Saturday, July 09, 2005

Imagining the price: the inevitability of Thursday

Many people have spoken of the strange sense of inevitability pervading our response to Thursday's events. It has been reflected in reports by survivors. We knew it was coming. For those of us who grew up knowing only regular IRA bomb attacks, the emotion is familiar; nostalgic even.

We’ve been expecting it for so long. When it happened, it didn’t seem real. It could have happened on the other side of the world. Iraq, for instance. And of course, it did.

What lies behind this feeling is the subtext of public comment. Some repeat, as if in a trance, that discussing it is defeatist or compounds the agony. But suppressing it now is to beg a question to which we already know the answer. Some have dared say it aloud.

Wednesday's surprise good news, in contrast to Thursday's, reminded me of the boycott of the 1980 Moscow Olympics following its invasion of Afghanistan.

Why did the Mujahadeen want the Soviets to leave the country?

When a dove was released during the Games' opening ceremony, the famous British sports commentator David Coleman declared: 'What a hollow gesture that is considering events in Afghanistan'. Four years later, in Los Angeles, he did not refer to events in El Salvador and Nicaragua that were at least as bad as in Afghanistan. He probably didn't even know about them.

Of course the US wasn't exactly inactive back in Afghanistan either. The CIA trained, funded and gave succour to the Islamic militants who regularly captured and beheaded Russian conscripts. This didn't stop the latter getting invited to garden parties at Number 10 to be hailed as 'freedom fighters' by Margaret Thatcher. And who remembers Sandy Gall of ITN running around with these brutes dressed up as an Afghan? His book Afghanistan: Agony of a Nation has a foreword by the Prime Minister of the day. Oddly, it seems to be out of print!

What does their ambivalence toward the barbarity of the Islamic fighters tell us now?

It all seems so distant.

Yet it takes only a brief act of the imagination to relate to that ambivalence, and how it might be shared now by Arabs as they resist an alien ideology, occupation, humiliation and mass murder. Indeed, we feel the same way ourselves about the war crimes in Fallujah, barely reported in the press. It requires deliberate imagination. There is a blank however. We can only feel intellectual disgust. There is no story.

Many believe that to acknowledge the reasons for the London attacks is to give in to the terrorists. It's unclear though what 'giving in' looks like. Perhaps it refers to the Stockholm Syndrome, where 'giving in' would be to take sides with the enemy. For a long time I thought this was a cheap way of avoiding the issues. Now I realise that it isn't. Only we must not misidentify the kidnappers.

The BBC reports today that Tony Blair says the underlying causes of terrorism must be pulled up by the roots. He’s quite right.

He might remember that he was warned by security services that there would be a sharp rise in the risk of terrorism if Britain invaded Iraq. Against an overwhelming lack of evidence justifying the invasion, and against overwhelming public opinion, he decided it was a price worth paying. Three years ago, Tony Blair said told us we would pay 'the blood price'. On Thursday we began to pay it.

Justice, like charity, begins at home. Impeach Blair; arraign him for war crimes.


  1. Anonymous10:36 pm

    At what period were IRA bomb attacks regular in London, exactly?
    I should have thought "occasional" would be a more accurate

  2. I meant across the whole of the mainland as well as London in the 70s and 80s: Harrods, Regents Park, the Deal barracks, Birmingham, Guildford. I grew up in a services town and worked in a naval base for a couple of years toward the end of the conflict, so it was always a presence.

  3. Anonymous10:36 am

    The threat was always there, sure; but the bombs themselves were sporadic.

    Anyway, sorry to nitpick; your article is the best piece I've read on the London attacks.

    (And God, yes, I do remember Sandy Gall running around with the Heroic Freedom Fighters of the Afghani Resistance).



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