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The other target in London Bridge attacks

Understanding thought

Terrorists aim not only to kill but to destroy social order. Britain’s response to the June 3 attack shows how societies must bond – like a bridge – against this threat. 

A woman carries flowers across London Bridge, in London, Britain, June 5.
Reuters
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  • The Monitor's Editorial Board

When terrorists attacked a crowd on London Bridge June 3, they may have also tried to attack a part of the social order. Bridges help bond people from diverse backgrounds, allowing them to share common purposes and values in peaceful ways. Like most terrorist attacks, this one – the third in Britain in the past three months – failed to shake that social order. In fact, it renewed Britain’s trust in it.

Prime Minister Theresa May emphasized this point in her response, saying terrorism cannot be defeated alone by military intervention or other counter-terrorism operations. “It will only be defeated when we turn people’s minds away from this violence and make them understand that our values – pluralistic British values – are superior to anything offered by the preachers and supporters of hate,” she said.

Like bridges, free and fair elections are also part of the social order. Ms. May was wise to say the attack would not delay parliamentary elections set for June 8. The attack should not split British society apart, especially in raising suspicions about the Muslim minority. “[T]he whole of our country needs to come together to take on this extremism, and we need to live our lives not in a series of separated, segregated communities, but as one truly United Kingdom,” she said. 

Similar statements were heard in Afghanistan in recent days after terrorists killed some 117 people in the capital, Kabul, with bomb blasts. The Afghan government said such actions go “against the values of humanity as well as values of peaceful Afghans.” A former vice president and leader of the Islamic Unity Party, Mohammad Karim Khalili, went even further, saying the bombings also violate Islamic values.

In both Britain and Afghanistan, the common call was for unity, not just against extremist ideology but to join in ensuring safety and renewing civic life built on such values as freedom and individual rights. In Afghanistan, hundreds of people took to the streets to demand a unified government, or at least one less factionalized than the one under President Ashraf Ghani.

Social order is best built from the people up, relying on shared ideals of peace and respect rather than an over-reliance on surveillance from government. Compliance with security measures – such as airport screenings – are more accepted when people understand the common good is at stake. 

The best response after a terrorist strike is to build more bridges that bond people.