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Thesis & Antithesis

A critical perspective on energy, international politics & current affairs

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Location: Washington, D.C.

greekdefaultwatch@gmail.com Natural gas consultant by day, blogger on the Greek economy by night. Trained as an economist and political scientist. I believe in common sense and in data, and my aim is to offer insight written in language that is clear and convincing.

07 July 2005

London under attack

The world has lived with terrorism for too long. And we have become callous. In New York, about three thousand people died; in Madrid, 191. It is easy to think that killing 33 people (latest estimate & likely to increase) is hardly significant. (As the Economist wrote, “By the terrible calculus of terrorism, the attacks should thus be counted as a failure—a sign of weakness, not strength.”) But it isn’t right.

Two things are worth remembering about the attacks; first, they were meant to disrupt, not destroy. If sensation and fear are achieved through casualties, then surely, the attacks could be counted as failures. But the plotters targeted London’s transportation system—an artery for the city that many feared would sooner or later come under attack. This magnifies the impact of the attacks in a way that more deaths could not.

The second is that the attacks were meant to coincide with the opening of the G8 summit (that London just won the 2012 Olympics is merely a bonus, since the news came only yesterday). To begin with, the agenda of the summit (plus the Live 8 concerts) has already triggered widespread sympathy around the world; protests aside, this is the summit of hope. Secondly, this is a gathering of world leaders; whatever their differences, leaders from all over the world would express their solidarity with Tony Blair and the people of London—and they would have a common platform for doing so.

This much was clear before the attacks. What, then, can be made of the attacks?

For one, they were meant to outrage; “how can terrorists attack London on the day that world leaders gather to discuss Africa’s poverty?” was a sentiment that the terrorists knew they would trigger. This follows a pattern of trying to draw the West more heavily into conflict, and it rests on the assumption that the West cannot outlast al-Qaeda in battle. The terrorists to believe that the more the West is attacked, the harder it will attack back, until it has either radicalized everyone in the Middle East or has been engaged in so far reaching a conflict where external circumstances (a failing economy or the lack of popular support) will force it to retreat.

In that sense, generating sympathy for London and provoking outrage at the barbarity of the attacks (as Tony Blair put it) were both reasonable objectives for the terrorists, and were served well by the timing of the attacks.

As for the common expression of solidarity, it too can play into the terrorist hands. A terrorist attack generates sympathy, but it generates too much of it. As time passes and memory fades, the sympathy recedes, and the political differences between the leaders who expressed solidarity on the day of the attacks resurface. Given that Paris, Berlin, and Moscow have not come under al-Qaeda attack, these attacks reinforce the differences between those who would engage the terrorists more heavily (Bush & Blair) and those who wouldn’t (Chirac, Schroeder, Putin).

From a common platform would come uncommon sympathy; the terrorist bet is that once the sympathy pendulum swings back, it will reach further down the road of discord thus plunging the Western alliance in chaos.

It is too soon to tell whether the terrorists will turn out to be right. All we can do for now is mourn those 33 dead.



Anonymous Peter said...

Let's get more into this, now that you've opened the door to analysis many Western commentators are afraid to do after a terror attack: figure out how exactly this has changed our society, and how that meters out with what the terrorists could have had in mind as goals for the attack. For many, exploring these two questions amounts to an admission of defeat from the West toward terrorism. Bullshit. If you're going to understand how your country is attacked, and how to most properly respond, you can't hide from the outside.

Who was attacked? That's our preliminary inquiry. The city of London, specifically, commuters heading to work at rush hour, on the tube and on the bus, the arteries of the city. Let's assume the terrorists hit their attempted targets, since there's no way to verify otherwise. We could say that the victims as a whole were the same kind of victims from WTC 9/11, those who were going to work, presumably to those Palaces of Capitalism that are so despised by detractors of globalization and America.

This is a reasonable assumption for what the terrorists might be trying to get across as a message to their potential supporters: we're hitting them at their core. These insidious leeches (whose workings you conveniently cannot understand) are being targeted for destruction. Support us. That can be one goal of theirs.

Another, as has been mentioned by others, is the sheer fear and omnipresence of vulnerability that now is present everyday in the minds of Londoners. I am sure that the fair majority of people riding the Tube now deeply worry and consider the attacks as soon as they go through the turnstile. Such an attack on the living heart of a major city--its human infrastructure--is depressing in itself, but also lends a personable characteristic to these attacks. People, myself included, can vicariously be afraid, because after all, we've been on those lines. That enclosed tunnel space where the bombs went off is not only familiar to us, but WE HAVE ACTUALLY BEEN THERE. In this way the London attacks are more blood-curdling than 9/11 because of their relative more familiarity.

So how did this change our society? A current of fear has been spread, mainly concentrated in those city-dwelling western populations. Those not in cities feel great sympathy, no doubt, but this pales in the raised level of fear that now comes into every commuter's head when he/she boards a subway train and watches the automatic doors close.

It is worth re-analyzing a dichotomy here. Those who do not live in cities (major terror targets), are very afraid, and take a long time to recover from this fear. They tend to support bold if unfocused leadership (President Bush comes to mind). People who live in cities make every effort to get over the tramua as fast as possible. London recovered much more swiftly than New York did, at least psychologically, because London's history of being attacked taught people the most valient way of denying a terror win is to continue on with your society just the way you were going. Mayor Ken Livingstone's remarks echo this very articulately.

New York is doing that, so much so that the partisan bickering that dominates local politics there has also completely enveloped the debate on what to do with Ground Zero. I see this as a good thing. We're back to life as normal. Cities dominate the management of the world economy and the interchange of ideas, whether we like it or not. A reversion to life as normal is a very good thing.

But the dicotomy is this. Some people, many of which are very removed from the cities, don't want to return to life as normal, they want to see this as a new era of human life, open for scripting. Their fear and hate has not dissipated. In contrast, people in the cities consistently oppose fearmongering in light of terror attacks, and the overwhelming urban opposition to Bush in 2004 shows this. What is to be made of this drastic divide? With an election in American last year dominated by foreign affairs, we cannot simply write it off that urban folks are more concerned with failing domestic standards.

So what could the terrorists have had as their goals otherwise. To disrupt Gleneagles. Done. With the critical amount of limited time a summit needs to take place in, they successfully diverted both media attention and the presence of PM Blair. They won there, and we need to acknowledge that. There was no dominating advocacy at the summit for the African and global warming issues that Blair as the host was going to prioritize. They had that dumbass Jack Straw there instead. As a result, the opportunity to push forward massive international political change (if not to be completed at Gleneagles, to be completed later), went down the shitter. They won there.

So we need to figure out a way from letting terrorism stop a rational and progressive way of life. And here's where I'll end my rant/remarks for your thoughts, Nikos.

5:06 PM  
Blogger Nikos Tsafos said...

Peter, you raise some interesting ideas and part of my response is found in my post "EU anti-terror measures"

8:32 AM  

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