Barcelona, Donald Trump And The American Media’s Crisis Of Perspective

There is more to the horrific Barcelona terror attack than Donald Trump’s garbled response, but you wouldn’t know that if you are watching CNN

To get a good sense of just how debased and insular the American news media has become, one need only flick over to CNN and watch their coverage of the horrific Islamist terror attack which took place only hours ago in Barcelona.

What you will find is not detailed coverage of the Barcelona attack and how it transpired, or even the mindless banalities and speculation that has become the hallmark of cable news, but rather a bunch of talking heads agreeing with each other that Donald Trump’s response to the terror attack was all wrong.

This is the age where men, women and children being mown down in the middle of a European city street by a van-driving Islamist is secondary news to whatever inanities various celebrities have to say about the event on Twitter, or the word choice of an American president whom we already know to be rash, unstable and in loose command of the facts (at the best of times).

What really got CNN riled up on this occasion is this tweet by Donald Trump, promulgating an unfounded rumour about the supposed action taken by US Army General John Pershing in response to a Muslim-planned terrorist attack in the Philippines at the turn of the 20th century:

The urban legend goes that General Pershing rounded up the culprits and suspects, and had them shot with bullets previously dipped in pigs’ blood. In Trump’s own graphic telling, Pershing shot 49 of the culprits and spared the 50th one so that he could go back and warn others in the movement about America’s swaggering zero-tolerance policy for terrorist shenanigans.

To be clear, there is zero proof that this apocryphal story actually took place, and that the President of the United States would make speeches presenting the tale as fact both during the election campaign and again in the immediate aftermath of an Islamist terror attack on an American ally is bad, wrong and depressing in equal measure.

But for most of the past hour on CNN, the chyron across the bottom of the screen hasn’t reported details of the terror attack, but rather Trump’s entirely typical and unsurprising blustering response to it. That’s not to say that Trump’s actions are unworthy of coverage – and we should certainly never allow ourselves to stop reporting on the president’s misdeeds and objecting to them just because they occur so regularly. But good television news is supposed to educate and inform, not simply encourage people to think myopically about global issues exclusively through the narrow lens of their own country’s political process.

Yet rather than presenting Trump’s dodgy urban myth about General Pershing as one tangential element of the story, CNN did what CNN does best – assemble a multitude of talking heads in boxes, all crammed onto the screen at the same time, to denounce Trump and slot an inconvenient story about terrorist murder in Barcelona into their preferred narrative about Trump’s unfitness for office.

Again – the point is entirely valid, and in an ideal world the President of the United States would neither spread unfounded rumours nor seek to get the more distasteful portions of his base excited by telling them yarns about shooting Muslim terrorists with bullets dipped in pigs’ blood. That would be nice. But this is not the main takeaway from the Barcelona terror attack, and yet both Jake Tapper and now Anderson Cooper seem to be leading with it, to the detriment of telling the more important story about the seemingly unstoppable wave of vehicular Islamist terrorism in Europe and the inability (or unwillingness) of political leaders to take any meaningful action to prevent such massacres.

Meanwhile, television news in Britain – itself hardly a fitting successor to the likes of Edward R. Murrow or Walter Cronkite – is at least reporting the facts and broadcasting footage and eyewitness statements as they emerge. Decent analysis remains beyond them (or at least beyond their willingness to pay a knowledgeable panel of experts and commentators to schlep into the studio) but at least they aren’t using the tragedy as a means of bashing Prime Minister Theresa May. Yet.

If American political discourse is to improve, restraint has to happen both ways. Just as conservatives need to come to terms with the fact that the Alt-Right is an issue in our own back yard which we must disown and work to discredit, so those on the Left – including much of the mainstream media – need to bring some balance back to their coverage and accept that important as the office of President of the United States is, Donald Trump’s reactions are not always the most important part of a breaking news story.

This de-escalation should not be so hard to achieve among adults, but sadly there are too many adult children on both sides who would rather have the last word and advance their political agenda at all costs, even if it debases the office of the presidency, diminishes trust in the media and rips the country apart at the seams, all at the same time.

Donald Trump - Barcelona terror attack - General Pershing rumour

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A Few Words On The London Bridge And Borough Market Terror Attack

London Bridge terror attack - fake suicide vest

Finally, a step change in our response to Islamist terrorism. But this new authoritarianism is not the answer

This one struck a little close to home. For several years it was my habit to walk across London Bridge from the tube station to the north side, and then on to my office on Fenchurch Street.

Sometimes I would drink after work at the Barrowboy and Banker pub at the foot of the bridge, or go to choral evensong at neighbouring Southwark Cathedral – still regretfully closed some four days after the terrorist attack on London Bridge and Borough Market. My wife now works in the shadow of the Shard tower, and only today was her firm finally allowed to re-enter their office building.

It is quite surreal to see places which are so familiar splashed onto television screens in such a grisly context. One of the smartphone-recorded videos played most often on cable news – showing police ordering stunned bar patrons to the ground – was particularly jarring, as we had celebrated a friend’s birthday at that vaulted beer hall just a few months ago. It is no longer just the bus or the tube – places where we have been conditioned to be wary since the days of the IRA. Now we are to expect violent death anywhere, a car swerving onto the pavement with too little time to react, or being confronted by a knifeman while eating at a downtown restaurant.

But enough of that – it is tempting to make these terror attacks all about us, when really we should focus on those people whose lives were deliberately, callously snuffed out by the onrushing vehicle or the blade wielded by the Islamist fanatic. We rightly praise the heroism of our first responders, the rookie policeman who took on the terrorists alone armed with nothing but his truncheon, and the paramedics and civilians who rushed to help as soon as they were alerted to the carnage.

And yet after the proper acknowledgements and the less-welcome platitudes, the same questions beg to be answered.

Firstly, why did the Metropolitan Police and numerous politicians make such a big show of advertising that it took eight minutes from the first 999 call being received to armed police arriving at the scene to terminate the terrorists? No doubt this was supposed to reassure. But does it not also advertise to every other terror cell currently lurking undetected (or shockingly unmonitored) that in one of the most central and well-protected parts of the country they will have at least an eight-minute window to inflict as much bloodshed as they are able?

Eight minutes sounds remotely laudable because the terrorists were armed only with a vehicle, blades and some preposterously, evidently fake suicide vests. But what if the next terror cell has access to firearms? We rightly applaud the quick-thinking revellers who repelled the attack by throwing chairs and pint glasses, but these projectiles are much less effective against even a single low-calibre gun. What if the next marauding terror attack takes place not in well-protected London, but in a leafy Midlands market town or a provincial city without armed police on 24/7 patrol?

This attack could have been much, much worse. It could have been a Bataclan-level massacre, had the terrorists stormed a pub or restaurant with few exits or escape routes, armed with a semi-automatic weapon. Worse even, because so few British police are armed. Having elite units on constant standby is all well and good, but it is unreasonable to expect a standard unarmed police constable to be the frontline of our response to a mass casualty terror attack.

And no, the medium and long-term solution is not to deploy more armed forces on the streets – though this may be necessary, given the shocking decline in the number of armed police officers. Though the net drop since 2010 (approximately 700) is not that great as a raw number, the idea that the numbers were falling at all given events in mainland Europe is simply staggering. Operation Temperer (or tempura, as I first heard it – like we were going to deep fry the terrorists) may be a necessary stop gap, but we need to look again at whether it is practical to maintain a largely unarmed police force.

We should look too at whether it is reasonable to deny the people the opportunity to defend themselves with legally purchased firearms when the state proves itself time and again to be so unwilling and unable to protect them from lethal harm, either by facing up to the toxic Islamist ideology that fuels the present terror threat or by ensuring that the security services make best use of the vast amounts of data they already collect about all of us. Of course, this discussion will never happen. But it should.

If nothing else, we seem finally to have pivoted from “terror attacks have nothing to do with Islam!” to “something must be done”. And about time, too. Only days before the London Bridge attack, I wrote a piece (piggybacking on Brendan O’Neill) decrying the fact that all of the left-wing party leaders practically wet themselves in shock and outrage when UKIP’s Paul Nuttall dared to talk about the Islamist (not Islamic, Islamist) threat. If nothing else, perhaps we have finally pierced that particular veil of idiocy. The idiots remain, but the general public is no longer in thrall to their denialism.

And yet the undiscovered country of Taking Firm Action may be almost as bad as the state of denial and complacency which is finally being dispelled.

The danger was always that when the government finally roused itself to righteous anger in the face of Islamist terror, the response would be one of jackboot authoritarianism rather than incisive, strategic action. As Home Secretary under David Cameron, Theresa May was quick to take advantage of the various terror attacks in Paris to push for sweeping new powers for the security services, and now elevated (above her competence, it seems) to prime minister she is gunning for civil liberties and pesky human rights laws all over again. But this time, Theresa May is swinging an even bigger emotional cudgel thanks to the immediacy and proximity of the attacks in Manchester and London.

The security services are able to gather vast amounts of metadata on all of our communications with barely a whisper of public dissent, and can begin spying on an individual with no judicial approval required, just a ministerial signature – essentially, the executive overseeing itself. They could not have a more favourable political and operating environment. And yet despite having some of the most draconian surveillance laws in Western Europe, somehow three individuals were able to mount an attack – one known to security services but not considered an active threat, and another flagged as an extremist by the Italians but apparently ignored by British security services.

This is what happens when you expand the haystack too much, when you collect so much data and intelligence on everything that moves that it becomes impossible to sort through the information, make sense of it and hone in on the most serious threats. Yes, there is also an issue of resourcing – as with the armed police, the government has been complacent and refused to spend money where it should be spent – but much of the problem surely comes from trying to cast too wide a net at the expense of watching those already caught in it.

And yet Theresa May now wants to force internet companies to undermine the encryption of their own services so that the security services can gather even more data and make the intelligence haystack even more unwieldy and difficult to search for needles. And the prime minister as a thousand and one other draconian ideas up her sleeve, like the extension of detention without trial from 14 to 28 days – not because such a revised law would have prevented the Manchester and London attacks, but just because she doesn’t want to let this crisis go to waste without extending the power of the state even further.

The only grace is that the prime minister’s desire to control the internet will likely come a cropper as soon as she tries and fails to secure international cooperation. To a bizarre and frightening extent, our civil liberties may now partly depend on the stubbornness of Angela Merkel, Emmanuel Macron and (yes) Donald Trump in resisting Theresa May’s maniacal efforts to regulate the online world.

Concerning too is the fact that we are suddenly talking about the internment of suspected terrorists for whom there is too little evidence to seek prosecution. Even as the news of the London Bridge attacks was coming in, strident calls were made on Twitter for the police to “bring in” everybody currently on the terror watchlist and presumably detain them without trial in perpetuity. Perhaps at a new British Guantanamo Bay on the Isle of Man. Then the omnipresent Katie Hopkins went on Fox News to repeat the call for internment, while Nigel Farage followed, warning that “people” would soon start to call for this step if the government failed to get a grip. Well, they certainly will now that the idea has been so helpfully injected into the political discourse. Thanks, Nigel.

Astonishingly, there seems to be support for such a move from some sober conservative voices in America, which rather makes me question how strong their much-vaunted love for the Constitution can possibly be, when they encourage Britons to enact draconian laws which would rightly never pass muster in the United States.

I had a thoughtful exchange with the National Review’s Jim Geraghty on the related subject of whether merely expressing support for Islamist ideals should be criminalised – Geraghty initially expressed support but walked his stance back somewhat following my interjection, and we more or less came to a meeting of minds.

Sadly, the conversation elsewhere has not been nearly as civil, on either side. Of course anger is entirely appropriate when our fellow citizens are killed in cold blood by a religiously-inspired terrorist – young girls enjoy a pop concert in Manchester or Londoners of all backgrounds enjoying a Saturday night in town. But this anger has to be meaningfully directed, otherwise it will either achieve nothing or give known authoritarians like Theresa May the pretext they need to expand the state’s power.

But is this really who we are, as a people? Is this really who we want to be? A nation comprised of either self-abnegating terror apologists whose first reaction on hearing of an Islamist attack is to jump on social media to declare “nothing to do with Islam!” and patrol for “Islamophobic” comments, or jumpy authoritarians who want to do away with even the most basic civil rights in pursuit of the chimera of perfect safety?

We have certainly been called to action and shocked out of our complacency by the hideous events in Manchester and London, at long last. But at present there is precious little to suggest that we will start to move in the right direction now that we are finally awake.

 

London Bridge terror attack

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George Orwell’s “1984” Will Receive A Public Reading In London – But Have We Forgotten The Message?

Senate House London - 3

On June 6, hundreds of people will gather at London’s Senate House as a parade of actors, politicians and other notables read George Orwell’s dystopian novel “Nineteen Eighty-Four” in its entirety. But how many of us actually understand Orwell’s message?

Besides a few posts on Twitter, I haven’t written anything about the heinous Manchester terrorist attack. What more is there to say? The locations change, as do the names and backgrounds of the victims, but the rote mourning processes, the denialism and the furious virtue-signalling always remains the same. Why jump into that toxic mêlée all over again?

But I did watch the BBC general election leaders’ debate on television earlier this week, when naturally the subject of terrorism and Britain’s proper response came up, and I was depressed as ever by the paucity of the “discussion” that took place.

Brendan O’Neill picked up on the section of the debate which also caught my attention, writing in Spiked:

Consider BBC TV’s General Election debate this week, which brought together leading figures from the main parties to talk about the problems facing Britain. There was an extraordinary moment during the debate. A member of the audience asked a question about security post-Manchester and the leaders talked about the need for better policing and intelligence and also for rethinking British foreign policy. It is possible, said Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn and SNP deputy leader Angus Robertson, that our meddling overseas has exacerbated the terror problem.

Then UKIP leader Paul Nuttall chimed in, and he said this: ‘Politicians need to have the courage to name [the problem]: it’s Islamist extremism.’ The reaction was swift and pretty scary. Nuttall was jeered at by the other panellists. ‘NO!’, one said. ‘Paul, Paul, Paul, Paul’, interjected Lib Dem leader Tim Farron. Nuttall has gone ‘straight for Muslims’, said a furious Robertson. Green leader Caroline Lucas said Nuttall was being ‘completely outrageous’ with this suggestion that ‘the violence in Manchester was somehow representative of Islam’.

Nuttall tried to explain himself. ‘Islamism, Islamism, Islamism’, he said over the din that his comments provoked. His point was that he had not said the word ‘Islam’. He hadn’t even used the phrase Islamic terrorism; he had said Islamist extremism. But his protests went unheard. The other leaders and some in the audience continued to shout over him and drown him out; to accuse him of being outrageous and prejudiced for using the phrase ‘Islamist extremism’.

This is an almost Orwellian level of linguistic denialism. For ‘Islamist’ is a perfectly legitimate and apt word for the terrorism that is impacting on cities in Western Europe. The Oxford dictionary’s definition of ‘Islamist’ is an ‘advocate or supporter of Islamic militancy or fundamentalism’. Is this not the right name for those in Paris, Brussels, Nice, Manchester and elsewhere who have carried out extreme acts of violence in the name of the Islamic State or radical Islamist ideology? To boo and demonise Nuttall for using the word ‘Islamist’ to describe those who blow themselves up in the name of ISIS is as nuts as it would be to boo and demonise someone for saying Oswald Moseley was a fascist: these are simply the correct words.

The response proved Nuttall’s point, which was that few politicians have the nerve even to say the word ‘Islamist’, even though it’s a political term in the actual dictionary. This live-TV pummelling of Nuttall for saying ‘Islamist’ really confirmed what the accusation of Islamophobia is all about today: it isn’t about protecting Muslims from genuine prejudice or abuse but rather has become a means for suppressing difficult political and moral questions about our society, its values and the divisions that exist either between communities or within them. That someone can be called ‘outrageous’ and anti-Muslim for using the phrase ‘Islamist extremism’ shows how deep and worrying our instinct to silence discussion about terrorism has become.

There isn’t much I would add to Brendan O’Neill’s warning, except for this: on 6 June, there will be a live public  reading of the entirety of George Orwell’s “Nineteen Eighty-Four”, given at London’s Senate House. There has of course been a significant spike in interest in reading 1984, driven predominantly by people who believe that Brexit and the rise of Donald Trump herald the end to what was apparently a Utopian liberal era, and the start of an unprecedentedly authoritarian dystopian future.

The new converts to George Orwell seem to believe either that the architects of these particular geopolitical events used 1984 as some kind of How To guide, or that they themselves might find some clues within the novel to aid their survival during the coming apocalypse.

But here’s the thing. I’ll wager all the money in my pocket that many of the people who show up to this public reading of 1984, or who watch the live stream, will be the same people who never really had much to say about civil liberties violations in the War on Terror (at least when Democratic presidents and Labour prime ministers were in charge), or about the extra-judicial killing of American citizens by drone strike under Barack Obama.

I’ll wager that many of them will have said nothing when their fellow citizens have been tried and imprisoned for singing songs, writing offensive signs, asking impertinent or stupid questions, posting “offensive” tweets or expressing conservative religious views in the town square.

But I’ll also wager that a fair number of them will have reported posts that they found “offensive” on social media in an attempt to get the offending statements removed and the posters banned. I’ll wager that many of the younger student types will have called for The Sun and The Daily Mail to be banned from their university campuses, and for their Students Unions to stop playing certain songs with “problematic” lyrics. I’ll wager that they were the first to demand that boxer Tyson Fury be banned from boxing for holding the wrong views on family values, and to call for attention-seeking ex-LBC radio host/troll Katie Hopkins to lose her job last week.

And I’ll wager that a good number of these 1984 listeners, fearless young defenders of society against creeping authoritarianism that they are, will have cheered along when Tim Farron, Angus Robertson, Caroline Lucas and the rest of the lefty nodding head brigade ripped into Paul Nuttall for the high crime of correctly identifying the deadly ideology which killed 22 young people at an Ariana Grande concert, maiming 116 more.

I’m sure their hearts just swelled with pride and warm affirmation as their left-wing political heroes put that nasty, evil brute Paul Nuttall in his place and shouted down his vile, dangerous hate speech. I bet they sincerely believed that doing so was a great victory for Hope over Hate, that this was how society should best respond to terror attacks. By furiously avoiding looking at the source, assigning the blame to unidentifiable random “evil”, singing some John Lennon and angrily vilifying anybody who dared to react in a different way (such as by looking to identify and name the real problem so that it might be tackled and reduced).

And hearts aglow with courage and moral righteousness, many of these same people will assemble at the foot of London’s Senate House on June 6 and fortify themselves by listening to George Orwell’s stern literary warning about the dangers of groupthink, thoughtcrime, Newspeak and censorship, utterly oblivious to the fact that they are actively serving as advance guard to the Ministry of Truth.

 

George Orwell - 1984 - Thought Criminal - Almeida Theatre

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Handed A Softball Question On ISIS, A Miscalculating Owen Smith Self Destructs

Owen Smith, the supposedly mature and electable alternative to Jeremy Corbyn, is nothing but a pale, naive and cheap imitation

There could hardly have been an easier question asked of the two Labour leadership contenders, Jeremy Corbyn and Owen Smith, during the hustings/debate broadcast on the BBC’s Victoria Derbyshire show this morning.

Moving the focus on to the Islamic State (sorry, so-called Islamic State – this being BBC world), Derbyshire asked both men whether or not they believed that any peace process in Syria should involve representatives from ISIS.

Immediately alarm bells should have been sounding in Owen Smith’s head, for this was the most primitive of political traps. Anything other than a robust “hell no!” would instantly be taken to mean woolly socialist accommodation with Islamist extremism, and so the correct thing to do was clearly to temporarily forget nuance, give the robust “hell no!”, and then move on.

Even Jeremy Corbyn managed to get it right. He was clearly lying through his teeth – given his public statements on Hamas and other violent organisations, everyone knows that a Prime Minister Jeremy Corbyn would fawningly seek to include ISIS in any negotiations. That’s just who he is. But even Jeremy Corbyn, the man who supposedly lacks a political radar, recognised the trap and said “They’re not going to be around the table, no” when put on the spot by Derbyshire.

Meanwhile Owen Smith, desperate to out-socialist Corbyn at every turn while portraying what he mistakenly thinks is an air of grown up realism, charged headlong into the trap, saying:

My record is I’m somebody who has worked on the peace process in Northern Ireland for three years, I was part of the UK’s negotiating team that helped bring together the loyalist paramilitaries, the DUP in particular into the process, alongside Sinn Fein, and my view is that ultimately all solutions to these sorts of crises, these sorts of international crises, do come about through dialogue. So eventually, if we are to try and solve this, all of the actors do need to be involved but at the moment ISIL are clearly not interested in negotiating.

I’m sorry, which one is the waffling socialist dilettante with no understanding of political communications again? Because for all the world it looks as though Owen Smith is the prevaricating incompetent here, not Jeremy Corbyn.

Let us count the ways in which Owen Smith is wrong. Firstly, there is no comparability between the Troubles in Northern Ireland and the ideology-driven, pan-national phenomenon of the Islamic State.

While it sounds statesmanlike and mature (clearly what Owen Smith was striving for) to intone that serious compromises have to be made on both sides in the pursuit of peace, citing the Northern Ireland peace agreement as evidence, it is a very poor comparison. For the Troubles, for all their complex history, were characterised very much by the narcissism of small differences – the furious hatred  which built up between two very similar communities living side by side (Catholic vs Protestant, Nationalist vs Unionist).

When peace negotiations were underway, both sides were prevailed upon to accept a power-sharing agreement in a devolved assembly as well as weapons decommissioning and early prison release for convicted terrorists on both sides. The shared pain was ultimately acceptable to both sides because there was an attractive, shared goal to work towards in the form of a peaceful and more prosperous Northern Ireland.

The difference between the West and the Islamic State (or even between peace-loving Syrians and the Islamic State) does not fit this profile in the slightest. We are not talking the narcissism of small differences, but the belligerence of exceedingly large differences. Islamic State seeks to conquer and occupy territory, and impose its impossibly strict, fundamentalist Wahhabist dogma on all those with the misfortune to become its citizens. There is no compromise, no half-way terms of peace for which the subjugated people of Iraq or Syria could sue, let alone countries like Britain, France and America ,which are the Islamic State’s overseas targets.

The kind of negotiations fancifully suggested by Owen Smith in his failed bid to appear mature and statesmanlike are simply not possible with Islamic State. By their own words and actions, ISIS does not compromise or water down its demands or dogma. “Live and let live” is neither possible nor desirable. Nobody is realistically going to get the Iraqi government to agree to a power-sharing deal involving the surrendering or dilution of sovereignty over its cities. And in the case of Syria, the ongoing civil war means that there is no one authority to speak on behalf of Syrians anyway.

More than anything, this incident serves to underline the sheer superficiality of the Owen Smith candidacy. While this blog was previously encouraged that Smith had at least a few policy ideas of his own (one step better than the hapless Angela Eagle, whose pitch for the top job seemed to rest entirely on her winning personality) these have proven to be nothing but a restatement of Jeremy Corbyn’s own ideas, the kind of policies which a Corbyn manifesto would no doubt have outlined prior to the general election anyway.

With almost zero policy difference between the two candidates, Owen Smith’s only remaining advantage over Corbyn was his supposed electability. Unlike Corbyn, we were told, Owen Smith will avoid making the faux-pas, media missteps and party management howlers which have caused the parliamentary party such unease. And yet in his desperation to defend his left flank, Owen Smith walked into the kind of headline-generating trap that even Jeremy Corbyn managed to avoid.

Did the Parliamentary Labour Party really just squander any opportunity to take the fight to the Tories after the EU referendum and the ascension of Theresa May just to replace Jeremy Corbyn with a third-rate flop of a leadership candidate in the form of Owen Smith? Is this oily, vacuous dilettante really the best that they can do?

Where are the latter-day equivalents of Barbara Castle, Peter Shore, Hugh Gaitskell, Clement Attlee, Aneurin Bevan or Tony Benn?

How small are the creatures who now seek to bestride the shrunken Labour Party?

 

Owen Smith - Labour Party Leadership Coup

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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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