More on the London bombings

E-mails flying around in the last few days have been polluting the air with glib denunciations of Tony Blair for supposedly having precipitated the London bombings of 7/7 by joining the Americans in invading and occupying Iraq.  Similar voices have been heard on radio and television, too, notably from Mr George Galloway, fresh from his victory over the United States Senate.  It’s there in the blogosphere, too.   

Diligent readers of this blog and website will have noticed (pay attention, now: you’ll be tested on this in a moment) that I’m no slack-jawed admirer of Tony Blair, still less of his monumental blunders over Iraq or his government’s dismal assaults on our civil liberties.  But fair’s fair:  he has had a good week or two lately in which at least two brave gambles – aka foolhardy, as we would all have said if they had failed – have succeeded either spectacularly (winning the Olympics for London)  or significantly (making perceptible progress on all fronts in the G8 under his chairmanship).  The hat-trick came with his response to the bombings on 7/7:  sober, defiant, calm, realistic – genuinely speaking for the nation at a time of grief and shock, something that even his sourest critics need to recognise he does well.  As I wrote in my previous piece on the bombings, you would need to be a ferociously committed anti-Blairite not to have felt sorry for him when the glitz and glamour that were his due after the Olympics and the G8 were rudely shattered by a string of murders committed for no discernible political, religious or other purpose by a criminal gang lacking in all humanity or moral sense.

Yet the usual suspects emerge blinking into the daylight with their trite, complacent and predictable assertions that the finger of blame points, not at the murderers, but at the British prime minister.  I’m afraid I find this exploitation of the London bombings as yet another stick to beat Blair with singularly offensive.  For once Blair has been a genuine credit to his office (over the Olympics, the bombings and the G8), not putting so much as a toe wrong on any of the three issues. This is surely a good moment to suspend polemical trivia for a while.  Anyone who thinks that if Britain under Blair hadn’t been with the Americans in the Iraq operation, London wouldn’t have been bombed, can’t be taken seriously.  Those who voice that view anyway need to be careful about implying that the government’s major or other foreign policy decisions ought to be influenced in the smallest degree by fear of annoying murderous terrorists.  They would do well to read a letter from Madrid in the week-end FT at  The attack on Iraq was disastrously wrong for all sorts of reasons, but risking provoking murderers wasn’t one of them.  

It’s encouraging, on the other hand, to see many of the heavyweight Sunday columnists (including the Sunday Times trio of Simon Jenkins, Michael Portillo and Minette Marin) making the essential point that the bombings must not be used as a pretext for yet more erosion of our civil liberties in new, panicky, tabloid-driven ‘anti-terrorism’ legislation, pushed through parliament in the aftermath of the bombings while MPs and even peers are afraid to provoke tabloid wrath by opposing it.  Further dismantling of our historic liberties represents only a sort of victory for the murderers.  If, as ministers constantly tell us, the terrorists want to “destroy our way of life”, dismantling our ancient safeguards against arbitrary and oppressive control of the people by an over-mighty executive sounds like just the sort of thing they have in mind.  

Simon Jenkins also however makes the excellent point that the British and American governments’ constant references to “the war on terror” when there is no such war, no clash of armies, no state enemy, indeed no identifiable enemy at all, make it all the more difficult to show up the bombings of innocent Londoners as squalid crimes committed by squalid criminals (which is what they are), and not legitimate quasi-military acts of war by an enemy entitled by the state of war to retaliate when attacked.  It is futile and misleading to try to rationalise purposeless crimes committed by psychotics.  They have nothing to do with Iraq or a wish to “destroy our way of life”, which is in any case something no amount of murder and mayhem on the Tube could even begin to accomplish.  Our way of life is indeed at risk, as one of the Law Lords remarked in the historic judgement of last December:  not from a few mindless murderers, but from cowardly or power-hungry ministers in thrall to cynical and circulation-driven tabloids.  Happily, there are signs that the home secretary, Charles Clarke, may be resisting the siren calls for yet more attacks on our liberties from the tabloids, the security services and police (always ravenous for more powers and fewer restraints), and probably his own officials (always vigilant for opportunities to slip in a few long-cherished horrors while no-one is looking).  He has courageously pointed out that ID cards would not have prevented the London bombings.  It’s relevant that the control orders rammed through a reluctant parliament earlier this year, seriously and indefinitely abridging without trial on a politician’s say-so the liberties of people who have not been convicted of any offence, didn’t prevent the bombings, either.  For control orders to frustrate criminal attacks, it’s necessary to know who is planning them;  and if you know that, there are plenty of ways to stop them.  Despite the vengeful howls from the pages of the Sun newspaper, the case against further illiberal laws, and for radically amending existing ones, is wholly unaffected by the dreadful crimes committed in London last Thursday.


61 Responses

  1. Brian,
    By hook…..
    I just think you’re wrong. Blair was told by the intelligence services that an Iraq invasion with the US would not only increase the level of terrorism but also,if memory serves, the UK would be at greater risk of terrorist acts.
    He was also told that such an invasion was likely to convert Iraq from a Premier League dictatorship with no terrorist links, to a training ground for terrorists.
    You really don’t see the link?
    What happened on 7/7 was what Chalmers Johnson, in his book of the same name,decsribed as Blowback.

  2. Brian says:


    If it wasn’t Iraq that was being used to whip up anti-western hatred and violence, it would be Afghanistan, or Srebrenica, or Palestine, or Kashmir, or Chechnya – there’s always something. As the prime minister said in his Commons statement today (11 July), “extremist terrorists … over recent years have been responsible for so many innocent deaths in Madrid, Bali, Saudi Arabia, Russia, Kenya, Tanzania, Pakistan, Yemen, Turkey, Egypt and Morocco, of course in New York on September 11th, but in many other countries too.” Islamic fundamentalists have been attacking western, Arab and other communities since long before anyone seriously contemplated attacking Iraq. What was the connection with Iraq of the attacks in Indonesia and Russia? Or Yemen?

    The fact is that the Islamic extremists’ anti-western campaign is designed to expunge from the Muslim heartlands in the middle east and north Africa all western presence and influence, seen (rightly!) as a threat to fundamentalist Islam with its secularism, its refusal to subordinate women to men, its blatant sexuality, its liberal attitudes to punishment of crime, its exclusion of religious leaders from political power, and all the other features of western culture that are plainly irreconcilable with a fundamentalist reading of the Koran and of the other Muslim scriptures – irreconcilable, indeed, with Shar’iya law as the basis of the government and mores of a Muslim state. In pursuit of these ends, those who lead this campaign seek to encourage hostility between the Muslim and non-Muslim communities in western and other states, employing for this purpose whatever political issues come to hand. A prime method of stirring up religious hatred and violence is to inflame the passions of young Muslim fanatics who are discontented and angry with their lot for a variety of unrelated reasons, by exposing them to vitriolic propaganda about the west’s alleged crimes against Muslims in any of a dozen or more international crisis-points. Iraq is especially handy and convenient because denunciation of American and British actions over Iraq finds a welcoming echo in so many non-Muslim quarters: murder assumed to have been committed in the name of fervent opposition to US and UK policies in Iraq are instantly condoned by some of those who also opposed the Iraq folly and who are quick to point the finger, not at the murderers, but at our own political leaders.

    Thus Iraq is just a convenient tool for recruiting and motivating psychotic murderers. It’s not an indispensable tool: there are plenty of others available, as the history of pre-Iraq Islamicist terrorism demonstrates. It’s frankly naïve to imagine that Osama bin Laden and his friends give a damn about Iraq, or about Palestine, or about Kashmir, or about Chechnya. They care about the threat to Islam from western secularism in (especially) Saudi Arabia, as host to the holiest Muslim shrines, and in the other countries which they see as candidates for eventual conversion – perhaps by free elections – to Islamic fundamentalist régimes of the Taliban type, if only they can prevent the west with the attractions of Hollywood and Coca-Cola getting in the way.

    There’s another fatal flaw in the glib proposition that because of our complicity in the attack on Iraq, we had it coming to us. It’s true that our security services did warn ministers that UK participation in an American invasion of Iraq could increase the risk of a terrorist attack in Britain or against British targets elsewhere. It’s their job to make such assessments (although there does seem to be a certain inconsistency in the spectacle of those who scorned and derided the intelligence community for its alleged shortcomings over Iraq suddenly quoting them as impeccable authority for the view that the bombings are directly linked to Iraq). But it’s not the job of intelligence analysts to make policy recommendations based on their readings of the intelligence. That’s for ministers and their officials. Supposing that there had been a cast-iron case for attacking Iraq to remove Saddam and to eliminate genuine WMD in Iraq for whose existence there had been irrefutable, universally accepted evidence? Are you seriously saying that in such circumstances ministers should have drawn back from doing what on all other grounds needed urgently to be done, for fear of provoking a terrorist attack in Britain? The Spanish electorate came perilously close to embracing that craven doctrine. I hope that we have a firmer grip on principle.

    Yes, there could be a connection (although until we know who did the bombings, we can’t possibly know what the immediate trigger for their action really was): emotional disgust at the spectacle of westerners killing Muslims in Iraq and occupying their country, regardless of the rights and wrongs of the issues at stake, may well have been used to tip them over the edge into murder. But we need to be clear that if it hadn’t been Iraq, it would have been something else. Do you really think that if we could wave a magic wand and produce solutions overnight in the interests of fundamentalist and other Muslims in Iraq, Palestine, Kashmir, Chechnya, Kosovo, Bosnia, northern Nigeria, Indonesia, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and a score of other places, Osama bin Laden would be satisfied and would call off his packs of killers? Pull the other one!

    Of course you’re right to say that the illegal, premature, unnecessary and mendaciously misrepresented attack on and occupation of Iraq have turned that country into a hotbed of international terrorism (although it’s quite wrong to say that there was no terrorism based in Iraq before the US/UK invasion), thus making a bad situation much worse. But there’s no logical step from that to the proposition that London was bombed as a result of British policy and actions in Iraq. The implications of that are that (1) if we had not joined with the Americans in attacking Iraq, London would not have been bombed; and (2) that therefore we should not have joined with the Americans in attacking Iraq. Neither of those propositions is sustainable. There were a dozen respectable reasons why we should not have taken part in the attack on Iraq, but as I said in my original post, fear of provoking murders in the UK was never one of them.

    PS: This is my first attempt at a Comment in the new-style Ephems, so I apologise in advance for any peculiarities of formatting, HTML, etc.


  3. Brian,
    You certainly deserve you R & R, in France. Enjoy.
    Though at the moment the Litorale di Carbone, is as hot and sunny as the Côte d’Azure!
    Take care

  4. Brian,
    I’m well aware of your views on Blair and the Iraq war. But the illegality of the enterprise is what our American friends call a “no-brainer”. To move from that, as many commentators have, to point the finger of blame towards Blair suggesting that his Iraq policy may have contributed to what happened in London last Thursday, is a difficult threshold to cross. I recognise that!

    The list of terrorist acts you mention cannot simply be lumped together. The incidents in Tanzania, Kenya, the bombing of USS Cole, Trade centre 1 and 9/11, were clearly the responsibility of Al Qaida- the original- Bin Laden OC. It is surely beyond doubt that the purpose of all these terrorist acts was to scare our American friends into pulling their bases out of the Saudi Arabia and the Holy sites. And to some extent our American friends are changing their Saudi policy. There’s more criticism of the human rights record in Saudi, more attempts to distance the administration from the ruling clan, and an attempt to obtain secure energy supplies, Bushspeak for oil from anywhere other than the Gulf!
    You say:
    “Do you really think that if we could wave a magic wand and produce solutions overnight in the interests of fundamentalist and other Muslims in Iraq, Palestine, Kashmir, Chechnya, Kosovo, Bosnia, northern Nigeria, Indonesia, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and a score of other places, Osama bin Laden would be satisfied and would call off his packs of killers? Pull the other one!”

    I’m not sure to what extent Osama bin Laden was involved with any of these, except of course Afghanistan, where it is important to remember he was supported the CIA and financed by the Saudis.
    And if you move up to date, the bombings in Bali, Casablanca, Istanbul, Madrid and London, have little or nothing to do with the original aims of Al Qaida and Osama bi Laden. Al Qaida has become a franchise; disparate groups, with different aims, using the 9/11 template; most now spin round Iraq’s centre of gravity. These have little to do with bin Laden’s “ packs of killers” and everything to do with getting the coalition forces out of Iraq.

    You say, ” Supposing that there had been a cast-iron case for attacking Iraq to remove Saddam and to eliminate genuine WMD in Iraq for whose existence there had been irrefutable, universally accepted evidence? Are you seriously saying that in such circumstances ministers should have drawn back from doing what on all other grounds needed urgently to be done, for fear of provoking a terrorist attack in Britain?”
    Of course had there been such evidence, and we had managed to persuade a majority of the UN Security Council, and avoided a veto from a permanent member, sure. I recognise the risk. But what has made things immeasurably easier for these groups to recruit is the way the war has been conducted. Not just Abu Graib and Camp Breadbasket. Bombing Fallujah, where it is now accepted that over 1000 civilians were killed. It’s difficult to see those 1000 deaths caused other than by terrorism. And we now see the awful sight of the American trained Iraqi forces leaving nine brickies to die of heat exhaustion after being locked up in metal container and using torture not unadjacent to that which would have been recognisable to Saddam.

    You say “The Spanish electorate came perilously close to embracing that craven doctrine. I hope that we have a firmer grip on principle.”
    What the Spanish electorate did was to see through the mendacious Aznar who tried to blame ETA for a terrible crime committed by others. It was always Zapatero’s policy to pull Spanish troops out of Iraq.
    That’s all for tonight said Zebadee,

  5. justine says:

    Your site is so high tech, it took me so long to get to the stage of being able to make a comment, I’ve practically forgotten what I’d say!

    Interesting dialogue between BLB and Retired Rambler.

    Your blog is always so informative and I stop by regularly -thanks!

  6. Brian says:

    Alas, I’m off to France within minutes and haven’t got time to reply to these very interesting (and moderately expressed) comments. (Special thanks to Justine!) Only to say that for brevity’s sake I used the name Osama bin Laden as a generic description of those who organise and stimulate Islamic fundamentalist terrorism, even if Osama himself isn’t involved in specific incidents of campaigns.

    That’s all, folks, until August!


  7. I hope everyone can now post a comment here without having to log in! Apologies for teething troubles. Can’t write at length owing to slow and expensive dial-up connection from French motel…. But master-mind and web designer in chief Owen Barder has probably fixed it (I think).

    Please now weigh in.


  8. Brian,
    No hot-spots there?

  9. Tim Weakley says:

    I’m not competent to back either Brian or Tony as to whether the bombings were a delayed response to Britain’s involvement in Bush II’s war. I am rather surprised, though, that Britain was not attacked in this way at the time of the outrages of 11 September 2001 in the USA, or not longer thereafter, being not only already identified as the Great Satan’s closest ally but having a record of waxing and waning involvement, or meddling, in the Middle East going back at least to Tel-el-Kebir, 1882 (which also led, indirectly, to my being born in Alexandria, 1933). Given that the bombings happened, in any case, it is unsurprising that they were timed for the middle of the G-8 conference at Gleneagles (with half the Met up in Scotland), so as to make the greatest impression on the assembled potentates: “See, you think you run the world, but we watchers in the shadows can strike when we choose at the heart of the host nation’s capital city.” A nice little job for, it now appears, a locally-recruited team of fanatics.

    ‘May I change direction somewhat? I fervently hope that future G-8 meetings, if any, take place not at a hyperexpensive resort for the filthy rich or in a big city like Seattle or Genoa but somewhere remote like Diego Garcia or Midway: an island easily quarantined, accessible by air, an existing military presence, basic accommodation, no significant civilian population to have its life disrupted. The attending journalists and TV crews would be limited in number, but delegated by the world’s media themselves, with a remit to make their stuff available to all papers and channels. This summer’s circus in Perthshire was the outside of enough; even before Geldoff summoned the world to ‘make a statement’ in Edinburgh the unofficial estimated cost, for policing and everything else, was running at a couple of hundred millions and the whole of Central Scotland was being inconvenienced. I don’t know how the admirable citizens of Auchterarder put up with it. Even here in Dundee, we had Blair’s Chinook chopper flying past our front windows en route to and from the local airport.

  10. Tim,
    I do however hope that those who can see a link, not an unbroken thread, from Basra to Kings Cross, are not denounced as traitors. Immediately after 9/11 the US media, both print and broadcast went to sleep failing to challenge the policy. The result of which is what we see now in Iraq and Afghanistan.
    See the entry on my blog

  11. Patrick says:

    I was intrigued to see you describe the terrorists in these terms:

    “It is futile and misleading to try to rationalise purposeless crimes committed by psychotics.”

    and, with all due respect, I think you are not correct. A psychosis, by definition, leads to loss of contact with reality with various thought disturbances, hallucinations & delusions. I don’t think this applies to the terrorists involved in the London bombings. I suspect that they were highly rational, logical & focussed in their actions. Their actions may have been based upon a fundamentalist interpretation of the precepts of Islam that the wider British moslem community rejects but to accord the terrorists a medical diagnosis is wrong.

    It is becoming clear that poverty is not a factor in the radicalization of these terrorists; one of them travelling to Pakistan for religious training is probably of greater significance. An estimate that I heard on Radio 4 is that 10–15% of madrassas teach fundamentalist militiant islamic theology & that up to 3,000 British muslims may have travelled to Pakistan for religious training.

    Whilst the 2003 invasion of Iraq may have ‘stirred the hornets’ nest’ the underlying ideology of militant Islam has been present for a long time. The terrorists’ actions, & those of any backers, can be better understood when analysed according to the code of jihad which militant Islam teaches. By jihad I mean the theological-juridical concept that governs relationships between Muslims and non-Muslims. Sunni Islamic teaching, especially the Wahhabist variety, is especially militant.

  12. Tim,
    You say you are not competent, but surely it’s important the debate takes place.
    After 9/11 in the US political opposition and the media failed to ask challenge the administration. Any opposition was painted as traiterous. That must not happen here

  13. traiterous should, of course, be traitorous
    hanging head in shame.

  14. Peter Harvey says:

    I am pleased to see that Tony has already responded to your comment about the ‘craven’ attitude of the citizens of Spain, about one thousand of whom have been killed by various terrorists over the years without any ‘cravenness’ having been shown on previous occasions. Nor was any shown in this occasion. To put it briefly (yet again) what happened was that the election turn-out went up; this was probably mainly a splendid democratic response to a terrorist threat, though the disgraceful behaviour of the Government over that weekend annoyed many people and lost them the election just as much as the Socialists won it. There is no reason to suppose that votes shifted from Government to opposition, as people had already made up their minds on the PP some time earlier and mostly on domestic issues. Some votes may have moved from other opposition parties to the Socialists, but as Zapatero was campaigning to achieve precisely that effect it is uncertain whether the bombs had any effect there. The last opinion poll was published on the Tuesday before the election and was based on fieldwork that had been done a week before that. Whether or not the terrorists think they won a victory in the Spanish elections is not the point; after all they could have hardly expected any change in the British Government as a result. The real point is that the Spanish citizens did not decide that they should after all support a deeply unpopular Government simply because Madrid had been bombed. Citizens of free countries should not allow terrorists to dictate how they express their political sympathies.

    If it hadn’t been Iraq it would have been something else. Well yes possibly, but the illegal and unwarranted invasion of Iraq was a can of petrol on a pile of smouldering tinder. If it hadn’t been for internment and Bloody Sunday the IRA would no doubt have found something else to justify their killing, but it is widely accepted that the effect of those huge political blunders was to make a bad situation far, far worse. What is Blair’s responsibility? This is where things get confusing. Of course he has no direct responsibility for the bombs exploding just when and where they did, but he certainly does have the political responsibility for creating – quite unnecessarily – a situation in which the UK would be moved up the list of objectives of a heightened level of international terrorist activity. Politicians are expected to take political decisions, and to accept the political (as well as the legal) responsibility that goes with the job. It was said at the time that invading Iraq would open up the country as a haven for terrorists, and so it has come to pass. Blair’s political responsibility for making the situation worse rather than better is clear, and that is how history will judge him. It is in the nature of political responsibility that it is determined by the results and consequences of one’s actions, not by the intentions that motivated them.

    Peter Harvey

    PS Since drafting the above I see that Chatham House agrees that Blair’s policy has put the UK ‘at particular risk’ of terrorism

    ‘The [Chatham House] report also says that the UK is at particular risk because it is the closest ally of the US and has closely supported the deployment of British troops in the military campaigns to topple the Taliban in Afghanistan and Saddam’s regime in Iraq.

    ‘The report claims that there is ‘no doubt’ that the invasion of Iraq has imposed particular difficulties for the UK and for the wider coalition against terrorism. According to the paper, the situation in Iraq has ‘given a boost to the Al-Qaeda network’s propaganda, recruitment and fundraising’, whilst providing an ideal targeting and training area for Al-Qaeda-linked terrorists.’

  15. Patrick says:

    Peter Harvey: may I pose a few questions to you having read your posting above?
    Whilst I agree with your metaphor of pouring petrol on smouldering tinder would you now have British troops withdrawn from Iraq? If so what would that solve exactly? Whilst I was against the invasion even I can see that ‘if you break it you fix it’ pertains. As for ‘…Chatham House agrees that Blair’s policy has put the UK at “particular risk” of terrorism’, it’s certainly a statement by Chatham House of the obvious responsibility that a Prime Minister has when deciding to invade but that it does little to inform the debate about how to confront fundamentalist Islamic terrorism now. It is clear that such terrorism has been establishing itself within Britain for some time & now has to be confronted, or does Tony Blair’s ill-advised & previous decisions make this unnecessary in some peculiar way?
    Today I have just finished reading my copy of the latest BMJ which contains testimonies from those within BMA house who treated the unfortunate victims on the number 30 bus, along with reports from UCL doctors who gave definitive treatment. It also contains an article on blast injuries. The reality of what the terrorist did is despicable & there is no excuse for their actions. However the presumed ‘root causes’ will inevitably become their excuse. The actions of Israel are already accorded the moral equivalence of terrorism.

    I am no fan of our current Prime Minister but I agree with his recent speech on Saturday, 16 July:

    This ideology and the violence that is inherent in it did not start a few years ago in response to a particular policy. Over the past 12 years, Al-Qaeda and its associates have attacked 26 countries, killed thousands of people, many of them Muslims.

    They have networks in virtually every major country and thousands of fellow travellers. They are well-financed. Look at their websites.

    They aren’t unsophisticated in their propaganda. They recruit however and whoever they can and with success.

    Neither is it true that they have no demands. They do. It is just that no sane person would negotiate on them.

    They demand the elimination of Israel; the withdrawal of all Westerners from Muslim countries, irrespective of the wishes of people and government; the establishment of effectively Taleban states and Sharia law in the Arab world en route to one caliphate of all Muslim nations.

    We don’t have to wonder what type of country those states would be. Afghanistan was such a state. Girls put out of school.

    Women denied even rudimentary rights. People living in abject poverty and oppression. All of it justified by reference to religious faith.

    Whatever the causes perhaps now is the time for our society to extirpate militant fundamentalist Islamic theology & terrorism at home & abroad, deny such clerics & radicals asylum & to take a stand for democracy.

  16. Peter and Patrick,
    The Associated Press man Paisley Dodds posted an interview with Moazamm Begg who, you will recall, spent a couple of years banged up in Guantánamo. As far as I know, the piece has not been widely circulated in the UK.
    It’s worth a read. I found it on Craig Murray’s blog.

  17. Patrick says:

    Retired Rambler: many thanks for that link which I have read; the proffered possible explanations for the terrorists’ motives, as far as I can tell, are:

    Racism in Britain. Strange when other groups in Britain, have suffered racism just as bad or worse as these terrorists might have done, yet no other groups have reacted in the same way.
    Non-assimilation. This probably directed at the indigenous British community yet politicians have espoused multi-culturism for years with the blessing on the ethnic minority groups. Hopefully now multi-culturism will be dropped.
    Anger over foreign policy & treatment of Muslims in foreign lands or, as I call it, ‘feel the pain of the ummah’. Does that mean that we should expect the corresponding ethnic minority in this country to start bombing innocents when other groups suffer oppression overseas?
    Guantanamo Bay detention. The decision to treat the prisoners not in accordance with the Geneva Convention is wrong but is it a reasonable excuse? Is this a reason for some radical Christian to commit similar atrocity when a Christian is held in some hell-hole for practising his or her religion or demonstrating/resisting against some repressive theocratic state?

    I am willing to be corrected on any point but I think I have shown these reasons to be somewhat lacking.

  18. Patrick,
    I was not supporting what Begg told the journalist, but it was interesting to see the episode from a Muslim perspective.

    Surely Blair/Straw/Reid will find it increasingly difficult to peddle the “it’s nowt to do with Iraq line”. No direct link of course; but it’s preposterous to assert the threat from terrorists has not racked up a couple of notches since pillioning the Bush administration in régime change.

    There’s an interesting paper/book “Dying to Win”, by Professor Robert Pape from Chicago. He claims to have analysed all suicide terrorist attacks-his expression- between 1980 and 2003. He argues ” that the common denominator among the bombers in 95% of the cases is that they’re nationalist insurgents with a secular, strategic goal: ousting the military forces of democratic countries from land the insurgents believe is theirs.
    The attacks are almost exclusively on democratic states presumably because they are more susceptible to terror. The template, according to Pape, was the suicide bombing of the US Marine barracks in Lebanon, which prompted President Reagan to bring U.S. troops home.
    He concludes that democratic governments have made concessions in 7 of 13 completed campaigns (5 are ongoing). Not bad odds. And growing American disenchantment with the military operation in Iraq, and HMG’s apparent desire to cut and run, proves the point again.

  19. With apologies for repeating myself: the question is not, or should not be, whether Blair’s policies and actions in Iraq provided additional impetus for those looking for an issue to exploit in recruiting and activating Muslims with a grievance in Britain. Of course it did. But to say that since the effect of Blair’s policies was to increase the likelihood of a terrorist attack in Britain, therefore Blair must be “held responsible” for those consequences of his actions is unmistakably to imply that Blair’s policy decisions should have been modified or reversed in order to reduce the likelihood that they might increase the risk of a terrorist attack in the UK. To my mind, such a proposition is utterly unacceptable. Blair’s policies and actions over Iraq were catastrophically wrong and misjudged in numerous ways, and there are many, many good reasons why they should have been modified and indeed reversed: but trying to buy off a terrorist attack in Britain was not one of them.

    As Peter Harvey rightly says in his earlier comment, “Citizens of free countries should not allow terrorists to dictate how they express their political sympathies.” The same goes a fortiori for the formulation of government policy, which similarly can’t be allowed to be dictated by terrorists. It’s all the more surprising that Peter should go on to declare that —
    “Blair’s political responsibility for making the situation worse rather than better is clear, and that is how history will judge him. It is in the nature of political responsibility that it is determined by the results and consequences of one’s actions, not by the intentions that motivated them.”
    Fair enough if that refers only to the aggravation of the situation in Iraq: but the context of these comments suggests that it refers instead, or as well, to the aggravation of the risk of terrorism in the UK. That was indeed probably a consequence of what Blair did; but it was a likely consequence that Blair would have been absolutely right to disregard, and it’s perverse to imply the contrary.

    There are some interesting comments on a post on the same subject on Owen’s blog, q.v. (I hope that attempted hyperlink will work: apologies if it doesn’t.)

    Brian (still in France, laptop-bound and without his home resources)

  20. Patrick says:

    Retired Rambler: my comments upon the proffered motives of the London terrorists were not meant to imply that you agreed with such motives, I was just trying to show the absurdity of them. Inevitably some people will take such motives as justification for the terrorist attacks when the responsibility for the maiming and murder clearly rests with the bombers & those that commissioned the atrocities.

    However, I realise that consideration of such motives is important when trying to determine policy to deter future attacks as well as combatting similar established terrorist cells. I doubt that foreign policy should be substantially altered by the threat of such attacks if the policy is that of a democratically elected government & the will of Parliament (excepting genocide & crimes against humanity).

    Many thanks for the reference to Dying to Win: The Strategic Logic of Suicide Terrorism, I have placed an order as it looks to be a book that, unfortunately, is very relevant.

    Best wishes.

  21. Aidan says:


    One of the major pillars on which Iraq was sold to us by Blair was that it would make us safer.

    However the assessments of intelligence agencies/think tanks are generally that the UK has become more of a target due to Iraq, and that Iraq has provided a venue to recruit and train terrorists.

    It would be wrong to state that Iraq caused 7/7, because we don’t know that, but it is equally wrong to deny any link as Blair and other ministers have done.

    The actions they took, (which may have been justified on other grounds – that’s another debate) almost certainly increased the probability of such an attack taking place. This should have been taken into consideration when the decision to go into Iraq was made, and Blair should have been honest with the public, both then and now, that it would increase the likelihood of the UK facing terrorist attacks such as this one.

    I see it as perfectly legitimate to criticise him on these grounds (but not on a wider front by saying that he is guilty of causing the deaths in London – which is stretching cause and effect too far).

    In addition, the terrorists do not appear to be actually psychotic – they have been living ostensibly normal lives within our community, and I imagine that they do not see their actions as evil, but a just vengeance for the grievances they perceive. If we persist in characterising them as two-dimensional baddies – evil psychotics, then we are reducing our changes of ever ending their actions.

  22. Peter Harvey says:

    In reply to Patrick I would say that I am not calling for withdrawal of British troops from Iraq and nothing in my message suggests that, though as I don’t pay a penny towards keeping them there this is not a matter of any personal interest to me one way or the other.

    To develop my analogy, if you (an impersonal you, that is) are so stupid as to throw a can of petrol on a pile of smouldering tinder, you will create a situation that is qualitatively different from what preceded it; you will have presented yourself with a fait accompli that will most probably require a call to the fire service, may require a consultation of the small print of your civil liability insurance policy, and could even require you to appear in court. By the same token, if you are so stupid as to invade a foreign country illegally and unnecessarily and then allow it to slip into mayhem and chaos, you must expect to take responsibility for the administration of your conquered land, you can expect to meet opposition, and it should hardly come as a surprise if people who choose to identify with that country take advantage of the chaos that you have created to prepare and instigate reprisals.

    As for keeping British troops in Iraq, it seems that the Iraqi State has been so conclusively dismantled by this exercise in ‘nation building’ that some kind of outside intervention certainly seems necessary. Legally, the responsibility for that lies with the occupying powers, who have managed to pass the job of rebuilding the country to an Iraqi government that will certainly be reliant on them for security whether they like it or not. Moreover, the US and UK can and should expect no outside assistance in their self-imposed task of managing Iraq’s affairs; Chris Patten, who was the EU’s Commissioner for External Affairs at the time of the invasion, said as much when he invoked the analogy the china shop – if you break it, you pay for it. However, it is also useful to wonder whether the US and UK are the most appropriate countries to exercise this occupation; it has been suggested that, the situation being what it is, some kind of international peace-keeping force from Muslim countries (not Iran, obviously) might be able to do the job better. I have no strong feelings on that point, though I do know that such a withdrawal in favour of a Muslim force would be counter to the initial intention of the invasion – the establishment of American hegemony in the Middle East and south-west Asia – and therefore will not happen.

    As a sidelight to the above I might mention that some time in the early 70s I attended a policy-making council meeting of the English Young Liberals at which our Chairman, who had recently been on a fact-finding visit to Northern Ireland, proposed support for the Troops Out Movement, an organisation that called for the immediate withdrawal of the British Army from the province. The motion was opposed by myself as International Officer and by the Northern Ireland representative on the grounds that whatever had happened in the past, to withdraw the troops at that point would inevitably lead to carnage and civil war on an unprecedented scale; nevertheless, it was passed with only our two votes against. The name of that Chairman was Peter Hain, a man who now has no qualms at all about deploying the British Army in other people’s countries.

    [continued in following message]

  23. Brian says:


    I don’t want to be driven by this (interesting) discussion into defending Blair’s policies and actions in Iraq or the mendacious way in which he and those complicit with him presented them. However I personally accept that Blair sincerely believed in the run-up to the attack on Iraq that the world would be made safer by the removal of Saddam and the elimination of the WMD which Blair, like almost everyone else including every single government represented on the Security Council, believed that Iraq still possessed. Given that belief, Blair was fully justified in warning that WMD, or WMD materials, would sooner or later fall into the hands of international terrorists, given the rogue nature of the Saddam regime: and that the cost in blood and treasure
    of acting to forestall this — as would have to be done sooner or later — would be lower if done sooner, and much higher if done later. So I suggest that Blair can’t be faulted for claiming, on the basis of what was then almost universally believed to be the situation, that getting rid of the WMD, which probably entailed toppling Saddam, would make the world a safer place. Of course that doesn’t in any way excuse the resort to military action against Iraq before the UN weapons inspectors had had a chance to complete their work, without Security Council authority (and therefore illegally), in an unnecessarily brutal and indiscriminate way and without adequate planning for the immediate post-war situation. Nor does it excuse the lamentable misrepresentation of the evidence for Saddam’s possession of WMD and for his alleged readiness to use them.

    The fact that UK participation in the attack on Iraq was likely to increase the danger of a terrorist attack occurring in Britain, as the intelligence community reportedly warned Blair beforehand, is a quite different matter. As I wrote in my comment of 11 July on this subject, there probably is a connection of some sort between some British Muslims’resentment of the treatment of their fellow-Muslims in Iraq, and the crazy murders and suicides on 7/7, although there’s so far not the slightest wisp of evidence for any such connection (the bombers seem to have been of Pakistani origin and may have been much more worked up about Kashmir than Iraq, for all we know). What seems to me utterly indefensible, though, is to go on from asserting a link between Iraq and the London bombings to imply, or even to state, the propositions that: (1) since the bombers were right to be outraged by Bush’s and Blair’s actions in Iraq, it’s ‘understandable’ that they should have acted in the way they did; (2) Since Blair had been warned that his actions in Iraq would increase the risk of terrorism in Britain, he should have modified his Iraq policies and actions — even though convinced on the grounds described above that they were right and necessary — so as to avoid increasing the risk of terrorism in the UK; and (3) Therefore Blair is to blame, or partly to blame, or partly responsible, or otherwise legitimately open to criticism, for the terrorist attacks of 7/7. All three of those propositions seem to me not only wholly wrong and intellectually muddled (or dishonest — take your pick!), but also deeply offensive, a true trahison des clercs. This is very well said by Professor Norman Geras in an excellent article in the Guardian of the 21st, and for once equally well said by Polly Toynbee in the Guardian today.

    On whether I am right to describe the suicide bombers as psychotics. The fact that they had hitherto been living “ostensibly normal lives within our community,” as you put it, seems to me beside the point: (a) because psychotics often appear normal until their psychotic behaviour betrays their psychosis, and (b) because conspiring with others to murder innocent people on a large scale and actively preparing the bombs with which to murder them, planning the timing and places of the murders, and so forth, doesn’t seem to qualify as “leading normal lives”. You say you imagine that “they do not see their actions as evil, but a just vengeance for the grievances they perceive,” but it’s obviously psychotic, isn’t it?, to be unable to perceive the large-scale random murders of wholly innocent people as anything but evil? And when the murders are deliberately and unnecessarily accompanied by the suicides of the murderers, doesn’t that suggest minds that have become completely unhinged? Isn’t it psychotic to suppose that some desirable result can be achieved by killing others and oneself because of ‘grievances’ that have nothing whatever to do with the murder victims, and which can’t possibly have a better chance of being remedied as a result of the murders committed?

    You say that if we persist in seeing these criminals (not, surely, a description you would challenge?) as two-dimensional baddies, we reduce our chances of ever ending their actions. I believe the exact contrary to be true. As long as we persist in seeing them as politically and rationally motivated people whose response to their grievances is to go out and kill people, and as long as we strive to ‘understand‘ that behaviour, we shall encourage more of the same. It is insane as well as evil to act in the way that they have done, and while we need to try to hack out the roots of the insanity as well as of the evil and criminality, we need to beware of giving the impression that by trying to understand them and what they did, we regard murder as an understandable (and therefore in some sense defensible) response to a political grievance. Psychiatrists may properly seek to understand the roots of insane and evil behaviour: the rest of us need to be clear that the behaviour is insane and evil and that it can never be condoned. Above all we must not allow government policy to be dictated or even influenced by the fear of the possible response of criminal psychotics exploited by fascist theocrats. That, at any rate, is how I see it!

    I’m going to be on the road somewhere in France for the next few days, and unlikely to be able to offer a rapid response, or indeed any response at all, to further contributions to this lively debate, for some time.


  24. Peter Harvey says:

    [continuation of previous]

    As for Blair’s quoted words, they are clearly intended to satisfy opinion at home; words do not solve problems abroad but they can keep the voters happy. He speaks of Al Qaeda as if it were a conventional European terrorist organisation like the IRA or ETA, but that is not the case. Those organisations have clear hierarchical command structures, which is hardly surprising as they see themselves as armies of potential states. Their demands may be unreasonable (and I say no more than that; I prefer not to follow Blair into the realm of mental health any more than I follow him into the realm of religion) but they are clearly stated and, at least in theory, interlocutors are available to conduct negotiations. That simply is not the case with AQ and Blair is being ingenuous if he says that it is. And those poor girls put out of school and women denied even rudimentary rights are no more than a sop to his own public opinion. He certainly knows as well as I do – or at least I hope that he does – that the Iraqi Constitution to be approved in the next week or so will probably contain in its Article 14 a provision that women will be subject to sharia law with all that that entails for family life, divorce, property rights and inheritance; and that the already modest proposal that women should have 25% of the seats in Parliament will be ignored. Saddam was a beast, but he was a secular beast who did not change the relatively progressive situation that came into being in 1959, when the non-religious army defeated the British-supported monarchy. Now the risk of Iraqi women being placed in the situation that Blair has described seems to be greater than ever.

    Brian says that terrorism must to be allowed to formulate government policy. That has been the policy of all Spanish governments (though not of the autonomous Basque Government) and whatever criticisms are made of Aznar, his success in bringing ETA low by constitutional political and police action is undisputed; the only changes made as a result of policy are that the Criminal Code introduced in 1996 recognised the crime of terrorism, allotting it a longer prison term than normal murder, and it extended the time that suspects could be held before trial to thirty days. Yet, in the wake of the London bombs we see the usual British reaction when something goes wrong: a law must be passed to make it illegal, as if setting off bombs on the Tube were not already a criminal act under common or statute law. It is worth mentioning in passing though that this flurry of legislative activity, which is unnecessary from the legal point of view, has the enormous advantage for the Government of neutralising any political opposition; who will dare oppose the Government when it is doing its legislative best to protect the nation from attack, doing what is needed, giving the police the powers they need, for however long it takes, at this time of unparalleled crisis in the national story of this sceptred isle? (© Clichés ‘R’ Us)

    In this sense, by introducing new legislation, the Government is allowing its political agenda to be set by terrorists. And of course, the introduction in 1969 of something akin to martial law in a part of the UK was a clear response to terrorism, a terrorism that eventually achieved satisfaction with the Good Friday Agreement. Yes, the GFA was a Good Thing, and yes it might have been achieved earlier had it been left to the moderates on both sides (there is little in it that was not in the Sunningdale Agreement of 25 years earlier), but there is no doubt that it was the IRA that was driving Nationalist politics in NI in the 70s and 80s and that it was the IRA, wearing its Sinn Féin hat, that was the Government’s negotiating partner in the end.

  25. Brian says:


    When you write:

    “Brian says that terrorism must to be allowed to formulate government policy”,

    I take you to mean that I said that terrorism must not be allowed to formulate (dictate, influence) government policy. At least that’s certainly what I have been saying. A typo, obviously.

    I agree with almost everything in your long comment, except that I don’t think there’s a useful analogy between negotiating with the IRA (which had interlocuteurs valables and political aims that were in principle capable of being modified through negotiation and achieved through the eventual agreement of reasonable people) and negotiating with al-Qaida, which has none of those characteristics. (And incidentally the IRA hasn’t achieved anything like its principal aim in the Good Friday Agreement.) I also disagree with your dismissal of the new police powers which the government proposes to introduce as part of the response to the London bombings of 7/7 and again yesterday. For once, and to my utter astonishment, the measures so far proposed seem to me sensible, modest and fully in accordance with the principles underlying our civil liberties. Their detail will need careful and rigorous scrutiny, but so far there seems nothing to object to. Eight incidents in as many days in our capital city with more than 50 deaths as a result, and native-born British people apparently responsible, do seem to call for a new approach to detection and prevention, to the extent that either is 100 per cent feasible (i.e. not much).

    Apoologies, by the way, for interrupting your two-part comment by inserting my own reply to Aidan. There seems no way of knowing that two of us are busy posting comments at the same time!


  26. Peter Harvey says:



    Yes, a typo compounded by a conspiracy of auto-correction and spell-checking.


    That is actually the point I was trying to make.


    I am not so sure. What seems to have happened is that SF/IRA finally worked out that the ‘armed struggle’ was getting nowhere but that demography was on their side, as was the greater openness within the EU, so that by waiting they could achieve with no effort what they were unlikely to achieve earlier by violence. In this way, by adopting the political route, they were able to reach the GFA and then go on to expand their political presence in the Republic, which they are doing now. But none of this would have been possible without that unspoken change of strategy on their part. Sadly, in ETA the military are still controlling the politicians of Batasuna so no such change of policy is likely there.

    Finally, your apoology (sic) is unnecessary, really. I could not have put up the second part of my message any more quickly that I did (as the timings show) and it was simply a most extraordinary coincidence.


  27. Derek says:

    I have read today that 13% of the 1.6 million Muslims in Britain believe that suicide attacks against the West are justified, and that the central reason relates to British policies in the Middle East, and especially the invasion of Iraq. This report (according to Prof Richard Pape mentioned on 20 July by Retired Rambler) comes from a four part volume just released by the Home Office, though completed last year.

    I have little doubt that if we could ask the bombers who killed themselves why they did it, they would highlight in particular Iraq, Guantanomo Bay and Palestine. Yet Tony Blair is in denial over the the effect of Iraq – though as The Economist has pointed out this week: “It is absurd to deny even the possibility of a connection with Iraq. The invasion could well have been the trigger that turned four British Muslims into suicide-bombers.”

  28. Patrick says:

    I note you feel that the term psychotic is appropriate to describe these terrorists thus I must repeat, with all due respect as this is your blog, that you are not correct.

    As a GP who has sectioned both the acutely & the chronically psychotic under Section 2 of the Mental Health Act 1983, as well as using Section 4 on the odd occasion (although a Section 136, if possible, is much more satisfying in the latter situation as the police deal with everything) I have some understanding of psychosis. May I refer you to a publically accessible website that you may find instructive? I do wonder if Psychopathic Personality Disorder is more relevant but it seems these terrorists showed no relevant pre-atrocity history or associated factors.

    A simplistic approach to forensic psychiatry is to consider which category the patient falls into: sad, mad or bad. These terrorists are bad. I’m sure the Retired Rambler’s thoughts would be interesting especially as this is a situation where Medicine & the Law interact.

    Best wishes,

  29. Patrick says:


    I agree with what you write, my somewhat direct questioning was, to continue the analogy, inflammatory but I was also hoping to read what you believed to be the way forward for Iraq. I tend to take the opposite view that the coalition partners must now `fix it’ by staying; whatever the original intentions prior to the invasion the terrorist threat, both at home & in Iraq, is a fait accompli. Now is the time for realpolitik as well as idealism.

  30. Patrick,
    In thirty odd years as a criminal defence solicitor, I suppose I represented no more than half a dozen clients suffering from psychosis. I instructed a consultant to examine the client, and on occasion Crown’s shrink had another shot! I wish I had a pound for each time I’ve heard clients referred to as suffering from the condition.

    It’s not possible, without an examination, to determine whether the condition exists in any particular individual. I would therefore be reluctant throw this technical expression into a debate such as this.
    But if I were to be pushed into a corner I would find those clients who were certainly psychotic, were so disconnected from reality they would be unable to perform the operations required of a suicide bomber, and certainly unable to consider the motives that are implied.

  31. Patrick says:

    To widen the issue of fundamentalist, Islamic terrorism a little this report is somewhat disconcerting if true:

    Tehran, Iran, Jul. 22 — A military garrison has been opened in Iran to recruit and train volunteers for “martyrdom-seeking operations”, according to the garrison’s commander, Mohammad-Reza Jaafari.

    Jaafari, a senior officer in the elite Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), told a hard-line weekly close to Iran’s ultra-conservative President-elect Mahmoud Ahmadinejad that the new “Lovers of Martyrdom Garrison” (Gharargahe Asheghane Shahadat, in Persian) would recruit individuals willing to carry out suicide operations against Western targets.

  32. James says:

    Question to Patrick:
    I’m afraid I’m coming into this debate a bit late in the day, with a bit of an off-centre query about the question of Islamic terrorists being pshychotic. Acts of terrorism performed by religious fundamentalists appear to have their justification (to the performers) in a particular ethical vision common to many religious believers: that right and wrong are ultimately legislated by the sovereign will of God. This ‘religious voluntarism’ seems to be fundamentally untrue to reality, as Plato’s Socrates reveals in his so-called ‘Euthyphro dilema’. God can’t make any old thing wrong, like parting my hair on the left side: if God says things are wrong justly, that must be because they are wrong ‘in themselves’.
    Surely believing otherwise demonstrates quite an important problem in one’s relation to reality, and can lead one to feel absolutely morally justified in brutal murder of innocent people (of course it can lead in another direction, if you think that God’s will makes it right to be nice to people, for example). Does this way of looking at the world not fulfil the leading criterion on your linked website for psychosis? Anybody else feel free to chip in.

  33. James,
    You may be able to tick each of the boxes. But it’s still impossible,and perhaps unhelpful, to place the label “psychotic” on anyone without “feeling the holes in the side”. It’s even more difficult when religious mumbo jumbo is introduced.

  34. Peter Harvey says:


    You ask me what is the way forward in Iraq. The answer is that I don’t know. The US/British military occupation will never achieve support among the Arab countries or create any lasting stability in the region, given its obvious intention of establishing and maintaining US control over the oil reserves there and overall American control over the whole region. Obviously, some kind of stable democracy in Iraq would be desirable but I can’t see how to get there from here – at least not without a civil war leading to exhaustion, as in Lebanon. Ironically, despite Saddam Iraq was one of the best-developed Arab countries with a reasonable chance of reaching some kind of internal settlement when he finally went. The invasion stopped all possibility of that happening.


  35. Tim Weakley says:

    Two possible pointers to the mind-set of the bombers, and many others who do nasty things to innocent strangers.

    1. The experiments, which you may remember, of an American psychologist (I think his name was Milgrom) about a generation ago. Volunteers were asked to participate in a series of experiments ostensibly on the endurance of pain by administering progressively more intense electric shocks to subjects visible to them. The subjects were in fact actors feigning pain, and the volunteers were twisting dummy knobs. When the volunteers were reluctant to proceed, they were told by an authority-figure – white coat, clipboard, etc. – that the subjects would not be permanently harmed and that it was their duty to carry on administering the shocks and not spoil the experiment. The remarkable thing was how few of the volunteers had the strength of mind to say ‘To hell with you’ and walk out.

    2. An extract from an article in ‘The Observer’ of 24 July by a one-time member of a radical Egyptian Islamist group. “We created a new way of looking at life, asking questions like, what is the meaning of being religious? What is the meaning of Islam? It stated that this life is very short and real life is after death. So when I believed in this I didn’t question myself further. That taught us that Islam means you can’t argue about text because the text is what God said.”

    So there you have it: submission to the voice of authority, coupled with a deplorable lack of ability to reason critically and to question one’s beliefs. Together, they help depersonalize the victim and to label him or her a person, or a a member of a group of people (witches, say, or Jews, or the decadent and un-Islamic West), who is consequently perhaps subhuman and certainly one of the Enemy and to whom you no longer owe the duty and the respect normally due between human beings. You can then torture him him for the greater good, or burn her alive to save her soul, or slaughter her and all her family by a car bomb or in a gas chamber. Naturally it helps if you have, where appropriate, an innate sadistic streak or believe that the end – the greater glory of God, say – justifies the means, however foul; but I don’t think you need not be clinically insane as this layman understands the term.

  36. Brian says:

    Patrick & Tony,

    Is ‘psychotic’ the right word for the suicide bombers? Of course I bow to your medical and legal expertise respectively, having none to claim myself beyond having chaired a hospital Mental Health Act Committee for a couple of years, but I have looked at a few definitions, both technical and more general, to the extent possible while on the road in France and confined to slow dial-up connections (yes, still; and yes, I did come across one wifi hotspot but at such exorbitant cost that I decided to settle for more dial-up): and I’m bound to say that the descriptions and symptoms seem to fit pretty well, with the lost grip on reality, the delusions about martyrdom, random killing as a means of achieving political change, the depressions and suicidal impulses, and so forth. Of course I accept that it’s impossible to make a diagnosis of any individual on the basis of such minimal information, and I know that specialists hate their technical terms used loosely by laymen, but hey, none of us is actually a psychiatrist and I don’t see any better general term on offer apart from ‘mad’ and ‘bad’, which I heartily agree are both apposite, but which don’t take us much further.

    The important thing, it seems to me, is not to fall into the seductive trap of treating this behaviour as if it was somehow rational and therefore explicable, implying potentially defensible, as a form of political action. It’s not the case that if we only tried hard enough, we could work out what makes them do it, and then we could try to use rational persuasion to stop them. They’re crazy and they are criminals: it’s possible that they can’t be held responsible for their actions, not being of sound mind, and therefore belonging in Broadmoor rather than Belmarsh; but either way they ought not to be at large. (By the way, I doubt very much if there’s any medical-type treatment available for their mental condition, so I would argue that they can’t be sectioned under the current MHA.)

    As for whether we should keep our troops in Iraq any longer: yes, if it can be shown that their continued presence is doing the slightest good (or, if it is — which I don’t think it is — that the good it’s doing is not outweighed by the very obvious harm). Otherwise, no. Rule one when digging oneself into a hole is to stop digging. Other countries not contaminated by participation in invasion and cack-handed occupation might, if invited by genuinely representative Iraqis, be able to help the Iraqis out of the mess we have landed them in: but the US and UK are disqualified. I can see not a single argument for staying on a day longer than it takes to pull them out.

    Le Mans, France (but driving slowly)

  37. Brian,
    My point, and it’s nothing to do with legal knowledge at all, is why do you need to use the expression psychotic in the first place?

  38. Peter,
    You are not challenging B’s assertion that a State’s policy need not be altered by the threat of terrorism?
    Surely that cannot be right.
    The State has an obligation to consider every effect flowing from its policy-especially its foreign policy and certainly a policy involving a declaration of war. That must include the effect of any “blowback” from terrorism. It seems to follow, not that there is such consideration, but the weight that consideration is given. If that is so, then there must be circumstances- the threat is so immediate, and disproportionate to the benefit you seek- that it tips the balance firmly against the policy.
    Of course Iraq is different. As we now know, Blair had already jumped on the pillion of Bush’s Harley Davidson. Only an earth impact with a wandering comet and the concurrent death of Bruce Willis, would have prevented the invasion was going ahead.

  39. Brian says:


    I used the term ‘psychotic’ in the attempt, evidently unsuccessful, to make the point that suicide bombers of this kind are the victims of a form of mental illness which prevents them from acting rationally, involves a detachment from reality and delusional behaviour, is associated with intense irrational emotion and anxiety sometimes leading to suicidal urges, and in the worst case explodes into random violence — and that it is futile and damaging to think of them as rational political activists whose political aims are capable of being negotiated, satisfied or argued away. They are not in the same category as ‘freedom fighters’ or resistance guerrillas or even IRA terrorists, KLA or ETA separatists, etc., who may also be bad and dangerous and misguided (or not), but who in general, give or take a few crazies attracted by mayhem, aren’t inherently insane, mentally disturbed — in a catch-all word, psychotic. I still think the distinction is important.

    And on whether policy should take account of terrorist blackmail and allow itself to be influenced by it: it’s like paying the ransom to get hostages released. Refusing to pay up may well result in the deaths of the specific hostages. But it may also save the lives of many more people who would be taken hostage if governments began to give in to their captors’ demands. Moreover Blair clearly did believe, honourably and rationally, that the consequences of doing nothing about Saddam, WMD and international terrorism would be hugely more dangerous and destructive than the danger of isolated terrorist incidents in the UK, especially when there was ample reason to believe that some such incidents were likely to take place here sooner or later whatever we did about Iraq.


  40. Patrick says:

    Having deprecated the use of the term psychotic I have some further thoughts.

    I accept that, without formal & possibly repeated examinations by forensic psychiatrists, it is impossible to accurately diagnose the state of mind prior & during the time these terrorists committed their acts. A successful suicide bomber is not easily psychiatrically examined to determine insanity!

    I also have no specialist knowledge of psychiatry over & above what is required for a GP to adequately deal with psychiatric problems. I also have no legal knowledge apart from what is required to function as a doctor, & more specifically, as a GP. I recognise that we are speculating & playing ‘spot diagnosis’. My references are my standard general psychiatric texts such as The Oxford Textbook of Psychiatry.

    Use of the term psychotic implies a loss of contact with reality, with thought disorder, hallucinations & delusions. The various combinations of symptoms can lead to a patient with no loss of reason but experiencing hallucinations through to a patient who is confused, lacks all reason, has severe disturbances in thought processes & is acutely confused. Paranoid delusions are especially worrying as they can lead to violence or self-harming behaviour. A delusion can be simply defined as ‘an irrationally held belief that cannot be altered by rational argument’. Psychotic symptoms are most commonly seen with the schizoaffective disorders although such symptoms may also be due to physical disorders. I shall exclude affective disorders as psychotic symptoms are obviously secondary to the mood disorder.

    Delusions are a problematic area as a judgement has to be made as to what is irrational. Cultural and religious considerations are also important as this example may show. If I was called to see a indigenous British patient, with no prior involvement in minority religions, who was expressing ideas about being in danger from voodoo I might form an impression that this was a delusion, especially after exploring the underlying reasons. However I would be much less likely to make such a diagnosis, with all other variables equal, in a case of a recent immigrant from Haiti. I accept this argues the case for some form of psychiatric disturbance as the terrorists’ behaviour was so abnormal for our society, but abnormal behaviour doesn’t mean there is always an underlying psychiatric problem; evil behaviour does not automatically mean there is underlying psychiatric disorder. The terrorists on 7 July, 2005 showed a degree of common purpose and rational behaviour (travelling, buying tickets, meeting up with each other etc) that would be unusual if they were psychotic & delusional. Also they would all had to have been psychotic with the same motives which would have been remarkable — a foli a quatre instead of a foli a deux.

    The culture of Britain is such that terrorist atrocities are not accepted and mainstream Islamic thought is such (so the Imams & Moslem leaders of this country have stated) that Islam does not allow this. The terrorists’ upbringing and family circumstances show the terrorists were integrated with society to the extent of educational achievement & occupation. Their families have stated as much. There is no reported evidence of retarded mental development. It is most likely these terrorists were capable of telling right from wrong in our society.

    The Law recognises that certain people commit criminal acts but are not guilty by reason of insanity. The treatment of such people is different from those criminally responsible, depending upon the crime committed. For cases other then murder a patient may be given an absolute discharge through to detention in a hospital such as Broadmoor, Rampton and Moss Side. For murder the disposal is to Broadmoor etc. Insanity is defined legally, not medically or psychologically although expert witnesses are involved & give their opinions. The M’Naghten Rules state:

    …the jurors ought to be told in all cases that every man is presumed to be sane, and to possess a sufficient degree of reason to be responsible for his crimes, until the contrary be proved to their satisfaction.

    …and that to establish a defence on the ground of insanity, it must be clearly proved that, at the time of the committing of the act, the party accused was labouring under such a defect of reason, from disease of the mind, as not to know the nature and quality of the act he was doing, or, if he did know it, that he did not know what he was doing was wrong.

    Disease which produces an abnormality of the mind, is a disease of the mind and need not be a disease of the brain, either neurological or psychiatric. This covers any illness which results in criminal activity. Defect of reason means either the defendant did not know the nature and quality of his act or he did not know his act was wrong. Thus we can see the diagnosis of psychosis may be relevant as to guilt but that a defendant is presumed sane unless proved otherwise. I presume these terrorists were sane.

    Diminished responsibility is defined as:

    Where a person kills, or is party to the killing of another, he shall not be convicted of murder but shall be convicted of manslaughter, if he was suffering from such abnormality of mind (whether arising from a condition of arrested or retarded development of mind or any inherent causes or induced by disease or injury) as substantially impaired his mental responsibility for his acts and omissions in doing or being a party to the killing.

    and leads one to consider if this may be relevant, especially where indoctrination is involved. Tim Weakley makes a valid point about indoctrination and conditioning which may be relevant to the mechanisms by which these terrorists were converted to the path of violence.

  41. Aidan says:


    I agree with you that it isn’t a good idea to reward terrorism by paying ransoms, etc. but I wouldn’t extend this to a blanket policy of completely ignoring their objectives.

    In this case I really don’t believe that they can be defined as psychotic or substantially different from other terrorist groups. They are at the extreme range of a spectrum of anti-Western Islamic opinion, but there isn’t a total disconnect from others who are more moderate and more numerous. From the poll in today’s Guardian, 9 out of 10 UK Muslims believe that violence has no place in a political struggle, but that still leaves 10% who believe that it does. 5% said they believed further attacks would be justified (and these were the ones who admitted this to researchers), which gives them tens of thousands of supporters in the UK alone. What are we going to do – lock them all up as dangerous psychotics?

    The terrorists believe in a supreme being who has laid down a code of conduct that society should be coerced into accepting without further rational justification,(which seems pretty wacky to me), but there are plenty of others who believe that too, including George Bush. They want to see as much of the world under their model of society as possible, and they are prepared to kill non-combatants to achieve this – again historically this is sadly not that unusual.

    The problem is that their demands are so extreme, and incompatible with our own, that as you say, it is impossible to envisage a negotiated solution that they would be happy with. However, I don’t think it is impossible to address some of the issues which are giving rise to the political movements of which they are the most extreme manifestation. Doing this would reduce their support base, and make it harder for the extremists to recruit. I don’t see this as giving in to their demands.

    With regard to the issue of Iraq, as an individual, I don’t feel that I have enough information to know whether it would be better for Iraq if the troops were pulled out now or later. I used to believe that it was important for them to stay, but evidence of progress has been so slight that now I’m not sure. The power vacuum created by the removal of Saddam seems to have been largely filled by reactionary religious groups, and we seem to be a very long way from a situation in which the Iraqi government can defend itself and control the country. For example, reports from Basra (eg the police chief who was subsequently sacked) seem to indicate that the police force is substantially composed of those whose first loyalty is to religious militias (rather than the government).

    At some point the coalition will have to go, and at that point the stakeholders in Iraq will attempt to impose their will – almost certainly in part through force. The best the coalition can hope for is a strengthening of the secular and moderate position, but this doesn’t seem to be happening. By most accounts society has become more religious since occupation, rather than less. It may be that the coalition is presence is actually detracting from the popularity of the moderates, because they are being seen as foreign puppets.

    In addition, the coalition’s goal of grinding down the insurgency seems to me to be unachievable. As a study for McNamara on Vietnam pointed out, if the majority of the contacts are initiated by the enemy, then they are in control of their losses, and not you. All they have to do to bring them back to a level that they can sustain indefinitely, is to reduce the frequency of their attacks.

    I’m sorry to be so pessimistic, but if Iraq is not in a better position now than it was a year ago (and I haven’t seen much evidence that it is), then we have to question whether it is beneficial to pursue this course of action. One factor in that decision must surely be the effect that it is having on terrorism, both in Iraq and elsewhere.

  42. Malcolm McBain says:


    I am much relieved to find you are conceding that Prime Minister Blair may
    have had some respectable reasons for his apparently reckless decision to
    support the American assault on Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. I continue to wonder
    exactly why he took that decision and have never felt content fully to
    accept the reasons offered to the press, Parliament and the public (I think
    I have that in the right order). I continue likewise to think a modicum of
    restraint is called for when criticising an incredibly difficult decision
    before all the main relevant facts are in the public domain. I suppose we
    shall have to await the Blair memoirs in the years to come.

    In the meantime public attention is now focussed on the bomb outrages of 7
    July and subsequently by Muslim extremists. Britain has allowed into this
    country millions of people with no family or blood connection or even any
    ties of sentiment. Londonistan indeed. A big effort has been made by the
    liberal establishment to create ‘multi-ethnic Britain’ and this concept is
    dear to many of the ruling class. I recall the self satisfied smirk on the
    face of Robin Cook when he announced that ‘chicken tikka marsala’was now a
    British national dish. The intention behind this effort was good, just as I
    trust Britain’s intention in joining in the invasion of Iraq was good.
    However, let us take a look at Britain as it now is through devout Muslim
    eyes. Some good certainly but huge wealth all too easily acquired, greed,
    selfishness, corporate corruption through large pay-offs for under
    performing heads of companies, obesity, public drunkenness, sexual acts in
    public places, drugs, the glorification of pornography, scantily clad women
    flaunting their bodies everywhere, the dumbing down of education and hard
    work, the legalisation of sodomy, the ordination of homosexuals and even
    same sex marriages among the clergy of the Church of England. Many of these
    aspects of modern Britain must repel and astonish men who see the economic
    might of the West applied to the degradation and humiliation of honest,
    simple Muslim traditions.

    This is not to excuse indiscriminate killing by terrorists. Nevertheless,
    perhaps we ought to curb some of our own drunken and other liberal excesses
    in the interests of helping the immigrant masses to co-operate with the
    police and to integrate into the new Britain. Perhaps you, Brian, should
    devote some of your considerable powers of advocacy to this end on your
    slendid website.


    Brian comments: I have replied to the first paragraph of these comments in a new post dated 26 September 2005 in which I have tried to analyse both the creditable (or at any rate understandable and defensible) motives that seem to have driven Tony Blair into his decision to join in the attack on Iraq, and the much less creditable ones.

    I have much greater reservations about some of the things you say in the rest of your comment above. I’m sure you are right in pointing out that the features of western life and culture which you describe are among those that give great offence to many of our Muslim compatriots, and that some of them — but by no means all — can plausibly be regarded as evidence of a degenerate society, although it’s not a diagnosis that I would agree with. Clearly these are among the reasons for the feeling of alienation and even anger that some British Muslims experience, as do Muslims living in other secular western societies; and they inevitably impede the integration of Muslims — and others — into their host society that sensible people regard as desirable. I am glad that you acknowledge, though, that none of this excuses “indiscriminate killing by terrorists”: it can’t excuse selective and discriminating killing by terrorists or anyone else, either. Where we abruptly part company is when you imply that all the features of our society that you mention are retrograde developments constituting excesses to be curbed in the interests of promoting immigrants’ cooperation with the police and facilitating their integration into society. Most of them — for example, the legalisation of homosexuality, the ordination of gay people in the church, the grant to gay couples of legal rights which resemble the rights of married couples, including (I would assert) the availability of pornography and the right of women to dress themselves in whatever way they like, even if it excites elderly males, and the effort, not always successful, to enable children from less privileged families to benefit fully from education — represent an extension of freedom to groups of people who have hitherto been subjected to often vicious discrimination, injustice and disadvantage. Of course freedom inevitably includes the opportunity to exploit that freedom to excess, with drugs and drunkenness and other forms of self-destructive or anti-social behaviour. But we should respond to such excesses by patiently evolving administrative and other measures to discourage them and to raise their price to the individual, not by seeking to withdraw freedoms that have been courageously and painfully fought for. If we tried to back-track to a Taliban-like society in which women are forced to dress ‘modestly’, sexy pop songs are banned along with homosexuality and alcohol, and the virtues of discipline and hard work are extolled above the benefits of freedom and sexual equality, it would no doubt remove some of the obstacles to better integration of Muslims into that society, but at a cost in human misery and repression that I don’t believe for a second we should be willing even to contemplate. So I fear I must decline your flattering invitation to use this website to advocate the literally reactionary causes you seem to favour!

  43. Brian says:

    All these comments shed useful light, it seems to me, on the questions of the rationality (or lack of it) and mental states, whether or not qualifying as psychosis or other forms of mental illness, of the London suicide bombers or would-be suicide bombers. It’s useful too to be reminded by Tim of the notorious experiments in which quite ordinary people were persuaded or ordered to act in ways that appeared to involve inflicting real pain on others, although (subject to some Googling when I get back to broadband) I have an uneasy feeling that the experiment was in some way partly discredited subsequently. I accept that the use of a fairly (although not very) specific term like ‘psychotic’ is in some respects inappropriate when applied to a whole group of people and their behaviour although I still think it helps us to see the irrational and delusional character of that behaviour and the marked extent, at least in the case of the London bombings, of its divorce from reality. If I were to find myself in the position of a solicitor or barrister defending the (failed) bombers in court, I think I would make a serious effort to argue that their behaviour came within the McNaghten rules as helpfully quoted by Patrick, and accordingly ask for a verdict of guilty but insane.

    However, I think these comments also point up the real difficulty of categorising in psychiatric terms aberrant behaviour which flows at least in part from religious belief, itself almost by definition irrational. Who was it — Mark Twain? — who said that faith is believing what you know ain’t so? Those who are encouraged by their religious leaders not only to believe that for which there is no evidence and which is anyway plainly improbable, but also to regard it as a solemn duty to believe such things, with penalties for failing to believe them and rewards for believing and acting on them, can’t realistically be described as insane, but obviously can be described as irrational and out of touch to some degree with reality. Yet it’s plainly the case that there are millions of Christians (for example) who believe that the Bible is the revealed word of God and that every word of it is true, but who wouldn’t dream of inflicting on adulterers or gays the frightful punishments prescribed by the Old Testament; and similarly there are millions of Muslims who believe in the sacred character of the Koran and the texts accompanying it, but who wouldn’t dream of going out and killing a few random infidels on the nearest tube train. How can a minority — probably actually running into hundreds, if not thousands) — of young British Muslims, hitherto leading apparently normal lives, be capable of being ‘brain-washed’ (itself a questionable term) or otherwise persuaded or coerced into doing these terrible and essentially purposeless things? What makes that minority predisposed to being persuaded in this way when the vast majority of their co-religionists would, I assume, be resistant? We don’t seem to have come near to answering those questions. I continue to think that to be vulnerable to that sort of coercion or persuasion a person needs to be mentally disturbed, unstable, out of touch with reality, delusional, or in some other way deranged, even if the condition is hitherto latent. Calling it psychotic behaviour does seem to me not a bad form of shorthand for that proposition. But in the end we are probably arguing more about words than about the issue.

    So now we have a new riddle: the rights and wrongs of the killing by the police at Stockwell tube station of the innocent Brazilian. I might try to put some thoughts on this on Ephems in a new post, meanwhile appreciatively bowing out of this debate. (Yes, I know I have said that before….)

    Yvignac La Tour, Brittany (aka Little Britain (‘Petite Bretagne’) by several local people we have spoken to)

  44. Peter Harvey says:

    The Retired Rambler asks: You are not challenging B’s assertion that a State’s policy need not be altered by the threat of terrorism?

    The point is that from a Spanish point of view I see clearly what is muddy in Britain: the difference between Constitution and policy. What I say is that the Spanish State has made no concession to terrorism in its Constitution or in its laws (with the exception of including terrorism as a separate offence in the 1996 Criminal Code, as I mentioned). The idea is very deeply engrained here that the democratic State (Estado de derecho) must prevail because it is what it is – because its nature is that it is superior to terrorism and that must be shown to be the case. As the Barcelona newspaper El Periódico said this morning of a senior Spanish judge who has expressed support for a shoot-to-kill policy: “It is true that these reactionary ideas find social prestige at moments of panic in search of collective security. But it is also true that if they are put into practice to the detriment of liberty and democracy, the terrorists will have begun to achieve their objectives.” That has always been the attitude of the democratic Spanish State when faced with ETA terrorism, even when politicians were being deliberately and personally targeted for assassination. While security inside the Parliament building has probably been increased, there are no concrete blocks preventing access to it and no restrictions on people approaching it for any legal democratic purpose. I am sure that Zapatero, like Blair, travels in an armoured car; but his predecessor Aznar was blown up by ETA when he was in opposition and his life was saved by such a car. On the other hand, a picture such as I have seen today of armed police holding what appear to be small artillery pieces standing outside Number 10 would be regarded as unacceptable here; it is a show of naked force with no practical value. The democratic State is one thing; the person of the Prime Minister, while of very great importance, is a different matter and the two should not be confused.

    While the Spanish Constitution can withstand such an onslaught unscathed (over 1,000 people killed by terrorists, 800 of them by ETA) and bring ETA low by purely democratic constitutional legal and police action, Britain, with no proper Constitution, falls into the morass of confusing constitutional propriety with political policy. With no containing Constitution, policy can be written in all sorts of dubious directions, as has been done on many occasions in the past. There is no doubt that policy must be adapted to circumstances; the policy of protecting citizens who are at risk of ETA terrorism means that several thousands of politicians, academics and journalists are provided with 24-hour bodyguards at public expense, and that it is considered acceptable for a number of Basque public officials to live in anonymity outside the Basque Country and at a very great distance from where they are employed; it is also true that Spanish intelligence is being refocused on Islamic organisations and that mosques are being placed under closer scrutiny, and it now seems that European mobile phone companies will have to keep records of logs of calls for five years. But none of this is the kind of knee-jerk reaction that is seen in Britain, where constitutional change is confused with policy, and internment, which was a disaster in Northern Ireland, is following house arrest as New Labour’s latest wheeze for beating terrorism.

    So to sum up, *policy* can and should adapt to changing circumstances, but the *constitutional* basis of democratic life is not open for negotiation; it is what separates us from terrorists be they IRA, ETA, or al-Qaeda. When I say that no concession must be made, I mean that this situation must not be turned into an opportunity for the police to practise summary executions on dark-skinned people who are inappropriately dressed, or for internment without trial to be reintroduced into the UK under the name of extended preventive detention. Blair says that he will not cede an inch, but in fact that is precisely what he is doing – and in quite the wrong direction because he sees the democratic Constitution as a mere matter of policy to be changed at will.

  45. Brian,

    it’s like paying the ransom to get hostages released. Refusing to pay up may well result in the deaths of the specific hostages.

    Rather like “we never negotiate with terrorists”. Anyone who still believes that claptrap ought to get between the covers of Eamonn Mallie and David McKitterick’s “ The Fight for Peace: Secret Story Behind the Irish Peace Process”.

  46. Peter Harvey says:


    The IRA is a special case in that regard. The aim of Irish Nationalism was once so close to the official policy of HMG as to be within clear negotiating distance. Unfortunately, the Tories used treason as their weapon to oppose it and then WWI intervened. After the war things were no better and the Liberal Government gave way when faced with the threat the threat of civil war supported by His Majesty’s Disloyal Opposition.


  47. Brian says:

    Not paying ransom money to get hostages released is absolutely not like “never negotiating with terrorists”, an entirely different moral calculus. There’s often an unanswerable case for negotiating with terrorists, where their basic aims (as with the IRA) are negotiable or capable of discussion and compromise. Paying ransom to hostage-takers guarantees that more hostages will be taken in future and ever more extortionate ransom demands made for them, saving a few lives now at the expense of many more in future. Negotiating with terrorists like al-Qa’ida and its affiliates guarantees yet more terrorist attacks: their real aims can never be satisfied except by the withdrawal of all signs of western presence and cultural influence from the whole of the middle east, north Africa and large parts of Asia, something that we couldn’t deliver even if we wanted to. This is a rare case of a terrorist campaign that can’t be dealt with politically, nor indeed even defeated, but which has to be treated in the way one tries to deal with a crime wave. No point in trying to negotiate with Jack the Ripper or the Kray twins.

    And incidentally, Peter, you couldn’t be more wrong about the police decision to kill the Brazilian. (More on that separately after I get home, if there’s time.) And I have to say that I thought your Spanish-style explanation of why legitimate politics is superior to terrorism was a classic case of the Romance-language mind making a huge intellectual meal out of something that is sublimely simple and self-evident in English. I experienced this curious phenomenon listening to speeches at the UN in translation for more than four years, so it’s very familiar. To say that such concepts are clear in Spanish contexts but ‘muddy’ in the British is pure Alice through the Looking-Glass.

    [Signing off from France tomorrow]

  48. Peter Harvey says:



    That is a gross oversimplification — not to say complete misrepresentation — of what I said.


    Brian adds:


    If I have misrepresented you, of course I apologise. But re-reading your last contribution, I am bound to say that what I wrote still looks to me like fair comment. In the first place, I regret your diversion of a hitherto useful discussion of the nature of Islamist terrorism and its causes into a familiar contrast between the admirable way things are done in Spain and the contemptible mess we are supposed to make of similar problems in Britain: and in the second place, your account of the measures being taken and discussed in Britain since 7/7 simply don’t bear any resemblance to the reality (perhaps understandably: you’re a long way away from it). Above all, your highly abstract distinctions between the constitution (which you wrongly assert we don’t have any of in Britain — “Britain, with no proper Constitution”) and the democratic state on the one hand, and terrorism on the other, do strike me, on yet more re-reading, as an unnecessarily complicated and indeed misleading way of formulating a pretty simple proposition, in such a way as to appear to vindicate Spanish practice while condemning British. Perhaps you would agree to inaugurate a fresh post on that different subject on some suitable website so that we can get back on topic here?

    While accepting that selective quotation can be misleading, I might just quote some of what you wrote in your earlier comment so that others may make their own judgement on whether I oversimplified or misrepresented what you had said:

    “ The idea is very deeply engrained here that the democratic State (Estado de derecho) must prevail because it is what it is – because its nature is that it is superior to terrorism and that must be shown to be the case. … The democratic State is one thing; the person of the Prime Minister, while of very great importance, is a different matter and the two should not be confused… While the Spanish Constitution can withstand such an onslaught unscathed (over 1,000 people killed by terrorists, 800 of them by ETA) and bring ETA low by purely democratic constitutional legal and police action, Britain, with no proper Constitution, falls into the morass of confusing constitutional propriety with political policy…. [It is true that Spain has adopted various security measures,] [b]ut none of this is the kind of knee-jerk reaction that is seen in Britain, where constitutional change is confused with policy, and internment, which was a disaster in Northern Ireland, is following house arrest as New Labour’s latest wheeze for beating terrorism. … When I say that no concession must be made, I mean that this situation must not be turned into an opportunity for the police to practise summary executions on dark-skinned people who are inappropriately dressed, or for internment without trial to be reintroduced into the UK under the name of extended preventive detention. Blair says that he will not cede an inch, but in fact that is precisely what he is doing – and in quite the wrong direction because he sees the democratic Constitution as a mere matter of policy to be changed at will.”

    Not for the first time, Peter, I fear we must agree to differ!

    And now I must get on with my unpacking.


  49. Peter,

    The IRA is a special case in that regard.

    Hardly, did you see Geoffrey Wheatcroft’s piece in Sunday’s Observer?

  50. Brian says:

    Retired Rambler (or may I call you ‘Retired’?),

    Wheatcroft’s Observer article to which you refer seems to me a gross misrepresentation of the IRA’s basic aim, namely a united Ireland. No doubt this is sometimes dressed up in a lot of foggy Gaelic mysticism, but I don’t accept Wheatcroft’s argument that it is just as far-fetched, unattainable and therefore non-negotiable as the aims of al-Qaida and its sympathisers. Accordingly I don’t agree with Wheatcroft that Blair is wrong and somehow discriminatory (he even suggests racist!) in distinguishing between the IRA’s rational and negotiable aims on the one hand (even though there’s no justification for pursuing them by violent and illegal means), and those of the Islamicist extremists on the other. I will start a new post here shortly in another attempt to analyse what those Islamicist aims really are and why they offer no scope for compromise, concession, negotiation or even discussion, based on a comment I have submitted to Owen Barder’s blog this morning.


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