At this early stage, it is difficult to know what to write about the terrorist attacks in London. Certainly, whatever I say will have been said better elsewhere. At the moment, the overwhelming feeling is shock, but it is shock tempered by familiarity - we've been here, done this before. This is not to suggest that most dubious (and, one hopes, largely imaginary) psychological condition, "compassion fatigue". I merely note that as terrorism proliferates, overt fear is giving way to - or rather being joined by - despair. This is perhaps the most pernicious long-term effect of terrorism - it removes from the target society its sense of hope, without which it stagnates, and perhaps even falls.
It feels inappropriate to point fingers at times like this, but terrorism is politics expressed as violence, so we must look to our own politicians for answers. Despair is not alleviated by the suspicion that our leaders' defiant reassurances are as empty as many of their actions. It is almost four years since the September 11 attacks, yet barring (with some qualifications) the ousting of the Taliban in Afghanistan, the "war on terror" has done little but increase instability worldwide and create a climate of (apparently justified) paranoia in the countries involved. Saddam Hussein was a bad guy of comic strip proportions, but his demise has done nothing to stop terrorism, and even less to gain the vital support of Middle Eastern governments. Iraq was and is a mistake, expensive and distracting, and many experts now warn that the present insurgency is essentially providing a training ground for future terrorists. The governments who committed to this costly action must be questioned; unfortunately, this seems increasingly unlikely to happen, especially when said governments have their incompetence rewarded with increased majorities.
As in conventional warfare, it is the ordinary citizen who is most often targeted, and whose individuality tends to be subsumed by politics. Each statistic, in Iraq as in London or New York, was a person, and that person had a family and friends and a place in the world they called their own. The political ramifications of terrorism cannot be ignored, even by those who might wish to do so. Equally, the human reality should be kept in mind, particularly when the memory of these first raw days begins to fade. It is for real human beings that the fight must be continued, both against the terrorists themselves, and against the political forces of our own countries whose ideology-driven blustering is helping to lead us down the path to despair.