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Another form of authority Jul 11

Romantic visions of the past would have us believe that the British were always a deferent sort – knowing their place, doffing their caps to their olders and betters, and respecting authority. Whether this society ever existed, outside the Victorian romantic novel, the Britain of today is a very different place. By and large, respect is something that has to be earned rather than inherited and authority is questioned.

Thursday’s atrocities represent an attempt to impose authority in a terribly different way. The perpetrators aim, almost certainly, is to affect the population, changing the way we live. We don’t know whether the bombers want us to overthrow the government, to withdraw our troops from Iraq, or to cast off the freedoms of secularism, but regardless of their aims it is an attempt to impose their will on a population that needs authority to justify itself and to earn its power.

During the IRA bombing campaigns, many British people who had little interest in the Northern Ireland situation took the unionists’ side in defiance of the IRA’s demands. The terrorism had the opposite of its intended effect, damaging the nationalist cause, as people refused to be blackmailed into submission.

The killing of innocent civilians is as authoritarian as one can be, whether as the actions of a dictatorial government or of madmen hell bent on causing terror. The British people don’t like being dictated to, as the bombers are sure to discover. Whatever their cause, it will have only been harmed by Thursday’s attacks.

(See also.)

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