concerted bombing of the London transport system has evoked
a wide variety of reactions across the world but, so far
at least, relatively little introspection. It speaks volumes
for the resilience of the British that most of the introspection
has taken place in the UK. While American newscasters
like those of CNN, have done their utmost to extract reactions
of grief, panic and anger from the British; what they
have been met with is fortitude, and a determination not
to let it disrupt their society or economy.
Indeed the most extreme reactions have come from American
commentators. The more imperially minded have seen in
the attacks a change in the nature of war itself and exhorted
the British to join them in fighting it. In other American
commentaries there is more than a hint of reproof. "Why
are you not more angry, more belligerent? When so many
innocent people have died why are you willing even to
entertain the notion that your own past policies might
have had something to do with it? Why, in short are you
not more like us?"
The difference is one of objectives. While Condoleeza
Rice called a meeting of the National Security Council
immediately after 9/11 to ask "how to capitalise
on these opportunities", Tony Blair's government
is determined to minimise the fallout of the attacks upon
British society. But there is another reason why the UK
government is reacting so differently from the US. This
is its awareness, from the very first day, that it was
facing an entirely new breed of terrorists against whom
all previously developed methods of surveillance and interdiction
had proved ineffective. Introspection was therefore an
awareness had begun to grow well before the July 7 bombings.
The alarm was first sounded not by MI5 or Scotland Yard,
but by the CIA. In a report completed at the end of May,
it warned the US government that Iraq was breeding a new
generation of terrorists who were likely to fan out into
Europe and America after the war there ended. British
intelligence officials took the warning seriously, but
initially believed that the return flow would not seriously
affect Britain, as not more than 200 Britons had taken
part in the Afghan war and very few had gone to Iraq.
The unstated implication was that they were being watched.
anxiety went up a notch when the collation of intelligence
information with other European countries showed that
a large number of dormant Islamic recruitment rings had
come to life again. As many as 21 had been identified.
Again, what they left unsaid was that most, if not all,
of these had been penetrated and were being closely monitored.
intelligence also routinely keeps a close watch on mosques,
and monitors visitors to the UK. Despite all this the
suicide bombers turned up nowhere on their radar screen.
The only possible explanation even then was that none
of the bombers were religious fanatics. This has been
vindicated by the statements of the families of the four
who have been identified. From what they have told the
police, a clear pattern has emerged:
came from perfectly ordinary immigrant families where
religion was about as important as it is in typical
Christian, Hindu, or Jewish families.
played no significant part in their decision. Had it
done so, they would have been visiting mosques regularly,
and their families would have been aware of the gradual
rise of extremism in their makeup.
of them were, admittedly, sent to Madrassas in Pakistan.
But it was only after they had been recruited, in order
to help them develop the spiritual fortitude they needed
for the extreme act of suicide.
religion did not motivate them, then what did? The answer
was given by five Muslim youth interviewed on July 13
by BBC in Leeds. "You have come to ask us how we
feel when 50 people have died in London," said one
young man just out of his teens.
should never have happened, but why did you not come to
us when thousands of Afghans were being killed and a hundred
thousand Iraqis died?"
world needs to listen to these young people with ears
that have been opened by empathy. The roots of what the
world is calling Islamic terrorism lie not in Islam, but
in an acute conflict of loyalties generated by the perception
of extreme injustice. This conflict is quintessentially
a product of the information revolution. The horrors of
war, and the meanness of the calculations that go into
waging it, can no longer be hidden from ordinary people.
is perceived as an unjust or unnecessary war creates a
crisis of conscience that becomes very hard to bear. The
conflict is most acute in those who have developed a new
identity and a new loyalty but have not yet broken their
links with the old. The first generation born of immigrant
parents are by far the most in conflict. Some try to reconcile
the conflict by trying to educate their adopted communities.
Others snap, and set out to destroy it.
is an important lesson to be learned from 7 / 7, that
can save thousands of lives in the future. The amoral,
19th century hyper-nationalism that inspired the invasion
of Iraq, the encirclement of Palestine, and even now threatens
to unleash violence on Syria and Iran, cannot be reconciled
with the emerging compulsions of a globalised economy,
culture and society.
ethnic communities are becoming increasingly intermixed,
if the US and its allies continue down the road they are
on, terrorism will sprout in so many places and in so
many communities that it will defeat the
law and order mechanism, destroy democracy, and disrupt
the inter-linkages upon which enable an increasingly interdependent
civilisation to exist.
The author, a noted analyst and commentator, is a former
editor of the Hindustan Times, The Economic
Times and The Financial Express,
and a former information adviser to the prime minister
of India. He is the author of several books including,
The Perilous Road to the Market: The Political Economy
of Reform in Russia, India and China, and
Kashmir 1947: The Origins of a Dispute, and a
regular columnist with several leading publications.