Last night, BBC News led their 10 PM news programme with a story about how nine Brits have gone to Syria recently, presumably to fight in the civil war there, although that wasn’t 100% clear.
Nine people. How many folk in this country believe that Elvis is still alive? I’m willing to place a bet that, nationwide, it’s more than nine. How many people’s sexuality revolves solely around root vegetables? Again, it’s probably in the same ballpark. Yet this was presented on the BBC, which we’re constantly hearing has a grave liberal bias, as if everyone with a non-Anglo-Saxon surname was booking their tickets to Aleppo. This is a tough topic, and by no means do I wish to make light of it. Any British born men and women at all going to the Middle East to battle in the name of jihadism fills me existential horror. It is tremendously sad when anyone feels the need to go off and fight for a medieval horrorshow looking to re-create a caliphate. But it also raises a whole bunch of questions about how we see things.
The Muslim community is annoyed by David Cameron’s speech this past week, the one in which he said that the Muslim community really ought to be doing more to prevent young people from becoming radicalised. I’ve turned this over in my head a few times and realised that I have no idea if the prime minister is bang on or way off with this line. I simply don’t have the hard data to know whether the Muslim community could be doing more, or if they are doing everything they can and are in fact preventing many more young folk going off to battle for Daesh than otherwise would. I simply don’t know. I suspect, however, that David Cameron doesn’t either. Everything in this discussion was lost in polemics some time ago.
The shooting in Charlestown has been described as a terrorist attack by some. I’m inclined to agree, but it’s important to think about the arguments the other way. Dylann Roof appears at this stage to have been a lone wolf, not attached to a group that may wish to carry out more attacks such as the horrific church shooting. So, some say, it’s not the same as say, a jihadist perpetrating a murderous crime as the latter would be operating from a network that could repeat the same act of terror, whereas a lone nut is pretty much finished as soon as the cops get to him. I see what they’re saying – but I don’t entirely buy it. I think, sadly, that people feel much more okay about terrible attacks such as the one in Charlestown if they spring from something within their own culture. It just doesn’t scare people as much as compared to something that is “other”, outside of the culture in question.
I recall back when Blair was trying to convince the nation that marching into Iraq was a good idea, back in 2002/03, and he said in a speech once that Islamic terrorism was like nothing Britain had ever faced before. He was echoing a Bush line – only problem was, given it was delivered to a country which had faced decades of IRA terrorism in the past, the line sounded hollow to me. Why is Islamic terrorism worse than Irish nationalist terrorism? But I think the line generally worked, as much as any of Blair’s attempts to win the nation over on this stuff ever did anyhow, because whatever you thought about the IRA, their motivations were understandable, graspable. Whereas the desire for an Islamic caliphate is beyond our comprehension. My point here is that the way we emotionally digest these things has a lot to do with how easy it is to rationalise the whole thing from the perspective of the terrorist in the first place, even if we fundamentally disagree with that perspective, as opposed to the actual horror of the acts they create. Which is really, really uncomfortable to come to grips with as it shows us a very dark side of the human spirit.
This is understandable – but it doesn’t make it right, obviously. Murder is murder, in whomever’s name and in whatever cause it is supposedly meant to be furthering. I don’t know myself where the line between lone nutjob (who can be contained and thus dismissed) and act of terrorism (repeatable and thus representing unpredictable future horror) lies. All I know is it’s a debate worth having, stripped of as much raw emotion as we can manage in search of the truth.