After London and Manchester terror attacks, the UK needs to act now to root out isolationist ideas
Priya Virmani calls for sterner action to shut down centres preaching hate and radicalisation, and ensure that new immigrants are mindful of the values of diversity that define Western democracies like the UK
London twice and Manchester once in the space of less than 2½ months – is this becoming a dangerous pattern where terrorists are outwitting British intelligence services? What are we, in the UK, getting wrong at our end? And, for the terrorists, what are they really achieving by targeting those very multicultural cities that comprise the heart of their sympathiser base in the Western world?
Just last week, a young man stood blindfolded on a street with a placard that said “Do you trust me enough to hug me?” This was not just a bizarre social experiment but one that was posited on oxymoronic sentiments – where acute angst coexists with resolute acceptance. The young man, Baktash Noori, is Muslim. The street, Market Road, in Manchester – a city that was coming to terms with a terror attack a fortnight ago that killed 22 people and injured 122, including children.
Just as the dust of the immediate aftermath of the Manchester attack began to settle, terrorists targeted London again. As the UK comes to terms with the speed of these successive attacks, the country is numb and trying to make sense of the hatred unleashed in cities where the embrace of diversity is second nature.
Watch: “I’m Muslim and I trust you. Do you trust me enough for a hug?”
The response to Noori’s experiment was poignant, lifting, life-affirming. As he stood blindfolded, half a mile from the scene of the Manchester bombing, he was hugged and cuddled by strangers. Unequivocally, this was a resounding embrace of the diversity that characterises cities like Manchester and London.
It is this spirit that needs not just to be lauded in words and images but also protected in urgently, definingly and proactively stringent ways. The time for well-meaning social experiments is at an end.
After both attacks in the capital, I have been struck by the composure of my fellow Londoners, by their resilience and defiance. The discourse – initiated even by those who have lost loved ones in the attacks – has been marked by forgiveness, by the plea that, in our solidarity, we must exhibit our “rise” above hate to ourselves and to the world. Every new immigrant coming into the UK must be required to be mindful of and respectful of the values that espouse this “rise”, even if they do not actively participate in them.
One UK industrialist told me that, “Nothing can stem the Islamic terrorist bloodbath we are in for. That the world is in for.” Yet, we cannot consign ourselves to this fatalistic view and not uphold the values it has taken centuries to achieve in Western democracies.
Rooting out at immigration counters people who abide by values opposed to diversity is not an exact science. The budgets of the UK’s counterterrorism police have been increased, yet there remains a lack of preventative strategies. Intelligence services are overstretched. At present, some 3,000 individuals linked to Islamic terrorism are under investigation. Some 20,000 more are on their watch list.
Thus, we must now take uncompromising action on immigration and assimilation.
Institutions that preach antagonistic values must be shut down immediately. A crackdown on extremist propaganda and access to it must be absolute and unflinching. Radicalisation in British prisons is happening with impunity. Resources must be ploughed in to eviscerate all forms of radicalisation.
The current strategy to root out radicalisation is voluntary and ineffectual. Sterner action is the call of the hour.
Some may argue that acts of terrorism on unsuspecting people is fallout from Western “meddling” in other countries. There is traction to this argument. Yet, these perpetrators are striking at the infrastructure that includes those very people who are working to hold Western governments to account for their foreign wars, and are campaigning for them to pull out. In the strategy, there is a blindness.
The UK is grieving. There is numbness, a feeling that it makes no sense. To find meaning, we need change, marked by decisiveness in making assimilatory action compulsory.
We simply cannot continue to be naive and extend a welcome to isolationist values that are at odds with the tolerance the population of the UK wholeheartedly espouses.
Dr Priya Virmani is a political and economic analyst