Whether al-Qaeda is really working to set up a cell in Britain or this is simply a dose of psychological warfare, the best way to eliminate the threat on British soil is not to tighten security, which could be futile since any possible attackers are likely to be home-grown, but to strike at the root causes.
The most spectacular act Britain can undertake to mitigate the terror threat would be to pull out of Iraq and Afghanistan. Hawks would dismiss such a move as a sign of moral cowardice, the less ideological will see it for what it is: an expression of moral courage, an admission of a monumental error, and the yielding to justice and reason.
I am constantly astounded by those who claim that there is no causal link between the terror meted out by the Anglo-American war machine and anti-western terrorist activity. Even normally enlightened circles can be prone to viewing terrorism in an existential and historical vacuum; it is far easier on the conscience to deny any culpability in making the world more dangerous.
But al-Qaida has no hesitation in making the link. It uses western military action as a rallying cry to recruit the young and disillusioned.
While inter-generational conflict almost certainly plays a role in the radicalisation of a small minority of British Muslims, so does socio-economic marginalisation. But these are only contributing factors when it comes to the few driven to violent action. Few people give themselves to a cause for purely abstract or political reasons – scratch below the surface and there is invariably a personal motivation. In the right circumstances, the personal sublimates itself to the universal.
If Britain had not invaded Iraq and Afghanistan, then the 7/7 attackers would have found no clear channel for their disaffection.
This article first appeared in the print edition of The Guardian on 18 January 2008.