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London: Resisting the "Useful Idiots"

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We are still here. We still live, work and play. We can vote. We can travel where we want, meet whom we choose, say what we like. We still enjoy due process of law. The only absurdity is that in the eighth year of the government of Tony Blair we need to remark on these facts.

Urban terrorism can only be treated as a crime. Conspiring to explode devices in public places endangers life, destroys property and causes public nuisance. Like all criminal effects it has causes. A sensible democracy addresses those causes. But since ordinary citizens and even the police can do little about them in the short term, they rightly concentrate on the crime itself. The streets of London are alive with like dangers, with people who shoot, kill and maim dozens of people a year. We fight them all, whatever their proffered and spurious justification.

So what purpose was served last week by police crying, "They're still out there and trying to get you"? What good are daily briefings on "the inevitability" of another attack? Street killings are inevitable too. Apart from the gratuitous damage to public confidence and business, why stoke the very fears, hatreds and antagonisms which the bombers want stoked? Just get on and find the bombers, without publicising their allegedly awesome power to deflect blame from any deficiencies in public safety. Half the British establishment seems to have signed up to the League of Friends of Terrorism.

That some London passengers were sadly killed earlier this month does not put the security of the British state at risk. I have a higher respect for that security than most people seem to do. Britain is not at war just because some Arab says so. No amount of tabloid hysteria -- or tabloid government -- should make it otherwise. No city can be immune to bombs but that does not subvert democracy and engender a state of emergency. Anyone who pretends otherwise is an accessory to the terrorism itself.

Last week's reaction to the Stockwell shooting was likewise a national disgrace. The police claimed the right to follow a suspect across town and kill him in cold blood. Rather than instantly admit a terrible mistake, it demanded and got the instant, cringeing and unqualified support of all "right-thinking people". What would such people say if the police their machine guns to mow down an entire group of dark-skinned people "thinking they might be engaged in terrorism"? Terrorism is turning Britain into a banana republic. It is centuries since we cheered a public lynching. If terrorists want evidence of how easy it is to reduce Britain to a crude police state, they need only study the Stockwell shooting.

The truth is that those who want to subvert freedom can always rely on "useful idiots," a phrase Lenin is said to have used of liberal apologists for extremists (but never did). Modern terrorism neatly inverts this attribution. It relies on "useful idiots" of the right to exploit any terrorist incident to foment xenophobia, suspend civil liberties and seek revenge from any ethnic group vaguely linked to the incident.

Terrorism's "useful idiots" have had a field day this past fortnight. They have jumped from "nothing can justify the bombing" (true) to "nothing can explain the bombing" (absurd). They have jumped from "Britain's war in Iraq is no excuse for killing innocent Londoners" (true) to "Britain's war in Iraq has nothing to do with the bombing" (palpably absurd). They jump from "we must not be driven to alter our way of life" (true) to demanding that we do just that. The useful idiots demand new powers, new restrictions and new measures against the muslim community. Above all they declare "war on terror," turn murdered into warriors and incite Islam to proclaim jihad in response.

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