It appears that last night’s London knife attack was motivated by mental illness rather than terrorism. But it could easily have been otherwise, and some in the media and positions of authority once again proved themselves unwilling to accept the Islamist self-justifications of lone wolf terrorists
In short, Bernard Hogan-Howe is right to warn in relation to another terror attack in Britain that it’s a case of “when, not if”, and it is doubtless necessary for the police to step up their presence.
But it is important to bear in mind that not every assault claimed in the name of Islam was planned by a terror group in Raqqa or elsewhere.
And it is worth remembering that the combination of mental illness, drugs and family breakdown can itself drive crime, and that Islamist ideology is not necessarily a fourth factor.
There’s an Islamist theat, to be sure. But caution is one thing; panic would be quite another. The personal risk to most Britons of being caught up in a terror attack is low, at least at present.
Terror is terrifying. That’s its point – why terrorists carry out terror. But there’s no need to make it more terrifying than it already is, and every need to keep calm and carry on.
My emphasis in bold.
But of course not every attack claimed in the name of Islam or the Islamic State was planned by an overseas terror group. I don’t know a single person who suggests that they were, and yet time and again we see establishment figures earnestly lecturing us about the blazingly obvious. But just because an attack was not planned from within territory held by the Islamic State does not mean that fundamentalist, radical Islam was not the motivator.
When improved intelligence work makes it harder for would-be terrorist attackers to move across borders or communicate specific plans electronically, ISIS increasingly relies on pumping out a constant feed of propaganda and indoctrination material in the hope and expectation that it will be picked up by the susceptible and used by the recipients to self-radicalise.
This is entirely in line with the directive made by senior Islamic State leader Abu Mohammad al-Adnani, who instructs his faithful:
If you can kill a disbelieving American or European – especially the spiteful and filthy French – or an Australian, or a Canadian, or any other disbeliever from the disbelievers waging war, including the citizens of the countries that entered into a coalition against the Islamic State, then rely upon Allah, and kill him in any manner or way however it may be. Smash his head with a rock, or slaughter him with a knife, or run him over with your car, or throw him down from a high place, or choke him, or poison him.
You can keep calling the people who pick up the Islamist WiFi signal and act upon it “mentally ill” if you want – and some of them may indeed be so. But to look at their actions only through the lens of mental illness while furiously ignoring the religious terrorism aspect out of some craven obeisance to politically correct dogma is to disregard the entire context in which an attack takes place, stripping it of any sense and making it impossible to counter.
Archbishop Cranmer is also on the warpath against those who rushed to disseminate the mental health aspect of the story while withholding other pertinent details:
Perhaps it’s unhelpful to speculate about the ethnicity and religion of the assailant. Perhaps ‘assailant’ is also an unhelpful term if he has significant mental health issues. It was a ‘he’, wasn’t it? Yes, we know the sex of the suspect. And ‘suspect’ is a much better term, even though the police tasered him and currently have him under armed guard. Innocent until proven guilty, and all that. Act of terrorism? No, we can’t go with that: it’s just a ‘classic’ random stabbing – for the moment, anyway. So, we have a male suspect involved in a London stabbing who has “significant” mental health issues which are obviously mitigating. Yes, that’s the story.
Other facts are obviously known. But these truths must be withheld. The Mayor of London Sadiq Khan has called for the public to remain “calm and vigilant”. Yes, that’s the message. A 19-year-old man (how do they know his precise age before his name?) with significant mental health problems has murdered a 60-year-old woman and slashed five others, and we must keep calm and carry on. Nothing to see here.
Funny thing, truth. It requires clarity of thought and expression. It derives deep metaphysical speculation and complex judgments, such as those pertaining to religious mania or psychological health, from the most obvious facts and indubitable distinctions. The starting point must always be what is known, with a rational apprehension of how what is known has been made known. Sensibilities change, but the form of facts does not.
The human mind and heart can be moved in various ways, depending on how those facts are presented (or not). The Met and BBC can suggest shadowy lines of thought, and the Mayor of London can issue a command to be calm and vigilant. But neither can command the mind to move to assent to something, especially if something more is suspected. Is it too much to ask that the establishment bear witness to truth? Or do they presume we have no interest in finding it? Isn’t it rather patronising to withhold it and exhort calmness and vigilance, when that very exhortation releases passions and induces concerns? Vigilant about what? Teenagers with mental health problems? Isn’t that a rather malleable conviction or manipulated truth, not to mention a slander on all who suffer mental health problems? Isn’t the whole truth a far better breastplate against extremism and shield against stereotyping than filtered facts and mediated knowledge?
At the time of publication (12:30PM, Thursday 4 August) it appears that the suspect in custody is a Norwegian citizen of Somali origin. It further appears that there is no evidence thus far of radicalisation, and that the tentative link to terrorism originally spoken of by the Metropolitan Police may not be true. Time, and further investigation, will tell.
But even if this is definitively proved not to be an Islamist attack, a woman is still dead and others are in the hospital. There is nothing to celebrate. And judging by the media and commentariat’s desperately weak understanding of how Islamist terror has adapted to work in an age of hyper vigilance (setting the bar so high that it “doesn’t count” unless personally orchestrated by black-clad jihadists out of Raqqa), there is much to be concerned about in terms of our own readiness and willingness to confront the threat.
Finally, praise must also be given to the armed respondents of the Metropolitan Police, who quickly raced to the scene of a very disturbing crime and managed to subdue the assailant using only a taser. If this attack had happened on the streets of New York or Chicago, the attacker would be in the morgue with about 20 police bullets in him and we would not have the opportunity to learn more about his motives first-hand. And while Britain’s need for armed police is regrettably increasing, we must take care to preserve the spirit (and the rules) which insist that shooting a suspect is the last resort, not the first.
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