LONDON — The British government’s measured and firm response to the attacks in London on July 7 has had the support of all political parties. The resolution of the general public to get on with their life has not wilted.
There is, of course, universal sympathy for the innocent victims of this outrage and backing for the police and the security services in their efforts to trace the criminals responsible. This will be a very difficult task and Londoners must be on their guard against possible further attacks.
It is important that any new measures to deal with the threat should be measured and proportionate. Britain must not allow the terrorists to undermine its basic freedoms; if it were to do so it would be conceding victory to them. Britons may have to accept more restrictions, but these should be subject to proper judicial oversight, proper review and only renewed if deemed necessary by a consensus.
Inevitably there has been discussion about the extent to which British participation in the war in Iraq made Britain more vulnerable. Those of us who have had increasing doubts about the legality and wisdom of the war as well as concerns about the mishandling of the aftermath have to think carefully before advocating British withdrawal now.
The recent incidents must not be allowed to determine the decisions to be taken over future policy in Iraq. Britain’s decisions must be made on the basis of a careful analysis of where it is in Iraq today and how its policies will affect Iraq and the Middle East in the future. Contrary to the probable aims of the terrorists, their attacks have almost certainly postponed rather than hastened withdrawal of British forces from Iraq. Britain must continue to help the Iraqi government to deal with the insurgency, even if it recognizes that the situation there is the result to some extent of the bungling by the United States with Britain’s connivance in handling the occupation.
British Prime Minister Tony Blair has always rightly emphasized the need to make early progress in peace between the Israelis and Palestinians. But Britain and its European and Japanese allies have only limited influence on the outcome. The main pressure must come from the Americans, and London should lose no opportunity of urging them to carry forward their responsibilities.
While the double standards of which the Americans are accused cannot possibly excuse or justify the terrorists, Britain should do all it can to persuade the Americans that they should live up to their beliefs in democracy and the rule of law, even if this sometimes seems to be counter to America’s short-term interests.
This must mean withdrawing support from tyrannous regimes, such as that in Uzbekistan, and doing much more to force changes in the practices in some countries such as Saudi Arabia, with which the U.S. is allied. It is disturbing in this context to read that Blair was in Saudi Arabia recently to support the sale of British arms to the Saudi kingdom.
Washington should also be shamed into closing its Guantanamo prison, which is a blot on U.S. justice. The allies must ensure not only that torture is never used under their jurisdiction but also that they do not attempt to get round the rules by allowing torture to be used by their allies in an effort to extract information of value to them. History shows that any information obtained under duress is not only tainted but unreliable and often misleading.
There is much loose discussion about the allegedly religious aims of Islamic terrorists. Jihad (which literally means struggle but is generally used to mean holy war) is described in the Quran as one of the basic duties of a Muslim and has come to mean a struggle against external threats to Islamic communities and against “personal resistance to the rules of divine law within oneself.” Jihad is supposed to be controlled by the strict Islamic laws of war that prescribe conditions under which war may be declared. But the concept has been hijacked by Islamic fundamentalists and terrorists, and misused to justify terrorist attacks.
Islamic leaders in Britain have joined the leaders of other faces in wholeheartedly condemning the attacks on July 7 and the misinterpretations of jihad. Unfortunately, some young Muslims — disappointed and disenchanted by the society in which they have been brought up, and lacking the intellectual rigor to question the emotional appeals of fundamentalists — appear to have fallen under the influence of circles close to al-Qaeda.
Religious fundamentalism is not confined to Islam. There are Christian and Hindu fundamentalists who condone acts against followers of other religions. There were Catholics and Protestants among the terrorists who operated in Northern Ireland. The Irish Republican Army, which claimed to represent Catholics, perpetrated many terrorist attacks in England that maimed and killed people who had nothing to do with Northern Ireland.
The 10th anniversary of the massacre carried out by Bosnian-Serb war criminals in Srebrenica was commemorated on July 11. This was the worst case of genocide in Europe since the end of World War II. It was more a case of ethnic than religious hatred, as were the even more horrific massacres in the Great Lakes region of Africa shortly afterward. The phrase “ethnic cleansing,” which the perpetrators of these atrocities often use to explain or justify their action, is a euphemism that no right-minded person should ever use.
The Nazi genocide of the Jewish populations in Europe had more of an ethnic than a religious origin, but throughout European history Jews suffered persecutions at the hands of Christians. Indeed, they suffered much more from Christians than from Muslims. The Jews only survived by their devotion to their faith.
I have recently been reading a history of the Reformation in Europe up to 1700. It is a tragic history of cruelty and intolerance on the part of Catholics and Protestants. Both were guilty of appalling atrocities, especially in the religious wars in France during the 16th century and in Germany during the Thirty Years War in the 17th century. The great German cites of Heidelberg and Magdeburg were sacked by armies claiming allegiance to a Catholic sovereign and the population of Magdeburg was practically wiped out in the name of religion.
Both Protestants and Catholics were keen persecutors of alleged witches who were tortured and often burned at the stake. Even today there have been reports of the killings of alleged African witches and children reputed to have been possessed by demons.
The Christian message of love has been so often and so sadly perverted into one of intolerance that has led to the persecution and condemnation of those who have different beliefs about the nature of God. Christians everywhere have no justification for complacency.