I spent most of yesterday thinking I’d had a lucky escape. I overslept and missed the 7.21 train from Ipswich to London. If I’d caught it, I’d have arrived at Liverpool Street just as the first bomb exploded there. As it was, my train was stopped at Chelmsford and turned back. It was clear something major was up – and I suspected a terrorist attack even though the BBC’s WAP news service was telling me it was a power surge. Back home late in the morning, I switched on the TV and watched in horror as the full extent of the outrages became clear. For the next few hours I anxiously text-messaged and emailed friends and family to find out how they were and to reassure them I was alive and well.
I discovered when I woke up today that I wouldn’t have been harmed if I'd caught the 7.21. The bomb went off on a Circle Line train travelling into Liverpool Street underground from Aldgate. It wouldn’t have got me even if I’d decided to take the tube rather than my usual bus. And as far as I am aware, no one I know or love was killed or injured in any of the blasts, though five or six people had much closer shaves than I did.
I am of course pleased to be alive and relieved that my friends and family are OK. But this in no sense diminishes either my horror at what these evil murderers have done or my solidarity with those who were killed or mutilated or who lost loved ones. “Only” 50 (or maybe a few more) may have died, a death toll that is small by comparison with 9/11 or even Madrid. But precisely because, like millions of others, I know that with just the simplest twist of fate it could have been me or my family, my friends or my colleagues, I empathise completely with everyone whose luck ran out.
And I mean everyone. Ken Livingstone has been widely praised for his emotional condemnation of the attacks, in which he emphasised that the victims of the bombings were ordinary working-class Londoners going about their everyday business. I’m sure he didn’t mean to imply that the bombings would have been legitimate had the victims been stockbrokers travelling to their clubs in the West End – but I’m not so certain about others who have emphasised the humble origins of the dead and injured. The Socialist Workers Party in particular gives the impression that the main problem with the bombings was that they were directed at proletarian opponents of the war in Iraq rather than the G8 leaders in Gleneagles.
The SWP and the rest of the cretino-left that blames the bombings on the Iraq war – George Galloway, Tariq Ali et cetera – are beneath contempt. Their mealy-mouthed apologias for terrorist murder cannot be taken seriously and their take on the impact of the 7/7 outrages is risible. But they are not alone in failing to grasp what happened yesterday.
The Guardian’s comment pages today include – as well as a rant from Ali – pieces from Robin Cook, Polly Toynbee and Sher Khan arguing, respectively, that poverty is at the root of Islamist terror, that it doesn’t really matter much who was responsible for the outrages – “the minds of those who did it seem too remote to understand, too unknowable” – and that the bombings have nothing to do with Islam as a faith, which roundly condemns murder.
All three articles make valid points, but their common refusal to accept the religious motivation of the jihadists who appear to have been responsible for the bombings is extraordinary. If London is indeed the latest in the series of outrages that includes 9/11, Bali and Madrid – and I accept that it might not be, though like me all three writers assume it is – it is essential to take seriously the professed ideology of the perpetrators rather than dismiss or ignore it.
I have no desire to provoke anti-Muslim hysteria: the overwhelming majority of Muslims are people who would have no truck with the theory or practice of Osama bin Laden and his henchmen. But, as Amir Taheri makes clear in the Times, the unavoidable facts are that the jihadists are Muslims, of a particularly fanatical kind, and that they do what they do because they believe what they do. Their appeal to the dispossessed, the strangeness of their beliefs to everyone else and their antipathy to most Muslims are all important. But liberals and leftists need to grasp that even though Islam is not in itself the enemy, one strain in it very definitely is.
As Christopher Hitchens and others have made clear, there is a civil war going on in the Islamic world, and the jihadists are the enemies of tolerance, of democracy, of decency, of humanity – everything that most Muslims, and indeed most non-Muslims, hold dear. I think, after seeing the heroic efforts of the emergency services and the rock-solid determination of Londoners to carry on in defiance, that most Britons know which side they are on. I have never felt more proud to be British than in the past couple of days. And I'm not at all worried that, if we demonstrated against terror, the show would be hijacked by either the apologists for Islamofascism or by the racist right. We should get out on to the streets – and show the world that we will never surrender our tolerant secular society or our democracy to murderous religious bigots.