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Last Updated: 07/18/2005
London Bombings: Finding the Way to Peace
Simon Stander

Londoners are being bombed again. It has happened before but no one really gets used to it. Commuters who have been interviewed largely express the view that they are fearful of more bombings, yet they have to make it to work and have no choice but to travel by bus and underground. Politicians are already invoking World War II and the blitz spirit, just as US politicians after 9/11 referred to the infamy of Pearl Harbour. Londoners apparently have an indomitable spirit, but ordinary people are not so indomitable: ordinary people prefer orderly lives.


I was only a small child in war-time London but I do recall discomfort, frustration and despair. The myth of the spirit of Londoners during the blitz has been exposed from time to time. Nevertheless, the myth of Londoners fighting spirit will doubtless be used over and over again. The latest events, in any case, are closer to the days of IRA bombers. On the other hand the IRA did not attack the underground railway system (because they used it themselves). Nor did they intentionally blow themselves up with their victims (though they did unintentionally). Their targeting policy changed pretty abruptly after they killed and maimed a large number of tourists at the Tower of London. After that they became more “effective”. You don’t get public sympathy by killing the public at large. Political and economic targets brought them better results. The City of London did not get the European Central Bank and once the IRA had come close to wiping out the whole of the cabinet, Thatcher set the secret service on negotiating a peace rather than trying to “win”.


So, what faces the UK government at present is two fold: there is the long term strategy of finding a way to peace. The short term problem is to stop anyone else being killed through violent action.


In looking for precedents (and there are many) that offer lessons, I was taken by the inside story of the assassination of the Nicaraguan ex-president, Somoza, in Paraguay. This killing was set up by a freewheeling Argentinean revolutionist, called Merlo. The events provide an interesting checklist for clandestine killing.


This included international financing; weapons stashed from previous actions being transferred to current acts; the need to have something to die for as well as the need to have a cause that one opposed; the relatively youthful nature of the field agents; who should be either well educated or have high intelligence levels, and neither be psychopathic nor mentally unbalanced; training is important; they should not all be male; safe houses are crucial as are escape routes; the conceptualisation of the attack requires masterminding and effective experienced leadership; a base outside the target country.


Clearly, the security services will now be after the source of the explosives (initially claimed by some sources to be military grade, but later found to be made of commonly available ingredients) and how acquired, the master mind and the trainers, the country base, safe houses in Yorkshire, London and elsewhere, the way money has been moved around and its source, and whether there have been links with criminal mafia.


If the UK were Russia, the politicians would have dismissed the perpetrators as criminals. Two of the bombers (this term follows the BBC precedent of not using the word terrorist because it is so imprecise and emotive: the BBC used to refer to the IA and their Loyalists as paramilitaries) showed no signs of being criminal nor psychopathic. The 20 year old Habib did have a history, apparently, of violence and was affected by fundamentalist anger against western values. The alleged fourth, Jamaican born, bomber is being described in such a way that it might be supposed that he was an unstable loner.


But generally speaking the security services are not dealing with insane, criminal or ignorant fools. This makes it of vital importance to get the analysis of what is happening exactly right. The 9/11 report has not led to the US government getting much right.  The denial by the UK government that the bombings and the participation of the UK in Iraq are unrelated is dangerously unconvincing. Importantly, one strategic approach is to look for peace rather than simply defeating the enemy.


As I noted in my review “Terrorist Splinters,” “we will go on hearing from the many freebooting splinter terrorist movements claiming to be for Islam and against US led globalization.” The reason being is that whatever the organization behind these bombings, the chances are that it is a splinter group of Al Qaida (maybe, according to the Daily Mirror, Jaish-i-Muhammad) or of the Binladenist movement more generally. Defeating one splinter will only leave many others. One freebooter can do a lot of damage to human life and limb.


The road to peace is not unlike the road to war in that success depends on the strength of one’s allies. As matters stand in the world, it is the US which, despite the support of the UK and a few weaker kneed allies, is isolated and relatively friendless. The more the UK supports an increasingly isolated USA, the more danger there is for all the citizens of UK cities. Hopefully the British cabinet, whatever is said in public, will prevail on the US to remove the root causes of the violent acts of Thursday, 7 July 2005.


The checklist might well include the following:


  • Serious rapprochement with Teheran
  • Peace between Israel and Palestine
  • Rethinking policy with Syria
  • Rethinking policy with Saudi Arabia
  • Closing down Guatanamo

Simon Stander is editor-in-chief of the Peace and Conflict Monitor and associate professor of peace studies at the University for Peace.