The second Gulf War
When the events subsequent to September 11 2001 took place, namely the creation of a pretext for the invasion of Iraq, a widespread cynicism developed in the UK regarding the putative evidence of mass destruction and Al Qa’ida. Equally, there was much criticism of the Blair administration’s enthusiastic endorsement of the US’s offensive.
The range of people who espoused these opinions far exceeded the traditional left and politically-liberal constituency, as demonstrated by the vast anti-war protest in London of February 2003, many of whose attendees rightly identified oil as being the most important issue of the conflict. As is known, Blair roundly ignored this protest, and went to war regardless.
Outlying UK views opposing the war included a speculated prior connection between the Bin Laden and Bush families, accusations of the concealed murder of a dissenting weapons expert, and criticisms regarding the proven and well-evidenced commercial interest of senior US politicians in the conflict [notably, Dick Cheney’s involvement with Halliburton].
Britain’s involvement in support of the US brought condemnation from opposing European countries, and the writer of this blog spent a very uncomfortable weekend in Paris during the war, facing palpable hostility from members of the Francophone North African community in particular, which culminated in a narrow escape from a beating, triggered presumably by my short ‘military’ hair and possession of English as my mother tongue.
By the time of the invasion of Afghanistan, much UK public opinion had in large part swung back towards a traditional militaristic jingoism of ‘defend the cause, right or wrong, if ‘our’ troops are defending it’, which has tended to prevail in relation to all subsequent politico-military actions in the Middle East . The atrocities committed by the Taliban and other fundamentalists in Iraq made the invasion a more palatable pill to swallow. The previously widespread opposition to military intervention therefore shrunk in relation to Afghanistan, and sustaining it tended to reside among more familiarly left-facing individuals and groups.
Since around the time of the 1967 war, there has been a persistent leftist opposition in the UK to Israel’s partial genocide and incremental expulsion of Palestinians from land within its control. However. Fatah’s relative overshadowing by Islamic fundamentalist parties such as Hamas has problematised the issue, as has the whole wider issue of Islamic fundamentalism/jihadism.
On occasion, the BBC, the state broadcasting channel, makes a token attempt at expressing ‘balance’ in its reportage of matters relating to Israel/Palestine, and is invariably and immediately subject to thinly-veiled accusations by leading Zionists of anti-Semitism.
However, other than for Jews [Zionist or non-Zionist], leftists, political liberals, and a proportion of residual anti-Semites [usually drawn from the upper classes], Israel/Palestine is not generally treated as a major issue.
UK attitudes to Islamic fundamentalism
The white anti-Islamic fundamentalist agenda has largely been dominated by people supporting the army uncritically, together with various racist factions, who claim that because their argument is with an ideology, it cannot be categorised as ‘racist’. Increasingly, and in part impelled by a need to keep the white working-class politically onside, politicians from across the spectrum have expressed public disquiet about the nature of specific fundamentalist views [eg, on gender], in which they have been supported by ‘mainstream’ Muslim commentators keen not to be identified with jihadism.
These views are often articulated against a backdrop of racial polarisation in certain parts of the UK between the Bangladeshi and white UK populations in particular, where jihadism has become popular among young men from Muslim communities living in conditions of poverty, whose families have historically been subject to high levels of abuse and violence from ‘host’ communities.
It is likely that the effects of social marginalisation and poor educational achievement are exacerbated by a male need to express ‘masculinity’ after long periods of having been characterised as ‘soft’. The same impulse appears to underpin the ‘tough Jews’ rhetoric of Zionist machismo.
Leftists and political liberals have long struggled with Islamic fundamentalism. On the one hand, they espouse an inclusive equalities agenda, which seeks to acknowledge and respect all views.i However, this is problematic when such a right is extended to the expression of deeply illiberal perspectives.ii
i One extra-parliamentary ‘socialist’ grouping has been known to defend the Iranian state, even in a Kurdish forum, on the grounds that the enemy of the US must be a friend.
ii For example, in the early 1990s, an Islamist group was discovered to be distributing leaflets in non-English languages outside an adult education college in East London. Translation revealed a content that was pornographically misogynist. The college refused to act to stop the distribution of the leaflets, so as not to antagonise fundamentalist Islamic opinion.