05/24/2013 09:19 pm ET Updated Jul 24, 2013

London Terror

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Last night there were two separate attacks on mosques in England. An incendiary device was brought into a mosque in Braintree Essex and in Gillingham Kent a window was broken and a bookcase with copies of the Koran sustained damage. This comes in the wake of protests by the far-right English Defense League. Protests, which, at times grew violent. Law enforcement tried to contain the protesters and there were multiple clashes. All of which is in response to a gruesome horrifying murder and act of terror on Wednesday, when a British soldier was run down by a car and then attacked with a meat cleaver.

Lee Rigby, a father of a two-year-old, had been working in London as an Army recruiter. He was near his barracks when he was attacked. The mourning for Rigby is still fresh, as is the shock over the alleged suspects. Two British men who were shot by police and are now under armed guard at a hospital: NBC News understands that the two men are believed to be Michael Adebolajo and Michael Adebowale. One of the suspects is believed to have converted to radical Islam 10 years ago. And one of the suspects created a truly surreal scene in which he approached an eyewitness and evidently confessed and declared his motivations.

Yesterday President Obama, in a wide ranging speech about counter-terrorism, said that "not every collection of thugs that labels themselves al Qaeda will pose a credible threat to the United States."

That applies here.

Above all else, the perpetrators were two murderers, criminals, but what they did was indeed an act of terrorism and was meticulously planned to incite the kind of reaction it is now garnering from some quarters. Terrorism as a category has gotten massively stretched until it's almost lost its meaning in this day and age, but there's a real reason why it's a specific category.

Terror does something particularly horrible to a populace. It is designed to incite a reaction, one in which people are put in their worst places as citizens. It's a place where they are acting out of fear. Psychologists have found that: "When people feel safe and secure, they become more liberal; when they feel threatened, they become more conservative."

We know from our recent experience that 9/11 emboldened the right wing. What we're seeing in England right now in the wake of this vicious attack is that hard-right elements of British politics are gaining strength. The English Defense League didn't just stage those protests. It is making active use of social media. it has gotten thousands of additional "Likes" on Facebook alone.

The English Defense League's website proclaims, "We Are At War," and its leader is getting a platform. What terror seeks to do is to polarize the world, so that everyone has to join different camps of extremists, and those extremists feed off each other in a symbiotic relationship. Terror seeks to provoke violence, provoke rage, provoke fear, provoke overreaction, provoke tribalism and knee-jerk reactions.

And what it seeks to snuff out is empathy and reason and fidelity to principles of liberty, and calmness. But what made this crazy story so remarkable was a woman, Ingrid Loyau-Kennet, who confronted one of the alleged attackers. She was staring this man in the face and engaged him in a conversation before police arrived. She didn't cower and she didn't run and she didn't even succumb to rage. She just looked terror in the eyes and essentially said, calmly, you will lose. That is how we should respond to terrorism.