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London blasts - expert comments

Following the explosions throughout London, we offer some comments from LSE academics. 

Professor Michael Cox 

Lessons of history? 
By Professor Michael Cox, professor of international relations and director of the Cold War Studies Centre at LSE

Having lived for over twenty years through the 'Troubles' in Northern Ireland, there was something dreadfully familiar about the events in London on 7 July. Even the siren noises on the streets were redolent of downtown Belfast in the 70s. Yet let's not get carried away like that well known Bank by thinking too locally about a global problem. Let's also beware certain analysts bearing false historical analogies. Indeed, in this particular case, analogies and comparisons drawn from our own little 'war' on terrorism might be more useless than useful.

Two very obvious differences exist between old style Irish 'freedom fighters' and our new theological terrorists. Most obviously, the Provos distinguished in their own minds at least between legitimate and non-legitimate targets - a not insignificant strategic distinction that led to many an armed action actually being aborted. Not enough admittedly, but many more than we knew at the time. Secondly, we always knew that at the end of the day, Irish republicans would negotiate some sort of deal. The question was never 'if' such a deal would be struck, but rather 'when'. This is why the Good Friday Agreement, or something like it, was always likely to happen: one day. It was just a matter of time, luck, conjuncture and diplomacy.

Fortunately, or unfortunately, no such deal is on the table with Al Qaeda or whoever planted the four bombs in London. Indeed, how are you supposed to negotiate with those who seem to hate and despise you as much as for what you happen to be as for what you are supposed to have done? Answer? You can't. Bin Laden, I suspect, will never want to do a Gerry Adams. Our 'modern' medieval terrorists moreover (unlike the IRA) make no convoluted ethical distinction between those whom they think it is fair game to murder and kill and those whom it is not so fair game to murder or kill. This is why we are facing a much more dangerous and problematic situation; one where the kind of security answers that were employed to contain that seemingly unresolvable Irish problem a few years ago, may not be very helpful today.

Yet let's not dispense with the past altogether. In fact, there may even be some useful lessons to be drawn from Northern Ireland. Lesson one: don't make the situation worse by acting dumb or tough - or both. How many ordinary members of the minority community in the North were turned into Provos by the actions of the British Army? Loads. I know, because many of them with a very similar tale to tell ended up in my lectures in Queen's University after having done their 15 years in prison. Lesson two: remember who your real friends are and understand that the only way to deal with a serious political issue - and it took the British in Ulster some time to work this one out - is in conjunction with others. You don't have to believe in global governance to know that without the Republic of Ireland and the United States, there would never have been a reasonable outcome in the North of Ireland; and now, without those much derided French (whose Olympic misery we were recently celebrating) and those much-criticized Americans whose president we have been lampooning for years, there is absolutely no way we are going to keep the bomber from our door. As Trotsky might have put it: you can't fight terrorism in one country. Final lesson I'm afraid is: get used to it. We all knew this day would come, but hoped against hope that it wouldn't. It has now arrived. There may never be "normal" again.  (8 July 2005)

Professor Conor Gearty

Professor Conor Gearty, Rausing Director of the Centre for the Study of Human Rights, said: 

'The attacks today are as expected as they are deplorable. The wanton destruction of human life has no rational purpose. It is an expression of anger not of political ambition, a demand that Londoners suffer merely because others suffer, or are assumed to be suffering. The violation of human rights is all the more complete because innocent people are being used as instruments of another person's rage - the ultimate abuse of human rights is to turn people into objects and this is what those responsible for this violence have done, both literally and metaphorically. 

'The rage of those responsible for these acts is also a rage of impotence, a scream for attention which functions as a bloody substitute for action. Difficult though it is at this moment, we must remember that these violent deeds are the actions of very weak people: weak morally, weak personally but also weak politically. Far from being frightening because they are strong, the perpetrators of these acts are frightening precisely because they are weak. We must remember this and not give them the victory their violence craves: the victory of a changed London, one in which freedom of movements is inhibited, unnecessary surveillance is rife and civil liberties and human rights are further truncated. That would be their victory. To deny them it we need now to keep our heads. 

'We need to get the city running again as soon as possible. We need to introduce basic precautionary changes in our transport infrastructure, to minimise the risk of repetition. We need all of us clearly and explicitly to reach out to minority ethnic communities and express solidarity towards them - there must be no suspect communities in Britain, their members tarred with the terrorist brush at a time of crisis. And we must move to ensure that our basis freedoms and liberties are not eroded in a misplaced repressive reaction to today's events. Of course the police must do all they can to bring those responsible for the crimes to justice: our justice is that of the court of law applying fair procedures, not that of detention cell or house arrest. 

'Britain has suffered severe levels of subversive violence in the past and come through unscathed. It will take more than irrational anger of weak killers to disconcert the tolerant, diverse, hard-working multi-cultural community that makes London not only an Olympic city but also the greatest urban metropolis on earth.'   (7 July 2005)

Professor Gwyn Prins

7/7 in London. Wrong Time. Wrong Place

By Professor Gwyn Prins, Alliance Research Professor at LSE

We don't yet know for certain that jihadists perpetrated last Thursday's attacks. But the visible facts carried the finger-prints of Manhattan, Bali and Madrid increasingly, from the first moment onwards, as the day wore on. The timing was chosen with care. 9/11 was a date between significant anniversaries for jihadists in the month of "Black September"; Madrid was intended to affect the Spanish election result, of course, and did so. This was the G-8, with all eyes on Britain.

The technical concept of operation was of similar calibre. It was highly, malignantly, intelligent. It turned the victims' own public transport into the bombers' weapons systems - planes, trains and their timetables, and buses - so frequently the chosen targets in Israel. Fortunately the mobile phone system doesn't (yet) work in the Tube tunnels and so couldn't be used to trigger bombs remotely. (The phones in the Madrid train bombs were used as dumb timers only, it seems). However, despite network operators' denials, one may rather hope that one reason for switching off the mobile systems for public use during part of Thursday morning was precautionary in case of above-ground sequels. It would, logically, have been part of the carefully prepared and rehearsed and flawlessly executed emergency response plans that were one of the day's saving graces.

This was above all a psychologically framed attack on our inner sense of community and personal well-being, using the very randomness of the victims to scar us all. Mass numbers are not needed to produce this effect. Indeed, the terrorist planners might think that fairly small explosions, such as we appear to have suffered, can be sadistically more effective in that psychological aim than huge ones. The psychological aim is the most distinctive thumb-print of unconditional terrorists.

The jihadists are unconditionals. They are not conditional terrorists like the IRA with political demands that could be negotiated or even conceded, who have political restraints on what they might do and who can be deterred. Unconditionals wish only to annihilate - spiritually as much or more than physically. Unconditionals like Al Qu'aeda or Aum Shinrikyo who released poison gas in the Tokyo subway cannot be deterred or bought off. As Kipling wrote, if you pay the danegeld you never get rid of the Dane.

There are only three ways to defeat them. The first is tactical, by pre-emptive intelligence leading to frustration of their plans. The second, strategic, by refusing to be intimidated into changing our lives, surrendering our values and freedoms - a point on which colleagues in the London School of Economics have been in the public eye in recent times with their severe criticisms of current proposals for high-tec identity cards. And the third is to deny them spiritual legitimacy by drowning them in the Middle East in a more potent ideology of hope.

Blair -and as Blair's helicopter left Gleneagles, Bush also - hit exactly the right notes. We will not be intimidated. We will not be changed. We will be steadfast. And from Singapore, where he was celebrating the Olympic Bid success, Mayor Livingstone spoke eloquently for the multi-cultural and harmonious heart of modern London.

But my abiding memory of 7/7 was what I saw and sensed in the quiet, determined, manner of Londoners as I cycled near the stricken zone from the LSE to the TV studios. By the time I emerged, High Holborn and Gray's Inn Road were again filling with vehicles and people. Psychological warfare goes two ways. "Life goes on" was London's instinctive reply.

The day before, after work, I had visited the amazing temporary Living Museum of the Second World War in St James's Park. I had the honour of talking to some of the be-medalled, upright veterans to whom we all owe so much. I watched the re-enacted air-raid, little thinking that the next day we would all see the spirit of the Blitz alive again in the eyes and courage of their grand-children's generation.

Al Qu'aeda really chose the wrong city. And, as we remembered VE and VJ Day this week-end, from the terrorists' point of view, on reflection, they chose exactly the wrong timing, too. (updated 11 July 05)

Dr Dennis Rodgers

Notes on the reaction to 7 July 2005
By Dr Dennis Rodgers, lecturer in development studies, DESTIN, LSE.

Reporting on the trial of German Nazi leader Adolf Eichmann in Jerusalem in 1961, Hannah Arendt famously observed that more than anything else the process had taught her 'the lesson of the fearsome, word-and-thought-defying banality of evil'. It is perhaps salutary to remember her remark in the wake of the reactions caused by London bombings of 7 July, and the early analysis that is emerging. From Tony Blair's immediate condemnation of the bombings as 'barbaric' attacks on 'civilization' to Conor Gearty's condemnation that 'the wanton destruction of human life has no rational purpose' on the LSE website, as well as Yahia Said's comment in The Observer that 'the attacks are crimes against humanity perpetrated by psychopaths for whom murder is not a means to an end but rather the end itself', the bombers are being labelled as inherently evil and violent 'others', in stark opposition to a putatively peaceful and righteous (and Western) 'us'. 

Historical evidence, however, shows that such an opposition is profoundly misguided, with terrorist violence being far from alien to Western societies. From the IRA bombing campaigns, to the Oklahoma bombing in the USA, to the Red Army Fraction in Germany, as well as ETA in Spain, there are numerous examples of violence 'from within', so to speak. Representing terrorists as violent and alien 'others' is clearly nonsensical when seen from this perspective, and constitutes at best a refusal to acknowledge the very real and painful fact that violence is an integral element of human society, and at worst an uncritical form of stigmatisation. This latter case is particularly true in relation to the frequent association of terrorism with a stereotypical vision of Islam, which in its most extreme version sees what are now thought to be British Muslims bombers being labelled as traitors to so-called multicultural Britain. If such a qualification was really justified, then the terrorists can certainly not be classified as 'other', since by definition a 'traitor' has to be one of 'us'.

In a related way, the notion that the violence of the bombings has no rational or political purpose is also untenable. To paraphrase Carl von Clausewitz, violence is merely the continuation of politics by other means, and this both at the global level, as seen in the invasion of Afghanistan or Iraq by the USA and its allies (including the UK), or at the more local level in the guise of terrorist bombings such as occurred in New York, Madrid, or London. This is not to say that such bombings are justifiable; I believe that they are not (and the same applies for the more global manifestations of violence such as the invasion and occupation of Iraq). But they are explainable. Poverty, inequality, exclusion, oppression, injustice, and discrimination, both real and perceived, have all been shown to be root causes of terrorism, constraining people's options such that - rightly or wrongly - they feel that they can no longer resort to peaceful means in order to make their grievances and demands effectively heard. 

The fact that acts of terrorism are political acts does not make them any less condemnable, however. Ultimately, the foundational act of politics is that of choosing a side, and thereby deciding what one considers is right and what one considers is wrong. Democratic politics are about making these decisions within a framework of tolerance, respect, and acceptance of other opinions, which terrorism as a form of politics - whether state terrorism or non-state terrorism - inherently rejects, and it is this, combined with the banal non-consideration for individual human life that is implicit in terrorist violence, that is to be the basis for the condemnation of terrorism, not a sense that terrorists are alien 'others' perpetrating supposedly 'extraordinary' and 'senseless' acts of violence. (13 July 05)

Press cuttings - more comments from LSE academics

WBEZ Chicago 
Professor Rodney Barker is interviewed about the London bombings (Audio file) on 7 July.

El Pais
La ciudad sigue viva (9 July 05)
Article by Professor Mary Kaldor (in Spanish).

Financial Times
Pictures of dead reflect cultural mix bombers 'wanted to divide' (12 July 05)
The victims of the London bomb attacks are from a wide range of nationalities and backgrounds. According to Tony Travers, LSE, this reflects the cosmopolitan nature of London.

Victims reflect capital's cultural diversity (12 July 05)
'As with the attack on the World Trade Centre in New York, the poignant photographs and biographies [of the victims] make absolutely clear the cosmopolitan nature of the London population,' said Tony Travers from the London School of Economics. 'They are entirely representative of a globalised city.'

Observer
Look out for the enemy within (10 July 05)
John Gray, Professor of European Thought at the London School of Economics, writes on the development of Al-Qaueda from a semi-centralised organisation before the fall of the Taliban regime into a an amorphous network of groups linked by an apocalyptic version of Islamist ideology and the threat it poses to Europe. 

Asking why will dignify criminals (10 July 05)
The bombers are psychopaths without political worth. According to Yahia Said, research fellow at the London School of Economics, trying to establish a political goal behind the London terrorist attacks would only dignify the criminals who perpetrated them. 

Los Angeles Times, US
British response to attacks is measured (9 July 05)
Patrick Dunleavy, LSE, comments on the British reaction to the London bombings.

American press - Lexington Herald, Kentuky.com, Columbus Ledger etc
Blasts kill at least 37 (8 July 05)
'This could have been a lot worse. It could have been (an attack using) chemical biological (agents). It could have been much larger,' said Gwyn Prins, a research fellow at the European Institute of the London School of Economics.

Bloomberg
G-8 Leaders to Double Aid to Africa to $50 Billion a Year (8 July 05)
'After Sept. 11, Bush decided that failed states in Africa could be a breeding ground for terrorists,'' said Nicholas Bayne, a former British ambassador now studying G-8 policy at the London School of Economics. 'Fighting poverty is part of the fight against terrorism.''

Daily Times, Pakistan
London blasts - time to re-evaluate enemy agenda (8 July 05)
As Fred Halliday writes in his book, Two Hours that Shook the World, "the goal is not to convert other people to their beliefs, but to seize power, political, social and gendered, within their own societies". Indeed, he claims that the main enemy of Al Qaeda and its ilk is not limited to the West in particular, but extends to secularism in general. Thus modernising Muslim states are also targeted as enemy nations.

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