|Devastated London bus, July 7, ten years ago today [Image Source]|
The key words in that last sentence come from a BBC report today. Given how the BBC has institutionalized a near-allergic avoidance of the word "terror" in its journalism, it's a welcome - though rare - resort to plain speaking.
The anniversary, to be marked by a minute's silence at 11:30 this morning, recalls a series of attacks on July 7, 2005 in which 52 people were murdered and 750 injured when human bomb attackers , all of them born, raised and educated in the UK, exploded three tube trains and a bus in London. The commemoration has provoked what The Guardian calls "soul searching about Britain’s progress in fighting terrorism".
Few cities can make the claim London can and does to being a cosmopolitan urban centre, tuned to the spirit of the times. What it says about itself and the experiences through which it has passed make it worth stopping to read and absorb.
To illustrate the direction the anniversary-driven introspection is taking, The Guardian's editors have chosen to publish an interview ["Ex-head of counter-terror: UK should lay on charter flights to Syria for jihadis"] with the man who was head of special operations for Scotland Yard in 2008-09, serving in that role as Britain’s "most senior counter-terrorism officer". The core message he conveys is stark:
Quick gave a bleak assessment about the danger Britain faced – a sense of pessimism shared by others who have served at a senior level in Britain’s counter-terrorism struggle. He said: “We’re in a worse place, in a more precarious place than ever. Ten years ago, we were dealing with relatively small numbers, who travelled mainly to Pakistan. They were engaged in conspiracies that were quite elaborate, involving plotting and communications that could be intercepted. “Now we are dealing with large numbers, who have travelled to Syria – we don’t know how many will come back with horrible intent – and the homegrown extremists who are here. We are in a less safe position than we were then, because the world outside our borders is less safe than 10 years ago. There are more people who are motivated, inspired or encouraged to mount these attacks. “Our understanding of radicalisation, what is at the heart of dissatisfaction with UK society, is very little understood.”Other influential British voices are sounding a similar note:
Britain is at a greater threat from terror attack now than it was at the time of the 7/7 bombings a decade ago, according to an expert from a leading UK security think-tank. The national terror threat level was not public knowledge at the time of the attacks, when British youths killed 52 and injured more than 700 by detonating four bombs across London’s transport network. With the level now standing at “severe”, meaning an attack is “highly likely”, experts at the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) said the threat had only grown in the past decade... Margaret Gilmore, a senior associate fellow specialising in national security at RUSI and a former BBC home affairs correspondent at the time of the attack, said that the rise of Isis and the ongoing threat of al-Qaeda made the dangers of a terror attack on home soil “more intense”. [Independent UK, today]Underlining how much less safe life is for Londoners today, this report from three days ago:
Three men have been arrested on suspicion of plotting terror attacks in London on the 10th anniversary of the 7/7 bombings. Security forces arrested the men on Thursday after Isil and Taliban propaganda and maps of London were allegedly found on their computers. They were found with four laptops and computers in the raid near Peshawar in Pakistan... [Telegraph UK, July 4, 2015]British targets have been sought and savagely attacked outside the UK as well, of course: "Tunisia terror attack: 30 of 38 people killed are British, UK says", CNN, July 2, 2015]
What can be done to make life better and safer? Former Chief Superintendent Quick has a concrete suggestion, quite different from current policy in every Western society as far as we can tell:
[T]hose wanting to go to Isis-controlled territory in the two countries should have to hand their British passports in as they leave. The condition of them being allowed to travel to join Isis could be they would never be allowed to return to Britain. He said: “You have to think how do you confront it, if you have hundreds or thousands who want to go there and live that life? We should try and convince them not to go. If they want to go, you have to ask the question, are we better off, if they surrender their passports and go? It’s better than them festering away here... Quick said an extremist Islamist pathology and British values were irreconcilable. [The Guardian, yesterday]It's evident that jihad-based terrorism is going to be endlessly perplexing for Western societies. It helps to start with a large dose of openness to new views and humility about the things we seem to know and not know. Quick's admission above is just the sort of thing people need to hear: British understanding of what turns people like the 7/7 plotters into mass murderers is poorly understood.
The Economist, which does a good job of explaining complex issues, wrote this in an editorial after the terrorism of a decade ago:
More legislation may make Britons feel safer, but it will not tell them what they most want to know: who supplied the bombers with equipment and trained them to use it? And how many more British citizens are queuing up to martyr themselves beneath the streets of London? [Economist, July 14, 2005]The honest answer is no one knows, a decade later. We will be scouring their website today to see if they revisit those questions.
A non-trivial voice in Britain's public discourse on lessons learned over the past decade comes from the UK's organized Moslem communities. One of the groups outspoken in propounding the case that it's actually Islamophobia - and not terror - that needs society's major attention, is Islamic Human Rights Commission ("set up in 1997... independent, not-for-profit, campaign, research and advocacy organization based in London"). For them, the recent Islamist massacres teach a specific kind of lesson:
Today's terrorist attacks in Kuwait, Tunisia and France provide further evidence, if any was still needed, that Muslims are the biggest victims of the extremism manifested in groups like Daesh (ISIS) and that is wrong to hold them collectively responsible for the actions of a morally depraved minority [IHRC press release, June 26, 2015]Leaving aside its explicit hostility to Israel (which certainly illuminates what they mean and don't mean by "rights"), IHRC is outspokenly against anti-terrorism legislation; has been for at least the past decade. The Islamist massacres in London a decade ago appear to have provoked no condemnation or protest from its human rights-focused activists (at least, as far as we could tell from searching their site - and we would love to be corrected). An IHRC press release issued on July 22, 2015, a fortnight after the bombings, focuses on "the complete absence of sympathy and condemnation from both the media and the government... Such inaction indirectly legitimises the backlash attacks themselves." Sympathy not for Britain or the people murdered and maimed, but for the victims of post-7/7 British hostility to Moslems as Moslems. It will be interesting to see if they issue a press release on today's tenth anniversary.
Today is another appropriate moment to ask ["30-Jun-15: We need to be calling them what they are: human bombs"] that using the false and misleading term "suicide bomber" should end.