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Last Updated: Monday, 11 July, 2005, 09:49 GMT 10:49 UK
A Point of View

By Brian Walden

Tributes after the London bombings

In his weekly opinion column, Brian Walden reflects on last week's events in London and how British society will rise to the demands put on its character.

I've never seen so profound a swing in the mood of the British people as happened in less than 24 hours on Wednesday and Thursday.

At about a 1245 on Wednesday afternoon we learnt that London had been awarded the Olympic Games of 2012. Many people's frame of mind was close to exultation.

Not everybody in Britain had necessarily wanted London to succeed, but the Olympic bid had been handled with such skill and passion that even the minority who wanted the Games to go somewhere else took pride in London's achievement.

The television screens were filled with smiling faces, from the prime minister downwards. It was cheering to reflect that life isn't always grim and earnest. Sometimes dreams come true and it's a pleasure to read the newspapers.


Then on Thursday morning, when some people were reading this happy story in their newspaper or hearing it on the radio, suddenly the mood changed from exhilaration to horror. Terrorist bombs went off on three tube trains in London and a bus.

There is something chilling about an outrage on the tube. I can hardly imagine anything more frightening than being involved in an explosion in a deep tunnel far beneath the ground.

Dozens of people were sent to their doom with no chance for a last word with their loved ones and the circumstances of their death was horrible.

The bombs that were the instrument of death or injury are random in their consequences. They deal out death indiscriminately to the high and low, the very young and very old and Christian, Muslim and Jew alike.

Bomb planting, bomb throwing and suicide bombing are seen in many quarters as a form of terrorism that has sprung up in the last three decades. In fact its roots go much deeper than that.

European anarchists in the 1870s and 80s began to use the bomb, as well as the pistol, as a weapon of political assassination.

In 1881 a Russian nihilist organisation called the People's Will, in an attempt to kill Tsar Alexander II, began a positive orgy of bomb-planting in St Petersburg, then the capital of Russia. Several streets were thoroughly undermined and it was a miracle a serious massacre didn't happen.


Eventually a bomb was thrown between Tsar Alexander's feet. His legs were crushed, his stomach torn open and his face mutilated. After an hour and a half of agony he died.

The attack had succeeded because it was a suicide bombing, the assassin Grinevetsky perishing in his own explosion. So the most contemporary feature of modern terrorism - suicide bombing - was the method used to kill the Russian Tsar in March 1881.

This kind of revolutionary activity confined to obscure or unimportant groups. It's often forgotten that Lenin's elder brother, Alexander, was hanged for his involvement in a bomb plot in 1887. Actually Alexander was a bomb-maker, though a not a very good one.

I'm afraid the fact that anybody as sensitive and intelligent as Lenin's brother could have spent his time experimenting with bombs, illustrates the gravity of the problem civilised society faces.

I've been told repeatedly that bombers are psychotic individuals dabbling in something so dreadful as to be beyond normal understanding. That isn't true. The truth is much worse. Some of the shrewdest and most ideologically committed revolutionaries in the world have sponsored and participated in bombing.

Messages of support
Which leaves us with an important question to ask. How can anybody bring themselves to kill masses of people they don't know, who have done them no personal harm, no matter how passionate their political beliefs? Just for once I don't have to say that it's a difficult question and we can only guess at the answer.

The terrorists have told us the answer repeatedly. They practically queue up to get in front of the media and explain their motives. Our problem is that what they say is so abnormal we have difficulty grasping how their minds work.

But it's an effort we must make. The authorities; and all those gallant people in the armed forces, the police, the fire brigades, the ambulance service and many others will be materially assisted if we understand how our enemies think and what it is they are trying to do. "Know your enemy" is ancient and wise advice.

The foremost belief of nearly all terrorists is that they are fighting bravely on behalf of the victims of history. If they are killing dozens of us, that's nothing compared with the thousands of their people who've been slaughtered mercilessly by our wicked fathers and brothers.


If we point out that they have no knowledge of who they are killing, they reply that we have no knowledge of which of their people were killed. If we say that we don't see the point of killing children as if they were responsible, their rejoinder is that countless numbers of their children were starved, beaten and killed by us.

It's useless to press for the details of what we are supposed to have done and where we did it. In their view our past and present guilt is obvious to the world.

If one makes a final plea to apparent self-interest, that doesn't work either. In a cosmopolitan city surely their bombs could just as easily kill someone of their nation and religion as anybody else. They nod, then shrug. The war must be fought.

If they kill someone they regret killing, then they can apologise, nothing else can be done. Over 30 years ago the IRA blew up two pubs in my constituency in Birmingham, killing a lot of people. It was common knowledge that both pubs were well-patronised by many of Irish Catholic origin.

Missing posters
People are still missing
Let's move on from what terrorists think, to what they hope to achieve. Put simply, they want to make the situation worse. This can take paradoxical forms. For instance, al-Qaeda and its associates believe in Islam. But nothing would please them more than that the non-Muslim population of Britain should turn on the Muslim minority.

Of course all the many Muslim countries with whom we have friendly relations would be horrified if their fellow Muslims in Britain came to believe they weren't safe. But they want to improve things, whereas al-Qaeda doesn't.

The overwhelming majority of Muslims in Britain don't support terrorism. Which is why al-Qaeda would welcome some riots in which Muslims were killed. It wants more recruits, not social peace in Britain.

We have some difficult tasks ahead. One is to accept that modern terrorist groups aren't irrational. They know what they're doing and why they're doing it. We shall help our cause best by seeing them as cunning adversaries, not lunatics.


I was at school during the World War II and lived through the bombing from the air. There were a lot of casualties and a lot of damage. It wasn't easy to endure. But I think what the British people have to do now is in some ways harder.

Most of the time we knew when an air-raid was coming, whereas a terrorist act can't be predicted. So the demands on British patience and stoicism are that much greater.

Yet I don't have the slightest doubt that this test of character will be passed with flying colours. Winston Churchill responded to all the compliments paid to him at the end of the war by offering the British a tribute. He said: "It was the nation that had the lion heart. I only did the roaring."

To reach its present state British society has evolved over many centuries. It's learned some new tricks, but it hasn't lost all its old habits. It's regularly been despaired of and its present is nearly always compared unfavourably with its past. But I remember what J B Priestley said: "The British have been and always will be a very calm and resilient people."

Good and rational view which exposes the stark reality that the bombers, and their supporters are beyond negotiation. We make a massive mistake if we assume that they hold the same value system and even logic as us. We must continue to resist their efforts to bully our society out of existence because of something which happened 1000 years ago. On the other hand however we must be everything that they are not. We must continue to be tolerant and welcoming of all religions, colours, and creeds in the UK, and seek not to give them the excuse to turn misguided youths into killers.
mark, UK

I am an expat working in Nigeria at present. I have respected Mr. Walden as a journalist and interviewer for many years now and I must agree with his article. The terrorists are a small minority of presumably Muslims and for the British public to turn against Muslims in general is playing into the hands of the terrorists. All British religions must unite in identifying and isolating the terrorists and show a united front in order to co-exist in Britain and to demonstrate how we can live together to the rest of the world.
Alan Cochrane, Nigeria

If we carry on doing what we British always do, respecting each others culture and practicing the democratic principles that have made this country great, it is the terrorists that will despair and not us. Lets show them what makes us GREAT Britain.
Mark Wood, UK

This isn't a 'history' thing , is it Mr Walden? This is happening now , we are killing Muslims in Iraq on a daily basis. The media blackout on Iraq isn't stopping people like me , who want to find out what's really going on, and these are modern day crimes that the terrorists can use to justify their campaign. You , like Blair are using this British stoicism claptrap and 'they don't like the way we live' ideology to divert people away from the real reason this country is now a prime terrorist target. If Blair had not got us into this illegal , criminal war in Iraq , those people who died on Thursday would still be here , that is an absolute fact.
Andy Cooper, England

The terrorists are supposed to be opposed to our way of life, something we have been continuously told since the bombings. No doubt a phrase used to get us all pulling in one direction, but I worry that it's being used to over-simplify why we're in our current position. The root causes need to be addressed, and that has to come back to the thorny issue of Palestine...doesn't it?
Sean Paget, Guildford, Surrey

Brian, you very nearly got it there... but what was missing was "Do unto others what they do unto you". This is simply what the terrorist bombs are - a coming home of the pigeons from Iraq, Afghanistan, Palestine and Pakistan to roost. All countries where the UK has made a mighty pigs ear of meddling in other nation's politics.
Martin Dart, Perth, Australia

I think Mr.Walden has hit the "nail on the head" the terrorists know exactly what they are doing and what their objectives are. The terrorists number one objective is to create a society that lives in fear like the society Bush has created in the USA. With fear comes panic, with panic comes the loss of liberty, and with the loss of liberty comes end of hope. In the words of Sir Winston Churchill "If, however, there is to be a war of nerves let us make sure our nerves are strong and are fortified by the deepest convictions of our hearts". And the British heart has always been one of freedom and liberty.
richard syal, Canada

Dear Mr Brian Walden, If your family had been wiped out by one of the bombs dropped on Baghdad by the Americans with British approval would you still have the opinion that you fail to see the motive that terrorists have to kill innocent people? Regards Jeff Sivyer
jeffrey sivyer, norway

The point made by this column about suicide bombings not being all that new is a very insightful one. As a former citizen of a Soviet Union I can contribute two quotes from Lenin: "We will go another way" - after his brother was hanged for making the bomb which killed tsar Alexander, and, much latter, "Launch mass terror against the rich cossacks, killing them all". Terror, mass and individual, has deep roots in history, and handling it is perhaps the greatest challenge to humanity.
Myroslava Dzikovska, UK

Perfectly analysed. While many Brit Muslims (and non Muslims) feel deeply for those men and women in Western affected countries, we feel just as affected that people who allegedly share the same religious umbrella as us bring harm and chaos to a random and innocent group of people. The fact that Britain is a tight mix of assorted souls from all religions and colours will indeed help us to challenge those with single dividing agendas.
M Aziz, London, UK

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