On 7 July 2005 four young British men detonated bombs on London's public transport system, killing 52 people as well as themselves. Why they did it and how we can prevent future such attacks are the two central themes of Milan Rai's latest book, which combines a deeply moving tribute to the bombers' victims with the gripping, page-turning qualities of a good detective novel.
In the immediate aftermath of the attacks - and before the Government shrewdly re-focused the public debate onto the role of “preachers of hatred” - opinion polls showed large majorities in Britain linking the bombings to the UK's role in the invasion of Iraq.
Using leaked internal documents Rai shows not only that the public were right but that the Government's denial that any such link existed was a lie. Indeed, over a year before the bombings, the head of the Foreign Office was acknowledging in private that the perception of the negative effects of British foreign policy on Muslims appeared to be “a key driver behind recruitment by extremist organisations” in the UK.
Rai also carefully debunks a number of alternative explanations that have been offered for the bombings, demonstrating that the four bombers were not “brainwashed”; that “Islam” was not to blame (indeed, the type of Traditional Islam that three of the bombers had been raised in was an obstacle to the bombings, rather than an enabler); and that whilst social deprivation is a major factor in the lives of Britain's Pakistani and Bangladeshi communities, its connection with the bombings is a best oblique.
In their place Rai argues convincingly that for many young British Muslims “Islam has become the door-way to a transnational fellowship of belief” and that it is the very real attacks on, and humiliation of, sections of this global community - coupled with feelings of powerlessness to alleviate this suffering through nonviolent means - that lie at the root of the London bombings.
Whilst stressing that the bombers were “not victims” Rai notes that “Blair and Bush cannot escape their responsibility for deliberately and unnecessarily and dishonestly inflicting massive suffering on the peoples of Afghanistan and Iraq, thereby inflaming the rage and despair of young Muslims around the world, and making them more willing to listen to al-Qaeda's message of hatred and revenge.”
As the Government unveils its official 7/7 “narrative” this spring, this essential book should be at every anti-war activists finger tips.