The attacks in Canada probably seem non-sensical to some people. After all, much of the press and political class in the West has spent years trying to cover over the motivations of people like those who have spent this week targeting soldiers and politicians in Canada.
‘Why did they target Canada?’ headlines are asking today. And well they might. There has been a great push in recent years to put the causes of Islamic jihad not onto the perpetrators but onto the victims of this problem. So, for instance, when America has been attacked, it has regularly been suggested that ‘the United States had it coming’ (as Mary Beard so charmingly put it immediately after 9/11). Of course Israel should always be presumed to be inciting attacks by such people.
When it happens here in the UK – as it did just a year ago with the decapitation of Lee Rigby – the UK media goes into overdrive to say the perpetrators’ actions make ‘no sense’. The job of the media to inform the public is thus viciously reversed. It is now much of the public who know better than the media what is happening around us. As for politicians, it was only last month that US Secretary of State John Kerry claimed the Islamic State (Isis) has nothing to do with Islam, and presents no bigger a threat than global warming.
Because there is such a lack of information, we will probably be able to look forward to several days of ‘Why Canada?’ stories. So let me just put out the other possibility. There is a great problem in the world today within Islam. However many speeches Western politicians make saying that extremists have nothing to do with Islam, the attacks will continue. That is because, to the extremists, all non-Muslims and non-Islamist societies are anathema, and all are legitimate targets for attack.
There are of course disputes over when to attack and how. The Canadian attacks, for example, highlight the new prevalence of do-it-yourself (DIY) jihad attacks. That is partly the brainchild of the late al-Qaeda cleric Anwar al-Awlaki who realised that putting workable bombs together in most Western countries is tricky and inefficient. Much better for people to just seize a knife, a gun, or a car and do what they can on their own. Advocates of such attacks know that their success is potentially far higher than the mass-casualty attacks with which al Qaeda opened the last decade.
‘Lone Wolf’ or ‘DIY’ attacks could happen anytime, anywhere, against anyone. It happened in London with Lee Rigby, but it also happened when a young female student from Kings College London became radicalised from reading the Quran and watching Awlaki videos, and repeatedly stabbed and attempted to murder the Labour MP Stephen Timms. Canada is not inexplicable. It is part of a pattern, and one we are going to see a lot more of in the months ahead.