It has been widely reported that the suicide bombers came from relatively comfortable, "normal" British backgrounds. That is untrue. Contrary to the picture painted in the downmarket press of the "bombers from suburbia", the particular areas of Leeds where they lived are ghastly places. And especially since 11 September 2001, there has been a degree of polarisation. Some young Muslim men, deprived of aspiration and hope, have inevitably been attracted by radical Islam, preached by charismatic clerics. The fact that one family owned a fish-and-chip shop or that they had British passports is irrelevant. Beneath the surface, their identity was not British, and they were not happy. Lacking challenge or aspiration, they were diverted down a different road to fulfilment.
Last week's attacks may therefore mark the appearance of a new type of terrorism. Although we may often not agree with extremist groups, we can at least usually see what they are trying to achieve. What were the London attacks supposed to achieve? While the 11 September attacks also lacked a clear political motive, one can understand to some extent the desire to strike very visibly at the heart of the world's greatest military and economic power and the leader of Western-led globalisation. Madrid was very well targeted, and achieved its desired effect: the withdrawal of Spanish troops from Iraq.
But the 7 July attackers appear to have been motivated by the act of "martyrdom" itself. The concept of "cleansing" through death. Three of the four attacks took place underground, hardly ideal photo-opportunities. Only the attack on the red London bus, which has become the iconic image of the bombing, may have been added to ensure more publicity.
Suicide attacks are not, and never have been, the exclusive preserve of Islamist extremists. The best thing the Islamic community, worldwide and in the UK, can do is to condemn, isolate, re-educate and, if that fails, ensure they hand over the knaves who make a trap for fools by twisting the truths Mohammed spoke.
The British government's approach to fighting terrorism, especially suicide terrorism, focuses on attacking, or deflecting, the opponents' "capability": their physical ability to conceal and deliver explosive devices to a specific target. Although specialists in defence are currently murmuring the mantra of an "effects-based approach" - attacking or undermining the opponent's will, rather than physical ability to survive or do harm, there has been little application of this commendable idea to countering suicide bombers.
To convince them that suicide attacks are pointless, inefficient, and a perversion of the very cause they claim to further, we have to understand what motivates such attackers. So, what does motivate them? Edward Fitzgerald's translation of The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam may give an unintended clue:
"How sweet is mortal Sovranty!" think some:
Others - "How blest the Paradise to come!"
Ah, take the Cash in hand and waive the Rest;
Oh, the brave Music of a distant Drum!
Mortal sovereignty - the creation of an independent Palestinian, Tamil or other state, or the removal of US and Western influence from the Middle East - has clearly been a key political motive for many suicide attackers. The importance of the Paradise to come for some Islamist terrorists is apparent. In the Middle East, the families of suicide bombers are often well-rewarded for their (usually) young member's sacrifice. The cash does matter. And finally, the least subject to analysis, there is the brave music of a distant drum. A call from afar, resonating from other, less identifiable ambitions or objectives, which outweighs the usual human needs and aspirations.
The only way the democratic state can fight terrorism like this at source is to engage with young people in the Muslim communities and try to persuade them that our society can offer them more than it does at present. If our society continues to offer offers young Muslim men emotional, as well as physical poverty, we can expect some of them to follow the music of a distant drum.
Professor Chris Bellamy is Director of the Security Studies Institute at Cranfield University
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