Condemning those who commit terrorist outrages and murder children is the easy part. How we respond is the greater challenge. It determines whether we will beat them.
Terrorists are the lowest form of humanity. If you blow up little girls at a pop concert, you deserve to be called evil. There is no excuse, no justification. There are no caveats. And faced with such terrorism, we must resolve to smash it. The question is: how?
If you look at social media you might be forgiven for thinking that there are only two options. At one extreme are those who advocate that we turn the other cheek, or, worse still, try to explain terror away. At the other are those who would set up internment camps and hold the billion Muslims on the planet responsible for the actions of a few. They see Mo Farah and Nadiya Hussain as in some way connected to Abu Bakr al-baghdadi, leader of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isil).
Both responses are as intellectually lazy as they are self-defeating.
What we know is that the terrorists cannot defeat us militarily. Our armed forces, police and security forces are far more powerful than they will ever be. They know that. In fact, they have resorted to terrorism precisely because they realise they are so weak.
The terrorists’ strategy is that we will do their work for them. Their acts of extreme provocation will, they hope, lead us to curtail our freedoms or encourage our communities to turn against each other.
In this the terrorists are aided and abetted by those who say they oppose them most: extremists in our own country who seize on moments like this to drive hatred against the “other” – in this case Muslims – and claim that they are all to blame for the actions of an individual.
Far-right fanatics and Islamist fanatics pretend to be against each other, but they not only recruit off the back of each other but are driven by the same thing: hatred for anyone who isn’t like them. It is a bizarre symbiotic relationship.
To defeat terrorism and extremism, we must first go after them with all the force and intelligence capability we have. We should target both the cells which plan violence and the voices who encourage it. As part of this we need to know that our anti-terror police have all the resources, manpower and money they require.
We also cannot ignore countries that, for whatever reason, have become basket cases from which terrorism can spread. Shutting our eyes to the plight of Afghanistan under the Taliban, Somalia under Al-shabaab and the disintegration of Syria is not cost free. This doesn’t mean we always have to engage militarily, but it does mean we should use every tool available to stabilise fragile states. Our diplomats, aid workers and armed forces are the best in the world and all have a crucial role to play.
Finally, we must build more integrated communities at home and show that attempts to divide us will fail. Terrorists look for alienated communities to breed in. If we can come closer together, we will win.
In all cases, we should ask ourselves what the terrorists want – and then do the opposite. They want the Manchester atrocity, and others like it, to divide our country. They would like nothing better than to spark attacks against minorities in the street, to poison our political debate and to create more isolated Muslim communities. It is down to all of us not to let them achieve any of this.