Letters

Readers respond to Salon's coverage of the London bombings and debate how to fight a "smarter" war on terrorism.


Salon Staff
July 9, 2005 12:00PM (UTC)

[Read "A Political Bombshell for Blair," by Andrew Brown.]

I'm British. I have never voted for Blair, instead voting Liberal Democrat, and I have demonstrated against the war in Iraq. I only moved away from London recently, leaving friends and family behind; it is a city I love dearly.

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I do not for a minute, however, believe that another terrorist attack on London (and please remember that we have been suffering from them for over 30 years -- the IRA and individuals from the extreme right-wing in England have been trying to blow us up for decades) should make our government change or question any decisions it has made.

I may not support the war, but I am just as emphatic in not supporting any sign to the terrorists that their message is being heeded. The stiff upper lip might be a cliché, but it's an appropriate one now. We will carry on doing what we were doing before, and we will not let what happened on Thursday affect us or our decision making.

-- Liz Upton

Framing the London attack exclusively in terms of "terrorism" is intellectually and historically fraudulent. The U.K. is "at war." That war has seen the bombing of other capitals by the U.K., the U.S. and their allies. Tens of thousands of Iraqi and Afghan citizens have died in those attacks. Yet no commentators have thought (or dared?) to contextualize today's attack in terms of war and retaliation. The media discourse is all about "civilization" (heroic, innocent us) and "barbarism" (evildoing, extremist them): The kindly philanthropists of the G8 are in Scotland planning how to do even more to make the world a wonderful place, while the enemy seeks to destroy it in another fit of jealousy and mad resentment. Can't Salon at least bring some critical intelligence to bear in its analysis?

-- Tim Behrend

There are many of us who utterly loathe America's and Britain's Iraq policy and this foolish and tragic campaign of "liberation" or whatever the reason it is this week for why we're supposed to be over there. But is it really appropriate for Salon to have this as its headline article on the morning after the worst attack on London since World War II? A bit of compassion and a bit more sense of appropriateness to the occasion might not be out of place at the moment. There's really no way anyone can claim with any certainty that the London bombings are a direct result of America's and Britain's Iraq policies. It's completely possible that this vicious and senseless attack in London might have happened even without the Iraq war. A little less "knee jerk"-ism please.

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-- Robert Haber

I am an American who has lived in London for 35 years. I am appalled by the lack of understanding of British culture that the headlines "A political bombshell for Blair" and "A coordinated series of terrorist bombings on London's transportation system kills dozens and sends capital into chaos" imply. Londoners have had a long history of terrorist attacks on their city, from World War II to the IRA. However much Blair may be criticized and resented for his role in the Iraq invasion, he will not be held culpable for these attacks. There is no "bombshell" except in your journalist's imagination.

Second, the attacks did not send the "capital into chaos." I have talked to people who were at the scene. The response of the public, emergency and security services was prompt, ordered and calm. The buses are running again. London Underground has announced that services could resume immediately but will recommence tomorrow so that the forensic investigations can be completed.

Spinning news this way is something that you are usually, and admirably, criticizing others for. I am sorry to see you doing it, as I value you as a news source. I can only assume that you relied on network news for your information.

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-- Rick Watson

Its been 12 hours since we woke up to the news about our fellow Londoners, cut down in the blast of terrorist bombs, on the Underground we use every day, on the buses that are as much a part of our city as red phone boxes or bobbies (policemen) on the beat. The city is eerily quiet, except for the occasional siren echoing in the distance; the streets are filled with people walking calmly, talking on their mobile phones, as they try to get home on foot. If you wanted a better example of the British stiff upper lip, you probably wouldnt get a better illustration than this.

Lets be honest. We knew this was going to happen. There was a sense of inevitability to the events that took place this morning in our city. We watched as the events unfolded in New York on Sept. 11, the bombings in Madrid. We knew that it was only a matter of time before the terrorists who had wreaked havoc in those cities would come to ours. Some commentators say that it is the price that we would pay for supporting the U.S. in their "war on terror," for Blair being Bushs lapdog and joining him in his neoconservative agenda. To quote Malcolm X, the chickens have come home to roost.

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Like many in this city, Im an adopted Londoner. Ive been here for 10 years now, and it truly has the best that the world has to offer. I treasure the freedom and open-mindedness this city gives me. I relish the diversity and tolerance that allows me to buy a bagel from a Jewish bakery in Brick Lane, then have a curry next door at the Bangladeshi restaurant; I love the fact that you can dance to Caribbean rhythms in the Notting Hill Carnival or watch Tim Henman mount a valiant challenge (again) at Wimbledon. It is this diversity of people that makes this city truly great; waves and waves of immigration that create new and ambitious communities and cultures that feed the soul of this metropolis.

But heres the rub. Even if you are someone (like myself) who felt that they were lied and manipulated into supporting a war against nonexistent weapons of mass destruction, even if you (like myself) went on antiwar demonstrations protesting this abuse of power, you can still despise these violent and ruthless terrorists who today chose to end the lives of ordinary people, people like you and me. You can still be a Muslim (like myself) and want them to be hunted down and punished in strange and brutal ways. Because they dont stand for Islam. They never have and never will. Heres the core of this conflict: Its not between Muslims and Christians. Its between fundamentalists and moderates. And unless moderate Muslims (like myself) stand up and condemn what these people do, in the supposed name of my religion, nothing is going to change.

As someone once said, "Islamic extremism is to Islam as the Ku Klux Klan is to Christianity." It is a virulent mutation. An unwelcome and unholy prostitution.

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The mayor of London, Ken Livingstone, spoke for us all today when he said to these terrorists: "Nothing you do, however many of us you kill, will stop that flight to our city where freedom is strong and where people can live in harmony with one another. Whatever you do, however many you kill, you will fail."

This is London. We have been here for tens of thousands of years. Its going to take more than this to bring us down. You are going to have to get through people like me, for generations and generations, before you even come close to succeeding. And we will prevail. We will overcome. Trust me.

-- Afdhel Aziz

[Read "Get Out of Baghdad," by Joe Conason.]

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Joe Conason has the right idea. Bush and Blair need to face up instead of making excuses for the Saudis. After all, they finance the jihadists and all of the bin Laden family.

I would suggest a good guy, bad guy approach by warning the Saudis and the whole of the rest of the radical Muslim world that both leaders are open to the idea of taking Mecca hostage until Osama and the rest of these killers are delivered up and the terror ended.

-- Joseph McKelvey

I could not disagree with you more. After we have invaded a country, promised its people we would provide democracy and a better life, then devastated the country by dropping bombs on innocent civilians, destroying the infrastructure of cities, and limiting access to basic necessities like electricity and fuel, now you think it's a good idea to pull out? I cannot follow your logic. If we simply leave the country in shambles now, don't you think this will only turn the tide of Arab sentiment against us even more -- resulting in new, angrier terrorists for future generations to face? This "give up" mentality is infuriating. I couldn't agree more that focusing on Iraq was the wrong way to fight the war on terror, but we're in it now, and we can't wash our hands of the mess we've created. What a fickle and (sadly) American idea to propose.

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-- Liz Childs

[Read "The Time of Revenge Has Come," by Juan Cole.]

Juan Cole is right that the war in Iraq was a mistake, one with incalculable costs. However, the assertion, bandied about quite often in the aftermath of Thursday's attack on London, that this is some sort of payback for Britain's involvement in that war, is naive at best and quite dangerous at worst.

Al-Qaida has been openly at war with "the West" for over a decade, before there was any war in Iraq or Afghanistan to justify their actions. What, exactly was the destruction of the Twin Towers revenge for? The embassy bombings in Africa? The first attack on the World Trade Center in the early '90s? Does Mr. Cole really think that the Spanish are safer now, for having capitulated, or given the appearance of doing so, to a ruthless terror organization?

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To blame yesterday's carnage on Britain's involvement in Iraq is to misunderstand and underestimate the true danger that al-Qaida poses.

-- Josh Hafetz

It is clear from reading Prof. Cole's article that a major geopolitical shift has occurred as a result of the terrorist actions in London. Bush has been saying that Iraq is the war on terrorism front, but the attacks of March 11 in Madrid and now the attacks in London are both proof to the contrary. The front of this "war" (not a conventional war in any case) is Europe.

The implications of the latter are great for two reasons. First, if this assessment is true, it will be difficult for Bush to keep acting as the world leader of the "war on terrorism." Second, since as a result of two relatively recent catastrophic wars happening in a shorter than 50-year period, Europeans are far from being enthusiastic about the rhetoric and strategy promoted by the Bush-Cheney-Rumsfeld team.

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Therefore, it is likely that, from a military perspective, the "war on terrorism" will increasingly take the form of police actions aiming at dismantling the terrorist network and preventing the occurrence of terrorism.

-- Arturo Dalmau

Juan Cole's article poses the question of when the United States will start fighting "smart" against terror. Here is a small but "smart" start for fighting terror through G8 action: Al-Qaidas top leadership hiding in Pakistan is eager to get nuclear materials for a dirty bomb, and the network of A.Q. Khan [the father of Pakistan's nuclear weapons program] is still capable of nuclear proliferation. Only G8 economic sanctions can force Pakistans military regime to treat the free world's concerns seriously, before the nightmare scenario of a dirty bomb attack in a major city comes true.

-- Arun Khanna

Let's take it as a given that Bush's antiterrorism policy -- fight the terrorists in Iraq so we don't have to fight them in London -- is a spectacular failure. Well, thanks for pointing that out, Juan Cole. But what should we do about terrorism now?

Cole doesn't say. Crucially, he offers no prescription for Iraq. Does Cole believe that winning in Iraq is an important, urgent goal in the war on terrorism (given that the chief enemy there now is Zarqawi, a terrorist)? Does he think the U.S. needs more troops in Iraq, or fewer? How should we resolve Iraq's ethnic rivalries? He says nothing. Cole wants us to fight a smarter war on terrorism, but his plan for what's become the main terrorist battleground is as empty as Bush's. Cole's only answer on Iraq is that we shouldn't have gone there in the first place -- an unhelpful "I told you so."

Cole's most substantive idea for a "smarter" war on terrorism is a revival of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. That may well be a grand idea, but Cole ought to at least explain why such a plan would defeat bin Laden and his ilk, given that under Clinton and the Oslo Accords bin Laden was planning and/or executing his most devastating attacks, including those on the U.S.S. Cole, on the U.S. embassies in Africa, and on the WTC and Pentagon. If a peace process didn't deter bin Laden then, Cole should tell us why it would deter bin Laden now.

My point is that while Cole brims with complaints, he offers no strategies of his own for the war on terrorism. This is typical of thinkers on the left; they can point fingers, but few -- not Cole, certainly, and not John Kerry during the election -- suggest any solutions. This is why, even after all his obvious failures, Bush still gets good marks on terrorism -- he has a plan, and the other side doesn't.

And that's the scariest thing about what happened in London: Nobody, not even an alleged expert like Cole, has a good idea for what we should do now.

-- Frank Manning


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