20 July 2007

Lybberty in Print

This appears in the 20 July edition of the Tri-City Herald.

An American Student in Londonistan
By Jacob S. Lybbert

When news broke of the latest terror attacks in London, I was in Paris with my family, on the last leg of our European vacation. As I watched the news unfold on CNN in my hotel room, I was reminded of the foiled terror attacks last year. I remembered, with annoyance, the two and a half hour wait to get through Heathrow security on my way back from a summer of studying at Cambridge. In both cases, effective collaboration between intelligence services, local police, and a bit of what can only be described as good luck, resulted in zero lives lost.

Terrorists parked cars loaded with an explosive combination of fuel and nails on Haymarket and Park Lane—two major streets in London—just over a mile away from my flat on Edgware Road. When we returned from Paris, just the day after the bombs had been found and defused, we found an increased police presence everywhere we went. But the threat of terror hadn’t diminished people’s appetite for West End theatre or Haagen Dazs ice cream in Leicester Square. If the crowds have been smaller, it is because the summer has been unseasonably cool and wet.

Despite business carrying on as usual, the recent attacks remind me and everyone else that all is not well in the ancestral home of the English speaking people. Like the US, the United Kingdom deals with its own immigration and assimilation issues. The prominent role of medical doctors in the latest terrorist attempt shows that terror appeals to more than just the poor and disaffected. Polling data about the devastating attacks of July 7th, 2005 which killed 52 people and injured over 700 more—commonly referred to as the 7/7 bombings—show that while most British Muslims condemn the attack, nearly 25% believe the attacks were justified. Considering that the Muslim population of the UK is somewhere between 1.6 and 2 million, this means 400,000 to 500,000 think the freedom fighters had just cause.

I’ve been in England on and off for the last year, and in London for the last nine months. In that time, I’ve attended classes, seminars and conferences at a number of universities. I know from reading newspaper reports that British higher education is a fertile ground for terror recruitment. The ridiculous amount of paper work required to get a bank account are evidence of post-9/11 efforts to frustrate money laundering and financing of international terror. My neighborhood consists of people from countries we read about every day in the news—Pakistan, Afghanistan, Syria, Iran. I get my haircut in a barbershop around the corner by a Kurdish man from northern Iraq. I get my shirts laundered across the street by a friendly man from Jordan. I eat kebabs and curry at shops run by people from throughout the Middle and Near East. They speak Farsi, Arabic, Urdu, Punjabi, and Hindi, while I’m limited to English and Spanish. Our communication isn’t perfect, but everyone seems friendly. It’s hard to believe that out of this group could come a fanatic or two, or that one in four of the people I meet on the street are sympathetic to the terrorists.

As I walk around London, I know I have a better chance of being hit by one of London’s famous black cabs than being blown up by a terrorist. I don’t know if it’s the remote chance of another bomb, ignorance, or my desire to somehow show the terrorists that they can’t scare me, but I find myself emboldened to do anything but stay home. And our British cousins? Well, they’d prefer to gather in their now-smoke free pubs and tell stories about John Smeaton, the airport baggage handler from Glasgow who kicked a terrorist in the head.

Jacob Lybbert graduated from Southridge High School in 1999 and Brigham Young University in 2006. He currently lives in London and is working on a Masters Degree in Modern History at University College London. You can contact Mr. Lybbert by emailing him at lybberty@gmail.com. You can also visit his blog at lybberty.com.

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