UK envoy: Nowhere is safe from global terror

By David Horovitz July 29, 2005

‘If it were up to me, the BBC would call terrorists terrorists’

If it were up to him, says Britain’s ambassador to Israel, Simon McDonald, the BBC would call terrorists terrorists, rather than use terms such as militants, extremists and bombers to describe those who deliberately kill innocents for political purposes.

Interviewed by The Jerusalem Post following the July 7 bombings in London and the attempted repeat round two weeks later, McDonald noted that, although it does receive government funding, ‘the BBC is as proud of its independence as of any aspect of its existence.’

And therefore, while he personally took issue with the corporation’s stance against the use of the word terrorist, he said, ‘I’m not on the board of the BBC. You can talk to the BBC direct.’

The ambassador said he defined terrorism as ‘violence used for political ends, killing civilians for political ends.’ He added: ‘I have no problem calling people who come into Israel and kill Israelis terrorists. I have no problem calling the four people who went around the London underground two weeks ago terrorists… If it were up to me, I would have them [the BBC] call terrorists terrorists.’

McDonald, who has served here for the past two years, said he regarded the London attacks as ‘proof that this is a global phenomenon.’ Even since July 7, he noted, ‘there have been terrorist attacks in Israel, in Turkey and in Egypt that have killed a lot of people. And if you look back over the last four years or so, there have been attacks on every continent.’

On a personal note, he recalled that when he was posted here he told his mother and ‘she burst into tears. She thought, ‘Oh my god, you’re going to a war zone.’ She had visited Israel only once before, many, many years ago.’

Then, in November 2003, not long after his arrival, the British consul-general in Istanbul was killed in a terror attack. ‘And my mum phoned me up and said, ‘You know, if six months ago you had told me you were going to Istanbul, I’d have been delighted.”

What she had learned, and what McDonald said is now widely appreciated ‘is that nowhere is safe, and you have to accept that fact in that you have to get on with your life. I don’t think you ‘accept that fact’ in that you don’t do anything about it, but it just becomes part of your world view. That’s the way the world is.’

He said British Prime Minister Tony Blair was now working to do everything he could to stop the terror epidemic, and that, as current president of both the EU and the G8, terror ‘is at the top of the agenda.’

The British prime minister ‘is discussing with other political leaders in the UK what legislative changes might be needed domestically. And he is also looking into what more could be done internationally,’ said the envoy. ‘There are big meetings coming up in the autumn’ including the United Nations General Assembly in September, where a key focus would be on international cooperation against terrorism.

At the same time, McDonald took pains to assert that he did not consider Britain to be facing a substantial number of home-grown terrorists. ‘Shocking’ though the bombings were, he said, only ‘a very small number of people’ were involved. True, he acknowledged, ‘very small groups can make very big amounts of trouble… but that doesn’t mean to say you have a huge problem in your society.’

He did not consider that Britain had been naive in its immigration policies or in its monitoring of education and other aspects of life in the British Muslim community. And the test, he said, would be the degree to which that Muslim community exposed or sheltered those involved in the bombings.

‘We’ve got pictures of all of these people’ involved in last week’s failed attempts at further bombings. ‘Most of them have got names. The next few days and weeks are crucial. If my theory is to be sustained,’ he said, ‘then these people are going to be given up, captured very quickly, because they don’t enjoy a hinterland of support.’

What he was setting out, the ambassador said, was ‘an acid text. If these people are captured, if they’re surrendered and if information from the community helps, then that to me would be good and positive. And the early evidence is good and positive because a lot of information has come out.’

Indeed cooperation from the community has been central to certain arrests and investigation leads in the last few days.

The mainstream leadership of Britain’s Muslim community had credibly distanced itself from extremist Islam, the envoy said, and the British public recognized this. ‘Although this is homegrown, although this is Islamic fundamentalism,’ said McDonald, ‘this is not going to poison community relations in the UK. This [terrorism] is not an expression that enjoys popular support within minority communities. Their leadership has made that plain and all of the parts of our society have accepted this and they all see that this was a minority, that indiscriminately killed Moslems and Jews and Christians.’

Asked how widespread was the view in Britain that Blair’s alliance with President Bush over Iraq and the UK’s other Middle East policies had invited terrorism, he said that it had ‘no prominence’ in the UK, with ‘one notable exception’ – a reference to London’s Mayor Ken Livingstone. And Livingstone, he said, ‘is wrong’ and his views have ‘no connection with the British government and in no way reflect British government policy… He’s one man and one man I don’t think can be allowed to damage the overall [British-Israeli] relationship.’

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