Many years ago as part of my job as a recruit instructor in the Royal Engineers I taught a short introduction to terrorism lesson, where I asked the question What Is Terrorism?
The definition of terrorism, broadly speaking was violent action by groups with the intent of bringing about political change through the creation of a climate of fear and terror.
In the late 1980’s and early 1990s our main focus was on Irish terrorism. One can argue about the rights and wrongs of the independence movement in Ireland, but what is inarguable is that they attempted to bring about political change not via the ballot box but by bombs and bullets. In the generally accepted international definition, that is terrorism.
Fast forward to the early years of the 21st Century and at this moment terrorism has taken on a shared global persona. It’s defined not by the accent, region, or the country, but by the religion which many share. The first question asked by the media in the event of any violent tragedy is “Is the perpetrator a Muslim?” Before you can say Donald Trump there will be a host of people blaming ISIS, Daesh (delete as appropriate) and demanding we “do something”. And that’s just the more acceptable end of the spectrum. Follow the hashtags and you can go all the way down to the sewers where people demand that “we” round them up/send them home/kill them all.
Britain has a long history of doing just that, from the concentration camps of the Boer War, the internment of German and Italian citizens in World War 2, the incarceration and torture of Kenyans in the 1950’s, the the jailing of Irish on trumped up charges in the 1970s and 1980s, the list is a long one. It’s an abhorrent response, the demonising of an entire religion is a short step away from Nazism and the way it shaped public perception against the Jews; once you have convinced people that another group is Untermenschen you can treat them in ways which right minded people would find unacceptable. We cannot go down that road.
Yesterdays attack in Nice was the latest attack where no direct link is apparent to any larger terrorist organisation. I’m sure ISIS/Daesh/Whatever they are called this week are more than happy to claim credit for these “loner” attacks. It gives the impression they have a greater reach, a greater influence and a greater network than they actually have. But strip it back, look at the intelligence and the evidence isn’t there. There’s no line of communication, no funding, no arming, no nothing. You can pour money into intelligence, broadcast soundbites about resolve, not surrendering to terrorism, you can put troops on the street and arm the police, but it’s a false investment which creates an illusion of security. You cannot detect a threat from an individual who operates in their own bubble based on their own motivations.
When Tommy Mair killed MP Jo Cox he was presented to the world as a mentally unstable loner, not a white supremacist terrorist. When Matthew Tvrdon mowed down 18 people in Cardiff using a van, killing one woman in the process he was a “paranoid schizophrenic ” not a terrorist. No one went through his life to find if he had been radicalised, because terrorists aren’t called Matthew, they have foreign sounding names and darker skin. There are angry people who take violent action in every walk of life; this is not a trait exclusive to Muslims, even though it suits some people to present it as such.
I understand that 24 rolling news needs to have a narrative. It has to find context, and an international war on terrorism is a lazy cop out. We need to be a bit less hasty in immediately labelling violent acts by Muslims as terrorism. Because every time we do, we do the terrorists work for them.
*May contain cynicism