London -- It's safe to say that the driver of the car packed with explosives that was found in central London early Friday morning (June 29) was not a very impressive terrorist.
Driving erratically down Haymarket at 1:30 in the morning in a big, shiny Mercedes, crashing it into a garbage bin, getting out and running away: it all suggests that he didn't pay proper attention back in terrorist school.
Maybe he was just overcome by the fumes, but the other terrorist didn't do much better. He managed to park his explosives-packed car on Cockspur Street but he parked illegally, so it was ticketed and towed away.
It's also safe to say that this incident will be taken more seriously in the U.S. than it is in Britain itself or anywhere else in Europe. Prime Minister Gordon Brown issued the obligatory statement that Britain faces "a serious and continuous threat," but there were none of the attempts to use it as justification for Britain's supporting role in the U.S. invasion of Iraq that would have been automatic when Tony Blair was running the show.
Blair has gone off to bring peace to the Middle East as the special envoy of the Quartet (the U.S., the European Union, the United Nations and Russia). It would be a hopeless task at the moment even for someone respected by all sides, which is why the job had been left empty since the last "special envoy," former World Bank prez James Wolfensohn, resigned in frustration in early 2006 and Wolfensohn (who hadn't even invaded Iraq) did have the genuine respect of all sides.
But Blair didn't want to fade away gracefully. He wanted the job, and his pal George Bush twisted arms until the other Quartet members gave in, reasoning that he couldn't do that much harm when there's no hope anyway.
The British Foreign Office is said to be in an "institutional sulk," but it doesn't really matter much. Neither does the car bomb that was abandoned in central London.
If the silver Merc left in Haymarket had actually exploded and killed some people, it would not be an appropriate time to say this, but an occasional terrorist attack is one of the costs of doing business in the modern world. You just have to bring a sense of proportion to the problem, and in general people in Europe do.
Most major European countries had already been through some sort of terrorist crisis well before "Islamist' terrorism: the IRA in Britain, the OAS in France, ETA in Spain, the Baader-Meinhof Gang in Germany, the Brigate Rosse and their neo-fascist counterparts in Italy.
Most cities in Europe have also been bombed in a real war within living memory, which definitely puts terrorist attacks into a less impressive category. Most Europeans, while they dislike attacks, do not obsess about them: they know they are likelier to win the lottery than to be hurt by terrorists.
Russians are pretty cool about the occasional terrorist attacks linked to the war in Chechnya, and Indians are positively heroic in their refusal (most of the time) to be panicked despite the fact that attacks have taken more lives there than all those in the West since terrorist techniques became widespread in the 60s.
In almost all these countries, despite the efforts of some governments to convince the population that terrorism is an existential threat of enormous size , the vast majority of people don't believe it. Whereas in the U.S. most people do.
There has been only one major terrorist attack in the U.S. since the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995, and that one, on 9/11, is now almost six years in the past.
So how have Americans been persuaded to lead the world in a titanic, globe-spanning "long war' against terrorism?
Inexperience is one reason: mainland American cities have never been bombed in war, so Americans have no standard of comparison that would shrink terrorism to its true importance in the scale of threats facing any modern society. But the other is relentless official propaganda.
Which is why the manipulators of public opinion in the White House and the U.S. media will give bigger play to the London bombing-that-wasn't than Britain's own government and media.
Gwynne Dyer is a London-based independent journalist published in 45 countries. His new book, The Mess They Made: The Middle East After Iraq, was published in Canada this week by McClelland and Stewart.