Last week, I was interviewed for a programme on the terror attack on Glasgow Airport, ahead of the tenth anniversary. Little did I know that a few days later terrorism would return to the shores of the UK with the atrocity in Manchester. The barbarity was compounded by targeting an event attended by so many young people. Sadly, although this kind of incident is not new it never fails to shock and appal. Manchester added to a litany of cities to have suffered including Paris, Brussels, Nice and Berlin.
Scotland only avoided carnage a decade ago through quick thinking and good luck. It could have been much worse and it was a wake-up call.
It was only weeks into my tenure as Justice Secretary and coincided with the official opening of the Parliament. I had been regaling a friend about the Resilience Room in St Andrews House, where coordination of emergencies whether climatic, industrial or terror takes place. Of course, terrorism didn’t occur here in Scotland I added.
No sooner was I home than news of the attack broke. By the time I arrived at the Resilience Room officials, along with others from emergency services and beyond, were already hard at work, co-ordinating action across the country - events that are planned for, but we always hope they will be avoided.
The following day I visited police who were both in pursuit of those involved and defending our communities from further atrocities. It’s likewise now with police on patrol both visible and armed, to reassure the public and deter further attacks.
Steps were also being taken to assure the Muslim community that they would be afforded the full protection of the law.
I recall the then Assistant Chief Constable of Strathclyde John Neilson being quite outstanding when addressing a packed central mosque in Glasgow, where fear was palpable. Sadly, then as now, bigots seek to vent their spleen on innocent members of minority communities.
That happens despite the fact that governments of all complexions make it clear that terror is perpetrated by depraved individuals, not communities.
Moreover, it is forgotten by many and ignored by the prejudiced that it is Muslims who have suffered most from terrorism.
What the West suffered on Monday night or in other tragedies is as nothing to the carnage that has blighted the Middle East and North Africa, much of it unleashed after the Iraq War or other western interventions. Moreover, many refugees slandered by these bigots are fleeing terror on a scale greater than we’ve ever had to endure. They get far less publicity than incidents that happen in Europe or the USA, but they bleed and weep the same.
Manchester of course suffered an IRA bombing in 1996 and though a warning had been given and lives spared, hundreds were still injured and catastrophic damage sustained.
However, terrorism has changed for the worse, since even the dark days of the Provisional IRA’s activities.
The problem now is that it’s moved from an external to an internal threat and from a terror organisation to often individuals acting alone or with a few others.
Those changes make it far harder for police and security services. The threat from the Provisional IRA was in the main coming from outside the country.
Now it’s from within our own communities. The recent and past terror attacks in the UK have been carried out by British nationals, not immigrants or refugees.
You can’t seal the border when they’re already here.
Moreover, the days of active service units of the Provisional IRA or other terror organisations have been supplanted by what’s called “Nike” terrorism.
That’s a euphemism for “Just Do It” - whatever you can, wherever you can and however you can.
Hence it’s the Boston marathon with pressure cooker bombs, trucks or cars in Nice and London, and improvised devices elsewhere. They can eastly be acquired or sometimes just down loaded from the internet. The perpetrators may be acting on instruction or simply by encouragement; and alone or with a handful of others. But it’s hard to pin down, for those needing to monitor the threat.
Despite the horror, the response has to be balanced and proportionate. After all this is an attack on our way of life.
Aviation is targeted as symbolic of the west and football matches and pop concerts as evidence of our decadence. However, it is not simply a case of ‘life must go on’ - our democracy and values need protected.
If we react in a repressive manner it not only undermines our way of life but the values we live by.
For sure, we’ll all just need to get used to a more visible presence of armed police and doubtless security checks at venues and events. However, we also need to tackle the root cause of this terror. It is fuelled by a feeling of injustice amongst a marginalised community. It most certainly won’t be solved by President Trump bombing the **** out of ISIS, as he once boasted. They do need confronted and held to account by all legitimate means.
But indiscriminate slaughter simply increases the perception of differential justice for western and Muslim communities. Trump’s arms sales to Saudi Arabia are part of the cause of the famine in Yemen threatening millions, never mind drone strikes by the USA that kill innocents by the score. His lecturing of the Muslim world about clearing out the terrorists was rank hypocrisy.
In the UK and elsewhere in Europe many communities face discrimination and are marginalised with limited opportunities for education and employment. The injustice at home needs to be tackled as much as abroad. Otherwise individuals who are susceptible, for instance through mental health or personal issues, can fall prey to organisations who feed their rage and unleash their terror.
So, heightened security and some more atrocities may have to be endured. It’s the price to be paid for our values and way of life. But we shall overcome, together as a community of all faiths and races.