The amazing thing is that there is not more violence on our streets

If the Chinese police do not have sufficient powers to prevent nail bombs, how can our police force do better?
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The Independent Culture
YESTERDAY I typed "nail bomb" into the box in the search engine, and waited a while for the invisible idiot savant to scan a trillion Internet files. Ten seconds later I had captured two dozen pages of references to nail bombs from all over the world, and had been plunged, eyes first, into what many would regard as a modern nightmare.

The first site belonged to a heavy metal band, presumably American, called Nail Bomb. You may not recall that their two extant albums are called Point Blank and Proud to Commit Commercial Suicide. On another music site, Nail Bomb's wares were offered for sale, along with such feelgood items as Napalm Death's Fear, Emptiness, Despair, Cradle Of Filth's Sodomizing The Virgin Vamps, and Skeleton of God's Urine Garden. So this is what young Euan Blair and Prince William are listening to...

The next series of sites belonged to news operations and campaign groups, and simply detailed attacks with nail bombs across the globe. There were fatal nail-bomb attacks in Paris in 1995, that were then linked to the conflict in the French colony of Algeria. It was a nail bomb that killed two people at the start of the Atlanta Olympics in 1996. Also in the US, nail bombs have been used against abortion clinics.

Over here, nine years ago, a pro-hunting activist planted one under his own car to try to discredit hunt saboteurs - and got a short prison sentence for his folly. Less well known has been the recent series of nail-bomb explosions in squares and market-places in China, planted, it is conjectured, by opponents of the government. In fact, nail bombs are going off all over the place.

As it happens, as from this morning I also know how to make one of these simple and cheap devices. Following a string of connections (or "threads") from my original enquiry, I eventually fetched up at a site (which I will not name, lest this article falls into the hands of a seriously unimaginative would-be terrorist) which explained in patient detail how the same bombs as those used in Brixton and Brick Lane may be assembled and primed. The circuitry is laid out in easy-to-follow diagrams, and little dos and don'ts are helpfully provided, and all with a deprecatory humour worthy of Alan Titchmarsh.

The site's guardian, however, is grumpier than our Alan when approached directly. He (surely, he must be a he) welcomes e-mails that will contribute positively to the vast amount of useful information he has available. But he is clearly fed up with all the boasting.

"I do not care what you did with this knowledge," he says wearily. "In fact, if you are writing to tell me what you did to an enemy, or your high school, I think you are an idiot. Why? Because you just committed an illegal act and you are bragging about it." And he adds a health warning: "Most of these text files can kill YOU. If you try these items, and kill yourself? Good. Darwinism is not a bullshit concept."

I imagine this chap to be a Dennis Hopper lookalike: a tired, grizzled old Sixties anarchist in a Montana cabin, who wants his knowledge of bombs to be put to socially positive use. He has no time for adolescent wannabe terrorists with silly names. So he would not be impressed with the so- called White Wolves, one of a collection of minuscule (and quite possibly uni-membered) organisations claiming responsibility for the London explosions. Their risible, stencilled statement threatening all Jews and non-whites hardly needed the "Hail Britannia" at the end to remind us how pathetic and unserious these people are.

And yet we feel very vulnerable, don't we? Sitting in the window of a cafe in North London yesterday, I suddenly wondered who was next. The claim from a Jewish community spokesman that "the community is on the alert" made me wonder whether plain-clothes battalions of the Israeli army had been drafted into Golders Green for the duration. It was a comforting thought. But not for the columnist who yesterday thundered that these bombings were a disgrace, that one was one too many and that two looked suspiciously like carelessness. "If the police cannot stop them, and stop them now," he fulminated, "just why exactly do we have a Metropolitan police force?"

And here we should begin to take hold of ourselves. If the Chinese police do not have sufficient powers to prevent such attacks, how on earth can we demand of our police force that they do better? We live in a free and open society. People are allowed to wander the streets with sports bags, drive our streets with trunks full of God knows what, sit in their attics experimenting with chemicals, and go to funny little meetings with other strange people.

There are more than 58 million of us in this country. As your night train sweeps through town and countryside, it passes thousands of lighted windows. There are mile after mile of kitchens and lounges and garages, and in all of them live or potter our fellow citizens, with their various loves, discontents, ambitions and hatreds. Not only will some of them be deranged, but many will also be seekers after some sort of glory. After all, what impulse is it that demands that you impersonate a paedophile simply so that you can appear on the Kilroy show? Many of us are desperate to be noticed. Few of us have newspaper columns to help us do it.

So, item one: information on how to make bombs, very easily available.

Item two: millions of people in the country, lots of them mad.

Item three: a great and growing need for celebrity, however it is earned.

And, item four: an open society in which it is relatively easy to pass unhindered by the authorities.

Put like this, what is truly extraordinary is the fact that so few bombs explode on our streets, in our schools or outside our public buildings. This is no consolation for those injured in such attacks, and for the relatives of those who will doubtless be killed if the bombers are not found. But the truth is probably that these blasts have been perpetrated by the same gang of tattooed loonies who have always been there. There is no groundswell of support for the BNP, no far-right mass rallies. I detect no lingering support for the bombers.

In other words, I don't believe that these bombs tell us anything we did not already know. Except, perhaps, about the strangely peripatetic life of an unattended sports bag in a city street. This is not a plea for everyone to relax his or her vigilance; there is a bad, sad bastard out there who needs to be caught. But I really don't think the explosions should cause another bout of hand-wringing, pessimism and despair about our society.

For all our problems, for all that one of our most popular broadcasters was brutally killed yesterday, this remains a tolerant and peaceful country. Two explosions do not make a dystopia.