As regards his more general attitude to the war, you must not rely too much on those feelings of hatred which the humans are so fond of discussing in Christian, or anti-Christian, periodicals. In his anguish, the patient can, of course, be encouraged to revenge himself by some vindictive feelings directed towards the German leaders, and that is good so far as it goes. But it is usually a sort of melodramatic or mythical hatred directed against imaginary scapegoats. He has never met these people in real life?they are lay figures modelled on what he gets from newspapers. The results of such fanciful hatred are often most disappointing, and of all humans the English are in this respect the most deplorable milksops. They are creatures of that miserable sort who loudly proclaim that torture is too good for their enemies and then give tea and cigarettes to the first wounded German pilot who turns up at the back door.
— C. S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters
Britain is crawling with suspected terrorists and those who give them succour. The Government must act without delay, round up this enemy in our midst and lock them in internment camps.
Our safety must not play second fiddle to their supposed ?rights.?
— Barbarism of twisted cause, unsigned editorial, The Sun
Considering how much the resilience of Londoners during the Blitz has come up over the last week in commentary about the bombings in London, I thought a little war-time C. S. Lewis might be an appropriate contrast to the rantings of London’s fish-wrap press.
Now that there is no longer any doubt that the authors of the bombings in London were British citizens – three born and raised in Yorkshire and one Jamaican born convert – we will see how Britain faces an element of the war on terrorism that has no real parallel to WWII and that Americans, Australians and Spanish people have so far managed to avoid: the prospect that the enemy may not be someone far away. How the British people handle this will say far more about their national character than their resolve to “preserve our way of life, our values of democracy and respect for life”.
No one expects that Tony Blair will raise the white flag and surrender to Al Qaeda after this bombing. It would be silly to think such a thing was ever a prospect and I strongly doubt that anyone rational enough to be terrorist mastermind expects otherwise. (I won’t venture an opinion about what people irrational enough to actually become suicide bombers might be able to think.)
C. S. Lewis put his finger on exactly why this is much more of a challenge. Hating distant figures known only through the TV and the papers is easy, cheap, and for the most part harmless. It is hating the people you actually have to face and deal with that does real damage. The man who says that he hates “those towelheads in the Middle East” or what ever other deprecating label he likes to use, is not an irretrievable jackass if he’s still capable of saying “but those Pakistanis who run the off-license on the corner are decent, hard-working folks.” Lewis believed this to be an especially English trait, but really, it’s a lot more common than that. You’ll find people in America who rail against the “homosexual agenda” and then say that the gay guy in their office seems nice enough. I even had the absolutely hilarious experience of once hearing a Quebec separatist complain about the oppression of Anglo domination, and then say that “mais nos anglophones, icitte à Montréal, sont ben corrects”.
But of course, this abilty to hate distant sources of terrorism while still getting along at home is exactly what is now threatened, and it is something I have to assume the planners of this bombing must have hoped would happen. Now, a lot of people in the UK have to be asking themselves if their neighbours really are okay. The idea that the kind of people who perform suicide bombings come from somewhere else, or that at least British-born suicide bombers wouldn’t attack Britain, has to be gone for good. Even worse, the bombers weren’t even all from stereotypically Muslim ethnic groups – one was a Jamaican who may not even have been openly Muslim.
The most coherent, reasonable goal I can see possibly following from the Islamic terrorism of the last few years is exactly the kind of polarisation The Sun seems to so happy to participate in: Convincing the Muslims of the world that only the fundamentalists and the terrorists will stand up for them and that everyone else – or at least the developed west – is out to get them by making that assertion as true as possible.
In constrast to The Sun, at least Ken Livingstone gets it: [This attack is] an indiscriminate attempt at mass murder and we know what the objective is. They seek to divide Londoners. I can only hope more of the UK sees things Livingstone’s way than The Sun‘s.