Ask the experts: London bombings

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Martin Wolf, chief economics commentator, and Roula Khalaf, Middle East editor, answer readers’ questions about the London bombings in a live online debate.

Click here for Martin Wolf on how the enemies of freedom always underestimate their adversaries.

Click here for Roula Khalaf on the disaffected youths that find identity in fundamentalism.


Q: How do you feel we can defeat future terrorists?
Charles Ashworth, UK

Roula Khalaf: Various countries have adopted different approaches to dealing with terrorism. A security approach is always more effective when combined with policies that address the social, political and perhaps religious causes of the violence. In Saudi Arabia, for example, changes in the education system and in the discourse preached in mosques has been key to tackling the terrorist threat. In Europe, one of the issues that have emerged in recent years is the need to understand the motivation of young disaffected Muslims and to find ways of accelerating the integration of Muslim communities into the mainstream.

Martin Wolf: It will be hard. My column of last week gave the answers which seem obvious to me. I cannot go beyond it.


With regard to the alleged link between the Iraq war and the London bombings. I agree that it is wrong to tie the two together. However, given that the war was started and conducted with very little regard for international law to what extent do you think this creates in the minds of some that this is an era of ‘anything goes’? Is there a need to return to consensus in international politics?
Adil Allawi, London

Roula Khalaf: Of course there is. The international divisions over the Iraq war made the war all the more illegitimate in the eyes of its opponents. And I think this has been recognised by European governments as well as by the US. This is why we’ve seen the transatlantic divide over Iraq narrow in recent months. Attitudes towards the war have largely given way to a recognition that post-war Iraq has to be returned to some semblance of stability.

Martin Wolf: That is a reasonable point. I do not know whether the Iraq war was, in any clear sense, illegal under international law. I know lawyers debate this. I also do not agree that the requirements of consensus must always inhibit action. If it had done so, Nato would not have intervened in Kosovo, which was to protect Muslims, by the way. But consensus is in itself at least desirable. So is acceptance of international norms. Both are ways to civilise relations among states. So the fact that the war did not obtain the support of the majority of the world’s significant states was an important drawback in and of itself. Similarly, I agree that if one propounds the view that might makes right, one cannot be surprised if others ultimately take a similar view.


Sorry to breach this taboo, but we seem to be persuaded that our morals are those that should prevail upon others. The West is starting to police the world quite strangely. Childishly, in fact. We, the good, are allowed to posses weapons of mass-destruction, whereas you, the bad are not, seems to be an increasingly accepted foreign policy. We are asking the world to respect contracts that we do not and are ready to use power to legitimate our position. Everyone seems pretty sure, now, that Iraq was no real threat to the Western world.

Do you think that the Western way of ruling is bound to create more frustration and unacceptable issues such as terrorism?
William H.W. Read, Geneva, Switzerland

Martin Wolf: There is obviously a huge question about the determination of existing nuclear weapons states (not all of them western, by the way) to hold on to them, while denying them to others. This is almost certainly an untenable position in the long run. So I agree that our stockpiles must come into question as well. In the long run, disarmament must be global. At the same time, some regimes are more dangerous than others. Saddam Hussein was certainly trying to obtain nuclear weapons before the first Gulf War. That is well known. Given his record, he might well have used them if he had obtained them. That could have been devastating. I am not too happy about the idea of Iranian nuclear bombs either. When dealing with weapons this dangerous, perfect justice is less important than common sense. Some countries are simply less threatening than others. I do not think the Indian or Chinese bombs are a threat to the West. I do think an Iraqi bomb might have been.

Roula Khalaf: It may not sound fair but it’s the way it works. You raise the question that Iranians always ask: why should friends of the west have nuclear weapons while Tehran’s nuclear programme must be stopped. Of course this creates frustration in parts of the world but I don’t think it should justify the behaviour of terrorists.


Do you think that Western support for unelected dictators and kings in the Islamic world who have not allowed uncontrolled and unscripted debate and discussion on Islam and its role in life has contributed to the creation of the Jihadis?

If so, do you think it is sensible for the British government to start banning Islamic groups in the UK because their views contradict British policies and may undermine some of their Arab regime friends? Would such a policy just accelerate the creation of more British Jihadis?
Salman Ahmed, London

Martin Wolf: The answer to the first part of this question is an unambiguous yes. The answer to the second part is that banning people who want to change foreign governments by peaceful means would be absolutely wrong, but banning people who call for terrorism as a tool of their “war” is, by now, perfectly reasonable. It is particularly reasonable if that war is also being waged against the host population.

Roula Khalaf: There are two problems: Autocratic regimes, particularly in the Arab world, have not allowed an open and fair debate over religion. Moreover, some Arab regimes have gone as far as to promote, at one time or another, a certain radical view of Islam as a way of legitimising their rule. That is even more dangerous than not allowing a debate.

Unfortunately, western governments have historically lent support to many of these regimes and have only realised the risks involved after September 11. I think this has begun to change, particularly in the US. But it’s an evolving process. It cannot produce results overnight.

Should the UK ban Islamic groups? It depends which ones you’re referring to. There are plenty of peaceful Islamist opposition groups in London that regimes in the Middle East would like to see banned. But silencing them would be a mistake. On the other hand, groups that advocate violence, whether here or abroad, should not be allowed to have a voice in Britain.


Do you think the recent bombings in London were any less legal than the bombings of Iraq by US and UK forces initiated in April 2003?
Kirstin Edwards, UK

Martin Wolf: Yes, they were much less legal. There is a big question whether international law exists, since there is no body able or entitled to enforce it. Moreover, even if international law does exist, it is very far from clear that the invasion of Iraq was illegal: lawyers will argue about this for decades. And again, there is no question that the coalition forces did not aim to kill large numbers of civilians. But deliberate murder of civilians, as happened in London, is a crime under the laws of every state and religion, including Islam.

Roula Khalaf: I don’t think you can compare the two. The war in Iraq may not have had a legal basis under international law but it did not deliberately aim to kill civilians.


There has been a lot of talk about what the Muslim community should be doing - but what about the native British community? I know a lot of Asian people who complain about racism in British business and institutions. Do you think this may also contribute to the isolation that young people in Muslim communities feel?
Adil Allawi

Martin Wolf: Yes, I agree. It is necessary to improve education. It is also necessary for business to ask itself what it is doing to reduce the dangers by employing young Muslims. At the same time, it is important not to increase resentment in other parts of the community by favouring Muslims. What is needed, in my judgement, is a strict policy of non-discrimination. A part of the problem is that many immigrant communities are located in areas of the country where the economy is very weak. In Yorkshire, for example, they were brought in to work in the textile industry, which subsequently collapsed, anyway. This, by the way, is a good example of the stupidity of listening to business complaints about “labour shortages”, by which they mean a shortage of sufficiently cheap labour. But where the local economy is very weak, the challenge is not to include Muslims in the economy but to develop the economy, or encourage movement elsewhere.

Roula Khalaf: The burden is not only on the Muslim communities in Europe. It is also on governments and society as a whole. You are right. Discrimination and the feeling of being singled out are issues that must be addressed and I hope they become part of the post-terrorist attacks debate.


The root cause in some respects is the desire of certain xenophobic Muslims to stop the changes to their religion. Freedom of movement, increased wealth, Western TV, radio, just sheer personal contact is affecting their religion and the xenophobes hate it.

We in the west are going to have to try and integrate Muslim communities more and more into our mainstream society.

This is war, and we must win it. Everyone has to compromise in order to get along. Muslim leaders have to find ways of adapting some of their rules so that their people can prosper and compete in a western and open society while retaining their own identity and culture.

In the end every Muslim in the UK has to ask themselves these questions. Why do we live in the UK? What brought us here? The answers are a chance for a better life. That means compromise, that means change. Some big things are going to have to give.

So my question is: What is going to have to change and how are we going to do it?
Nigel L.Speakman

Martin Wolf: I think you have answered your question. The host community has to accept that Islam is now part of this country and young British Muslims must be offered the opportunity and the means to integrate. That means better education and more jobs. A more radical question is whether efforts must be made to reduce the high concentrations of minorities in particular areas, which inevitably removes them from the mainstream. There will also have to be tighter control over who comes into the country and how many are allowed in. In particular, those who incite violence cannot be welcome. In turn, the Muslims will have to accept the fundamental norms of a society they have chosen to join. These are democracy, the rule of law, equality of the sexes and personal liberties.

Roula Khalaf: Here are some suggestions:

1) Enlisting the support of Muslim clerics throughout the Islamic world is key to confronting the xenophobic teachings of the most radical preachers. It’s important that clerics who are considered independent and credible assist in this effort and agree on a broad condemnation of terrorist acts - something which we have yet to see.

2) Greater integration of the mainstream in Muslim communities and the isolation of the minority of extremists. Our research over the past two weeks has shown that Muslim minorities in many European countries still suffer from a feeling of marginalisation, social, economic and political. There is also a widespread feeling that their religion has been under attack from the west - an issue that must be addressed by governments.


Edward Heath died this week. He was one of the political leaders whose actions are sometimes said to have “abolished Britain” and heralded in what is called, by the “media”, a “multicultural society”. In his case he went further, convincing the population to vote to join a free trade block when it was in fact something quite different and he also abolished ancient counties and imposed unloved, new partitions. The consequence of what he and other government leaders of his generation did is an experimental state that has replaced an evolved one but neither the BBC nor the FT has mentioned this. To what extent has this experimental state contributed to the recent violence?
David Dent, Oxford

Martin Wolf: It is evident that the UK would not confront terrorism animated by Islam, if no Muslim was allowed to set foot on its soil. But that is hardly a feasible strategy in the modern world. It is worth remembering that some of the terrorists have been local converts, not Muslim immigrants. So it is unclear how far a different immigration strategy would have affected the risks. I don’t see how the abolition of the counties or the entry into the European Union has affected these risks. But it may well be true that one of the things that is needed is to emphasise and teach the country’s core values.

All countries are experimental and evolving. The UK is no exception. Having been an exporter of people as an imperial power, it has become an importer of them. This has a certain symmetry and, I would argue, a certain inevitability, as well.

Roula Khalaf: You raise an interesting question. But I don’t think the issue is the creation of this multicultural society as much as how this society has interacted and integrated. The question is whether as society has changed, enough has been done to address the cultural and social needs of minorities, particularly the Muslim communities in Europe. Since the London bombings, the FT has published several articles addressing the identity crisis felt by parts of the Muslim community in Britain and other European countries. A much broader debate is clearly needed.


Many letters on this subject refer to the US invasion of Iraq as a form of provocation to devout Muslims, which may have been instrumental in the London bombings. But why is it that devout Muslims seemed to be completely indifferent to the torture and suffering inflicted on Iraqis by Saddam Hussain’s regime? Or is it just that, for most Muslims, it is perfectly OK for a ruler to inflict untold suffering on his own people provided that he himself is a Muslim.
Charles Tilbury

Roula Khalaf: I don’t think most Muslims were indifferent to the suffering inflicted on Iraqis by Saddam Hussein - the coalition that ousted his regime from Kuwait in 1991 included many Muslim countries, including some of Saddam’s closest neighbours. It is true, however, that the suffering of Iraqis was not highlighted enough in the Arab media or in Arab political institutions, partly because most governments in the region have also been repressive, though to a much lesser degree. I’m sure most Muslims would say that it is not OK for a ruler to influct untold suffering on his own people.


Is it correct to claim that the jihadist suicide cult-factor which fascinated some young European Muslims to kill themselves and dozens of innocent civilians is a post-modern phenomena, not the opposite?
Atilla Iftikhar, Hamburg

Martin Wolf: Some claim that the suicide cult goes back to the Assassins in the 12th century. But it seems more reasonable to view it as a modern phenomenon, for a simple reason: it only works militarily if one has effective high explosives. Nor is this tactic exclusively Muslim. The Tamil Tigers, for example, have made substantial use of it. The suicide bomber is simply a very cheap guided missile. That is what makes this tactic so effective and, to its organisers, so attractive.


As long as young Muslims believe that suicide bombers are heroes, they will never stop coming forward to be martyrs. Shouldn’t the West create a major effort to change that belief and get the message across that suicide and the killing of women and children are cowardly acts? Perhaps the mainstream Muslims would be prepared to help with this?
Phil Godfrey

Roula Khalaf: You’re right. The glorification of martyrdom in suicide attacks is one of the most dangerous threats that we face. Some mainstream Muslim groups have been countering this trend but more can be done, particularly in the Middle East and the broader Muslim world. Enlisting independent, credible senior clerics in that effort would be extremely helpful.


(a) How far is the fundamentalism that produces bombers restricted to a few Muslim countries, or people who have received training in those countries? If so, which ones? (Pakistan? Saudi Arabia? Where in North Africa?)

(b) Are Bangla British Muslims different from Pakistani British Muslims in the attraction they are prone to feel to radical Islam?

(c) How far did the decision of the UK to participate in the Iraq war influence the thinking of British Muslims as a whole, or contribute to radicalisation?
Michael Sharpston

Roula Khalaf: a) I think the London bombings have highlighted that the radicalism that produces bombers is no longer restricted to a few countries. In the past, however, the al-Qaeda network has recruited mainly in the Arab world, including in Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and North African countries like Algeria and Morocco.

b) I don’t think so. But some experts on radical Islam have suggested that immigrants from countries most affected by conflict involving the west are more easily swayed by the arguments of extremist networks like al-Qaeda. Pakistan’s close involvement in Afghanistan and its earlier support for the Taliban could make some people of Pakistani origin more sensitive to this conflict.

c) That’s an issue that is generating a very heated debate these days. There’s no doubt that the Iraq war has been used as a new justification by al-Qaeda in its war against the west. So as a propaganda tool Iraq may well have contributed to the continued recruitment of young Muslims into extremist cells. The chaos in Iraq has also given extremists a new base from which to operate. However, that doesn’t mean that if the war had not been waged London would have been spared. Extremists would have simply used another justification for violence.


Although the London economy (and, by extension therefore, the UK economy as a whole) will have suffered an immediate and, in most cases, merely temporary loss of output as a result of the bombings on 7/7, the fear has to be that more serious damage will have been inflicted on the medium and longer term economic prospects for London and the UK. Which do you perceive as being the greater risk - that the costs of increased security measures imposed will act as a brake on growth or that the cultural diversity which has been an important element in the UK’s recent economic success will become increasingly fragile and more readily susceptible to serious rupture?
Mark Vickers, Commerzbank AG, Germany

Martin Wolf: if this is a one-off event or is repeated infrequently, the consequences for London as a whole would be trivial. It survived the IRA bombing campaign and would survive this, too. If suicide attacks by terrorists were to become regular events (say, once a month, or even, as in Iraq today, daily) then life would be transformed and the survival of the UK as a liberal society would come into question. From that nobody would gain, except the terrorist organisations, least of all British Muslims. That is why it is so important for all people of good will to come together to combat this threat.


Surely it must seem obvious to two FT columnists such as yourselves (rather than some half-wit from the Daily Mail) that to ignore, or to not take seriously enough, the demands and motivations of the terrorists will ultimately put ourselves (and other European countries) at further risk.

There is a great deal to be said about the dangers of militant Islam and how to best thwart the efforts of hate-preachers who wish to indoctrinate the young Muslim community. Yet at the same time, we cannot ignore the intelligible nature of the attackers’ statement released soon after the bombings.

Do you think those expressed in the statement are genuine grievances, or do you think the terrorists are using examples of our misadventures in the Middle East as cover for a more general hatred of all “infidels”?

If you believe it is the former, doesn’t this empty “we are not afraid” rhetoric simply tip the scales in the terrorists’ favour by ignoring the consequences of our government’s foreign policy whilst simultaneously distracting ourselves by further inflating our overblown projections of “defiance”?
Rowan, London

Martin Wolf: I suspect that there are both genuine grievances and a wider hatred of “infidels” among radical Islamists. But one needs to be careful about these grievances. The recent invasion of Iraq cannot explain September 11, 2001, for example. Nor is there much evidence that Osama bin-Laden cares about the fate of Palestinians. Equally, it is important not to exaggerate western guilt. The US, for example, fought for Muslims in the first Gulf War (though, obviously, not only for that) and in Bosnia. Again, those most guilty of atrocities against Muslims are other Muslims. If one takes into account the Iran-Iraq war, Saddam Hussein bears responsibility for the deaths of at least 1m Muslims. For this reason, I find it hard to understand why his removal is a crime against Muslims. After all, he was a secular ruler. So much of the rhetoric seems to me to be an excuse rather than a reason for terrorism. All the same, we should do everything in our power to remove the legitimate causes for grievance, thereby separating the “ultras” from the mass of ordinary believers.

I believe in not being afraid in one simple respect. If we are doing the right thing, we should continue to do it, regardless of threats. That principle was right in 1940. It is right now. So the question about our presence in Iraq is not whether it increases risks to the British population, but whether it is right.


I have followed very closely the events subsequent to the terror attacks carried out in London on Thursday 7th July. I too was bewildered when it was established that the suspects linked to the bombings were actually UK citizens. As a Maltese citizen my country is facing an ever ending problem with illegal immigrants seeking asylum here. Although, at the moment these illegal immigrants are not disembarking on British shores, their target is to settle down further north. In the light of the recent occurrences my question is whether you feel that more action within an EU context is needed to control such illegal immigrants and, henceforth, increase the security of our democratic countries.
Ivan Grixti, University of Malta

Martin Wolf: The EU must indeed get hold over its borders. I am sure that part of the answer must be to convince the host population that immigration is under control. We will, unfortunately, have to be quite ruthless about this. I regret this, but see no realistic alternative.


As a Muslim woman, I feel that if women were allowed to be educated in Islamic countries and communities and given equal status as men, they can deter men from being violent. I am also concerned that men are allowed to have 4 wives but women are not allowed to have 4 husbands. What do you think?
Salma Mohamed

Martin Wolf: I agree, of course. It is one of the ways in which Islam needs to be re-interpreted. Jews used to indulge in polygamy, as the Torah makes clear, but subsequently stopped doing so. The same should, in my judgement, happen in Islam.

Roula Khalaf: On your first point, women’s education and equal rights are a necessity in the Muslim world. And there’s been a lot of progress on education in many countries in the Arab Muslim world, less so on women’s rights. I’m not sure that I see a link with terrorism, however. There have been women suicide bombers, after all.

As to polygamy, lets advocate abolishing it, rather than extending it to women.


I personally feel that adherence to archaic principles applicable hundreds of years ago prescribed in the Koran are anachronistic. Apart from making the role of women subservient, it also contains many references urging Muslims to kill non-Muslims. For example, in surah 8, ayat 12,the Koran exhorts the Muslims to “strike of the heads of non-Muslims an to main them in every limb”, in surah 69, ayats 30 to 37, the Muslims are asked to capture non-Muslims and burn them in hell-fire after fastening them with chains. Such tenets are even quoted by Islamic suicide bombers as justification for killing non-Muslims. What do you think?
Fatima Akbar

Martin Wolf: Again, I agree. Scriptures must be re-interpreted in the light of current needs and norms.


Shouldn’t Muslim leaders evolve with time? It’s time for certain key clauses like the jihad to be removed from the Koran. Suicide bombers should not be able to take the shelter of such clauses and blame god and religion for such acts.

If we can criticise the west for excessive force and biased bombing, we should also hold the Islamic zealots responsible for such acts. Islam has to accept that the world has changed and Islamic people have to accept that they have to love their nation first and foremost and then a fellow Muslim from a different country. Changing with the times won’t make Islam any less holy. In fact it will allow a mechanism for its amalgamation with the rest of the world.
Amit Tiwari

Martin Wolf: I agree with this entirely. Any holy book has to be interpreted in the light of changing circumstances. What was relevant in the Judaea of the 1st century of our common era or the Arabia of the 7th century cannot be relevant today, without interpretation. After all, God, in his wisdom, gave us brains. We should use them.

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