It’s all about the narrative. Who controls it, wins
Are we seeing a crack developing in the hitherto impregnable “human rights” dogma which has helped emasculate Britain’s defences against terrorism?
In the wake of the latest Islamic terror attack last Sunday in London, in which two people were stabbed by a terrorist who had recently been released from jail and was actually considered so dangerous he was being shadowed by armed police, the government has indicated it will scrap automatic early release for such prisoners.
It may also re-introduce control orders and other more draconian sentencing options for terrorists, and has even suggested the UK may derogate from the European Convention on Human Rights if such measures are held to conflict with it.
The “human rights” lobby has consistently and largely successfully fought attempts over the years to strengthen the law against terrorism. It has found a receptive audience in Britain’s judicial establishment, for which the Human Rights Convention has the status of sacred doctrine.
This all reinforced the absurd impression that Britain, the nation which gave birth to Magna Carta and the matchless protections for civil liberty afforded by the English common law, had never acknowledged the need for human rights until these were encoded in the post-war convention.
Yet now, such activists are reportedly “reluctant to commit” to pushing the all-too predictable legal challenges to whatever counter-terrorism legislation the government brings forward. The Times reports that Lord Macdonald of River Glaven, who before he was director of public prosecutions had helped found London’s premier set of barristers’ chambers specialising in human rights, said that any legal challenge was unlikely to succeed.
“It is counterintuitive, even perverse, for a state to grant terrorist prisoners early release in circumstances where they are believed to represent a continuing risk. The government is right to tackle this problem and in my view it is going about this in the right way.”
His remarks add another straw to the one already blowing in the wind: that the courts are becoming more conservative. This is partly because of the retirement of the radical president of the Supreme Court, Baroness Hale, and her replacement by a more traditional judge.
But it’s also because the higher judiciary is deeply sensitive to the need to retain public trust in the rule of law. And it has understood, not least from the general election result and the preceding uproar over parliament’s attempt to stop Brexit which was aided by the courts, that the public has had it up to here with an activist judiciary which is viewed as having helped undermine not just public security but democracy itself.
So with people agreeing heartily with the government’s counter-extremism adviser Ian Acheson that the human rights of terrorists appear to have been given higher priority than public safety, the courts may well be deeply unwilling to be seen to be continuing to do so.
After last Sunday’s lethal terrorism farce, there’s an overwhelming public view that “we can’t go on like this”. But as I wrote in my Times column here (£), that means a step-change in attitudes which successive governments have been unwilling to make.
There may well be a good case for beefing up sentences for terrorists. But by themselves, such measures won’t be enough because they fail to address the core issue.
Eventually, these prisoners will leave jail. And many if not most will still be dangerous – because what motivates them is the unshaken belief that they have a God-given mission to kill as many “infidels” as possible and be killed themselves in the process.
As I wrote, within the Muslim world there are different interpretations of Islam and some of these are peaceful and apolitical. Globally, Muslims are the most numerous victims of Islamic extremism. In Britain, there are many cultural Muslims who have scant interest in religion at all.
Nevertheless, Islam’s history is one of holy war and conquest, punctuated over the centuries by attempts at enlightenment and reformation which were suppressed. And today’s jihadi extremism, which developed after the First World War, is an interpretation based on the literal reading of religious texts which was practised in previous centuries and which is upheld today by the most powerful religious authorities in the Islamic world.
Yet in Britain and much of the west, the risible pretence is maintained that this is a perversion of Islam and that the religion has nothing to do with Islamic extremism. From the moment this threat emerged in Britain more than three decades ago, the establishment has refused to acknowledge that what we are facing is Islamic holy war, rooted in religious doctrines which are as genuine as they are contestable.
Instead, every excuse is trotted out to downplay or deny that this is the case. Thus Islamic terrorists are merely “ a few nutters”, they are motivated by a vague and nameless “ideology”, they are “anti-Islamic” and so on.
As a result, the establishment persistently fails to acknowledge that the danger lies not just in what certain people do but the specific nature of what they believe and the authority behind it.
So it lets Islamic terrorist prisoners out of jail too early, it is easily duped by participants in its de-radicalisation programmes which mostly avoid challenging Islamic doctrine – and it even perversely harasses conservatively-minded Christians and Jews over their classroom teaching of sexuality, in the misguided belief that the cause of extremism lies in separated cultural lives.
Moreover, anyone who points out that Islamic terrorism is part of a holy war being waged against both the west and the not-Islamic-enough Muslim world is denounced for “Islamophobia”.
This also undermines those courageous Muslims pressing for a reform of their religion, often at risk to their lives, who have the ground cut from under their feet by westerners maintaining that the problem doesn’t lie within the Islamic world but with “Islamophobes” who claim that it does.
If we really are not to “go on like this”, the first thing that needs to happen is that this dishonesty must end and the truth must publicly be told.
The government should start saying what it has flinched from saying: that the west is the target of Islamic holy war. It should say that, although many British Muslims pose no threat to anyone, too many in the community either believe the extremist precepts on which the jihad is based or passively go along with them; that too many groups and individuals revere, for example, Sheikh Yusuf Qaradawi who has endorsed human bomb attacks; that even among those Muslims who oppose violence, too many endorse poisonous ideas about the non-Muslim world which create the sea in which extremism and terrorism swim.
It should state bluntly that Muslims must start to take responsibility, both at home and abroad, for this war being waged in the name of their religion – and that the government will take all necessary measures to defeat it.
You see, it’s not just a matter of passing stricter laws. It’s all about the narrative. The jihadists know that whoever controls the narrative, wins. So far, the ignorant, spineless, demoralised west has let them seize control of it. That’s what now has to end.