The Jewish Chronicle - - FRONT PAGE - BY MARTIN BRIGHT

WE HAVE a des­per­ate need to make sense of those ter­ri­ble 82 sec­onds in West­min­ster last week when a man who called him­self Khalid Ma­sood laid a trail of death, mis­ery and pain at the feet of the mother of par­lia­ments.

There are a num­ber of pos­si­ble nar­ra­tives, each as un­sat­is­fac­tory and par­tial as the next. At first sight, the at­tack looked ev­ery bit the clas­sic Is­lamic State copy­cat at­tack in the style of Ber­lin or Nice. The modus operandi of mow­ing down tourists and mem­bers of the pub­lic in a very pub­lic place cer­tainly looked very “IS”.

But now, the po­lice tell us there is no ev­i­dence of a con­nec­tion with in­ter­na­tional ter­ror­ism.

What other sto­ries can we tell to ex­plain this? Was Khalid Ma­sood — or Adrian Elms or Adrian Rus­sell Ajao — a sim­ple psy­chopath or did his tripleper­son­al­ity sug­gest a whole se­ries of al­ter­na­tive nar­ra­tives of suf­fer­ing and hate?

Was he rad­i­calised in pri­son? It ap­pears not.

Did he have links to the usual sus­pects of Bri­tish rad­i­cal Is­lam? We don’t know.

Khalid/Adrian was, so we are told, a pop­u­lar school­boy sports­man, a vi­o­lent crim­i­nal ca­pa­ble of slash­ing an­other man’s face in a pub ar­gu­ment, a co­caine fiend, an English teacher of some kind, an op­pres­sive Is­lamist fa­ther and, on the eve of the at­tacks, a jovial ho­tel guest.

Neil Basu, the Metropoli­tan Po­lice’s Deputy As­sis­tant Com­mis­sioner ex­pressed a com­mon frus­tra­tion when he said: “We must all ac­cept that there is a pos­si­bil­ity we will never un­der­stand why he did this. That un­der­stand­ing may have died with him.”

But Mr Basu did not stop there. “I know when, where and how Ma­sood com­mit­ted his atroc­i­ties,” he added. “But now I need to know why. Most im­por­tantly, so do the vic­tims and fam­i­lies.”

There is a de­sire, a very hu­man need to know more, even in the most des­per­ate of sit­u­a­tions.

Mean­while, politi­cians turn to pol­icy so­lu­tions be­cause it is what they do. Am­ber Rudd an­nounced a pos­si­ble ban on end-to-end en­cryp­tion on so­cial me­dia be­cause Ma­sood was thought to have used What­sApp.

The po­lice an­nounced that se­cu­rity will be tight­ened around Parliament and Windsor Cas­tle: fu­ture-proof­ing against fur­ther in­ex­pli­ca­ble atroc­i­ties. Some­thing has to be seen to be done amidst all this not un­der­stand­ing.

What could ever ex­plain some­one driv­ing at 70 mph along a busy pave­ment into real flesh-and­blood hu­man be­ings?

What fu­els some­one who drives a knife into an un­armed po­lice­man? What anger, what sense of vic­tim­hood or in­jus­tice could make a man do that? What psy­chosis? What evil?

Ke­nan Ma­lik pro­vided the wis­est of the in­stant com­men­tary last week

‘Ma­sood was a school­boy sports­man, a vi­o­lent crim­i­nal, and a co­caine fiend’

when he iden­ti­fied the “con­tin­u­ing de­gen­er­a­tion of Is­lamist ter­ror and in­creas­ingly blurred lines be­tween ide­o­log­i­cal vi­o­lence and so­cio­pathic rage”.

It is too easy to for­get the case of Zakaria Bul­han, the teenage Nor­we­gian-So­mali schiz­o­phrenic who knifed sev­eral peo­ple in Lon­don’s Rus­sell Square last year, or the men­tally dis­turbed Syr­ian refugee who hacked a wo­man to death with a ma­chete near Stuttgart. These were ini­tially thought to be ji­hadi at­tacks but turned out to be noth­ing of the sort.

We may yet dis­cover that Khalid Ma­sood was un­der the com­mand of the IS lead­er­ship from Mo­sul who used What­sApp to give him his fi­nal in­struc­tions. But de­te­ri­o­rat­ing men­tal health is a more likely ex­pla­na­tion.

His story is prob­a­bly closer to those of Michael Ade­bo­lajo and Michael Ade­bowale, the Is­lamic con­vert killers of Bri­tish sol­dier Lee Rigby, whose ji­hadi cre­den­tials were lim­ited to the oc­ca­sional woe­ful cry of “Al­lahu Ak­bar”.

There is an­other nar­ra­tive. It is that some­times peo­ple are just pure evil. They are mur­der­ers and that is that. David Cameron said as much in re­sponse to the case of Raoul Moat, the Ge­ordie body­builder who in 2010 shot his ex-girl­friend, killed her new part­ner and blinded po­lice­man David Rath­band be­fore killing him­self in an armed stand-off with the po­lice.

“It is ab­so­lutely clear that Raoul Moat was a cal­lous mur­derer, full stop, end of story,” Mr Cameron said.

But there is never an end to such sto­ries. No full stop.

Per­haps the most bril­liant piece of ex­tended jour­nal­ism in re­cent years is An­drew Hank­in­son’s You Could Do Some­thing Amaz­ing with Your Life [You are Raoul Moat]. Writ­ten en­tirely in the sec­ond per­son, it is a direct chal­lenge to Mr Cameron’s anal­y­sis. The pro­logue ends: “You have nine days and your whole life to prove you are more than a cal­lous mur­derer. Go.”

In Moat’s case there was a wealth of ma­te­rial to draw on to ex­plain what he had done: from Moat’s own psy­chother­apy ques­tion­naires and au­dio di­aries he kept, to the trial tran­scripts of those who helped the mur­derer.

Moat was con­vinced he was the vic­tim of a po­lice vendetta as his life col­lapsed around him fol­low­ing a breakup from his girl­friend. Mr Hank­in­son is de­ter­mined to al­low Moat the space to ex­plain how he had be­come so filled with rage that he was pre­pared to shoot a po­lice­man in the face.

I am wary of quot­ing Primo Levi in this con­text. He is too of­ten used as a sec­u­lar prophet. But he stared so hard at the philo­soph­i­cal prob­lem of ir­ra­tional ha­tred that some­times he seems like the only per­son who has done enough think­ing about the hor­ror of the in­ex­pli­ca­ble. He makes an im­por­tant dis­tinc­tion be­tween knowl­edge and un­der­stand­ing.

He sug­gested there are some cat­e­gories of hu­man-made atroc­ity that should be be­yond un­der­stand­ing.

“Per­haps one can­not, what is more one must not, un­der­stand what hap­pened, be­cause to un­der­stand is al­most to jus­tify,” he said of the Holo­caust in the af­ter­word to If This is a Man.

“We can­not un­der­stand it, but we can and must un­der­stand from where it springs, and we must be on our guard. If un­der­stand­ing is im­pos­si­ble, know­ing is im­per­a­tive, be­cause what hap­pened could hap­pen again.

“Con­science can be se­duced and ob­scured again — even our con­sciences. For this rea­son, it is ev­ery­one’s duty to re­flect on what hap­pened.”

We have learnt so much since Septem­ber 11, 2001. We now know ex­trem­ist Is­lamists driven by a deep ha­tred of en­light­en­ment val­ues are pre­pared to hit soft civil­ian tar­gets in ma­jor cities; we know an­tisemitism sits at the heart of the mur­der­ous ide­ol­ogy be­hind these at­tacks; we know young Bri­tish Mus­lims are not im­mune to the at­trac­tions of ji­had; we know con­verts are among some of the most ac­tive new re­cruits and that pri­son pro­vides a breed­ing ground for ex­trem­ism.

Will any of this help us un­der­stand those 82 sec­onds in West­min­ster? Prob­a­bly not. It is only hu­man to try to make sense of it, but in the end it makes no sense.

David Cameron said Raoul Moat was a cal­lous mur­derer, full stop’


Armed po­lice pa­trol West­min­ster af­ter Khalid Ma­sood’s at­tack killed four peo­ple last week

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