Is the threat of terror evolving or devolving? The answer hinges on just how you perceive such incidents as yesterday’s attack on Parliament.
‘Terrorism’ itself is a contested term. The Oxford Dictionary paints a fundamental picture, “The unlawful use of violence and intimidation, especially against civilians”. It can be wondered then, why, in the immediacy of such events as those that wrought Berlin, Paris and London most recently, are sources so quick to ascribe such acts to ‘terrorism’. But then, what is the hurtling of a truck through the placid boardwalks of Nice, the decimation of Christmas market patrons in Berlin, if not deplorable acts of terror?
The issue, perhaps, is with the term itself, which is eternally tied to images of mass-casualty, blanketing blue lights and perpetually rolling news tickers. Intentionally or otherwise, ascribing such brutal, yet arbitrary attacks to ‘terrorism’ aggrandises what are, at heart, the last-ditch efforts of a dying, despicable form of radical organisation – stifled into solitary desperation by our country’s security apparatus.
We are, nonetheless, witnessing a proliferation of such desperate ‘acts of terror’. Last week – in Paris, March 16th wrought a letter-bombing of IMF offices and shooting at Orly Airport – incidents that moved an unsettled France to issue a nationwide alert and further exercise the means afforded to its security personal by an almost five-month-old state of emergency declaration. Earlier, in late 2016, a Berlin amidst the fervour of festive celebration was shaken by the death of 12, in its first mass-casualty ISIS attack. And in London, just yesterday, a perpetrator heaved across the sidewalk of the iconic Westminster Bridge, hurling a 4×4 into Parliament’s ring of steel and butchering a police officer, before being summarily ended by our nation’s finest.
It is inaccurate, as is so often touted by the most fear-mongering of our tabloids, to speak of ‘infiltration’, or of a turning tide that would see a Europe brought to its knees by liberal immigration policy, or a humanitarian response to a dire refugee crisis – which, in reality, is far less humanitarian than most appreciate.
It is, rather, increasingly apparent that this proliferation of comparatively small-scale attacks is both a symptom and a side-effect. A symptom, of the devolution of radical organisation – the diminishing capacity of radical actors to function as a unit, to organise, garner resources and follow through on attacks. A side-effect, of an effectual fortification by our country’s intelligence services, policing community and public since 7/7 – a process which, according to senior counter-terrorism officer Mark Rowley, has thwarted some 13 organised attacks since 2013. It is this essential, tripolar cooperation that has worked to pursue, wring-out and reduce terror to its current, desperate condition.
What we are witnessing is no resurgence, but the last, smouldering flickers of an abhorrent fire, a demonic approach to political action that has, time and time again, failed to permeate the thick-skin of the British public and Western community more widely.
Inevitably, as the coming days and news tickers speed by, we’ll learn of, but never fully understand, the motives behind this latest assault. Likely, we will be told of the perpetrator’s troubled relationship with society, his isolation, his inability or sheer unwillingness to construct a productive identity within his community. What was immediately apparent, however, from the moment four tyres pressed up onto the sidewalk of Westminster Bridge, was desperation. These are not terrorists, but the petty desperate. The last, fatal blow we must strike is to stifle the radical oxygen that is aggrandisement, to take the wind definitively out of hell-bound sails and press on, with sorrow and sympathy in our hearts, but always, with reason in our minds.