Considering the way that New Labour under Blair responded to 7/7 and then the foiled "liquid bombs" plot (John Reid was on Newsnight last night once again claiming 2,500 people would have been killed, ignoring the fact the cell had never succeeded in making such a bomb and that the experts themselves had major difficulties in doing so), the coalition's reaction to the murder yesterday of Lee Rigby has so far been relatively measured. David Cameron's statement this morning mostly struck the right tone: carry on as normal, as though we weren't going to anyway, and it was a betrayal of Islam as much as it was anything else.
He did of course repeat yesterday's bromides that this was an attack on our way of life and the UK as a whole, when it only was if you buy completely into the ridiculous sense of self-importance jihadists have. This was no more an act of war or a warning of what could be coming than the four murders carried out by Dale Cregan were. He killed two police officers out of the deranged belief that doing so would make him the ultimate big man in prison, where he knew he was inexorably heading; more pertinently however, he did it because he could. The same was the case in Woolwich yesterday. Elevating their barbarous act to something more meaningful than an unusually brutal murder is to give them respect they simply don't deserve. They're not terrorists, they're pathetic, warped, criminal individuals with the most banal knowledge of the creed they claim to belong to.
It's not helpful then when those who claim to be on the left fall into the exact same trap as the politicians and media overwhelmingly have. Yes, we can acknowledge the impact that foreign policy has had in radicalising some of those who have then gone on to commit violent acts themselves. What it doesn't do is even begin to explain why someone moved from being against a war to the point at which they then reached the conclusion that killing someone only tenuously connected to that war was justifiable. That can only be understood by looking beyond foreign policy to the influence of groups such as al-Muhijaroun, as we now know one of the men associated with, and their poisonous perversion of Islam. This is not to deny that the terrorist threat from jihadists was increased by our involvement in Afghanistan and then Iraq; it wasn't created by it though, nor will it go away when we completely withdraw from the former country.
Just as daft was the comment from the defence secretary Philip Hammond that the murder underlines "how vulnerable we all are". Well, no, clearly some of us are more vulnerable than others. If he meant that it shows how quickly a life can be taken, which he almost certainly didn't, then he would have been closer to reality. These men weren't indiscriminate, although they most certainly could have made a mistake in choosing their target, they were deliberate. Others won't be, it's true, but then they can be more accurately categorised as terrorists. The fact is that the threat from extremism of all stripes has been declining rather than increasing, and that threat has been repeatedly and wilfully exaggerated by both the media and politicians.
This hasn't been lost on either the BNP or the EDL. Both are shadows of their former selves, and not even the attempted attack on an EDL rally had done much to revive a movement that seemed to be petering out. Yesterday's murder was the perfect excuse for the EDL to do what it does best: descend on an area that wants nothing to do with them, get suitably lagered up and then ponce about shouting nonsensical slogans and generally making arses of themselves. The threat they pose comes not so much from the marches as it does the idiots inspired by Tommy Robinson (or whatever he's calling himself these days) who then go and vandalise a mosque or abuse someone who looks vaguely like a Muslim. Nick Griffin for his part, having run his once reasonably effective far-right organisation into the ground, has been tweeting like crazy, while an email has gone out to those on the BNP's message list which reads "once again followers of Islam have shown themselves to be a wicked and cruel enemy within".
Also taking their opportunity have been the securocrats and other hangers-on of the intelligence agencies, ever keen to advance their own interests. Newsnight gave airtime not just to John Reid but also Lord Carlile, both of whom called for the proposed communications bill, aka the snoopers' charter, to be reintroduced, so vital was it to our safety, regardless of whether or not it would have done anything to prevent yesterday's murder. For the moment at least it looks as though a "knee-jerk response" isn't on the cards, and it's more than slightly reassuring that rather than Carlile we have a new reviewer of terrorism legislation, David Anderson, who has wrote that terrorism law "gives excessive weight to the idea that terrorism is different, losing sight of the principle that terrorism is above all crime".
It's a message that our politicians and media could do well with taking on board. When something so shocking is committed by someone with the intention of having the maximum possible impact, it's understandable that in the immediate aftermath they responded in the way they did. 24 hours on and we ought to be scaling things back: letting the family of Lee Rigby grieve in peace without being constantly reminded of how he was so cruelly taken from them. If we can learn any lessons from his murder, whether in how we can potentially stop others from following a similar path to the two men, or if it could have prevented, although that seems unlikely, then we should. The vast majority have done their part, whether it be the numerous Muslim organisations that have condemned the attack, those that have took on the EDL or BNP in their attempts to make political capital out of a murder, or those that have simply paid tribute to Rigby. The rest could do theirs by not turning an act of savagery into exactly what those committed it wanted it to be seen as.
Labels: Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition, David Cameron, Islamists, jihadists, Lee Rigby, media analysis, politics, terror, terrorism, Woolwich attack