It takes a special kind of evil to set out with a bunch of friends, gather around a defenceless woman having a drink and start stabbing her to death. That’s what happened last night. It takes a special kind of cowardice on the behalf of these scumbags to see this as a way to make a political or religious point.
And it takes a special kind of stupid to try to downplay this as a minority sport.
There is a pool of 20,000 “one time” Islamist jihadi suspects in the UK. There are over 3,000 “home grown” Islamist extremists under active investigation: they are suspected of supporting ISIS, Al-Qaeda or other groups and being willing to carry out attacks on the UK. And there are 400 suspected ISIS fighters who have returned to the UK.
If culturally open-minded, centre-left people like myself cede the debate over security to the right by responding to attacks like this with “I told you so” about the Iraq War or memes about how more people die falling off stepladders than do by terrorism, than we have lost the debate. We’re not even in the debate.
I’ve just had friends visiting from San Francisco. After a few days in London they were rhapsodising about how people of every creed and colour can be seen out, mixing it up and hanging out; the States is far more segregated. They also said that after the Westminster and Manchester attacks, they expected the city to feel on edge; it didn’t.
Two days after these fantastic comments, places that they had visited as tourists were attacked. Places that I hang out with friends when I am in London.
I’m sickeningly angry. I love England. I love the fact that it surprised and impressed them with its diversity, tolerance and resilience.
And I love the fact that when they worried aloud about reprisal attacks on Muslims I felt confident that by and large people are sensible enough to recognise that there is no more a correlation between being a Muslim and being a terrorist than there is between, say, former archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams and the kind of lunatic Christian who shoots up abortion clinics with an AK47.
But we can’t and shouldn’t keep calm and carry on.
We have to engage properly with the security debate, not just say “I fucking told you so” about Libya and Iraq and Syria or police cuts. Not just post memes featuring quotes by former head of MI5 Eliza Manning-Butler saying that invading Iraq would increase radicalisation. Because none of this answers the question: what do we do now, when it’s no longer “keep calm and carry on” to “run, hide, tell”?
I just read Theresa May’s four-point plan in response to last night.
And I wanted to respond with my own. Because parties like the Green Party can’t turn their heads, espouse generalised tolerance and try to talk about global warming instead. And as a parliamentary candidate I feel obliged to respond.
So here’s are my four-point plan.
1) The police were on the scene and had shot and killed all three attackers within eight minutes of the first call. This is blisteringly quick but other areas both in the capital and/or around the country may not have been able to respond so fast. If the police believe that they need more funding and capabilities to meet the increased threat, after being undermined over the past seven years, they should get it. Tax me more to do it if need be. The army should not have to be called out in a properly functioning state. Increase funding for targeted surveillance of those considered threats. And simultaneously launch a wholesale review into counter-terrorism policy and PREVENT: it’s clearly not working nor coming up with evidence-based insight into radicalisation.
Which leads me to my next point:
2) The government should publish as a matter of urgency its investigation into the foreign funding and support of jihadi groups. Last week the Home Office admitted that it may never be published, over sensitivities towards Saudi Arabia – the largest sponsor of ultraconservative Wahhabism. Want to find more terrorists? Follow the ideological fumes and follow the money. You’ll likely as not wind up in Riyadh, where you can get sentenced to death simply for being an atheist (a report in Middle East Eye highlights the closeness between Saudi and ISIS punishments); yet the country still gets to sit on the UN’s Human Rights Council. These people are not our friends. They are the state version of ISIS. It’s time to kiss goodbye to them and their filthy oil.
3) Fighting back means “taking military action to destroy ISIS in Iraq and Syria” says Theresa May. We would have won that war by now if it was winnable. You can’t destroy a poisonous ideology by bombing it: it is a hydra. Here’s the Crisis Group on Iraq/ISIS in 2014: “The jihadi surge is the tragic, violent outcome of steadily deteriorating political dynamics. Instead of a rash military intervention and unconditional support for the Iraqi government, pressure is needed to reverse sectarian polarisation and a disastrous record of governance.” It’s time we started listening to such experts in the field. So instead of more pointless bombs that breed yet more pointless blowback, a massive, urgent, hugely resourced diplomatic effort is needed, to start moving towards negotiated settlement in Syria: it’s a festering hell for its citizens and we are just breeding more hatred with every aerial assault. Fixing it is the challenge of our times. Bombing it doesn’t help.
4) Theresa May wants the internet to be far less free. She’s wrong. Doing so will push jihadis onto the dark net where they’ll be harder to track. Microsoft, Google, Twitter and Facebook etc. already work hard to weed out and prevent terror being advocated worldwide, digitally fingerprinting violent images and videos as well as sharing a global database of users who may be extremist. Keep the internet as free as humanly possible. And don’t let such attacks halt democratic debate. I’m sure that they would love us to stop discussing our differences rationally, in public forums and at the ballot box. Not doing so is one of the many small ways of fighting back in the public sphere.