Saturday, July 08, 2006

A Book Review of Milan Rai's "7/7: The London Bombings, Islam and the Iraq War"

In Search of Truth at Home and Abroad

by Sean M. Madden
July 6, 2006

Book Reviewed:
7/7: The London Bombings, Islam and the Iraq War
by Milan Rai (Pluto Press, 2006; ISBN: 0-7453-2563-7; 196 pp.)

“A word of truth uttered in the presence of an
unjust ruler is a meritorious form of jihad.”
~ The Prophet Muhammad

So reads the closing statement, inconspicuously tucked away behind the final chapter, the endnotes, the glossary and the index, of Milan Rai’s new book. It is an apt close, for this is just what Mr. Rai himself does—he utters truth in the presence of the unjust Blair’s conspicuous disregard for it.

I am an American residing in Britain, where Mr. Rai also lives and where the four separate but coordinated attacks on July 7, 2005 were perpetrated. Although I was safely tucked away atop a mountain in Santa Fe, New Mexico at the time—enrolled in a master’s program in classical Eastern philosophy, theology and literature, at St. John’s College—my British wife and our daughter were living in the South East of England, an hour’s train journey from London, and where we now live together. So, the London bombings which took the lives of 52 people, plus the bombers, resonated.

Rewind nearly four years.

On the morning of the attacks of September 11, 2001, the three of us were living in Northampton, Massachusetts, again tucked away from harm’s way, this time on the Smith College campus, where my wife had just begun the final term of her undergraduate studies in history and Russian civilization. It should go without saying that the World Trade Center and Pentagon bombings which took the lives of approximately three thousand people also resonated. Reverberated may be closer to the mark.

I draw a parallel between the 7/7 and the 9/11 attacks with good reason.

In both cases, the public was, and remains, far from satisfied that their respective governments are telling we the people the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. On May 22, a Zogby International survey—sponsored by, a “coalition of researchers, journalists and victim family members working to expose and answer the hundreds of still unresolved questions concerning 9/11”—found that 42% of Americans believe that “the US government and its 9/11 Commission concealed or refused to investigate critical evidence that contradicts their official explanation of the September 11th attacks, saying there has been a cover-up”. An additional 10% are not sure.

In the days following 9/11, one question was denied us. It was precluded by a prefab official narrative which whiplashed the American public from sheer horror to settled fact without thought. The question: “Why?”

This is the great-great-granddaddy of all questions, the one which has made philosophers marked prey down through the ages, because it is the question which leads us towards understanding. The Bush government—aided and abetted by a complicit corporate media—robbed us of our natural right to know, to understand, to put two and two together to make four. We, the American public, still demand truth, an explanation. The childish narrative of the freedom-hating terrorists holds no water.

Similarly, the British public demands an explanation. The crux of Mr. Rai’s book is a search for that explanation, the truth behind whether British foreign policy, generally, and the Iraq war, specifically, were connected to the decisions made by four young British men to murder, en masse, their fellow citizens, while taking their own lives in the process. This is the very connection which Blair and those closest to him have contorted all logic to try, in vain, to preclude the public from making.

The author says this best, on the opening page of his introduction, entitled “We Need Explanation, Not Narration”:
In the immediate aftermath of the bombings on 7 July 2005, one explanation for the tragedy was firmly ruled out by the British government. Tony Blair denied any connection between the July attacks on the one hand, and the ongoing war in Iraq, or British foreign policy in general, on the other. The Prime Minister failed to acknowledge the contents of secret documents leaked to British newspapers over the next few weeks, documents which demonstrated that his own government accepted exactly this connection, as we shall soon discover.

There is a central question: how young men born and bred in Britain, with all the rights and freedoms a British citizen enjoys, could decide to blow themselves up on London’s public transport system, killing fellow citizens. The British government has ruled out holding an inquiry into this critical question, despite calls from 7/7 survivors, from relatives of those who died, and from prominent Muslims. We have been promised instead a ‘narrative’ of the attacks. What the British people want—both Muslim and non-Muslim—is not ‘narration’ but ‘explanation’. This book is an attempt to supply a first draft of that explanation, an investigation into precisely the areas that the Blair government wishes to obscure and conceal.
The promised “narrative” has since been published by the Home Office, on May 11. On the same day, a separate report by the Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC) was presented to Parliament. Although at face value the latter report would seem to have been written by a group which is impartial to the PM, the following statement from the ISC’s website would seem to belie that naïve notion:
It [the ISC] operates within the ‘ring of secrecy’ and has wide access to the range of Agency activities and to highly classified information. Its cross–party membership of nine from both Houses is appointed by the Prime Minister after consultation with the Leader of the Opposition. The Committee is required to report annually to the Prime Minister on its work. These reports, after any deletions of sensitive material, are placed before Parliament by the Prime Minister.
Regardless, neither of the two government reports has satisfied inquiring minds amongst the British public, including those of survivors and the families of victims who were not so fortunate, who remain frustrated that the seemingly obvious connection between British foreign policy—and the Iraq war in particular—and the 7/7 bombings has not been clearly established. Yet, the Blair government continues to deny the public a full-scale inquiry. Crispin Black, a “former intelligence official in No. 10 [Downing St., referring to Blair’s government]” is quoted in 7/7, the book, as saying “[t]he only people who do want an inquiry are the public—the targets of the attacks”. Indeed.

But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. 7/7 was published before the release of the two reports. However, as the public has yet to get their full-scale inquiry, Mr. Rai’s book remains perhaps the next best thing. In it, he pursues answers—in an “attempt to supply a first draft” of an explanation—in the great British empiricist tradition. He bases his quest for truth not on axioms, or assumptions, but on an inductive process whereby he identifies particulars—facts and Baconian “negative instances”—and attempts to identify patterns amongst them. He starts with questions. Preeminent, again, is: “Why?”

He carefully, sensitively, guides the reader through modern Islam and how it is playing out amongst various generations of Muslims in Britain. He walks us through the lives of the four suicide bombers, all the while seeking out what may have triggered their resolve to kill civilians and themselves. And in doing so, he keeps their humanity intact, while in no way excusing their actions. He, likewise, provides brief biographical sketches of each of the 52 individuals who died in the attacks, and does so in such a way as to lift each one beyond victimization to a realization of their individual humanity.

The epigraph of 7/7 is a quote from Rachel North, a survivor of that day’s deadly attacks. Her below statement exudes wisdom and leads us to ask why the four young bombers embodied such despair:
As a vicar’s daughter and former theology student, I am asked about evil. I think the bombers were not born evil: it is because they fell into a trap of hate and despair and alienation. I believe that any of us could fall into the same black hole, but there is a way out of the darkness.

My way is to admit I am afraid, and to ask for help, to draw strength from my fellow humans instead of fearing them and drawing away from them.
Both Britons and Americans show a determination beyond their respective governments’ wishes to explore unanswered questions by way of substantive, independent inquiries which are grounded in facts, not political rhetoric. Inquiries into truth, that is, which can help to make us all more secure, by helping us to root out the seeds of violence rather than to breed yet more of the ignorance which perpetuates both non-state and state violence—terrorism—which the wide world of humanity witnesses daily.


Milan Rai’s previous works include Regime Unchanged: Why the War on Iraq Changed Nothing (Pluto Press, 2003); War Plan Iraq: Ten Reasons Against War on Iraq (Verso, 2002); and, Chomsky’s Politics (Verso, 1995). Mr. Rai is also an active organizer and campaigner for peace. On April 12—the day of his official book launch for 7/7—he became the first person to be convicted of organizing an unauthorized protest (held October 25, 2005) in the designated area within one kilometer of Parliament in London. He was convicted under Section 132 of the highly controversial Serious Organised Crime and Prevention Act 2005, known as SOCPA. According to Justice Not Vengeance, co-founded by Mr. Rai, “Bailiffs are currently trying to seize his property to pay his fine. He is expecting to go to prison for his part later on in the year.”


Related Web Links:

Justice Not Vengeance (co-founded by Milan Rai):

Intelligence and Security Committee:

Intelligence and Security Committee report on 7/7 bombings (.pdf format):

Home Office report on 7/7 bombings (.pdf format):

Zogby International survey for


Sean M. Madden is an American writer-journalist living in East Sussex, England. He may be reached via, or via his weblog at

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