Five years on: the lessons of 7/7

The bombings in London in 2005 were homegrown, nihilistic acts — not part of an international terrorist conspiracy.

Rob Lyons

Topics Politics

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On 7 July 2005, four men set off bombs on various parts of London’s public transport system. Three bombs went off on the London Underground while a fourth exploded on a bus. The bombers killed themselves and 52 other people. Five years on, as the relatives and friends of the victims mark the anniversary of the attack, it is important that we learn the lessons of what happened that day and the implications for policy today.

The first lesson is to ridicule the idea that the attack had something to do with an organisation called ‘Al-Qaeda’ – which itself is more of a ‘brand’ than an international terrorist movement – or some other foreign influence. In truth, this was homegrown terrorism, pure and simple. The four bombers – Hasib Hussain, Mohammad Sidique Khan, Germaine Lindsay and Shehzad Tanweer – had all lived in and around the city of Leeds. All were Muslims – Lindsay was a convert who changed his name to Abdullah Shaheed Jamal – but in almost every other respect their lives were little different to those of any other young men in Britain. While these men may have got the idea to kill others from previous attacks, there is no evidence of any outside guiding hand.

The second lesson is that there is almost certainly no wider meaning to this attack. At the time, for example, the assumption made by many was that the 7/7 bombs – along with the failed attempt at a repeat performance by an unconnected group two weeks later – were somehow payback for Britain’s involvement in the war in Iraq. But while the attackers may have worked themselves up into a state of hysteria over a variety of causes, it was also clear that they had no demands and the attacks served no particular political goal. The use of the bombings as an argument against the Iraq war was a pathetic attempt to cover over the failings of the anti-war movement.

As Brendan O’Neill noted on spiked in 2006: ‘The truth appears to be that 7/7 was meaningless; it was a nihilistic attack carried out by four fairly ordinary blokes for no easily discernible aim or agenda. And tragically, those who died in it may as well have been killed by an earthquake or in a train crash. It is time to stop trying to read meaning into 7/7, and get over it.’ While it is, of course, absolutely understandable that those immediately affected by the bombings will want to mark the anniversary in some way, these events are easily hijacked by those with other motivations.

The third lesson is that those terrible events five years ago provide no justification for Britain’s military adventures today. By coincidence – or perhaps not – the UK defence secretary, Liam Fox, today announced that British forces are withdrawing from Sangin, an area in Afghanistan’s Helmand province that has seen the deaths of over 100 UK military personnel, a third of total British casualties in Afghanistan since troops were deployed in 2001. Fox explicitly linked 7/7 with the UK’s involvement in Afghanistan, declaring that Britain’s presence was ‘vital to national security’.

But using 7/7 to justify Britain’s role in Afghanistan is absurd. If the London attacks were carried out by British people with little or no connection to Afghanistan or Pakistan, then the UK’s military presence in the region makes little sense. Indeed, as Patrick Hayes spells out elsewhere on spiked, the idea that Afghanistan has been closely linked to the major terrorist attacks of the past decade is simply a myth.

Fox’s statement simply follows a long pattern of attempts by British politicians to justify Western occupation of the country. The truth is that the battle in Helmand province – like the bombings in London five years ago – is just for show. As Brendan O’Neill put it last year: ‘Right from the start in October 2001, the West’s Afghan adventure has been a war in search of a war aim. Launched in the aftermath of the shock of 9/11, by America, Britain and NATO forces, this was a mission that lacked a mission statement, a military exercise with no clear military goal or endpoint.’

This lack of purpose has been very evident for some time, but the UK and US have now painted themselves into a corner: there is no good reason to stay in Afghanistan, but to leave now without any obvious achievement would be a devastating blow to Western authority. So the troops must remain, with the outcome being more and more pointless deaths, justified in part by the pointless deaths in London five years ago.

Rob Lyons is deputy editor at spiked.

Previously on spiked

Brendan O’Neill said 7/7 was a very British bombing. Josie Appleton saw the commemoration of the first anniversary of 7/7 as a media spectacle. Bill Durodié was unconvinced by a 2007 survey claiming that Londoners were still stressed out by the bombings. Or read more at spiked issue London bombs

To enquire about republishing spiked’s content, a right to reply or to request a correction, please contact the managing editor, Viv Regan.

Topics Politics


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