Britain in denialnews
Prem Shankar Jha
30 July 2005

If the present chaos in the international state system continues, then more and more first generation Muslim Europeans and Americans could turn themselves into human bombs… the revenge that a few take on a society that has left them with no space to inhabit. It is an act not far removed, in its horrific intensity, from matricide. It may also explain why there seems to be an inexhaustible supply of suicide bombers for Iraq.


Prem Shankar JhaThe reaction of the law enforcement agencies in Britain to the bombings of July 7 and July 21 are entirely understandable. But we did not need the death of a Brazilian electrician to show us that relying upon coercive measures alone would be the wrong way to go. While more vigilant policing and intelligence work is necessary, the curbing of the civil liberties, including the right to life, of a targeted minority, will only alienate it further.

Blair and his colleagues may be focusing single-mindedly on coercive measures to minimise a possible connection with Iraq. But this is only taking the government further from the issue that lies at the heart of the London bombings. This is not why are British born Muslim youth taking revenge for Iraq , Afghanistan or whatever, but why are they killing themselves when they do so. Suicide and revenge are normally born of very different motives. Why are they being fused together by ever larger numbers of young Muslims all over the world, including the western world, today ?

Suicide is the most extreme form of protest a human being is capable of — the final rebellion against a world he or she cannot change but also cannot continue to live in. Admittedly, something has to snap inside a person to make him or her want to commit suicide, and mental fragility makes the breakdown easier. Brainwashing then becomes much easier.

But one does not have to be psychotic, or brainwashed, to chose this form of protest. On May 6, 1998, Bishop John Joseph ended his own life in a courthouse in Sahiwal, Pakistan, when Ayub Massih, a 25-year-old Catholic was condemned to die for blasphemy against Islam. On 21 January 2001, five members of Falun Gong tried to commit suicide in Tian Anmen square by burning themselves. By then the Chinese government had jailed 450 of its members, sent 600 to mental hospitals, 10,000 to labour camps and 50,000 to detention centres. In February 2003 five young Iranian women from villages near the city of Shiraz burnt themselves to death because their families refused to let them go out to work

Suicide is also an expression of helplessness. A Chinese writer , Si Si Lu, summed up the motive for suicide as follows: "People who have the power and resources to make choices and changes in their lives are usually also able to express their views in a variety of moderate and socially acceptable ways. For those who lack the power or resources to address the sources of their discontent, however, suicide may provide a last resort".

Had revenge for the invasion of Iraq been the sole motive, the bombers would have planned to set off the bombs without killing themselves. Suicide was an escape from a conflict that was tearing them apart but which they could not resolve. This was the conflict between their inherited Muslim identity and their acquired British one. Contrary to what most people believe, this conflict is virtually non-existent in those who make the decision to migrate. Their cultural identities are already fully formed and most of them ask for nothing more than a friendly reception from their host nation.

The confusion, and therefore conflict over identity, usually starts in the first generation born or raised from infancy in the host country. This new generation considers itself a part of the host nation, but has not severed its ties with its parent culture. It therefore actively seeks ways of fusing the two. Some of the most creative fiction, film and theatre in Britain is a fruit of this effort.

But the more successful it is in fusing its two inheritances, the greater is the potential for conflict if the still incomplete process is disrupted. That is what 9 / 11 did to the Muslim diaspora. The extravagant condemnation of Islamic fundamentalism, thinly disguised distrust of Muslims, and heightened surveillance reversed the process of assimilation. Many reacted by rebelling against their host cultures. This rebellion took them back to the veil, the beard and skull cap, the mosque and the madrassa.

But this road was not open to all. The further anyone had gone down the road to assimilation the more difficult did it become for him or her to choose rejection as a form of protest. Even the option that German Americans had had, of rejecting their German origin entirely because of Hitler's excesses, was not open to them because in the Iraq war and to some extent in Afghanistan, it was the US and the UK that had committed the aggression and many of the excesses that followed.

Everything we have come to know about the suicide bombers is explained by the predicament described above. Their sheer normality, their participation in team sports like cricket, and their lack of overt religiosity, reflects the level of their assimilation into British society. The fact that they kept their parents utterly in the dark about their intentions shows that the conflict they were unable to handle affected only their generation and not that of their parents. The fact that two of them were able to plan their own extinction despite having wives and children reflects the acuteness of the struggle within them and, finally, the serenity with which they casually said goodbye to each other, hours before their deaths, shows that in them the conflict had at last been resolved.

There is a profoundly important moral in the London bombings. A globalised world in which cultures will increasingly be intermixed, cannot coexist with the amorality of the 19th and 20th century nation state. The former demands that host nations extend the same rule of law to the home countries of their immigrant populations as they live under themselves. The latter exempts powerful nation states from the rule of law altogether.

If the present chaos in the international state system continues, then, unable to turn back and unable to go forward, more and more first generation Muslim Europeans and Americans will be in danger of suffering a psychotic breakdown. Turning themselves into human bombs could become the revenge that a few of them take on a society that has left them with no psychological space to inhabit. It is an act not far removed, in its horrific intensity, from matricide. It may also explain why there seems to be an inexhaustible supply of suicide bombers for Iraq.

Every step that Britain takes on the road to denial will make another attack more certain. For it will belittle the sacrifice, and ignore the message that the bombers sent with their deaths. This will make others more determined to send the message again and again till they are heard.

* The author, a noted analyst and commentator, is a former editor of the Hindustan Times, The Economic Times and The Financial Express, and a former information adviser to the prime minister of India. He is the author of several books including, The Perilous Road to the Market: The Political Economy of Reform in Russia, India and China, and Kashmir 1947: The Origins of a Dispute, and a regular columnist with several leading publications.

also see : Other articles by Prem Shankar Jha

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Britain in denial