Leading article: Draconian laws made in haste will not help to combat attacks

ID cards would not have prevented the attack. They remain a thoroughly illiberal and impractical idea
Click to follow
The Independent Online

This weekend, Londoners, and the whole of Britain, will be coming to terms with Thursday's terrorist atrocity on, and beneath, the streets of our capital. One of the abiding images will be that of the emergency services - medics, firefighters and police - springing into action. We pay tribute to their professionalism. Years of preparation proved their worth. When the terrible day came, they were ready. And the city as a whole coped rather well with the attack. The collapse of the transport system resulted in most Londoners calmly making their way to their destinations on foot. If the goal of whoever planted those bombs was to induce panic on the streets, they failed.

But there will be much grief this weekend, acutely felt by friends and relatives of those who died. And we must not forget the hundreds injured and maimed. Their lives have been irrevocably changed. As well as bearing the physical scars for the rest of their lives, many will experience lasting psychological trauma.

And although most Londoners not directly affected seem sanguine, it has left an impression on the collective consciousness of the city. Many commuters now feel a degree of trepidation when stepping on to a bus, or a flutter of nerves when descending the escalator into an Underground station. It is impossible to say how long this will last. But it is an inevitable result of such a calculated assault on the security of every Londoner.

It is necessary to ask what lessons can be learnt. One question is whether the Underground system should have been shut down sooner, perhaps after the second incident. Was the terror alert system deficient? These inquiries must be made in a sober, non-accusatory manner. The aim is to find out how to improve anti-terror systems, not to create scapegoats.

The attack on London has thrown the political debate about how to deal with the terror threat into a much sharper focus. We are no longer dealing in hypotheticals, but cold reality. It has been suggested that the argument in favour of ID cards is now stronger. But ID cards would not have prevented Thursday's attack, as the Home Secretary himself has admitted. They remain a thoroughly illiberal and impractical idea. The same goes for the other articles of anti-terror legislation that the Government is planning to push through with a new urgency. There must be no knee-jerk laws. The key to countering terrorism is good intelligence and dogged police work. This was true before Thursday's attack and it is true now.

One group at real risk in the wake of Thursday's attack is Britain's Muslim community. Mosques are beginning to receive hate mail. Far-right websites are exchanging an ominously large number of messages. Some Muslim leaders have advised members of their communities not to go out alone. An upsurge in Islamophobia would, of course, be a travesty of a response to the attack. Two of the explosions occurred in areas of London with a large Muslim population: Edgware Road and Aldgate. Muslims were targeted just as much as any other group of Londoners. And they are appalled by these acts of murder. Any talk of Muslims in general being "sympathetic" to terrorists must be exposed as the vile calumny that it is.

London has been altered by the attack. But it must hold fast to the qualities that have served it so well over the years, and which delivered the 2012 Olympic prize only three days ago. London must retain its resolute spirit and its tolerance, despite the grief. And the rest of Britain will be inspired by its example.

Comments