends, but from strangers.

Most of my writing - the BBC Survivor blog that started all this, the pieces I wrote on behalf of Kings Cross United survivor group have been completely non-political.

The politics I keep for the blog, since this is my personal diary where I express my private feelings and my own political opinions. I try to make this as clear as possible to blog visitors.

I have previously been visible in the media for a short while as a spokeswoman for Kings Cross United, a survivor group run by Piccadilly line passengers, and when doing this I did not talk about politics at all. It would have been completely inappropriate to do so as KCU is a non-political group with no agenda apart from to offer each other support and encouragement as fellow passengers as we continue our journey after 7/7. As part of our brief but targeted strategy to let other passengers know about us, it was necessary to do some media stuff. We were careful to pick media that reached the demographics of our fellow passengers, and we turned down hundreds of media requests, doing a dozen pieces/interviews which were extremely effective in letting passengers know about the group. In many cases, passengers wanted to be interviewed by a fellow survivor not a journalist, so I volunteered to write the pieces. Where there were TV interviews, I did some of them since I am have had some training to do this. Other passengers did radio interviews and some did national newspapers and local press and TV. We supported each other and we worked as a team and took decisions on media strategy together. We only talked about what we wanted to talk about and we protected our privacy as much as we could. It was something I and others volunteered to do to help out the group and it was challenging, but it worked. I have written about the experience of dealing with the media in a post called 'Riding the Tiger' and another one called Yorkshire Lass journalism Ethics ( you can search on the blog for it using the search facility).

Since doing that media work, I came to the attention of various editors as a writer and have been asked to do more writing in a personal capacity, about non 7/7 matters which is very flattering and a new development for me. The KCU media strategy having been completed, I can now express my own opinions more freely, though I am still careful to say that they are my opinions ( unless I am quoting someone else) and not those of all survivors. Of course I can't possibly speak for all survivors about matters of politics or policy. (And nor, by the way, can Charles Clarke, Tony Blair or the Sun newspaper - though in the past they have claimed to!)

My first 'political' piece was for the Sunday Times when I wrote about how I and other survivors wanted a Public Enquiry into the bombs of 7th July. It is linked on the homepage sidebar. Since then the Sunday Times has asked me to comment twice they run a story about 7th July so last week and this week I was quoted by David Leppard in news stories saying that the M15 leaks which were the subject of the story 'absolutely underlined the need for a public enquiry'.

This is not exactly a controversial view to hold - the Opposition party, and now it seems, people who work for the intelligence service are also keen to have a Public Enquiry as are many MPs and of course members of the public.

We shall see if I become a 'target', I hope not. I continue to criticise the Government in some instances, most notably the war in Iraq - why it began and what the hell we are doing there now - and the evasions and wrigglings and Civil-liberties trashings since have distressed me - and I have said so. I was always against the war: when the consequences of a war I had never supported , had spoken out against, marched against several times exploded feet away from me, it made me even more angry.

But I am just an ordinary person who was caught up in the events of that day. I was political before. Now it is personal, as well as political. Which is how I think politics should be - driven by passion, engaged in because you care. 'The personal is the political' is an old feminist movement slogan: it is one I am happy to adopt as my own. I write, I think, I speak out, I blog. I am lucky to be here. One of the positive things from July 7th was that I found my voice speaking more clearly, with a confidence that I did not have before. My new, stronger voice found new platforms and audiences, and I will always be grateful for that. There is no reason why my opinion should be listened to above anyone else's - I keep saying, I could be anyone on that train. I am not a politican or a journalist or a commentator. I am a 34 year old woman from North London who works in advertising and has done so for 12 years. If people like the way I write or agree with what I say, well, good. This feels like something I have to do. Maybe it is what I got off the train for. Maybe not. In any event, it is wonderful to be heard and to have the support of many people. I was too naive to think about the consequences when I spoke out, which is probably a good thing. As far as I am concerned I am a passenger, who is continuiing her journey. We shall see what happens.

January 30, 2006 10:16 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I write the bits about Bin Ladin's career.

The claim is often made that Bin Ladin's goals have not been stated or that they have been distorted by the (insert evil westerners here). Bin Ladin himself has been quite clear about what he wants - all western involvment in Islamic nations must stop, so that all existing government can be brought down and replaced with ones supporting his version of Whabbi Sunni Islam. All heretics will be killed or converted. All non-belivers reduced to dhimini status. The resulting super power would then eventually control the world....

This idea has been around since before the Crusades. In fact, it was partly responsible for the Crusades... Hard core fundys (of this persuasion) hated the sight of Christian pilgrims travelling to Jerusalem, and through that they were fair game to attack and rob. Who exactly hit first is argued about - but it was this that led to the forming of the militant church orders (Templars etc), who then escalated things to the next level..

January 30, 2006 10:45 am  
Blogger Garry said...

Don't know if you saw the Horizon documentary on the psychology of suicide bombers? The suggestion was that the group dynamic, combined with a feeling of injustice (Iraq, etc) is often the radicalising influence and that the "recruiters" are of secondary or no importance. In essence, small groups of people become radicalised together, then actively look to join an extremist organisation. Apparently al Qaeda actually turn away far huge numbers of people who wish to join.

On the one hand this is seriously frightening as it appears that new extremist groups can spontaneously form without any "mad mullah" to recruit them. It was suggested that this is what happened in the case of the July bombers. On the other, it means that there is the potential to spot and intervene in the process before the group has had a chance to connect with a larger extremist organistation such as al Qaeda.

As you say though, the current government is unable to investigate these matters too deeply because to do so would be to reveal the extent to which the invasion of Iraq has motivated a new wave of radicalisation.

January 30, 2006 11:18 am  
Blogger Rachel said...

Thanks again for these comments. They were really good, and so I have done a whole post about them, above called Angry Young men.

Anon, would be good to know your name or website...I was about to disable anon comments due to malicious posting, but you have really interesting things to say, so could you be a bit less shy??


January 30, 2006 1:28 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have a surname that is litterally unique to three people on the planet, in my immediate family. If I express an opinion on-line and some nutter doesn't like it, they will get harassed as well. The internet works both ways. Even on Ye Olde USENET early in the Second Age :-) (the 90's for those who don't read too much Tolkien), when I was at uni, this caused problems.....

January 30, 2006 1:37 pm  
Blogger Rachel said...

oh well, anon, you don't have to use your real name!...But it would be good to address you as something, to be friendly. No matter.

January 30, 2006 2:01 pm  
Blogger Mike said...

I concur Rachel

My real name is Zap Start-winkle.

Hence the pseodonym.

Anyhow - I was thinking of this blog on Saturday afternoon as the Met searched two people on Victoria Station - both english, suited and being terribly nice about the whole thing.

Horse, stable, bolted crossed my mind albeit briefly.

January 30, 2006 5:19 pm  
Blogger steve said...

Here here Rachel. The sooner the govt stops pointing the finger at outside sources (Pakistani training camps/Bin Laden) and realises the problem is that people WANT to do these things, not just that they can, the better.


February 04, 2006 3:29 pm  
Blogger Rachel said...

I read a very inbteresting 4 page Fisk article on Bin Laden about three weeks ago, and it was very interesting. Fisk does indeed have an enormous amount of ME experience.

March 19, 2006 4:51 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

What do you make of the security operation taking place that day of the bombs

September 03, 2006 11:38 pm  

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