With the four year anniversary of the July bombings passing last week, on July 7th, is it time to draw attention to Defence Academy research which casts doubt on the perpetrators’ classification as terrorists?
In a paper published by The Defence Academy Journal entitled “Home-Grown Nihilism: The Clash within Civilisations”, Bill Derodie argues that the London bombers were motivated by disaffection rather than Islam.
Bill Derodie is a Senior Lecturer in Risk and Security at Department of Defence Management and Security Analysis, Cranfield University, Shrivenham and his arguments may have far-reaching consequences in terms of how the public views those attacks and the responses which resulted.
Derodie is concerned about the malaise which he believes led to the July 7th atrocities. A proven lack of specific political motivation behind the London bombings would also lead to a change in how they are currently categorised in the media and government as terrorist in addition to being criminal.
The paper explains how there was a distinctive lack of religious or outside political motivation behind their behaviour:
There is little to indicate that Khan, or his collaborators Shehzad Tanweer, Jermaine Lindsay and Hasib Hussain were particularly pious or held any deep appreciation of the Koran. Still less that they had direct relations to anyone in Palestine, Bosnia or Iraq. They did not bother to ask their families, friends or neighbours what they thought about such matters. That is why these were so deeply shocked by their actions.
The bombers met in the local gymnasium rather than the local mosque, they went on outdoor activities together and, the day before the attacks, one of them played that quintessentially English game – cricket – in his local park. In the end, they acted alone – in isolation – a form of private gesture against a world they appeared to feel little connection with, let alone ability to influence.
Derodie goes on to explain that the London bombers were “unremarkable” and could be categorised along with other non-political perpetrators of violence such as the Columbine school massacres. The article argues that attempts to spin the story of the bombings into a clash of ideologies – whether East meets West or Old versus New – does a disservice to the evidence of nothingness. Indeed, he mentions research characterising many individuals associated with Al-Qaeda as nihilists who find rage first and a cause second.
Predicting the behaviour of small groups of non-state actors is notoriously difficult. There are not enough examples for sound patterns to be identified. Most historic suicide bombers are from the Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka or Hizb’Allah in Palestine and Lebanon. These people were part of highly organised, large militarist organisations with a specific political purpose. To compare targeted attacks with a specific political purpose and timing (such as a bus of Israeli soldiers during an election or religious holiday) with the London bombings is to confuse methods with purpose. If this seems unimportant, then consider the definition of terrorism as put forward by Bruce Hoffman – author of “Inside Terrorism”:
The deliberate creation and exploitation of fear through violence or the threat of violence in the pursuit of political change.
If we are uncertain of what political change the London bombers hoped to achieve through their actions, or of any genuine commitment to an Islamist ideology, then we are left with the conclusion that they were, according to Derodie: “radical nihilists who are prepared to lose their lives and those of others around them in their misguided determination to leave their mark upon a world that they reject”, rather than politically motivated terrorists. In his book, “Dying to Win: The Strategic Logic of Suicide Terrorism”, Professor Robert Pape characterises suicide terrorists as coherent campaigners with an appreciation for timing and the utility of attacks in relation to their goals. It would seem that the London bombings were meaningless in terms of specific goals and timing.
Should we therefore stop referring to the July 7th bombers as terrorists and face the possibility that the attacks falls into the same category of general violence as the Columbine school massacre and the Oklahoma bombings?