Horrific as the death toll was from last Thursday's terrorist attacks on London's transportation system, it does not begin to measure the impact of those attacks on Londoners and indeed all of Europe. Though memories are generally short-lived, it will never again be possible to descend into an Underground station or get on one of London's famous double-deckered buses without surveying one's fellow passengers and considering whether they are likely candidates to be carrying sophisticated explosives.
Ladies and Gentlemen, welcome to what Mark Steyn calls the Israelification of European life. By Israeli standards, the scale of Thursday's simultaneous attacks was hardly unprecedented. With a population about one-tenth of that of Great Britain, Israel has had months in which more than twice as many citizens were killed as the announced death toll from last Thursday's bombings.
Not surprisingly, then, one of the many reactions of Israelis upon hearing the breaking news from London was that perhaps now Europeans would begin to understand what we live with in Israel. And indeed Israeli security experts were in hot demand by the British media in the aftermath of the terrorist strike. The BBC even discovered the word "terrorist" in its dictionary. Briefly. Within 24 hours, the Beeb was busy rewriting its webpages to remove the offending word.
Hopes of a new understanding of what Israelis face on a daily basis were temporarily dashed when A.P. reported that Prime Minister Tony Blair, in a BBC interview, listed easing the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians as a crucial step towards eliminating the causes of terror. As it turned out, the A.P. quote was almost entirely a figment of the reporter's imagination. (It will be interesting to see if a reporter who cannot accurately report a radio interview heard by millions of people can retain his job.) The A.P. also reported (falsely) that the Israeli consulate and Finance Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, who was in London at the time, had received advanced warning of the attacks. (Shades of the urban legend that 3,000 Israelis in New York stayed home from work on 9/11, which still gets a lot of play among Moslem conspiracy theorists.)
Though false, the A.P.'s quotations from Prime Minister Blair were entirely believable. After all, did not Blair proclaim last November that finding a solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict must be the world's top diplomatic priority. The fact that the A.P. report seemed plausible enough for a host of Israeli politicians to respond (though not our wily Prime Minister) suggests that Europeans are not about to start singing, "We are all Israelis now," any time soon.
Europeans still seek to place Islamic terror into some rational framework, as if that will make it less frightening. The attempt to fit the terrorists into the categories of the Western mind, and to attribute to them rational goals is laughable. Amir Taheri acidly commented in the Times that all the interviewers who asked him, "What do the terrorists really want?", reminded him of nothing so much as Dutch filmmaker Theodore Van Gogh imploring his assailant, "Surely we can discuss this," even as the assailant emptied his gun into Van Gogh's body.
The effort to "understand" the Islamic terrorists' goals only arouses their scorn and encourages them in the view that the West is clueless. As Taheri, a fugitive from Iran puts it, what they want is "to take full control of your lives, dictate every move you make around the clock, and if you dare resist, . . . kill you."
A post-Christian Europe cannot comprehend religious warfare, and certainly not the Moslem view (once shared by Christians) that conquest can vindicate belief. Moslems hate the West (the Crusaders), as the great Orientalist Bernard Lewis points out, because in "the millennial rivalry between two world religions, the wrong one seems to be winning." Modern communications rubs Moslems' noses in the failure of Islamic society everywhere. They cannot hide from the fact that wherever a Moslem state and a non-Moslem state exist side by side – e.g., India and Pakistan, Israel and any of her neighbors – the Moslem state is a basket case by comparison. Driven to frenzied rage by the failures of their own societies, the Islamists seek to crush the West by, as Osama bin Laden puts it, bleeding it to death – i.e., destroying the sources of its economic wealth.
Whether the realization of the extent and nature of the threat faced will now dawn on British and European policymakers remains an open question. The Spanish response to the Madrid bombings is not exactly encouraging. The Spanish withdrawal from Iraq in response to the Madrid bombings proved that terrorism works. And the haste with which the G8 nations hastened to shower the Palestinian Authority with another 3 billion dollars the day after the London bombings will convey a similar message. Just last week, a leading World Bank official said that given the current chaos in the Palestinian Authority, any large scale aid to the Palestinians will be tantamount to pouring money down the drain.
Yet the West persists in believing that the terrorists can be placated by showing solicitude for their concerns or bought off. In fact, Britain has been attempting to buy off the terrorists for some time. By allowing jihadists to roam freely and plot their attacks on targets outside Britain, the government sought to achieve immunity from attacks on British soil, just as the Saudi royal family has attempted to buy peace for itself at home by exporting Wahibbi fanaticism around the world.
Counterterrorism specialists, writes Daniel Pipes, disdain the British for having allowed London to become the most important jihadist hub in Western Europe. The list of nations infuriated by British refusals to extradict suspected terrorists is a long one indeed, and includes many Western European states.
Omar Bakri Mohammed, a Syrian asylum seeker, who has lived in England on the dole for 19 years, encouraged the British government to believe that Britain could secure immunity from attack as long as it treated its Moslem population well. And the government tried hard to comply. The August 2004 New Statesman contained an article entitled "Why terrorists love Britain," in which the author of Inside Al Qaeda was quoted as saying, "it has long been recognized by British Islamists, by the British government and by UK intelligence agencies, that as long as Britain guarantees the freedom of the likes of Hassan Butt [an overtly pro-terrorist Islamist] the terrorist strikes will continue to be planned within the borders of the UK but will not occur here."
Thus the leader of the Finsley Park mosque, in which 9/11 conspirator Zacarias Moussani and shoe bomber Richard Reid prayed, openly called for violence for years before he was finally arrested. And when the aforementioned Omar Mohammed promised Britain a "9/11 day after day" if anti-terror laws enacted in the wake of 9/11 were not rescinded, the authorities did nothing.
Despite years of warnings by such experts as former Metropolitan Police Commissioner Lord Stevens that terrorist attacks were inevitable, the British government made no effort to secure the country's borders to at least know who was coming in and going out. Motti Cristal, a fellow at the Institute of Counterterrorism at the Herzilya Interdisciplinary Center, notes that even when the government enacted laws to allow the detention of foreign nationals suspected of terrorist, those laws were struck down by the House of Lords.
In the wake of the terrorist bombs, Londoners showed some of same stoic resolve for which they became justly famous during the Nazi aerial bombardment. But even if that resolve translates into bold action in the face of the terrorist threat, the task ahead remains a daunting one. British intelligence believes that those who executed last Thursday's attacks were likely born in Britian and fully able to blend into British society. It is known that Al Qaeda has been recruiting among Moslem students at British universities.
A recent study on terrorism prepared for Prime Minister Blair estimates that no more than 1% of British Moslems are potential terrorists. But that alone comes to 16,000 people -- far too many to keep under constant surveillance. Of those, 3,000 are estimated to have passed through one of Osama bin Laden's training camps.
As Al Qaeda ceases to be an organization and becomes something more akin to a brand name for a certain kind of terrorism, it becomes, if anything, harder to fight and contain. Experts expect future attacks to be increasingly the work of autonomous, decentralized cells, such as the one that planned and executed last Thursday's attacks. Of the eight previously planned terrorist attacks foiled by British security forces over the last five years, each one involved a different group. The lack of centralized direction makes it far harder to penetrate these cells.
Let us hope that the British public and policymakers have awakened to the menace confronting them and are prepared to act accordingly. But even if they do act with fortitude, the magnitude of the threat is such that only with a great deal of siyata d'Shmaya can we hope to avoid a repeat of Thursday's terrorist bombings.