I have been notably absent from this blog for a little while (which is quite poor having written only two blog posts, but if I am being honest was completely expected) for a number of reasons. However, one of the more prominent was that I knew I had to write something about what has been going on in the UK over the last few weeks, but I didn’t quite know what. If I am being completely honest, I am still not entirely sure what I am going to say, so bear with me.
(Note: This is now my third attempt at writing something to follow that opening paragraph. This is trickier than anticipated.)
Having trawled through various blog posts, news articles, social media posts, and academic journals, I have reached a couple of conclusions:
- What happened in Westminster, Manchester, and London Bridge, was abhorrent and completely unwanted, unnecessary and, quite frankly, unbearable.
- I am entirely guilty of detaching myself from similar events that occur in other parts of the world on an almost daily basis, and should be doing far more to appreciate the implications of these attacks, why they happen, and understand what more can be done to prevent them in the future.
- British people are resilient, supportive, caring, inclusive, generous and every other word that encompasses positivity.
- British people are also angry. All is understandable, most is with the right intentions, some is misplaced.
It is the latter point that I think I will focus on here. I am in agreement that something needs to change, but the issue I am struggling with is what exactly we should change and how. Of course this is particularly important given the upcoming election and the various promises being made and that will be made. So, lets go through a few of the solutions I have seen being suggested…
- “Imprison or deport all those on the MI5 terror watch list” – Disagree. We are talking about 3,500ish people. Many of those will be under continuous scrutiny, and perhaps we should be more robust in our approach with that small number. However, many are on the peripheral. Many are there by association. They are the ones who we need to be quietly watching in order to gather intelligence. Extremists can recruit people far quicker than we can identify and imprison them, and to me imprisoning someone who has been preyed upon whilst young and vulnerable should not be in a prison. Those doing the radicalising, who probably should be, are often hiding behind a computer screen in goodness-knows-where. The Westminster attack was carried out by someone who was on this illusive watch list, but that is more about the way we manage and collect intelligence rather than imprisoning everyone with a glimmer of association to a terrorist organisation (see point 2). Being related to a terrorist doesn’t make you a terrorist, a bit like being related to a sex offender doesn’t make you a sex offender.
- “We need more police on the streets” – Agree. 100%. The police response to the London bridge incident was remarkable. 8 minutes. I consider myself privileged to work alongside a number of armed response teams within the UK, and I have been racked with both fear and pride for them every time I have seen something like this unfold. But, I am afraid that outside of London this may not have happened. That aside, I think most will agree prevention is better than response. To prevent terror attacks we need to understand how they happen, why they happen, and who might be vulnerable to radicalisation. This information can only be collected if people are forthcoming in providing this intelligence. The dire number of police officers following budget cuts means that we no longer have embedded “local bobbies” able to build those relationships, gain that trust, and collect important information. We have overstretched intelligence and investigation units, and a shadow Home Secretary that wants to disband MI5 and armed police units. No thank you. More police on the scene at the time wouldn’t have helped, but more police might just have stopped it happening in the first place.
- “Close the borders”- Radicalisation happens online. Anyone who is vulnerable is vulnerable to radicalisation, regardless of whether they look British to you or not. This also only serves to further alienate British Muslims (because, lets be honest, nobody is calling for closed borders when any other form of extremist activity takes place…*eye roll*) and it is this alienation that is often the first stage of someone being a vulnerable target for radicalisation and becoming a so called “home grown terrorist”. Next.
- “Increase custodial sentences for those convicted of terror offences” – Hmm. In principle yes, but I just don’t think it will do anything. This plays on prison being 50% deterrent, and without getting into the philosophies of punishment I just don’t think that approach works with those who have been radicalised. “Successful” radicalisation means that individual will do anything for the cause they think they are fighting for, and if killing innocent people isn’t a deterrent I don’t think prison will be. It might help disrupt networks, but I think that is more about radicalisation in prisons and strategies needed to reduce and monitor this.
Terrorism is complex, and requires a complex response. In terms of prevention and response, we may not have been perfect, but I think we are bloody good. But something has to change to make sure this doesn’t happen again.
I have seen a lot of criticism from people about the “keep calm and carry on” approach that us Brits have adopted, statements such as “how can we carry on?”, “we are scared” and “we need to make a stand”. I agree with all of these statements to some extent, or at the very least I acknowledge that this is how some people feel, but it is about individuals doing what individuals can. We cannot stop a terrorist attack by ourselves, but together we can help. Some groups will have the power to investigate and intervene, some will have the ability to pass on important information to relevant authorities, some can educate future generations of security experts, and some can continue to go about our days, support one another, and show that we will not be defeated.
If keeping calm and carrying on is what you feel you need to do, then do it. If engaging more in the upcoming election than you may have done otherwise is what you feel you need to do, then do it. If joining the police to be on the frontline of combating terrorism is what you feel you need to do, then do it.
These acts are inexplicably awful, and we will all deal with it in our own way. However, terrorism is built on a foundation of anger and hatred. As long as we channel our hatred and anger towards these acts into positive, educated solutions, we will overcome this. But as soon as that hatred and anger is allowed to cloud our better judgement and understanding, we risk a situation where we are doing little more than fighting fire with fire.