Solidarity and resolve

July 08, 2005

THE BOMBINGS in London yesterday inspire shock, grief and rage. This of course is what the bombers desire. They deliberately play upon the normal human sympathy of the public - sympathy they themselves are conspicuously lacking - to magnify the effects of a few pounds of explosives. At least 37 innocent people died horrible deaths yesterday, and scores of others were grievously mangled, so that someone could make a point. It's death as propaganda, and it's sickening.

British authorities believe the subway and bus bombings were the work of al-Qaida. They occurred in a city that may be better prepared than any other in Europe, or the world, to defend itself against terror, yet yesterday it was to no avail. This is part of the shock. There can be no complete security against terror, though every act of terror inspires national leaders to take further steps restricting the everyday freedoms that Western nations once prided themselves on. This, too, is a terrorist aim, and the United States and other nations have played right along.

Expressions of solidarity and resolve, voiced by President Bush and other politicians, are proper and fitting. Vows to pursue "the war on terror" are no longer helpful. The United States had al-Qaida in its sights, in Afghanistan in late 2001, but that moment has passed. The Bush administration was distracted by the temptation to launch a real war in Iraq, in the apparent expectation that terrorists would be cowed by a display of U.S. military prowess - which was a fundamental misunderstanding of the nature of al-Qaida and of those who resort to terror.

That deed is done. The war in Iraq today provokes terror and inspires terrorists. Last year the attack was in Spain. Now, it's England - with threats reported against Denmark and Italy. There is no coincidence; all have sent troops to Iraq.

The United States has experienced nearly four years without a terrorist attack. Is that because of the competence of security agencies, the cunning patience of al-Qaida, simple luck - or, most likely, some combination of all three? There is no real way of knowing. But if London can be brought to a bloody halt with four bombs, it's difficult to imagine that any city can pretend to be totally secure.

The idea of a "war on terror" suggests that someday there can be a "victory over terror," which is hardly likely. Yet the United States and its allies can nonetheless prevail, not over terror itself but over al-Qaida and its jihadist counterparts - through a combination of perseverance, prudence, investigation and targeted action, and with a forthright understanding and thorough rethinking of the West's role in the countries of the Middle East. Intelligent measures to improve security at home are needed; ham-handed crackdowns, pervasive snooping and extra-legal detentions are worse than pointless, because they undermine cherished and sometimes hard-won freedoms while doing nothing actually to improve safety.

The terrorists who attacked London yesterday would like nothing better than to provoke blind fury. Instead, Western nations have to outsmart them.

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.