Five years ago today four suicide bombers – three home-grown Pakistani Muslims and another Muslim born in Jamaica – blew up three Tube trains and a bus in central London, killing 52 people (plus the terrorists) and injuring another 700. It was the worst terrorist atrocity in the history of London. It was accompanied by great courage, but also by hysteria. “London can take it,” they said, invoking the “dark days” of the Blitz. In truth, not everyone in London could take it. On the day after the bombing hundreds of thousands of Londoners stayed at home rather than risk travelling by Tube.
New Labour’s friends in the Tory press breathed fire and brimstone. Don’t you get it? they said. The bombings were not crimes but acts of war. We are at war on behalf of western civilisation. What tosh it was. George Galloway got it more or less right when he said of the attack in the House of Commons: “I have no need to speculate about its authorship. It is absolutely clear that Islamist extremists, inspired by the al-Qaeda world outlook, are responsible. I condemn it utterly as a despicable act … Let there be no equivocation: the primary responsibility for this morning’s bloodshed lies with the perpetrators of those acts.”
But criminal acts of terrorism do not occur in a moral vacuum, and Galloway added: “Does the House not believe that hatred and bitterness have been engendered by the invasion and occupation of Iraq, by the daily destruction of Palestinian homes, by the construction of the great apartheid wall in Palestine and by the occupation of Afghanistan? Does it understand that the bitterness and enmity generated by those great events feed the terrorism of bin Laden and the other Islamists? Is that such a controversial point? Is it not obvious?”
It was not obvious to Adam Ingram, then the defence minister, who accused Galloway of “dipping his poisonous tongue into a pool of blood”. Galloway probably overstates the role of Palestine in this, but he was obviously right about Iraq. Hardly anybody would dispute that now. In May 2006 the Parliamentary Intelligence and Security Committee that looked into the Tube bombings found that “events in Iraq are continuing to act as motivation and a focus of a range of terrorist-related activity in the UK”.
Fifty-six people died on July 7, 2005, not because we are engaged in a war for civilisation but because we had chosen to join the United States in an illegal and deadly – and self-defeating – military action in Iraq, the nation chosen by Washington to pay the blood price for 9/11.
Fortunately, the government is no longer beholden to the United States, and it is unlikely that we will join Washington in future adventures. The Prime Minister has declared that we will leave Afghanistan by 2015, but my guess is that we will leave some time before that. After all, as we have learned today, British troops are to be replaced in Sangrin by US forces, which rather suggests that we are not really essential to the fight and that our presence in Afghanistan is and always has been an exercise in public relations.
In any case, it is beginning to look as though one of the key lessons of 7/7 – that we should stay out of America’s wars, unless our vital national interests are involved – has been learnt by Mr Cameron and Mr Clegg.
It is unlikely, however, that they have learnt the other key lesson: that we should be less tolerant of the right of religious minorities to disseminate and advertise their beliefs. Without a strong Islamic element in our nation, there would have been no 7/7. The French, the Belgians and the Swiss are showing the way in restricting the use of burqas and the building of minarets.
Many in this country believe that sort of thing is racist, of course. Tony Blair despised racism and intolerance of any sort, but the “war on terror” resulted in the deaths in Iraq of tens of thousand of Arab women and children and the creation of huge numbers of refugees, among them more than a million Christians. George Bush, the born-again Christian, and Tony Blair, the touchy-feely Christian, have pretty much done for Christianity in Iraq. All in the name of “civilisation”.