Friday, July 08, 2005

Smog of War

I don't really know what to say with regard to the terrorist attacks that took place yesterday. Which is actually fairly appropriate because the theme for any serious look at what's going on should probably be the fact that actually we don't know much right now.

It seems that the death toll will be substantially lower than initially feared, though obviously we shouldn't minimise the horror on this account.

Sections of the Muslim "community" are expressing concerns that they may be victimised on account of yesterday's attacks. The MAB can, as always, kiss my arse, but it's a legitimate concern and one of the priorities of the government should be to ensure that innocent British citizens are not intimidated or victimised as a result of what happened yesterday. An increased uniformed police presence in heavily Muslim areas might well be appropriate over the next few days, along with regular communications with the locals to attempt to relieve any feeling of marginalisation - though whether the manpower is available for this I don't know. I hope very strongly that the British public will emulate their American cousins and that blanket revenge attacks and whatnot will be restricted to a few arseholes who can be swiftly rounded up and put away (I imagine the BNP will see this as a good opportunity to make mischief).

It will be interesting to see how this has an impact on relations with British Muslims. I think it is a perfectly plausible possibility that the attacks will act as a wakeup call to many Muslims who have been sitting on the fence or resentful of the security services. It is quite possible that one of the results of yesterday will be, ironically, a substantial increase in Humint coming to the security services from within Islaic areas as long as we do not overreact initially.

The government needs to make some things very clear, probably behind closed doors. First of all, we are all in it together. We need their help to conduct effective intelligence led operations. But they also need our help. The government should go to great lengths to calm and to reassure and should plough resources into making sure that law-abiding Muslims don't suffer as a result of their violent minority but they should make clear that in the event of slack co-operation and another attack there may be a limit to what they can do in the face of the British public's ire. It should be made abundantly clear that active co-operation is in the best interests of British Muslims. This is not Iraq, Malaya or Vietnam, where co-operation with the security forces could well mean that people come out of the undergrowth at night and burn your village down. We can provide security. This is our country. There is no excuse for non-cooperation, collective silences and no-go areas. None. We need the skillful employment of both carrot and stick here, in the most discrete manner possible.

On the broader issues raised by the attack, uncertainty rules. Or, at least, it should. Commentary that has emerged in the past 24 hours, ranging from the Guardian (the predictable screed by Tariq "Ho Chi Minh is going to win!" Ali and boilerplate by everyone else) to the National Review (at least 9 articles dealing with London so far and not a looker in the crowd), has been almost unversally weak. I've already criticised the Belmont Club where Wretchard, who is very smart but who makes something of a speciality out of conjuring concrete certainty where it doesn't exist, presumed within hours of the attacks to provide not only a lesson (al Qaeda is on the ropes) but the cause from which that lesson came (why, Iraq, of course). Not that this criticism should be confined to the Right - on the Left there are, of course, numerous people for whom the conceit that this attack is linked to our presence in Iraq and that it's the Prime Minister's fault is set in polished marble. Not that any of these assertions are implausible. It's quite possible that the terrorists are on the ropes. It's possible that they are on the rope because of Iraq. It's also possible that we'd never have been attacked had we not gone into Iraq.

Here are a few statements:

  • The attack shows the terrorists are on the ropes.
  • The attack shows the GWoT isn't working.
  • The attack has few, if any, broader lessons to teach regarding our progress.
  • We're where we are (good or bad) because of Iraq.
  • We're where we are (good or bad) because of Afghanistan.
  • We're where we are because of Spain.
  • We're where we are because we haven't been aggressive enough.
  • We're where we are because that's just the way it is.
  • There was an intelligence failure.
  • It was just one of those things.
The above are all plausible and possible and can be mixed and matched according to your prejudices. And essentially that's pretty much all that's happening right now - people, on both sides of the spectrum, are finding in the attacks reinforcement for their preconceptions. But as far as I'm concerned anyone who thinks they can deal in certainty at this moment is either a fool or a knave. We know too little. Few of the facts are in. Let's just wait and see.

I'd like to finish, for now, by again expressing appreciation for the enormous goodwill that has been flooding in from across the globe. It's been very heartening. The reaction within the UK has, I feel, been fantastic and inspiring and I'm very proud of my countrymen. That said, whether we'd be seeing the same reactions had 3,000 people died and a major landmark lain in ruins is an open question. My hunch is that, as with many things, the years of dealing with the IRA and taught a lot of Brits the ropes with this sort of thing and that this attack is instinctively perceived as something like a moderately worse version of what the Irish Republicans have thrown at us in the past. Anyway, we'll see. Certainly as things stand I think the national attitude has been absolutely bang on - just the right calibration of anger, business-as-usual spirit and a somewhat pissed off bemusement that the terrorists think they're going to get anything other than a good slapping out of what they've done.

From the London News Review (via Andrew Sullivan):

What the fuck do you think you're doing?

This is London. We've dealt with your sort before. You don't try and pull this on us.

Do you have any idea how many times our city has been attacked? Whatever you're trying to do, it's not going to work.

All you've done is end some of our lives, and ruin some more. How is that going to help you? You don't get rewarded for this kind of crap.

And if, as your MO indicates, you're an al-Qaeda group, then you're out of your tiny minds.

Because if this is a message to Tony Blair, we've got news for you. We don't much like our government ourselves, or what they do in our name. But, listen very clearly. We'll deal with that ourselves. We're London, and we've got our own way of doing things, and it doesn't involve tossing bombs around where innocent people are going about their lives.

And that's because we're better than you. Everyone is better than you. Our city works. We rather like it. And we're going to go about our lives. We're going to take care of the lives you ruined. And then we're going to work. And we're going down the pub.

So you can pack up your bombs, put them in your arseholes, and get the fuck out of our city.

Patrick Belton:

SO NOW AL QA'EDA HAS ATTACKED THIS COUNTRY. Perhaps now is therefore not the most inappropriate moment to do something which under ordinary circumstances would be decidedly un-English; viz, to express my real affection for the country in which I have chosen to live. It has become, in a way I never expected it to, home. And where the virtues of other countries fetishise a Romantic, Wagnerian heroism, those of England are unassuming: decency, carrying on, and in direr hours humour, stiff upper lips, and the ironic, benevolent wit of fellow-sufferers talking to one another. These are adult virtues, by comparison to which the others seem adolescent; by them one might live a daily rather than a cinematic life, share pints with friends, and when public duties call, do what they require with quiet steely determination and self-effacing humour. In unglad moments, these are sterner stuff.

And with that, I'm off for a cup of tea.


Blogger J. said...

Great post - glad to get your viewpoint on this issue, and love the London News Review note. I find it surprising that here in the US, everyone's jumping up again and saying, oh geez, we have to do something. I think that the American public could learn a great deal from the Brits on understanding how to deal with terrorism, and that it's not just a passing phase.

2:14 PM  
Blogger Anthony said...

Well I think in many ways we're comparing apples and oranges. As I've noted, I honestly don't know what the reaction would be had we lost people and real estate on the scale of 9/11. In many ways this bears more comparison with the worst the IRA had to offer than 9/11. I certainly found nothing nappropriate in the response of the American public to 9/11. Indeed, I feel they conducted themselves with great dignity. Also, after 9/11 there was an obvious territorially-based response given where AQ was. This calls for a domestic policing action as much as anything.

2:33 PM  
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