Russell Square Knife Attack – Probably Not Terrorism, But No Grounds For Complacency

russell square crime scene

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 the wake of a gruesome knife attack in Russell Square, London, which left one woman dead and many others injured, Conservative Home’s Paul Goodman is busy arguing at straw men:

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.

 

Armed police

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The Daily Toast: Iain Dale Is Right, Boris Johnson The EU Agnostic Is No Leader

Boris Johnson - EU referendum

Any politician who has not yet stated their position on Brexit is politically calculating, not genuinely agnostic, and forfeits the right to call themselves a leader

Iain Dale makes the short and convincing case that Boris Johnson is a man of absolutely no conviction on the most important issue of the day, and that consequently he should not be looked up to as a potential Conservative Party leader or prime minister.

Dale writes in Conservative Home:

Potential prime ministers need to be leaders, not followers. The fact that we won’t find out until today which side of the EU argument Boris Johnson will fall down on says a lot. We all know that he’s not a genuine Eurosceptic, so for him to continue to flirt with the Leave campaign tells us much about his political calculation.

I still think he will ally himself to the Prime Minister in the end, but let’s assume he doesn’t. Does anyone believe that such a move would be fired by genuine political conviction? Of course not.

In such circumstances, he will have calculated that if he becomes the de facto public face of the Leave campaign and that Britain then votes for Brexit, David Cameron would have no alternative but to resign – and that he himself would become party leader by acclamation.

Such a calculation may be right. But it would make Frank Underwood and Francis Urquhart look like amateurs. Some people may think that wouldn’t be a bad thing. I think it would stink.

Meanwhile, the Independent breathlessly “war-games” all of the possible outcomes, focusing on the most important thing in this entire EU referendum debate – the consequences for Boris Johnson’s precious career:

It’s decision time for Boris. Having spent months – if not years – teasing David Cameron (and the rest of us) as to whether he is an ‘outer’ or an ‘inner’ the time is fast approaching when the Mayor of London and possible future Tory leader (and Prime Minister) will have to make up his mind which side he is going to back in the EU Referendum.

Boris calls for Brexit – but the country says we want to stay.

This would be the worst of all worlds for Johnson’s burning ambition. He would have staked his reputation on a ‘leave’ vote and been rejected by the voters. He would be punished by Cameron and left to languish on the backbenches. His electoral mystique would be shattered and his chances of succeeding Cameron would disappear. Johnson knows this – and that is why he is so reluctant to take such a big risk and nail his colours to Brexit.

No, the time for Boris Johnson to make up his mind is not “fast approaching”. That time is now a rapidly-shrinking dot in the rear-view mirror.

Boris Johnson apparently aspires to lead the country. Real leaders (not that we have seen one in awhile) set out their vision and inspire, persuade, cajole or threaten their followers to march on toward their chosen destination. They do not wait to see which direction the majority of their flock split before sprinting to the front of the column and pretending to have been leading them all along. They do not skulk quietly at the back, grinning and flirting with both sides of an existential debate and hedging their bets until the last possible moment.

For a biographer and self-professed admirer of Winston Churchill, Boris Johnson is almost singularly lacking in any of the key qualities of our great wartime leader. Winston Churchill endured many years in the political wilderness due to the unpopularity of his political beliefs – beliefs which he expressed loudly and eloquently, whether they were right or wrong, wildly popular or deeply unfashionable. Churchill did not hedge his bets by making ambivalent noises about Nazi Germany’s re-armament in the 1930s – he railed against Hitler and strongly opposed the policy of appeasement, at a time when many in the country preferred to bury their heads in the sand and avoid facing reality.

Boris Johnson, by contrast, puts his own career first, second and third. And if he does have strong feelings one way or another about Britain’s membership of the EU, they are firmly subordinate to his concern for his own personal advancement. Yet he gets a free pass from the media on account of his bumbling persona and the fact that he is endlessly quotable, even when (as is nearly always the case) he is actually saying absolutely nothing of any importance or lasting value.

We have had leaders who care primarily about their public image and personal career advancement before. We have one now. Boris Johnson would just take this trend to its logical conclusion: the pursuit and holding of power as the first and only objective, with any core principle liable to be cast aside if doing so will help to shore up the incoherent centrist coalition of a support base – support which may be a mile wide but only an inch deep, as Tim Montgomerie warned on his recent departure from the Conservative Party.

Richard North says it best when it comes to the media’s obsession with Boris Johnson’s conspicuous fence-sitting:

Having to contend with this obsession, I have advanced, is like being a policeman attending a multiple car pile-up while a passer-by attempts to talk to him about their pet hamster.

If and when Boris Johnson finds it within himself to act like a leader, we should reconsider giving him the time of day. But so long as he continues to act in such a nakedly self-serving and principle-free way, the media should stop reporting on Boris’s dithering and start holding to account those people who actually have the courage to publicly declare their positions.

 

EU Democracy - Brexit

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Rootless Tories Prefer LibDems Over UKIP As Future Coalition Partners

Nigel Farage Nick Clegg UKIP LibDem Coalition

 

An interesting (and concerning) poll in Conservative Home this week reveals that more Conservative supporters would prefer David Cameron to enter into a future coalition with the Liberal Democrats (again) rather than UKIP.

Paul Goodman breaks down the detail:

  • Liberal Democrats73 per cent. This finding may be a proof that familiarity doesn’t necessarily breed contempt.  To some degree it reflects the fact that Tories have simply got used to working with the LibDems.  It is also a tribute, in its own way, to the staying power of the Coalition: I put my hand up to not having expected it to last all the way to the end.
  • UKIP49 per cent.  Some members will see UKIP as a natural partner for the Party.  Others won’t, but will believe that differences can be fudged.  Others still, as with the Liberal Democrats, will feel that coalition is a price worth paying to keep a Conservative-led administration in office: in some cases, respondents will have selected both options.

What does it say about the modern Conservative Party and the mindset of its supporters, that they would prefer to enter into coalition with a party that is rabidly pro-EU and in favour of an ever-expanding public sector funded through ever-increasing tax bills on the successful, rather than UKIP, the party which (just about) believes in smaller government, lower and flatter taxes, personal responsibility, a stronger military and secession from the European Union?

The answer, of course, it that it says nothing good at all.

The fact is that some Conservatives have quite enjoyed having Nick Clegg and the Liberal Democrats as bedfellows for the past five years – the coalition has helped the wet Tories to cover their left flank, giving the party a plausible excuse for making little progress on shrinking the size of the state and zero progress on reclaiming power and sovereignty back from the EU.

But if the current course of the 2015 general election campaign tells us anything, it is that the bland centrism that characterises the modern Labour and Conservative parties is increasingly unattractive to voters. True, the smaller parties are seeing some shrinkage in their support as polling day nears, but we remain on course to see the largest ever number and percentage of national votes cast for parties outside the big three.

Whether left or right wing, people are finally getting tired of seeing their core convictions (be it trade union solidarity and income redistribution on the left, or personal liberty and small government on the right) bartered away in pursuit of ineffectual policies calculated to cause minimal offence to anyone.

Yes, the Tories still have work to do in order to detoxify their brand. But the answer is not for them to dress up in Labour Party clothing and bang on endlessly about the importance of public services and “our NHS”. Such an approach will never work – it has been tested to destruction by David Cameron and George Osborne, and has convinced no one.

To move to the left is to sidestep the issue and avoid the hard work detoxifying conservatism in Britain, when what is needed most is patient explanation and passionate promotion of the idea that small government and less state (and EU) interference in our lives would be something to celebrate, not to fear.

Here is an interesting – and different – way to frame the question to Tory activists and the Conservative Party leadership. Rather than simply asking whether they would prefer the devil they know or the devil they don’t when choosing a future coalition partner, let’s ask which of these UKIP policies and ideas have suddenly become so offensive to the modern Conservative Party that they would sooner jump back into bed with Nick Clegg than with Nigel Farage:

Sadly we already know many of their answers, and they give us very little hope for the immediate future of British conservatism.