Karen Hathaway Pittman
London, UK - Whatever last night's talking points on US cable news, this morning officials here in London are describing yesterday's barbaric beheading of a British solider on the workaday streets of Woolwich as an act of "terror." Almost as soon as the news broke, they were dubbing it thus. Speaking from Paris, Prime Minister David Cameron wasted no time in denouncing the gratuitous strike as a "terrorist incident," and London mayor Boris Johnson, in admitting somberly, "This is terror of a type we've seen before," was captured nodding over his shoulder at the ghosts of Daniel Pearl and Nick Berg.
And why not? The as-yet-unidentified off-duty 20-year-old soldier who was walking along minding his own business in the vicinity of the Second Battalion of the Princess of Wales's Royal Regiment's barracks in Southeast London--the city's largest such installation, situated just yards away from a grammar school--was apparently targeted for summary execution by the machete-wielding duo of militants for the capital crime of sporting a "Help for Heroes" t-shirt. Shouting "Allahu akbar," they mowed him down with their car before hacking him to bits with their steely implements. Clearly, these "brothers" were cruising the area, due east of Greenwich, looking for fresh meat--of the Grade-A military kind.
But that wasn't all. They were looking for publicity. For their "cause." Caught red-handed, casually waving his butcher knife and meat cleaver around like a salad spoon and fork, his blood-stained hands looking as if they'd just been brought up from a bowl of homespun, made-from-scratch raspberry dressing, one of the culprits, a regular Gordon Ramsey, sought out a bystander's videocam to advertise his recipe for avenging Arab ills, railing, "We swear by almighty Allah we will never stop fighting you. The only reason we have done this is because Muslims are dying every day. The British soldier is an eye for an eye; a tooth for a tooth." The other was overheard vowing, "You will never be safe."
An olive for an olive? A youth for a youth? Shades of Bel-Jahar's handwriting on the boat wall? Indeed, comparisons to the Tsarnaev brothers' "homegrown" attack on the Boston Marathon abounded on last night's local news coverage. National Security Advisor Dr. Sally Leivesley opined: "These low profile attacks which perhaps just two people have conspired to do are not generally picked up; and what is happening now is, what is being seen is, there is no communications. If we look at the attack on the Boston Marathon, those were two brothers--[with] no Internet communication, no way in which their signals could be picked up."
July 7 marks eight years since the last successful terrorist attack in the UK. The London Bombings of 2005 killed 52 and wounded hundreds. Since then, other attacks have been attempted, most have been foiled, and none have resulted in death or injuries. Until yesterday.
Former Home Secretary Lord Reid supports Dr. Leivesley's analysis. "If this is freelance, clean-skinned, sometimes called lone wolves, there are fewer contacts, there's a shorter planning period, there's no way of tracing back through various communications, and therefore [these attacks are] much more difficult to counter."
Speaking on Sky News last night, Muslim Public Affairs Committee spokesman, Asghar Bukhari went further, pronouncing yesterday's unprovoked assault "even more dangerous" than last month's attack in Boston, reminding his viewers, "There was no technology ... involved in this; there was nothing ... for the security services to get a tip-off, or something that they could say, well, okay, this person is using this type of technology, or purchasing certain products that might be used for explosives." Ominously, he warned that the West is now navigating in a choppy and uncharted part of terror's ever-roiling seascape. "You're moving into a different type of terrorist attack which is far more dangerous than what we've seen."
But Bukhari did not stop there. In speculating on the motives of the attackers, now known to be native Londoners of Nigerian descent who converted to Islam about a decade ago, one of whom has been identified as 28-year-old Michael Abeboloja, he enlarged upon the usual Muslim theme of retaliation. "They are trying to send a signal, in this barbaric way ... an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth: you've killed Muslims abroad, and we're going to bring it home right here. And that's their constant message ... Sadly, it's absolutely true, this isn't the end of it. This is just going to continue, bubble on and continue, until two powerful forces start to change."
And what are those forces? That answer, too, is banal, and therefore useless. It's high time, he reckons, that the UK government own up to the "fact" that these savage acts are "directly linked to [its] foreign policy" in the Arab world, and for their part, Muslim leaders in our communities here on the ground must "realize that they have to look at their young people and say, why have we not taught them that there [is] another way to change that policy, a political and legal way of changing that policy." He deplores both approaches as abysmal "failures."
In the UK, as in the US, counterterrorism experts have long warned that global jihadists are the most wily and timeserving of actors, no less resourceful than the stock characters of the Commedia dell'Arte, switching masks to suit the moment. Indeed, Al Qaeda, like "Madge" (the native moniker for Madonna), is a Machiavellian mistress of makeover, manipulation, and metamorphosis. A protean virus, she continually shape-shifts to accommodate her host's ever-evolving defenses, the better to ripen the organism for full-scale invasion. Just last month a Birmingham plot to bring down the English Defence League was foiled. The would-be perpetrators, much like the surviving Tsarnaev suspect, did not travel abroad for training, instead doing much of their learning and research online, drawing inspiration from jihadist websites. A cache of knives, swords, shotguns, and a homemade explosive device was found secreted inside their not-so-friendly neighborhood bunker. How authorities managed to detect and thwart that threat is a subject fit for another day's exploration, but therein lies the rub: how do they crack open these cabals when those involved go out of their way to avoid detection, spinning their nebulous intrigues in caves hidden so deep underground that all echoes fade before they reach the surface?
The emerging threat posed by self-styled radicals hatching these low-tech, unsophisticated plots appears to be the next wave, as it were. Attacks like yesterday's yield no apparent intelligence, thereby giving the impression of being both spontaneous and random, whether they actually are or not. So the current contestant-minded craze for differentiating between "types" of terror contenders by pitting them one against the other like litigants in a Supreme Court lawsuit, Homegrown v. Sponsored, is not only unhelpful: in this new milieu, it's downright diabolical and dangerous. By according Al Qaeda and its hybrid offshoots the practical equivalent of state status, officials risk missing threats percolating below the radar, thus compromising the safe trafficking of public airspace. In insinuating that heavily-funded and officially-sponsored events like 9/11 and 7/7 are somehow more valid indices of underlying war-like intent, politicians do us a grave disservice, word-fiddling while Rome burns, even as the barbarians have crashed the gate. One senses at the core of all these casuistic and semantic wrangles a desperate defensiveness, coupled with a desire to deflect and defuse--all for political gain.
Perhaps that's the price US voters should expect to pay for vaunting crafty attorneys to high office. Deny, deny, deny: and when that tried-and-true resort, the last ditch of adulterers and confidence artists alike, fails--lie, lie, lie. And above all, obfuscate. Dissemble and confuse. Feint and feign.
Thus do defenders become aiders and abettors, wielding their immense weapon of language in the same way that those whacked-out thugs wielded their blood-soaked blades on the streets of Woolwich yesterday--only with far more insidious grace.
Karen Hathaway Pittman is a freelance writer, novelist and NMJ contributor whose political commentary is widely published on the web. She lives in London, England. She prefers to be followed on Facebook.
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