If, in the aftermath of an act of would-be terror, the people refuse to be terrorised does it still remain a terrorist act? Perhaps but there’s a sense, I think, in which we should not grant yesterday’s guilty men the title “terrorist”. Murderers, surely, will suffice? There is no need to grant them the war they so plainly desire.
This murder in Woolwich was an uncommon act of barbarity; the product too of a kind of mental illness. That does not excuse the act, far from it, and there’s no need to be sparing in our condemnation. But, appalled as we may be, it seems important to recognise and remember just how unusual these acts remain.
There will, quite properly, be consideration of whether the security service could have done more. Nevertheless it is foolish to suppose that MI5 and the police can predict, counter or foil every would-be assassin. Occasionally the bomber – or in this instance the machete-wielder, gets through. Nevertheless, this was the first successful jihadist murder in London since 2005. The 1970s and 1980s were much more dangerous times.
That is not meant as a way of minimising or downplaying yesterday’s horrors, merely as a reminder that they should be put in some kind of context and considered in some kind of perspective.
The Prime Minister’s remarks this morning were well-judged. So too Paul Goodman’s article at ConservativeHome. By contrast there is an unpleasant undercurrent of I told you so nonsense coming from sections of both right and left. Ken Livingston and George Galloway, surely to no-one’s surprise, have lived down to already low expectations. As a general rule, anyone whose reaction to this kind of event is to use it as a supporting pillar for their own longstanding prejudices should probably not be trusted.
Far from being in denial, most sensible people – that is, most people who have ever considered the issue – have known that something like this could happen and, indeed, probably would occur at some point. But it seems sensible, surely, to contemplate these risks in a sober and restrained manner. Hysteria is counter-productive, not least since it grants lunatics what they want. There is no need to meet their declaration of “war” with one of our own.
That doesn’t mean ignoring them or the threat they pose. Of course not. But there is nothing to be gained from judging all muslims (or all muslim converts) by the actions of a deranged and unrepresentative minority. There is no such thing as collective guilt in circumstances such as these. It is utterly depressing, therefore, that, quite sensibly, comments have to be closed on posts such as this.
But, in general, the response to yesterday’s savagery has, I think, been impressively restrained. Ingrid Loyau-Kennett spoke for the country as a whole when she warned the killers: You’re going to lose. It is only you against many. As long as we remember that, we will prevail.
Give something clever this Christmas – a year’s subscription to The Spectator for just £75. And we’ll give you a free bottle of champagne. Click here.