Daniel Pipes: Why the London Attack Was Not Unexpected

Roundup: Historians' Take

Daniel Pipes, in the NY Sun (7-8-05):

[Mr. Pipes is the director of the Middle East Forum. His website address is http://www.danielpipes.org. Click here for his HNN blog.]

Terrorism usually comes like a bolt from the blue, but not so the four explosions yesterday in London, killing at least 37. Some British Islamist leaders have been warning for months that such violence was imminent.

An Islamist British group called Al-Muhajiroun -"the immigrants" in Arabic - for some time publicly stated that Britain was immune from Islamist violence because of its acceptable behavior toward Muslims within the country's borders. In an April 2004 conversation, the 24-year-old Sayful Islam, who heads Al-Muhajiroun's Luton branch, announced that he supported Osama Bin Laden"100%" in the quest to achieve"the worldwide domination of Islam," but went on to voice an aversion to himself performing terrorist acts in Britain.

Yet, Mr. Islam endorsed terrorism in Britain in a broader sense"When a bomb attack happens here, I won't be against it, even if it kills my own children. … But it is against Islam for me to engage personally in acts of terrorism in the UK because I live here. According to Islam, I have a covenant of security with the UK, as long as they allow us Muslims to live here in peace." He further explained."If we want to engage in terrorism, we would have to leave the country. It is against Islam to do otherwise."

Covenant of security? What is that? In an August 2004 story in the New Statesman,"Why terrorists love Britain," Jamie Campbell cited the author of Inside Al Qaeda, Mohamed Sifaoui, as saying,"it has long been recognized by the British Islamists, by the British government and by UK intelligence agencies, that as long as Britain guarantees a degree of freedom to the likes of Hassan Butt [an overtly pro-terrorist Islamist], the terrorist strikes will continue to be planned within the borders of the UK but will not occur here."

The New Statesman story drew from this the perversely ironic conclusion that"the presence of vocal and active Islamist terrorist sympathizers in the U.K. actually makes British people safer, while the full brunt of British-based terrorist plotting is suffered by people in other countries."

A Syrian immigrant to Britain who headed Al-Muhajiroun, Omar Bakri Mohammed, confirmed the covenant of security, describing companions of the Prophet Muhammad who were given protection by the king of Ethiopia. That experience, he told the magazine, led to the Koranic notion of covenant of security: Muslims may not attack the inhabitants of a country where they live in safety. This"makes it unlikely that British-based Muslims will carry out operations in the U.K. itself," Mr. Mohammed said.

But in January 2005, Mr. Mohammed determined that the covenant of security had ended for British Muslims because of post-September 11, 2001, anti-terrorist legislation that meant"the whole of Britain has become Dar ul-Harb," or territory open for Muslim conquest. Therefore, in a reference to unbelievers,"the kuffar has no sanctity for their own life or property."

The country had gone from safe haven to enemy camp. To renew the covenant of security would require British authorities to undo that legislation and release those detained without trial. If they fail to do so, British Muslims must"join the global Islamic camp against the global crusade camp."

Mr. Mohammed went on overtly to threaten the British people:"The response from the Muslims will be horrendous if the British government continues in the way it treats Muslims," explicitly raising the possibility of suicide bombings under the leadership of Al-Qaeda. Western governments must know that if they do not change course, Muslims will"give them a 9/11 day after day after day!"

When Sean O'Neil and Yaakov Lappin of the London Times asked Mr. Mohammed about his statements on the covenant, he said his definition of Britain as Dar ul-Harb was"theoretical" and he provided a non-bellicose re-interpretation:

It means that Muslims can no longer be considered to have sanctity and security here, therefore they should consider leaving this country and going back to their homelands. Otherwise they are under siege and obviously we do not want to see that we are living under siege.

In a less guarded moment, however, Mr. Mohammed acknowledged that for him,"the life of an unbeliever has no value."

Yesterday's explosions mark the end of the" covenant of security." Let's hope they also mark the end of an era of innocence, and that British authorities now begin to preempt terrorism rather than wait to become its victims.

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omar ibrahim baker - 10/19/2007

Why is it that the demolition of the WTC, the Madrid and London bombings, are considered acts of "terrorism" while the air bombing of civilian shelters, by the USA in 1991 in Baghdad which resulted in some 500 civilain fatalities and by Israel in Qanaa (Lebanon) which led to some 200 civilian casualties, are NOT considered as acts of "terrorism" but deemed acts of war since both were terribly "terrorizing" and both led to the same result: the killing of uninvolved civilian bystanders?

(Surely it is not a question of numbers; otherwise Hiroshima and Nagasaki would be the worst ever.)

Is it because the bombimg of the Baghdad and Qanaa shelters were undertaken by regular official armies while the WTC ,Madrid and London were by a " band of irregulars"?

If that is the reason then there would be grounds to maintain that such acts of regular armies are indeed more "terrorist" than those of the "irregular band" since the governments behind those armies are, supposedly, more law abinding and more responsible than the "irregular band"!

Or is it that legally constituted governments have a licence to kill, with or without UN authorization, while "irregular bands" do not?

If that is the reason then it would not be illogical to maintain that such acts of governments are much more criminally " terrorizing " since undertaken by , suppoesedly, entities acting under the supervision of other legally constituted bodies!
Would not that make it "doubly" criminal, by the government(1) and its supervisor(2), to undertake and/or condone such acts of killing !

If acts of civilian killings are excusable on the grounds of being inevitable "collateral damage " then its corolary would be that "only those with the capabilty of undertaking "intended/major" and "collateral" killing are allowed to undertake "excusable" killings!"
Would not that mean that either you kill "doubly" or do not kill at all?
Would it not, then, be possible to deduce that: if you can not inflict the "double" killing then the "single" killing is not only more permissible, IF any "killing" at all IS (which it is NOT ),but also "more humane", and less "terrorist", since it results in fewer casualties!

Is it not reasonable to maintain that the nation , whose legally constituted and democratically supervised army and in whose name its army undertakes the killing ,is MORE responsible about the killing than the nation out of which a "band of irregulars" emerged ?

Gordon Bond - 7/11/2005

The term "terrorism" is somewhat relative. State-sponsored or otherwise, it's goal in the broad sense is to strike fear into the hearts of a population such that they press their governments to change their policies. By that definition, the Sons of Liberty here in America during the pre-Revolutionary period could be seen as a "terrorist group" by the standards of the day. It all depends on who is writing the history.

That said, I think the main difference in terms of your question is the intent. With the exception of the Pentagon, the 9/11 attacks were specifically designed to target civilians. It was not a matter of hitting a "legitimate" military target and killing a civilian who had the bad luck to be walking by or an accidental malfunction causing a bomb to miss it's intended target.

Whether an "irregular band" as you call them or a traditional army, an attack on unarmed civilians is gereally frowned upon in most cultures, though it doesn't stop zealots of all kinds from violating that rule.