Why did terrorists bomb London on July 7th , killing at least 56 people?
The question is at the centre of a debate in Britain the outcome of which could define future British, and perhaps Western policy, in countering terrorism.
One theory is that Britain”s participation in the liberation of Iraq helped Al Qaeda transform a bunch of ordinary Muslim youths into suicide-killers.
This latter group”s analysis has now received a seal of
respectability from a London think-tank on foreign affairs known as Chatham House.
That analysis, however, is strange for several reasons.
To start with it is not clear how Chatham House or anyone else could know to what extent the suicide-killers may or may not have been motivated by Britain”s role in Iraq. The two claims of responsibility for the terrorist operation cite a variety of reasons, making it clear that the attack on Britain was part of a broader campaign against the "infidel" West.
Then there is another problem. How could Islamist suicide-bombers be concerned only about Britain”s participation in the war in Iraq and not about its similar role in Afghanistan?
If the suicide-killers were Al Qaeda Islamists then they should be angrier about the destruction of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan which they regarded as the only genuinely "Islamic" government anywhere in the world, rather than the toppling of Saddam Hussein whom they saw as an atheist and a purely tactical ally. Also it was Afghanistan, not Iraq that had welcome Osama bin Laden and presented his gang with operational bases.
The reason why Chatham House prefers to focus on the British role in Iraq rather than in Afghanistan has nothing to do with reality. It has to do with what is politically fashionable and what is not.
In circles for which Chatham House caters it is fashionable to pretend that Afghanistan didn”t happen. It is hard to defend the Taliban with their obsession with burqaa and beard and their bombing of the Buddhas of Bamiyan. Saddam Hussein, however, was supposed to be a secular and Socialist ruler who could claim some kinship with the "useful idiots" in the West. More importantly, from Chatham House”s point of view, the "international community", meaning Jacques Chirac and Kofi Annan, swallowed the liberation of Afghanistan but made loud noises against the liberation of Iraq.
Can Chatham House guarantee that if Britain withdrew from Iraq the Al Qaeda would not demand a similar withdrawal from Afghanistan?
And after withdrawal from Afghanistan, would Al Qaeda and its emulants sit back and savour their victory or would they ask for more retreats by Britain until they win the power to set its foreign policy agenda?
What the terrorists describe as the "Madrid ghazva" gave Al Qaeda its first major political victory in Europe because they managed to change a government that was especially hostile to them. The Madrid ghazva", in part, inspired, the "London ghazva" which, if it produces another political victory for terrorism, would surely inspire many other attacks.
Those who look for excuses for terrorism do so only to justify a policy of appeasement.
Experience, however, shows that the appeaser becomes a more attractive target for the terrorists. The appeased terrorist concludes that, having won a battle, he should press for victory in his war against a weakened adversary.
Appeasing terrorists was tried by President Francois Mitterrand in the 1980s, and made France the most-targeted Western country for a decade.
Mitterrand launched his appeasement weeks after becoming president in 1981. He released all the 31 convicted terrorists in French prisons and lifted the ban on pro-terrorist publications and illegal radio stations. He also abolished the State Security Court, set up to deal with terrorism, describing it as a Nazi-style outfit. He let the Basque terrorists of ETA use French territory as a base against Spain and allowed various Palestinian groups and The Irish Republican Army (IRA) to operate in Paris.
Mitterrand feted Yasser Arafat, then regarded as the godfather of terror, and traveled to Cyprus to court Libya”s dictator Muammar Kaddafi, the principal paymaster of international terror at the time. Mitterrand”s appeasement included the Khomeinist regime in Tehran and led to an exchange of ambassadors and high level contacts.
The French leader emphasised the ideological propinquity of his Socialist party with "other radical movements", meaning terrorist groups that were also "striving for justice." At one point Mitterrand even talked of the "common roots" of the French Revolution and the Khomeinist take-over in Iran.
In 1984 Mitterrand”s policy led him into vetoing an American plan for joint G-7 action against international terrorism. In a meeting with the then Vice President George W H Bush, who headed a special anti-terrorism unit created by President Ronald Reagan, Mitterrand argued that the only way to deal with the threat was to " address the grievances" which were " often caused by Western policies."
Not surprisingly terrorist of all denominations began to see France as a safe haven.
Abu Nidal and Carlos visited Paris for business and pleasure. Imad Mughniyeh, a Lebanese terrorist on the American "most wanted list" dropped in for shopping holidays. Ayatollah Ruhallah Khomeini sent his nephew, one Massoud Hendizadeh, to set up a terror headquarters in Paris. The Islamic Embassy in the French capital became the centre of operations for Europe. Later, when French police issued an arrest warrant for Vahid Gorji, the man who headed the Iranian terror headquarters in Paris, Mitterrand arranged for him to be put on the first flight to Tehran to escape prosecution.
Payback for Mitterrand”s policy started with the assassination of General Rene Audron, a senior member of the French Defence Ministry in 1985. A few months later Paris was hit by a series of bomb attacks, including on two major department stores in which 35 people were injured on Christmas eve.
In February 1986 a major shopping arcade and a hotel in Champs Elysees were bombed. The wave of attacks continued with the bombing of the Forum des Halles and the attempted blowing up of the Eiffel Tower.
By March 1986 France was the victim of a full-scale terror campaign, including a suicide operation in which two Arab terrorists were killed in the Champs Elysees. Attacks on the Paris metro, the Orly Airport, and shopping centres created a climate of fear. Dozens of other plots, including an attempt to derail a high-speed train, were nipped in the bud by the police.
Throughout the Mitterrand appeasement a total of 93 people were killed and more than 800 wounded in terrorist attacks in France. To these must be added 17 Iranian dissidents who were killed by hit-squads from Tehran.
But this was not all. Fifty-three French paratroopers were killed in a suicide attack in Beirut in 1983. Also in Beirut a pro-Syrian group assassinated France”s ambassador while a Khomeinist gang held the French ambassador in Tehran hostage for several days. A total of 37 French citizens were held as hostages in the Middle East, and two murdered in cold blood, by the same terror groups that Mitterrand had tried to appease.
France is not alone to have tried appeasement and failed. Algeria, Egypt, Germany, Saudi Arabia and, more recently Spain, have had similar experiences. The British should know that any appeasement of terrorists could put them in an even greater danger.