The Quality of Mercy

On 30th June 2005, I was in London for a meeting. After finishing, I realised that I had a little time to spare, so I decided to walk down Edgware Road and cross Hyde Park to get to the Piccadilly Line, rather than take the train from Baker Street. Although I was a frequent visitor, it had been more than ten years since I had worked permanently in central London, and I thought it would be interesting to see the places I had known well.

Edgware Road cafeI found that the Edgware Road seemed to have become more of a centre for Middle-Eastern and North African immigrants. There was a fair proportion of the passers-by, both men and women, in Arab-style dress. Some of the shop signs were in Arabic as well as English, and there were specialist restaurants and food shops, including halal butchers’. On a sunny, Summer’s day, it was exotic and exciting. I loved it.

Exactly a week later, the four suicide bombers detonated their explosives, killing themselves and fifty-two other people. One of the killers, Mohammad Sidique Khan, detonated his bomb in an Underground train which had just left Edgware Road station. He murdered six people.

It seemed to me that Edgware Road station was one of the locations in London most likely for a random attack to claim the lives of Muslims, and thus it appeared to be a curious choice for a terrorist claiming Islam as his motivation. But then I realised that I was giving Kahn too much credit for foresight and planning. Edgware Road, with its high proportion of Muslim inhabitants, hadn’t really been “chosen” at all. The plan appears simply to have been to get on different trains out of King’s Cross and detonate the bombs at the same time.

That the victims were of no consideration to Kahn was made clear by his incoherent justification recorded before the attack, in which he addresses “you”, but can’t make his mind up whether that means Western governments or British people. He implies that random civilians are what the IRA used to call “legitimate targets” because they “allow” governments to do evil things, but  that argument is a fantasy, a piece of self-deceit that allowed him to avoid thinking of the terrible truth about the crime he was to commit.

Deceit and obfuscation are a hallmark of the justifications for terrorism. In the case of Islamic terrorists, they have had to develop an almost Orwellian doublespeak, because terrorist actions run counter to the spirit of the religion; and in the case of killing civilians, directly contradict the Qur’an and valid Hadith. People embrace contrived “interpretations” of Islamic teaching to excuse crimes whose real motives are unfocussed anger and a feeling of powerlessness against injustice.

It’s very much a part of wishy-washy, liberal dogma that the “War on Terror”™ increased the risk of terrorism, precisely because it only served to increase anger and resentment, without affecting at all the structures and organisation of terrorism. Being a wishy-washy liberal myself, I think there’s a lot of truth in it. As we know now, the “War on Terror”™ and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were carried out with blind cruelty, incompetence, hypocrisy and a complete disregard for human rights and human lives.

And, of course, it has all been hugely expensive. Given those levels of funding, my approach would have been quite different. I’d have spent it on civilian infrastructure projects in the relevant countries, with a bit given to improve mainstream Islamic education, to combat the corrupt and poisoned version that is spreading its message of hatred. Idealistic, I know; and perhaps if ever tried it would be a complete failure. But at least, nobody would have to die.

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