OpinionIran in the World PressTerrorist Attacks in London: A Viewpoint

Terrorist Attacks in London: A Viewpoint


Arab News – Amir Taheri: To classical historians nothing could be said to have happened unless someone took enough notice to narrate it. To modern semiologists, however, an event could be regarded as having really happened only when someone interprets it. Last week’s terrorist attack in London qualifies as a real event by both definitions. Arab News

by Amir Taheri

To classical historians nothing could be said to have happened unless someone took enough notice to narrate it. To modern semiologists, however, an event could be regarded as having really happened only when someone interprets it.

Last week’s terrorist attack in London qualifies as a real event by both definitions.

It has been narrated in countless newspaper, radio and television reports. Those whose lives have been shattered by the event are also certain to narrate it for a long time to come.

There has also been no dearth of interpretations. It is these that interest us here. For one aim of the terrorist is to force people, friend and foe alike, to define themselves vis-à-vis his action. Broadly speaking, the interpretations offered so far could be divided into two categories: Stoic and confused.

The stoic interpretation has come in the form of the determination with which Londoners, and with them most Britons, decided to take the whole thing in stride and not allow the attack to derail normal life. Much reference has been made to the “spirit of the blitz”, a reminder of how Londoners stood fast against Hitler’s bombing of their city during the Battle of Britain at the start of World War II.

There are, of course, some similarities between the two cases.

Hitler dreamed of conquering Britain and much of the world for his Aryan “master race”. The current terrorists, for their part, wish to rule the world in the name of “the only true faith”, that is to say their perverted version of Islam.

There are, however, big differences. At the time of the blitz Britain was facing an identifiable enemy in the context of a conventional, and symmetrical, war. That allowed Britain, and other democracies that later became her allies, to take the war to the territory of the enemy and destroy the physical structures that sustained his war machine.

The current enemy, on the other hand, has no easily identifiable territorial base and fights an asymmetrical war. It is possible that the terrorists were born and bred in Britain. And it is likely that the attack was planned and its logistical means put together inside he United Kingdom itself. And, if that is the case, one must assume that the terrorists enjoy a broader support inside Britain than Hitler did in 1940 with Oswald Moseley’s small fascist party.

There is another big difference. As the clouds of war gathered over Europe in 1939 Britain started to prepare itself morally and intellectually to fight.

Today, however, there is no sign of such moral and intellectual preparation. To be sure, Britain is playing a key role in both Afghanistan and Iraq. But popular support for that role was never as high as it was for the fight against Hitler, and has been falling over the past year. This does not mean that the British are going to do what the Spanish did just over a year ago, that is to say abandon their allies to win brownies from the terrorists. But it is equally clear that no war could be fought effectively unless it enjoys massive and solid popular support.

And this brings us to the second reaction, that is to say the confused one.

This comes from people who, although often atheists, are hooked to the concept of the original sin.

Whenever Britain or any other Western democracy is attacked they recall all the real or imagined wrongs that the West did to others as a justification for whatever wrongs that others may do in return. These are the same type of people who are always on hand to justify a bank robber who has also murdered the bank clerks with the assertion that he had an unhappy childhood marked by poverty.

To these people it is enough to claim some grievance and pose as a victim to obtain a license for imposing on others the worst kind of tyranny — the tyranny of the underdog. And when, as is the case with terrorists, the killers come from well-to-do families and countries, our apologist plays another tune: The murderers must be admired because they abandoned a life of luxury in order to fight for a cause that, in practice, means destroying the lives of innocent people.

As T.S Eliot put it: Blood of children must be spilt/ To atone for the fathers’ guilt.

The daily The Independent, which opposed the wars to liberate Afghanistan and Iraq, reminded its readers the day after the London attack of what Osama Bin Laden had said a year ago: “If you bomb our cities, we shall bomb your cities.” The writer added: There you go!

Was the confused writer referring to Afghanistan and Iraq? If yes, did he not know that Bin Laden could under no circumstances claim ownership of either Afghanistan or Iraq? No one in either Afghanistan or Iraq, including those Afghans and Iraqis who might hate the West for whatever reason, would regard the fugitive as a compatriot let alone a spokesman.

To pretend that the terrorists represent the Muslim world is like claiming that the British National Party, a small fascist gang, is the sole legitimate expression of the Western democracies.

Twenty-four hours later Ayatolllah Imami Kashani used The Independent article in his Friday prayer sermon in Tehran to support the claim that the British deserved to die in large numbers.

Even more scandalous was the claim by a maverick member of the British Parliament that the terrorists represented the feelings of the global Muslim community. Muslims may, and in some cases, certainly do have real or imaginary grievances against the West and against one another, but few would regard Bin Laden and his emulants as fellow-believers let alone leaders.

Afghanistan and Iraq now have elected leaders who can, and do, speak on behalf of their peoples with authority. In both Kabul and Baghdad the attack in London has been condemned in no uncertain terms. But would the Independent quote Presidents Hamid Karzai and Jalal Talabani rather than Bin Laden? Not a chance.

While the stoic response may be the right one in the short run, it could lull Britain into believing that this is one brief storm that may soon blow over. Well, it is not. This is an existential threat by a force that cannot stop unless stopped by stronger moral, political and physical forces.

The comparison with the Irish Republican Army (IRA) is both foolish and dangerous. The IRA resembled a man who comes to your neighborhood every now and then to break a few of your windows, raise a scare, and then establish contact to demand concessions. In time the IRA became satisfied with jobs for its political front-men and a free hand from the British police for its clandestine cells to continue whatever racketeering they engaged in.

The terrorists, however, want to wipe out the existing society so that they can create their utopia in its place. They are not content with breaking a few windows or even murdering your son or daughter on their way to school or work, and would not be content with ministerial jobs and official limousines.

Acknowledging that an event has really happened is only the first step. What matters in the end is the way we understand it.

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