Why blame ourselves and deny it's terrorism?
We clamour to say it's not terrorism, and we should've done more. But ignoring the war on modernity won't end it, says Brendan O'Connor
Published 17/07/2016 | 02:30
When Nice carried out extensive counter-terrorism planning in advance of the Nice Carnival earlier this year, they planned for many different contingencies including nuclear attack, radiological, bacteriological and chemical attacks, even an attack from the sea. They did not plan for a lorry.
It seems that in the war on modernity, a lorry is now a weapon of mass murder. Indeed it seems as if more and more they are using the tools of modernity to conduct attacks on the cornerstones of modern life. The simple fact of a truck is one of those miracles of the modern world we take for granted. It enables globalisation, trade between countries, the movement of food from places where there is plenty to places where there is none. Remember Band Aid and Live Aid? It was all about filling lorries.
And now we know that a truck can also kill at least 84 people, including at least 10 children, in the space of a few minutes.
Isil's Abu Muhammad al-Adnani is clear on how Isil sympathisers should work. You don't need bombs or guns or the traditional weapons of mass destruction - "smash his head with a rock, or slaughter him with a knife, or run him over with your car, or throw him down from a high place, or choke him, or poison him… If you are unable to do so, then burn his home, car, or business. Or destroy his crops. If you are unable to do so, then spit in his face."
So the message is clear. Use whatever tools are available to strike. And of course this is nothing new. Planes have been made into weapons, and cars have been used before. Our lives in the modern era are full of wonders that can be turned against us. Practically all the instruments of progress, down to computers and the internet, can be used to wreak havoc. As if they want to say to us, we will kill you by turning on you the very weapons, the very life you created, the life you affront us with.
And it's frightening. Because it means you can't just search for a gun or a bomb anymore. You can't just plan for nuclear or chemical attacks. We delude ourselves that we can control traditional violence in some way by searching at airports and stadia and fanzones for guns and liquids.
But we can't lorry-proof our world. Where there is a will, a weapon will be found, or will be fashioned. Ploughshares will be beaten into swords, pruning hooks into spears.
A truck can kill 84 people.
And it can kill people indulging in that most modern of activities - leisure time. But innocent leisure time. Not even the western decadence of a rock music venue, or a gay disco. Families eating ice cream and candy floss, watching fireworks. And now it seems they have come for our children as well. All victims of terrorism are innocent, but now they have come for the most innocent.
And then, as people used the modern miracle of the internet and social media to gather virtually (and impotently) to "express solidarity", Isil keyboard warriors were out infiltrating the #prayfornice and others, to spread the message Isil told them to spread: "They brought this on themselves".
Did they really? Did those children who died bring this on themselves? Of course as much as many of us find this notion distasteful, there will be many on the Left who would agree.
There is an unwillingness too to accept that Mohamed Lahouaiej-Bouhlel was a terrorist, even after Isil claimed him as a soldier of the Islamic State. But even if he was just one of those for whom, as the Guardian put it "local and personal grievances are given a global habitation and a name by jihadi ideology", the results don't differ hugely, apart from making the attack even more random and more frightening. And this is what Isil wants now, this new level of terror - random lone wolf attacks that come out of nowhere using weapons that aren't weapons.
These lone wolves will tend to have bundles of motivations and baggage outside of radicalism, but wasn't it always thus with terrorists? The notion of the pure, ideologically driven terrorist is part of the nobel-savage/freedom-fighter fantasy of the hard left.
Terrorism and ideological cults have always been a home for psychopaths, drunks, wife beaters and petty criminals, as we know only too well in this country. And terrorism and ideology has long been used as a cover for settling personal grievances and local disputes. But terrorism by proxy is still terrorism. And there will always be useful idiots.
Isil must laugh as we clamour to blame ourselves and clamour to ascribe every motivation to this terror except hate. They must laugh as we tear ourselves apart. They must laugh as their war on modernity causes our lives to become more like theirs, oppressive, fearful, chaotic and undemocratic.
They must laugh at Brexit and Boris too, more symptoms of the fear and paranoia that stalk the west. They must barely be able to contain their glee at the thought that the EU, which is, for all its faults, a great icon of peace and enlightenment values, could now fall apart, indirectly due to this fear of them hidden among the migrants.
But of course, this killer, yet again, wasn't a migrant. The narrative here is that this is yet another example of radicalism infecting or empowering someone who grew up in France, but who was willing to turn on his countrymen because France gave him nothing to hold onto, nothing to feel equal or free or fraternal about. And then it's back to how the French, and all of us in the west, bring this on ourselves.
If there weren't disenfranchised youths there would be no recruiting ground for them. If Nice had looked after these young men, so many young Nicois men would not have gone to Syria, and Nice would not have become a recruitment ground for Jihadis.
So what's the answer now? Do we need to build more youth clubs for them? Enfranchising these people is, it would strike you, a long-term project.
So in the meantime? Well, there seems to be a school of thought emerging now that attacking the caliphate is the wrong idea too. Because, we are told, the more ground Isil lose there, the more they lash out at the West with anything they can find. The left would rather this policy of isolation, whereby we don't interfere with the Middle East and we don't try and "impose" our values there. Let them wreak terror on their own people, seems to be their answer, just as we should have left Saddam Hussein at it. And then they will leave us alone is the belief.
But would the left concede that if we do that, it would have to go hand-in-hand with not allowing people to migrate here from there? Because if it's nothing to do with us and we should be isolationist then why should we allow them all to come here? Or are we just to soak up all the victims of Middle Eastern dictatorship, totalitarianism, radical Islam and terror without having any opinion on how their countries are run?
So the answer seems to be that we are supposed to just do nothing and try to understand these people and understand how society and us made them do it. But do we honestly think if we leave them at it, pretend it's not terrorism and don't provoke them, that they we will leave us alone?
Good luck with that one.