Despite Donal Trump Jr’s recent interpretation of Sadiq Khan, that terror attacks are ‘part and parcel’ of life in a big city, the outpouring of goodwill since the attack on Westminster last Wednesday which has emerged since, shows opinion to be on firmly on side with the Mayor of London. And rightly so.
It is an unfortunate phenomenon of our time that acts of terror are a fact of life in any major city. But this goes to the crux of Mr Khan’s point – that in a free-society, and in a metropolis where this is most visible, it cannot be possible to prevent all such attacks. Indeed, since 9/11 in New York, the 7/7 bombings in London, and the more recent murder of Fusilier Lee Rigby in 2013 and the bombings in Brussels in 2016, have caused devastation and heart-ache for too many. But sadly, it is also clear that there have been certain parties who have sought to make political capital from atrocities since, never mind Mr Trump’s assessment. Unfortunately, however, I suspect that in many cases these attempts to make capital were successful.
However, in the aftermath of the killing of four by Khalid Masood on Wednesday, something feels different.
There is a consensus and solidarity between those in Britain and across Europe, firmly showing agreement as to the most fundamental values we share as free-states. On Wednesday evening, the Prime Minister reminded us of the importance of that which Parliament represents – ‘democracy, freedom, human rights, the rule of law’. In an age where, for many, it appeared the reactionaries were gaining ground, it is indeed refreshing to hear Theresa May allude to these and hear them agreed upon in the public discourse in way this writer hasn’t heard for some time.
In the context of Brexit and the prospect of a further Scottish referendum, many commentators have noted Britain being more divided than at any time in living memory. Over the last few years, I’ve had a creeping sense of dread this could be true – successive terror-attacks on western states have provided ammunition for divisive debates and legitimised increasing encroachment on liberties. The rise of reactionary politics across the USA and Europe, most notably in France and the Netherlands, where those who argue for further restrictions on freedom in the name of ‘security’ and ‘secure boarders’ against what they perceive as ‘alien threats’ are gaining ground. Though Britain has largely rejected similar responses, the Investigatory Powers Act, 2016 a.k.a ‘the snoopers charter’ manifestly shows the state’s encroachment when faced with the effects of globalisation.
However, it is imperative to recall what it means to be a ‘free state’. A beacon of what makes developed western nations great is the maintenance of this principle and by being distinct from a ‘police state.’ We must be ever conscious that absolute security equates to an intolerable infringement on those freedoms we may take for granted.
Perhaps the attack by Masood can be distinguished from other terror-incidents is his being a British citizen from birth; his being a convert to Islam; and that, on present evidence, he acted alone in a particularly crudely orchestrated act of terror? His being British by birth reminds us that these attacks can come from anywhere; his conversion to Islam and change-of-name mitigates any possibility of racial-stereotyping, and draws focus towards the need to tackle radicalisation; and that his act was so unsophisticated, speaks testament for the present state and good work of the security services.
This final point was usually agreed upon by all sides in a debate on BBC Radio 4’s ‘Any Questions’ on the 24th – Conservative, Dominic Grieve MP, noting that MI5 has successfully prevented 12 serious terror-plots over the last eighteen-months, and reminds us that, in a free-society, that some will be those who are motivated by evil and will manifest that evil in attacks such as those on Wednesday. Indeed, it is ‘part and parcel’ of life of freedom in the same way crimes and accidents may happen. This author is inclined to agree. The security services are in the curious position where they expected to receive credit for incidents which never materialise, leading the public discourse down a road of argument for more security and encroachment when attacks do occur. We should be very wary of any lurch towards an Orwellian super-state…
Though the deaths of PC Keith Palmer, Aysha Frade, Kurt Cochran and Leslie Rhodes were an awful tragedy, we can take solace and comfort in the reaction since and what it has revealed about the true state of the UK. We have observed arguments over the European Union, Scottish Independence and levels of immigration fade from view for a short while, whilst we affirm those values that underpin our very way of life and are most dear to us. As we go forward and the dust settles over last Wednesday, it is my hope that we will bear these in mind.