Woolwich attack- the need to tackle the source of extremism

The last few days have undoubtedly been dominated by the gruelling story of a political attack by a hardened radical on a British soldier. Now that some time has passed for everyone to think about what happened, it is time to start a debate about what the consequences of this event may be. Here I want to concentrate on two particular aspects- the Communications Data Bill, ( branded by critics as the Snooper’s Charter) and the British foreign policy.

The Bill, allows the monitoring of all UK citizens’ internet use. Understandably, after the horrific event that took place in Woolwich, the natural reaction from members of the public and the governments is to take some drastic measures to ensure that this sort of attack is less likely to happen again. Similar actions were taken by the American government after the 9/11 attacks, when the Patriot’s Act was introduced. The Act significantly reduced restrictions in law enforcement agencies’ gathering of intelligence within the United States; expanded the Secretary of the Treasury’s authority to regulate financial transactions, particularly those involving foreign individuals and entities; and broadened the discretion of law enforcement and immigration authorities in detaining and deporting immigrants suspected of terrorism-related acts.

It is impossible to know or to predict whether these measures actually help to prevent “terrorist” attacks. However, what everyone needs to recognise, is that these surveillance measures are almost the last line of defence against terrorism. If the governments want to truly eradicate any possibility of terrorism on their own land, they have to look at the causes of why these attacks happen in the first place. The curbing of individual privacy may lead to the capture of a hardened radical (Islamist, extremist Christian, or a far-right individual), but the battle is already lost, as that individual has already developed a view of the world that can create danger for the society. In order to truly win the “war on terror”, it is imperative to ensure that people do not develop extremist views in the first place. Indeed this is a challenging prospect, but once the root cause of extremism is located, it is then possible to look for ways to deal with it. Governments can search for, and arrest potential extremist for as long as they like, but as long as the root cause of why people become extremist remains, the battle against terrorism will perpetually remain a lost cause.

This is why it is crucial to take into account any clues that are given by the perpetrators themselves, and in the case of the Woolwich attacker, he made it perfectly clear where his grievances lie. He was angered by the continued aggressive foreign policy by Britain, namely the war in Afghanistan, Iraq, and more recently Libya and possibly Syria in the future. Though he was just one out of two attackers, it is almost without doubt that there are thousands of upset individuals who are also angered by the constant need for Britain to get involved in issues in the Middle East. Only today, Theresa May, the Home Secretary, has said that there are thousands of potential radicals in this country and therefore UK has to take tough security measures to deal with them. And yet she, nor other officials bothered to question if perhaps changing the path of foreign policy could provide the answer to the terrorism problem. Instead Boris Johnson and others have insisted that British foreign policy has nothing to do with terrorist attacks in the UK.

Undoubtedly it is easy to disperse all blame to others, but Britain and other Western allies have to understand that as long as they continue this perpetual “war on terror”, they will always be in danger of an attack themselves. After all, in a war, two sides get hurt. Just today, there was another incident that took place in France, which closely resembled the Woolwich attack. A soldier was stabbed by a “Middle Eastern” looking man, who got away. Speculations consider that the attacker was also an extremist and carried out a political attack in order to send a message that he is against France intervening in Mali. Finally, the Boston Bombings also had a political message linked to the American foreign policy. The attackers made in perfectly clear that there were angered by the Afghanistan and Iraq Wars. Ultimately, three countries were attacked by terrorists within a few months- all attacks linked to the foreign policy of the West and the USA. I have frequently argued about the fact that Western interventions in the Middle East rarely if ever result in desired outcomes.  Now it is clear that these interventions cause danger to the public in the West too.

Undoubtedly, trying to justify violence because one is against violence is simply not acceptable. That is why extremists who are against war and aggression in the Middle East are never right to bring that aggression to the West. However, as Glenn Greenwald argued in his article, Islamist terrorism is inevitable if the West and America also carry out terrorist acts through drone strikes that kill civilians and the Iraq war where Western soldiers were seen killing innocent civilians for no particular reason. Nobody wakes up one morning and suddenly decided to become a radical extremists ready to carry out a terror attack. These views and thoughts grow slowly within, therefore measures like the Snooper’s charter which I discussed above will not cure the problem. Just as pain killers only deal with the symptom, rather than the actual source of the pain, surveillance measures may only prevent the attack, but not radicalisation. Perhaps for some this may be enough, but it is vital to remember that no tough security measures can source out every individual ready to strike with a terror attack. The only way to ensure that these do not occur again, is to deal with the source of the issue- and in this particular case, the source is the aggressive Western foreign policy. As Joe Glenton, a former soldier, said in an article: “Our own responsibilities are first of all to make sure innocents are not subject to blanket punishment for things that they did not do, and to force our government – safe in their houses – to put an end to Britain’s involvement in the vicious foreign occupations that have again created bloodshed in London.”

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Categories: Global Political Insight, International politics

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