Why we should deny fa­nat­ics public­ity

Country Life Every Week - - Letters To The Editor - Fol­low @agromenes on Twit­ter

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

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