Dominic Lawson: The British are not a people who can be terrorised into changing their ways

Barely a third of the London victims would have voted for Mr Blair's party in the last election
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The Independent Online

This was meant to be the year of living more dangerously. The British Government had been seized by two great fears of what would happen if there was a full-scale, al-Qa'ida-inspired terrorist outrage in London. First, there would be an eruption of violent anti-Muslim sentiment. Second, there would be dire consequences for the economy of the capital, dependent as it is on tourism, both domestic and international.

The "martyrdom" attacks a year ago on London's public transport network were as horrifying as could have been imagined. Fifty-two innocent people were killed (and four guilty ones). About 800 people were injured, many of them surviving only through the most extraordinary work by the emergency services and the surgeons of London's great teaching hospitals. The stories of the victims have been published with the most gruesome - one might almost say ghoulish - attention to detail: on Wednesday one of the survivors told The Sun how his train carriage "was covered with blood and slime".

Yet life in the capital has gone on almost as if the bombings had never happened. The local economy is still buoyant, despite Ken Livingstone's best efforts. Londoners do not seem noticeably nervous of the underground system, where the problem, as ever, is overcrowding rather than the reverse. Most heartening of all, there have been no mindless reprisals against the indigenous Muslim population.

Despite the anxieties of Whitehall's contingency planners, all of this could have been predicted. It is not so many years ago that the IRA carried out a campaign of terrorist outrages on the British mainland. It was, for the perpetrators, a lamentable failure. It led to no great call from the English to their government to abandon the Protestants of Northern Ireland. Nor, on the other hand, did it lead to attacks on the Irish diaspora in Britain. We are not a people easily terrorised. Some call it "the sprit of the Blitz". Others might describe it as monumental apathy.

Whichever is the case, it is the greatest asset the Government possesses in what it likes to describe as "the war on terror". By contrast the al-Qa'ida bombings on the Madrid train network were responsible, if not for the ousting of the Aznar government, then certainly for the immediate decision of the new administration to withdraw all Spanish troops from Iraq.

Yesterday's al-Jazeera video nasty from one of the four London bombers repeated the remarks of his ringleader, Mohammad Siddique Khan, that as the British Government had been "democratically elected by the British people" then the British people were "directly responsible for the atrocities against our people", and thus a legitimate target. It's redundant to point out that, statistically, about half of the London victims would have been opposed to British involvement in the war in Iraq, and barely a third of them would have voted for Mr Blair's party in the last election.

One of the points of the narrative of Muslims as victims of the Judeo-Christian imperialist regimes is that we in the West are collectively responsible. We are, indeed, all guilty. The corollary of that, one could argue, is that no amount of crawling or appeasement could make us any the less guilty, or less of a target. This does not mean that we should not try to understand what motivated the second generation British-educated terrorists who made up three of the four London bombers, and others who might be tempted to follow the same path.

The British involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan will obviously have played a part. But why should it never have figured in their minds that Britain had played a very significant role in defending the Muslims of Kosovo against the Serbs - and indeed forced through the independence of Kosovo against the wishes of their historic Christian oppressor? The Muslim jihadist, if confronted with this point, would probably argue that our support for the Kosovar Muslims was a devious manifestation of some wider and not yet fully understood anti-Islamic conspiracy.

Part of the penumbra of victimhood is the notion that the oppressor - in this case the West - is infinitely cunning and devious. Nothing he says or does can be believed or trusted. It is all a wicked plot. I am not accusing the former leader of the Muslim Council of Great Britain, Sir Iqbal Sacranie, of such paranoia. But I was fascinated to read an account by Kenan Malik of an interview with Sir Iqbal, in which he repeatedly stated that "between 95 and 98 per cent of those stopped and searched under anti-terror laws are Muslim. The true figure is under 15 per cent. However many times I showed Sir Iqbal the true statistics, he refused to budge."

It's at the very least a curiosity that the leader of the West, the United States, has not experienced home-grown Muslim terror: the men who demolished the World Trade Center were Saudi-born and educated. The correct response to that divergence is to ask what differentiates the American culture from that in Britain and Spain, and how we can learn from it.

Most obviously there is an culture in America which informs everyone that, no matter what their origin, there are no insuperable obstacles to success and prosperity. At the same time, people of all backgrounds are expected to work. There is not, in the New World, a culture of dependence on the state. That seems heartless to many in Europe. But it should now be obvious to more people than it seems to be, that a very natural human reaction to dependency is a feeling of humiliation, which can be transformed into a quite consuming resentment, and even hatred of the supposed benefactor.

Nor, in America, does the state apologise for its own past. Irksome and cringemaking as American patriotism frequently appears to us, it is the manifestation of a nation which has more of a future than a country ashamed of itself. I fear that the single narrative of Muslim oppression at the hands of the British imperium is something that is endorsed in much of our educational system.

There does need to be a countervailing public narrative, which perhaps might explain to the children of immigrants from Pakistan just why their parents thought Britain, with its unique history, was a suitable home for devout Muslims. That counter-narrative can not be left to Mr Blair. He is too discredited, and seen as too self-interested. A role for the BBC, perhaps? The obligation is clear. As the prophet Mohamed himself said: "The ink of wise men is worth more than the blood of martyrs."

d.lawson@independent.co.uk

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