The stamp of terrorist
Khan's video suicide statement is strikingly similar to Conrad's
THE GOVERNMENT has deployed a new weapon in the battle with
terrorism: the narrative, the tale, the long short story. The promise to
deliver "an authoritative account or 'narrative' of what happened" on
July 7 last year was a ploy to avoid a full inquiry, but it also,
perhaps inadvertently, addressed a profound psychological need.
Stories are how we understand the world. To be able to comprehend
events as horrendous as the London bombings, we require a cast of
characters, some sense of psychological motivation and unfolding drama.
The bombing plot cries out for a narrative plot, a story with a
beginning, a middle and an end. We think of terrorism as a modern curse,
but writers as varied as Joseph Conrad, Henry James and Fyodor
Dostoevsky have all tried to make sense of terrorism by placing it in
the context of a story.
The narrator of the Government's July 7 story is unlikely to win any
literary prizes. He begins with that traditional British curtain-raiser,
a weather report: "7 July began unsettled, with heavy showers in
places." (You feel he was just itching to write: "It was a dark and
stormy night . . .") This is as close as the civil servant-author gets
to a literary flourish.
Yet the 35-page Report of the Official Account of the Bombings in
London is a gripping read, a page-turner that relates a tale
simultaneously extraordinary and frighteningly banal. We follow three of
the bombers as they trundle down the M1, and then board the train to
London, their knapsacks crammed with home-made explosive.
Here are the cricket-playing Shehzad Tanweer, who owned a red
Mercedes and worked in his father's fish and chip shop; Mohammad Sidique
Khan, better known as "Sid", the soft-eyed ringleader; and 18-year-old
Hasib Hussain, burly and not too bright.
The narrator can hardly conceal his bewilderment as he relates how
Hussain's mother found him in the family kitchen in his pyjamas, eating
a bowl of cereal, 24 hours before he blew himself to pieces on the top
of the No 30 bus, killing 13 other people.
The exceptional thing about this narrative is that it is, in so many
ways, unexceptional. The writer searches for reasons. Hussain scribbled
"Al Qaida No Limits" on his RE schoolbook but, as the narrator dryly
observes, there is a long way between "extremist doodling" and suicide
Only in the case of Jermaine Lindsay, the Jamaican-born fourth
bomber, does the psychological profile offer any clues: a broken home, a
harsh step- father, a mother who moved out. Even so, he was hardly
Like many of the most compelling stories, this one raises more
questions than it answers. The men who carried out this appalling
slaughter were, on the outside, averagely angry, averagely religious and
averagely integrated. Twelve thousand statements, 6,000 hours of CCTV
footage and 26,000 exhibits have produced a picture of four utterly
We are told that the July 7 bombers represent a new breed of
terrorist, almost impossible to stop because they blend into the
background. But camouflage has always been the key to terror.