Why we should deny fanatics publicity
LOOKING back on it now, we can see that there was not a village in the land that was not caught up in last week’s terrible events in Westminster. Even the most determinedly rural citizen recognised the common thread that binds us together. The attack may have been on London, but the assault was on all of us.
Parliament, the home of our democracy and the guardian of our freedom, was the target. Therefore, at least for a moment, we dropped the usual cynicism about politics and our commonplace partisanship and, instead, recognised just how fortunate we are to live as we do, in a tolerant land in which the rule of law continues to be upheld.
Now that things are largely back to normal, we must not forget the lessons of that appalling afternoon. The aims of the attack were to spread apprehension and fear and that the resultant publicity would increase people’s estimation of the strength of the so-called Islamic State (IS). The attack was to show that it’s not a failing force, but one that is still able to strike at the heart of our nation. In that sense, it succeeded. All over the country—indeed all over the world— IS carried its message: ‘We are still here, still able to inflict real damage. You can never protect yourselves from us.’
That brings us to the crunch point. Newspapers and television, radio and the internet were all full of news, comment and assessment of the awful event. The question is: should we allow that? If publicity is what IS wants, why should we give it to them? It’s a lesson of history that manipulative fanatics long for recognition. This latest outrage was all about coverage and if newspapers and TV determinedly scaled down their reporting to a bald, uncoloured, low-key recital, it would help substantially.
This is, after all, what we do all the time in the north of Ireland. The continuing killings are downplayed and the violence isn’t dramatised. As a result, the situation has been contained and the encouragement to those who want to reactivate the Troubles is minimised.
Of course, this stance will not always be possible. The internet and smartphones make it more difficult, but, if we started with the assumption that the media should not do the terrorists’ work for them, we could begin to make outrages less productive. Orsini, Napoleon III’S would-be assassin, was a fanatical campaigner for Italian independence, but he also recognised that to kill a great man meant you guaranteed your place in history. It’s a way to make a nobody a somebody and that, too, is a driving force for the terrorist martyr.
The Westminster assault must also remind us of just how effective an individual can be—one single person sent a message all around the world. The cause was evil and the message one of destruction, but it could not be discounted. The power of a determined individual must never be underestimated, whether for good or ill.
This is a challenge none of us should duck. It’s easy to believe that we can’t make a difference in so complex a world, but we shouldn’t leave it to the deluded to prove otherwise.
Nor should we slip into the very prejudice that motivates these fanatics. The whole point is that they are exceptions, as angry about the vast mass of their fellow religionists as they are about the infidels. We must not see them as characteristic of Islam, for that is what they want and we must not help them to achieve their ends.
‘The attack may have been on London, but the assault was on all of us