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A reflection on the 7 July 2005 London bombings

Summary

10 July 2015

It is sobering to think that 10 years have gone by since the worst terrorist attack ever on the UK mainland. Five years ago, for the fifth anniversary, I helped Murtaza Shibli with his book "7/7 Muslim Perspectives" including contributing a chapter with my own thoughts.

With the 10th anniversary coming up, I wrote a retrospective piece and requested Paul Goodman, the editor of the Conservative Home website to publish it on the exact anniversary, which he did. In fact it was the only 7/7 retrospective the site published.

When I submitted the piece to Paul Goodman, it had the title "A decade’s retrospective on 7/7" since I could not think of anything more impactful. With a journalists eye, he gave it a title which captured well the frustration underlying my text. In my piece for "7/7 Muslim Perspectives" I had tackled head on the assertion by many Muslims that the religious beliefs of the terrorists were irrelevant. I also addressed it in one of the earliest blogs that I wrote, "Terrorist + Muslim = 'Muslim terrorist'?" back in April 2008. I am frustrated that many years later I still find myself needing to make the same point.

The piece can be read on Conservative Home and is also reproduced below.

Mohammed Amin: Extremism helps to breeds terror – a lesson of 7/7. Many Muslims get this. Too many don’t.

Mohammed Amin is Chairman of the Conservative Muslim Forum. He is writing in a personal capacity

I can still remember the joy I felt on 6th July 2005 after the UK had been awarded the 2012 Olympic Games. The following day, as a story about an electrical fault on the London Underground gradually changed into the worst UK terrorist attack of our lifetimes, brought nothing but horror and frantic calls to check that my children and relatives were OK, which they were. Six days later it emerged that the terrorists were not foreigners, but people born and raised in our country.

The terrorists

The lead bomber, Mohammad Sidique Khan, was born in the UK and had lived here for 30 years. It is worthwhile re-reading the transcript of his suicide video. An extract:

“I and thousands like me are forsaking everything for what we believe. Our driving motivation doesn’t come from tangible commodities that this world has to offer. Our religion is Islam, obedience to the one true God, Allah and follow in the footsteps of the final prophet and messenger Muhammad.

This is how our ethical stances are dictated. Your democratically elected governments perpetuate atrocities against my people and your support of them makes you responsible, just as I am directly responsible for protecting and avenging my Muslim brothers and sisters.”

For me there are two key messages from the above extract:

  1. Khan had no sense of allegiance or belonging to the UK (“Your… governments”) but instead his only loyalty was to his conception of “my Muslim brothers and sisters.”
  2. He believed he was doing a good deed, not an evil deed. I have no doubt that he expected to go to heaven after the explosion had killed him.

The aftermath

The bombers may have hoped that non-Muslim Britons would turn on their Muslim fellow citizens, with the reaction leading to more Muslims wanting to become terrorists. The opposite happened. Apart from a few extremists the country was united in its revulsion and determined to remain a cohesive society.

Despite this, although proper statistics are not readily available, there was a short-term up-tick in anti-Muslim attacks. While regrettable, this was no surprise.

Over the following years, the security services foiled a number of plots that could have caused mayhem, the most serious being the airline liquid bombs plot which could have killed thousands. Apart from the carnage, I shudder to think about the implications for our society’s cohesion if such plots had succeeded.

Perhaps the most discouraging aspect of the aftermath has been the consistency with which many Muslims and many Muslim organisations continue to treat British foreign policy as the sole explanation of attempted terrorism, contending that the religious beliefs of the would-be terrorists are irrelevant. (See “Terrorism and denialism” here.)

They are simply wrong, as demonstrated by Khan’s suicide video above. If he had believed that blowing up people on the London Underground was against God’s will, he would not have done it; no matter what he thought of British foreign policy.

What do we do next?

Obviously we must maintain security vigilance, to identify possible plotters and to respond rapidly if an attack is launched. Despite being a supporter of the NGO “Liberty”, I lean towards more electronic surveillance, not less.

However, a security response is not enough. To adopt the striking phrase from American politics used several times by David Cameron, we must “drain the swamp.” We have to stop people wanting to become terrorists. In the case of Muslims, it is essential that they believe that what Khan did was an evil act very likely (only God can be the final judge) to consign him to hell, and not a virtuous deed.

Many Muslims “get it, and I would particularly like to mention Shaykh Dr Muhammad Tahir-ul-Qadri who in 2010 issued his 600 page “Fatwa on Terrorism and Suicide Bombings” and who more recently launched his counter-extremism curriculum. Sadly too many Muslims still don’t get it, and simply fail to accept that non-violent extremism is a problem, and that the more non-violent extremism there is around, the more violent extremists we will generate.

We must unite around our values

We now have a clear list of values that underlie our society. To quote from Theresa May’s speech on 23 March 2015 “regard for the rule of law, participation in and acceptance of democracy, equality, free speech and respect for minorities”. Everybody in our society should be able to unite around these values.

Paradoxically, as I explained at this link, calling them “British values” is counter-productive as it alienates some of the British Muslims we are seeking to influence. It would be much better to use more inclusive language, such as “the shared human values that underlie our society.”

Our country will defeat terrorism motivated by an incorrect understanding of Islam (and by unhappiness about our foreign policy arising from poor analysis) just as we have overcome terrorism motivated by other intellectual and political causes. We can only do so by preserving national unity, and I want more Muslims to “step up to the plate” and play their part.

Postscript - Ken Livingstone's speech

On the same day, 7 July 2015, the Evening Standard which is the free afternoon and evening newspaper in London carried an article by Ken Livingstone who was the Mayor of London when the bombings took place. The entire article is worth reading, but I was particularly moved by reading excerpts from the speech which I heard Ken Livingstone give on television on that terrible day in 2005.

The other thing which really hit me in Ken's Evening Standard article were the words: "But the most wonderful thing was that we were not aware of any single incident of violence or abuse being directed against the city’s Muslims. Londoners’ response was watched around the world and in the weeks that followed, tourism numbers went up and people still continued to come to London to make it their home."

Full text of Ken Livingstone's speech

The Evening Standard article by Ken Livingstone did not have space for the full text of his speech. However it was printed in full by The Independent on 7 July 2015 and is reproduced below.

"This was a cowardly attack, which has resulted in injury and loss of life. Our thoughts are with everyone who has been injured, or lost loved ones. I want to thank the emergency services for the way they have responded.

Following the al-Qaeda attacks on September 11th in America we conducted a series of exercises in London in order to be prepared for just such an attack. One of the exercises undertaken by the government, my office and the emergency and security services was based on the possibility of multiple explosions on the transport system during the Friday rush hour. The plan that came out of that exercise is being executed today, with remarkable efficiency and courage, and I praise those staff who are involved.

I'd like to thank Londoners for the calm way in which they have responded to this cowardly attack and echo the advice of the Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir Ian Blair - do everything possible to assist the police and take the advice of the police about getting home today.

I have no doubt whatsoever that this is a terrorist attack. We did hope in the first few minutes after hearing about the events on the Underground that it might simply be a maintenance tragedy. That was not the case. I have been able to stay in touch through the very excellent communications that were established for the eventuality that I might be out of the city at the time of a terrorist attack and they have worked with remarkable effectiveness. I will be in continual contact until I am back in London.

I want to say one thing specifically to the world today. This was not a terrorist attack against the mighty and the powerful. It was not aimed at Presidents or Prime Ministers. It was aimed at ordinary, working-class Londoners, black and white, Muslim and Christian, Hindu and Jew, young and old. It was an indiscriminate attempt to slaughter, irrespective of any considerations for age, for class, for religion, or whatever.

That isn't an ideology, it isn't even a perverted faith - it is just an indiscriminate attempt at mass murder and we know what the objective is. They seek to divide Londoners. They seek to turn Londoners against each other. I said yesterday to the International Olympic Committee, that the city of London is the greatest in the world, because everybody lives side by side in harmony. Londoners will not be divided by this cowardly attack. They will stand together in solidarity alongside those who have been injured and those who have been bereaved and that is why I'm proud to be the mayor of that city.

Finally, I wish to speak directly to those who came to London today to take life.

I know that you personally do not fear giving up your own life in order to take others - that is why you are so dangerous. But I know you fear that you may fail in your long-term objective to destroy our free society and I can show you why you will fail.

In the days that follow look at our airports, look at our sea ports and look at our railway stations and, even after your cowardly attack, you will see that people from the rest of Britain, people from around the world will arrive in London to become Londoners and to fulfil their dreams and achieve their potential.

They choose to come to London, as so many have come before because they come to be free, they come to live the life they choose, they come to be able to be themselves. They flee you because you tell them how they should live. They don't want that and nothing you do, however many of us you kill, will stop that flight to our city where freedom is strong and where people can live in harmony with one another. Whatever you do, however many you kill, you will fail."

 

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