Leading Article: It is not far from the White Wolves to the Trenchcoat Mafia

IT IS hard to see hope in the shape of a bent nail embedded in the skull of a toddler - the shocking X-ray picture used by the police in a poster appealing for information about the Brixton nail bomb. Hard, but possible. The point about the bombs in Brixton and Brick Lane, symbolic locations of multi-ethnic London, is that they could have been the work of a single disturbed individual. Even if they were planned by a group, whether it tries to dignify itself with a name like Combat 18 or the White Wolves, it would hardly have more significance than the Trenchcoat Mafia of Columbine High.

That is not to make light of the murderous racism of the bombings. The police are right to take seriously the possibility of a sustained campaign of terror. There has clearly been a reaction at some subterranean level to the huge publicity given to the Macpherson report on the killing of Stephen Lawrence. It was no coincidence that the 999 call claiming responsibility for the Brixton bomb was made from the street in which Mr Lawrence died. For all the liberal condemnation of "complacency" about the raw deal suffered by ethnic minorities at the hands of unintentional racism, the real shock of the report came from the daubing of the Stephen Lawrence memorial the next day. Racism has been denied respectability and public expression for a long time, but attitudes of that kind are durable.

The difference between the London nail-bomber and Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, who went on a killing spree in their Denver high school, is that the British case draws on a pool of racist resentment that underlies large parts of our society. The Race Relations Act took down the "whites only" warnings on For Sale signs, but the signs in people's minds cannot be legislated away so quickly. Education helps but takes time, and even that can feed the resentments it seeks to assuage. Recent evidence confirmed that bad anti-racist teaching is worse than no anti-racist teaching at all. Equally, the moral consensus in the US education system that the Holocaust was uniquely evil seems only to have fed the Hitler-fascination of the gothic counter-culture of Harris and Klebold.

All the same, the nail bombs are more the dying twitches of British racism than evidence of a resurgence. This is not the 1970s, when the National Front was a political force capable of mobilising significant support in elections and big marches in between. The British National Party breakaway in 1982 was the start of a process of fission that leaves the far right utterly disorganised today. The brief election of a BNP councillor in east London four years ago was more the end than the beginning.

The denial of any respectable expression to racism has forced attitudes underground, where they will lie quiescent and eventually die out. In some cases, however, suppression is bound to lead to frustration, paranoia and violence. It is difficult to know whether there is, ultimately, anything that can be done about this. There is an obvious parallel between the psychology of the nail-bombers of London and the pipe-bombers of Columbine High. In both cases the animating force is an incoherent anger, pickled in social isolation. Both cases are quite different from, for example, the terrorist campaigns waged by the IRA before 1997, fought by a group large enough to call itself an army, motivated by ideology and sustained by a community which felt a collective grievance.

The key point about the London bombs is that their maker or makers have shaded so far into the margins of society and sanity that they are indistinguishable from the occasional psychopath who is always with us. There will always be people who lash out; it is a small mercy that, ultimately, the madness of Brixton and Brick Lane does not presage a "race war" or anything like it.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Tim Minchin portrait
For a no-holds-barred performer who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, Tim Minchin is surprisingly gentle
Arts and Entertainment
Clara takes the lead in 'Flatline' while the Doctor remains in the Tardis
tvReview: The 'Impossible Girl' earns some companion stripes... but she’s still annoying in 'Dr Who, Flatline'
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Joy Division photographed around Waterloo Road, Stockport, near Strawberry Studios. The band are Bernard Sumner (guitar and keyboards), Stephen Morris (drums and percussion), Ian Curtis (vocals and occasional guitar), Peter Hook (bass guitar and backing vocals).
books
Arts and Entertainment
Sean Harris in 'The Goob' film photocall, at the Venice International Film Festival 2014
filmThe Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Streisand is his true inspiration
Arts and Entertainment
X Factor contestant Fleur East
tvReview: Some lacklustre performances - but the usual frontrunners continue to excel
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Tuttle's installation in the Turbine Hall at the Tate Modern
artAs two major London galleries put textiles in the spotlight, the poor relation of the creative world is getting recognition it deserves
Arts and Entertainment
Hunger Games actress Jena Malone has been rumoured to be playing a female Robin in Batman v Superman
film
Arts and Entertainment
On top of the world: Actress Cate Blanchett and author Richard Flanagan
artsRichard Flanagan's Man Booker win has put paid to the myth that antipodean artists lack culture
Arts and Entertainment
The Everyman, revamped by Haworth Tompkins
architectureIt beats strong shortlist that included the Shard, the Library of Birmingham, and the London Aquatics Centre
Arts and Entertainment
Justice is served: Robert Downey Jr, Vincent D’Onofrio, Jeremy Strong and Robert Duvall in ‘The Judge’

Film

Arts and Entertainment
Clive Owen (centre) in 'The Knick'

TV

Arts and Entertainment
J.K. Simmons , left, and Miles Teller in a scene from

Film

Arts and Entertainment
Team Tenacity pitch their fetching solar powered, mobile phone charging, heated, flashy jacket
tvReview: No one was safe as Lord Sugar shook things up
News
Owen said he finds films boring but Tom Hanks managed to hold his attention in Forrest Gump
arts
Arts and Entertainment
Bono and Apple CEO Tim Cook announced U2's surprise new album at the iPhone 6 launch
Music Album is set to enter UK top 40 at lowest chart position in 30 years
Arts and Entertainment
The Michael McIntyre Chat Show airs its first episode on Monday 10 March 2014
Comedy
Arts and Entertainment

Review

These heroes in a half shell should have been left in hibernation
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Flanagan with his novel, The Narrow Road to the Deep North
books'The Narrow Road to the Deep North' sees the writer become the third Australian to win the accolade
Arts and Entertainment
New diva of drama: Kristin Scott Thomas as Electra
theatre
Arts and Entertainment
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Daenerys Targaryen, played by Emilia Clarke, faces new problems

Sek, k'athjilari! (That’s “yes, definitely” to non-native speakers).

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Polly Morgan

art
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

    Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

    Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
    British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

    British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

    Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
    Let's talk about loss

    We need to talk about loss

    Secrecy and silence surround stillbirth
    Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

    Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

    Women may be better suited to space travel than men are
    Oscar Pistorius sentencing: The athlete's wealth and notoriety have provoked a long overdue debate on South African prisons

    'They poured water on, then electrified me...'

    If Oscar Pistorius is sent to jail, his experience will not be that of other inmates
    James Wharton: The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

    The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

    Life after the Army has brought new battles for the LGBT activist James Wharton
    Ebola in the US: Panic over the virus threatens to infect President Obama's midterms

    Panic over Ebola threatens to infect the midterms

    Just one person has died, yet November's elections may be affected by what Republicans call 'Obama's Katrina', says Rupert Cornwell
    Premier League coaches join the RSC to swap the tricks of their trades

    Darling, you were fabulous! But offside...

    Premier League coaches are joining the RSC to learn acting skills, and in turn they will teach its actors to play football. Nick Clark finds out why
    How to dress with authority: Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear

    How to dress with authority

    Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear
    New book on Joy Division's Ian Curtis sheds new light on the life of the late singer

    New book on Ian Curtis sheds fresh light on the life of the late singer

    'Joy Division were making art... Ian was for real' says author Jon Savage
    Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

    Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

    The Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Barbra Streisand is his true inspiration
    Tim Minchin, interview: The musician, comedian and world's favourite ginger is on scorching form

    Tim Minchin interview

    For a no-holds-barred comedian who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, he is surprisingly gentle in person
    Boris Johnson's boozing won't win the puritan vote

    Boris's boozing won't win the puritan vote

    Many of us Brits still disapprove of conspicuous consumption – it's the way we were raised, says DJ Taylor
    Ash frontman Tim Wheeler reveals how he came to terms with his father's dementia

    Tim Wheeler: Alzheimer's, memories and my dad

    Wheeler's dad suffered from Alzheimer's for three years. When he died, there was only one way the Ash frontman knew how to respond: with a heartfelt solo album