This is an article I wrote on the 13 June 2013, and had published on The Backbencher website. As it was lost due to some technical issues, for the record I re-prooduce it below.
Domestic Terrorism in the UK – Time To Calm Down Dear?
The murder in Woolwich of Drummer Lee Rigby refocused attention on the United Kingdom’s issues with both terrorism and radical elements within British Islam.
Woolwich was new on certain levels. For the first time since 2005 terrorists had killed in mainland Britain (there were several murders by dissident Republicans in Northern Ireland in that period) The run of unsuccessful attempts – 21/7, the Haymarket nightclub attack, Glasgow Airport, the attempted murder of Stephen Timms MP – had served as a reminder that for now the UK’s Jihadis lack the tradecraft that the Provisional IRA in particular developed. The Four Lions style attempt to attack the EDL in Dewsbury last June, where would-be holy warriors turned up late, then got nicked on the way home for driving an uninsured vehicle, and a plot to blow up Luton’s Territorial Army base using a bomb under a toy car, had even added a slightly comic element to British Jihadism.
Woolwich was a reminder that a deadly threat does still exist. The added difference was that unlike an attack on a transport interchange or bar, in Woolwich there was no attempt to inflict mass casualties –civilians were free to go about their business whilst the two alleged murderers delivered monologues to anyone with a camera phone.
In recent decades several terrorist strands have existed in the United Kingdom. The Good Friday Agreement did not bring a total end to violence related to the Six Counties/Ulster/Northern Ireland (delete according to your allegiance) but went a significant distance towards doing so. With the Provisional IRA and Loyalist groups de-commissioning, and broad public support holding, those fringe elements who rejected the peace process took some time to re-constitute themselves.
2013 sees Derry/Londonderry (delete according to your allegiance) as the UK’s City of Culture. Derry, alongside Lurgan, is one of the stronger areas for dissident Republicans, who also have a major opportunity to remind the world they have not gone away with the G8 summit held in the province this month. Then again, speculation in July 2012 that dissidents coming together under one umbrella would see an attack at the Olympics came to naught.
For Britain’s stuttering forces on the far right, the murder of Drummer Rigby served as a shot of adrenaline. The extent to which cooler heads have departed the English Defence League was demonstrated by balaclava clad demonstrators throwing bottles in Woolwich. For all the blood curdling talk which sometimes accompanies the EDL (from some of its supporters and some of those monitoring it) the pattern of response to this killing mirrored 7/7 – some unpleasant expressions of racism, petty violence, arson attacks and vandalism – but with no sign of an anti-Muslim uprising or pogrom.
Keep Calm and Carry On?
As well as keeping politically inspired violence in perspective, we need to keep terrorism in some form of context. In 2012, terrorist cases were falling, prompting David Anderson QC, the Independent Reviewer of Terrorism Legislation, to comment you are as likely to die from a bee sting as a terrorist:
In terms of our way of life, more long term threats may actually come from needless legislation to ‘protect’ us – something former Home Secretary John Reid and ex-Reviewer of Terrorism Legislation Lord Carlile shamelessly promoted in media interviews post Woolwich.
The recent PRISM revelations should serve as a reminder that the function of all security services is to collect data on its own citizens, and that new technology allows greater intrusion than ever before. What was lacking from Reid or Carlile was any evidence that increased monitoring powers could have prevented Woolwich, just as those in the Labour party who wanted to introduce ID cards after 7/7 could not produce a shred of evidence that such legislation would prevent a domestic terrorist conducting a suicide bombing.
The Why Question?
The debate about why people are radicalised is at times circular – it is now unfashionable in liberal circles to play up religious elements, and de rigueur to raise our foreign policy – but at least here in the UK we are having the debate. Surveys from the Pew Research Center suggest in no Muslim country does a majority believe 9/11 was carried out by Arabs. The US, the Jews, Israel or any combination thereof cops the blame. How can terrorism – and counter terrorism – be rationally debated in such environments?
We need to carry on debating these issues. Yes foreign policy is cited repeatedly by Jihadist actors, but equally central, in their literature and statements, are religious issues. If anyone thinks our foreign policy is solely to blame, perhaps they would like to explain why author Salman Ruhdie was in hiding for so long?
Paul Stott is an academic in the field of Terrorism Studies, based at the University of East Anglia. He tweets @MrPaulStott