The right response to such a brutal attack is often the most difficult one
The brutal attack of a soldier in Woolwich yesterday by two men, seemingly in protest against the killing of Muslims in Iraq and Afghanistan, represents both a personal tragedy and a national challenge. I say a national challenge, because the right response to such brutality is often the most difficult one.
The first challenge — and this has already, in light of EDL attacks on mosques, been discussed — is to refrain from framing yesterday’s incident in terms of Islam. While of course I welcome the response from Islamic groups in the UK condemning the violence, I feel sad that they need to issue such statements. As a country we should be able to recognise that the actions of a violent minority in no way reflect the beliefs of the wider, 3 million-strong Muslim community in the UK.
The second is that, tempting as it might be, we must not allow the government to use this attack as an excuse to further infringe on civil liberties. The attacker’s warning that ‘you people will never be safe’ was chilling to listen to, but we shouldn’t let fear cloud our judgement, especially when the government — through proposed bills like the snooper’s charter —has demonstrated an alarming desire to extend its access to individuals’ private communications.
The attacker says on camera that 'you people will never be safe'
Admittedly, in the UK we can be grateful to the intelligence services and their undercover methods for foiling a number of potentially deadly plots in the UK. Stuart Osborne, the senior national coordinator for counter terrorism, said yesterday that the UK foils a planned attack on the scale of 7/7 every year.
But it’s noteworthy, then, that one former head of MI5, Dame Stella Rimington, has herself feels intelligence services have enough power as is and has spoken out against government attempts to infringe civil liberties in the name of counter-terrorism. In 2009 she told The Independent that ‘It would be better that the Government recognised that there are risks, rather than frightening people in order to be able to pass laws which restrict civil liberties, precisely one of the objects of terrorism: that we live in fear and under a police state.’
I couldn’t put it better. Firstly, it is looking fairly likely that the attackers were lone wolves — and these kinds of freak incidents are, unfortunately, near-impossible for security services to prevent.
Secondly, the belief that the best response to incidents like this is to hand over more power to the state reveals a dangerously complacent and naïve belief that the government is always right, that the state will always act in your best interests. Liberty is not worth handing over for what will only ever be a fragile and superficial sense of security.