One way of measuring a terrorist attack is to see if the killers accomplished everything they set out to.
On September 11, 2001, al Qaeda set out to hijack four planes and succeeded in seizing every one. Had the killers tried to take another 30 jets between 7:30 and 9 that morning, who can doubt they would have maintained their pristine 100 percent success? Throughout the Irish Republican Army’s long war against the British Crown, two generations of politicians noted there would always be the odd “crack in the system” through which the determined terrorist would slip. But on September 11 the system’s failure was total.
Last Thursday, al Qaeda hit three London Underground trains and one bus. Had they broadened their attentions from the Central Zone and attempted to blow up 30 trains across the furthest reaches of the Tube map, from Uxbridge to Upminster, who can doubt they would have succeeded? The carnage was constrained only by the murderers’ ambition and manpower.
The difference is that September 11 hit out of the blue — literally and politically. July 7, 2005, came after four years of Her Majesty’s Government prioritizing terrorism and “security” above all else — and the failure rate was still 100 percent. After the Madrid bombing, I was struck by a spate of “comic” security breaches in London: two Greenpeace guys shin up St. Stephen’s Tower at the Palace of Westminster, a Daily Mirror reporter bluffs his way into a servant’s gig at Buckingham Palace a week before Mr. Bush comes to stay; an Osama lookalike gatecrashes Prince William’s birthday party.
As I wrote last March, “History repeats itself: farce, farce, farce, but sooner or later tragedy is bound to kick in. The inability of the state to secure even the three highest-profile targets in the realm — the Queen, her heir, her Parliament — should remind us that a defensive war against terrorism will ensure terrorism.”
To three high-profile farces, we now have that high-profile tragedy, of impressive timing. The jihad, via a wholly owned but independently operated subsidiary, scheduled an atrocity for the start of the G-8 summit of the seven major industrial countries and Russia, and managed to pull it off — when the ports and airports and internal security of a small island were all supposedly on heightened alert. That’s quite a feat. The only good news is the bombs were, by the standards of what’s out there, small. One day they won’t be.
Of course, many resources were sent to Scotland to cope with elderly rocker Sir Bob Geldof’s pathetic call for a million anti-globalist ninnies to descend on the summit and tie up the police with pitiful narcissistic preening — the papier-mache Bush and Blair puppets, the ersatz ethnic drumming, etc.
The choice for Britons now is whether to be Australians post-Bali or Spaniards post-Madrid. That shouldn’t be a tough call. But it’s easy to stand before a news camera and sonorously declare “the British people will never surrender to terrorism.”
In reality, unless a threat is clearly primal, most democratic peoples and political leaders prefer to regard bad news as a peripheral nuisance that can be negotiated away to the fringe of their concerns.
That’s what Britain thought in the 1930s — back when Adolf Hitler was slavering over Czechoslovakia and Neville Chamberlain dismissed it as “a faraway country of which we know little.” Today, the faraway country of which the British know little is Britain itself. Traditional terrorists — the IRA, the Basque separatists — operate close to home. Islamism projects itself long-range to any point of the planet with an ease most G-8 militaries can’t manage. Small cells operate in the nooks and crannies of a free society while the political class seems all but unaware of their existence.
Did we learn enough, for example, from the case of Omar Sheikh? He was convicted of the kidnapping and beheading in Karachi of the Wall Street Journal’s Daniel Pearl. He’s usually described as “Pakistani,” but he is, in fact, a citizen of the United Kingdom, with as English a resume as you can get — born in Whips Cross Hospital, educated at Nightingale Primary School in Wanstead, the Forest School in Snaresbrook and the London School of Economics. He travels on a British passport.
Or take Abdel Karim al-Tuhami al-Majati, a senior al Qaeda member from Morocco killed by Saudi security forces in al Ras last April. One of Mr. al-Majati’s wives is a Belgian citizen who now lives in Britain. In Pakistan, the jihadists speak openly of London as the terrorist bridgehead to Europe. Given the British jihadists who have been discovered in the thick of it in Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, Israel, Chechnya and Bosnia, only a fool would believe they had no plans for anything closer to home — or, rather, “home.”
Most Britons can only speculate at the degree of Islamist penetration in the United Kingdom because they simply don’t know, and multicultural pieties require they keep themselves in the dark. It’s not just the British left that has been skeptical of Washington’s war on terror. Former Foreign Secretary Douglas Hurd and many other Conservative grandees have openly scorned the Bush doctrine. Lord Hurd would no doubt have preferred a policy of urbane aloofness, such as he promoted vis-a-vis the Balkans in the early 1990s. He’s probably still unaware that Omar Sheikh was a Westernized nonobservant chess-playing pop-listening beer-drinking English student until radicalized by the massacres of Bosnian Muslims.
Abdel Karim al-Tuhami al-Majati was another Europeanized Muslim radicalized by the 250,000 corpses of Bosnia. The fact most of us were unaware of the consequences of the European Union’s lethargy on Bosnia until that chicken policy came home to roost a decade later should be sobering: It was what Don Rumsfeld, in a remark mocked by many snide media twerps, accurately characterized as an “unknown unknown” — a vital factor so immersed you don’t even know you don’t know it.
This is the beginning of a long existential struggle. It’s hard not to be moved by the sight of Londoners calmly going about their business as usual in the face of terrorism. But, if the political class goes about business as usual, that’s not a stiff upper lip but a suicide cult.
The question now is will the British return to the fantasy agenda of Bob Geldof or avenge their dead?
Mark Steyn is the senior contributing editor for Hollinger Inc. Publications, senior North American columnist for Britain’s Telegraph Group, North American editor for the Spectator, and a nationally syndicated columnist.