The Case of the London Terrorists
I held the morning London Times before me, the cold remains of my breakfast kipper on my plate, when Sherlock Holmes joined me at table. Holmes was not in a jovial mood. His dressing gown was tied carelessly, and he had not bothered to comb his hair or shave. He ignored his kipper and displayed interest only in the pot of tea, now at room temperature, that Mrs. Hudson had brought along with the fish some twenty minutes earlier. Only yesterday, he had solved the Case of the Parliamentarian Who Thought Invading Iraq Was a Crime, a task that called for him to join the Respect Party for a fortnight, and my friend was as exhausted as I had ever seen him.
‘Can you believe it, Holmes,’ I said, referring to the front-page headline that he had not seen. ‘Some men were arrested yesterday for plotting to blow up Parliament and behead some of the ministers. What’s the Empire coming to?’
‘Indeed,’ said Holmes, fixing me with a penetrating look over his cup of Earl Gray. It was characteristic of the man that even physical exhaustion could not dampen his inquiring spirits for long. ‘What are the facts?’
‘It says here that an alert Scotland Yard under the leadership of Inspector Lestrade foiled a terrorist plot just in time.’ I emphasized the word ‘alert’ to bait Holmes, knowing his low opinion of the official police, and of Lestrade in particular. All the same, this time he would have to admit that the Bobbies had done their job. ‘Seventeen men have been apprehended, their sinister plan laid bare, without a single minister having been harmed nor Parliament exploded,’ I summarized the article for my friend’s benefit.
‘Pray, the specifics,’ said Holmes.
‘Aside from some swords for the beheadings, the conspirators had acquired three tons of ammonium nitrate fertilizer—three times the quantity used in the Oklahoma City bombing. They were arrested in a sting operation when they tried to purchase even more fertilizer.’
‘Anything more?’ encouraged Holmes.
‘The editorialist writes that they represent the ‘broad strata’ of British society. Some are students, some work, some don’t have jobs, it says here. Pretty nondescript stuff.’
‘And Lestrade sees no link among these men? Nothing that binds them together in a sinister plot?’ my companion asked with evident sarcasm.
‘The police are unable to determine a motive for the attempted crime,’ I said, ‘having discovered no common denominator among the suspects. The article does list a few superficial coincidences: The arrested men all have ties to the same homegrown terror cell, all are British citizens with near relations in South Asia, and finally, they all have names like Mohammad, or Ahmad, or Saad. ’
‘Aha. All that is most suggestive, is it not?’
‘What is, Holmes? Hang it, man. If you’re on to something, don’t leave me in the dark.’
‘I think we can conclude, can we not,’ said Holmes, ‘that the suspects are Mohammedans?’
“Good God, Holmes, you may be right!’ I exclaimed.
‘I believe that hypothesis explains the known facts.’
‘I don’t doubt, Holmes, that you have hit on something,’ I said. ‘Indeed, I wonder now why I didn’t see it myself. And yet Lestrade does not use the word ‘Mohammedan’ to describe the men, and neither does the writer of this article identify the men as Mohammedans. Why do you suppose they do not? Do they not see the connection?’
‘Our good friend Lestrade is like a Frenchman: too multi-cultural, too politically correct, too blind to ethnicity, to see the obvious,’ said Holmes blandly. ‘Either that or he’s afraid—afraid to speak the truth for fear of sparking further unrest and violence. He may have become dhimmified, an Arabic term meaning to have become subservient. The same, of course, applies to the editorial board of that miserable rag. I will certainly look elsewhere for my fill of Mohammad cartoons.’
‘But see here, Holmes,’ I went on, only partially comprehending. ‘The paper denies any formal tie of the arrested men to al Qaeda, and no motive is given for their plot. Do you suspect the hand of Moriarty in this?’
Holmes waved away the suggestion that his old nemesis was involved. ‘What led those men to take such drastic steps, Watson, is quite a three-pipe problem,’ he said, and got up from the table leaving his kipper untouched. He took up his pipe and an ounce of his favorite shag tobacco from the sideboard, and withdrew into the parlor. There he sat in a corner on the floor, drew his knees up and pulled a rug over them, and began silently to smoke.
He was still smoking quietly when I left for the racetrack. After losing on the ponies, I went to lunch, to the casino, to dinner, to the theater, to my club, to the chemist, to a woman of my acquaintance named Dolly, and I didn’t return to 221B Baker Street until the next morning at dawn.
Holmes was awake and appeared rejuvenated. He had bathed and shaved and was scrapping away almost tunefully on his Stradivarius fiddle as he sat in his easy chair in our living room.
‘You’ve made headway with the terrorists, then, Holmes?’ I asked, deducing as much from his change in mood and appearance.
‘Quite,’ he said. ‘Watson, I have deduced that these radical young men hate us because we are different from them, and not for any other reason. They are fanatics who would enjoy killing us. By ‘us’ I mean we who uphold democratic values, of course.’
‘Can it be, Holmes?’ I cried.
‘Once you have eliminated the improbable—such as that these men are taking directions from a foreign power—then what remains must be the truth,’ he replied. ‘Furthermore, I perceive that minority groups need to be assimilated into our society, or great unrest and destruction may result. I need not add how this must impact England’s immigration policies from here on.’
‘I believe you are correct, Holmes,’ I said. ‘I may just pen an editorial and send it off to The Times, if you don’t mind my incorporating your ideas.’
‘I won’t accuse you of plagiarism, old boy, if that’s your concern,’ he said. ‘I only worry that The Times will not find space for so outspoken a political view.’
‘I trust that even The Times will print an item, however politically incorrect, written by a veteran of the Boer War,’ I put in with some heat. ‘I will be certain to identify myself as such.’
‘Bravo, Watson!’ said Holmes. ‘And I have the concluding line for your piece.’
‘Oh, and what’s that, old man?’
‘Thank God for Tony Blair!’
‘And George W. Bush, to see the War on Terror through.’
‘Neither Bush nor Blair is Churchill, perhaps, but thank God for them both all the same,’ said my friend.
‘Do you mean Winston or Ward Churchill?’ I asked facetiously.
‘My blushes, Watson,’ replied Holmes.