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August 25, 2005

The London Bombings: Britain's Pearl Harbor?

Posted by Joyce Lee Malcolm

Were the 7/7 attacks Britain's Pearl Harbor? In other words, were they the moment when the British public and the British government woke up to the threat facing them? Joyce Lee Malcolm - Professor of History at Bentley College - argues that this may be the case. Prof. Malcolm argues that for too long British politicians have been shamefully remiss in protecting the British public from Islamic extremists. This is ironic in that - while before 7/7 successive British governments have let foreign extremists operate from the UK in the name of free speech and asylum - the same governments have trampled over, or eliminated, other individual rights, such as the protections against double jeopardy and the admission of hearsay evidence.

This month I began work in Washington, D.C., joining hundreds of thousands of commuters from Maryland and Virginia streaming into the capital on the METRO, its rapid transit system. Unlike London's underground, it is a remarkably clean, pleasant, and efficient system. But the METRO, like the underground, carries enormous numbers of people to work and play in a national capital every day and is equally vulnerable to attack. What is one to do?

Well, there are notices on the METRO advising us not to fear terrorism, but to fight it, a sound and very American approach. We are told there is safety in numbers - I'm not sure why unless we jointly tackle a suspect - and we are advised to watch for a variety of suspicious behaviours. If someone leaves a bag behind we are told to "politely" ask the owner if he forgot his property. When in doubt, we are to take to our cell phones to alert authorities. These notices, competing for attention with a barrage of adverts, the morning newspaper, and mental preparation for the day's tasks, are the chilling reminder that we are all potential victims of fanatics. But we need to get on with our lives and so we board the trains five days a week and trust that the young south-Asian man nearby wearing a backpack is just another traveller on his way to work.

Our shared vulnerability as open, democratic societies hoping to remain that way, means we face similar challenges, although how we got to this pass and our governments' attitude toward us and toward those bent on harming us, are different. For the past decade British policies, as everyone now knows, have been shamefully remiss in protecting Britons from Islamic extremists.

The government repeatedly ignored warnings about dangerous individuals who were seeking entry, cheerfully admitting known promoters of Islamic terror wanted in their home countries for bombings and other crimes. Among these were vocal supporters of Osama bin Laden and 9/11 - which killed more Britons than the recent underground bombings. Officials permitted, and even assisted, these folks to set up mosques and schools in which they have preached hatred of their Western benefactors and jihad. They were allowed to take to the streets, calling young men to fight against British troops in Afghanistan and Iraq until general outrage forced a stop to this public railing. And Dr Hani al-Siba'i, director of the al-Maqreze Centre for Historical Studies in London, was quick to declare the bombings on the underground a great victory:

If Al-Qaeda indeed carried out this act, it is a great victory for it. It rubbed the noses of the world's eight most powerful countries in the mud.
Dr al-Siba'i explained it was legitimate to target civilians since:
The term "civilians" does not exist in Islamic religious law... There is no such term as "civilians" in the modern Western sense. People are either combatants or not.

Even when official patience was exhausted with those calling for the blood of their infidel western hosts, there has been squeamishness about deporting them lest they face some unpleasantness in their Islamic homelands. Indeed, EU human rights regulations have demanded this restraint. Nice nations don't deport terrorists to nasty nations.

Aiding and abetting your nation's enemies used to qualify as treason, long regarded as the most heinous of all crimes. But free speech has trumped treason. In the name of free speech, inciting violent acts against your host country, recruiting troops to fight against its army, or praising bombing its citizens, has been protected, presumably on the theory: "Sticks and stones may break my bones but names will never harm me".

Oddly, while free speech has been considered sacrosanct, British governments have trampled on, or casually eliminated, other individual rights. Since passage of the 1953 Prevention of Crime Act police have been able to stop and search anyone they consider suspicious, i.e. anyone. As for privacy, Britons are watched by more surveillance cameras than any other people on earth. Two years ago Parliament abolished the ancient protections against double jeopardy and admission of hearsay evidence and further clipped Magna Carta's guarantee of a right to a trial by jury. Magistrates and judges are so much more efficient than juries.

All of this hand-wringing sympathy for fanatics, the desire to understand their problems, to excuse their excesses, to blame society for failing them, rather than worrying about public safety, is akin to official policy toward garden-variety violent offenders. If caught and convicted your ordinary thug can count on a short sentence, probation, or a stint of community service. Mustn't keep the poor sod in jail too long - it is expensive, unpleasant and he might take up with the wrong sort. So little has government actually troubled itself about turning violent offenders loose on a hapless and disarmed populace, it is not surprising that there has been similar coddling of fanatics.

Yet, the same government that worries about the welfare of those calling for its downfall treats law-abiding citizens as potential criminals, disarming them at every turn, refusing to permit them to defend themselves and their homes with any vigour. Before the July bombings the government introduced the Violent Crime Reduction Bill that would ban drunks from pubs, raise the age limit for buying air guns and knives and increase the penalty for possessing a fake gun. Remember the government's smug assurance that the 70% of Britons calling for greater latitude to protect themselves and their families simply misunderstood the law?

It needs to be said that British willingness to permit what Americans would regard as an unreasonable police search, and the profusion of surveillance cameras, are proving useful now that a war is on. By contrast the American Civil Liberties Union, a left liberal organization, has fretted over or fought every new American security effort and its New York affiliate just announced it is suing the New York City Police Department for introducing random inspection of bags being carried on to the city's subways. But most New Yorkers and most Americans prefer to sacrifice some privacy for more security.

July 7th was a wake-up call, Britain's Pearl Harbor. Bombed into reality, Tony Blair announced:

The rules of the game are changing... [the duty of foreigners living in Britain] is to share and support the values that sustain the British way of life.
Much to their chagrin, the bad guys, who have shamelessly taken advantage of our tolerance and our freedoms to undermine our democracy, can now be silenced and deported. Anjem Choudary, former spokesman for al-Muhajiroun, a group aiming to create a vast Islamic state, expressed outrage that Blair was ignoring their freedom of speech and religion and the precept of innocent until proven guilty. A spokesman for Hizb ut-Tahrir, which advocates Islamic law, opposes Israel, the Middle East peace process, and for good measure is anti-Hindu, anti-Sikh, homophobic, anti-feminist, anti-democratic and anti-western, denounced Blair's:
draconian measures which have only exposed the fanaticism of the Blair government.

In this new war Britons have familiarity with the long-standing practice of searches and surveillance. Americans have the advantage of a public prepared and trusted to take more responsibility for their protection. The passengers on board United flight 93 on September 11th, 2001 are the American model. When their plane was hijacked, they seized control from the hijackers. Rather than permit their plane to be used to harm their countrymen, they crashed it into a field in Pennsylvania.

President Bush has been chided for claiming that the extremists hate us for who we are. But to a great extent he is right. Our freedoms are under threat, as they were in the 1930s and 1940s. What must we do? I suspect Winston Churchill would reply now as he did then:

You ask what is our aim?ůvictory at all costs, victory in spite of terror, victory however long and hard the road may be, for without victory there is no survival.

Joyce Lee Malcolm is Professor of History at Bentley College and author of Guns and Violence: The English Experience.

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I'd like to believe that Ms. Malcolm is right, but I suspect that Britain will keep sleeping while the alarm bell sounds -- maybe a little more restlessly than usual, but still off in dreamland.

The country will carry on experiencing cognitive dissonance: mixed messages that, in the end, produce little more than random and meaningless 'feel-good' responses.

Tony Blair and his team may change the tune somewhat, but the underlying message is the same one that 'multi-cultural' Britain has pushed on its hapless citizens for the past half century: the Anglo-Saxon character nurtured for many generations is suddenly not only irrelevant but a hindrance to the cool new mosaic; immigration is by nature a good thing; various ethnic groups differ only in superficial ways, not in fundamental values, and all their members want is to integrate themselves into British society.

This is the line pushed by the BBC and all the major media, even the one so-called 'conservative' broadsheet. Unlike the United States, the U.K. lacks any serious opposition media.

Now certain individuals among one of those sacred immigrant cultures have stolen the lives of some 50 innocent people riding on the Underground and a bus, and it turns out that a rather large chunk of that culture is by no means unsympathetic to those who committed the violence, and are quite willing to admit it to survey takers.

The contradiction between the reality and the carefully nurtured multi-cultural ideology is just too shocking to handle. One part must be wrong. Human nature being what it is, the British people as a whole will continue on the path of least resistance. The new vision of reality just can't be taken on board. And the old illusion is just so, well, comfortable.

I expect there will be tough talk from the government for awhile about terrorism; maybe a few barking mad imams will be deported or refused entry. But I doubt anything will change the system, so smoothly running and self-contained, by which Islamofascist terrorists can, at their dole-supported leisure, plan more attacks and look forward to turning the U.K. into part of the Caliphate.

The best scenario I can foresee is another, spectacular terrorist attack that leaves only only a few thousand dead. Enough to finally waken the sleeper; not so severe as to leave the country crippled and incapable of action against the enemy. It is a terrible day when a moderate catastrophe is the 'best' that can happen. Given the long-term coma that the cognitive Mafia has laid on the country, I fear the 'tipping point' can be reached in no other way. But in retrospect, who wouldn't now wish that some painful event had awakened Britain in the 1930s to the nature of the foes it had to overcome in 1939-45? Those who know their history, but choose not to learn from it, still are condemned to repeat it.

Posted by: Rick Darby at August 25, 2005 11:18 PM

Rick Darby - first, let's drop the cheap comparison with the 1930s, shall we? That was a matter of governments; whatever else al-Qaeda and its clones are, they are not sovereign states.

Support for terrorism amongst British Muslims, according to polling evidence, is running at about the same level as it did for a generation amonst Irish Catholics. This is probably also a case of human nature being what it is.

The "problem" for Islam is actually a lack of self-confidence - whilst China and India believe that they can beat the West at its own game without resorting to violence (just as America beat the U.S.S.R.) whilst the Islamic world does not. Perhaps a restored Caliphate would in fact remedy this and even make the world a safer place...

Posted by: Innocent Abroad at August 26, 2005 11:18 PM

The Russians used to say if all you have is a hammer, treat everything like a nail. Silencing the vocal loons will not stop terrorism, it will make it harder for the authorities to identify and observe the rest. But this country's 'booboisie' will feel that their betters are 'doing something.'

Would that we might counteract terror by celebrating our own strengths. Sadly modern Britons have no stomach for disagreement, so frightened are we of appearing to be elitist. So by default we let our national culture be defined and moulded by Hello Magazine, cheaper tabloids such as The Times, and the wasteland that is television. It is such a pity to lose, and especially to lose like this.

Posted by: s masty at August 27, 2005 11:45 AM
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