London Bombing

A few thoughts about the attacks in London this morning:

  • After September 11, people in every part of the world observed a moment of silence. After the March 11 attacks in Spain, there was no such response in solidarity in the United States, even though per capita the impact on the country was similar. Although the sheer death toll in London may not be the same order of magnitude, it is the worst attack against people in that country in half a century.

    There should be some gesture that people around the world can join to indicate their opposition to any sort of indiscriminate attack on civilians, regardless of their politics otherwise. The overwhelming majority of people who oppose the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan also vehemently oppose violent retribution, and there should be a way to make that clear. Moreover, the United States is not the only country that deserves the sympathy of the world after tragedy—the whole world should stand together no matter who is the perpetrator and who is the victim.

  • Do people really believe that the goal of the terrorists is to destroy our freedom? Or that they hate our way of life? (E.g, Tony Blair’s remarks). I’d be interested to know the origin of this theme—at some point, the cold war anti-Soviet rhetoric was somehow adapted to the war on terror.

    I don’t think there’s any credible evidence that the terrorists want to impose a militant repressive fundamentalist Islamic regime on the United States or the Western World. They don’t care whether American women are forced to cover their faces in public. They don’t really care about “our most deeply held beliefs.” My understanding is that they are concerned almost exclusively with the United States and Western presence in the Islamic world. If anyone has evidence to the contrary (e.g., samples of terrorist propaganda), I’d be interested to see it.

    Whether there ought to be militant repressive fundamentalist regimes in the Islamic world is a separate question—but if that’s what this is about, let’s at least say it.

  • In the United States, security was immediately increased after the bombings, although apparently only for mass transit systems. Is there really any reason to think an attack is more likely on mass transit in the United States now, a few hours after the London bombings, rather than a week from now, or two months from now, or against a bridge or a mall rather than a subway or a bus? Are the authorities afraid of “copycat” attacks, or attacks planned in coordination with the original attacks? If the former, is it really plausible that the copycats would be able to get their acts together in just a few hours? If the latter, why would the attackers design their attack so that the authorities had notice and time to prepare for them? It seems to be that now is probably the safest time to take a subway in the United States or really anywhere else in the world.

    I’m sure there is a brief period of time—say a few minutes after an initial attack—when extremely heightened security measures might accomplish something. For example, the time between the two airplanes crashing into the World Trade Center, or the several bombs on the London underground. But after that, doesn’t the chance of another identical attack just go back to complete random chance?

    Similarly, there are concerns that tourism to England is going to take a huge hit from this event. But why should we expect the next attack to be in England? Given one dot, you can draw a line in any direction you want. First, Spain; then, England; next, — France? Norway? Back to Spain? Las Vegas?

    It seems to me that we need some kind of analysis—and intelligence—that isn’t founded on an expectation that the next attack will be identical to the last one. Otherwise, we’re just “doing something” because “something is better than nothing,” which isn’t necessarily true.