The Chicago Sun-Times
July 10, 2005
One way of measuring any terrorist attack is to look at whether the killers accomplished everything they set out to. On Sept. 11, 2001, al-Qaida set out to hijack four planes and succeeded in seizing every one. Had the killers attempted to take another 30 jets between 7:30 and 9 that morning, who can doubt that they'd have maintained their pristine 100 percent success rate? Throughout the IRA's long war against the British Crown, two generations of politicians pointed out that there would always be the odd ''crack in the system'' through which the determined terrorist would slip. But on 9/11 the failure of the system was total.
Thursday, al-Qaida hit three London Underground trains and one bus. Had they broadened their attentions from the Central Zone, had they attempted to blow up 30 trains across the furthest reaches of the Tube map, from Uxbridge to Upminster, who can doubt that they too would have been successful? In other words, the scale of the carnage was constrained only by the murderers' ambition and their manpower.
The difference is that 9/11 hit out of the blue -- literally and politically; 7/7 came after four years of Her Majesty's government prioritizing terrorism and ''security'' above all else -- and the failure rate was still 100 percent. After the Madrid bombing, I was struck by a spate of "comic" security breaches in London: two Greenpeace guys shin up St. Stephen's Tower at the Palace of Westminster, a Daily Mirror reporter bluffs his way into a servant's gig at Buckingham Palace a week before Bush comes to stay; an Osama lookalike gatecrashes Prince William's birthday party. As I wrote last March: "History repeats itself: farce, farce, farce, but sooner or later tragedy is bound to kick in. The inability of the state to secure even the three highest-profile targets in the realm -- the queen, her heir, her Parliament -- should remind us that a defensive war against terrorism will ensure terrorism.''
To three high-profile farces, we now have that high-profile tragedy, of impressive timing. The jihad, via one of its wholly owned but independently operated subsidiaries, scheduled an atrocity for the start of the G-8 summit and managed to pull it off -- at a time when the ports and airports and internal security of a small island were all supposed to be on heightened alert. That's quite a feat. The only good news is that the bombs were, by the standards of what's out there, small. One day they won't be.
Of course, many resources had been redeployed to Scotland to cope with elderly rocker Sir Bob Geldof's pathetic call for a million anti-globalist ninnies to descend on the G-8 summit and tie up the police with their pitiful narcissist preening: the papier-mache Bush and Blair puppets, the ersatz ethnic drumming, etc.
The choice for Britons now is whether they wish to be Australians post-Bali or Spaniards post-Madrid. That shouldn't be a tough call. But it's easy to stand before a news camera and sonorously declare that "the British people will never surrender to terrorism.'' In reality, unless it's clear a threat is primal, most democratic peoples and their political leaders prefer to regard bad news as a peripheral nuisance which can be negotiated away to the fringe of their concerns.
That's what Britain thought in the 1930s -- back when Hitler was slavering over Czechoslovakia, and Neville Chamberlain dismissed it as "a faraway country of which we know little." Today, the faraway country of which the British know little is Britain itself. Traditional terrorists -- the IRA, the Basque separatists -- operate close to home. Islamism projects itself long-range to any point of the planet with an ease most G-8 militaries can't manage. Small cells operate in the nooks and crannies of a free society while the political class seems all but unaware of their existence.
Did we learn enough, for example, from the case of Omar Sheikh? He's the fellow convicted of the kidnapping and beheading in Karachi, Pakistan, of the Wall Street Journal's Daniel Pearl. He's usually described as "Pakistani" but he is, in fact, a citizen of the United Kingdom, with as English a resume as you can get: born in Whips Cross Hospital, educated at Nightingale Primary School in Wanstead, the Forest School in Snaresbrook and the London School of Economics. He travels on a British passport.
Or take Abdel Karim al-Tuhami al-Majati, a senior al-Qaida member from Morocco killed by Saudi security forces in al Ras last April. One of al-Majati's wives is a Belgian citizen currently residing in Britain. In Pakistan, the jihadists speak openly of London as the terrorist bridgehead to Europe. Given the British jihadists who've been discovered in the thick of it in Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, Israel, Chechnya and Bosnia, only a fool would believe they had no plans for anything closer to home -- or, rather, "home."
Most Britons can only speculate at the degree of Islamist penetration in the United Kingdom because they simply don't know, and multicultural pieties require that they keep themselves in the dark. It's not just the British left that's been skeptical of Washington's war on terror. Former Foreign Secretary Douglas Hurd and many other Conservative grandees have been openly scornful of the Bush doctrine. Lord Hurd would no doubt have preferred a policy of urbane aloofness, such as he promoted vis-a-vis the Balkans in the early '90s. He's probably still unaware that Omar Sheikh was a Westernized non-observant chess-playing pop-listening beer-drinking English student until he was radicalized by the massacres of Bosnian Muslims.
Abdel Karim al-Tuhami al-Majati was another Europeanized Muslim radicalized by the 250,000 corpses of Bosnia. The fact that most of us were unaware of the consequences of EU lethargy on Bosnia until that chicken policy came home to roost a decade later should be sobering: It was what Donald Rumsfeld, in a remark mocked by many snide media twerps, accurately characterized as an "unknown unknown": a vital factor so successfully immersed you don't even know you don't know it.
This is the beginning of a long existential struggle. It's hard not to be moved by the sight of Londoners calmly going about their business as usual in the face of terrorism. But, if the political class goes about business as usual, that's not a stiff upper lip but a suicide cult. The question now is will the British return to the fantasy agenda of Bob Geldof or avenge their dead?