As a proud Londoner, it’s always hard to accept that someone who lives in this city and experiences daily its delights, could ever inflict the horror that was seen at London Bridge. After the event, we seem always to ask the same old questions: Why did they do this? What for? What now? But what we have seen, after three deadly attacks in the same number of months, is that the answers are too often lost in a mixture of digital platitudes, empty good wishes and inaction.
We’ve begun to recognise this inaction as a problem, but recognition takes many occasionally unfortunate forms. For example, many of the British media’s most hysterical commentators would dilute our rights in order to detain without charge a small number of potentially radicalised individuals. These rights to trial by judge and jury, and against unfair detention – collectively, habeas corpus – have been a cornerstone of the UK’s judicial system for hundreds of years. It is not to be suspended on a whim so that a witch-hunt of the entire Islamic faith can begin.
We know, too, that one can’t nuance the right to a fair trial for the purposes of exempting terrorists. Habeas corpus protects all or none. And that’s the problem: terrorists aren’t seen as ‘one of us’ from a social point of view. They’re consciously exempting themselves from our society, whose morals and values they don’t respect or recognise as valid.
We can’t denigrate everyone’s freedoms to ensnare a twisted few. Instead, we must pay closer attention to our police force’s funding and freedom of action, our attitudes to integration and our willingness to be proactive in our local communities against radical Islamism.
In considering this, policymakers often chatter about ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ integration. They mean the difference between creating a strong national ideal, into which one must fit to be a member of that national community, or an acceptance of different national ideas, so long as we all engage with our local communities in work, education and the law. For a long time now, we have been attempting ‘soft’ integration, but in many places, this doesn’t work.
The cultural sensibilities of minorities can be respected, but privilege over national ideals can’t exist. Irrespective of one’s religious persuasions, if one lives in Britain, one should accept the liberal and democratic principles by which this country goes about daily life. We’re free to celebrate and enjoy ourselves. We’re equal, no matter our gender, sexuality, politics or religion. That’s sacrosanct, and those who wish to attempt to undermine it have no place in the UK.
It’s because we take these ideas as given that most terrorist attacks take the majority of the population by surprise. Naturally, we don’t relate to their motivations; their deeply perverted image of Islam forms an attempt to further their fascistic desires for an ultraconservative Islamic world. Poverty, war, conservative Islam and political instability have all combined as toxic Islamism. It is neither left, nor right-wing, it is a political wing of its own. This brand of Salafist radicalism is undoubtedly political, and must be dealt with as such.
Britain’s Prevent strategy has worked to remedy home-grown Islamism. Yet, there is more to do. Austria’s 2015 Islamgesetz (Law on Islam) is a good place to start. Sebastian Kurz, the current Austrian foreign minister, wisely banned foreign-funded mosques and made Islamic freedom of religion clear but unambiguous in terms of the requirement for hard integration. Britain must do the same.
The foreign funding of mosques too often serves to promote Salafism. There’s no good reason to allow this; funding for mosques must come from within. Austrian law protects Muslims’ right to worship and freedom of religion, as it has done since 1912; it does not, however, make provisions for any measure of Islamic law. It demands that Islamic communities are encouraged to integrate via a ‘carrot and stick’ approach, enshrining in Austrian law the requirement that Islam does not enjoy any protections not given to other religions, and demanding, with the threat of fines and closures of mosques, that imams and other religious leaders in Austria stay on the lookout for extremism.
Austria is yet to experience a terrorist attack like last week; its Islamgesetz, it seems, is working. There cannot be a witch-hunt, but there must be a recognition that, in marginalised and majority-Islamic communities, radical messages are more effective, and are leading more and more people in these neighbourhoods down a dreadful path.
Radical Islam has power within these communities. In them, there is a strong connection to conservative Islam and ideological persuasions, with limited connections to British ideals of liberal democracy. Most Britons cannot understand why people are sucked in by terror. They do not recognise the decline in respect for these values that most regard as British. Most do not live in the communities where this is happening.
They underestimate the power of desperation and anger in non-Western cultural settings. Barking, East London, is where one of the terrorists shot at London Bridge lived for years, with his wife and children. One may wonder what could drive him to do what he did. Yet we know that many in areas like Barking must deal with a comparative lack of opportunities for good jobs, education and housing, and receive comparatively less in the way of attention and funding by local councils and the state. As such, backwaters in major cities develop, as they have in Berlin, Brussels and Paris.
Add to those issues the feeling that one does not belong, typically because minorities in the UK are often at an economic disadvantage, and Britain, like many other nations, has a cocktail for anger and resentment. With suitably tailored messages promoting the violent exercise of these feelings on other ‘Westerners’, and a religious justification, terrorism will continue to grow unless the source of this anger and resentment is dealt with at source.
Multiple cultures can only integrate neatly into a single society when there is a single message of what that society is. Britain, in a self-conscious, apologetic way, lacks this. British identity must be promoted more aggressively than any national message before it, and resistance to that message shot down. Prevent must be strengthened. Foreign powers must no longer be allowed to influence religious life in the UK. British values must be made concrete, and compatibility with them obligatory.