Never mind the terrorists, chaps, London will just keep calm and carry on. We’ll put the kettle on or defy them by going out and getting pissed, because life will just continue as normal. That’s the fitting response to terrorism, and it won’t affect our lives.
Except it will. It will affect your life when you’re queuing endlessly to be searched by security in every public building. When you pass by bollards and barriers put in place to stop mass vehicular homicide. The nervousness you’ll feel whenever you’re on the Tube or when your child gets on public transport in the morning. As the attacks increase, you’ll hear more and more anecdotal stories about acquaintances or Facebook friends or even actual pals caught up in these events. (The wife and seven-year-old daughter of a good friend of mine were in the carriage at Parsons Green, and caught up in the crush.) And they will increase – there is very little chance of this problem going away.
To counter this we’re presented with these strange arguments that Britain endured (for now) worse terrorism in the 1970s and much worse during the Blitz, and still survived. Around 40,000 people died in the Blitz – so that’s not exactly a comparison I would like to make with my own future – while the 1970s were, by any conceivable 21st-century measure, awful.
It’s the same argument people make about crime: why are people so worried, when we have less crime than in the 1990s? But we have far more crime than in the 1950s. If this sort of decline had taken place in an area like child poverty or maternal mortality, such comparisons would hardly be taken seriously. Imagine if cancer survival rates were now worse than 40 years ago: would anyone be arguing ‘lol they were much worse in Victorian times, chill out’?
We’re always told these things won’t divide us, when in fact they clearly do; not just between Muslims and the majority, but between white liberals and white conservatives. For many of the former, the events of the past few months have hugely strengthened their faith in diversity and multiculturalism, a paradox, but an understandable one. They view Islamic terrorism as attacks on culturally and racially diverse liberal societies; conservatives view them as the inevitable consequence of them.
But then multiculturalism is a faith, and many of its believers seem quite prepared to die for their religion. Quite literally, if the alternative is to embrace racism in any form. It could be argued that it is the third great universalist faith to take hold among Europe’s intellectuals, after Christianity and Communism, although the former – by far the most logical of the three – at least promises paradise only in the afterlife and accepts that humans are flawed.
Among the sacred ideas of the multicultural faith is the idea of jus soli, that people born within a territorial jurisdiction must by definition belong to that piece of land. This is why our national broadcaster refers to black-clad Islamic fundamentalists shouting incomprehensible Arabic slogans as being ‘British’, while the group in charge of eastern Syria is the ‘so-called’ Islamic State. You may refer to these men as British if you like, but you should accept that in doing so you are robbing that word of any real meaning. Never mind the solid literature showing that groups tend to retain their characteristics long after moving from one country to the next, the Manchester Arena bomber was UK-born and so somehow more British than Cliff Richard, Joanna Lumley or Richard Dawkins.
The available evidence suggests that, barring some miracle, these terror attacks are going to escalate into a sort of European Intifada. And as a result, western Europe’s transition into a place more like Israel will become more and more rapid. We will see increased security everywhere and there will be an eternal sense of danger in public places.
Realistically there are only two options open to us to fight this. Either, a significant expansion in the state’s surveillance powers, including the right to censor the internet and access our personal data, as well as an increased and more heavily-armed police presence. Or, we violate the sanctity of jus soli by deporting jihadis, even native-born ones, something Germany has already begun doing.
My optimistic side thinks that in 50 years time people will be amazed we didn’t start doing this ages ago, and wonder why it was considered such a shocking idea. But I suspect that the increased terror problem will only increase the backlash – against racism.
Of course unlike France, which traditionally follows jus soli, Germany has a tradition of jus sanguinis, nationality being defined by ancestry; Britain has never really followed either concept, or we’ve never had to articulate either way because historically immigration to this island has been so small. And because, quite rightfully, nationality is a mixture of both.
We’ve been extremely lucky to have been blessed by nature with a moat, which allowed liberal institutions to develop on this island. So while it would be a shame if we went down the road to a surveillance state and abandoned more freedom, I imagine most people in positions of power, whatever their distaste for such an idea, will see it as the lesser of two evils. When you’ve found a faith absolutely nothing will get in its way, not even the prospect of death.