Tuesday, 10 March 2015

Terror Is Not As Big A Threat To British Values As The Hysterical Response To It

In a speech today, foreign secretary Philip Hammond attacks those who apologise for Islamic State (Isis) recruiting. “A huge burden of responsibility rests with those who act as their apologists,” he says; they are to terrorism what Lenin called “useful idiots”.
Hammond’s anger is understandable, given the ease with which the media has publicised remarks by friends and family of emigres such as Mohammed Emwazi and the three east London schoolgirls. Those who see loved ones turn from decent members of the community to potential killers are bound to be distressed and seek explanation. Schemes such as Prevent, to infiltrate and “de-radicalise” Muslim youths, seem cringingly ham-fisted and little more than police job creation.

Yet Hammond’s remarks echo John Major’s attitude to crime in the 1990s, that “society should condemn a little more, understand a little less”. What drives 15-year-olds to make checklists for a wild foreign adventure must merit study. Why do some immigrant communities gladly embrace Britain’s lifestyle and customs while others do not? What curbs on personal freedom are justified in countering deviant behaviour in the young, and what curbs merely encourage it?

It must be clear to Hammond and his colleagues that Isis’s ability to recruit a reported 500 fighters in Britain was helped by British military interventions in the Muslim world in recent years. Do these interventions also carry “a burden of responsibility”? Are the RAF’s drone operators jihadism’s useful idiots?

I prefer to back off from this. The whole terrorism story is out of hand. You have to be crazy to think that three runaway girls constitute a “national threat”. Even if some of those who have gone to Syria return with evil intent, what can they do? They might set off a bomb or fire a gun. That is no threat to the security of the nation or menace to its values. What kind of values are so vulnerable? This is pathetic talk.

The greatest threat to British values just now is from hysteria. It drives language to extremes. It encourages reckless responses and feeds the greed of the security industry. All sense of proportion vanishes as the politics of the scare grips every politician, every lobbyist, every media outlet.

Half of these stories should never have made it into the news. The way to stamp out terror is to deny it the oxygen of publicity and glamour. Sometimes neglect, which means self-censorship, is the best cure. But what hope of that?

Written by: Simon Jenkins

The Guardian, UK