Christopher Hitchens on the London attacks

From the London Mirror, July 8:

States which shelter these killers will know no peace

by Christopher Hitchens

SOMEWHERE around London at about a quarter to nine yesterday morning, there must have been people turning on their TV and radio sets with a look of wolfish expectation.

I hope and believe that they were disappointed in what they got. There just wasn’t quite enough giggle-value for the psychopath.

It must have been infernal underneath King’s Cross, but above ground no panic, no screaming, no wailing and beating the air, no yells for vengeance.

I’m writing this in the early aftermath, but I would be willing to bet there will have been little or no bloody foolishness, either: no random attacks on mosques or shops or individuals. After all, devices on our buses and tubes are an open proclamation that the perpetrators don’t care if they kill Muslims. Which, of course, is part of the point. When we use the weak and vague word “terrorism” we imply indiscriminate cruelty directed at civilians.

“Sadism” or “fascism” or “nihilism” would do just as nicely: all the venom that lurks just on the sub-human level of the human species.

In a tightly interwoven society, all that this poison has to do is ally itself with a certain low cunning.

People are afraid of plane crashes and of heights: in that sense 9/11 was the perfect strike on the collective unconscious. People are likewise afraid of fire and of crowded or subterranean conditions: the mind of the fascist is naturally attuned to exploit such dreads. I am guessing the planners of this coordinated atrocity hoped for more mayhem than they got, but the casualty figures are in a sense beside the point.

WE all knew this was coming, and that one day a homely and familiar name like Tavistock Square would become a synonym for barbarism. The good old red London bus, a worldwide symbol of our capital, ripped to shards in an instant.

Random and “senseless” though such violence may appear, we also all know it expresses a deadly ideology; indeed that in some ways it is that ideology.

The preachers of this faith have taken care to warn us that they love death more than we love life. Their wager is that this makes them unstoppable. Well, we shall have to see. They certainly cannot prove their point unless we assist them in doing so.

My American friends have been impressed by the composure of the Londoners they have seen on the screen: I bet London Transport runs again rather sooner than US airlines resumed flying after 9/11.

I remember living in London through the Provisional IRA bombing in the 70s. I saw the very first car-bomb explode against the Old Bailey in 1972. There was no warning that time, but after a while a certain etiquette developed.

And, even as I detested the people who might have just as soon have blown me up as anyone else, I was aware there were ancient disputes involved, and that there was a potential political solution.

Nothing of the sort applies in this case. We know very well what the “grievances” of the jihadists are.

The grievance of seeing unveiled women. The grievance of the existence, not of the State of Israel, but of the Jewish people. The grievance of the heresy of democracy, which impedes the imposition of sharia law. The grievance of a work of fiction written by an Indian living in London. The grievance of the existence of black African Muslim farmers, who won’t abandon lands in Darfur. The grievance of the existence of homosexuals. The grievance of music, and of most representational art. The grievance of the existence of Hinduism. The grievance of East Timor’s liberation from Indonesian rule. All of these have been proclaimed as a licence to kill infidels or apostates, or anyone who just gets in the way.

FOR a few moments yesterday, Londoners received a taste of what life is like for the people of Iraq and Afghanistan, whose Muslim faith does not protect them from slaughter at the hands of those who think they are not Muslim enough, or are the wrong Muslim.

It is a big mistake to believe this is an assault on “our” values or “our” way of life. It is, rather, an assault on all civilisation. I know perfectly well there are people thinking, and even saying, that Tony Blair brought this upon us by his alliance with George Bush.

A word of advice to them: try and keep it down, will you? Or wait at least until the funerals are over. And beware of the non-sequitur: you can be as opposed to the Iraq operation as much as you like, but you can’t get from that “grievance” to the detonating of explosives at rush hour on London buses and tubes.

Don’t even try to connect the two. By George Galloway’s logic, British squaddies in Iraq are the root cause of dead bodies at home. How can anyone bear to be so wicked and stupid? How can anyone bear to act as a megaphone for psychotic killers?

The grievances I listed above are unappeasable, one of many reasons why the jihadists will lose.

They demand the impossible – the cessation of all life in favour of prostration before a totalitarian vision. Plainly, we cannot surrender. There is no one with whom to negotiate, let alone capitulate.

We shall track down those responsible. States that shelter them will know no peace. Communities that shelter them do not take forever to discover their mistake. And their sordid love of death is as nothing compared to our love of London, which we will defend as always, and which will survive this with ease.

Christopher Hitchens is a columnist for Vanity Fair.

Comments, anyone?

See our last post on the politics of Islamic terrorism.

  1. Gideon Levy in Ha’aretz

    Perhaps it is impossible to wipe out this terrorism completely, but it is impossible to deny that its source and support are found in impoverished and oppressed settings. There is no doubt, for example, that ending the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories would weaken the motivation or at least the excuse for terror. (Ha’aretz, July 10)

      1. As usual…
        both sides are pretty out to lunch on this question. If the “consequentalists” sometimes come dangerously close to apologias for terror, then anti-consequentalists like Saletan have got their own problems, possibly even bigger ones. He writes:

        Now imagine yourself as a battered wife. Every so often, your husband gets angry and hits you. Why? You struggle to understand the connection between your behavior and his response. What are you doing that causes him to react this way? You hope that by identifying and avoiding the offending behavior, you can regain domestic peace and a sense of control. You’re deluding yourself. As long as your husband decides which of your acts will earn you a beating, he’s the master, and you’re the slave.

        Saletan assumes we in the West are the battered wife, and the Islamist extremists the abusive husband. The “consequentalists” would argue (persuasively) that it is the other way ’round: that the West is battering the Islamic world every day—waging a grisly counter-insurgency war in Iraq, running a torture gulag at Gitmo and Abu Ghraib, propping up brutal regimes both in Israel and the Arab world, etc.

        This is the problem with the consequentialist argument for revising U.S. policy in the Middle East. Maybe it’s true, for other reasons, that we should rethink our position in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, withdraw our troops from Saudi Arabia, or ease sanctions on Iraq. But if we do these things to avoid further attacks on our cities, we’re granting terrorists the power to dictate our acts by dictating the consequences.

        Yes, it is true that “for other reasons” we should demand radically revising US policy in the Middle East—reasons like respect for fundamental human rights, for instance! Is Saletan suggesting that because terrorists and their apologists also want this we should dig in our heels and cling to oppressive, counter-productive policies?