Will 7/7 make Britain back off from the war on terror? The nation of Churchill, Waterloo, the Light Brigade, teddy boys, soccer hooligans and the Gordon Riots? The Brits are tough sons of bitches. Not likely.
Will 7/7 help those who saw through a glass darkly now see face to face? Even less likely. George Galloway, left-wing British scourge of Senators, said the London bombings were a predictable consequence of Britain’s war against his friend, Saddam Hussein. It is true, the London bombings happened after the war in Iraq began. So did last year’s Madrid train bombings. But the Bali disco bombing happened before the war in Iraq. So did 9/11. Our very being-powerful, wealthy, democratic, unveiled, Christian, Jewish, secular-is an affront to jihadists and Islamofascists. The only way we cannot provoke them is to not exist.
The more intelligently perplexed say the war in Iraq is a distraction from the terror war: If our whole Army was going house to house in northwest Pakistan looking for Osama, there would be no terrorism. Would that it were that simple.
Like any major war, the terror war has many facets. At least five confront us now, in the London dawn, besides the ongoing hunt for Mr. bin Laden.
We have to fight a defensive war. Despite many follies and failures, the airplane gambit has not worked again. Mass transit and public spaces are another question. The terrorists get less bang for the martyr, but their opportunities are greater. It is impossible to close off the opportunities entirely without shutting down the public square. The small-scale approach-the equivalent to broken-windows policing-is probably the heightened vigilance of everybody. Why are you taking a cell-phone picture of the L train, young man? Wouldn’t the Empire State Building be more touristic? We can learn from Israel, and Britain, who have their own experience with terror bombings. One thing they will teach us is that no amount of experience is perfect.
Another facet of the terror war concerns Muslims, at home and abroad, who must confront the hijacking of their religion. After the London bombings, Muslims in Leeds, England, expressed their “deepest anger and sympathy at the terrible atrocities” in a letter to Tony Blair. This March, on the first anniversary of the Madrid bombers, the largest Muslim clerical group in Spain issued a fatwa against Osama bin Laden. It’s been a long time coming. What we have gotten from Muslim leaders instead is whining and doubletalk (“3,000 Americans died on 9/11, but airport security looked at me cross-eyed”). What we have gotten from the Muslim masses is silence. Some of this silence is the veil drawn by a protective media over the outright joy of too many Muslims at the mass murder of their neighbors. Non-Muslims are entitled to know where Muslims stand. If ordinary Muslims in the West do not see terror as a blight on their faith, that is bad news that we must then deal with.
A third facet of the war we are in is applied liberalism. Liberals say of themselves, and conservatives say of them, that they are preoccupied with root causes: the cramped structures of society that produce stunted citizens. Root causes confront us now. The postcolonial Middle East is a sink of feral regimes and decrepit cultures, which maintain an uneasy stability on a tripod of despotism, oppressed women breeding like rabbits, and a surplus of overtrained, uneducated men who worship witch doctors and dream of murder and paradise. Our best long-term hope is to let the air in-to tear down any country that is, or seems, threatening, and to pressure the rest. It won’t be easy or quick. Decades of flattery, oil dependence and U.N.-style politics have shored the Bizarro World of the Middle East up; it will take decades to turn it around. Toppling the Taliban and Saddam were good first essays in muscular diplomacy; Condi Rice’s speech at American University in Cairo, embracing freedom over stability, was a good first essay in the milder kind.
The fourth facet of the terror war, coming soon perhaps to a city near you, is Iran’s nuclear bomb. Before the London bombings, Iran held a presidential election whose surprise winner was Mahmoud Ahmadinezad. Mr. Ahmadinezad was one of the students who stormed the American embassy in 1979 and kidnapped our diplomats, and he wants Iran to go full speed ahead with its nuclear program now. In the shadow play of Iranian politics, he qualifies as a hardliner, though these are terms of art. Azar Nafisi defined Iranian reformers in Reading Lolita in Tehran, when she described an officially sanctioned concert held under the reformist thaw: four young men playing the music of the Gypsy Kings, though they were not allowed to sing, or to show feeling, and whenever the sold-out crowd clapped, a pair of suited heavies came from the wings and shushed the decadent display.
It doesn’t matter in any case what Mr. Ahmadinezad thinks, since the Iranian presidency is a pasteboard office, subservient to the clerical elite that holds all power. What is interesting is that the turbans should cast aside all pretence of niceness. They must feel that their bomb is far enough along, and that the restive Iranian public needs to feel a bit more whip. This may be a double miscalculation: At the moment when they most need to bind the United States in the cobwebs of other countries’ hesitations, they have given a signal that even Europeans can read; while the Iranian people, disgusted with years of false promises, may see the frank withdrawal of all promise as the last straw. Or perhaps the unexpected result-Mr. Ahmadinezad’s votes weren’t stolen and counted until the election’s second day-shows some confusion within the elite itself. Whatever it is, this is the big story, not London. Depending on what happens in Iran, the next 10-thumbed bomber may not tear off the roof of a bus instead of destroying a station on the underground, but radiate Bayonne rather than midtown.
The fifth, and most important, face of the terror war is personal. Every time the media starts focusing on shark attacks, the terrorists strike again. Terrorists are the new sharks. They will be a part of our lives for the rest of our lives. This doesn’t mean we should live in a constant whir of anxiety, or move to the woods. Terrorists are the second face in the mirror, but they are not everything, not even the most important thing. We will keep our customs and our institutions, we will eat black raspberries and whipped cream, we will take our losses, and we will patiently, pitilessly grind them down.