Jordanian & Iraqi Physicians behind UK Bombing
A cell made up of 7 medical personnel from Jordan and Iraq appears to have been behind the attempted bombing at Picadilly Circus on Friday and the actual car bombing at the Glasgow airport this weekend. One is a neurologist, Muhammad Asha, from Jordan. Another is an Iraqi physician, Bilal Abdulla. CNN is reporting that Asha’s family back in Jordan is stunned. They are middle class, not religious, and intermarried with Christians.
Why would highly educated and relatively well off professionals behave this way? I think this sort of cell suggests that three kinds of sociological theory need to be synthesized in order to understand contemporary social movements– Social constructivism, resource mobilization theory and European new social movement theory.
Here I’ll just concentrate on one, social construction in the Jurgen Habermas (left) and the Peter Berger/ Thomas Luckmann (right) traditions. Groups construct life-worlds within which social action becomes plausible to them. This cell of highly networked professionals had developed a narrative about the world that required they do these horrible things. They weren’t motivated by poverty, or class grievances. Their ideas came out of a logic of self and other, such that they likely included Fallujah in “self” and all British foreign policy in “other.”
Gradually the shape of that narrative may emerge, though actually there are impediments to our understanding these hothouse terrorist ideologies. The perpetrators often kill themselves, taking most of the details with them. Mainstream media often are little interested in tracking down the details, and government spokesmen are positively eager to downplay or dispute the internal motivations of the criminals. All this is understandable, but it does law enforcement and the public discourse a disservice.
With regard to the 7/7/2005 underground bombings, one of the perpetrators, Shahzad Tanveer clearly was responding to what he saw as a vast Western/Indian conspiracy to massacre Muslims in Kashmir, Afghanistan and Iraq. The conspiracy-theory aspect of his thinking, which brought together disparate political struggles into a single over-arching plot, is typical of these violent ideologies. We know what he thought in part because journalists from local British newspapers in his home area went to Pakistan to seek out his relatives. But the enormous impact on him of the Iraq War was repeatedly denied by the Blair government.
It is too soon to know what exactly was the little lifeworld constructed by these expatriate physicians in Scotland. It could be al-Qaeda, it could just be garden variety Arab nationalism. Note that such extreme points of view thrive when small numbers of persons are in intensive social action within the group and somewhat isolated from their surroundings. They reinforce each other constantly, without encountering skepticism. (Outsiders would say “You believe what?”) Medical personnel with odd hours, who hung out socially mainly with one another, and spoke Arabic with one another while not intensively discussing their ideas with Britons, would fit this profile. They may have received reinforcement from internet chat groups.
The kind of thinking they would be engaged in (I don’t know details) would typically be, “Britain and the US are conducting a genocide against Arab Muslims in Iraq, are ethnically cleansing Fallujah, Baqubah, and Baghdad, and this must be stopped and cannot be borne. Something must be done, something dramatic, to draw the attention of an apathetic public to the kind of policies they are supporting.”
The narrative will be one-sided, exaggerated, black-and-white, with pure heroes and black-hearted villains. Typically they were not upset when Saddam Hussein was massacring 300,000 Iraqis, or when the Talaban were massacring people in Mazar-i Sharif and Bamiyan. (Baathi or Salafi bombings of Shiites in Baghdad also likely do not disturb them). A foreign/indigenous dynamic informs their outrage, so that indigenous atrocities are not (as) objectionable as what are seen as imperial interventions.
And then there will be the leap to irrational and counter-productive violence against innocents. Putting gasoline cannisters in a car and setting it on fire in front of a dance club or an airport isn’t likely to actually change policy. It was even amateurish terrorism, since they only managed to set themselves and their car on fire. I suggested yesterday that the Glasgow Airport operation seemed more focused on suicide than on killing others, though they may have hoped to take some passengers with them. Neither homicide nor suicide actually helps their cause. If the group wanted to change British policy, they could have become activists in politics and given money to the Liberal Democrat party. Indeed, terrorism has the effect of reinforcing right-wing policy.
Disrupting these small-network ideologies may not be easy. But it would be important to know which media they typically watched or engaged with (satellite television? Internet?) and to think of strategies for challenging the narratives in those realms. Impressing on British anti-imperialists that there are political avenues in open societies for changing policy, and that violence is counter-productive to their aims, would be important. Public service ads to this effect in Arabic and Urdu might be an idea.
I suspect that, however, a lot of these deviant ideologies are now being driven by the Iraq War and to some extent Afghanistan (see below), and that social peace in Europe may well require Western withdrawal from those countries.