Published May 23, 2013
One minute, a London street bustles with cars and shoppers. The next, a young soldier lies beheaded upon the ground. A blood drenched terrorist speaks confidently into the camera: "You people will never be safe." This wasn’t Baghdad; this was London, May 22, 2013.
There was the 2006 conspiracy to blow up transatlantic passenger planes.
There was the 2007 attempt to destroy a popular nightclub and then a busy airport terminal.
There was the plot to record the kidnapping and murder of a Muslim British soldier. Just months ago, another terrorist cell was imprisoned after planning up to 10 bombings. These are only a few examples.
But Wednesday’s attack brought a new kind of terrorism to Britain.
Decapitating a young, unarmed man and then parading their weapons of murder in full public view, these terrorists were not agents of assassination. They showed a deliberate disinterest in escape and knew full well that the police would (eventually) arrive and either capture or kill them.
Instead, they strolled around in seeming euphoria; gleeful in their inhumanity and desperate to maximize their publicity.
Because of the nature of this incident, some are struggling to understand the attackers’ intention. But in the end, this was about political propaganda. It was about presenting a traditional message of violent authoritarianism in a newly vigorous way.
These terrorists wanted to use Western society against itself.
They were aware that the passing public would have cell phone cameras at hand. They knew that via Twitter, Facebook and other engines of modern informational power, their action would permeate the Internet and reach unconstrained across global borders.
In short, they banked on the power of 2013 technology to catalyze the impact and the import of their brutality.
That wanted to broadcast power -- that they fear neither death, nor imprisonment, nor moral boundary.
They wanted us to believe that their resolve fundamentally outweighs ours.
They wanted to use our intolerance for suffering as a mechanism for our acquiescence to their demands.
This attack was also about a challenge to British identity.
Verified press reporting suggests that the suspects are long-time British residents (perhaps even citizens). An understanding accentuated by this video, in which one suspect speaks about what he’s done. In the form of his clothing, articulation and demeanor he bears little in common with our traditional understanding of an Islamist terrorist.
This was probably intentional. By undercutting the notion of British identity in such a horrific way, these men have asserted that timeless terrorist message -- "We’re hidden amongst you. Trust no one."
In this attack, we witnessed terror’s unvarnished face -- as a tool of fear in the service of political intimidation.
It’s true, technology can be an ally to terrorism- it allows simple acts to achieve extraordinary attention. Two men armed with knives and a gun, relying upon a public space and video, sought to use one murder to create a truly global political effect.
Yet, in their ultimate intention -- to weaken Britain, these terrorists have already failed. Just as al-Zarqawi misjudged our American resolve in Iraq, so to have these killers misjudged the British people.
They hoped that Lee Rigby’s death would scare Britons into submission and sectarian fracture. But apart from a few beer sodden thugs, the British people have reacted as they always do. With sustaining spirit and a quiet but imbued resolve.
Today, along with two terrorists condemned by all, Britain has also found two heroes. An unarmed woman and a young soldier, who at home and abroad, served his country and the people of Afghanistan with courage, honor and decency. They’ll be immortalized in honored memory.
On Wednesday, we saw the worst of humanity and the best of Great Britain.