What the bomber’s video doesn’t say, and what Ken Clarke did say

In his article in today’s (2 September 2005) Guardian about the video, released the previous evening, of the British suicide bomber Mohamad Sidique Khan, David Hencke, boldly starts off:

Downing Street was in denial last night about Mohammad Sidique Khan’s tape and al-Qaida’s threat of further action.
A spokesman said Tony Blair had no comment about Khan’s claim linking the bombings directly to Britain’s participation in the Iraq war, a link which the prime minister has consistently denied.
The tape also appeared to link the attack to al-Qaida, rather than suggesting that it was the work of four homegrown bombers.

 Unfortunately almost everything about this is wrong, even if similar comments are sprouting like mole castings all over the media lawn.  The worst clanger is the assertion that Sidique Khan, in his video, "[links] the bombings directly to Britain’s participation in the Iraq war", whereas (a) Sidique Khan nowhere on the tape even mentions Iraq; (b) he says explicitly that his objection is to the west’s ‘atrocities’ perpetrated against Muslims ‘all over the world’ (an important phrase unaccountably omitted from the Guardian’s purported transcript of the video) — important because it shows that even if there had been no war in Iraq, or if Britain had not taken part in it, Sidique Khan and those who think or feel like him would still be engaged in a ‘fight’ against the western democracies, exactly as Tony Blair and Jack Straw have asserted, on account of what they regard as the atrocities being perpetrated against Muslims in Afghanistan, Palestine, Kashmir, Chechnya, etc.;  (c) Sidique Khan nowhere mentions his intention to launch a bomb attack in Britain or anywhere else, still less ‘linking it explicitly to Britain’s participation in the Iraq war’, as the Hencke article maintains;  and (d) Tony Blair has expressly denied ever having said that Iraq had nothing to do with the bombings (as I have pointed out elsewhere in this blog): he, Straw and other ministers accept that the Iraq war, along with other issues, is exploited by extremists to whip up anti-western sentiment, leading in some cases to involvement in terrorism, which is a far cry from saying that one causes the other.  Finally and more trivially, (e) saying that the video ‘appears to link the attack to al-Qaida, rather than … that it was the work of four homegrown bombers’ is an obviously false antithesis:  Sidique Khan explicitly praises Osama bin Laden (in a passage also bizarrely omitted from the Guardian transcript) which plainly establishes some sort of link to al-Qaida, and we know that the bombings were the work of ‘four home-grown bombers’ even though, as already noted, the video doesn’t anywhere foreshadow the bombings, so it’s hardly surprising that it doesn’t attribute them to home-grown bombers or indeed to anyone else. 

Not bad for three short sentences.  Hencke usually does much better than this.

Here, for the record, are the key words from the video:

This is how our ethical stances are dictated. Your democratically elected governments perpetuate [sic] atrocities against my people all over the world and your support of them makes you directly responsible, just as I am directly responsible for protecting and avenging my Muslim brothers and sisters.  Until we feel security, you’ll be our targets. Until you stop the bombing, gassing, imprisonment and torture of my people, we’ll not stop this fight. We are at war and I am a soldier. Now you too will taste the reality of this situation.

While on this increasingly dog-eared subject, we might just note the unfortunate impression given, perhaps unintentionally, by Ken Clarke in the opening salvo of his Tory leadership campaign, with his frontal assault on Tony Blair over Iraq.  What a pity that Clarke missed the opportunity to put the main emphasis of his criticism on the multiple misrepresentations of the case for war, its illegality under the Charter, the misjudgements about how the invaders would be received, the failure to recognise that there were no WMD, the lack of planning for what would be needed after Iraq was occupied, the failure even to try to put together an EU consensus that might have carried some weight in the White House, and so on and so forth!  He made some of these points, but only as a kind of afterthought: his main focus was on the one, probably the only, invalid case against Blair on Iraq:

The disastrous decision to invade Iraq has made Britain a more dangerous place. The war did not create the danger of Islamic terrorism in this country, which had been growing internationally even before the tragedy of the attacks on 9/11. However the decision by the U.K. Government to become the leading ally of President Bush in the Iraq debacle has made Britain one of the foremost targets for Islamic extremists.

This has naturally dominated the media coverage of Clarke’s attack.  The irony is that Clarke was evidently aware of the dangers inherent in this line of attack.  He continued:

Personally I would have accepted that increased risk as the price of going to war if I had believed that we were driven to go to war for a just cause and a British national interest that could be pursued in no other way. I reject the notion that fear of terrorist reprisals should ever deter a British Government from pursuing an honourable and necessary cause.

Exactly!  But how many newspapers or television channels reported that all-important proviso?  And how many of them pointed out that Clarke, like Hencke in his Guardian article discussed earlier, went on  crucially to misrepresent Tony Blair’s position:

If the Prime Minister really believes it, he must be the only person left who thinks that the recent bombs in London had no connection at all with his policy in Iraq.

I’m not accustomed to defending Mr Blair over Iraq, but surely someone might have pointed out to Ken Clarke that Blair has explicitly denied either holding that belief, or stating it?  Still, it made good copy, and will soon be forgotten.

PS (3 Sept. 05):  It’s been suggested that in writing this I have been less than fair to Ken Clarke and his speech, given Mr Clarke’s undoubted merits as a politician and a human being, and that taken as a whole it was a notably good and effective speech.  I agree with that and accept that my remarks earlier here are unduly hard on the man and his speech.  He got it wrong about Blair’s alleged denial of any connection between Iraq and the terrorist bombings, but he’s in good company in making that mistake. I still think it was a misjudgment to put so much stress on the assertion that the Iraq war had made Britain more vulnerable to terrorism (with the unfortunate implication that he disavowed later in the speech in an unnoticed qualification) rather than on the blunders and misrepresentations of the lead-up to the war, which he mentioned almost as if they were secondary. This made unbalanced media accounts of his speech inevitable. The full text is, as has been pointed out, almost entirely admirable apart from these two points.  It’s hard to believe that the Conservative Party could even consider for one minute choosing anyone else but Ken Clarke to lead them into the next election, especially now that the European issue has had its fangs drawn by the poor performance of the euro and the assassination of the draft constitution by the French and Dutch electorates.  But with their lemming-like suicidal tendencies, I suppose they’ll reject him again.  Oh, and don’t let’s have any of that nonsense about Ken Clarke being too old for the job.  He’s younger than me, for God’s sake….


7 Responses

  1. John Miles says:

    Dear Brian,
    You say that Mr Blair has explicitly denied either holding “that belief” – that the recent bombs in London had no connexion with his policy in Iraq.- or stating it?
    Are you absolutely sure Mr Blair is telling the truth?
    Perhaps I should video everything I see on the box, but I’m afraid I don’t.
    My impression is that I have indeed seen Mr Blair say this kind of thing, and that Mr Straw has too, though course I may be quite wrong.
    They both seem to say – though they don’t explain how they know, or why the terrorists should bother – that these “evil people” just use our invasion as an “excuse” for the dreadful things they were going to do anyway.
    Kind regards,
    John Miles

  2. Brian says:


    I don’t think the question of Tony Blair’s ‘truthfulness’ or lack of it is really relevant here. He has said on the record that he has never claimed that there is no connection between the Iraq war and the bombings, and indeed that he recognises such a connection — namely, the use of the Iraq war, among other issues, by extremists for recruiting and motivating terrorists. Until someone comes up with a quotation from Blair that contradicts his denial (and we may be sure that the anti-Blair brigade in the media will have been hunting frantically through their clippings), the denial stands. As I argue in this post, the video statement by one of the suicide bombers plainly supports the thesis that the proclaimed rationale of the terrorists’ attacks is a whole world-wide raft of issues affecting Muslims, not just Iraq.

    You can read exactly what Blair said about this at his news conference in July by reading my piece on the subject here (the extended Blair quotation occurs towartds the end).

    There are plenty of valid reasons for condemning what Blair did over Iraq. It just seems to me important not to undermine the credibility of those serious charges by tacking on another accusation which is pretty plainly false.


  3. Brian,

    I don’t think the question of Tony Blair’s ‘truthfulness’ or lack of it is really relevant here.

    As you say, you only have what’s on the record. But that is simply insufficient evidence to come to a conclusion one-way or the other. And of course, he must be given the benefit of the doubt.
    For a moment, let your mind wander to Hutton-style disclosure of e-mails, diary notes, memos and scribbles lurking in the Number 10 inbox. Or how about strapping him to a polygraph machine, and then watch the needles jump. See what he whispered in Cherie’s ear as they drank their Ovaltine! I can remember those chemy-lab experiments. The more temperature readings you took, the more accurate your graph was likely to be. And I never had much success cross-examining witnesses relying on what was on the record- usually their witness statement. The more evidence you had, the closer you got to the truth.
    But his problem is a political one. And here it’s perception that’s just about everything. For good or ill, Jo Public sees a link between his, shall we say, dissembling over Iraqi WMD, the “sexing up” of the intelligence, and his unwillingness to accept that the government, over which he presides, is responsible for the increased risk of terrorism in the UK brought on by his Iraq adventure.

  4. Brian says:


    Either Blair has said that there is no connection between the Iraq war and the London bombings, or he hasn’t. He says he hasn’t. What’s more, he has said that there is a connection, and he has defined what he thinks it is. Since no-one has so far succeeded in identifying a statement by Blair that in his view there is no connection between the two events, and since we know he has said the opposite, it seems to me beyond argument that everyone should stop asserting that he refuses to acknowledge the connection, stubbornly or otherwise. For once it’s actually that simple.

    But in your comment you ingeniously re-define the question as being a public perception of Blair’s ‘unwillingness to accept that the government, over which he presides, is responsible for the increased risk of terrorism in the UK brought on by his Iraq adventure.’ Quite right. Not only is that the public perception of his position: it is his position, and his position is absolutely correct: the Blair government is not responsible for the increased risk of terrorism in Britain in the sense, plainly implied by ‘responsible’, of being to blame for it. But that’s an entirely different matter from the false allegation that I was talking about.


  5. Brian says:

    I have added a postscript to my original post, about Ken Clarke, in response to a suggestion that I have been unduly hard on him.


  6. Brian, surely this whole conversation is a little hasty.

    The “video” is interesting but until judicial examination it should be treated with sober indifference.

    Were you not recently declaring that due process would examine the issues and patience was in order before we jumped to premature conclusions.

    Now we have a political conversation at the highest level of government that has accepted as genuine statements that could in fact be completly fabricated, fraudulent or any number of other possibilities.

    Any one who doubts this caution should investigate the “Jonathan Keith Idema” affair and study some of the frauds hollywood “Al Qaeda” has already produced.

  1. 2 September, 2005

    What the bomber did not say

    The Gruaniad gets it wrong. Ken Clarke largely right.