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Have we become desensitized to Islamist extremism and terrorism in the United Kingdom?

Two weeks have passed since the killing of Sir David Amess by an alleged Islamist terrorist. Within days, thousands of tweets, numerous articles and interviews took place to condemn this horrific act. But like clockwork, it appears that the murder of a member of Parliament is no longer news worthy. Have we become so accustomed to acts of terrorism that it is now a normal part of our lives, that when an MP is slain, we condemn it for a bit and then shrug our shoulders and carry on with our lives?

The United Kingdom has seen 3,416 deaths as a result of terrorism from the period of 1970 – 2019. The twenty-one-year period (1970 – 1991) where the most deaths occurred as a result of terrorism was in Northern Ireland during the Troubles. There was a further spike in deaths when the Pan Am Flight 103 was blown up over the Scottish town of Lockerbie by a bomb planted onboard the aeroplane. As a result, 243 passengers and 16 crew members died. Since then, there had been a decline in deaths as a result of terrorism from the IRA after the Good Friday Agreement. But less than a decade later – deaths as a result of Islamist terrorism remain a key feature of our everyday lives.

In the period of 2005 and 2017 we were struck by terrorist attacks which resulted in above average deaths. The first set of attacks were the July 7th 2005 London bombings by homegrown Islamist extremists which resulted in 55 innocent people murdered and hundreds injured. The second set of terrorist attacks in 2017: Westminster Bridge, Manchester Arena and London Bridge resulted in 4, 22 and 8 deaths respectively. The common denominator that links all these attacks together is Islamist ideology. But whilst we know this, it appears we do not care and it is something we are okay with.

Whilst the United Kingdom government were able to negotiate a peace agreement between various political parties in Ireland to determine how Northern Ireland was to be governed, the same is not and will not be true against Islamist extremists. The reason why, is because Islamist extremists are driven by a supremacist idea: that Islam should be the state religion, the laws must be sharia compliant and Muslims must be the ruling class. Nothing else will do.

However, Islamist extremists are smart enough to know that overthrowing a government in a mature western democracy is a fool’s game. There are no real issues of human rights abuses or corruption equivalent to that which are seen in Muslim majority countries, like Iraq, Libya or Syria. So, the strategy has to be a different one. Instead of trying to overthrow the government or change the law, Islamist extremists seek to change the culture of how we respond to their demands and it appears we are submitting to them.

Not even 12 months have passed since the teacher from Batley Grammar School has gone into hiding for showing a blasphemous cartoon of the prophet Muhammed. For weeks, Islamists stood outside the school, protesting and pressuring the school to sack him. An investigation took place as to whether the teacher had shown the image or not. Yet it is precisely this that is the problem. Instead of conducting an investigation of how the school failed to safeguard the teacher, it instead succumbed to the demands of Islamists to determine whether the teacher had showed the image. This backward thinking by the school is a result of the pressure applied on them by Islamists. But again, this seems to be normal.

The murder of Sir David Amess left the chattering and political classes to avoid talking about Islamist extremism and instead divert their attention to the apparent harm caused by people being not so nice online. It isn’t just that we have become desensitized to Islamist extremism and terrorism, but that when there is an opportunity to show real leadership and tackle it head on, there is a refusal to do so. The reason why, is because Islamists are gaining ground through fear and intimidation. That they cannot change the law is immaterial to changing the culture – and it seems they are achieving that.

The government must show real leadership against this very real threat that has deadly consequences. Failure to do that only contributes to a perception that the government are either unwilling or unable to tackle this problem. We may not like Islamist extremism, but it seems we have a funny way of showing it.


Wasiq is an academic specialising in extremism and terrorism. Follow him on Twitter: @WasiqUK

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