Terrorism came to the heart of the British capital last Wednesday. Not for the first time though. What drove a single man with a car and a knife to engage in what would seem to most like a senseless act is not known. It will be discussed, debated and dozens of theories bisected and trisected [...]


Terrorism strikes, innocents die


Terrorism came to the heart of the British capital last Wednesday. Not for the first time though. What drove a single man with a car and a knife to engage in what would seem to most like a senseless act is not known. It will be discussed, debated and dozens of theories bisected and trisected by talking heads on TV and the print media and elsewhere.

Whether the country will really know the motive must remain, for the moment at least, a matter for conjecture. Police questioning of the some of the arrested as far away from the scene of the attack as Birmingham might eventually elicit some cause for this dastardly attack but hardly a rationale.

Among Sri Lankans who have for over 25 years suffered and endured terrorist attacks at home until the worst of them committed by the LTTE have at last ended with its military defeat, there would be some who would see this as retribution for the British authorities’ long indulgence of terrorist groups such as the LTTE on their soil.

While there is certainly some truth in this, it would be extremely unfair by those innocents who died and suffered as a result of the shortsighted policies of successive governments in Westminster and the neo-colonialist revival by those leaders who preached peace but engaged in imperial wars. The results of those outdated policies are now coming home to roost but at the expense of civilian lives though the Westminster attack might still be the act of a crazed individual with a criminal history.

The prime minister and other politicians have described the act as an attack on Britain’s political system, the Palace of Westminster being seen as the fount of parliamentary democracy. It is understandable that since it happened so near the Commons and the policeman killed was one on duty outside parliament and died trying to stop the assailant entering parliament that the attack was quickly interpreted as an attack on British democracy.

A woman assists a man injured in Wednesday's terror attack in London. Reuters/Toby Melville

On sober reflection it might be considered somewhat overstated. Those who have lived for years under the cloud of terrorism and experienced the threat of terrorism almost daily might be inclined to conclude that one man with a knife was hardly likely to drive democracy to death. On the other hand even such a solitary attempt would doubtless gain worldwide publicity which is what terrorist and extremist organisations desire and thrive on.

Rather it would seem the intention was more to cause panic, to drive fear into people going about their daily business and not to drive a weapon into the very heart of a free democracy. It is creating panic and fear among the local populace and visitors that seemed to be the intention.

It might be recalled that nearly 13 years ago a number of well-coordinated explosions in tube stations and buses across London that killed more than 50 persons virtually shut down the capital as police searched for others responsible for the terrorist plot.

But within days London was back to normal. A people who had survived Hitler’s daily bombings of the British capital to break the morale of its people and was not able to do so, withstood the effects of that attack on July 7. Admittedly the circumstances were different then.

What is interesting is how the modus operandi of the spate of recent attacks has changed and made it more difficult for the security forces to apprehend the terrorists. On the same day that a single man armed with only a knife thought he could shut down the British parliament after driving recklessly along Westminster Bridge and mowing down pedestrians, a fast moving vehicle along an Antwerp street was found by police to contain weapons including knives and guns.

It might be recalled that not too long ago a truck was consciously driven into crowds in Nice killing nearly a hundred people. Last December a truck was driven into a market place in Berlin close to the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church, an iconic landmark in the once-divided city which still remains a major tourist attraction.

So are we seeing a change in tactics by terrorists as security forces acquire more sophisticated weapons and surveillance equipment to track down those plotting to kill and be killed and cow people into abject fear with acts of indiscriminate terror? Is the everyday vehicle and the kitchen knife the new weapons of the terrorist as they are more difficult to detect without subjecting the citizenry to daily operations of stop and search.

Of course the use of cars and trucks as weaponised vehicles is nothing new. In the heyday of Palestinian resistance there were occasions when bomb-laden trucks were driven into the US embassy in Beirut and other US installations.

Sri Lanka will remember the use of car and truck bombs by the LTTE against police stations in the north and the much publicised attack on the Central Bank, now in the news for different reasons.

While working in Sri Lanka for the local and international media I had covered at least a dozen instances of major LTTE terrorist attacks and saw the resulting carnage. Witnessing the hundreds of mangled and blown up bodies and the blood splattered scenes leaves one physically and mentally drained, sometimes for several days.

I visited the scenes of the attack on the Sri Maha Bodhi, the shooting down of Buddhist monks old and young in a bus in Arantalawa,  the senseless killings of villagers in isolated hamlets in the NCP, the Pettah bus station bombing, the train bombing at Wellawatte station, the CTO bombing one morning that rattled the windows and shattered a couple in my office room at Lake House and many more. These are memories that will never go away.

The news must be reported. But one often wonders whether too much publicity really is an aid to the terrorist cause. Terrorists depend on the publicity they can get to spread fear among a people.  Consider what happened last week. It is true that people were killed and others injured. But as an attack the damage was minimal. There was no real threat to democracy.

Yet the rolling television news and the repetitiveness of the news and other programmes could only have brought jubilation to those who sought worldwide publicity and for the so-called Islamic State that claimed it was one of its “soldiers” who was responsible.

In his book “Terrorism: How to Respond”, academic Richard English said the threat to so-called democracy lies not in the bloodshed and damage caused. It is the more real danger of “provoking ill-judged, extravagant and counterproductive state responses.”

It is a clear enough warning to governments, especially leaders inclined towards authoritarian practices, not to mention the right-wing media in particular, not to rush into extremes however it might seem the right thing to do at a given moment.

Some readers might remember that the present British Prime Minister Theresa May, who as Home Secretary during the David Cameron government, promoted what came to be called the “snooper’s charter” after the terrorist acts in Paris and Belgium. Bill Binney who served on America’s National Security Agency described it as the most severe intrusion into personal privacy anywhere in the western world, to use the words of the Guardian’s Simon Jenkins.

Many would argue that it was the British Government’s tolerance shown to terrorist groups — to which they later included the LTTE, allowing them to operate openly and permitting government MPs too to participate in LTTE and pro-LTTE activities — that created the impression among emerging extremists and nascent extremists groups that Britain’s so-called concern for freedom of speech and association and human rights would allow them to prosper along their chosen path of political extremism.

Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar warned western government including Britain, early enough of the dangers that such tolerance would one day ricochet on their own peoples. Kadirgamar’s warnings went unheeded at first. Eventually though the LTTE was banned along with some other groups, British law enforcement agencies looked the other way while the LTTE made hay.

The tolerance shown to the LTTE and some other groups only encouraged those who preached extremism to find early recruits to their causes. This tendency to ignore breaches of the law because they were seen as no threat to Britain was compounded by foreign policy follies such as the invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan and the later involvement in Libya and the Syrian crisis. Such adventurism only helped breed domestic jihadists who bombed and killed the very people they lived among.

Since June last year the intelligence services and police have foiled 13 terrorist plots. Some 500 individuals have travelled to Syria to join jihadi groups or even to fight alongside those determined to oust Syrian leader Assad.

It is for the British leaders to find out even now how and where they erred and why people born and bred here have turned against the very country that gave sanctuary and help to their forefathers and allowed their progeny what some saw as a place in the sun.

Share This Post


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


Post Comment

Advertising Rates

Please contact the advertising office on 011 - 2479521 for the advertising rates.