LONDON—It’s best when the bomb doesn’t go off. That way you get all the excitement of war without any of the boring stuff, like bodies, orphans, widows, and universal misery. The three botched attacks of a fortnight ago—two in London’s West End, one at the Glasgow airport—were noisily seized upon by the Churchillians in our midst to drive home the old story: never in the field of human conflict, except perhaps briefly in 1940, has this nation faced a more deadly enemy. This time, however, to make matters even better, there was evidence of an international Islamist conspiracy in the soft underbelly of socialist Britain. Seven of the eight suspects were immigrant doctors employed by the NHS, and one was a health worker. If Saddam Hussein was the new Hitler, then these guys were the new Josef Mengeles.
Not everything the Churchillians say is wrong, of course. We do face a ruthless (if incompetent) enemy, and there was and is a conspiracy. The security alert at the beginning of July illustrated, among other things, the desperate recruiting problems of our health service and the lax procedures of our immigration people. But much has changed since the Tube bombings of July 7, 2005, in which 52 people were killed, and the Churchillians are having to adjust to the new realities. The old line that terrorist attacks have nothing to do with Iraq—once Tony Blair’s favorite riff—doesn’t cut it any more, not least because the Intelligence and Security Committee report on 7/7 found that “Iraq continues to act as a motivation and focus for terrorist activity in the UK.” So there is a new line: the latest attacks show once and for all that the departure of Tony Blair was never going to rid Britain of the terrorist threat. That’s true, of course, but it tells us nothing about the national debate. No one ever thought, far less said, that the departure of the poodle would bring peace in our time.
But the most imposing new reality facing the Churchillians, and the rest of us, is the new prime minister. The attempted car bombings came on Day Two of Gordon Brown’s premiership, and he played the situation brilliantly—by the simple expedient of not being Tony Blair. He avoided the camp, steely-eyed rhetoric Blair employed on these occasions and called for calm resolution. His approach was so laid back that he slept through the first bomb alert because the night watchman at No. 10 decided not to wake him. Why bother? It was 2 a.m. and the police seemed to have everything under control.
More to the point, though, Brown pointedly abandoned all talk of the war on terror. As far as Her Majesty’s Government is concerned, terrorists are now criminals, not warriors. The new prime minister will not abandon the United States, of course, but neither will he cling to it with the almost sexual passion of Blair. There will be no more standing shoulder to shoulder with George W. Bush, no more dancing cheek to cheek.
Dropping “war on terror” was a good (and popular) move, but what followed wasn’t: a couple of days into the security alert, Brown decreed that henceforth the Union Jack would fly from public buildings at all times. The thinking was apparently that flying the flag would bind the nation in patriotic fervor and help us to confound our enemies. But Brown, an unsubtle Scot, does not really understand the nuances of British nationality. We are not now a nation of flag fliers. These days the old symbols of nationhood count for very little. Our famously unarmed police now routinely carry arms. In Westminster, they patrol in pairs, in body armor, with Heckler and Koch MP5 carbines and Glock 17 pistols. There are surveillance cameras everywhere, too, and we now have a sliding scale of terror alerts, published daily on a dedicated website. (You begin to wonder how we got through the Blitz.) Immediately after the botched attacks, the level was raised to “critical,” meaning that we should expect a deadly attack at any moment; within four days it had dropped to “severe,” meaning that an attack was highly likely. But the only hyperventilating was in the newspapers, and on the evening of July 5, a “severe” day, Brown walked the quarter mile from Downing Street to Birdcage Walk to attend the Spectator summer party.
In Glasgow, too, the mood had been pretty matter-of-fact. Police Constable Stewart Ferguson was on duty at the airport when the Jeep Cherokee careened into the passenger terminal, and the driver burst into flames. He later described his reactions: “It struck me when the second male came towards me on fire that this was something different, something out of the ordinary…”
All the same, some poor copper—some future PC Ferguson—will sooner or later have his head blown off by one of these madmen, and we’ll have no warning of the attack. A little more realism in the face of the threat might help, however. Jacqui Smith, the agreeable new home secretary, has said that it is “unacceptable to hold any one community responsible” for the latest attacks, and you can see why: we live in a multicultural society, and it would be insane to offend entire communities. Yet the fact is that those who would murder and maim us seek to do so in the name of Allah. You don’t have to be a member of the racist community or a believer in Eurabia to see that we have a problem with Muslim immigration. There are as many as two million Muslims in Britain, about half of them in London. The majority are law-abiding and peaceful (and some are excellent doctors). But they have been alienated by the war in Iraq and often carry a lot of conspiracy baggage. According to one poll, a quarter of British Muslims believe that the 7/7 bombings were carried out by MI5. Other polls come up with equally alarming findings: 30 percent of all Muslims here do not consider themselves British, apparently, and 37 percent of young Muslims would rather live under Sharia than British law.
According to Admiral Sir Alan West, Britain’s new security minister, it could be 15 years before we overcome terrorism at home. But we shall overcome it. That’s the point. There is no chance that Britain in particular or the West in general will succumb to Islam. Al-Qaeda presents no long-term threat. But there are other threats. The West End attacks occurred on the day that “Hostel II,” the hip “torture porn” movie, opened in London. Is it not just possible that in the longer term, the “ironic” filth and cruelty of “Hostel II” will prove more harmful to the fabric of society—though not of course to life and limb—than anything that is even now being cooked up in a bedsit in Leeds?
Stuart Reid is deputy editor of the London Spectator.