“Enough is enough” announced the British prime minister, Theresa May, outside Downing Street in the aftermath of the third terror attack in the UK in as many months.
Well I agree. Enough is enough. So maybe we could start by bypassing the call for peaceful vigils – beloved by those who are keener for us to turn the other cheek than to have the “difficult and embarrassing conversations” she now calls for? This is not to dismiss the hurt of those directly affected, but rather to bypass the encouragement of ersatz emotions by those who might prefer us to remain passive and disengaged.
Rather than being “united … in horror and mourning”, as the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, consoled in her virtue-signalling statement after these attacks, maybe it is time we focused on becoming united in purpose – a purpose that ought not just reflect the “determination” to defeat terrorism as she narrowly defined it? A purpose that might offer something beyond terrorism for us all to focus on and present something more visionary to engage with – including for the nihilistic few to whom we have evidently failed to impart any sense of belief and belonging?
Sixteen years on from 9/11, might it not be time to move beyond the same old calls for more security that emanate from the usual suspects in self-interested quarters at such times? More recently, this has been augmented by demands, including by the prime minister herself, that the internet and social media platforms be censored and policed too. But the fact is that if you or I were to trawl through as many jihadist websites as we could find, we still would not turn into the morally bankrupt murderers that are committing these atrocities. This should give the lie to naive models of media influence impacting on hapless minds.
Likewise, to suggest that British foreign policy is somehow responsible for all that we see, or that supposedly understandable grievances emanate from the experience of racism and exclusion at home, is also to miss what matters most.
Britain has both overtly and covertly interfered in the affairs of others overseas for as long as I can remember, and well before that – usually much more forcefully and murderously than in the ways it does at present. That there is space for some kind of response to this does not dictate the nihilistic form that this now takes. That is what is new today and which most needs answering by those fond of such simplistic platitudes. To think in these terms holds us all back, including those elsewhere who are genuinely interested in liberation.
Maybe it is time for some to note too, that British society is not the racist catastrophe presumed of those who prefer to talk up Islamophobia at such times. The new chief commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, Cressida Dick, appears to believe that we are all just one terror incident away from launching a pogrom against the Muslim community when she announced that: “The last thing we need is people … taking out their frustrations on people in other communities.” Where is her evidence for that? Not just self-reported slights at presumed offence and injustices, but serious incidents – incidents serious enough to warrant prosecution and conviction for an act of physical violence?
When I was young, I remember friends at school advising that they were going to beat up members of minority groups on a Friday night and inquiring whether others might care to join them. We don’t live in that world anymore and a good thing too. Good riddance to racism and homophobia. But at the same time, the race relations industry and others appear to have gone into overdrive turning every verbal mishap into a recordable offence. Can we talk about this too now?
What we do have is a problem that stretches far beyond terrorism and that will require a national conversation going much further than that envisaged by those proposing this today – a conversation that addresses the disconnection of the many from the political process, as well as the often self-indulgent engagement of the few within it. A conversation that challenges the moral capitulation of the old right as much as the political correctness of the old left.
One that asks why it is that, in an age when – despite there never before having been so many young people having so much focus placed on their emotions within their education – there are still a small, but growing, number of these who appear unable to handle setbacks and disappointment such that, at the margins, a handful think little of acting in this way.
We live in a time when many are told that they may cause offence if they express what they genuinely believe. When rather than engaging in robust debate, we are encouraged not to interrogate the beliefs and behaviours of others – and government legislates accordingly in the name of preventing terrorism. It is a world that the authorities – from all sides – that are calling for change today have helped to create. And this, just a few days away from a general election that ought to have encouraged just such debates to the surface. “Enough is enough”? Too right.