Thursday, July 07, 2005

Edgware Road attack in the heart of Arab London


. News reports are in about the location of the Tube bombs, and the stations picked for the horrific rush-hour assaults are especially chilling. These attacks were not just attacks on our closest ally, but on the very idea of Arab and Muslim integration into the West. Among the targets in the worst attack on London since World War II was the Edgware Road station, located in the heart of wealthy, assimilated Arab London. Middle Easterners of a variety of religions and South Asian Muslims are a substantial minority of the population in London, and the Edgware Road area is the pre-eminent Arab neighborhood in the city, with a fantastic variety of Lebanese coffee shops, Saudi grocery stores, and Persian restaurants. Some even call it "Little Lebanon," though the residents and shop clients come from all over the Middle East and North Africa, and the area especially attracts a young, hip crowd that compares it to Amman or Dubai. Edgware Road is Arab London's main street.
Though we have no idea yet whether the stations or train lines that were bombed were specifically targeted, it's hard to imagine that whatever terrorist organization or cell was behind the attacks failed to consider the symbolic power of an attack on Edgware Road.

Furthermore, the timing of the attacks and their location along the arc of the Metropolitan and Circle lines spreading along in time and space from East London -- where 60 percent of London Muslims reside -- suggests a specific intention with regard to targets. After all, the Circle line can just as easily take riders to Westminster's collection of government buildings as to Edgware Road. And Al-Qaeda has a history of engaging in symbolically significant attacks against financial centers, banks, military installations, and government buildings. Why not against Arab allies of the West, as well?

The New York Times is now reporting that the other underground bombs appear to have detonated close to the Liverpool and King's Cross stations, which are transportation hubs connecting overland trains to the underground. But Edgware Road is not a hub in the same way.

In recent months we've seen Islamic jihadists increasingly going after targets in the Arab and Muslim world who have allied themselves with the west. The victims of the bombing attacks and terrorist incidents in Iraq are overwhelmingly Arab Muslims. Al-Qaeda in Iraq has just claimed that it killed the Egyptian envoy to Iraq, after condemning him as "the ambassador of the infidels." When the casualty count is in, I suspect some fraction of the victims of today's henious attacks will be Arab or Muslim, as well.

--Garance Franke-Ruta


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