The London Blasts

No one who has been to London could fail to marvel at the Underground. A quiet model of public-sector efficacy, moving some three million people each day, used by rich and poor alike, a tube-ride is a minor object-lesson in the democracy wrought by public-investment. That the terrorists chose this target is significant, for unlike the World Trade Center or the Pentagon, it is a symbol not of wealth or power, but of the people. Viewed another way, 9-11 used airplanes, the transportation of the elite. 7/7 used the subway, the transportation of the common people. Whatever Americans may prefer to believe, Terror did not first enter the world on September 11, 2001. Nor did it always feature an Islamic connection. After all, not all that long ago, the United States, in contravention of its own Congress, itself armed and instigated the Contras in Central America against governments it disliked. The Posada case of bringing down a Cuban airliner is even now in the news. US support for terror-groups in Guatemala, Honduras, Chile and other places is hardly a secret. Neither is illegal mining of Nicaraguan harbors. But in a world which follows its own version of Moore’s Law where each doubling of internet bandwidth is accompanied by a halving of the public’s attention span, details like these were rendered insignificant amidst the televised spectacle of September 11. No surprise, then, that on September 12, 2001, even long-standing critics of American foreign policy, arguing they had warned against the kind of blowback that 9-11 represented, were nonetheless struck by the sympathy the massacre evoked. Fellow-feeling for America was near-universal. “We are all Americans Now”, proclaimed a French newspaper, speaking for many across the globe. No such comfort awaits the West after 7/7. By a series of actions after 9/11, sometimes brazen, sometimes dishonest, sometimes arrogant and all times unconvincing, America and Britain have managed to deplete their fund of goodwill throughout the world to such an extent. And in the process they have succeeded in putting the West, if not at the same level, at least in the same moral ball park as the Al Qaeda thugs. Where is the difference between hidden bombs killing innocent civilians in subway stations, and well-publicized ‘shock and awe’ tactics that kill and disrupt hundreds in other countries? Is it just that we have the power to announce our massacres (make no mistake, when you start a war, you know innocent people are going to get killed) in advance, while the terrorists have to lurk and bide their time? The difference then is only of circumstance, not morality. Of all the responses to the events in London, about the most puerile one, naturally, came from George W. Bush: “…And the contrast couldn’t be clearer between the intentions and the hearts of those of us who care deeply about human rights and human liberty, and those who kill, those who’ve got such evil in their heart that they will take the lives of innocent folks.” If taking the lives of innocent folks tags one for evildoing (as surely it must), then starters of unprovoked wars and defenders of ‘collateral damage’ should have no places to hide. But we should know that to seek logic in Bush’s arguments is like looking for Socratic wisdom in an afternoon soap. It is easy to blame visible symbols like Bush and Blair. Why exempt the non-existent opposition in the US Congress, where members even now talk only about running the Iraq war better? Why forget journalists like Thomas Friedman, whose article this morning wonders why Osama is running free after four years (hint: go back and read your enthusiastic support for starting the Iraq war, Tom). Why not recall that both America and Britain endorsed their respective leaders through elections, after they had had time to digest all the lying and ‘disassembling’ that had occurred? And why ignore the whole host of world leaders who did little to deter the war and continued with business-as-usual after it started? The symbolic significance of the London attacks is not to be missed. Whether the terrorists meant it this way there is no way to tell. But the railway touches us all, and in a way, the attack reminds us that while Bush and Blair may have started the Iraq War, we all have to pay the price. Bush and Blair set out to transform the Middle East and recreate it in America’s image. One of the most beautiful, striking things about the West is the openness of its public sphere. Ironically, one result of 7/7 will be symbols of Western Civilization like the London Underground coming to resemble one of Saddam Hussain’s well-guarded palaces. Whose way of life is being spread to whom? NIRANJAN RAMAKRISHNAN is a writer living on the West Coast. He can be reached at

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/>Niranjan Ramakrishnan is a writer living on the West Coast.  His book, “Reading Gandhi In the Twenty-First Century” was published last year by Palgrave.  He may be reached at