World leaders had gathered this week in Scotland to discuss aid for Africa and global warming. Those topics were so uninspiring that it’s unlikely the news networks had even bothered to build animations for them. It’s difficult to imagine anyone watching shows called “G-8 Leaders Discuss Global Warming” or “Things Are Warming Up in Scotland.”
Under normal circumstances, this summit would have been forgotten even before the participants’ had departed. The world leaders would have raced home and the chattering classes could have kept right on predicting whom President Bush would pick to succeed Sandra Day O’Connor.
But terrorists simply will not be ignored.
A series of bombings in London on Thursday killed dozens of people (the early death toll was announced at 37) and brought the country to a standstill. The networks responded promptly, with their “London Terror” animations and wall-to-wall coverage of the disaster.
But this attack isn’t a surprise. On CNN, terror analyst Peter Bergen pointed out that Islamic terrorists have long been based in Great Britain, and he noted that many terrorists have been arrested there in recent years. This actually shows the weakness of the terrorists, not their strength.
Think about it: For years, London has been something of a hotbed of terrorism. For his book “Holy War, Inc.” Bergen traveled into the wilds of the Hindu Kush to conduct interviews, and he visited private homes in London. But even with years of planning, with years of experience living amidst the British, the worst the terrorists could do was explode four bombs on trains and a bus. That’s hardly a creative approach.
The terrorists can hit us almost any time they want. We can’t check every backpack and every briefcase carried by every commuter on every train in the United States (or anywhere in the West, for that matter). Any time he wants to, a suicide bomber can blow up a train and kill some innocent people. If he’s smart, he can time his attack so he’ll block an important tunnel or bridge and knock out train service for days or weeks after his death.
So what’s amazing isn’t the number of attacks we’ve lived through -- it’s the lack of attacks. September, 2001. Bali, Indonesia, October 2002. Madrid, Spain, March 2004. Now London, July 2005. On average the terrorists seem able only to strike once a year. And note the death tolls: U.S., some 3,000. Bali, 202. Madrid, 191. London, about 50.