London

I've been taking advantage of the fact that radio broadcasts in this country are in a language I can understand, by waking up to a clock-radio tuned to NPR. On days like today, this can be rather alarming. And the reported scale of the disaster has only grown since I woke up, before rescue workers had reached the hardest-hit cars deep in the London Tube network. I recall lying in bed this morning thinking that London had gotten suprisingly lucky, with only four dead for all the clear ambitions of the attackers, a sentiment that was apparently shared by some Britons this morning. While that may remain technically correct when compared to the highly analogous Madrid train bombings, the true human cost would seem to cross a line beyond which relief feels inappropriate.

Everyone from the experts on down believes that this was the work of an al-Qaeda-inspired group (whether you think al-Qaeda itself is responsible depends on what exactly you think al-Qaeda is, so there's less agreement there). As such, the attack was utterly predictable in all its horrific capriciousness, from generalized threats to the recent appearance of an inspirational video from a prominent Islamist jihadi. That's not to suggest that the Scotland Yard should have seen them coming, any more than one could expect soldiers in Iraq to know on which day the car bomb will go off next to their vehicle.

That's the key to terrorism as a strategic weapon; in the long run, a predictable state of random peril renders everything it touches suspect. Thus, for maximal impact, it strikes at the most crucial and mundane infrastructure of daily life. Telling that in America, this tends to mean busy workplaces, while European terrorists have typically attacked mass transit. Suspicion is a difficult taint to expunge. Streets in Paris still eschew metal trash cans after a campaign of bombings that culminated a decade ago. The atmosphere in Israel, during a largely quiet period, I would describe as a resigned panic -- long after the worst of the Intifada, many Israelis refuse to ride the bus, and every street-level business employs a guard with a metal-detecting wand at the door. There's little the Palestinians can do to avoid the reach of the Israeli Air Force, besides the obvious expedient of getting out of Gaza.

Protracted too long, fear turns just getting by into an exhausting way of life.

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This page contains a single entry by Milligan published on July 7, 2005 8:40 PM.

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