Bombing the British bulldog
I was in London when the bomb went off, and the blast rocked our house. Not the 7/7 bomb everyone is talking about now, but an IRA one that exploded in the next street, killing England’s leading cancer specialist and narrowly missing Caroline Kennedy, who was a guest of the intended victim. Later, another IRA bomb exploded at my bus stop, killing the bomb disposal officer who was trying to render it harmless. There were many others, some also very close to our home.
One thing that the British bulldog has is its courageous determination to hold on, not to give in. After all, far worse has happened, such as the Blitz in World War II. Even after a million destroyed houses and 43,000 deaths, Hitler still failed to achieve his strategic objectives of knocking Britain out of the war or rendering it unable to resist an invasion.
Many influential people were against involvement in World War II, as they are now against involvement in Iraq. While war-time Prime Minister Winston Churchill declared “We shall never surrender,” Tony Blair appears just as determined. He will not retreat from the battlefield like Spain did after 191 died in the Madrid train bombings in March 2004. Britain will stay the course, as a reliable ally of the United States.
Living in London during the IRA bombing campaign, we learned to take precautions. Suspicious parcels were avoided and we informed the police. And once, when a train left the station with a briefcase on a vacant seat, the briefcase was immediately thrown out of the window, to the great annoyance of its owner when he returned with the newspaper he had just bought.
We became accustomed to security checks and were ever vigilant for suspicious activity. For many years, I and some nine million other Londoners never got into a car without searching underneath for a bomb. That is why everyone leaving a dinner party had a flashlight in their hand.
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At that time, we thought the number of IRA activists in London extremely limited and that in time the attacks would cease, as they did eventually. The IRA had a political agenda, and, however distasteful their methods, might be brought to the negotiating table.
Now it is a different matter. We now know that there were four suicide bombers. One cannot negotiate with extremists, as their demands are non-negotiable. They wish to destroy our society and convert all to their aberrant concept of Islam. Also, they do not leave parcels or briefcases lying around, but die from the explosives concealed under their seat or clothes. And these terrorists were home-grown, not a group of foreigners with recognizable accents or who might be stopped by improved border and immigration controls.
A secret government briefing paper concludes that “Intelligence indicates that the number of British Muslims actively engaged in terrorist activity, whether at home or abroad or supporting such activity, is extremely small and estimated at less than 1 percent.”
This adds up to 16,000 potential terrorists and supporters out of a Muslim population of almost 1.6 million.
That’s some dangerous arithmetic.
For too long the British have praised themselves for their tolerant, multi-ethnic society and taken an excessively benevolent attitude to the rantings of Islamist extremists in some mosques. And for years other governments have complained about British refusals to extradite fugitive terrorists. Now, and perhaps too late, Tony Blair is talking about taking strong measures to punish incitements to violence and racial hatred, including deportation when appropriate.
But what can he do?
He cannot deport UK citizens. And the majority of the UK’s Muslim citizens are honest, hard-working individuals, with many of the traditional Muslim virtues and well integrated into British society.
We cannot underestimate the importance of these Muslims, who must police themselves to prevent further atrocities. They should turn on the potential extremists in their midst, cooperate with the police and inform them of any suspicious activities. They must also condemn strongly any extremist preaching or racial hatred.
Regardless, the British will soldier on, no matter how high the cost, including in Iraq.
Here’s what Tony Blair has said: “When they try to divide our people or weaken our resolve, we will not be divided and our resolve will hold firm,” he declared. “We will show, by our spirit and dignity, and by our quiet but true strength that there is in the British people, that our values will long outlast theirs.”
It is lucky that we have the British Bulldog on our side in the war against those who use indiscriminate terror as a weapon.
Good luck, Tony!
– Peter Leslie can be reached for comment at email@example.com.