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The Westminster Bridge attack: Socio-political Perspectives of the West, and Terrorism

By Dr Strobe Driver

Introduction

In my last article—War in a public place: The Bastille Day attack, the strategy and tactics of Insurgencies—I stipulated ‘civilians are deemed part of the enemy,’ and this has, yet again, played out in the London Westminster Bridge attack of 22 March, 2017.[1]

Notwithstanding the pain and sorrow that is inflicted on the populace – the immediate recipients and their families and friends – and the simple truth that civilians and/or non-combatants should not be part of any solution that a group may desire, the fact remains that groups utilize public places as locations to advance their cause, and/or causes. This remains true to the edict that ‘terrorism’ essentially embraces three core principles: the method (violence), the target (civilian or government), and the purpose (to instil fear and force political or social change). [2]

This issue is however that the microcosm of an event—the direct targeting of civilians—is the reflection of a greater sphere of what ‘needs to be done’ in order for those that feel polarised and disenfranchised from their beliefs to reinvigorate an existential connection to them. The rage and anger that a person feels towards an assemblage, in this case a group of people walking along a bridge pathway, means that the group presents an overt expression of the political bloc that the individual is raging against, and within this understanding all people become worthwhile targets; ones which offer the most potential for change; and of delivering the utmost form of personal sacrifice should the person be challenged. This attitude towards a populace is historically not restricted to the microcosm of a single person as in the recent Westminster Bridge carnage, although in this case for the actor the people do reflect a group deemed to be supporting the United Kingdom if only by their presence. Therefore their age, nationality, gender or religion or religion do not matter. In simpler terms all on the bridge come under the banner of tourism, visiting or living and therefore all are supporting the government of the United Kingdom economically in some way, and therefore are deemed to be a form of support for the government; and if the targets are killed in the process, then for the attacker, it is an advantage.

The enforced homogeneity of peoples by the West

To understand the aforementioned rage that a ‘lone wolf’ attacker feels towards a group of innocents on a bridge it helps to reflect on how this mindset has been incrementally, and then exponentially, put into place by Western-driven historical events. A single person such as the Westminster Bridge attacker, although perhaps not aware that he forms a part of a culture that has long been associated with Western references toward, and about ‘others’ (read non-Westerners), is pertinent to mention. The Middle East—often referred to as the Orient—Africa, East Asia, Southeast Asia and Central Asia have historically been the target of comment, although the Middle East has been of particular focus. According to Said Orientalism’ or the ‘Orientalist attitude’ which is a construct of and by the West consists of Arabs being thought of as ‘camel-riding, hook-nosed venal lechers whose undeserved wealth is an affront to real civilization. Always there lurks the assumption that although the Western consumer belongs to a numerical minority he (sic) is entitled to own or expend (or both) the majority of the Worlds resources.’[3]

Hence, history is littered with examples of entire nation-states (and cultures) being branded with appalling levels of existential non-awareness, blind stupidity and ignorance—or in the vernacular of the English language, that of being ‘sheep.’ A singular and stunning example of this dogma is writ large in the postulating of President John F. Kennedy of the United States of America (US) in 1961 in which he spoke about the doors of Communism being ‘open wide,’[4] in the Southeast Asian region as the ideas of Ho Chi Minh gained a level of regional acceptance. Whilst this statement was premised on motivating and developing a gathering need to begin an escalation of US involvement in Vietnam, it was also done with a (somewhat false) notion that Southeast Asia without a strong and committed US involvement in the first instance—which signifies an involvement of the West and its values in general—would evolve into a long-term and powerful Communist stronghold. In the second instance, the state-of-affairs would contribute to an unregulated non-Western world which would, in some bizarre way, contribute to the death of democratic nation-states worldwide. To be sure, Kennedy’s words were essentially, a timely reverberation and reinforcement of President Eisenhower’s statement about Indo-China being part of a region where ‘… the United States must, if necessary, resist the communists with its own military forces. If any one country of Southeast Asia—Laos for example—fell to the communists, all the rest would tumble over like a row of dominoes.’[5] To wit, the ‘domino-theory,’ was born and it resided in an ill-informed notion that Communism was an all-consuming force that would subsume all populations that were in its path. Communism would be so great in its delivery that it would condemn Southeast Asian nations to non-Western ideals and eventually, political slavery. Underpinning this assumption that Communism would roll on unhindered, is that Southeast Asian nation-state governments would be fundamentally incapable of articulate and intellectual nuance, and therefore, would be totally incapable of coming to terms with what was to befall their region. In simpler terms, and from a Western Imperialism/Imperialist[6] perspective, Southeast Asian nations—consisting of hundreds of millions of people—would be ‘too dumb’ and ‘too stupid’ to react differently than their regional counterparts and would fall under the ‘hammer of Communism’ like ‘sheep to the slaughter.’ The level of insult and pain that must have reverberated through Southeast Asian communities’ then (and perhaps to the present day), must have been palpable and might yet, have repercussions.

The way it is: the demands of the West

Returning to the notion of the incandescent rage of those that carry out acts of terror against liberal-democratic populations is to note that, as uncomfortable as it is, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) is exerting its influence through violence (often on those within its own regional populaces), in order to reject the historical and centuries–old presence of Imperial powers within the Middle East region. A perspective of the presence is needed here. Under the auspices of the British government the sovereign nation-state of Kuwait[7] was given protectorate status by said government and whether this was a worthwhile political act remains a moot point however, it does amount to an extreme meddling in the cultural- and tribal-boundaries of millennia-old ethnicities.

Returning to the abovementioned disenfranchisement what the actor hopes to trigger is a (re)questioning of Imperialist interventions that have been on a grand-scale; and to bring attention to the way in which the tribal and cultural peoples of the Middle East in particular have been treated in the political and territorial milieu. Meddling in the Middle East has become a somewhat normal part of Western policy and it is underpinned by the post-World War Two intrusions into the Southeast Asian region; and persistent divisive commentary about how the Middle East should ‘behave’ according to the West. President George H. W. Bush after the successes of the First Persian Gulf War would argue that a Western ideal had been achieved, one that had delivered

[A] foreign policy that assumes one world of compatible social, political, and economic values; that promotes democracy, open-market economics, international law, and international organization; and that insists upon U.S. leadership because [according to Secretary Baker[ [8]] “our moral principles and our material interests make us a leader”…The United Nations played a central role in the Bush administration’s pursuit of a New World Order[9]…’

Whether the vanquished agreed, or were given a say in the matter of having a ‘New World Order’ thrust upon them must do little to appease the rage that they must feel within, and one that will eventually no doubt coalesce in an attempt to expel those that feel the need to tell a culture how to live—and yet another war will begin. The world that the New World Order demands is essentially, what was in the nineteenth century what the French deemed a mission civilastrice,[10] or a ‘civilising mission.’

Conclusion

The difficulty in the argument is that whilst people should not be killed going about their business, whether as an officer of the law, or an ordinary citizen, it is also too simplistic to refer to an act of terror as not having motivations that the West in general has helped to generate. Being homogenized and having a formulaic of government and governance thrust upon a population and/or ethnic or religious group, one which ignores cultural traditions—whether they be satisfactory or unsatisfactory to Western ideals remains a moot point—there is only one pathway for those that feel enraged to the point of the worth of their life being secondary to their cause. The microcosm of the tragedy is that a person feels he or she (in the Westminster Bridge case it was a male), feels the powerlessness of centuries old Western-juggernaut input into their societies, as briefly dealt with in the abovementioned, and is an actor is only able to deal with this by the sacrifice of innocents; and their own death. The macrocosm of the tragedy is and remains: the West maintaining its stronghold on regions, including the Middle East involves a seeming unpreparedness to willingly disengage from its Imperialist roots; is unable to embrace a nuanced approach with regards to cultural and traditional sensitivities; is resistant to understanding that East Asian, Southeast Asian and Central Asian governments and peoples are actually capable of dealing with their own economic and political issues; and that Western influence, if it is required/requested, should be moderated and sensitive in its economic and governance applications.

The West must resist and desist from its past actions or, unfortunately, face more of the pain associated with the Westminster Bridge attack. This is surely echoed in the fact that London’s Metropolitan Police claim to have interrupted eight attacks in recent months.[11] This factor reflects a dyad: the efficiency of the Metropolitan Police; and the extent that functionalist rage that exists in individuals, a group, or groups within British society.

© Strobe Driver. March, 2017.

[1] Lisa Miller. ‘London Attack: Chaos on Westminster Bridge.’ ABC News http://www.abc.net.au/am/content/2016/s4640949.htm

[2] Harvey Kushner. The Encyclopedia of Terrorism. Thousand Oaks: Sage Publications, 2003, 359.

[3] Edward Said. Orientalism. Western Conceptions of the Orient. England: Penguin Books, 1995, 108.

[4] John Kennedy. ‘Address in New York City before the General Assembly of the United Nations.’ September 25, 1961. United States Government Public Papers. http//www.jfklinl.com/speeches/jfk/publicpapers/1961/jfk387_61.html

[5] See: Hugh Brogan. The Penguin History of the USA. London: Penguin Books, 1999, 649.

[6] ‘Imperialism,’ according to dictionary.com is ‘the policy of extending the rule or authority of an empire or nationover foreign countries, or of acquiring and holding colonies and dependencies.’ See: http://www.dictionary.com/browse/imperialism

[7] BBCNews ‘Kuwait Profile – Timeline.’ http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-14647211

[8] On September 11, 1990 Bush, in the United Nations General Assembly, declared (in part) ‘Out of these troubled times a New World Order can emerge, under the United Nations that performs as envisioned by its founders, We stand at a unique and extraordinary moment. This crisis in the Persian Gulf, as grave as it is, also offers us a rare opportunity to move toward an historic period of cooperation. Today that New World Order is struggling to be born. A world quite different from the one we’ve known.’ See: Gabriel Kolko. A Century of War, 217. My italics.

[9] The Presidency and the Persian Gulf War. Edited By Macia Whicker, James Pfiffner, and Raymond Moore. Westport: Praeger, 1993, 224.

[10] ‘The perceived calling of (former) imperial powers to introduce civilization into their colonies; specifically with reference to French colonial policy in Africa and Indo-China.’. See: English Oxford living Dictionaries. https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/mission_civilisatrice

[11] Adam Lusher. Security services foiled more than 12 UK terror attacks last year, Defence secretary reveals.’ Independent. 23 March, 2017. http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/london-westminster-attack-michael-fallon-terror-threat-islamist-lone-wolf-low-tech-car-truck-vehicle-a7645221.html

About the author: Strobe Driver completed his PhD in war studies in 2011 and since then has written extensively on war, terrorism, Asia-Pacific security, the ‘rise of China,’ and issues within Australian domestic politics. Dr Driver is currently and adjunct researcher at Federation University. The views expressed in this article are his own.

This article was originally published on Geo-Strategic Orbit.

 

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7 comments

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  1. John Richardson

    I am somewhat bemused by all this navel gazing about small-time actors in the field of terrorism, while nothing is said about the real elephants in the room … the “state actors”.
    Whether it was the British during WWII with their conscious effort to break the will of the German people by bombing civilian populations in cities across Germany, the American atomic conflagrations unleashed against the civilian populations of Hiroshima & Nagasaki or the later year long carpet bombing campaign mounted against the defenceless civilian population of Cambodia, the fact is that the “great states” have been guilty of perpetration more terror on a larger scale across the planet than ISIS or any other terrorist group could possibly hope to emulate.
    The West pontificates about the need to defeat terrorism while, on a daily basis, it goes about the business of systematically creating the conditions that will guarantee that it will never be defeated … this we have a self-serving perpetual war in which humanity is the ultimate loser.
    If we go-around the place poking our neighbours in the eye, should we really be surprised if they decide to poke us in the eye in return?
    Or are we really that ignorant?

  2. Matters Not

    And another view:

    John Wight, writing for Counterpunch (www.counterpunch.org 24 March 2017) succinctly expressed what should be obvious to all western politicians, commentators and editorialists:

    “The idea”, Wight said, that you can set fire to countries in the Middle East, collapse their societies, and traumatize entire populations sowing carnage on a biblical scale, and not expect any reaction in the form of blowback is utterly insane.

    Only a few days before the London incident fighter bombers of the United states led coalition in Iraq bombed civilian areas of Mosul, ostensibly targeting ISIS fighters. Whether in fact any ISIS fighters were killed is unknown. What is known is that at least 150 civilians, including women, children and old persons, were killed.

    Perhaps were are ‘vaccinated’ against seeing the world from another’s point of view? Such is the nature of ethnocentricity.

    JAMES O’NEILL. The London Attack: What We Fail to Acknowledge

  3. Zathras

    Terrorism is classified differently in different parts of the world. Terrorism in the USA has a slightly different meaning from that in the UK and also internationally.

    I wonder what the reaction would have been if it wasn’t the radicalised Muslim Khalid Masood but the pre-radicalised Adrian Elms who carried out the atrocity because he had a personal grudge against the British Government?

    Would it have been classed as terrorism? Would have there been the same outpouring of public grief?

    What did he have to gain in either case? If terrorism is intended to change the policy of a ruling State it’s never going to work.

    In the USA the shootings of abortionists, school children, gay night-clubbers, black churchgoers and the bombing of abortion clinics are technically classed as (but almost never reported as) terrorism, nor was the UK bombing of Mosques and targetted race-based assaults against individuals.

    In 2010 a man deliberately crashed his plane into an IRS Office building in the USA for political reasons but wasn’t called a terrorist because he wasn’t linked to a group.

    However, Martyn Bryant may have been classed as a terrorist under US guidelines (violent acts against random civilians) but was simply classified as insane.

    Likewise the Government of Norway seemed overly desperate to classify Anders Breivik as insane to avoid the “terrorism” slogan.

    There are many inconsistencies and many labels that are conveniently brushed aside to target one particular group and the common catchphrase that “Not all Muslims are terrorists but all terrorists are Muslims” is factually incorrect.

    Some sources put this at between 6% and 10% of all terrorist attacks in the UK and USA.

  4. Kaye Lee

    Blame must be shared by the arms industry which has flooded the world with weapons, the Generals who build departmental empires insisting they need more and more war toys, and the politicians who think the best solution is military.

  5. Matters Not

    KL, in a democracy, where the ‘power’ resides with the citizens, then the ‘blame’ must also be worn by those ‘citizens’?

    Or does that ‘theory’ now lack explanatory power? (If it ever did?)

    Or do we live in a ‘representative democracy’ where the citizens ‘outsource’ the ‘power’ to our ‘representatives’? If so, then those who wield that ‘power’ (our representatives) must also be held accountable for all that happens in their name? Perhaps.

    Or do we simply sit back as citizens and let those same ‘representatives’ walk away from their responsibilities when they retire or are not re-elected? Surely we as citizens should be able to prosecute our representatives (retrospectively) when it is proven that they lied to us. And not have to rely on international courts?

    That might take ‘democracy’ to a more meaningful level.

    Certainly, it would make our representatives more reflective.

  6. Jon Chesterson

    This article has very little to do with understanding the Westminster attack and quite frankly poor academic analysis and writing. It has not even been proof read. The largest piece in the body bats on about communism, which is a completely irrelevant sociological analysis, rather a conflation of issues and arguments. A more rational and considered approach may have been to examine the sociological consequences of alienation, living on the fringe of society in conjunction with the pathological consequences of broken family childhood, estranged family, leaving school early, getting into trouble with the law, drug taking, ill-chosen company of friends and social networks, marginalisation and brush with power, and abuse of power. I suspect even his alleged ‘radicalisation’ to Muslim has little to do with all this, in all probability a small or situational factor, rather more the influence of becoming a religious zealot – ‘radicalisation’ is a relatively new politicised term, but concepts such as ‘zealot’ and ‘treason’ have far deeper and probably more significant roots, and been around for centuries.

    I’d suggest a comparison of the times and respective pathologies of Guy Fawkes in the gunpowder plot might be a more interesting and relevant exposition, as these two appear to share some remarkably comparable backgrounds, Guy Fawkes also raised under step father household when his father died at eight, did not complete his education, lived on the fringe of his society as a recusant Catholic, also in trouble with the authorities at the time, ill-chosen contacts and networks, fighting a Catholic cause overseas before returning to England as a zealot, plotting to blow up the Houses of Parliament, born in the heart of England also. The sociological issues of being a religious zealot, belonging to a minority or disenfranchised group, social alienation, in the context of a new rising and dominant establishment and individual pathologies have striking resemblances, and yet no mention of this comparable historical act on the establishment, the Houses of Parliament deeply enshrined and celebrated even in the British psyche. About the only major difference apparent being he appeared to act alone, as far as we know, but we all know no act occurs in complete isolation. Both clearly acted under high levels of secrecy, plotted meticulously and even did mock or practice runs at the same proposed site and target, seat of power at the heart of British establishment. About the only aspect of this article I can extract of sensible reasoning is the influence and insult of a dominant establishment meddling in the affairs of societies over seas as it might relate to an individual’s own psyche and conscience, though this connection is not explored.

    Britain, like US and other Western powers have arbitrarily carved up people and countries all over the world, in the religious, political, economic, cultural and historical sense as a dominant power for centuries, starting with the crusades and compounded if not compacted by excommunication from the Roman Catholic Church in Medieval times. However such matters have to be kept in perspective with regard to politicised individual acts such as this, when you consider this attack was once again from someone born and raised in the country, lashing out in his own country just like Guy Fawkes did, after a sweep of circumstances and experiences that must have led to socio-cultural-educational and class alienation from a dominant culture, severely impacting on the perpetrators pathology, sense of identity and misguided beliefs, ‘zealot’. An age old story from Greek, Roman and Egyptian plots and tragedy to current times – Remember the death of Caesar, also an in-house plot, an almost archetypal memory and fantasy to follow! So lets take a look at ourselves first before we start navel gazing and pontificating about others.

    [Barddylbach 2017]

  7. David Bruce

    The author is making an assumption that it wasn’t state sponsored terrorism? It looked like a “drill” from the photos I have seen, with passers-by ignoring the “pretend” patients? As Robert Steele asserted recently, all such attacks have been false flag events designed to further the draconian security legislative avalanche on a “terrorized” population. The fact that there are real casualties makes the “drill” more realistic! Having a real-life patsy to take the wrap is even better! Just like it happened at the Lindt Cafe in Sydney? Fraser had his Hilton Hotel bombing event, Howard had the Port Arthur massacre, and Abbott had the Lindt cafe! Strange they are all LNP? I hope I am wrong, and that my growing distrust of governments of all colours is misplaced, and one day I will learn to love my politicians…

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