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A Breed Apart

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It had been in the air for while. Indeed, Britain’s top policemen had warned that it was a question of when, rather than if. But when Islamic extremists triggered four devastating explosions amidst rush hour commuters in London last Thursday, the despicable act of terrorism still came as a vicious shock. To their credit, as has been repeatedly pointed out by Londoners and other observers, the British authorities and services reacted with their customary calm professionalism. Rapid responses by security forces and medical authorities saved countless lives, although over fifty people were killed. Extraordinarily quick investigations have identified the bombers and a hunt is underway for the network responsible.

Last Thursday’s attacks are the epitome of terrorism. The religious zealots who set out to indiscriminately murder and maim had no political goals, just an amorphous hatred. Whilst various rationales – Britain’s role in Iraq, Western support for Israel, etc – have been speculated on as motivations, the blasts which ripped through three London trains and a bus caught people of many faiths and political persuasions. Despite the safeguards of Britain’s sophisticated political climate, the authorities are being careful to differentiate the Islamic extremists and their sympathisers from the country’s wider Muslim community. There can be no doubt that all kinds of fringe elements opposed to Britain’s multiculturalism will seek to exploit the bombings for their divisive ends.

Moreover, as in the wake of 9/11, repressive states around the world are seeking to bracket their domestic armed opponents, irrespective of political project or grievances, with the fanatics who, clutching a distorted religious vision, have been repeatedly targeting Britain and other Western countries. Ironically, both Israel and the Islamic extremists have sought to conflate the Palestinian struggle with the hate-fuelled campaign of which last Thursday’s bombings are a part. As with its domestic sensitivity, Britain must thus also maintain a distinction between the criminal violence inflicted on its residents and those of other countries by a loose network of religious fanatics and the legitimate political struggles being waged around the world by oppressed peoples. Many, including those responsible for last week’s carnage, would rather Britain, one of the world’s key states, did not take a nuanced approach to such matters.