Scilla Elworthy

A Better Way to Tackle Terror

The five days between July 6 and July 10 were for Londoners a mini-epic of emotional intensity. Between exultant celebrations of the successful 2012 Olympic Games bid and proud commemoration of the sixtieth anniversary of the end of the second world war, the city's transport networks suffered a coordinated assault of four bombings that killed 56 people and injured 700.

The pattern of events produced a familiar narrative in response: that Londoners -- and British people generally -- are good at pulling together in a crisis. This narrative, drawing on a broader sense of historical continuity and solidarity, encourages the British to feel that they can find themselves not merely in standing together, but in being prepared to fight together.

But 2005 is not 1945, and the bombings of "7/7" present a different kind of threat. The long, bloody conflict in Northern Ireland shows that if terrorism is approached as war, it cannot be defeated. If superior force could subdue terror, the mightiest military machine in history would by now surely have prevailed in Afghanistan and Iraq.

What is needed instead is intelligence: intelligence of the obvious kind (tracking people down, stopping flows of money, cutting supplies of weapons and explosives) and of a less obvious kind (intelligence that understands the mind of the extremist). A reaction that asserts "these people only understand force" or "these people are psychopaths" does not help. It is potentially more useful -- though much more difficult -- to understand why people are furious enough to commit extreme acts of political violence, often involving their own deaths.

The Power of Humiliation

Terrorism is a calculated act of political violence intended to create maximum public disruption and response. The ultimate aim is psychological intimidation -- to create an environment in which people no longer feel safe. The intelligent response is also, in turn, psychological.

What might it feel like to be Osama bin Laden, or any militant Islamic fundamentalist? Perhaps this:

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