“Wish all the young men/Used only words”

Today is the third anniversary of the 7/7 bombings in London. Chumbawamba’s 2007 album “The Boy Bands Have Won” includes a song called “Word Bomber”, sung by Roy Bailey, which contrasts the actions of the four young men from Leeds who strapped bombs to their waists and murdered 52 people with those who seek to bring peace rather than war.

Part of the reason for quoting this is that I’m a sucker for songs that mention Leeds, but I think it’s a powerful song anyway. You can hear the song here (not sure if that’s the full song or just an excerpt, as I can’t access it at the moment):

Strap these words
Around your waist
Open arms
A last embrace
Go make your peace
Commonplace
Take the train
A last goodbye
Throw your rhymes
At passers-by
‘One Love’
On your hi-fi

Words
Words is all
Around the underground
And ticket halls
Declare your peace
Wall to wall

Back in Leeds
The news we heard
No-one killed
And no-one hurt
Wish all the young men
Used only words

Words
Words is all
Around the underground
And ticket halls
Declare your peace
Wall to wall.

Here are Chumbawamba’s notes to this song. I’m not sure I’d want to give so much credence to the stated aims of the bombers – the “we too” of the final sentence, which seems to imply that the bombers were pursuing legitimate ends by illegitimate means, which is not a concession I’m inclined to make to them. And it would be nice to think that a band like Chumbawamba would have more to say about Islamist ideology than simply “It’s a shame they use violence”. But otherwise the final paragraph is on the money, with its assertion that bombing tube trains and buses is no way to stop a war, however unjustified you consider it to be:

When the names of the four young men from leeds who murdered 52 people in London in July 2005 were revealed, a friend of ours talked of how she’d been at high school with one of the boys, Shehzad Tanweer, who worked in his mum & dad’s fish & chip shop. That he’d been a “lovely young lad.”

In his taped message recorded before the bombing, Shehzad said, “What you have witnessed now is only the beginning of a series of attacks which will intensify and continue until you pull all your troops out of Afghanistan and Iraq. Until you stop all financial and military support to the US and Israel and until you release all Muslim prisoners from Belmarsh and your other concentration camps. And know that if you fail to comply with this then know that this war will never stop.”

But of course, the repeated ‘you’ in this statement – the ‘you’ that sit in parliament advocating war – weren’t on the buses and tube trains that morning. We too want to stop these wars, but with words, not bombs.

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5 Responses to “Wish all the young men/Used only words”

  1. CPA says:

    “We too want to stop these wars” — interesting plural there.

    In the US, the Afghanistan war is the line between the responsible left and the nuts/creeps. You are against the Iraq war? OK, that’s defensible — you can even say that you’re against the Iraq war because it distracts us from al-Qaeda on the Afghanistan-Pakistan war. You are against the Afghanistan war? Then you must be sympathizing with the 9-11 attackers.

    But I am aware that outside the US, the two wars are generally seen as the same thing. Both were mistakes, both need to be stopped, in both cases negotiations need to deal with the legitimate demands of those fighting the US/NATO forces. So for Chumbawamba, getting out of Iraq and Afghanistan is a “reasonable” position.

    This is one reason an Obama presidency, even if he does withdraw from Iraq, which now looks pretty unlikely, is very unlikely to reduce the perception gap between the US and the world.

  2. John H says:

    CPA: I don’t think the Iraq and Afghanistan wars are seen as the same thing outside the US, and Afghanistan is generally regarded the more justifiable of the two.

    I should emphasise that I was endorsing an eloquently-expressed commitment to peaceful (as opposed to violent) opposition, rather than saying I agreed with Chumbawamba’s take on the Iraq and Afghanistan wars per se. I recanted some time ago of my initial support for the invasion of Iraq, but the Afghanistan conflict is a different matter.

    That said, there are two other reasons for opposing the Afghanistan war, other than sympathising with the 9/11 attackers or wanting the Taliban back in power. One is straightforward pacifism (which I think would be the Chumbas’ position), and the other is the Realpolitik argument (popular among many Conservative commentators in particular) that every external military intervention in Afghanistan (whether Britain in the 19th century or Russia in the 20th) has failed, the NATO intervention has no more prospect of success than any preceding effort, and that ultimately we’re likely to make things worse rather than better in the long run by staying there.

    Then I recall Orwell’s comment that to be a pacifist in the second world war was to be “objectively pro-Hitler”, and in the same way it is difficult to see any argument for withdrawal from Afghanistan that doesn’t amount to being “objectively pro-Taliban”. Which makes it hard for me to swing round fully against NATO’s involvement in Afghanistan.

    Even as regards Iraq, the fact that the invasion has probably been counterproductive doesn’t mean we can just say, “Right, we’re off, bye!” So I’m neither surprised nor dismayed that Obama has been rowing back from a wholehearted commitment to withdrawal. Colin Powell’s dictum of “You broke it, you bought it” carries a lot of weight.

    Does that sound like I’m hopelessly undecided about the whole thing, and shying away from making any dogmatic affirmation for or against continuing involvement in those two countries? Then I’ve expressed myself very well. 🙂

  3. steve martin says:

    These wars against the Islamists will never end. They have been going on since he devil cooked up that satanic religion (I believe as a counter punch to the gospel).

    To allow the Islamists to completely control entire regions of the world and establish bases from which to attack us is pure folly and naive.

    We ought have a least one democratic (in whatever watered down form it emerges) Arab state in the Middle East.

    If we just do this they will stop bombing us. If we just do that they will stop bombing us.

    They will never stop bombing us and we haven’t seen anything yet.

    We will sleep and they will wake us, or put us into a very, very long sleep.

    The whole world decried the act of Israel knocking out Iraq’s Nuc. program. If they hadn’t done that, who would be sleeping now?

    One would have thought some lessons would have been learned after WWII. That evil must be faced and fought…and early on. Nope. The only lesson learned was to ‘not fight.’

    This is what our soft liberalism has wrought.The Islamists see the weakness and are ready to capitalize.

    They’ll hardly have to fire a shot in Europe.

  4. CPA says:

    John,
    I have seen opinion surveys that show outside the US and to a lesser extent W. Europe, most publics support US withdrawal from Iraq and Afghanistan by roughly the same margins. That’s what I was referring to.

    It’s interesting about the “historically Afghanistan has always fought off invaders” line. I think it is first of all based on a misunderstanding of Afghanistan’s recent history, which from the 1920s to the 1970s was unusually stable, and which from 1978 to 2001 was devastated by unusually continuous war.

    In the NYTimes a few years back there was an article about how proposals to undertake large scale reconstruction in Afghanistan after 2001 were rejected because Afghanistan was too “backward” and “tribal” and filled with “fierce mountain tribes”. Instead, these proposals were warmed over and applied in Iraq, which since is was “secular” and “progressive” and “middle class” and “urban” was expected to be immediately welcoming of them. Of course by about 2005, such reconstruction projects in Iraq had all failed and were being begun in Afghanistan with much more success.

    Conclusion? Stereotypes about “backward tribalism” and “secular urban middle classes” have been one of the key determinants of US/NATO/Coalition failures in Afghanistan and Iraq.

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