Deborah and I were in London on July 7, 2005, when four bombs exploded in the city’s public transport system, three in subways and one on a bus, killing 52 people and injuring several hundred. One went off in the stretch between Paddington and Edgeware Road stations 30 minutes before we tried to board a train at Paddington, unaware of what had just happened.
Then-Prime Minister Tony Blair hurried back from a G8 Summit in Gleneagles, Scotland. When he addressed the media that afternoon, he was asked whether he thought Britain’s participation in the Iraq war was the bombers’ motive. Blair dismissed the idea as “ridiculous.” “They hate us for our way of life,” he asserted, echoing what George W. Bush had said after the 9/11 bombings in the U.S. Unlike here, however, several prominent politicians challenged Blair, who had helped Bush “sex up” the case for invading Iraq, and the thesis Blair had deemed ridiculous at least got a public hearing in Britain.
The Madrid train station bombings on March 11 of the preceding year were deadlier than those in London — 192 dead and about 2,000 injured. Their political impact was also greater. Spain’s general elections took place as scheduled three days later. The incumbent Partido Popular (PP), which before had been leading by 5 points in the polls, lost to the Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party (PSOE), which claimed (rightly, it proved) that the PP was lying when it blamed the bombings on Basque separatists, not on Muslims angry about Spain’s participation in the Iraq war. The PP had brought Spain into the war, and the PSOE had campaigned on withdrawing from it, which it did 10 weeks after its electoral victory. There were no subsequent Muslim attacks in Spain.
In 2008, U.S. Representative Ron Paul was one of the candidates for the Republican presidential nomination. Ideologically, he was a Libertarian and espoused Libertarian positions with persistence and courage. One of them is opposition to U.S. imperialism. During an early debate, Paul said that we wouldn’t have to worry about Muslim terrorist attacks if we ceased our military interventions in the Middle East. Rudy Giuliani, who was still in the race then, immediately interrupted Paul on a point of personal privilege. As mayor of New York City on 9/11, Giuliani felt he owned the issue. He indignantly dismissed Paul’s explanation of 9/11 as beneath consideration. That was the end of that.
In a recorded speech broadcast on April 15, 2004, by Al-Jazeera TV and Al-Arabiyya TV, Osama bin Laden proposed “to halt actions against any country that commits itself to refraining from attacking Muslims or intervening in their affairs.” He said that 9/11 and then 3/11 were Muslim reactions to Western “destruction and killing of our people as is happening in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Palestine.” He asked, “By what measure of kindness are your killed considered innocents while ours are considered worthless? By what school [of thought] is your blood considered blood while our blood is water?” Predictably, this speech went unnoticed in the U.S., but it’s not too late to learn from it.
Given how many nations we’ve attacked since the end of World War II, it’s a wonder ours has been attacked only once. An untried approach to homeland security would be to listen when others voice their grievances. We just may become persuaded that it’s not our professed values they hate, but our constant betrayal of them.
Herb Rothschild’s column appears in the Daily Tidings every Saturday.