The UK needs to tackle terrorism by reducing the inequality and sense of hopelessness that leaves alienated young people susceptible to indoctrination, writes Kenny MacAskill.
Boris Johnson’s comments in the wake of the London terror attack were as despicable as those of David Merritt were dignified. Despite his tragic loss, the father of Jack Merritt, who was so cruelly slain, showed compassion, humanity and understanding. Those were his son’s beliefs and the course he had embarked upon in his far-too-short life. By contrast the Prime Minister’s reaction was craven, shamelessly seeking to make political capital against the express wishes of those who’d suffered.
Of course, lessons have to be learned and blame can be apportioned, it’s the duty of government to do so and the right of politicians to challenge. The early release of Usman Khan may be a factor but the fact that Johnson had done nothing in ten years about what he termed Labour’s failure, once again showed him to be a complete charlatan.
Listening to experts and from past experience as Justice Secretary, it seems though that Khan’s release at the end of his sentence was less of a factor than other failings.
The sentence imposed on him by the presiding judge would have factored that in. Besides other than for a handful of individuals, release is necessary for all prisoners. Schemes such as ‘Orders for Lifelong Restriction’ in Scotland and comparable sentences in England can ensure some are only released when felt appropriate and on strict conditions. If changes need to be made to terror legislation to accommodate that, then so be it.
But the chants of some like Home Secretary Priti Patel about almost rounding them up and throwing the key away are absurd, distasteful and entirely counter productive. Guantanamo Bay is a disgrace and fuels jihadi terrorism, exactly the same as internment without trial and the H Block prisons were the best recruiting sergeant the Provisional IRA ever had.
Privatisation of probation service a disaster
As a leading expert on terror said, it was the failings of the Prevent scheme in England and in supervision on release that were the real faults. Prevent was frankly viewed with disdain by most and required to be amended. The Scottish model was different and far better. But no matter how good the scheme, it still depends on the willingness of the individual to participate, not just in body but in spirit.
Of much greater concern has been the virtual collapse of the Probation Service in England and Wales. Its privatisation by Chris Grayling was an unmitigated disaster to be added to the other catastrophes that have followed in whatever portfolio he’s held. Addressing that is vital, not just for counter-terrorism activities but everyday crime south of the Border. David Gauke, to his credit, was making progress in reversing some of the damage done but he has since been removed from office and indeed the Tory Party.
So all those factors and more will need investigated and addressed. But the likelihood is that terror will still continue to stalk us. It’s a factor in the modern age but has been unleashed like a whirlwind following the debacle in Iraq for which Bush and Blair stand accused. Police and security services target cells and groups that seek to perpetrate the major attacks. In that, they are often successful but when they are not, attacks like Bataclan in Paris, Brussels and other London attacks follow. Thankfully, they are rare.
More worrying though is the rise of ‘Nike’ terrorism – police and security services jargon for lone wolves and a bit, it seems, like Usman Khan – with the name deriving from the brand logo “Just do it”. Sadly this type of terrorism has seen the perpetration of acts of appalling barbarity wherever they can, however they can and in whatever way they can. It’s seen pressure-cooker bombs at the Boston marathon and knife rampages in London. And it’ll be with us for a while.
For, as David Merritt alluded to, we ultimately require to solve the problem.
Whatever terror we suffer from in the West, it’s as nothing to the carnage that occurs on a daily basis in the Middle East and elsewhere in the world. Demands for retribution, the eye-for-an-eye called for by populists, simply leads to the whole world going blind. It requires peace in those troubled lands and addressing injustice in others, not drone strikes or yet more futile military interventions.
The danger in the UK is from our own alienated youth, not foreign terrorists. They’re susceptible to indoctrination because of the inequality they face and the hopelessness they feel. Addressing that alienation and making them welcome in their native land is the solution. There’s no silver bullet but action can be taken. In the interim, increased vigilance is perhaps required by us all.
Kenny MacAskill is the SNP general election candidate for East Lothian