Cause and Defect

The discovery that the perpetrators of the most recent bombings in London were not outsiders -- but native British nationals with ordinary lives -- has broken the stereotype of the hostile foreigner who seeks to destabilize an enemy nation from without. Analysts are searching for a plausible rationale to explain the contradiction between the Pakistanis and other Muslims involved and their Western upbringing.

Some have said the motivation of these particular young Muslims has nothing to do with a backlash against the war in Iraq, foreign troop presence in Afghanistan or the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Australian Prime Minister John Howard put it this way, shortly after the second bombing in downtown London: "Can I remind you that the murder of 88 Australians in Bali took place before the operation in Iraq? Can I remind you that the 11th of September occurred before the operation in Iraq? Can I also remind you that the very first occasion that bin Laden specifically referred to Australia was in the context of Australia's involvement in liberating the people of East Timor?"

This rationale, which has subsequently appeared in several op-ed articles, goes like this: Since 9/11 happened before the invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan, there is no cause and effect relationship between terrorist actions, the war in Iraq and foreign troop presence in Afghanistan.

On the other hand, the U.S. government, its allies and many members of the press have regularly held Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda responsible for terror attacks worldwide, including what is happening in Iraq on a daily basis. These routine accusations are always buttressed with the fact that Al Qaeda or its wannabes obligingly take credit on their websites, or through praises delivered by bin Laden or by his right-hand man Ayman al-Zawahiri. The recent attacks in London were claimed by at least three so-called "Al Qaeda franchises."

But the London attacks do not fit into the past profile of foreign attackers or jihadists who have descended on a country to wreak havoc. They were homegrown. These are 21st century Muslim Desperados, with characteristics similar to terrorists active in the 1970s in groups such as the Red Brigade in Italy, the Red Army in Japan, the Baader-Meinhof Gang in Germany and even the Symbionese Liberation Army in the San Francisco Bay Area. Just as members of those '70s terror groups adopted rhetoric from Communists and South American revolutionaries, today's Muslim Desperados model their ideology from bin Laden's and Al Qaeda's deviated interpretation of Islam.

Their disenfranchisement with the British system preceded 9/11. These Muslim Desperados have felt chafed for too long by being relegated to an inferior immigrant status -- in a country they did not immigrate to, but were born into. Their history goes back to the summer of 2001, when Muslim youths in the towns of Oldham, Burnley, Leeds and Bradford -- the majority of whom were of Pakistani origin -- shocked the nation by rioting against provocations by the neo-fascist British National Party.

It was largely after 9/11 that many of them were drawn to radical Islam. Inside the sanctity of their mosques, they were listening to extremist imams such as Abu Hamza Al Masri, currently in jail, who always referred to the 9/11 perpetrators as "martyrs" and openly praised Bin Laden as a hero. Many of them traveled to Pakistan to study the Quran, Arabic and Urdu. Many others simply received their indoctrination through hundreds of terror Web sites. There, they learned the science of bomb-making and, like a sponge, absorbed the rhetoric. Like the gun-slinging outlaws of the past -- with modern-day weaponry -- their blaze of destruction holds no message, except to bring anarchy and terror upon the status quo that has excluded them.

While this profile holds true, it is superficial if one does not take into consideration the galvanizing impact of the cumulative influence of the Western presence in the Middle East and Islamic countries. Before the current Iraqi war, there was the second Intifada in Palestine (2000), and before that the sanctions on Iraq, which were preceded by that other Iraqi war, Desert Storm ... stretching all the way back to the British and French colonial division of Arabia and installation of puppet regimes.

These multiple fissures were exacerbated by the flagrant disregard of "good cause" in the invasion and devastation of Iraq, which is seen not as a mission of "democratization" but as willful mischief on the part of those responsible. This has further polarized those who feel their own culture threatened by what they see as a sort of Crusader renaissance. And the definition of what that culture is, and who those people are, has become much broader since the Al Qaeda ideology has captured the imagination of so many people who feel at risk.

It is a mistake to underestimate the empathic capacity for others by those who feel under siege -- to discount how the "Westernized" Pakistanis of London can be galvanized by the Iraqi war or the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. But to discount this is to miss the complexity of identities that now transcend individual nationality, and find their greatest commonality with the part of themselves that is most threatened: their religious and ethnic sides.

The horrific bombings in Sharm el-Sheik have shocked the world again. First the comfortable, stable regularity of an everyday London permeated with uncertainty and instability, then a peaceful, remote vacation spot shattered and charred. In all the horror and carnage and panic, there does seem to be a very deliberate message in these attacks: "No more 'business as usual,' for anyone, anywhere."

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