Bush's famous 'They hate us for our freedom' has been mocked since he first stated. I've never really liked that debate between 'is it because of us or because of what we do?' debate because its based on a false dichotomy. Absolutely, our foreign policy (by which I mean the West), has contributed to the terrorism. But, there are some things in our foreign policy that are so inherent in what we are that they are non-negotiable.
I'm currently reading Peter Bergen's 'Longest War: The Enduring Conflict Between American and Al Qaeda' and he falls into this mistake. To illustrate, he wrote the following in a recent article:
Yet, in all the tens of thousands of words uttered by bin Laden, he was strangely silent about American freedoms and values. He didn’t seem to care very much about the beliefs of the “crusaders.” His focus was invariably on U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East.
Yet, things aren't that simple. Elsewhere in the book, Peter Bergen admits that Al Qaeda seeks Taliban-style rule governments across the Middle East. Of course, our intervention could stop this but does that mean it has little to do with our values? I don't think so. Our continued assistance and our liberation of Afghanistan does encompass our foreign policy, but our decision to support a democratic government is our values at work. When Australia decided to safeguard the independence of East Timor and the elections that followed - it was a foreign policy decision but more accurately described as a just decision. In any event, I'll write another post hopefully about Al Qaeda and Western intervention but this post is specifically about the radicalisation of the 7/7 bombers.
There is a thin line between explaining something and excusing something. If I tell you that someone has done something because of a wrong committed against him, it sanitises the action of the criminal. This encompasses the kind of nonsense that while it is wrong to blow people up, it is nonetheless 'understandable.' George Galloway being an obvious example. Its worth asking, then, when exactly did the 7/7 bombers become radicalised? Did Iraq solely cause their anger? To save time, page numbers correspond to Islamist Terrorism: British Connections which was put together by the Centre for Social Cohesion.
Mohammed Sidique Khan (also known as 'Sid') taught handicapped children but it appears he was radicalised in the late 90s. MI5 were conducting surveillance on him long before 9/11 and Iraq in January 2001. In the summer of 2001 (again, before 9/11, obviously), he decided along with the Mike's Place bombers Omar Sharif and Asif Hanaf to recruit people to go to training camps in Afghanistan and Pakistan (p.213). Both Khan and Tanweer went training, not in Iraq, but in Pakistan in 2004-5 with Harakat ul-Mujahideen (a group linked with the beheading of Daniel Pearl). Khan also travelled to Pakistan for training in July 2003 in Afghanistan.
Shezhad Tanweer, aside from training with Khan in 2004-5, is said to have visited Pakistan 5 times in between 2001-2005 (p.216). While in Pakistan in 2002, Tanweer worked with Tablighi Jamaat. According to the FBI, there is a link between Tabligi Jamaat and Al Qaeda but not everyone seems to agree. Tanweer visited his family in Pakistan where he made several anti-American remarks and more importantly, glorified Bin Laden. According to his family
'He said bin Laden was his hero and everything he did was right. He believed that America had made Muslims suffer all over the world. He also used to say about Kashmir that India was committing great atrocities against the Muslims. When his father in England gave him money to buy clothes he would not spend it on himself, but for buying coats for those waging the jihad in Kashmir.'
The third bomber Germaine Lindsay handed out leaflets supporting Al Qaeda in 2000-1 and spent his time in 'radical circles in Luton (p.220). In 2002, after returning from Mecca, Hassib Hussain started openly praising Al Qaeda, referring to the highjackers as 'martyrs.' According to the BBC:
Not long after his return from the pilgrimage, someone noticed he had written 'Al Qaeda - No Limits' on his religious education school book.
The simplistic Iraq-"explanation" (or excuse) of the 7/7 attacks is not full proof; the bombers clearly had a history of Islamist radicalisation, and nor were their militant activities limited to after 2003. It is clear that they agreed the ideology of Al Qaeda.