Once more, the spectre of terrorism has come to impact upon the daily lives of those living and working in our capital city.
Last Friday’s London Bridge attack was sadly unsurprising in terms of its occurrence, although that in no way diminishes its horror. Two young graduates, Jack Merritt and Saskia Jones, were cut down in the prime of life, on account of convicted terrorist Usman Khan.
This tragedy was particularly shocking as Khan, who had been jailed for 16 years as part of a plot to bomb the London Stock Exchange and pubs in Stoke, as well wanting to establish a jihadist training camp in Pakistan, had given a passable impersonation of having been successfully deradicalised following his automatic release from his sentence.
The event where he launched his rampage — and which his victims had the misfortune to have participated in — was for Learning Together, a prisoner rehabilitation initiative. Khan had become something of a poster child for this group, having had a case study written about him, and been provided with a secure laptop that complied with his licence conditions.
Khan even went as far as to contribute a poem to a Learning Together brochure, where he also expressed gratitude for his computer. As deceptions go, this one appears pretty comprehensive.
A lot of election heat has been vented since the attack, with both major parties blaming the other for Khan’s offence. Labour has suggested that foreign policy and police cuts were the reasons Khan strapped knives to his hands and stabbed his fellow citizens. The Conservatives have claimed that he was only released on account of a previous Labour government sentencing policy.
Both have missed the point.
Usman Khan did not wreak havoc on London’s streets because of procedural issues. He would have attempted to do so regardless of when he was released, or however many police stood in his way.
He did so, instead, because he was an Islamist extremist, convinced that he was carrying out God’s word in slaying those he had referred to as “kuffar” – a pejorative term for non-believers – and “dogs”.
Our prisons are indeed breeding grounds for radicalisation. But Khan went into prison a committed extremist; he had no need of further assistance in this regard.
The infamous hate preacher Anjem Choudary claimed Khan as one of his students, and Khan spent years attempting to proselytise in Stoke through “dawah stalls” linked to the proscribed terrorist organisation al-Muhajiroun that Choudary once headed.
Given the depravity of Khan’s religious views, and the cunning with which he evidently concealed them after his release, no government desistance and disengagement programme was going to deradicalise him.
For all the brow-beating of the British state, and the political ping-pong that has resulted from it, the wrong solutions are being posited to guard against the scale of the threat (even if it is common sense to suggest that those guilty of particularly heinous crimes should serve a longer portion of their sentences than Khan did if they remain a potential security concern).
Part of the problem is that it is increasingly difficult to raise the issue of the menace of radical Islam without being accused of “Islamophobia” by those who have hijacked a noble cause — the fight against anti-Muslim hate crime — and turned it into an attempt to silence all discussion of extreme variants of Islam.
It is perfectly obvious why some Islamophobia campaigners desire such a blanket rallying cry: it masks scrutiny of their own views, which they would be able to promote without fear of challenge.
What is less clear is why politicians and state entities are happy to go along with this charade, when alternative and much tighter definitions of racism against Muslims — such as “anti-Muslim hatred” — exist that would avoid the pitfalls of catch-all Islamophobia definitions while still ameliorating a societal ill.
For the reality is that, despite the recent growth in far-right extremism in this country, radical Islam remains the principal threat to our security today — and, indeed, to the British Muslim community, for the first victims of Islamists have always been their fellow Muslims.
We ignore this at our peril. The Usman Khans of our world rejoice when we wring our hands in apology for real or imagined foreign policy disasters, just as Osama bin Laden did over Iraq War soul-searching, having launched his first attacks against the west well before a western boot touched Iraqi soil.
Radical Islam hates us for who we are and the liberal democratic and tolerant views that we hold, not for what we do. Being timid in naming it and pretending that it is not a factor in our security debate won’t make it go away.
Only by challenging this pernicious ideology with a rigorous and proactive approach to safeguarding, and a renewed focus on real integration, can we guarantee a safer future for all of us.
Main image credit: Getty