Saturday night’s attack on London Bridge and the Borough Market area is another tragic instance of Islamist terrorism against British citizens. This represents the third such attack this year, following on from the Westminster Bridge and Manchester concert attacks. Our thoughts and sympathies are with the victims of this latest attack, as well as their families.
The Henry Jackson Society believes that it is crucial that the following points are understood if future attacks are to be prevented and Islamist terrorism ultimately defeated:
- The method of attack witnessed in London on Saturday night—a low technology vehicular and stabbing attack on an urban soft target—is in keeping with the type of attack called for by Islamic State, and may be indicative of an ideological connection with IS, if not an organisational one.
- We can only defeat Islamist terrorism if we combat the ideology driving it. That means being honest about recognising that Islamist extremism stems from ideological origins within Islam itself. It also means the public sector and British civil society will need to proactively embrace the national counter-radicalisation strategy Prevent, rather than allowing others to undermine it.
- As the ideological nature of the challenge we face is now being recognised, non-violent Islamist groups such as the Muslim Brotherhood must be proscribed. Their ideology helps indoctrinate young British Muslims into a worldview that can often make them more susceptible to being recruited by terrorists.
- It is not ‘Islamophobic’ to speak out against Islamism. The false charge has been peddled by groups within the Muslim community like MEND and CAGE that wish to close the discussion down about Islamism rather than see it raised in its proper context.
- During Saturday night’s attack many lives were saved because of the rapid intervention by the police to neutralise the terrorists and bring the attack to a swift conclusion. This demonstrates the crucial importance of maintaining a strong and well-armed police presence on British streets.
- To prevent the proliferation of terrorism, the security services must fully implement wide-ranging intelligence gathering and counter-terror powers available to them. At the same time policy makers must continue to refine and enhance these powers to make them fully effective.
- Defeating Islamist terrorism will involve a multipronged approach that must include destroying terrorist groups in their strongholds overseas, particularly Islamic State in the territories it still controls in Iraq and Syria.
Islamic State (IS) has now claimed responsibility for the London attack, making this the latest in a series of outrages across the continent. Since 2014, IS has repeatedly called on its supporters to carry out attacks with whatever resources they can acquire, including vehicles and knives. This has led to a wave of such attacks across Europe, most notably in Paris, Nice, Berlin, Stockholm and earlier this year, Westminster. Notably, the atrocity falls within Ramadan, a time period that IS (as well as other terrorist groups such as Al-Qaeda) has identified as a period in which attacks should be carried out.
The immediate priority in the coming days will be to discover whether the perpetrators were a cell connected to a wider network within the UK, or possibly one extending overseas. There will be a particular need to determine whether any of those involved had recently returned to the UK after having been involved in fighting or training abroad. As demonstrated with the Manchester Arena bomber, Salman Abedi, the threat from returning foreign fighters is one of the most serious security concerns this country now faces.
While refining and strengthening existing security measures will be essential for guarding against terrorism, we must increasingly place the emphasis on eradicating violent extremism at an earlier stage in its development; by combatting the ideology that gives rise to terrorism. We will not be able to win the battle against these poisonous ideas unless we fully recognise that Islamist terrorism draws its ideology from Islam, however perverse we may consider that interpretation of the Islamic religion to be. Winning the ideological war will mean taking direct measures to shut down the promotion of extremist ideas and denying those who drive this ideology the oxygen of funding and publicity. Far more attention needs to be paid to the flourishing extremism industry which exists in the UK. Continuing to allow extremists to encourage others to engage in violence, whilst stopping short of remarks that would prompt prosecution, is an intolerable status quo. This means that known non-violent Islamist groups that have escaped proscription to date, like the Muslim Brotherhood, now need to be banned formally.
There must be both a government and broad civil society response to pushing back against the narrative of the extremists and their apologists. The public sector in particular must play its part by properly implementing and upholding the national counter-radicalisation strategy, Prevent. The same is true of the need for the public to provide the security services with any information they may have about extremist and terrorist activities so as to assist those working to safeguard our national security.
Equally, there must be honesty about the role that Britain’s Muslim communities must play in confronting Islamist extremism. Those who seek to counter the threat posed are not ‘Islamophobic’, and groups within the Muslim community which either imply or suggest this, such as MEND and CAGE, need to be publicly confronted about the role they are playing in hindering responses against terrorism. All communities and sections of British society will need to play their part in challenging extremists, and speaking out against those engaged in the bad-faith campaign to undermine counter-extremism efforts.
The scale of the task ahead is unprecedented. Meeting this challenge will necessitate a multipronged strategy. The rapid response of the police during last night’s attack—neutralising the three terrorists within eight minutes of the emergency call—demonstrates the importance of having a strong and well-armed police presence throughout Britain’s urban centres. Experience in numerous terrorist incidents of this kind have shown that the sooner the security personnel are able to intervene to disrupt an attack, the more lives are saved. We must see the authorities making full use of the powers available to them, both in terms of surveillance and where necessary the use of measures such as Temporary Exclusion Orders to keep out extremist individuals returning from conflict zones who are likely to be a threat to the life and welfare of the British public.
Finally, we must defeat terrorist non-state actors in the territories that they operate and train in; such as Syria, Libya and Afghanistan.
Terrorism is neither inevitable nor unstoppable and it must not be allowed to become an accepted part of modern life in our liberal democracies. If both our government and British civil society is willing to embrace a comprehensive approach to combating all forms of extremism, then terrorism can, and will, be defeated.