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Archive for Wednesday, July 12, 2006

British show terrorism resolve

July 12, 2006

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— Terror resides as much in the mind as it does in the deeds of perpetrators who carry out violent campaigns. I was reminded of that detail as I entered Paddington Station for my first trip on the city's subway system since the infamous al-Qaida-linked terrorist attacks of July 7, 2005.

Yet the anxiety left as quickly as it had arrived, chased by the sea of resolute faces that ride the rails not on occasion, as in my case, but each and every day. Those who describe London commuters' expressions as a mere veneer of calm fail to grasp how deeply the stiff upper lip extends. These are a hardy people. Even if savagely jolted off course, as happened a year ago, they rapidly regroup and return to the source of their trouble with an overriding goal: to defeat it.

Al-Qaida and its cohorts in Britain eventually will meet that fate, despite boastful claims such as the videotaped statement by a 7-7 bomber that was timed for release just before the anniversary. The message warned Britons of more attacks unless they abandon their involvement in Afghanistan and Iraq, and cease their financial and military cooperation with the United States and Israel.

Such tactics are ridiculously transparent, amateurish and more indicative of weakness than strength. If al-Qaida in Britain were capable of delivering the fury its foaming mouth threatens, it would have done so already. More likely, mindful of their limited resources and intensive monitoring by the British government, al-Qaida operatives have deferred to patience and selective action.

In stating that view, I am hardly suggesting a lack of capability on al-Qaida's part or the absence of future consequences for Britons from terrorism. A year ago, the terrorists abundantly displayed their ability to destroy, maim and kill. The three subway stations that they disrupted, along with a bus near Tavistock and Russell squares - all of which I purposely passed through - commanded all attention. Momentarily, the perpetrators, their nearly 800 victims and the intended target of the violence, the British government, blended into a single, shocking tableau.

But then the British counterterrorism apparatus shifted into high gear, where it remains to this day, with investigators pursuing a record number of potential terrorist plots. In some cases, similar to what has happened in the United States, inexplicable detentions without charges and controversial raids have raised legitimate concerns about heavy-handedness, as well as a tipping of the essential balance between security and freedom.

In the main, though, the system is working as it should. The British counterterrorism team did not hastily materialize in the wake of tragedy. Rather, it continuously has honed its skills over several decades. I have full faith in its effectiveness going forward, despite what the terrorists may plan to unleash.

The British government should not hesitate to proceed with its good work internationally. London's presence is warranted in Afghanistan and Iraq, and British troops should stay put no matter what al-Qaida does or says. Indeed, staying the course in those nations and giving them a chance to establish working democracies would deprive al-Qaida of support during the long term.

Also, the special relationship in counterterrorism and other areas between Britain and the United States continues to produce mutual benefits and should endure. Indeed, those ties provide a key link in global efforts to promote security and stability.

At the individual level, I firmly believe that the British people will not allow terrorists the upper hand. If the perpetrators again lash out and force the closing of one or more subway stations, other locations will pick up the slack. If the subway system becomes unusable, buses will fill the gap. And if all public transportation turns unsafe, the millions of feet in this city will walk.

Further, I expect that they shall fight along the lines of what former Prime Minister Winston Churchill described in World War II - with growing confidence and strength, whatever the cost may be, and never surrender. Against such determination, the terrorists cannot hope to win.

John C. Bersia, an editorial writer for the Orlando Sentinel, also is the special assistant to the president for global perspectives and a professor at the University of Central Florida.

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