Britain, and the rest of the world, have suffered some horrendous terrorist attacks. Our prayers are with those who are injured, bereaved or traumatised as a result. It happens too often, and I am interested in what can be done to reduce further occurances. I doubt it will ever be possible to completely eliminate all attacks. Someone who has a 'cause' to fight for and is mis-guided enough to think that killing and maiming people might somehow further their cause is going to be very difficult to detect and stop.
The aim of this terrorism, we are told, is to make us change our way of life - to remove our freedoms, to wreck our democracy, to turn us into oppressed citizens. We must not go down that path, or implement any measures that lead in that direction, down the slippery slope into authoritarianism. That way lies the terrorists victory.
The UK government 'Prevent' strategy is hailed by some as the answer and critisised by others as alienating the very people it is trying to engage. Clearly some strategy must be found that treads the fine line between gaining people's trust quickly and causing further alienation. One good way to establish trust is to do what you say you are going to do. A common thread in the recent attacks has been people reporting that they have notified the authorities of their concerns about someone and apparently nothing (not enough?) was done, because here they are involved in an attack.
The intelligence services, I heard the other night on the news, have 3,000 people that are 'of interest' - that they are actively tracking, and a further 20,000 that are known to them (quite what that means I'm not sure). Keeping an eye on that number of people is a challenge, but it is better than the alternatives.
Three options seem to come up regularly:
Why can't we round them all up (the 3,000) and lock them in an old airfiled?
This was one suggestion. It is a bad idea - primarily because it does exactly what we don't want to do, it changes our way of life. If the option is there for Islamist terrorist it is there for any others who might come under some sort of suspicion. It is a bad idea because the friends of those who are locked up will see a reason to fight our system, istead of support our system, and may resort to the same tactics. My memories of the trouble in Northern Ireland suggest that more support occurred for the terrorists after internment was introduced.
They are British born, so where would they go? To whereever their parents, grandparents or great grandparents came from. Do you think those countries want them? I wouldn't. There is another problem too, we would probably be making them stateless, which means they can only go into countries illegally. What if they come back into Britain - now it is even harder to keep them under survailance.
Arm the police / New Powers
In the Lodon Bridge / Borough Market attack police arrived within 8 minutes (very impressive) and shot the three men dead. That is a shame, I would have liked to deny them martydom and seen them locked up for many years - that is more aof a deterrent. In the process police report that 50 bullets were shot. I heard only one report of someone being injured by a stray bullet. I don't know how serious it was, and it hasn't been repeated, but it is a significant danger. One of the marks of a civilised country is that the population obey the law by consent (mostly), so that lethal force is not required to be permanently and instantly available. We should try to remain civilised as long as possible. Sadiq Khan says we shouldn't be alarmed by more armed police on the streets. I strongly disagree - I still remember John Charles Menezes.
Giving the polices new powers is another one of those doubtful steps. We have had terrorism for years, surely by now enough powewrs have been given to the police. There may be some (quite a lot) opportunity to improve the way existing powers are used. That should certainly be investigated.
What can we do?
The Archbishop of Canterbury is right, we cannot divorce Islamist terror entirely from Islam. Just as we could not separate Catholicism and Protestantism entirely from the trouble in Northern Ireland. To do so risks us being completly unable to undrerstand the context. Without the context no solution is possible.
Saying that it is our actions in declaring war on Iraq or other 'middle eastern adventures' is also unhelpful. Sure there is some influence from what we do, but it isn't the whole story. This approach should mean that the terrorists only hit 'western' targets, but the Philipines among other countries proves this to be false.
So a good understanding of history seems to be the first thing that we need before we can start to solve this problem. Secondly, we should carefully review the intelligence and law enforcement approaches to determine whether there are better strategies - there almost certainly are. Thirdly, review their resources to ensure they have adequate man power and computer power (what can some of this clever AI bring that would help?). Fourthly, and perhaps most importantly, we must engage with the communities that the terrorists come from. It was good to see the Imams refuse to pray for the terrorists. Finally, we must ensure that the justice system works effectively to remove terrorists and their supporters from their communities and ensure they are out of action for a long time.