Posted by: sean | July 8, 2005

Terror on the Tigris and the Thames

Yesterday’s workday was interrupted right after it had begun by the news of the horrible bombings in London, which have killed “at least least fifty.”

My first reaction was to call friends in London to make sure that they’re all right, and then I started thinking about the event, turning it over in my head. Dozens of British people on their way to work, dead. My second reaction was dismay, which was shortly followed by guilt. Dozens of people die in Iraq every week, but I’ve become used to it since I can’t take the Eurostar there from here.

The main two narratives being sold by the Bush and Blair administrations are “they hate us because we’re free,” and “we’re fighting the terrorists in Iraq so we won’t have to fight them at home.” The first position is obviously and demonstrably false. Militant Islamic zealots don’t hate freedom or women’s rights, otherwise they would be attacking Iceland, Sweden and Canada. Juan Cole has it right when discussing Michael Sheuer, the former Bin Laden analyst for the CIA, and his view of the implications of the London attacks:

Scheuer believes that al-Qaeda is an insurgent ideology focused on destroying the United States and its allies, because its members believe that the US is trying to destroy them. Al-Qaeda members see the Israeli occupation and oppression of the Palestinians, backed by the US; US support for military regimes like those of Pakistan and Egypt; and US military occupation of Afghanistan and Iraq as evidence of a US onslaught on Islam and Muslims aimed at reducing them to neo-colonial slavery. That is, specific Western policies are the focus of al-Qaeda response, not a generalized “hatred” of “values.”

And the only group that has taken credit for the attacks says as much in their statement, of which wikipedia has posted a translation (emphasis mine):

The Secret Organization Group of Al-Qa’idah of Jihad Organization in Europe (Jama’at al-Tanzim al-Sirri, Tanzim Qa’idat al-Jihad fi Urupa) In the name of God, the Merciful, the Compassionate, may peace be upon the cheerful one and the dauntless fighter, Prophet Muhammad, God’s peace be upon him.

O nation of Islam and nation of Arabism: Rejoice for it is time to take revenge from the British Zionist Crusader government in retaliation for the massacres Britain is committing in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The heroic mujahidin have carried out a blessed raid in London. Britain is now burning with fear, terror and panic in its northern, southern, eastern and western quarters. We have repeatedly warned the British government and people. We have fulfilled our promise and carried out our blessed military raid in Britain after our mujahidin exerted strenuous efforts over a long period of time to ensure the success of the raid.

We continue to warn the governments of Denmark and Italy and all the Crusader governments that they will be punished in the same way if they do not withdraw their troops from Iraq and Afghanistan.

He who warns is excused.

God says: “(O ye who believe!) If ye will aid (the cause of) Allah, He will aid you, and plant your feet firmly.”

As for the second idea, that we’re fighting terrorists in Iraq so we won’t have to fight them at home, that is also false. As a matter of fact, the truth seems to be the exact opposite. According to a report by the International Institute for Strategic Studies, “al-Qaeda has added Iraq to its list of grievances,” and, “it is probable that recruitment generally has accelerated on account of Iraq.” So it seems obvious that instead of luring the remaining terrorists into Babylon to be defeated, the war in Iraq has served as a rallying cause for al Qaeda.

I am afraid that the attacks in London and Madrid are the beginning of a new phase of terrorism in which the Qaeda flare for drama, manifested in such enormous acts as the attacks in New York and Washington, will be replaced by the smaller, but more frequent, acts of autonomous and very loosely connected terrorist cells that communicate by motorbike and computer disk and cannot be arranged in a hierarchical chain of command. Leaders like Bin Laden will cease (or more likely already have ceased) to be micro managers, giving vague orders to be carried out on a local scale by terror franchises that may or may not have contact with these leaders.

British intelligence claims to have had absolutely no information that might have pointed to an attack yesterday, and there’s no reason to disbelieve them. A small group of people can easily attack a soft target like the subway or a bus. Once the explosives have been acquired, a small attack becomes nearly impossible to predict or to stop. We have seen another country go down this same road: Israel. And we have seen that Israel’s constant escalations and terrorist retaliations (assassinations, collective punishment, etc.) have not calmed the tide of bombings. On the contrary, they have had the opposite effect. I fear that the US, and to a much lesser extent its allies, has not learned this lesson.

It goes without saying that just like the attacks in New York are not a valid reason to bomb another country, like we did in Iraq, the reverse is also true: the invasion in Iraq is not a valid reason to bomb innocent civilians in London or Madrid. And that is the sad reality of this tit-for-tat exercise in bellicosity: the people getting killed on both sides are never those who are ultimately responsible for the violence, but rather innocent Londoners or Iraqis, who only want to live normal lives, free of violence and fear.

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