>Terror seems close to home, but far from unusual

> The chances of being caught in a terrorist attack are probably considerably lower than being in a road accident, but I was still glad not to going to work on the first anniversary of 7/7. The previous few days there was a large and rather unnerving police presence in the streets around Euston and Kings Cross. More unnerving is the realisation of just how close to hand the events of 7/7 – as well as those of another seemingly foiled plot for a nightclub bombing like that in Bali – are to home and work.

I used to use Russell Square tube station pretty much every day when I travelled in from Middlesex, but always travelled North from Holborn, not South from Kings Cross. The site of the bus bombing is a stone’s throw from the new SSEES building – I walk close to in on my way to work, but turn off 200m before to take a shortcut down a side street. The no. 30 bus runs down the Euston Road from Kings Cross, but for me it’s too short a walk to be worth waiting for a bus.

Elsewhere – and with curiously little publicity – the trial of some alleged would-be Islamicist terrorists is taking place at the Old Bailey. Two of the accused come from down the road in Crawley. Another maladroitly tried to buy huge quantities of fertilizer a few miles in the other direction at an agricultural supplier in Burgess Hill – intended, say the prosecution, for an IRA-style fertilizer bomb. One was a student at Brunel University, where I used to teach, although he must have enrolled after I moved on and – at a guess – I imagine he was probably studying something vocational, commercial or technical, rather than anything in the humanities or social scientists (Real and would-be Al-Qaeda operatives seem to be mathematicians, engineers and lawyers by education, although the two leading 7/7 bombers failed in their aspirations to get higher education

In this connection, I had to laugh reading the New Statesman’s breathless account of the Aldgate bomber Shazid Tanweer ‘in his own words’, as these words were the personal statement from his UCAS form! Predictably consisted of the same meaningless prefabricated phrases – possibly supplied or edited by teachers – that anyone who regularly does admissions interviews sees with depressing familiarity. Rather than successful respectable young graduate turned terrorist mastermind of media cliché, the NS’s reports of plagiarism, bogus mitigating circumstances and an uncompleted degree suggest a struggling student ill-equipped to deal with university from day and perhaps always a likely drop out. Despite the dead eyes and the dead voice, his video ‘last will and testament’ – like that of Mohammed Sadique Khan – has the same forced, prefabricated quality, which undermines their effect on the listener. My reaction was less to be chilled than to want to blow a raspberry…

There are, of course, more intellectual Islamicist extremists about. I remember that there posters advertising meetings about a global Islamic Caliphate (Kalifah) competing for flyposting space on Brunel’s Uxbridge campus with those of Socialist Worker Student Society and other far left groups, which were pitched in quite a sophisticated language mixing anti-imperialist rhetoric with religious and cultural references that Muslim readers would pick up on – about 20% of Brunel’s student body was estimated to come from a Muslim background.

After 9/11 the posters suddenly disappeared – As I later discovered these were produced by the radical Islamicist group Hizb-ut-Tahir, which claims to be engaged in a form of intellectual Islamic anti-politics based on educational activities in the West, although committed to the revolutionary overthrow of governments in Muslim majority countries. Despite this it is widely seen as an intellectual conveyor belt to more overtly Jihadist groups and the type of internet assisted self-taught do-it yourself terrorism that small groups – I am tempted to use the anarchist phrase ‘affinity groups’ – within a radicalized, alienated sub-cultures can mount. For this reason it is one of the groups that Tony Blair said he would proscribe, but then fell curiously silent about – but how in a reasonably free society can you ban ideas?

As a brief post-script (written on 8 July), I note that Karen Armstrong has an interesting article in The Guardian, where she argues that fundamentalisms are radical, modern – even in their outward rejection of much of the modern world – and quite self-consciously heterodox movements. This she suggests makes he ridiculous to expect established Muslin communities and practitioners of mainstream forms of Islam to police and re-educate extremists, who identify themselves against the establishment. Another problem seems to be the fact that I imagine there is neat division between ‘moderates’ and ‘extremists’.

If one thinks that great world religion, socialism, which generated a less deadly by perhaps no less fanatic terrorist fringe in the 1970s – complete with the radicalization of nice middle class graduates into cold takers of others’ lives (Dostoevskii’s The Devils
explored the psychology of this a century before, of course – ironically seeing religion as part of the solution) – then there was a continuum from ‘moderate’ parliamentary socialists to militant and alienated ultra-left sub-culture revolutionary outlook, but not violent in practice to the ‘armed struggle’ of the Red Army Faction or the Red Brigades.

Like revolutionary Marxism – whose visions of World Revolution seem to share much of the same utopian millennial qualities as Khalifah – I suspect radical Islamism will rise and fall over a few decades, burning itself out over a few decades and retreating to the cultural and intellectual margins as a worn out set of ideas that no longer convince those who would like to believe them.

With some good luck, I hope to be around some time mid-century to see it.

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