The scourge of terrorism must be tackled at its roots
Focusing only on security measures while ignoring the economic and educational deprivation that feeds extremism will not bring the problem to an end
Britain is not unaccustomed to terrorist violence. After the IRA bombs that targeted pubs and other crowded venues towards the end of the 1900s came the London transport suicide bombings by four Islamists that killed 52 people in July 2005. The allegiances of those killers, their planning, weapons and modus operandi, can be potential clues to police and undercover agents trying to prevent attacks.
But how do you head off random rampages through innocent pedestrians by cars and trucks driven by individuals inspired by Islamic State who do not stand out from thousands of other possible home-grown extremists known to the authorities? On Wednesday afternoon one such person was apparently at the wheel of a 4x4 vehicle that careered across Westminster Bridge near the British parliament, knocking down pedestrians before crashing into railings. The knife-wielding driver fatally stabbed a policeman before other officers shot him dead. Two others died, a toll that could have been much higher in an area normally packed with tourists.
It can happen anywhere at any time. Last July it was Nice, when a truck driven by an IS-inspired terrorist mowed down 85 people in a Bastille Day crowd. Wednesday’s attack in London was the deadliest since the 2005 bombings. We have seen what has happened in Paris where several attacks, including the gun and suicide-bomb slaughter of 130 people 18 months ago, have put the city on edge and made police jittery. Because Paris and London are international cities, the victims of such atrocities are bound to include visitors and tourists – in the latest case members of a party of French schoolgirls. They could easily have been a group of Hongkongers.
Yet, if people are cowed by this kind of violence, or forced to change their way of life, the terrorists have won. Britons have had to deal with it for a long time, in the spirit that life has to go on. And that is the best way. Britain is an island fortress compared with Europe, and London is considered one of the best prepared and safest cities in the world. It is therefore something of a trophy target for murderous martyrdom.
The latest tragedy shows both the authorities and the public need to be more vigilant and mindful of the dangers. That said, Hong Kong has no reason to be complacent. Terrorism is a serious threat, and the city cannot rule out becoming a trophy target itself.
As long as the West focuses its anti-terrorism effort on operational measures, and the socially malignant roots of terrorism continue to flourish, severely economically and educationally disadvantaged centres in parts of the Muslim world that lack basic job opportunities will continue to be recruiting grounds for foot soldiers of terrorism.