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From Across the Pond by Lananh Nguyen
Lananh Nguyen is a freelance reporter and junior copy editor for a financial newswire in London. She has worked for the Associated Press, BBC, KNTV, WGBH and various local newspapers. A Political Science graduate from Tufts University, she also studied International Relations at the London School of Economics. She will receive a British qualification from the National Council for the Training of Journalists in August.

It wasn't 9/11 ...

As I write, U.K. media are reporting 4 more blasts at London tube stations, and on another one of its famous double-decker buses. It's too early to confirm all the facts, so I will apply the BBC's "accuracy is more important than speed" principle and wait for more information.

Amid this confusion, my first column "from across the pond," will sum up my reaction, as an American in London, to the July 7 bombings.

Prime Minister Tony Blair said today, "We know why these things are done. They are done to scare people, to frighten them, to make them anxious and worried...We've just got to react calmly."

What struck me about the attacks two weeks ago was this same composed, business as usual attitude embodied by most Londoners. It wasn’t 9/11. It wasn't chaos. I mentioned this to a colleague, and he responded in typical British fashion: "Stiff upper lip, isn't it."

While the events were tragic, it was sometimes embarrassing to watch British media try extract all the drama and emotion from the day's events. Independent Television (ITV), a private alternative to the BBC's state monopoly, had a digital counter tolling the dead during its daily roundup.

Photos of Shahara Islam, a 20-year-old Muslim who died in the bombings, were splashed on the front pages of newspapers under headings that read, "killed in the name of her own faith." While the statement is true, I can't help but think that the papers had used tragic story of a beautiful East London woman in a cheap way, highlighting her as the "token" Muslim victim.

It seems that "7/7" has been modelled into a "9/11" style story. We should challenge this assumption.

The Myth of Londonistan
I was disappointed to see my hometown newspaper, The San Jose Mercury News, along with major U.S. media, succumb to knee-jerk coverage of "Londonistan" as a hotbed of terrorism.

The fact is that four men, and their as-yet-undiscovered accomplices, killed more than 50 people for the sake of a distorted, not mainstream, version of Islam. But there are 1.6 million Muslims in this country.

The bombers were from Leeds. Londoners can be quite precious about their city origins, and to confuse a Londoner on July 6th with a person from Leeds would have been humorous, but quickly dismissed. Foreign media seem to think that all Britons live in London, which is untrue.

The concept of "Londonistan," is oversimplified and misleading. Muslim extremists are not running amok on the streets of the capital, congregating en masse at the Finsbury Park mosque. About three percent of Britons are Muslims, and the extremists are anomalies, scattered across the country. This is true in the U.S. as well.

As stated by Lynne O'Donnell in the Merc and echoed by U.S. papers, Britain allowed the terrorists to "use the country's liberal values as a protective umbrella for openly preaching jihad." Furthermore, "lax security" allowed them to create a strong network of radical extremism.

I fear that this argument is getting too much airplay in the States, and as a reminder, the same kinds of things were also said after 9/11. Intelligence existed in both the U.S. and U.K. prior to the attacks. But terrorism is still unpredictable.

Within two weeks, London authorities have identified the bombers, apprehended suspects, met with Muslim community leaders, and cooperated extensively with Pakistani authorities in their investigation. The response is broad, incorporating law enforcement, the emergency services, legislature, diplomacy and the Muslim community to deal with the attacks.

My friend from Luton, where the bombers boarded connecting trains to London, spoke to me at length about the events of July 7. It's hard to find opinions like hers on television or on the covers of newspapers, but I suspect that these views are common among many British Muslims.

First, Islam forbids the killing of innocent civilians. Second, the concept of jihad applies to combat between soldiers in battle. Third, while many Muslims are politically and morally outraged by Western military actions in the Muslim world, but they are just as outraged by the attacks as non-Muslims.

While the bombings were an disgraceful and perverted demonstration of outrage against western policy, moderate Muslims are still disgusted by the mayhem caused by the Iraq war, and the abuses at Guantánamo Bay and Abu Ghraib prison. But people who express these views are now likely to be branded as "terrorists" or extremists, rather than moderates with legitimate political objections.

My friend told me that she could sadly "identify" with the bombers. They were "cleanskins," normal Brits who had never been in trouble before. Politically, she opposes U.S. and U.K. policies which she views as anti-Islamic and also understands the resentment underlying the bombers' actions. However, she felt the suicide bombers had been brainwashed into carrying out acts which were contrary to her faith.

The BBC and Rupert Murdoch-owned Sky News both aired an interviews with politicized, angry young Muslim men after the attacks. Muslim clerics' photographs in the newspapers are often shot from a low angle and with strange light to make them look as evil as possible.

These types of caricatures make it easy for people to stereotype Muslims as fanatics. They stir up the type of racism and religious hatred which has already led to one man being beaten to death in the north of the country.

The Iraq Connection
Respected think tank Chatham House said there is "no doubt" that Britain's involvement in the Iraq war contributed to the London terrorist attacks. Sixty four percent of The Guardian newspaper readers agreed. Beyond that, it seems obvious that military actions in Iraq and Afghanistan have angered and galvanized the Muslim world.

This connection is not so obvious to U.K. Prime Minister Tony Blair, foreign secretary Jack Straw, and defence secretary John Reid, who strenuously deny the possibility that the bombings were connected to Iraq.

The government is trying to steamroll controversial crime legislation through parliament that enables police to detain suspected terrorists. The legislation is criticized by human rights watchdogs as being too open to abuse. This may sound familiar to Americans witnessed the introduction of the Patriot Act.

Despite the fact that a bomb had been detonated on a London bus the morning of July 7, the double-deckers were back in use about 6 hours later. This wasn't an irresponsible move by Transport for London, but a pragmatic one in a city that carries 3 million commuters a day.

The number 30 bus route connects my neighborhood to central London. Even as someone who could have been directly affected by the blasts, I found Londoners' attitudes infectious in their disinterest to apparent danger.

Thwarted commuters also flooded the streets, and in the two and a half hours it took me to walk home, I had never shared the sidewalk with so many people.

The composure of Londoners bordered on indifference, but a basic attitude prevailed, that of "getting on with it," and coping with the more immediate problem: how to get home.