Our 5th Christmas at war
In case you'd forgotten, we're still at war. In the weeks leading up to this year's Labour conference, Tony Blair and his team debated how much he should say about the war on terror. After considerable thought, the Prime Minister decided that the issue required a separate speech of its own, to be delivered on another day. "My worry," he told allies, "is that the terrorists are now thinking more strategically than we are."There is much more.
Mr Blair's anxiety was, and is, justified. This is the fifth Christmas since the war on terror began, and yet I doubt this landmark has much resonance in the West.
The war and its consequences are everywhere: in the discovery in Karbala of one of Saddam Hussein's mass graves; in the wounding of a British soldier yesterday in a roadside bombing in Afghanistan; in the 26 deaths in Iraq on Boxing Day, for which al-Qa'eda's Iraqi wing claimed responsibility; in the US Ambassador's "clarification" of his categorical denial that America had sent any terrorism suspects to Syria. All are connected at the most fundamental level.
Yet there is a reluctance to join up the dots and to perceive the war as a whole, as a continuous geopolitical narrative.
On Boxing Day, Ken Livingstone told the BBC that there had been 10 attempted attacks on London since 9/11, two of them since the July 7 bombings. But the mayor insisted that these foiled atrocities were not the work of a "great organised international conspiracy with orders flowing down the chain", but of "fairly disorganised and small groups of disaffected people".
This is a serious misrepresentation of modern Islamist terror. What binds and inspires the cells that have plotted and continue to plot attacks on cities such as London is precisely the interconnectedness of the war: the thread that links the jihadi in the West Bank, or in Iraq, or in Afghanistan, with his brother in Leeds, or Lahore, or Los Angeles.
Al-Qa'eda is not a single organisation in the crude sense that Mr Livingstone meant, but something much more deadly: a loose-knit global hierarchy, a franchise with national affiliates, and a murderous way of thinking or "software" that can, quite literally, be downloaded.
The "small groups" of which the mayor spoke are far more nimble and threatening than an old-fashioned military hierarchy. They are connected by zealotry and technology, by a grotesque version of Islam that fizzes daily through modems around the world.
In 2005, the Islamists made brutally clear, yet again, that they are determined to destroy life, economic success and optimism wherever they encounter it. Two weeks after the July 7 atrocities, 63 people were killed in suicide attacks in Sharm el-Sheikh (to which the Blair family has returned for its traditional winter break). In October, Bali was bombed once more. In November, 67 died in Amman, Jordan.