With terrorist attacks becoming ever more commonplace, what exactly do they achieve?
I became aware of the situation unfolding on the busy streets outside Westminster today curtesy of a message I received on my phone as I left a briefing: It simply said, “Hope you are safe.”
I knew straight away something was unfolding in London, another event that was likely to be dominating the news feeds, putting fear into millions whilst testing the capabilities and competencies of those working in the emergency services.
Not wanting to gloss over the severity of the situation and thinking of the victims caught up in the attack—tourists enjoying a day in one of the world’s finest cities, visiting historic central London; people walking to or from meetings; or, indeed, Police Constable Keith Palmer, 45, who died while simply carrying out his duty—there was a different feeling compared to previous attacks in the UK. Something has fundamentally changed.
Islamic extremism is here, and likely to stay. We have waited for today’s events for a long time knowing full well it would come at some point, as the national lead for Counter Terrorism Policing, Acting Deputy Commissioner Mark Rowley, said himself, “This is a day we had planned for—that we all hoped would never happen—but sadly it is now a reality.”
Part and Parcel
We are lucky here in the UK to have such outstanding men and women capable of acting with uncompromising professionalism under extreme pressure. You can tell watching them that they have been drilled repeatedly in procedures for worst-case scenarios such as the events on Westminster Bridge and by the gates of Parliament. We are safe in our knowledge that our reaction will be swift and measured with appropriate action for all those attacks to come.
The difference in today’s attack came in the public reaction, lethargic, dare I even suggest apathetic, as the news broke. I am not for one second suggesting that in a course of a day the British have lost their warm heart and caring side. We all knew that when—not if—an attack would happen here, there will be a tomorrow. These things now sort of just “happen” from time to time. It’s almost boring.
Ask most people in the West about attacks by Islamic extremists and they will give you the historical headlines: 9/11, 7/7, Bali bombings, Charlie Hebdo, Paris attacks and so forth. Ask them to name the perpetrators and most will struggle. For years we have been watching groups like al-Qaeda and the Islamic State (IS) endlessly regurgitate a form of monotheism that is deplorable on all fronts, compounded by a working understanding in society that from time to time these things will happen—and, as one notable academic suggested, you must learn to live with it.
On days like today, it raises a serious question: Do people really care any longer or have they become immune to these attacks? And, if that is the case, what exactly has been achieved by an attack of this nature?
The Hand of the Meaningless
Let’s now call time on pandering: Extremism is laughable—a fallacy of epic proportion for any religion. Further, let’s call them out for who and what these individuals are: the lost, the ex-criminals, unable to construct an intelligent argument, needing something to pin their lives on because their life lacks meaning, craving inclusion like a child in a playground or the school bully who always shouts louder than the rest.
People like myself, spend our time trying to understand the psychology of terrorism, the political objectives and ultimately develop policy to counter these appalling acts of violence, both domestically and overseas. While there is a lot we can do and a lot that needs to be done to counter violent extremism, there will always be individuals that will remain apart from our society that we simply cannot help.
As an atheist, I struggle with any religious violence. Yes, there has been violence here in the UK drawn down sectarian lines in Northern Ireland between Catholics and Protestants. But it was based on political objectives, with the now late Martin McGuinness eventually giving up his gun for his seat at the table. Modern Islamic extremism has nothing political to hang its ideology on: There are no foundations of society, there is no negotiation, there is no conversation based in anything resembling humanity. It is simply inhuman.
What we witnessed today and in recent years with Islamic extremism, away from the now dwindling, final days of the caliphate, are attacks of pathetic proportion in the West, often orchestrated by men too scared to carry them out themselves who turn to those on the fringes of social reality. And what are the affects? Does society bend and fail? Do we all line up and join the make-believe prophet’s army?
No, we continue, and always will, because these attacks are now the new normal and have such a small, almost insignificant effect on us as a people. The mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, was right when he said that such attacks are “part and parcel of living in a big city.” You should expect these events: There is a history of such attacks, and so I do expect them.
I feel such rage and anger that people who were busy living have today lost their lives by the hand of the meaningless. Another layer of tragedy was added today, but another terrorist will be forgotten and in his wake. Nothing but momentary fear was left behind on Westminster Bridge. I don’t care who he is or what he stands for, because what he is and what he stands for is of no substance at all.
Maybe it is time to treat these attacks with the contempt they deserve—be professional, counter them as you can by force and humanity where you can, but do not publish his name, give him nothing he craves, let his name echo nowhere and be sung by none.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.
Photo Credit: IakovKalinin