I would not describe myself as a Christian these days, even if I were not agnostic. Those people who call themselves 'committed' Christians, in capital letters, are not speaking of the rather lackadaisical Church of England habit I was brought up in.
The extreme Christianity proselytized by the righteous right in the United States of America has its adherents in this country too and the rise of extreme Islam, now showing its home-grown face in London offers them a potentially sympathetic audience to whom they may air their intemperate message. Happily, the rather vague ideals of the majority in this essentially phlegmatic and moderate country, and its quiet determination to attempt to follow at least one of the precepts of Christianity, to love thy neighbour, seem so far to have prevailed over the fear and anger created by terrorist attacks in the heart of the capital.
According to the Book of Mathew, Jesus, in the Sermon on the Mount, said that we must also love our enemies. Much of the fear of ordinary people in countries assaulted by international terrorism is that their neighbours may well have become their enemies. Now we too live with the phenomenon of the suicide bomber next door. Fear is the greatest weapon of the terrorists and also of some of the equally extreme in the Western right who purport to defend us against them. In actual fact, one may hate ones neighbours and one often does, whether on the local, domestic or the international level. To fear them constantly creates an atmosphere in which the innocent are likely to be destroyed along with the guilty.
The British have been past masters at hating their neighbours, especially the French, although in recent times we have avoided the armed hostilities of India and her neighbours. We have instead involved ourselves with the American propagation of a righteous war on distant others, whose culture and society, and concepts of good and evil we understand far less well than those of our traditional neighbours and enemies.
The bombs in London followed so fast on British jubilation and the public disappointment of Jaques Chirac over the French loss of the 2012 Olympic Games, that a group of elderly men in that establishment bastion, the Garrick Club, were heard to suggest that the French were probably responsible. At that stage, none of us had any idea of the full scale of the attacks, which emerged slowly over the next few hours. However vociferous we are in despising each other, the countries of Europe and the leaders at the G8 conference in Edinburgh were united in their support for London and their condemnation of the attacks. We were united against a common, if nebulous, enemy and one whom it is impossible to love. It is essential that we continue in the spirit of moderation to identify very carefully who the enemy is. We cannot afford to encompass in that definition those in the broad spectrum of our neighbours who are of the same faith or race as the suicide bombers.
While the three main British political parties currently support each other fully and publicly over anti-terrorist legislation, it seems unlikely that this harmony will go far beyond the mourning for the victims of the atrocity and the immediate domestic security issues. The greater questions of our relationship with distant enemies, in support of the American War on Terror continue to divide political parties at home and our neighbours in Europe. The prime minister maintains that an extreme and perverse form of Islam, not his support for the American invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, is to blame for the terrorism that has now shown its bloody face in London.
There can be no doubt that the form of Islam resulting in suicide bombers is twisted and perverse. We have been sitting on a simmering pot for some time and the sharp divisions of understanding between generations in the British Muslim community have created a disaffected youth whose issues need to be addressed. However, it is hard not to believe that, in the words of the latest report from Chatham House, the Royal Institute of International affairs think-tank: 'Riding pillion for tackling terrorism is a high-risk policy.'
The report states that, while the security forces in the United Kingdom gained expertise in counter-terrorism through their experience with Northern Irish terrorist groups, this took their eye off the growing ball of international terrorism. As London became, during the Nineties, increasingly a base for the 'promoting, funding and planning' of terrorism in west Asia and elsewhere, the individuals involved, not considered a domestic threat, were basically ignored. Now, in a climate where mass-killing is promoted by the al Qaida network, the UK is particularly at risk. This country is the closest military supporter of the US, and a leader in the multi-stranded efforts to suppress and reduce the power and reach of the terrorist organization. If there is an existing problem with the propagation of extremism amongst young Muslims in this country, our policy-makers have given them the catalyst to bring the distant international battle home.
We have always known that UK-bred extremists were also being exported as a bizarre balance to British army troops in Afghanistan and Iraq. The extent of the situation is illustrated by a story about the battle where the first Victoria Cross, the greatest British award for valour in action, of the Iraq War, was won by a young soldier. The publicised story was that Private Beharry had twice saved his comrades under enemy fire, but the impression was not that this had been in a pitched battle in which 500 Iraqis were killed over a five day period. The story that has now emerged is that 20 per cent of those so-called Iraqis were actually British passport holders. The divide between enemies and neighbours and the identification of either is becoming increasingly blurred. For the sake of the fear of death or injury, we may increasingly trust no one, a situation well understood by Mao and Stalin as they set friends, neighbours and relatives one against the other to increase their individual power.
In the end, is it possible to define our neighbour' Famously, the law lord, Lord Atkins, did exactly that in 1932, when delivering judgement in the famous case of Donoghue v. Stevenson. The case involved a decomposing snail in a bottle of ginger beer, but the judgement is seen as historic in setting out the modern precepts for the test for liability for negligence: 'You must take reasonable care to avoid acts of omission which you can reasonably foresee would be likely to injure your neighbour. Who then, in law, is my neighbour' The answer seems to be ' persons who are so closely and directly affected by my act that I ought reasonably to have them in contemplation as being so affected when I am directing my mind to the acts or omissions which are called into question.'
Last month, the G8 summit showed an improved level of concern about the effects of the rich world's economic and trade policies on our poor global neighbours. Bob Geldof's worldwide Live8 pop concerts united global civil society, however transitorily, in the desire to make good more of our past injuries to others. The bestowal of the Olympics on the multi-cultural youth of this country, however sceptically one may regard such platform events, offers a chance for unity of purpose in pursuit of the athletic excellence that can transcend cultural divisions. All in all, rather a hopeful sequence of events until the bombers struck. Now we have to examine in much finer detail the acts and omissions of ourselves and others that have led to these horrific events and how, if we do not love our neighbours, we can at least ensure, by understanding them better, that they are not our implacable and constant enemies.